Letting Go – a short story (full)

Originally entered into the Reedsy weekly prompts contest #74. Prompt: write a story in the form of a top ten list. (Prompt contests can be viewed here). Warning: get some tissues!

The decision has been made. The machines are keeping her husband alive, but for what? It’s like trying to fly a kite that has a hole in it, or pumping up a tire with a leak; pointless. She watches the little white plastic pump as it goes up and down, reminding her of an accordion. The air gets pushed in; the air gets pulled out. He is unable to hold the air in on his own. His body has given up. There’s no hope left, she’d been told. Still, she’d been hanging on for weeks, wishing and hoping and praying that fate would still have more in store for him. For them. She rubs her belly, swollen with the unborn child he leaves behind. This is too much, she thinks. I can’t do this. But she has to. There was nothing left, and she knew he wouldn’t want to live his life like this. To her, he’s still here. His body is right here–look. His chest is moving. His heart’s rhythm is steady. The beeps continue. His eyes are closed, but he’s right here. She feels his skin–warm. And every so often, his hand twitches.

She wants to believe that he’s still in there somewhere. That his body is just asleep. Maybe there’s some sort of miscommunication between his brain and his body. What if he’s still in there? What if he can hear us? What if he’s trying to call out, “No! Don’t give up! I’m still here! I just need more time!

It’s normal to feel that way, the doctors say. It’s hard to accept when something like this happens, they sympathize. She feels like she’s being pressured into this decision, but his family agrees; it’s time to let go.

How can I let go? she says. I’m not ready. But he is, they point out. You’re seeing his body, but he’s not in there anymore, they explain. He died the minute he hit the pavement.

The pavement. She envisions the scene of the dreadful accident. The wheel spinning on his motorcycle. The road covered in gravel and shattered glass. The car which spun out of control after hitting him, slamming into the hydro pole and smashing the front end. Everything is quiet, like time has paused to take in what just happened, the Universe deciding what to do. The warm, dry breeze blows through the wheat field. Blue skies overhead. Steam rises from the hood of the car. The driver, bloodied and unconscious, is heaped over his steering wheel–but he’s still breathing. And her husband lay twenty feet away, face down and not moving at all. She wasn’t there to see it, but this is how she pictures it, over and over in her mind.

She looks at him now. His bruises have healed, but his soul has not. His soul departed this earth the moment his body stopped functioning on its own. He looks peaceful, but he is not at peace. Somewhere deep down, she knows this.

Taking out her notepad and a pen, she begins to write her ten most favorite things about him and the time they have spent together in this life; a suggestion her therapist had given her in her most recent grief session.

Ten. The day we met, she writes. Some might call it a coincidence, but she didn’t think so. Of course this makes the list. It was one of her most treasured memories. The way the sun hung low in the sky, dipping everything it touched with melted gold. The water, still sparkling like glitter in a snow globe. The air, hot and thick. She’d been on the footpath at the park, leaning over the railing at the lake and eating an ice cream cone. When she turned to leave, she collided with him as he jogged, stopping them both in their tracks. She was mortified. Ice cream dripped and oozed down both of their shirts. She gasped and for a split second, expected to be yelled at. But when she looked at him, they both started laughing. She apologized and dug through her purse hoping to find some napkins, but pulled out seven crumpled up old receipts instead. She offered them all to him, still apologizing profusely, but he told her it’s ok, she should use them. He took his shirt off instead and dipped it in the lake, wringing it out before slapping it over his shoulder with a massive goofy grin on his face. That day changed their lives forever. They introduced themselves and shook hands. And the rest is history.

Nine. Christmas at the cabin. They’d forgone the usual Christmas activities with the family, just this once. They wanted to spend it alone, together. The cabin was her parents’, and it would be vacant over the holidays. It wasn’t used much in the winter. It was a mere two hours away. They’d even brought up their Christmas decorations and chopped a tree down when they got there. Christmas morning was cozy, warm, and happy. It was snowy, but the sun was shining. He’d lit a fire, and they’d exchanged gifts over hot cups of coffee. The last gift she’d given him was a special one. In the box, under some folded red tissue paper, was a black shirt with ‘ME’ written in big white letters surrounded by a simple thick border. Under another layer of tissue paper was a tiny onesie in the same style, only it read ‘MINI ME’ on the front. He’d looked at her and smiled. ‘We’re having a baby?’ he said. She nodded and smiled, and he picked her up in a big hug and swung her around. They’d been trying for a year. ‘I’m gonna be a dad!’ he said, and she would have sworn there were tears in his eyes.

