Daniel sat alone in the darkness of the small room that contained one uncomfortable chair and a bed. It wasn't utter darkness. A cracked door let in a faint illumination from the hall that played light and shadows across the shiny linoleum floor and over the white bedding that draped the body of his wife Margaret.
Slowly, carefully, Daniel placed his old and wrinkled hand atop her old and wrinkled hand. His trembled ever so slightly as he covered the dark purple bruises, made from weeks of intravenous needles, that covered the back of hers. Peering intently at her face, Daniel tried to recognize something of the woman he'd loved and cherished for more than fifty years. This face was gaunt and sallow. Almost waxen. Only the slightest hint of air escaping the tightly drawn lips even suggested that there was life still under that visage.
Daniel had heard the doctors tell a man last week that if he spoke to his comatose mother, she would hear him and it would help ease her pain.
“I don't know if you can hear me, Margaret, but they say talkin' can help. So I'm going to talk. That surprise you? I know you was always trying to get me to talk about somethin', but I never did much care for it. Now, I guess, you finally found a way to make me start. Funny thing is, you prolly can't hear me nohow.”
Daniel leaned in a little closer, speaking more intimately now. “You remember when I was Danny and you were Maggie? Back in the old days? Those were some times. We was so young and up to no good all the time! Dancin' and music! Playin' cards every weekend. You always smilin' and laughin'. That's the face burned right into my brain. That's the face I keep comin' back here every night lookin' to see one more time. Can you give me that smile one more time, Maggie?”
“There you are Mr. Rayburn! We've been looking for you.” A large woman, a nurse, stood in the doorway, arms crossed. From behind her came an orderly, pushing a wheelchair. As he wheeled the chair across the room towards Daniel, he shook his shaggy head.
“I told you this is where we'd find him.”
The nurse snorted and eyed the young orderly suspiciously. “What I don't understand is: How? You had strict orders to lock his door after you took his tray out.”
“I did! I swear it. I have no idea how he got out.” Locking the wheelchair in place, the shaggy haired young man reached under Daniel's arms and effortlessly transferred him from one seat to the other.
“Come on Mr. Rayburn, let's get you back to your own room. How do you get down here without a wheelchair anyhow? Night after night, it seems, no matter what we do, you manage to make it to this room; and here we find you every morning. I just don't get it.”
“You're wasting your breath. That man hasn't spoken a single word in the four years he's been here.”
“I know, and she hasn't been conscious in three, and even before that they were being kept on separate floors. I've heard. But no matter where they move her, that's where we find him sitting when morning comes.”
“Well, that's going to stop. We can't have him traveling up and down stairs at night in his condition anymore. He's going to hurt himself.” The nurse stuck her face right in front of Daniel's. “You hear me Mr. Rayburn?”
As the orderly wheeled him past the nurse and through the dimly lit doorway, Daniel cast one more glance back at his wife's body, lying perfectly still in the bed.
Tomorrow, Maggie. I'll look for you again tomorrow.
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