A Galaxy of Weeping Promises
There is a whisper tickling the air, mumbled sorrows through tired lips. The monitor sings its placid song, reverberating in the room and unheeded by death's impatient taps (he has a job to do; he can't wait around all day, you see). It's an old song, albeit a repetitive one, but it's the most important one in this building of tears and gnashing teeth, and the doctors do their best to uphold its loop, to keep the lullaby alive, even if the world would be an easier place if it all just stopped.
Because cruelty is kind that way.
beep beep beep
"Not enough." The nurses whisper as they lodge the sick with sick in clustered dorms of skin and human stench. The hospital cannot house that many patients and the doctors cannot refute the ill, and so a conundrum is born. The diseased are packed into rooms, as many as one can fit, beds be damned. If the floor could carry, then it will. The plague claims many and gives more, and still has the courtesy to leave others alone. It is kind enough to take lives painlessly, and yet heartless enough to leave the rest—or the other way around, at least to fifty-four-year old Morrison, who is amongst those left untouched and shattered. His wife did not receive the same cruelty (kindness, mercy reminds, but everyone's stopped listening).
Her face gleams with tunnels carved from stories and age—tired, worn, and there is
on her face.
A marvelous little smile.
Morrison had never seen her smile like that in all their years of marriage. It carries into his ribs, aching and catching his heart in a frightening grip. It makes his time-weary hands tremble with awe.
(she's lovely even though she's broken)
He finds what his near-death wife had been staring at. Across the cluster of beds riddled with clammy feet and hushed promises, beyond the mass of heads sifting in the room, there is a child.
A little girl.
In this room of disease and life slipping through hollow, begging bones, there is a little girl in a dress as white as the walls, shining fresh with healthy eyes and youthful cheeks. Her hands—small, breakable—house a book, and she reads to the sleeping woman on the bed.
The woman isn't sleeping.
The child hasn't realized yet.
The lullaby is over.
The song has finished.
The monitor has stopped singing.
It screams instead.
"Mori." His wife's voice breaks easily against the air, brittle and shattered, and he catches every last speck of dust as they fall into his begging palms and buries it next to the whimpering in his chest.
"Yes, Adelaide?" His hands fill hers, and he can imagine for a moment that it is eternity he tastes on his tongue.
It tastes salty. (like tears and Sunday-afternoon meat pies)
"We never. . . ." Her voice dies out before it ever really begins. He squeezes her hand tighter, pouring every apology he's ever silenced into the cracked crevices of her nails. She blinks, his blood flutters maddeningly, and then she speaks. "We never had children."
He rolls this eternity he's wished between his teeth and it lolls, soft and cold like powdery snow, and undeniably salty.
He glances back at the child, the little girl with the white feathers trapped on her shoulders. The patients shift uncomfortably, heavy with awareness yet too busy scraping their mangled hearts off the floor to tell the girl. He looks back into his wife's eyes and finds a star forming.
When the doctor comes, a face of stone because tears are lost and he's forgotten how to look for them, Adelaide asks. The doctor sees and frowns.
Another conundrum forms.
The woman is the child's mother, and then that mother is a foster mother, and then that child is an orphan. The city is already ruined and stumbling. The child will be lost amongst the chaos. She won't have to die from the plague to die.
The book in her hands has almost reached the end. Heartbeats rush to hear the child realize the missing breaths.
"Mori," his wife calls again, and when he looks this time, the star has become a galaxy. "We never had children."
It is in this moment that he truly shatters.
"No, Adelaide, no—" There are hushes and whispered hugs and eyes that break to ash. There is an old man losing his wife. There is an orphan reading to her dead mother. "You-you can't—"
In the end of it all, with her beautiful smile, his wife is the cruelest.
The girl has finished her story. Her hands are on her mother's face.
The air is silent, bated. A dying woman gazes at her husband, her soul clinging to a tether of listless clouds.
"You . . . you can't leave, Adelaide." And the old man weeps, and the child weeps, and still there is someone in the room, smiling. "You can't leave me and give me something I got no business having."
He knows he can't deny her though.
Even now, only four days of empty nights later, as she sleeps under a cake of dirt and earth, he doesn't deny her. His hand grips the frail child's, bright and daunting in her little white dress with feathers vibrant into wings on her shoulders. She peers up at him with forgiving eyes and a smile checkered with hope. He buries the song in a cold space between his blood and watches the girl's wings spread.
"Let's go home," he tells her, and she flutters into the clouds.
Together, they soar.
YOU ARE READING
Verbum ~ Senior Magazine 2015Short Story
In an effort to showcase high school students’ writing ability and to encourage the other students to present their own writings in the coming years and to also promote high school students' 21st century skills, we present to you the first ever onli...