"Look, Mum. The birds are back, and the flowers are peeking just above the snow. It's spring. Everything comes alive during spring."
Her wrinkled hand was cold in mine, her eyelids firmly shut, the blue veins protruding cruelly from her paper pale skin. Her chest didn't rise and fall anymore- she was silent, still, her lips blue. The only indication she was alive was the beep of the machine, piercing the cool air with cruel insistence.
"We can't keep her here forever," my wife had said. "I'm sorry, darling, but forever is an awfully long time."
Mum had loved spring. When I was younger, every morning of the new season she'd point out the signs of life. We'd sit and listen to the sweet chirping of the sparrows, returning from their flight, and watch as the trees regained their bright green leaves. She'd wrap her fingers tenderly around the fragile baby flowers, sprouting from freezing branches, and she'd spend hours clearing the snow from the bushes so the new berries could breathe.
"This is spring," she had said, when my clumsy toddler voice had asked what was going on. "Everything comes alive during spring."
Spring was useful to our family. Mum was a gardener, and the new spring meant new plants, new jams, a new edition of her gardeners magazine. Our little family had learnt to love spring too, as it meant fresh scones and warm eggs, and the arrival of the adorable ducklings in the village pond. As soon as the frost retreated from the grass, she'd force gumboots on our frozen feet, the plastic always a little too cool, having been shoved in the back cupboard over the long winter. We'd be traipsing outside just as the sun rose, clearing the weeds from the old plots to make space for new plants, shovelling fresh soil with our little hands, dirt on our noses and joy in our hearts. Of course, as we grew older, early mornings were replaced by late nights, and while we were sleeping off our hangovers, Mum would go out and clear the plots on her own. Sometimes though, when I wasn't studying or partying, I'd come out with her, and although it was stupidly freezing and my hands were sore, I was always sort of in love with the quiet of the early spring morning. We’d come back inside and have hot coffee and homemade pancakes with jam, with Mum wearing her old, patchy fingerless gloves as she spread fresh honey over the warm batter. I had always thought my little girl could get that too, with her grandma, the bite of the cold wind on her chubby cheeks and the smell of warm dirt underneath her stubby fingernails. I had always thought it was the way it was going to be, with Mum here forever, teaching my child how to love life the way she taught me.
But then came the accident.
A car accident, of all things. Mum never drove, not even to get groceries. Everything in our town was only a few minutes away, and she'd always ridden her rickety old bike with the worn through basket no matter where she had gone. Even to get groceries Mum had gone on her old bike, even after the time she’d swerved to avoid a turtle and had fallen into the pond.
It annoyed me, when I was younger. It still annoyed me now. My wife found it unbelievably endearing, practically cooing when she'd seen it the first time. But she always was so much more of a romantic than me. When I had first introduced her to Mum, Mum had smiled. “I approve,” she had said. “You’re too logical, kid, too tied down with responsibilities and problems. She brings out the quiet in you, the same quiet of those early spring mornings. You love them, and you love her.” I loved Mum, for making me see that. I’d never gotten it out of my head.
Mum was coming to see us, when it happened.
It took me a long time to stop blaming myself for that, many hushed conversations over fresh tears, me sobbing into my hands at the kitchen table and my wife's arms wrapped tightly around my shoulders. During that time, there had been many tears, many screams, many nights where I wished I was the one in the bed rather than the one having to make these impossible, impossible decisions.
Spring had just ended as the doctor told me what had happened, the heat of summer creeping into the stuffy little hospital room, making it hard to breathe. They gave me a choice- alive, but in a coma, or the dreaded alternative. I couldn't imagine her being gone forever, not then. I could barely bring myself to consider it, even now, but-
"We can't keep her here forever," my wife said. "I'm sorry, darling, but forever is an awfully long time."
I knew she was right. Eventually, she'd either wake up, or I'd have to let her go. It was an ever-constant strain on our family, and I knew it wasn't what my mum would have wanted, either.
But there was still a chance, however small. I couldn't give up, not yet.
"Spring," I managed to choke out. "We'll keep her until spring, and then, if there's nothing, I'll let her go."
The birds were back, and the flowers were peeking just above the snow. I had thought, maybe, that the magic of spring would bless us all and tempt her eyelids open, but she was just as cold and empty as the long winter. I squeezed her hand, once, tears streaming down my cheeks, the salt spilling over my lips.
The machine started beeping, frantic and panicked. Her fingers twitched.
"Why are you crying? It's spring!"
My heart soared and my stomach dropped. I whirled around.
Mum was smiling, gently, her eyes crinkled. My heart pounded in my chest, my hands shaking as I reached out and cupped her cheeks. She didn't fade, like I expected, but kept smiling, reaching her hand up to fold over mine.
"You're awake," I breathed, crushing her in a hug like I was a small child. "Oh god, you're awake!"
She kissed my forehead, tender and soft, and it felt like coming home.
"Everything comes alive during spring."