He was on his deathbed, that much was sure but at least he got to watch the nurse make his tea. “Just a few more moments sir,” She reassured him with a smile. It was nice how people were so kind when they knew you wouldn’t be around much longer.
“What’s your biggest regret?” He asked her.
The nurse looked at him, “Well, I don’t see the point in finding regrets. They just remind you of what you could have done, but that doesn’t matter because you’re still moving forward.”
She walked over to check on his fluid machine, "What’s yours, Robert?”
Just thinking about it made him in a mood, “I regret not apologizing. Because you never know when someone’s last day is. And it hurts, thinking back on the last memory you had with them, how it ended so badly. An apology would have fixed that. Now look at me, I’m dying alone.”
“Surely that’s untrue. There are always dark times, Robert. And it’s not about them that matters, but more so on how it’s dealt with.”
He sighed at her; however, he was not mad. Just frustrated, restrained to his bed. Uncomfortable plastic and floppy pillows. He missed his old bed, with his wife. He missed their conversations, how they’d stay up all night, talking about the smallest things. Robert would always fall asleep, yet she would never mind.
They were supposed to go to Rome, see the Colosseum together. So he could take a picture next to it, flexing his muscles to make her laugh.
“I’ll see you soon enough, Linda.” Robert said, lost in thought.
Then, he could feel it. The mucus coming up his throat, threatening to make him choke. He began to cough, it accomplished nothing, and only made his lungs hurt. An invisible weight was on his chest, and he could do nothing but wheeze. Every time he did, it sounded worse and didn’t feel any better either.
“Robert, is everything okay?” The nurse came rushing back in with the tea on a tray. But he waved her off, this was something he could take care of himself. These nurses were nice, but he was just fine, he has been for ninety years.
His lungs felt as if they were collapsing in on him, and each breath he took made it harder.
The nurse rushed over to his oxygen tank and increased its percentage.
Immediately, he felt the relief of extra air. It all eased away, only the lung pain lingering.
“Better?” She asked.
Robert was still catching his breath, so he threw her a thumbs up.
He turned to the window, looking over the cold dark sky. The stars lit it up, making it seem not so lonely.
“Here’s your medication for the night, and tea.” The nurse spoke.
“Thank you. Really, for everything. Now, go home and be with your family. I can take care of myself.” He had no idea what time it was, but it’d been dark for a while now.
“Anything else before I go? My shift is almost up, but Beatrice is in and can help you with whatever you’ll need. Just give her a shout.”
“Yes, yes I’ll be fine.”
He said his goodbye, watching her leave. Now, he really was alone. And although he could call Beatrice in to talk, he didn’t want to distract her from her duties. For she had other, more important patients to take care of than him. Ones that stood a chance at another life, he already used up all his.
The tray to his left held two things, only one he was interested in. He scooched the pills away and reached for the tea. It was still steaming and warm, the nurse really did know how to make his favorite cup of tea. He held it close, taking careful sips. It was the best thing he’d ever had. Robert had grown so used to the hospital's cafeteria food, that this was a mouth full of heaven.
He set it down, suddenly growing tired.
So, he closed his eyes, not knowing if it would be the last time or not.
He awoke with a gasp, but he was nowhere familiar. Instead, everything was bright, and he was-well he was standing!
Robert looked down at his own two legs, not sure what he was seeing. He moved his toes inside his shoe and took a step.
He stumbled but got the hang of it soon enough. A miracle had struck, he was sure of it. Then, with a creak a door opened in front of him. In an odd place, just a door. He looked behind it, and there was nothing. However, when he reached for the handle, it opened into a colorful world, making his hospital robe tainted against everything else. It was a farm, with a small house smacked into the middle of the property. The sun was shining down, and Robert tilted his head to feel its warmth. It had been such a long time since he’d been out of his childhood home. Four small children came running out from the backyard, shouting and laughing at one another. The one in the front was carrying a toy plane their father recently bought them, and they all chased each other to get it. Even covered in mud, they were smiling. The smallest one jumped onto the playground, it was made of old wood and creaked under the little weight, “I, pirate of this ship, demand you hand over that plane!”
