By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: His world changed on a Tuesday afternoon.
He let his gaze go to the light from the window, closed his eyes, and in his mind took a step forward as his world changed on a Tuesday afternoon.
He got a promotion. He became president of his company, traveled the world, changed the industry. He retired on a Friday, accepted an award on a Wednesday, went to a black tie dinner to celebrate him on a Saturday.
He renewed his vows on his 50th anniversary and again on his 60th. He held his wife’s hand so she wouldn’t have to hold a cane. He tried not to grunt when the grandchildren threw themselves at his legs for a hug.
He opened his eyes. Rapid beeping. One breath. The beeping bottomed out.
His world changed on a Tuesday afternoon from a warm, muted place to one where the cold slapped him in the rear.
Sounds rushed at him from all sides; most he didn’t recognize. One he did. He wished he could get closer to that sound, but then it gained distance from him at a rapid pace. He sucked in a breath at the shock of it all and let loose a howl.
The unfamiliar sounds continued, unabated.
On that afternoon, he became a football star. A physicist. A politician who actually solved problems.
He won the Nobel prize, shot to the stars in a rocket, cured cancer. He became an Olympic swimmer, a skier, beat Usain Bolt to the finish line. He built schools for poor children.
He lost a parent.
He healed a heart.
That evening, Lori held the baby close and tried to force her tears to stop. When she couldn’t, she tilted her head so they would fall on his blanket instead of his face. His birth brought some life back to her.
Her sister, Becky, cleared her throat and fidgeted.
“Lor, come on,” she said in a gentle tone
“I know,” Lori replied, sniffling. “It’s just he looks so much like Paul.”
She shifted a little in the bed so holding the phone didn’t interfere so much with holding the baby. Becky gave her a brave smile through the screen, but it just made Lori’s tears run faster. After a moment, Becky’s face crumpled too. She cleared her throat and dragged her fingers across her eyes, stopping at the corners for a moment. Then she dropped her hands and forced a bright smile.
“I’m going to pick you up on Friday,” Becky reminded her. “Come on, Lor. Lori? Come on. Paul wouldn’t want you to be like this.”
Lori nodded; just then a nurse appeared in the doorway.
“I have to go,” Lori said, a catch in her throat. “Can I call you back in an hour?”
Becky nodded, gave a little wave.
“I love you, sis,” she said.
She hung up, and the nurse came closer. She took Lori’s phone and set it on the small rolling table that seemed so close, yet so far away. Ever since giving birth hours earlier, the world had expanded and contracted in ways familiar and bizarre.
The nurse’s eyes lifted in what Lori thought looked like a smile. It was hard to tell over the mask, but that had to be it. What other expression would the labor and delivery nurses be giving their patients?
“How are you feeling?” the nurse asked, her voice muffled.
Lori swallowed hard. “Okay. It’s just…I can’t believe Paul never got to meet his little boy. He was here…in the hospital, and he…never…”
Her voice cracked, then shattered, on those last words, and this time she let go. Becky wasn’t on FaceTime to chide her, to urge her to be strong, to tell her that Paul would have wanted her to love their baby for both of them. Her wails echoed across the walls, and within moments the baby started crying too. The nurse took the baby, shushed him, and placed him in the small rolling bassinet she’d pulled behind her; then she came back to Lori, put an arm around her, and squeezed hard.
“No, he didn’t,” the nurse said, “but you still have a piece of him here with you.”
Lori let that thought settle in her mind, even as her body demanded she let loose her tears. After several minutes her cries slowed, then turned into hitches, and, with the help of several tissues from the rolling table and a cup of water, stopped. She gulped air, and her gaze wandered to her son, now sleeping.
“A piece of Paul,” she whispered.
The nurse nodded and squeezed her around the shoulders again.