First published in Brilliant! (2007)
Carl remembers waking in the hospital with tubes growing out of his mouth and nose. The IV remains. His doctor had warned him about the consequences of high blood pressure and extra weight. They say he'll recover.
He glances at Helen as she sits guard. His eyes move from her ring to his. He peeks at his watch; it's time for her to pick up the kids. She lays the book in her lap and hooks a strand of auburn hair behind one ear. He marvels at her slender body and wonders why he did it.
“How are you feeling?” she asks.
“Better. I was able to walk without the dizziness yesterday.” He can't remember if he's told her this; he sees no hint on her face. “How are you doing?”
She steps to the bed and grasps his hand. “You scared me. I'm not ready to lose you,” she says as she bends down to kiss his lips. “I have to go.”
“I know.” He tightens his grip, but relents. He needs to think. “Say hi to the kids for me.”
“I will.” He watches Helen gather her things. She turns and blows him a kiss as she walks out the door.
How could I do this to us? To you, Helen. Carl stares out the window as a shadow creeps up the pale blanket. He thinks about Angela. The first time was lust. The second a mistake.
I have to see it in your eyes, Helen. Your eyes never lie.
He rolls his neck to ease the pain and massages his right arm. Her eyes will tell me. He wipes a tear from his cheek and sweat from his brow. But since the stroke, I can't see eyes, or mouths, or noses. He lowers the bed, his head isn't right.
“I can't see your face, Helen. How will I know?” He blinks his eyes to clear the blur. He settles back and takes a deep breath. The last thing he remembers as the shadow envelopes him is Helen's face--with her eyes closed.