“Robert!” The voice was coming from the house now, “Get down from there! I told you not to go on that!’ It was their father.
Of course, they ignored him and continued to fight for the plane. It’s what Robert’s brothers did the best, in a good way.
He laughed, it was like a memory, he was there but as a spectator. Robert was still outside of it.
But he didn’t let it dampen his mood, he smiled as wide as he did when he was a kid.
And, as soon as it was there it changed. He was now in front of his high school. Holding a single rose in his hand, shaking. And Robert knew what awaited his younger self, Linda was inside. He got all dressed up, in his nicest suit and even rehearsed his lines, “I got this rose, because I know you don’t like all the other elaborate flowers. And I was bedazzled on how one thing could be so simple yet elegant, like you.”
Robert buried his head in his hands now, on how cheesy it all was, but Linda loved it. She always cherished the little things.
He swept her up, spinning her around. He always thought that to be the best day of his life, when he met Linda. And everything after that kept getting better. Every day with her in it was like a beam of light.
It began to fade away, and Robert reached out to Linda, not wanting to lose her again. But it was too late.
The crackling of a campfire came into view, and a sweet tune rang in his ear. It was a group camping trip, his favorite one. Robert had never been a fan of sleeping outdoors, so it took some heavy convincing from his friends to get him to go. And this, well it was definitely something he wouldn’t regret. Robert watched his young self, strumming a song. Jeremy, his best friend, sat next to him. And of course, Linda was on his right. Jeremy would clap and cheer way too loud, and every song he sang, bumped Robert a little closer to Linda.
“Go for it,” Jeremy said. Robert only looked at him, confused, “Go do what?”
From this perspective, Robert noticed that Linda had already caught on to Jeremy's shenanigans, something he didn’t know before.
She tapped him on the shoulder, and Robert looked over at her.
That’s when she leaned in for a kiss.
It was Jeremy, who shouted overly excited, then the rest of the group followed behind.
Robert missed those days, longed for them when love was young, and he had so much life ahead of him. He’s just glad he got to live it.
Piano music was in the distance, and he remembered the tune, how could he forget? It was their wedding day; he remembered every little detail. Like how stunning Linda was in her dress, and the purple flowers that dangled above them. He remembered the lump in his throat when it was his turn to speak his vows. Which he always thought was silly, for he had things to say, so why would he get nervous? Robert remembered their dance, how she was so good at it. Every move coordinated when he could never seem to find his balance.
He remembered it all.
The memory washed away and was replaced with the splashing sound of paint.
“Wait, what color was supposed to go on the outside again?” He’d asked.
Linda came outside with a hammer in her hand, after renovating their counter she said needed some fixing, “White, the inside blue. Why, darling?”
“Well, what about a blue house instead?” He responded.
Linda came rushing, with a gasp. To this day, he still couldn't tell if she was shocked or excited.
“Robert, I love it! Oh, it’s great! It’s so much better this way!”
Still, even after seeing the house years later Robert didn’t know if it was true. But Linda’s optimism put those thoughts away. It didn’t matter, as long as she liked it.
Robert’s brother burst out the door, with his son on his shoulders. The same plane figure they’d always had. Repainted countless times, to cover up the chipping. He’d been happy for his brothers, all getting married and having children, although he never wanted any of his own, and Linda didn’t either, they were happy that way. Always were. It gave them time to focus on what they wanted to do, together.
He tried again, to step forward and into the memory, but the world spun and whisked it away.
A shirt was thrown at his face, “Robert! You’ve already got two suitcases full, now you’re trying to sneak stuff in mine?” Linda’s tone was playful. “You see, there’s just so many outfits, I can’t decide which one would look best next to the Colosseum. I’ve never been to Rome, what if my color scheme doesn’t match?”
