“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing else we can do at this point,” the doctor’s voice rang in Selene’s ears. She turned her head away, looking out at the falling snow that drifted, oh so delicately, swimming about in the air. Her eyes burned and her throat tightened. It wasn’t unexpected, what the doctor said, but it wasn’t what she had hoped to hear. She focused harder on the snow. Two large flakes drifted down together, touching at their edges, breaking apart as they struck the iron light down below.
“Miss -- uh -- Galanis? Well, we need to know what you’d like us to do at this point,” the doctor continued, “we can leave support on for a while longer if you’d like, but there doesn’t seem to be much point.”
“Keep her connected,” Selene heard the words slip from her lips before she had decided what she wanted to say. She knew it was hopeless. At least, it had felt hopeless since the moment they had received the diagnosis. Things weren’t exactly looking up with words like “organ failure” flying around the rooms, fluttering on the air currents like snowflakes made of acid, burning at her flesh.
The doctor nodded, stood, muttered some apology that didn’t quite reach Selene’s ears, and walked out of the room. Selene continued to stare out at the snow. Eira had always gotten so excited about the first snowfall of the year. Selene remembered how last year, just days after receiving the results of her scan, how Eira had dragged her outside to catch flakes on their tongues. How, even with the recent news hanging over her head, Eira hadn’t even started to show signs of anxiety, of worry, of -- well, anything, really. Anything besides being herself, to the best of her ability, in every moment she had left.
All in all, Eira was a lot like one of those snowflakes, Selene thought to herself. Falling in their beautiful, unique patterns. Sweeping up unexpectedly, swirling together and apart, and then, always, gently falling to their demise on the still-a-bit-too-warm pavement, melting away in a melancholy moment.
Selene felt the warmth prickling at her eyes again, and she stood, walking briskly from the office and down the hall to sit next to her beloved, for as long as they had left.
Entering the room, Selene saw Eira lying in the hospital bed. She looked so tiny, for all her spirit. For all that she had been, and all that she could have been, her body had wasted away to bone. Haggard and pulled, her eyes sunk deeply into her yellowed skin, and still, she smiled in her sleep hearing Selene’s voice.
“Hey doll,” Selene whispered, sitting beside her wife and grabbing her fragile hand in her own. She knew Eira wouldn’t respond. She hadn’t been conscious in days. It was out of habit, really. Isn’t that why anyone speaks to the dying? To comfort themselves, rather than their loved one? That was how it felt, anyway.
Selene listened to the hospital sounds. Something she had never gotten comfortable with, despite all the losses in her life. The beeping monitors, the machines that kept her beloved’s lungs functioning, her beautiful heart beating. Even the occasional sound of the bed inflating to help with blood flow managed to startle Selene after days of exposure. Somehow, it always brought her from whatever realm of denial she had managed to escape into. It all seemed somehow threatening. As if the hospital itself were some hideous sterile beast, preparing itself to swallow everyone she loved whole.
“I’m not ready for this, babe,” Selene said, partially to herself, partially perhaps to some long forgotten god who might be lingering in these forsaken halls. She felt the tears break the dam and drift, hot and thick, down her cheeks. She choked on the stone in her throat and buried her face in Eira’s cold and bruised hand. Selfishly, she wished that she could comfort her now. She wished that Eira would wake up, make some joke about her being the emotional one, say Selene was encroaching on her territory, anything, really. Anything but this ceaseless silence. Selene wanted anything but this agonizing purgatory of pain and fear of loss and swirling around inside her own mind without interruption.
Occasionally, the movements of the nurses would disrupt Selene as she stared into the abyss of loss, as they were coming in to monitor Eira’s condition, making small adjustments to her different machines. On one of those visits, one of the younger nurses looked at the chart and then back at the machines, appearing alarmed. Selene clung to everything each of the nurses said whenever they would come into the room, taking in their every movement, and while she didn’t know much about the machines, she could recognize changes in their patterns.
“What is it?” she asked, her voice higher than normal. She didn’t know if it was from fear or hope, the two had become so similar that they were nearly indistinguishable at this point.
“Well, it’s just --” the nurse started, then hesitated, “I should probably let the doctor tell you this, but --” another pause. Selene felt each millisecond of that pause. Her heart beating in her temples, her breath held, as if the news were some flickering candle that she could inadvertently extinguish.
“I’m seeing some improvement in her vitals,” the nurse said finally. As if on cue, Eira’s eyelids fluttered momentarily. Selene gasped and grabbed for her wife’s hand again, squeezing it tightly, willing her beloved to wake.
Hope had always been intoxicating. It had been an extreme rarity in Selene’s life, and as such, whenever she felt even the slightest twinge of it, she found herself buoyed nearly beyond recognition. She felt it in her limbs. Each step felt lighter when accompanied by the emotion, as if it helped to propel her body. Watching Eira’s eyes flutter, her pulse return to a more normal pace on the monitors, even the simplicity of listening to her breathing not sound quite so raspy, had all helped to fuel Selene’s feelings of optimism. Not to mention the words from the nurse.
Even as Selene stood in the corner of the waiting room, having left her wife’s side only long enough to make a few phone calls updating relatives of Eira’s condition, she didn’t feel the dread and fear that had nestled into her stomach a year ago. Even talking to her mother, who had never truly understood Selene’s choice of spouse, could not weigh her down. She knew it was foolhardy to feel so upbeat. She knew, all in all, that this would likely not have a happy ending. It was unlikely, afterall, that Eira could beat the illness that had already nearly taken her away. She was so weak. Somehow, though, even the suggestion that there could be more time was enough for Selene.
That hope was why, when the nurse came to fetch her, Selene did not feel her heart drop into her stomach. That hope was why, somehow, even while the doctor spoke, explaining how the dying sometimes “rally,” Selene did not process what she was hearing. That hope was why, when Eira’s eyes opened, for those few moments, Selene felt nothing but joy. Eira’s steely blue eyes locked onto Selene’s, rimmed with tears, nearly bursting. That hope was why, instead of saying goodbye, Selene told Eira that it was snowing. She pointed towards the window, redirecting her eyes so that perhaps Eira couldn’t see through the hope. Perhaps Eira would see the snow from her hospital bed, delicate and soft, much like she had been in her life, and not be able to see when it struck the pavement and melted away. The hope that held Selene aloft in those moments, as her world came crashing down around her, as she lost everything, melted away as the snow on the asphalt. Glimmering and bright and gone just as quickly as those gentle flakes. Gone just as quickly as her beloved wife.
Selene felt different as she stepped out of the elevator. It felt wrong to leave. It felt like she was walking away from her entire life. The doctors and nurses had let her stay as long as she wanted, holding Eira’s cold hand. Talking to her. Wishing that it had all been a terrible dream. The hope had died there, in that sterile little room, like so many other sterile little rooms Selene had sat in. Like so many other deaths.
Selene stood at the edge of the pavement outside the hospital doors, watching the snow fall. It had gotten dark now, and she could see the sheen of ice upon the sidewalk. The snowflakes fell, weaving about in their choreographed dance towards the ground, and stuck. This time not melting away as they had been doing all day. The tears came again, hot and stark against the coldness of the night, and she stepped out onto the ice.