Slowly, the world around Anne came into focus and the first thing she noticed was the cup of ice water on the tray across her hospital bed. She desperately wanted to reach out and pour the cool liquid down her parched throat, but the trembling muscles in her arms wouldn't obey.
How long had she been in the hospital this time? She looked around, and saw May 7 on the whiteboard, along with a name written in flowery curlicues she couldn't quite read. "Must be the nurse," she thought. Maybe the nurse could help her with the water.
If her husband, Billy, had been there, he could have helped her. Not that he would have. She made sure she didn't ask him for anything. Not after he'd hurt her.
She remembered the day clearly. They'd been sitting at the kitchen table, early morning light streaming through the white curtains over the sink, dust motes dancing in the beams. She ate her daily poached egg and he read the paper while finishing up the toast he'd used to sop up over-easy egg juice. She stared at the wall of newspaper he held up between them. They'd been chatting idly about the kids and their plans for the weekend -- when it happened.
At first, she'd been too shocked to say anything. But after a few minutes, she decided to wait and see how long it took him to notice her pain.
She waited patiently, but soon, she realized the dishes weren't getting done. Or the ironing. Or the sweeping.
Hmph, she thought and got up with a flounce of her skirt and a toss of her long, dark hair. She stacked their plates together, barely waiting for him to take the last bite of toast, and piled them in the sink with a clatter guaranteed to wake the neighbors. She scrubbed furiously, starting with the forks and making her way through the plates, glasses, countertops and backsplash. Anne washed down the cabinet doors and gave her wrist a little extra flick as she popped them closed. Maybe he'd notice something was wrong.
She'd finished collecting the breakfast dishes when he folded up his paper, grabbed his briefcase, brushed her cheek with his lips and left for work as if nothing had happened. Right then, she decided that if she didn't have anything nice to say, she wasn't going to say anything at all.
Over the next few days, Anne cleaned house until it could have been on Martha Stewart television. She washed dishes, scrubbed the floors, washed behind the kids ears and bandaged their scraped knees. But inside, a fog engulfed her mind. Sure, she discussed mundane matters, such as who was going to take which child to what ball practice or dance recital, or the latest in the presidential election, or if they had the money for her to buy that dress on sale. But she kept her heart to herself, protected her wound, refused to let him see it. And inside she seethed.
A few months later -- how many, she couldn't count -- she tried to ask him about that day, but he shrugged her off. The silence that had been so deafening now seemed impenetrable. And when had her stomach started hurting so much?
As Anne nursed the wound in her heart, the pain in her belly grew. She stayed home more, enjoyed life less. And the years rolled by -- until today when she couldn't reach the blasted water.
Finally, a lady who must be the nurse poked her head around the door to the hospital room and gave Anne a thousand-watt smile.
"Hey, you!" the lady gushed. "Glad to see you're awake. Are you ready for a drink of water? You sure have been thirsty since your surgery."
"Wish Billy would have been here to help me," Anne grumbled. "He never did help me like he should. I don't know why he didn't love me..."
"Oh, Mom," the lady said gently. "Daddy did too love you. He loved you very much."
"Well, why isn't he here?" Anne asked petulantly.
"He's been gone 10 years, Mom," the lady said, as she stroked Anne's long, gray hair. "You've been mad at Daddy for 50 years. When are you going to let go? Aren't you tired?"
Anne nodded her head. She was tired, so very tired.
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