Life is a convoluted thing, John thought. Wrong in so many ways. No matter how you choose to live your life, you have no choice how or when it comes to the end. You can live for the first sip of wine, the perfect sunset, adrenaline, the sudden rush of soft, first-kiss lips…you can live a series of climaxes and the end can still be anticlimactic. White rooms that smell like disinfectant and friends who avert their eyes when they visit. Or you can live a life of safety and reserve and be eviscerated by a bear. There’s no sense to it.
He knew that his days were numbered. He’d always hated that cliché, but the fucking doctor had numbered them, literally, so what was he supposed to do? Nothing. And John was not a man who could do nothing well. So he lay on starched sheets and endured visits from old girlfriends, women still beautiful and fresh. He knew they tried not to look at him. Tried to ignore the patchy head of hair and the gaunt cheeks.
He was aware of everything, but his body was betraying him. He could not speak. He could not walk. He lived inside himself and thought of former victories. Carefree days of sport and drink and conversation. They tortured him, but he could not stop them. He did not want to remember. Yet, he could not help it. Convoluted. Indeed.
He had no real concept of time except that he knew it was passing. He could feel it whispering in his ears, shimmering into the distance. So much irony in dying. You live your whole life with all the time in the world. And then, like an optical illusion, you see it refracted and shrinking into nothing. All the hours spent watching bad movies and forcing your way through depressing chit-chat small talk at cocktail parties. Not enough time making love. Too many books still waiting to be read. But all of this means nothing. It all means nothing.
Doctors and nurses and orderlies and janitors shuffled in and out, but John was becoming less and less aware. He lived in a dream. It was comforting and horrible. He had lost all his senses save the sense of touch. He felt the violation of needles and sponge baths and poking fingers.
Deborah was new and not yet bitter. She still believed that nursing was the greatest calling in the world. And maybe it is. But along the years her colleagues had stopped believing it. She hadn’t. So, some nights, when things were slow, she would stop and sit with the patients. Read to them. Tell them stories. Some smiled or cried. Some did not move. Some could not hear. John was a mystery to her. There was something about him. Something different. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she knew somewhere deep inside her mind that he was in pain. He did not move. He did not speak. His face was blank and soft like freshly poured concrete. But the whisper of pain was there. She was there the night he died. Sitting beside the bed, she had the sudden impulse to grab his hand. To softly kiss his cheek. And suddenly John’s mind exploded in light and sound. He was in a vast ballroom. He was wearing a tuxedo. He was holding the hand of the only woman he had ever truly been afraid of. He was watching her twirl in her brave red dress. He was thinking maybe he could love her for ever. And they spun together, laughing, finally free.