I am a dutiful wife.
It’s Monday. Every Monday and Thursday, I visit Lucas. I always bring new flowers, and since it’s the summer they’re from my own garden. There are daisies and tulips and baby’s breath. It doesn’t matter what I add to the water, or how I snip them, they are always dead when I come the next time. The staff will have ensured there are no dead leaves scattered around the vase on his windowsill, but the stems will remain, withered stalks decaying in their coffin.
Not unlike Lucas, a body that never leaves the bed. His legs and arms are skeletal despite the tube feedings and the endless physical therapy. His belly is soft and round, covered with downy fur, and the pale translucent feeding tube is looped and taped to his skin. His eyes are open but no one’s home-Lucas left six months ago when he pulled the trigger and sent a bullet bouncing around his skull.
“It takes up to two years to see what neurological function can be regained,” the neurologist told me, sitting across from me at his care conference a week later. The ventilator hummed in the ICU and the IV pumps ticked off medications-this one to hydrate, this one to prevent infection, this one for pain, this one to keep his blood pressure greater than his intracranial pressure. A fancy way to say the pressure in arteries had to stay higher than the pressure in his head to provide blood supply to the remaining tissue.
Me, the dutiful wife, wrote down each medication, what it was for, what rate it ran at, watched carefully for side effects, I did all that.
Six months later, Lucas does nothing but breathe on his own. The brain stem running the show, tells the body to breathe, no conscious thought needed. Autonomic reflex.
His hand jerked. He had the barrel pressed to his right temple, the correct place, where the bone is the thinnest and the brain is the least protected, but his hand jerked. Lucas was always a half in, half out kind of guy.
But I am reliable. I am here.
I have reasons not to be, reasons people would understand. Lucas did this after being investigated for kidnapping his ex-lover, someone younger than I, someone he’d been involved with. Someone he couldn’t leave alone. He had an ongoing affair with her, this woman, and then I found out, and there were words. Words between he and I, words between she and I, words between the two of them. But he’d been back again. He didn’t kidnap her, but he was guilty anyway.
He’d done it before. Probably more than I knew about it. But I’d never discovered anything quite like the thousands of text messages they’d sent back and forth, in two months! And she was young, always that old stab in the heart. Your skin grows looser, folds in on itself, your midsection swells, your joints ache, and then you maybe internet stalk the woman and see how tight and firm the flesh on her face is, unmarred by twenty years with the same cheating husband.
I don’t have to come, is all I’m saying.
The staff keep his head and upper body elevated 45 degrees. There’s a little mark on the bed to make sure it’s the right height. It prevents the brown liquid poured into his stomach from flowing back up into his esophagus and into his lungs. He used to get it around the clock, but he’s grown to tolerate the feedings, so they are only four times a day. They are poured into a funnel. He digests them. He shits the bed, and someone cleans it.
He is dressed in sweats and a t-shirt. They are V-neck T-shirts because the regular ones are difficult to get over his head, and they kept getting stretched out. The hair that spills out of the V is white now instead of gray, even though he is only 53. He’s gone and gotten old on me. The sweats are easier than jeans, and he always has socks on. I insist. His feet are always cold. Were.
“Flowers dying,” says Millia. She is from Nigeria. She is quiet and polite and no nonsense. I imagine a man rotting in a bed isn’t the worst thing she’s seen, but maybe it is.
“I know,” I say. I remove the leavings of the previous batch, and they are crumbling in my hand even as I drop them in the trash. I take the vase to the bathroom, rinse it out. Add new water, the tablet that is supposed to lengthen the longevity of blossoms. Plant food. I am feeding the plants for the husband who ran from his body.
Millia hasn’t moved, when I return. I place the fresh batch in the vase, turn the vase in a circle and move it slightly. Looking for the magic spot where sunlight will make them stay alive.
“Flowers dying faster,” Millia says.
“What?” I turn around. But there is the tiny fluttering thing in my chest. I know what she means.
“Flowers die too fast,” she says.
“I know, Millia.”
I step up to Lucas, who is covered by a quilt my mother made. It is folded at his chest, and I move it down to his waist. It’s a small thing, but it makes him look more alive. “How is he?” I ask.
“I shave him today,” she says. “Other girls, they miss spots. I know you come, so I make him look nice.”
I like Millia the best out of all the nurses and nurse’s aides. She cares.
“Thank you, Millia.”
“He do fine,” she says. “Normal.”
As if there’s anything normal about this situation. When I turn to ask her how she is, there’s no one there. Sometimes I am frozen in time, and things change, but I don’t notice. I leave, pretending not to notice that the petals of the daisies are already browning at the edges.
I live in the same house on the same land where Lucas shot himself in his recliner. I had a professional crew clean it, and there is no sign violence ever occurred here. When I returned home after, all I smelled were lemons and citrus.
The dogs greet me. I’ve become somewhat of a collector. Out here in the country, I find kittens and stray dogs and once a lamb, and I bring them home to my farm. Our lab mutt had died a week after Lucas. Now I have some sort of collie mix I found on the side of 112th rd., Carrie, and Moses, a big sad eyed mutt of indeterminable origins, with long, soft, floppy ears he likes stroked. They run around my legs until I scoop a handful of treats out and toss them outside.
Things are quiet here. I like it. I don’t think about the thing that happened here, ever. I’ve erased it. I think of my memories like a reel of film, unspooled in my mind, and I snip out the bad parts, and then burn them. The thin slippery film curls at the edges and melts to nothing.
