The doorbell rang.
Mel was wearing headphones, listening to songs in the background as she edited the latest draft of her story. She had been at it the whole day, not realizing that she’d worked through half the night. She was focused on a very intriguing conflict scene. She went over the words again; the story was complete, the scene eventful, but – she didn’t know how to leave the ending.
The doorbell rang yet again, but the noises in her ears and head drowned it.
She considered a few alternative dialogues, playing the scene in her head, and typed in the ending. But she just didn’t feel like she’d made the scene as impactful as it looked to her in her head. She threw aside the headphones and decided to read the section aloud.
He stood at the threshold of the hospital room, staring at his mistakes in the flesh.
“Mr. _?” the nurse walked up to him. “Are you the husband?” He could see the contempt in her eyes. He couldn’t reply; he just nodded. “Would you like to see her?”
He didn’t say anything, his gaze still fixed at the person on the hospital bed, lying unmoving. “Mr. _! Would you like to see your daughter?” the nurse barked, trying to break his reverie. He looked at the nurse, trying to focus on what she said. “Yes? What?”
“I asked you if you would like to see your daughter?”
“m-my daughter? But my son?”
“Your wife delivered before she passed. Your daughter survived. Your wife didn’t.” The nurse told him, rather accusingly, as though he had killed her, and the truth was he had. He had left her behind, choosing to ignore her truths and words, ignore her existence because it reminded him of his failure.
“I have a daughter?” He asked, in a broken voice, feeling like his knees would give away any second. “Yes.” The nurse answered in the same cold voice. “Where is she? Where is my son?” He suddenly woke up to a longing to see them. “Where are my children?”
“Right here.” The Nurse pointed towards the second door on the left of the corridor. “Please don’t shock them. Be gentle.” The nurse admonished him, in a voice that was restraining anger.
He walked to the room that the nurse had pointed at, and stood at the door; the second most difficult threshold of his life. As the door creaked open, he was greeted by the sight of a little crib, swaying gently, and kind, soft noises being sung in a childish boy’s voice, to a wriggling bundle in the crib.
He stood there, looking at that scene for a long time. He stood frozen – he was scared to move either forward or step backward. He knew it shouldn’t be a choice, that there was only one way, and yet he hadn’t taken it. He knew he hadn’t the strength – and he knew he didn’t deserve it – so he turned around.
And then, a shrill, thin voice rang in the room, changing its vibe. The bundle came apart; two tiny fists rose in the air, as if they knew he was standing there and wanted to hit him. The angry noise startled the little boy, who scrambled up to the little baby, trying to quieten it, but didn’t know what to do.
In that moment, he lifted his feet and walked in.
The shouted words shocked her. She looked up.
There was a face in her window, a woman. She looked unreal, through the glass of the window, making her look ethereal, almost.
“Who are you?” Mel would have shouted in alarm, had this woman not looked so dream-like. Almost like a hallucination.
“He didn’t ‘walk in’. He was a coward, and he didn’t stay for the children. He ran. He Ran Away.” The woman spoke, the bitterness in her voice making Mel shiver.
And it was the strangeness of the moment, the eeriness, that made Mel get up and let the woman in through the window. She came in like a bird treading lightly upon this earth, and Mel could only watch.
“You’re her. You are Andrea.”
Andrea nodded, “You could say that. I am – I am – so many Andreas.” she said, looking directly into Mel’s eyes. “I must be dreaming,” Mel muttered to herself, as she lowered into the chair.
“Does it matter?”
“I - Why, are you here, though?”
“You wrote my story. Naturally, I had to talk to you.”
“Yes. Is it not me who sacrificed everything for the man I loved, for him to gain redemption, for my children to survive without the blemish he would have left upon them through his ways?” She pointed towards the draft. “And yet, although it sounds so wonderful, you, the storyteller must know the truth.”
“The truth of all men. The truth, that after I saved him, saved our children, and died trying to save myself, he still ran away. He left our - my children, left them to the winds for all he cared. And he killed himself.”
Mel could hardly believe what was happening in her house right now. For a moment she was frozen too. “Oh.”
“Yes. You try, and you find ways to move them from the inevitable path, but men would eventually turn right back onto the rotten road to hell, dragging other people with them.” She spoke with a vicious passion, and for a moment Mel was scared of her. “He had everything – the love of his family, of his kids, of his friends – and yet, he chose, to gamble his life, for what? Fame? Two moments of glory? Not only did he gamble himself, he gambled our lives too. Just to save his own skin. And yet, I forgave him. I forgave him because he was weak, because he never really had the guts to take defeat – and I regret it. I regret saving him, and yet here you are, saving him beyond my efforts, telling the world he was strong to do in the end what he couldn’t do before, and stop his kids from being harassed and his wife from dying. A futile sort of strength, that – that didn’t achieve anything…”
“Andrea?” Andrea had been silent for a few minutes. “I – I know, what he did. Believe me, because in writing every word of it, I am a painful witness to your – your sacrifices.” Mel spoke as gently as she could. “I understand that – that he may not have had the strength even in the last moment, to live with the mistake he had made all his life. Some people, I know, are unable to believe the mess their own lives become, refuse to acknowledge such a life. And I am, really sorry, for the people that have to bear the cross that those people become.”
Andrea didn’t reply. Her shoulders stooped as she sagged into the seat, her face staring at something beyond the reality. “I just – I wish I hadn’t died,” Mel’s heart gave a pang as a tear rolled down Andrea’s eyes. “My kids, my – my baby boy, my girls,” tears streamed down her face silently, as she tried to hold herself together.
“Oh, Andrea.” Mel sighed, both women suspended in the same grief, no words that could change anything, and yet, “The pain you’re feeling right now, of the fate of your children, is a pain I can't suffer myself. That’s why I chose to make my character stronger in that instance. I chose to show a hopeful truth. Because it is a truth I want to exist.”
Andrea looked at Mel with shining eyes. “That – that sounds so – optimistic.”
“I would rather my reader believe that strength can come to the weakest person at the most vulnerable moment, the bare minimum strength to take the right path. It doesn’t mean they change completely, or they never again falter. But I cannot hang the reader’s hopes, by telling then that it isn’t possible, that it doesn’t happen that way. Because it could. Perhaps.”
“I wish – I wish my story were like that.” Andrea wiped the tears away, standing up.
“Who are you? Really?” Mel asked.
“Someone who needed to hear what you said. Someone who needed to let go.” She smiled the smallest of smiles. “Thank you,” she turned towards the window, just as the morning light broke across the sky, the faintest of orange, gold and yellow, spanning the morning blue canvas.
Both the women stood staring at the dawn rising upon them like hope after darkness, and when Mel turned around, Andrea was gone. Mel felt more hopeful than scared at the strange phenomenon that had just occurred because it gave her what she had been looking for. She moved to her desk and began writing.
In that moment, he lifted his feet, and walked in.
He walked to the crib, as the boy watched him, wary of him, covering the crib with his hands. His heart broke as he saw his own son protect his sibling from him, and he stretched a hand, gently, like you do with a strange animal, and let them decide.
Three breaths went by. Then, a small, tiny fist, grabbed his finger.
And it held all the power he needed to survive.