Parting Words, flash fiction by Susan Condon
Susan Condon, a native of Dublin, is currently working on her second novel. She was awarded a Certificate in Creative Writing from NUI Maynooth while her short stories have won numerous awards including first prize in the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Award. Publications include My Weekly, Ireland’s Own Anthology, Flash Flood Journal, Spelk and Flash Fiction Magazine. Susan blogs at: www.susancondon.wordpress.com or you can find her on Twitter: @SusanCondon
But I couldn’t stay away.
I mount the stone steps and enter the old building. The doors seal shut behind me, muffling the noise of rush-hour traffic. Each day I’ve walked these narrow corridors, I’ve come across a cleaner buffering the parquet floors. Today is no exception. The fluorescent lights produce a warm reflection, but the lavender wax never quite masks the pungent smell that hangs in the air; strong and cloying.
I turn left, up three flights of stairs. Reaching the top, I pause a moment before continuing down the corridor. I need to know that everything is okay, yet I’m afraid. My heart hammers loudly in my chest, drowning out every other noise around me, but I slap on my happy face and push through the doors.
Each of the four occupants is hooked up to an array of tubes and beeping screens. Gurgling masks cover half their faces, pumping life into their bodies, while below each bed transparent bags drain bodily fluids. I see his dark hair curling on the white pillow.
“I’m sorry,” a nurse cuts me off, “you can’t be in here.”
“It’s my husband,” I say. “Tom. Tom Dwyer.”
She looks towards his bed, then nods.
My eyes tear. It’s more difficult than I’d imagined. I’m used to seeing my big, strong husband shouting to his team-mates as they careen up and down the rugby pitch, not lying here, looking frail and helpless. His face is so pale it’s nearly translucent, the cheeks sunken.
I kiss him on the forehead, trailing my fingers along his cheek.
His eyes flicker, the dark lashes eventually parting to reveal his blue eyes. “You came,” he says, the words barely audible.
“Of course, Tom.” I bend closer, taking his hand.
His eyes close and a smile crosses his face. “You came, Amy. You came.”
Then mayhem ensues.
Machines screech. Lights flash. An army of medical staff appear shouting orders to each other. I’m pushed further and further back until all I can see is the end of the green coverlet.
“Charge to 100.”
“Clear,” a young girl in scrubs shouts. Her voice is loud. Commanding. As everyone moves back, I realise that she’s the one holding the paddles. My husband’s life is – quite literally – in her hands.
I can see his limp body. She presses the paddles to his bare chest. Electricity courses through his body as they attempt to shock him back to life.
The coverlet jerks up, then back down again.
“Charge to 150.”
The line on the screen remains flat.
“Once more. Charge to 150.”
Again his body rises from the bed.
A nurse notices me standing there. She attempts to pull the curtain, then stops, her eyes catching mine.
For a moment there is only silence.
“Time of death …”
My mouth opens, closes, but no words escape. I stand there, numb and unbelieving. I begin to sway. A firm hand rests on my shoulder and guides me to the family room. I sit, my body bending forward until my head rests on my knees and the tears begin to flow.
A young doctor appears. He sits opposite me.
“I’m very sorry, Mrs Dwyer.
“Sarah,” I say, standing up.
“Surgery went well earlier but there’s always a possibility, with these type of injuries, that there would be complications. We did everything we could but—“
I walk from the room. Tears streaming down my face while an angry rage threatens to erupt at the man I thought I knew.
“My name is Sarah.”
© Susan Condon