Well, unfortunately, Round 2 was as far as I went this year. It was a great experience: I learned a ton, made some great connections and had fun! One of the round 3-ers posted the prompts they received via email and I was immediately inspired, so wrote a piece anyways. The Round 3 Guidelines were: 1500 words in 24 hours. Genre: Open / Subject: A Dying Wish / Character: A Janitor. As I was not competing, my piece has not been beta-read or critiqued, except by the hubby who said it was “Good. Sad, but good.” Constructive feedback is welcome and would be appreciated and thanks for reading!
The squeak of a wheel startled Lisa awake. How did I get in here? She wondered, glancing around at her familiar, yet foreign, surroundings. The room was empty, but for a woman lying in the ICU bed. A ventilator quietly drove air into her lungs. A low symphony of beeps and clicks played from the series of monitors and IV pumps near the head of the bed. Lisa pressed up from the chair when the squeak sounded again, drawing her attention to the hall.
At the sliding glass door, she discovered the night housekeeper approaching with a supply cart. She nodded at the woman and fell in line behind her, eager to grab a cup of coffee from the medical staff break room and return to chart reviews. There were several new admits from early in the night shift, meaning longer sign-outs to the day staff. It had been a long week on the hospitalist service and she was eager for her seven-night stretch to end with the morning.
Lisa was so lost in thought she didn’t notice the woman in front of her had stopped and slammed her right shin into the cart. Shimmering bubbles floated up into the air. The housekeeper reached out and steadied Lisa as she reflexively drew her right leg back to rub the injured area.
“Honey, you okay?”
“Oh, yes, thank you. I’m so sorry, let me help you clean this mess up,” Lisa started. The older woman shook her head, frizzy blonde hair dancing around her face and a name badge reading Patricia bouncing across her chest.
“No, no, honey. I think you got that all backwards. I think I need to be helping you.”
“Help me? I’m sorry, I’m a little confused. I must have dozed off after getting my last patient settled and just need to get back to my office.”
The older woman shook her head again, this time looking Lisa in the eye. “Honey, do you know where you are?”
Lisa blinked. She glanced around the unit. Everything looked familiar, but as she took in her surroundings, realized it also looked backwards. It was as if she was staring at a mirror image of the one of the ICUs in Mercy West Hospital, where she had worked for the last seven years.
“You’re in Transitions,” the older woman continued, looking Lisa up and down. “You know what that is?”
“Well, of course. The Transitional Care Unit is the more stable patients from the ICU are transferred before going to the floor or a long-term care facility.”
The old woman chuckled softly. “No, honey. This is Transitions. It’s a different place altogether.”
Patricia turned her cart and guided Lisa back down the hallway. “Transitions is a gateway,” she said, “everyone passes through here at some point on their journey. For some, like you, it takes longer.”
They crossed through the same sliding glass door Lisa had just exited. The figure laying in the bed had wavy golden hair, shaved in a large area and covered with a protective mesh cap. Lisa approached slowly, edging ever closer to the familiar form. It was several moments after reaching the bedside before she dared glance down.
“How did I get here,” she whispered.
Movement across the room startled Lisa away from the bed as two men entered through a sliding glass door on the other side of the room. One was speaking as they crossed the room, his baritone booming around the small space despite his hushed tone.
“The aneurysm was clipped and the clot removed, but so much damage was already done, Jason. We’re not really sure how long she was down and her brain function has not returned.”
The second man, a slender figure with tousled graying-black hair approached the woman in the bed from the other side. He reached out and ran his fingertips along her face. Lisa felt a tingling along her right cheek as Jason touched the cheek of woman in the bed. He leaned down and whispered, so softly Lisa could not make out his words.
An instant later she stiffened and turned to Patricia. “He doesn’t know what to do. He’s asking me what to do.” Her voice wavered. “Can I go back?”
The older woman shook her head. “No, dear. You’ve past that point. Once you reach Transitions, you can only move forward.”
Lisa turned back to the man who had sat on the bedside with his head bowed. “How can I help him?”
“You can make one final wish in that world, and it will be fulfilled. Choose carefully, dear.”
Lisa considered Patricia’s words. One final, dying wish? How does one choose one wish when leaving so much behind?
Two smaller figures burst into the room and raced for Jason, wrapping themselves around his legs. She drew in a sharp breath. “What about my boys?”
Patricia patted her softly on the shoulder but said nothing.
“But…” Lisa’s lips parted and closed several times, tears filling her eyes. “But how will they ever know how much I love them,” she whispered. Jason stood and stepped back, letting the two boys stand side-by-side at the bed. Paul was just tall enough to lean his chin on the hospital bed and whimpered quietly while David leaned on the edge of the mattress and clutched the hand that rested on the sheet.
“How will they know how much I don’t want to leave them? That I want to be there to guide and support them? To hold their hands when things are hard and watch them grow into men? To hold their children? All I want is for them to know, to feel, my love for them.”
Patricia nodded. “It’s never easy, honey, being the one to go. But those boys, they will have pieces of you to guide them. You’ve made a good wish.”
Hot tears streamed down her cheeks and off her chin. Lisa looked up at the older woman’s solemn face. “How do you know?”
Patricia smiled slightly. “I’ve been doing this a long time, dear. See, the older one, he has your passion, your spirit. He will see things through, see that they are done right and done well. He will be a caretaker. The younger one will know his path through this world. He will follow it knowing you were there, guiding him. They will both be strong men of character who learned early about love and laughter from a mother who showed them how to live well and how to love.
“When they smile, they’ll see you in the green eyes you gave them. They’ll hear your voice when they doubt themselves. You can be the sunlight shining on them in their brightest moments. You won’t be there to hold them, but they’ll know your presence in their hearts and lives.” She reached for what appeared to be a white sheet folded from a shelf on her cart, then held it out for Lisa. “You can stay for the end. When you’re ready, put this on and follow the light.” She placed the gauzy fabric in Lisa’s hands and patted them softly. “You’ll still be able to see them.”
Patricia turned and pushed her cart into the hall and out of sight. Lisa turned back to the trio at the bedside and approached them. The boys were curled around the woman in the bed. Jason sat on the bed and holding her hand. Lisa settled on the opposite side, her arms stretched around the boys and body leaned towards Jason. They remained that way as time slipped past until a brunette woman Lisa recognized as a regional transplant coordinator stepped into the room and nodded to Jason.
Lisa reached out for the blonde head of her eldest son, imaging the feel of his hair under her fingers. Then she ran her fingers across the forehead of her youngest, remembering the smoothness of his skin. She kissed them both, then stood and stared at Jason. She cradled his face, aching to feel his embrace one last time.
“I love you all so very much,” she said finally. “Please never forget that. Let this end be the beginning of something else, something great. I will always be with you.”
“Boys, I think it’s time,” Jason said, his voice gravelly. He leaned down to whisper to the woman in the bed again.
“Love you, always,” Lisa whispered back. Jason kissed and stroked her cheek, then stepped back. David stroked her hair and Paul touched her forehead, then each kissed her on the cheek. Jason gathered them into his arms as Lisa unfolded the gauzy material. She slid the fabric around her shoulders, finding sleeves and a tie at the waist. A light illuminated from beyond the glass door. Lisa glanced over her shoulder one last time at the threesome holding each other tightly before she stepped out into the gleaming white beyond.