A single drop of water was poised to fall off the overhang outside the small hallway window. How long would it take to descend? Eve couldn’t be sure.
Earlier, the rain pounded the roof, blew sideways across the yard and through the trees in heavy sheets, turning into gushing rivers streaming towards the storm drains. And then the deluge had gradually slowed, to only a trickle. And then to nothing at all.
But somehow this one drop of water continued to slowly swell and expand, now reflecting the glow of the returning sun which was finally escaping from behind no-longer-ominous clouds. How beautiful, Eve thought. Sometime soon it was bound to fall, and splash broken-heartedly onto the pavement below. She continued to gaze at it through the misting glass of the window, vaguely remembering lessons about condensation and evaporation she had learned in middle school from an unexcitable science teacher with chipmunk features.
The drop reminded her of the set of tiny glass Christmas ornaments her parents had received as a wedding present so many years ago and now lovingly hauled out each holiday season to add to the tree. She had always meant to learn how to blow glass, and work molten globs into art. How funny that something so hot and malleable turned into something cool and brittle. The juxtaposition intrigued her. The possibility of personal injury and burns did not. Hadn’t the glass blowing studio on the edge of town just publicized that new classes were forming? She needed to remember to call them and actually go to a class. She had gone so far as to sign up once. But then something had come up and she never went. Or was it twice that she signed up? She was never good with follow through in her personal life. Perhaps she should add that to her New Year’s resolutions, but she had failed to make those for the past several years–or had it been more like a decade? So hard to know.
“Hello? Are you there? Evie, are you there?”
Yes, there was a phone call. She remembered that now, feeling the comfortably solid receiver in her hand. It had weight to it, this receiver. Not like the cell phones which never seemed to have a decent signal here in the mountains. Phone calls were serious here in Eve’s house, with this phone that thunked so satisfyingly into its holder when she was done with a call. This phone seemed to anchor the house. Eve wanted a house with character, she told her real estate agent, a friendly older man who had seemed rather confused by this request when she had made it at their initial meeting. Ah, perhaps she was referring to Victorian homes, like the kind lining Willard Avenue? Or even older homes, maybe an updated log cabin from the 1800s? No, she had said, knowing these properties were well beyond her modest price range in even the best of lending situations. She was thinking that a pre-1960 home would do nicely–something before the era of the rancher and the mid-century modern obsession she kept hearing about on TV. And then they had found it, a 1940ish home with the original hard-wired phone still intact. She could not bring herself to remove it, although it did not allow her to roam about with the ease of her friends who always seemed to be driving to power meetings or washing dishes or doing the laundry or feeding the baby when they talked.
No, she had to stand, in a rather hunched position directly under a low door frame leading to this tiny hallway, awkwardly positioning herself while she talked on the phone. She could, she supposed, add a seating area near the phone. Maybe one of those telephone table and chair combinations she glimpsed in antique stores from time to time. But, somehow she had never acquired one. The solid phone sat on a perfectly serviceable stand which she kept stocked with spare notepaper and a collection of pencils that never seemed to have functional erasers. It hadn’t seemed to be a problem, this telephone location, until now when she realized she was apparently in the midst of a phone conversation, and her head throbbed and her back ached from the cramped standing position. And, really, all she wanted to do was look at that drop of water, but it was hard to concentrate on it and this call at the same time. What did this caller want again?
Her Aunt Maggie’s voice came more urgently through the phone. Yes, she was here. Yes, she would make the call. Wait, give me the number again. Ok, let me read that back to you. Ok, I’ve got it. Thank you. Yes, the dogs are doing well.
Eve turned to the window again and did not see the drop of water, but later on, when thinking about it in bed that night, with her suitcase packed and train reservation made, she couldn’t decide if this was because the drop had finally fallen or if she simply hadn’t looked for it.
Eve stared at the phone number, trying hard to focus through wet eyes, pictured dialing the number and imagined what she might say when Brooke answered the phone. Brooke had called Eve’s aunt, Maggie Lambert, to say something had happened to Jesse. Could Maggie please ask Eve to call, as soon as possible? It made sense, actually, that Brooke had located Maggie Lambert, the last Lambert to live in Claridge County. Eve’s parents had graduated from snowbirds to full-time Floridians several years ago and Eve had moved to West Virginia to take advantage of a new nursing job in the mountains where she had always felt a sense of peace. Brooke had found the only Lambert she could in the last area she might have known to look for Eve. And now Aunt Maggie had passed Brooke’s message on to Eve.
A call must be made, Eve realized, but what do you say to the wife of the man you have loved for so long?
One ring. Maybe she won’t actually answer, Eve thought.
Two rings. Maybe she could just leave a message.
Three rings. Yes, a message is perfect.
Four rings, she could express concern, thought Eve, provide her phone number and then give herself some time to collect her thoughts. There will clearly be a funeral of some kind. She should go. Absolutely, she should go. And a donation to an appropriate cause. What, she wondered, might that be? How much should one give in such a case? Had he been in pain at the end? Was he alone and afraid? Was anyone there to comfort him?
