This is a piece from Suppose, an anthology of short stories that Kathy published in April of 2014.
Suppose your imagination were bursting with ideas, dreams, and fantasies. Suppose you had life experiences imprinted on your brain, experiences so strange that nobody could ever imagine them to be true. Suppose you were able to share what was tumbling about inside your head.
Suppose will immerse your imagination in tales that embrace an eclectic mix of humor, horror, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, and life experiences so unbelievable that they have been disguised as fiction.
Are you ready for a bumpy ride? Buckle your seatbelt.
This story is based on a tale penned by a young woman who identified herself as Ada. She created it from her recollection of events, assisted by entries in her mother’s diary. Could it be true? How would you know if it were?
He’s dying. Marianne cradled Heinrich’s emaciated hand in hers. She gazed at his yellowish-grey skin. His tortured breathing, a rattle interspersed with bubbling, was almost inaudible among the beeps of monitoring equipment. His exhalations were so weak they barely stirred his bedraggled moustache. Tubes fed him, drained him. He floated in and out of consciousness.
Less than a week. The doctors said he’d be dead in less than a week. I’m going to paint him. I’m going to paint him the way he must have looked before he got sick.
The day nurse checked Heinrich’s vitals. “Your dad’s fortunate to have a dedicated daughter who gave up her vacation to spend it with him. You should go home for a while and get some sleep.” He reassured her, “It’s okay. He’s stable for now. We’ll call you if his condition deteriorates.”
As she plodded home contemplating the watery cracks in the sidewalk, she imagined how Heinrich might have looked when he was younger. The hospital staff had believed her lie. But Heinrich wasn’t her father. She had rescued him from the street. He was a sick, homeless man with partial amnesia.
By the time she had completed the five-block walk to her apartment, her blonde-streaked auburn hair was plastered limp to her brow from the rain. She toweled off and hurried straight to her ease.
She painted Heinrich healthy. Handsome. Young.
It was the painting that changed her life.
It was the moment that changed the world.
The unit clerk at the nursing station gaped, unable to speak. She pointed in the direction of Heinrich’s ward. Marianne rushed toward his room. No. Am I too late?
Heinrich was sitting up in bed. He was healthy. Handsome. Young.
Marianne passed out.
Nobody believed it at first, but Heinrich’s brain tumor was indeed gone. He remembered Marianne. He remembered his surname and his past life. And his wife was flying in from the west coast to take him home.
Marianne was in a state of shock for several weeks. Nothing in her world appeared real anymore. She teetered in a daydream—or maybe a nightmare—hovering on the brink of insanity. Lights seemed brighter. Darkness seemed blacker. She often found herself staring at nothing. She entertained a fleeting urge to dye her auburn hair cobalt-blue like her daughter’s, but she decided it wouldn’t befit a woman her age. As most humans do, she adjusted, and life continued.
Then her daughter fell ill.
Ada had leukemia, the doctors said. Poor prognosis, the specialists agreed. Ada quit her classes at the university. She asked Marianne to paint her portrait before it was too late, before she was too skinny.
“Thanks, Mom,” Ada said. “Thanks for everything. Thanks for raising me all by yourself, for everything you’ve taught me.” She wept. “I don’t want to die.” But she was stoic for the entire sitting, managing to smile in spite of her anguish. The painting was flattering, with exactly the right tints of cobalt-blue in her hair.