“It’s been four years.” She looked up, eyes blankly scanning the faces in the room as if Jane no longer recognized who she saw. “All he could do was lie there, all these tubes stuck in him, his hospital bed surrounded by all these devices. The IV, oxygen tank — there was this machine, it monitored his pulse, blood pressure, something about his breathing — it had all these little wires running out the back, at the end of them were these pads, they put them on his arms. Tried to put them where his skin was clear, but that was hard, by that time he was covered in all these purple and black bruises, like he’d been beat up by a motorcycle gang.”
“Jane –” her mother stopped, feeling Dr. Patel’s soft, commanding touch on her forearm.
“We took turns.” A strand of hair fell across her face; Jane brushed it away with annoyance. “Shifts, really. Mom for six hours, my brother a few, Aunt Sheila — I was the one who stayed overnight. I liked how quiet it was, the damn machine beeped every five seconds but it didn’t take long to tune that out. I’d talk to him — they say people like him, they can still hear — ” her loud sniff drew in the air around her.
“What did you say to him?”
Jane gave no indication of having heard Dr. Patel’s question. “I talked to him about that day we went to the zoo, when I was six. Just me and him. He led a pony I rode, took me on rides, bought me the blue cotton candy I wanted — nothing we hadn’t done before, or wouldn’t do again a dozen more times. But that day, because it was just us — and he never got distracted that day — taught me all his corny jokes, how to deliver them — he made me feel like I was the only thing he cared about that day. Like I was the most important person in the world.” Jane swallowed, tears streaming down her cheeks like rivulets from a tidal pool cascading onto beach rocks. “And I never told him, how I always remembered that day, best day of my life, hands down. Until that night, in the hospital. When he could hear, but couldn’t speak. That morning he died. When we didn’t have to wait anymore — when they turned off all those machines.”
Dr. Patel leaned forward. “You’ve been thinking of your father a lot lately.”
Jane nodded, turned towards Dr. Patel with eyes too blurred from tears to see. “It’s stupid, I know — what’s happened to me, there’s no possible explanation — but I can’t help feeling, that if he was here — he’d make some dumb joke, tell me some story — he’d find some way to make me feel like I wasn’t crazy — ”
“Jane.” As mother and daughter folded their sorrow into each other’s arms, their friends realized there would be no place for comforting platitudes this evening, reassurances that he was in a better place or he’ll live forever in your heart would sound hollow and insincere. All they could do the rest of this evening for their friend was demonstrate that even in this alien world that she had been thrust into, there were people who could keep her warm on even the harshest of November evenings.