Cops were strict in a small town, and Matthew fought the urge to speed. Claire had left a message on his cell phone, telling him to come. When he tried to call her back, there had been no answer. What did that mean?
Matthew glanced at his phone that he was holding in one hand should she try to call him again. By the evening light, the tiny screen read no service. He pressed the gas pedal further. He had to get there.
Matthew Cunningham perused the newspaper as he waited in line to pay for the basket of groceries he held hooked over his arm. He heard a small voice beside him.
“Hi,” the voice said.
Matthew looked down to see the cherub face of a visibly retarded young boy.
“I’m Andrew,” the boy said.
“I’m Matthew,” Matthew said with a smile.
The boy’s face lit up. “Is your name from the bible?”
“Um, well, I guess it is.”
“Mine is from the bible too.”
Matthew wasn’t sure how to reply.
“We’re both disciples of Jesus.” The boy was bent on making conversation.
“Excuse me?” Matthew said.
“In the bible. You and me. We’re both disciples of Jesus.”
“Yes, I guess we are.” Matthew smiled again.
“Are you a disciple of Jesus?” The boys face was earnest.
A young woman came along side the boy and took his hand gently. “I’m sorry,” she said to Matthew. “He likes to talk to people.”
Matthew was instantly taken with her. She was petite and trim, with big, blue eyes and a soft smile. However, Matthew didn’t miss the sadness in her eyes as she led the young boy away.
A half hour later, Matthew was unlocking his car that was parked on the curb of Main Street.
“Hi again,” it was a recently familiar voice. Matthew saw the boy from the general store walking towards him. The young woman was following him. She seemed a little discomforted that she had to go after the boy again. She approached and stood beside him, placed her hand on his shoulder, and looked ready to apologize.
“This is my sister,” the boy said.
Matthew didn’t wait for her to say anything. He stuck out his hand and said, “Hi sister, I’m Matthew.”
Her look of frustration faded and she smiled pleasantly. She took his hand, but didn’t say a word.
“Does the sister have a name?” Matthew asked Andrew.
“Claire, my name is Claire.” The young woman was embarrassed, and she blushed a little.
Andrew was distracted by an old woman walking her golden retriever. He said, “Hello Mrs. Fudrucker. May I pet your dog?” and walked away. The old woman greeted him cheerily and stopped so he could pet the dog. Matthew was left awkwardly alone with Claire.
Claire looked at the ground. Then she looked back. Matthew tried to think of something to say. He tried, “Andrew is a friendly little guy.”
She smiled, “Yes, he is. But honestly he doesn’t usually talk to strangers, unless there’s a reason.”
“We’re not strangers,” Matthew said.
“Yeah, we’re disciples of Jesus. Andrew and Matthew.”
She rolled her eyes good-humouredly. “Ah yes, from the bible. Andrew loves the bible.”
Andrew returned. “Can Matthew come over Claire?”
“Andrew,” Claire raised her eyes at her younger brother. She was shaken, and at a loss of what to say.
“It’s alright Andrew,” Matthew tried to rescue the situation. “I’ve got people I know in town. Thank you anyway.”
“You don’t want to come over?” Claire looked at him playfully.
Matthew squinted. “Are you inviting me over?”
“I guess I am.”
“Well, I guess I’ll say yes.” Matthew wasn’t sure why he answered that way.
“Okay then.” She took Andrew by the hand and led him away.
It was almost nine o’clock when Matthew reached the hospital. Anything could have happened in that time.
Time. It had been such a short time ago, when Matthew had first met Claire and Andrew, but it seemed like years. So many things had happened. He and Claire had been friends, good friends. Then Andrew got sick. All of a sudden, Claire needed him. He couldn’t leave her to face the pain on her own. Why did this have to happen?
Matthew sprinted to the elevator, entered, and hit the button for the fourth floor. The elevator seemed to purposefully move slowly. Matthew stomped his feet impatiently as he waited for it to reach his destination.
Matthew sat on the front porch steps of the farmhouse. Claire sat beside him. The sun was rising from behind the distant mountain range. The fog was beginning to dissipate. The chill air was fresh and clear.
Claire had finished telling him about Andrew’s condition. She informed him that they would be going away to a specialist.
She had not shed a tear. This seemed unnatural to Matthew. She sat there, stone faced.
“So that’s how it is,” she sighed.
Clair’s left hand rested on her knee. Michael reached over and laid his hand on top it, roping his fingers through hers. He brought the hand to himself and held it. It was the first time, since they met, that he had ever touched her.
She watched his hand. Then she looked up at him questioningly.
“We’ll get through this,” Matthew said.
Her eyes welled with tears and she leaned her head against his shoulder.
“Andrew sees the world differently than other people,” Claire said. “He sees evil, and pain, but he’s not afraid of them. He sees people, but he appears to look through them, like he knows where their deepest hurts are. Not only does he know, he understands.”
