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Mar 12, 2021

Fiction

Henry lay in pre-dawn dark, eyes wide, thoughts circling. Was it Monday or Tuesday? Was it the 21st or the 22nd of the month? It was May, he was sure of that. It was May, right? Was it May? Crap! He missed being of sound mind even more than he missed having a body that didn’t ache from stem to stern.

Henry rubbed both eyes with the fingers of one hand and tried to find some moisture with a tongue that had been hung out to dry for hours.

It was Tuesday, wasn’t it? Yes? No? Was it Monday?

Did it matter, when one day was going to be no more than a mirror image of the day…the week…the month before?

Yes, it mattered. The days of the week had names. The year was divided into months and the months into dates for a reason. Marking time was civilized. If he stopped doing civilized things, before too long he’d turn into a demented old man just marking time until the Grim Reaper stopped in to snag him with his sickle.

Henry rolled onto his side and closed his eyes, wishing for sleep and knowing it wouldn’t come. This was a struggle he engaged in daily. He was retired. He was a man with no obligations, free to laze the day away and he was unable to sleep beyond 3 a.m. most nights. Where was the justice in that? He would have given anything, during his salad days, to have the option to sleep to the day away. Now, all he wanted was to sleep past dawn.

He inhaled and let go of the struggle to name the day. He’d been fond of words, as a younger man. He’d been proud of his vocabulary; proud that he wrote and spoke like an educated man. But, his love of language had begun to fade, like so many things in his life. Words had grown slippery and his grasp of his native tongue undependable. He’d discovered the best way to capture an elusive word was to stop thinking about it. Usually, once he stopped thinking about it, the word he wanted popped into his mind. It felt a little like a mental magic trick. The method wasn’t foolproof, but he’d say it worked for him 8 out of 10 times, which wasn’t terrible odds.

His thoughts drifted back in time to the good old days; pre-Covid, pre-retirement, back when Norma still slept beside him and he didn’t have to consult a calendar for information that should take no effort to retrieve.

A wave of anger swept over Henry, and he let it come. Norma would have chided him for that. Norma subscribed to the belief that attitude mattered. She would have seen the flash of anger in his eyes. She would have taken his hand, graced him with one of her wide smiles and said, “Look at the sunny side, Henry. There’s always a sunny side.”

He would have hopped out of bed, to get away from her blasted optimism and she would have followed him, listing half a dozen things for which he could be grateful.

He would have retreated to the bathroom, possibly shutting the door a tad too hard. If the slamming door offended her, she wouldn’t have said so, which often caused him to close the door a tad too hard.

She’d have stood outside the door, raising her voice to be sure she would be heard over the running of water and flushing of toilet, reminding him that everyone forgets names and dates and appointments from time to time. She would have said the ability to name the day and date the instant he woke up was a skill he no longer needed. She would have put a positive spin on negative things because that was Norma’s way.

“Norma was a fool,” he said aloud regretting, almost instantly, uttering the words which were both unfair and untrue.

He glanced at the urn on the nightstand and shrugged. “Sorry,” he whispered. “You know I didn’t mean that.”

Henry sat up and swung his legs over his side of the bed. There was no point in pretending, now, that sleep would come. Might as well get up and face another unremarkable day. If, by the time he’d brushed his teeth and washed his face, he couldn’t be certain if he had the Monday blues or the Tuesday blahs, he’d check the calendar on the fridge door and commit both the day and the date to memory.

Henry pushed to his feet, expecting his legs to hold him; they did not. The outcome might have been different if he had fallen backward when his knees buckled. He would have landed on the soft bed instead of the hard floor and he could have given himself time to catch his breath and decide what to do next. But he fell forward and listed to the right as gravity did its work. Henry gashed his head on a sharp corner of the bedframe and knocked his head, hard, against the floor. As he landed, his right arm snapped like a dry twig and wedged beneath him and his right hip cracked like an egg.

Henry called his dead wife’s name.

Norma would not help him, of course, Henry knew that. He said her name again, softly, because for six decades he’d called for Norma when he was in trouble. He might not be able to name the day of the week, but he could name the woman who’d pledged her life to him and then up and left him.

A tear traced a jagged path down Henry’s cheek.

“I’m the fool,” he said. “I didn’t appreciate you enough, Norma. If I had it to do again, I would find a way to save you, my love. I swear I would.”

The promise he made there on his bedroom floor, with blood spilling from the gash on his head and the throbbing pain of broken hip and fractured arm, was an empty one. He could not have saved Norma from the disease that stole her life any more than he could save himself from the fate he’d been dealt. But the words brought him comfort in his time of greatest need.

Henry closed his eyes and knew, with perfect clarity the day, month and year that would be etched on his tombstone. Norma had been right after all. There always was a sunny side.

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