I can see the sun setting on the lake, its rays playing crimson medleys on the choppy surface of the darkening waters. It's so peaceful here with the wind blowing gently through the tree branches. Falls coming, I can see it on the ground the way the leaves are beginning to pile up in dry mounds. Somehow the thought of winter always reminds me of death. A light touch makes me aware that Anna is here with her drowsy head on my muscular shoulder. She smells sweet like the perfume I once bought her for her birthday. I lay my head down on top of hers and feel the soft warmth that is my wife, the only woman I ever have or ever will truly love.
Suddenly light is blaring into my eyes, not the warm light of the sun but a cold light grabbing me back to reality. A hand, hard, big as an anchor pulls me and I turn on my left side instinctively drawing up my knees in self-defense.
"Are you okay buddy?" A voice calls cruelly as my dream fades and the beloved scent of Anna is replaced by the acrid odor of my own urine. Blinking back tears I open my eyes to a familiar face dressed in white, an orderly doing bed check.
The light and movement shifts from myself to the bed on the opposite side of the room. I wonder if he too has been lying under a tree with his love. My god, how cruel to awaken a man from paradise to the reality of his own helplessness. I can hear the aides and nurses working over my roommate but I can tell by their hushed tones his fight is over.
It's quiet in the room now, only the sound of my breathing breaking the silence of death. The curtain is pulled between our beds but I know he is lying there his heart no longer pumping and his worries spent. I envy him his peaceful death. One moment he was eating, drinking, dreaming, and the next, nothing. I can feel my eyes are wide and suddenly become aware that I am afraid. Not of that old corpse lying on the other side of the room but of the visitor he has admitted into our quarters. How does it feel to be gripped in the arms of death? Is it cold and lonely as these past several years have been for he and I? Is it quiet and peaceful like it is written of in books? Is it nothing at all, just endless oblivion? Somehow the last description brings me the most peace. I've been around this world for so long that not being here sounds wonderful. I've seen all I need to see and felt all I need to feel. Only the warm arms of Anna can console me and she is gone.
My legs are still drawn up against my chest but I haven't anything to guard myself against except, of course, my memory. Oh how I would love to escape into my mind like the others do. I need to see Anna again if only in my mind. Tears are flowing down my cheeks and sliding into my ears. I'm so lonely.
The curtain has just been drawn back and a familiar friendly face has appeared. She has noticed my tears and comes quickly to my side. I can't hear her words very well over the roaring of my pulse in my ears, but I know she is trying to comfort me. I only wish she could.
I'm sitting in my wheelchair in the feeder's room, but I don't remember which meal I am about to attend. My mind wonders from reality to memory so often these days that I don't know anymore which is life and which is fantasy. My name is Alex, not that it matters to anyone because I've been dead a long time. My heart still pumps, my lungs still fill with air, but I'm dead. No one knows I'm trapped in here. There you see, my right leg just flew up into the air and is now suspended there in a strange crook just like it had a will of its own. I can't control it or any part of my body anymore. Sometimes I think I've always been this way and only dreamt I played baseball, raised a son, made love to a woman. I have to keep reminding myself every minute that these memories are real. I feel hot anger welling up inside of me, my teeth clenching and my face turning red. I close my eyes to block out the view of the feeder's room and fight the rage that I long to release. Suddenly my brain screams the words all men are afraid to say,
"There is no God!"
I can feel my eyes beginning to reopen and the pain in my jaw lesson. Across the room a woman thin as a skeleton and ugly as death is staring at me. Has she heard my mental blasphemy? She stares as though she has known me forever and a weird smile plays frighteningly across her ancient lips. She speaks in a low growling voice to herself about how we are both crazies. Perhaps she is right. I feel a warm sensation in my groin and realize I've just wet myself. Maybe I'll awaken and find this all a terrible nightmare and Anna will caress my brow.
Anna, I can still feel your head lying limp on my right arm as you draw your last breath. You were ill for so long my precious jewel. I watched helplessly as the cancer ate slowly away at your beauty making your face old from pain.
No, there is no God.
My son is here with his two boys. I wish I could reach out and embrace all three of them in a big bear hug but my body doesn't answer to me anymore but to some unseen unwanted force in my brain. He's kneeling beside my chair telling me the trivial news about the business I gave him when I retired. All I can see is the top of his head because he carefully averts his eyes downward as to not see my drooling contorted face. If he would only look into my eyes he would see I'm trapped in here.
You've suddenly raised your head and for the first time in years you are looking into my eyes. Tears are blurring my vision but I can see you looking at me with love and feel your embrace as you grasp me into your strong arms and hold me tight.
I love you son.
Night has fallen on my silent world and I never saw it coming. Only the hall lights shining gives me solace that it is the light that has gone not my sight.
It's when I'm in bed I feel the loneliest. Even though my new roommate is only yards away he's little comfort trapped in a silent prison of his own. I've lain here many nights over the years with the darkness of the room made darker by my despair. My body aches terribly from the exertion of sitting up in my wheelchair. The worst pain is in my lower back and my hips.
Anna is standing beside me laughing, her beautiful face lit with a brilliant smile. She is dressed in white because it is our wedding day. The thresh hold to our new house, bought on a promise, confronts us with the future. Unafraid I lift my bride and carry her across into our home. It's late and we're both exhausted, but there remains one deed yet undone. We stand in our bedroom, naked but not ashamed, only the unknown separating us. Slowly I raise my hand to cup your soft white face feeling a familiar tingling run through my arm into my body. Always before I had curbed this sensation putting in into the back of my mind, holding down what comes naturally to a man touching the woman he loves. Now I allow the tingle to flow freely through my soul. Before long we are lying together on the bed touching, caressing, enjoying the pleasure known my man and woman since the beginning of time.
An aide is standing over me but although I can sense her caring presence in the shadows, my eyes don't work anymore. She has a blood pressure cuff attached to my arm and is holding my hand. A dark veil is slowly being lowered over my consciousness giving me the same feeling I had once when I was being put to sleep for surgery.
This veil will never lift.
I'm frightened and totally helpless to stop my mad descent into the darkness. Even the girls' presence, one that has seen me through purgatory, does not comfort me.
The pain has stopped. I can see my hands before my eyes and lower them to look about me. I'm standing unassisted my body young and strong. Before me I see my empty shell. My aide is gently removing the blood pressure cuff from my limp arm. She is crying, but I cannot touch her as she so often has touched me. I look down at the pathetic wasted figure before me and tears of my own begin to flow. The cheeks are sunken into the yellowed face and small particles of food cling to the heavy whiskers. Cheryl is leaving now pulling the curtain between my bed and my roommates. I can hear her on the other side explaining to him what has happened. I peek around and see envy in the other mans eyes.
A voice lilts softly to my ears and I find myself on a warm sandy beach. To my left I can still see the room where I have suffered for so long, but to my right the sun is descending into the deep waters of the ocean. Again I hear a voice, but this time I know it and answer desperate to find its source. Suddenly there she is, as beautiful as the day we were married. I embrace Anna and she promises me shall be together forever
I believe her.