The building sat precariously on the coast, positioned nearly like a hangnail, giving the appearance one small cough could send it tumbling into the sea, churned by the smashing waves.
The building was rather thin, white as hospitals often are, had windows neatly placed in generic rows on the side, and reached high in the air, nearly penetrating the thin layer of clouds.
Inside, there was a normal hustle and bustle of a hospital. People being pulled and pushed to their death beds on gernies and stretchers, their cold sweat and occasional breath the only sign of life.
Right outside the chaos was a waiting room, pleasant and white. There were several chairs in a row near the left wall, and sitting there wearing a green sweater, khakis, moppy hair, and nervous expression, was Paul.
Paul was experiencing uninterrupted anxiety for the first time in a while. His trusty pack of Newport’s helped him there usually, but Paul knew better then to smoke at a hospital. Just in case though, his pockets held in trembling hands a box containing three Newport’s, wet and useless from the rain. Nervous, Paul rubbed the rough side of the box used for lighting matches with his forefinger. In his other hand, balloons, and a “Get well soon” card for his wife, whom he knew would not get well. But he hoped, in some superstitious way, it could stave off the inevitable. The other says “Cancer’s a b****”: something he hoped would make her laugh. Both were her favorite colors, blue and crimson red.
Paul stared at the blue of the balloon, and it quickly morphed into a blue sky, the world around him fading away and he soon found himself sitting outside of a café, his wife munching on a bagel, preoccupied in her own mind.
“Wendy.” He said- or remembered saying. He had a strong remembrance of this moment- this memory. He was wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, and his wife a white sun dress, covered in pretty red roses sewed in patterns on it.
“Wendy.” He said again. She looked up from her bagel, eyebrows rose.
“How’s the bagel, hun?”
Wendy wiped cream cheese from her lip. “Fine. Good, good I mean. This place makes good bagels.”
Paul nodded. He noticed Wendy’s mind immediately left and she was again preoccupied with thoughts, and didn’t want to bother her.
Soon, she finished the bagel, and sighed loudly.
“What’s wrong, Wen?” Paul asked. “You’ve seem bothered all day.”
Wendy looked Paul in the eyes, mouth opening as if to say something but no noise escaped. It quickly shut, she licked her lips, then answered,
“Nothing. I’m sorry. Look, let’s go.”
Paul raised his eyebrows, surprised.
“But we haven’t paid yet- “
“Well then let’s pay and get out of here, quickly please.” Wendy said, heat behind her words.
Paul looked at her, trying to decipher her mood but got nothing. When she was like this, she was a closed book that no one could re-
A nurse poked her head through the double doors. “Paul Wess?”
Shot back to the present, Paul stood up, balloons contacting ceiling, chair croaking,
As the nurse looked upon him Paul noticed a faint shadow, a flicker of a frown, then nothing, the expressionless mask the nurse had learned to use had been put back on, her face unreadable.
Paul was led into the hustle and bustle of the hallway. He followed the nurse past many turns, gingerly walking past suffering patients, until he got to his wife’s room.
Time seemed to go in slow motion as he reached his hand to the knob, and once more Paul plunged himself into the world of memory.
It was roughly three hours later. Wendy’s mood had improved, but not marginally.
They were sitting on a hill, looking at the sun going down in the distance. This usually made Wendy happy, Paul thought, but whatever was bothering her was immune to the power of a setting sun.
Paul stared at the sky, a mosaic of orange and pink and blue, dotted with small white clouds every now and then.
“Look,” Paul said pointing at a cloud. “That one looks like a cat.”
Wendy let out a belly laugh, and said “Yes. It does.” Through labored breathes. As Paul looked over to investigate, he found her crying silently, mascara streaming down her face like an ominous black blood.
“Wendy?” He said, scared now. Wendy wiped tears, and grabbed a napkin out of her dress pocket to dab the mascara off her face.
“I- I know how it looks but I’m fine- its-it’s just the- “
“Wendy.” Paul said forcefully. He placed his hand on hers.
“Tell me what’s wrong with you,” He pleaded, “Please.”
Wendy looked at him flat in the face, face uglied by mascara and streaming tears.
She looked at him, and said “Cancer, Paul. I have cancer.”
And as she said that, the sun sank over the horizon, plunging the two into a darkness unaided by stars, a darkness Paul would always remember for the rest of his life.
Paul stared at the doorknob, back to reality. The nurse had said something that he had heard, but hoped he didn’t. Something he understood, but was not willing to comprehend.
“We couldn’t save her. I’m sorry. The cancer spread. Sorry.”
Paul said nothing.
Paul stood there, planted, unable to think.
All Paul could think to say was “thank you” and turn to leave, leaving the young woman standing there confused. He knew he didn’t want to see his wife’s dead corpse.
The nurse hurried after him to question what he wanted done with the body and if he wanted to see her corpse. His answers: I don’t know, and “No.” and soon he was out the door.
Standing in the doorway, under the overhead, shielding him from the rain he held the balloons in hand, vaguely struggling against his grasp in an attempt to escape
Paul grabbed the box from his pocket, and lighter out of his sweater vest pocket. The cigarette was still damp, but with trembling hands he attempted to light it. But all he did was further dampen the cigarette, and it wasn’t from the rain.
As Paul stepped out from under the overhead, he craned his neck so he was hit flat in the face. The moon was rising in the background out of the city, and he could just see the curve of it over a skyscraper in the distance. The stars speckled the sky like polka dots, and angry rain shot down like bullets onto pedestrians.
Once more, he escaped into memory.
Paul wanted to smile but could not at his wife. She looked old and frail, and as if her body had been sucked of its blood and nutrients by a great moscuito. He wanted to be by her side, but it was painful.
“It’s me. Paul.” He said.
“I know, dummy.” She said, each word punctuated by a deep breath from an oxygen tank. “I’m dying, not deaf.” She said with a laugh, that quickly spawned into a series of wet coughs she and Paul had gotten sadly accustomed to.
“I wanted to bring balloons, but I didn’t know what to bring. I can go get some.”
“I…..” Wendy began to respond, before closing her eyes and taking in a deep breath from the oxygen tank, “Love… Balloons. Get…. Get me a fun…. Funny one.”
Paul let a pained smile escape his face.
“Ok, hun. I’ll be back in a minute, alright?”
Wendy did not respond, her eyes were closed and she was focused on breathing.
“Alright?” Paul said, small and meek, mostly to himself, before opening the door and closing it, leaving his wife for the final time.
He sighed as he reminisced on his final moments with his wife. With a genuine smile, he wiped a tear and said “I got the balloons, honey. All for you.” And as he released his fist, he saw the beautiful balloons escape into the dark milky sky, higher, higher, until they were completely out of sight, gone.