Eight. Sundays. Sundays were their days. They wouldn’t often make plans with anyone else. Weekdays were for working, Friday nights and Saturdays were for running errands and getting together with friends. Sundays were just for them. They’d usually start the days off lazily, with cups of coffee and their current reads. Sometimes snuggled up on the couch together, other times she’d sit in the window seat and he’d be at his desk. The afternoons were for car rides, strolls, hikes, or gardening. And dinners were always at home on Sundays, prepped and cooked together. During the busy week days, they’d whip up quick dinners or grab something out somewhere, so Sundays they took time to spend together.

Seven. That time he proposed. He was a man of big gestures, and it wasn’t just for show. He took the time and put the effort into things that really mattered. Being old-fashioned and respectable, he’d secretly asked her parents for their blessing in marriage, and of course they’d given it without issue. They loved him from the moment they met him. He’d planned a weekend camping trip, and away they went. He had insisted on setting everything up himself when they arrived at their campsite, so she made a snack while he got the tent and their bed ready. After an evening paddle in their kayaks and a relaxing fire, they’d gone to bed. When she laid down to get snuggled and comfy, something was hard under her back. She didn’t want to complain after he’d taken on the task of setting it all up himself, but it was too uncomfortable. He seemed to be almost watching her struggle. When she reached under the sleeping bag and pulled out a little velvet box, she was stunned, and he was smiling. He took her back outside of the tent and proposed to her under the light of a million stars, but even they paled in comparison to the light she felt in her heart and soul that night.

Six. The day they brought Bailey home. Bailey is their dog, a beautiful, loyal, happy Golden Retriever. After they moved in together, they decided to really seal the deal by adopting a puppy together, and Bailey was the one. He chose them—he strutted right over to them and jumped up at their legs, and they were instantly in love. He’s such a wonderful dog, and he goes everywhere with them. He’s already so sad, she thought. He’s really going to miss you.

A nurse came in to check on things just then, and to see if she was ready yet. No words were spoken. She just looked up at the nurse and shook her head. She said all she needed to with her eyes, and the nurse left her again.

She looked at him, still in the same position, still the same rhythmic beeping, still the same swoosh of the ventilator as it breathed air into his lungs for him. She was trying so hard not to break down in tears.

Five. The vacation in Brazil. The endless beaches, the sand surfing, the buckets of mouthwatering shrimp they got at those little restaurants down at the water. The café com leite. The pistachio gelato, the fresh cold coconut water. Laying in the hammock together on the porch of their casa de hóspedes. The trip to Foz do Iguaçu and the little ring-tailed coati who came down from a tree and stole an apple out of the mesh side pocket of his backpack as they walked by. It was such an amazing place to go, and they swore they’d go back again someday.

Four. The wedding. How could this not be on the list? It was the best worst day ever. They’d planned their wedding to be outdoors in her parent’s backyard. The weather was supposed to be perfect–and then it wasn’t. The morning started out beautifully; the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and there was no sign of rain. But, right before she was due to walk down the aisle, the flood gates opened and just poured down sheets of rain on a forty-five degree angle. There he was, standing at the top of the aisle with the marriage officiant and the small bridal party, their arms a sad shield against the massive raindrops pelting their faces. Some guests remained in their seats, some ran for cover in the house, and some were standing there not sure what to do. She and her father stopped at the stairs from the deck, getting soaked to the bone. She looked at her fiancé, he looked right back at her, and they both smiled and shrugged their shoulders as they spoke without words in agreement to do it anyway. She and her father ran down the aisle. The marriage officiant did his thing as quickly as possible, and they became man and wife under the craziest rainstorm they’d ever seen. They may as well have gotten married in the pool. They were happy though, and nothing could have stopped that day from happening.

