The cannula slipped, allowing a slow trickle of blood to meander from his nose down his left cheek toward his ear, its path impeded by a wispy growth of beard. He twitched. The woman sitting next to the bed startled, grasping for his shoulder, rising from her chair, inhaling into a smile, then slowly sank again, face falling, when she saw that his eyes still rolled upward in a wretched grimace. She reached for the raspy tissues on the rolling table and carefully wiped the blood away. The edge had crusted over and she dabbed a fresh tissue against her tongue before scrubbing it away.
With a sigh she picked up the book and began again to read the fourth chapter. She was careless, skipping whole paragraphs and allowing her voice to fade at the end of sentences. It was deliberate -- a provocation of the helpless young man lying in the bed. She was tired of reading, tired of sitting, tired of waiting. Before the end of the chapter she turned back to the window, eyes seeking out the timeless circling of crows around the gnarled fingers of an autumn tree.
The nurse was empty of kind words when she came in. Silently she worked her way through the familiar checklist. She ended with a quick tuck-in and a hand on the forehead, a brief caress that belied her business-like demeanor. A gentle pat on the woman's shoulder and she squeaked her way down the linoleum to the next bed. The woman picked up the book again.
The blood trickled. She watched, clinical, as it pooled in his ear. It cooled and gelled, and finally her sympathy welled. She washed his ears and face and chest with a warm cloth, and somewhen in the middle she began telling him about his first bath -- how scared she had been, delicately touching each part with the blue baby wash cloth, how she had wrapped him so tightly afterward and nursed and held him for hours, curled around him in a chair, watching him breathe, watching him twitch and smile. How she'd pictured his life, and how proud she had been when he'd found his own path, even though it was nothing she had imagined.
She took a breath as she put the washcloth away and swallowed down a criticism, trying desperately to be cheerful as she impatiently told him how she was waiting, it was time, the alarm clock had gone off, they needed to get going. He was late, he was going to miss his life. While she spoke she buttoned him into a fresh pair of pajamas. Then, scooting his long frame onto its side, she bent his knees, and, wrapping as much of herself around him as she could, lay down. As the sun set she closed her eyes and sang her dying child a lullaby.
Inspired by Nightmare Fuel