Morris Emerson lay his head back down against the pillow. He hadn’t thought he would return to this place so soon after all that had happened. He had said his goodbyes and then walked away without even turning back. It had felt better that way. It wasn’t really closure, but he knew it was the closest he would ever get to it. In all the time he was there with his beloved, he hadn’t once thought about himself. His pain had worsened gradually, but it wasn’t enough to warrant the concern of the doctors, nor of his ailing wife. But now that she was gone, the pain had become overwhelming.
At first, he had thought it was the pain in his heart. The empty chambers echoing his lost wife’s name, never again to be replied. He had heard of couples who had been married for so long that their hearts were in sync. Now he had lost his partner of 45 years – the heart that had kept his own so safe and warm and had beat in unison with his – he felt the arrhythmia spread from his chest and radiate outwards into the world surrounding him.
‘Cancer,’ the doctors had told him; of the lungs. He’d smoked a bit as a youngster – but not in a million years had he ever thought that lung cancer would get him. If he’d known, maybe he wouldn’t have exerted such an effort to quit the damn death sticks. Back in those days they didn’t have all the fancy paraphernalia to help one give up the addiction. It was all strength of mind and character.
He still had some time left. The cancer hadn’t spread yet and although the prognosis was not great, it wasn’t the end for him just yet. And he wasn’t ready to give up on life either.
“You have a visitor,” the nurse said, upon entering.
He looked around the room, checking to see if they had wheeled some other poor sod in there while he was asleep. It was still empty.
“You sure it’s a visitor for me?” he asked, certain that the nurse had made a mistake.
He and his wife had never had any children – not through a lack of trying – and the rest of his family were either dead, or out of touch. Especially in their declining years, he and his wife had kept mostly to themselves.
“Yes, the visitor is for you Mr Emerson. Apparently, she is an old friend. Shall I see her in?”
“I don’t have much else to keep me occupied,” he replied, a torrent of mixed feelings running through him.
If it was who he expected it to be, then he was torn between pulling the covers up over his head and trying to disappear completely from view, or fixing his hair, sitting up as straight as he could and trying to look as though things couldn’t be better. Neither of those options were truly available to him in that moment and so he just waited for her to enter the room.
The nurse returned; the visitor trailing by a few footsteps. She hesitated at the door and peered inside.
He hadn’t seen her since he was twenty-one years old. It seemed as though an eternity had passed and yet she still looked just as he had remembered her.
“May I come in?” she asked, her voice sounding frail, scared.
“Of course, Virginia; be my guest. It’s nice to finally have a visitor,” Morris said conversationally.
He could feel his chest flutter as he said her name and the monitor echoed the quickening of his heart. He felt his cheeks redden.
“And to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” he asked.
“I heard that you were ill and I wanted to come and see you,” Virginia replied.
“Before I die?” he quipped.
“Don’t be so crass. You know what happened between us and I wanted to put things right,” she answered.
“Why?” he asked. “Why bring up a past that is better left buried?”
“I remembered how you made me feel on the first night that we danced. I was afraid of what I felt for you back then. That first night, I wanted to melt into you – feel our bodies and our souls fuse as I knew that they should. For a lifetime, you’ve carried within you the other half of my soul; it took me all of this time to reconcile that – I want you to give me a chance to show you what could have been,” she said.
“We are both too old for that now. I have lived and loved and danced and shone my soul upon many. We have missed the best years of each other’s lives. I can’t just let you back in now. Every day you would remind me of what could have been, what we both missed out on, and who we both could have become. I only just lost my wife, I can’t let go of her memory so easily and replace her with you,” Morris replied.
“She wouldn’t want you to be lonely, would she? Not when you have so much to go through; she wouldn’t wish you to do it all alone,” Virginia said leaning towards him and trying to take his hand.
He moved his hand before she could capture it and answered, “I loved my wife, but I have also lived a life full of yearning; unfulfilled. I wanted to melt into you too that night and instead we threw each other away – unaware of the consequences of each of our actions. You will forever be my one regret.”
“And I am giving you the chance to undo all of that regret,” she said.
“If I had my time again, I would have done things differently, but alas I did not and cannot. And now I am afraid that it is too late for us; too late for me.”
“Let me look after you – let me make up for all of those years that I should have cared for you,” she pleaded.
“I don’t want you to see me like that. I want you to remember me how I was all those years ago. I know you used to love the way that I looked at you. Now I can barely see what’s right in front of me.”
He held up his hand in front of his face. It was a blurred representation of something lost long ago.
“It’s true, it was always in your eyes,” Virginia said. “I could see you, when nobody else could. I know we both did things that we regret – I turned so many people against you. I said things that weren’t true. I let people think you were a bad person, when I knew better. Let me love you now – let me make it up to you.”
Morris lay back in his hospital bed, the heart monitor beeping its erratic tune. He felt her hand enclose his. He closed his eyes and transported himself back to the time before the hurt and distrust had driven itself between them.
He looked at his long, lost love and he said, “Virginia, I still do love you.”