Three. That time under the stars at the cabin. One summer, they’d gone up to her parents’ cabin for a weekend getaway. The evening air was sultry, and there were no bugs out. The frogs around their private lake were singing so loud it was nearly deafening. But she loved it. It brought her back to her childhood, listening to the frogs at dusk while she ran around in bare feet trying to catch fireflies. That night, the two of them stayed up until dawn just sitting under the stars, talking about the Universe, their beliefs, their fears, their favorite memories. It was probably the best and longest continuous conversation they’d ever had, and she cherished it dearly. Especially now. They opened their minds and their hearts and got to know each other on a soul level that night.

Two. The Thomas Rhett concert. This was one of the best date nights ever. He surprised her with tickets one random night, when she’d thought the concert was sold out and they were out of luck. She was stoked when he presented her with two tickets. Out came the cowboy boots and hat, the denim skirt and plaid shirt tied at the waist. It was an outdoor concert, and the weather was perfect for it. He’d picked her up after work (this was before they moved in together) and they headed out for dinner first. She was so excited and bubbly, she couldn’t stop talking or smiling. The concert itself was unforgettable. The laser light show, the selection of songs–she knew every one of them and sang along. The way it finished up with an explosion of flames and sparkly confetti. It was her favorite concert she’d ever been to, and to be there with him made it more spectacular.

One. The last time I saw you smile. That fateful afternoon when he said he was going for a ride. She would have been there, too, but she had a deadline to meet and opted to stay home instead. Maybe if she’d gone, this wouldn’t have happened. Or worse–maybe they’d both be dead. At least we’d be dead together, she thought. He’d put on his leather jacket and gloves and was holding his helmet in his hand when he came down the stairs. He leaned down to kiss her, and she pulled him in, as she always does. Did. When they parted, they smiled as much with their eyes as they did with their lips. She clung to his finger tips as he inched away, and her memory of it now is in slow motion. The last time their fingers touched. The last kiss. The last look into those gorgeous brown eyes of his. His beautiful smile as he looked at her one last time before he walked out the door. 

It’s time now, dear, the doctor said. The nurses came in, too, along with his parents. Oh my god, she thought. I’m not ready for this. I’ll never be ready for this. We talked about this, sweetheart. It’s what he would have wanted, his mother says.

Ten. The nurses unplug the ventilator and the heart and sat monitors. The beep is quieted, the accordion stops moving, no more swoosh sound. A nurse disconnects the tube from the mouthpiece.

Nine. She grabs his hand and caresses it with her thumb.

Eight. Tears start overflowing from her eyes, running down her cheeks and staining her shirt with wet marks. Mascara collects in shiny black puddles underneath her eyes.

Seven. His father’s hand tenderly touches her shoulder. She reaches up and touches it in a return of sympathy. His mother stands on the other side of the bed, bent down to hug her son and whisper her goodbyes into his ear.

Six. They leave her with him now, hugging her. They walk out with their arms around each other.

Five. She climbs onto the bed and snuggles in beside him, resting her head on his chest. She listens for his heartbeat. She lovingly runs the back of her hand along his cheek and jawline, and reaches up to run her fingers through his wavy brown hair.

Four. She talks to him. She tells him all of her favorite things she just wrote about, recalling each memory aloud, as if they were sitting and laughing about them together.

Three. Silence now. Hours have passed, and his heart has stopped. She is beside him and doesn’t want to get up. Time has stopped. A part of her has died along with him. A part of her never wants to leave him or this bed, but for the baby who is kicking and doing back flips in her belly.

Two. She finds the courage to get up out of the bed. Holding his hand in hers for the last time, she whispers, I love you and slowly backs up, her arm outstretched as their hands begin to separate. Their fingers slide against each other, drifting apart. She feels like she is standing on the edge of a tall building, arms spread out wide beside her, her dress blowing gently in the breeze. Her hair fanning out around her head in the wind. She closes her eyes and…

One. She lets go.

© Kathleen Foxx

Published by kathleenfoxx

Author of domestic thrillers and gothic horror.

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