Linda giggled, closing up her luggage, “You’re worse than a lady.”
“Fine, I guess I’ll put the pink flamingo shirt back,” he said, walking into the closet.
“Pink flamingos?” Linda shouted from the bedroom, “This is Rome we’re talking about, not the Bahamas!”
As much as he wanted to bring the shirt with him, she was right. Besides, he had plenty of other things to wear. And for as many clothes as he had, Robert never had enough hangars. He searched through the racks until he found an empty one.
Emerging out of the closet, he found Linda in tears. He rushed over to her side, “Honey, what’s wrong?” She looked up at him, and he’ll never forget the look he was given, a mix of horror her eyes read fear, “I just got a call. Charley is in the hospital.” Her uncle, an old piece of crap if you asked Robert, but Linda cared for him, nonetheless. “I have to go and make sure they’re alright. Robert, we’re going to have to cancel the trip.”
Robert was furious, not understanding why she cared for everyone over herself. It got in the way of the things they wanted to do, but he kept his voice steady as he answered, “But we’ve been planning this trip for so long, Linda.”
It came out in sobs, and he didn’t know if she was upset about her uncle or the trip more, but he had a feeling he knew what it was, “I know. I know, but we can always plan for next year. I just need to make sure he’s alright. My family might need help, financially too.” She stopped crying and grabbed his arm, “Robert, we’re going to need to give them the money for our trip. I know it sounds crazy, but Charley provided for them, and I’ve always tried to help them out but now, the hospital bills need to be covered. My family can’t afford that.”
It was all processing, the money. Their money, the years of hard work they put in for this vacation that they’d never get to see. Her family asked so much from Linda, money to replace a broken stove, to pay a builder to make a shed, her family relied on Linda. And he wasn’t sure if she saw it or not, but they kept choking money out of her. And her family never got a job, worked a day in their life, that angered Robert. They didn’t even try to pay for their own stuff, because they didn’t have to, unless Linda stopped covering everything for them.
“Come on Linda, let's continue packing, your family will be fine.”
She shook free of his hand, “No I have to help them. Robert, they don’t have any money, especially with Charley in the hospital.”
“I don’t give a damn about Charley!”
Robert backed away from the memory, flinching at the heat of his own words. Wishing he didn’t get so angry over this. Their fight was one thing he’d come to regret.
“I give a damn about you! Us! And this trip we’re supposed to take.”
Linda was shouting now, “We’ll get to go again! It’s a vacation, Robert! A vacation!”
“Get to go again? Linda, you and I are in our fifties now, how much longer can we wait?”
Linda was grabbing her keys, “As much as we have to, because I’m leaving to see them.”
“Fine, go! I don’t want to see you anymore.”
Linda paused, stopped by his words. She didn’t even look at him one last time, “Fine.”
Both past and present Roberts watched her leave, yet he did something past Robert didn't, he reached for her. Taking a step forward, not wanting to see her never return. Never getting to wrap his arms around her and apologize.
"Linda," he mumbled.
He knew what would happen, she would get in her car, and hours went by as he decided how to apologize. Then, he'd get a call telling him Linda got in an accident and the caller was sending condolences.
Yet, what happened next surely didn't seem real. She came back into the room, opening up the door. And this time, he was in the memory, actually there. In their old room. Past Robert was gone.
"How long are you going to make a girl wait? Forty years, that's a lot."
It was her; he could hardly believe it. She was there. Linda was there standing in front of him, stunning as always. Without hesitation, he scooped her up into his arms. She still smelled of roses. "I'm sorry Linda, I'm so sorry. For everything, I take back everything I said. I'm sorry."
She pulled out of the hug to face him, "I'm sorry I left without ever saying goodbye."
Robert was tearing up, not believing he had her again, "Darling you don't need to apologize for anything."
Linda cleared the water from her eyes, "Well then, no dilly dallying, we've got a trip to pack for."