Five rings and a voice.
“Eve, thank god. Thank you so much for calling.”
There was an accident, a training mission gone awry. Head injury. Coma. Deeply asleep for days. And then, miraculously alert. A true gift from above, Brooke had said. And then she went on, the details fuzzy to Eve even now as she sits on the train chugging toward Jesse.
“Please come. We need you. We need you to explain things to him.”
Eve shut her eyes at that. We. We meant Jesse without Eve, with someone else, and just like that the old pain came coursing through, the hurt she must be careful not to show after so many years.
She had heard about disenfranchised grief when she was training to be a nurse. It was a concept she learned in a lecture and stored away before her shifts on a hospice ward when she had seen the evidence with her own eyes. The ex-husbands who had, while they lived, publicly loathed the women they previously married but when they arrived surreptitiously for a final visit, were inconsolable in grief they were too embarrassed to mention to anyone but a nurse they had never met before. The career military man whose decades-long partner was riddled with pancreatic cancer and died on a sunny day, just as the wind was picking up. This man, with his chest full of medals, could not share the devastating news with his co-workers, or ask for compassionate leave in the era of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The cherubic woman who held her mother’s hand and smiled to calm the one who raised her as she left this world, who then cried out in grief for her beloved dog, Ben, who died twelve years before. Eve was there to provide comfort and tissues knowing she held her own share of grief, folded tightly to her lungs.
Jesse had called to arrange a date for the day before their anniversary. She knew the date, etched on her heart. How adorable that he missed it by one day. He was so nervous, and Eve tried not to smile. She was prepared. She wore the red dress that itched under the armpits, the one she knew was a mistake the moment she got it home but somehow he loved it and so she kept it, to make him happy. She beamed to herself, picturing his reaction. She expected him to kneel before her, to proffer a ring. (God knows how he chose one–with luck he would have consulted his mother.)
She anticipated he would say she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen (even though she knew it wasn’t true), vow to provide for her always, promise to be her best friend forever, pick her up in his strong arms and dance in a circle, and shout with happiness after she said yes. If she was lucky, he would raise his hand to the side of her face and let his index finger rest on the lobe of her ear in that endearing gesture she loved from the first.
His hands were shaking as he reached for her and stared at the floor. I love you, I love you so much. But I’m not IN love with you. I want you to find someone who deserves you. There was more, but Eve couldn’t retain it. Didn’t want to. She lost sense of time. Heard nothing but blood whooshing loudly in her ears. What had happened next? She couldn’t recall. One moment Jesse was there and the next he was gone. What had she missed? What had she done wrong? These were the questions she asked to herself that evening as she stood in the shower in her red dress, the strong stream from the showerhead pounding against her throbbing chest.
Eve stepped tentatively into the rehab center and touched the wall lightly with her fingertips, to add a semblance of balance, as elements of the community room across the hall popped into focus.
Chairs near the TV were filled with men in slippers who had nodded off during a game show. While several men sat in a conversational visiting area off to the side, speaking with family members and friends, others were shouting good-naturedly to one another while playing video games in front of another screen. However, the most popular activity was the card game going on at the back of the room. Five players, and even more spectators, were clustered around a notched wooden table and crammed into dented metal chairs that had clearly survived multiple administrations. From a distance, she heard a laugh emanate from the table and time stopped.
That laugh–the singular mix of joy and confidence that began in his chest before flooding outward. It had been so long since she heard that sound. Her breath bubbled in her throat and Eve slowly sank into a green plastic chair in the hallway as she caught sight of him through the wide doorway. She knew him instantly. Jesse’s hands held his cards expertly in a tight fan and she observed several rounds of play, just to watch those hands touch the cards. She knew those hands and what they could do. She loved those hands.
His silky black hair curled over the collar of his t-shirt. Eve had peppered Jesse with pleas to promise to grow out his hair when his job no longer required a certain dress code. She had only ever seen it cut into a precise crew cut, but she felt that hair had potential. Great potential. Here he was with the hair she had always wanted to grasp in her fingers and use to pull him close. It looked even better than she had dreamed. Now he had finally done it–grown it out–and her fingers itched knowing they would never have the chance to feel that beautiful hair between them. How ironic that her own hair was now cut to chin length and no longer flowed down her back like a river.
Brooke had met Eve at the train station and the story tumbled out. We rushed to the hospital, but he does not know me. His eyes search my face, and he does not know me. He does not know our children. Doesn’t recognize them. Has no memory of me. His first words – Eve. Where is Eve? I want Eve.
Eve hears the light sounds of the first drops of rain on the rehab center’s roof. She closes her eyes for a brief moment before standing and slowly walking toward the card game and the man who knows her and now wants her, only this time she must be the one to say goodbye.
Sarah Bigham teaches, paints, and writes in Maryland where she lives with her kind chemist wife, their three independent cats, and an unwieldy herb garden. A Pushcart nominee, her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in Bacopa, Entropy, Fourth & Sycamore, The Quotable, Rabbit, Touch, and elsewhere. Find her at www.sgbigham.com.
© 2017, Sarah Bigham