Chapter One Hampton Virginia
The hospital smelled antiseptic and felt cold and lonely, like an unlived-in house with dusty sheets thrown over all the upholstery. Three ward clerks, two elevator rides, and I finally arrived at Lillian’s room. Private accommodations resembling the five star hotel of your choice. Chris sat in a chair beside her bed, dejected as a lost toddler.
No one told me anything prior to my arrival so I didn’t know what to expect. Chris’s text sent less than an hour ago said, simply, “Mom’s in the hospital. It’s bad.” Because of my anger, I didn’t try to call him to find out more details. Punishing him by punishing myself.
The text surprised me for two reasons. Chris and I argued terribly for the past three weeks and just this morning, he stormed out of our house yelling through the slammed front door, “I will never set foot in this hell hole, again.” An hour later, I received the text about his mother, a woman with a presumed lifespan roughly equal to a bristlecone pine. Two shocking events to shatter my already shattered day.
Lillian’s frail body, grey skin, and multiple tubes and wires told a horrible tale. “She collapsed in the grocery store,” Chris said. “The doctor said it is heart failure.”
“Chris, I’m so sorry,” I whispered. Sorry for what? Of course, I felt sorrow for his mother, but did the sentiment mean I forgave his behavior? Not time for that, yet.
“She isn’t going to make it. She is going to die.” Chris dabbed the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand. “What am I going to do? I can’t lose my mother and my wife in the same day.”
“You haven’t lost me. I am just…” Just what? I wondered for several moments while Chris watched me expectantly. He waited for my answer. “I am just angry.”
He looked relieved. “I know what I said this morning, Anne, but I need you. Can I come home?”
“Yes. You can’t sleep on a park bench.”
“Technically, I could. I just don’t want to.” He tried to smile. Chris stood and said, “Have a seat. I’ll find another chair, plus I feel the need to smoke after all these months completely smoke free.”
Are we to share anything? Even this? I watched his back as he left the room. Leaving me alone with his dying mother.
I turned my attention to Lillian, a woman I had grown to love deeply over the past seventeen years. Lillian gave birth to Chris at the age of forty-seven. She and her eldest son, Matthew, raised Chris together because Chris’s father died on the day of his birth.
Lillian told me about Chris’s father shortly before our wedding. “Mr. Archer hung on as long as he could, actually waiting until he saw the baby before he fell into a coma and died about four hours later. Late stage lung cancer from smoking five packs of unfiltered Lucky Strikes every day for over forty years. Stupid old bastard. Left me and Matt to raise Chris and I think we did a good job. You must think so, too, if you are planning to marry my son.”
Lillian was already seventy-seven when Chris and I married. Seventeen years later, the ninety-four year old woman lay in a hospital, life rapidly slipping away. Before her collapse, she lived alone in a grand old house that she cared for herself. She even mowed the grass herself and repaired her dishwasher just two weeks ago.
“Oh, Lillian,” I said as I gripped her hand hard enough to make my hand ache. “Don’t leave us alone. We need you something fierce, Chris and me. We won’t make it as a couple without you. Don’t go.” And the tears wet her hand and mine. The woman seemed as solid as Mount Rushmore the previous week when I visited her.
NOTE: A couple of notes about this story. First, the title is just a working title and may change. Character names may change. In fact, at this stage, anything can change.
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