“He did this for you?” Matthew wanted to know.
“Yes,” She sighed again and was silent for a few minutes.
Claire lifted her head and spoke again. “I left home when I was eighteen. I spent four years having fun making a mess of my life. I came home when I found out mom was dying.
“Right before she died, Andrew went up to the bed. He took her hand and said, ‘it’s okay to go home now. I’ll come see you in heaven soon.’ Then he looked at me. He said, ‘make a promise.’ I said, ‘promise what?’ he said, ‘promise that you will be in heaven with me and mommy.’”
Claire sniffed. “I decided right there, that I would spend the rest of my life, trying to see the world through Andrew’s eyes.”
There was a pause.
“People say Andrew is not normal,” Matthew said. “But I think he’s closer to being normal than any of us. We, all of us, are drowning in misery that we have created for ourselves. Andrew isn’t drowning. He isn’t even swimming. He’s flying.”
“Yeah,” Claire agreed.
“What does Andrew have that we don’t?” Matthew asked.
“I don’t know. But let’s make sure we find out before he goes.” Claire leaned her head against his shoulder again. They sat the rest of the morning in silence.
Matthew entered the ICU. His pace slowed as he found his way down the hall to room 420. He was afraid of what he would find.
He stood in the doorway of the room. Andrew lay on the bed, in a deep coma, with a deathlike hue upon his skin. Claire sat in a chair next to him, holding his hand, with her head on the bed. Matthew didn’t move. He jumped a little when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see the heavy-set, black nurse that had often been attending Andrew. She smiled at him.
“Is he…” Matthew couldn’t get the words out.
“Not yet,” she answered softly. “His vitals are low. Just plan on staying the night.”
Matthew choked back tears.
“He’s a special little boy, that one,” the nurse said. “You can feel it when you enter the room.”
Matthew couldn’t speak. He sank into a chair that was by the door. He would wait for Claire to wake up.
The beeping of the monitors, the dripping of fluids, the ticking of the clock, and the very slow, almost inaudible breathing of Andrew combined to make what was to come, seem like it was being drawn out. Matthew didn’t want it to happen, but at the same time, he wanted it over.
After a few hours, Matthew slowly drifted into a restless sleep.
Claire awoke. The moon was shining through the single hospital window. How long had she been sleeping? She looked at the clock above the door. It read 12:00 AM. She looked at Andrew, still in a coma, on the hospital bed. Although she still clung to the hope that he would miraculously pull through, he continued to lie there. As she rubbed his hand, she could almost feel him pulling away. Life was leaving his body, little by little.
Claire looked at Andrew’s face. Even in the deep sleep, his face still radiated joy.
Claire sucked in her breath when she felt a surge of warmth in his hand. Andrew’s eyes opened and he sat up. He stared at the wall across from his bed, but he wasn’t looking at it. His eyes held something unearthly in them, but not frightening.
“Do you see Him?” Andrew said. “Do you see Him?”
“See who?” Claire asked softly, fear creeping into her heart.
“You don’t know?” Andrew asked.
Claire understood, the fear faded and was replaced with peace. She said, “Yes, I think I do know,” with tears in her eyes.
“I’m going now, but He’ll stay with you. Make sure you listen to Him.” Andrew took a long breath, as if he were breathing for the first time, or maybe, the last.
Claire nodded, “I’m still going to miss you.”
“No, you’ll have Matthew.”
Matthew awoke. The sun had risen and shown through the window. Claire and Andrew were in the same position they had been in when he entered the room the evening before, but something was different. The monitors had stopped beeping, the fluid had stopped dripping and even the clock seemed to have stopped ticking. The final sound, that was not a sound at all, was Andrew no longer breathing. His spirit had gone.
Rather than shed tears of sorrow, Matthew approached the foot of the bed. He whispered Claire’s name. Claire raised her head and looked at him. She looked like an Angel. She let go of Andrew’s now lifeless hand and extended her own to Matthew. He took her hand, and she smiled.
Matthew pulled into the farmhouse drive. Claire sat beside him in the passenger seat. Matthew got out and opened the door for her. Hand in hand they walked up the porch steps and stopped at the top. They turned and looked at the orange and purple sky.
Matthew put his arm around Claire. “Do you think Andrew knew about us, that day in the general store?” he asked.
Claire leaned against him. “I’d believe anything of that boy.” They were silent.
“Andrew told me that he wanted to fly someday,” Claire said. “I was saving to buy us plane tickets. But I don’t think that’s the kind of flying he meant.”
“I bet you any money, he’s flying right now.” Matthew said.
“Yes, he is.”
Claire and Matthew held each other and watched the color of the sky mix and change as the sun slowly disappeared.