I will snip out what Millia said about the flowers dying too fast too. You can snip out almost anything. The things that won’t burn you can lock up in a box you never get open.
My routine is simple. I feed the animals in the morning, visit Lucas, check the mail on the way in, go for a walk, make a simple dinner, and watch TV until bed. Today I skip my walk. I am tired and it’s later than it should be. Instead, I eat a bowl of Life for dinner and fold up in my chair to watch Game of Thrones. I am on the second season, and I hate Cersei.
When I looked her up on the Internet, through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, she was a Cersei fan. Cersei was her idol. “I should wear the armor, and you the gown,” was her tag line on one of them. It’s been long enough I’m not sure which one, and I can’t check since she blocked me from everything a long time ago. Even with a fake page, all I can see is the basic profile pictures and whatnot. She’s married now, of course. Happy, even after the whole kidnapping thing. She was in the same hospital as Lucas, when she recovered, not the same floor. I only check once a week now. I had to make rules. I always have to about these things.
I understood what she meant, though. For someone who seemed soft and pliable as Play-Doh, Lucas had a way of ruining even the Cersei of this world.
I fall asleep in my chair, and when I wake up my eyes are slow to adjust. I take my Ambien, and I go to bed, alone, and even I realize I forgot to snip away the film, when my last thought is that the flowers die too fast.
Today is Tuesday. I wake with the same fluttering unease in my chest. It persists as I feed the animals, eat lunch, walk. Something is wrong with the house when I return. I cannot explain it, but the dread chews at me, until I have to get up and go through the house room by room, until I discover it.
Things happen here. I don’t tell anyone because I know they’d think that I was imagining things, that the stress has gotten to me. They would whisper behind their hands to each other. How it’s no wonder with all the things that have happened, that she’s cracked. Who can blame her, they would say, pitying yet condescending.
So, I don’t tell anyone, and I move all the things back to their rightful places. I put everything back and I take Ambien to sleep at night, and this is my life, drawn and quartered between this house and the care home for Lucas. I’ve always been trapped by him.
Today it’s the gold chain with the lion on the end. I had put it in the spare room with the rest of his things, his clothes hung in the closet, boxes of books and work things and odds and ends that were his and his alone. Months ago, I found the gold chain in his desk, underneath a box of pens. It was lying there loose, its chain knotted and tangled, winking at me.
I knew it wasn’t for me. I only wear silver because my skin reacts to gold. I put it on and red welts rise like baking bread and scurry along my body. I don’t know who it was for. I only know it was in the spare room, in the same box of pens I found it under. Now it was hanging on my doorknob, winking merrily.
I close my eyes and inhale. I will take it off, put it back in its box, and then I will cut and burn out the memory. None of this matters.
“Flowers die right away last time,” Millia says. She is standing at the doorway, knotting her hands together. She doesn’t cross the threshold.
“Sorry,” I say vaguely. I’m tired. Last night I thought I heard someone moving around the house before the Ambien kicked in. I didn’t get up and check. I never do. Enough Ambien, and the footsteps and clicks of doorknobs cease to exist.
Lucas hasn’t been shaved. I reach out and touch his face, the stubble stiff under my fingers. His eyes are open, flat and vast, post-apocalyptic.
“No one come in here last two days but me,” Millia ventures.
Is the room darker? It seems darker than it should, like the curtains are drawn even though they are wide open. I can feel the fluttering is faster, beating like the wings of a hummingbird.
“Something wrong here,” Millia says.
“Yes,” I say. “I know.”
When I replace the flowers, they are already brown. I do it anyway. I’m a dutiful wife.
Tonight, I need a fire, but I can’t get the logs to light.
I take a shower, and I swear I can hear things moving around, but I’m not sure anymore.
I stay in the shower until the waters run cold, and then I step out, listening carefully. It’s only seven o’clock but I can take my Ambien early. I think I should buy Millia flowers and thank her. It’s getting worse and she’s the only who will take care of Lucas now.
I take the corner of my towel to wipe a corner of the mirror to look at myself, a woman going on fifty, perhaps going insane.
Someone has written Hello on the mirror.
I feel the blackness swallowing me up as I turn too fast to check the bathroom door, make sure it’s locked. I fall, the floor rushing up towards me, and then there’s a sharp crack and red bursts across my field of vision. Then there’s nothing.
There are too many pieces of film that won’t burn in the box. It won’t close. I am pressing down on the lid trying to fight all the bad things when the phone rings and I have to step out of my mind and pick up the landline. There’s no reception out here. There hasn’t been for a long time.
I know that lilting, lyrical voice. I can’t place it.
“Mrs. Miller, are you there?”
“Mrs. Miller, something has happened to your husband.”
For better or worse.
“Mrs. Miller-your husband is missing.”
Through sickness and health.
“We reviewed the security footage and there’s nothing, no one coming, no one leaving, but we can’t find Mr. Miller anywhere.”
Until death do us part.
I hang up.
The last thing I said to Lucas was “Why don’t you go kill yourself?”
He never left and I never left and I cut out all the bad with him all the time and it was never enough, nothing was never enough, no matter how many times I forgave him when maybe all he wanted was for me to cut him loose because he didn’t want to have the guilty conscience and he wasn’t brave enough to leave but I never thought he was brave enough to go through with suicide either and the reel of film is running out and there’s no time to hang another and the scraps of memories I couldn’t delete are coming out of the box and their images are playing on the big movie screens in my mind and there are footsteps on the porch and I wait for the knock but I forgot to lock the front door and I have to go now.
My husband’s home.
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