by Morgan Shaver
A man sits stolidly gazing out through the room’s singular window. Behind him fading stains intersperse white walls adorned with two gaudy floral paintings. Disinfectant permeates the air attempting to mask the scent of gradual decay.
His doctor, authoritative and formal, makes the first punctual visit of the day. The name of the doctor escapes him, though he’s certain he must have heard it announced many times before. Scowling, he listens impatiently as the doctor mumbles unintelligible nonsense down at his clipboard, clicking and un-clicking a pen in rapid succession.
He loathes the doctor, whose presence forcibly diverts his attention away from the window. After minutes of protracted silence the doctor departs with one last irate pen click. Relieved, he proceeds to wheel his way back towards the ever-shifting landscape outside.
He ogles the soft grass lawn longing to feel the blades whisper conspiratorially against the soles of his feet. Feet he can no longer feel. Toes that once wriggled within the confines of worn wool socks—socks formerly encased in rigid leather boots— linger upon the metal footrests of his wheelchair numb and immovable.
I know I should be concerned, but I can’t remember why, he muses.
What disquiets him is the state of his mind, now eerily quiet and devoid of its former buzz and hum. Darkness occupies the vacuous spaces, thick like early morning fog slithering languidly across the San Francisco Bay. Every aspect of who he was, including his name, had vanished leaving only broken fragments and trivialities behind.
Confusing visions slither up to the surface without warning. No doubt caused by his morning observances of the dynamic and inaccessible world beyond the glass. Perhaps that was why he was so drawn to it. Why he craved it the way a dying man thirsts for water.
Today he studies a bald-headed child traversing a narrow strip of cracked sidewalk toward the street. Following closely is a nurse with long auburn hair. Hair that radiates the sunlight and billows behind her, casting fleeting shadows across scrubs bedecked in cartoon characters. She was everything that child should have been. Alive and full of vitality.
An image of lifting a boy into the air springs forward.
Imitating the cacophony of circling propellers the boy too runs circles, his bare feet slapping joyfully across a scuffed hardwood floor. Slender arms stretched toward the ceiling, his hands latching tighter around a toy airplane as he facilitates its ambitious journey through the room.
He snatches him up when he skirts past, causing the boy to squeal and buck with feigned protest.
“Do you know why planes fly?” he questions the squirming child.
“Because they want to go up, up, up!”
They smile at one another, the boy’s reply lingering between them like a profound revelation. Why did the idea stab daggers into his chest? He realizes his fist has wrapped itself around his flimsy hospital gown, knuckles lily-white from exertion. Letting go he wipes the sweat off his palm and allows his body to relax.
Outside an unmarked military carrier flies low above the swaying treetops. He feels the muffled drone vibrating inside the walls and envisions himself seated within an expansive metal cockpit. The dying child points up at it with a trembling arm, an excited smile temporarily bringing color back into his ashen face.
Snapping back into focus the man groans with frustration, confounded by the burden of knowledge determined to remain inaccessible. He detests how close he can get before everything plummets into a void that is just beyond reach. Tears prickle the corners of his eyes as he willingly turns from the window.
The next time the doctor visits he is accompanied by a striking young woman. He feels the breath catch in the back of his throat, his heart palpitating irritably scolding him for depriving it of necessary oxygen.
“Hmm?” he inclines his head to the side and frowns.
“Forgive me, I had to try. I’ve brought someone to visit you.”
The doctor places a hand on the woman’s shoulder as she steps forward. He feels rage boil within him igniting a rising inclination toward violence. If I could get out of this chair, he thinks, I would wrap my hands around your throat for laying that clinical hand on her.
His head throbs to the rhythm of his erratic heartbeat.
The doctor turns and whispers softly to the woman, “I apologize that it has taken so long to approve your visitation request. His recovery has been difficult, and I’ve been trying to keep him from additional stress. His physical injuries are slowly healing… however, I regret to inform you that the extent of his head trauma is severe. His long-term memory loss and lower body paralysis are likely permanent.”
“But I have to try,” the woman snaps, brandishing a tattered photo album like a weapon causing the doctor to recoil.
“All he needs is a little nudge in the right direction with something tangible like these photographs. I don’t care if I have to come back to this hospital every day for the rest of my life. I will not abandon him!”
Her eyes pierce the doctor’s professional exterior as he transfers weight from one foot to the other. His face struggling to remain impartial.
“I can’t leave him,” she asserts.
The doctor eases a protracted sigh through his clenched jaw, throwing both hands up in a gesture of concession. She sniffs with satisfaction before turning her attention to the man gawking at her from the corner of the room. Noting her distraction the doctor slinks through the door and into the hall, his lab coat swishing behind him with finality.
The man’s eyes devour the sight of her. She stands tall assessing him with almond eyes that exude a beguiling gentleness. Delicate hands clutch protectively around her photo album, daring someone to try and pry it from them. Allowing one of those hands to briefly depart the album she reaches up and flicks a rebellious strand of black hair off her face. The corners of her mouth twitch before turning fully upward into a soft smile.
“I’m so happy to finally see you, even with those awful bandages wrapped around your head and that… chair,” she pauses. The smile vanishing as her eyes linger over the red scars and puckers covering the left side of his face. He rubs them self-consciously, wishing he could rub them away completely.
Disembodied figures float listlessly around the vacant spaces in his mind, devoid of their former calm. The waters rage now, tossing forth one image after another in rapid succession. Catch and release. She seats herself on the side of the hospital bed closest to his wheelchair and fingers the pages of the album.
“I guess it’s true. You don’t recognize me, but it’s ok. I brought something to help you remember.”
She flips open the album and stares lovingly at the first picture.
He ascertains the photo is of high importance due to her reverent gaze upon it. It reveals a man and woman—eerily similar to the woman seated beside him—with their hands clasped together making comical faces at the camera.
“Married?” he grunts.
“Yes, they married six years ago and had their first child a year after. Her husband was in a terrible accident. Their son still asks every day when his father will be coming home. Isn’t that sad?”
He nods thinking about the sick child outside. Had someone mentioned flying? It was hard to be certain. The memory had become a parcel, folding in on itself before shrinking into nothingness. He chased the pieces. Whirled and twisted within his mind hoping to find answers. Who was he? What had happened to him? The harder he searches the more violently his head aches, forcing him to abandon the endeavor.
She pages through the collected photographs, pausing here and there to remark on several. In one a baby splashes in a bathtub overflowing with bubbles. A man kneels soaking wet beside the tub frozen mid-laugh. The pictures flow. The baby grows from an infant into a toddler, then into a school-age child. When she reaches the last page his hand shoots out and removes a 5×7, tearing the plastic containing it.
“Be gentle,” the woman scolds as she tries to smooth the plastic back to the glue with little success.
She clucks her disapproval as his eyes bore into the photo. In the picture a boy sits cross-legged upon a hardwood floor cradling a familiar toy airplane in his arms.
“Oh honey, do you remember? You brought that model plane home during leave from the force. He was so excited to have a plane just like the ones you fly,” she explains.
“And he still has it, although he doesn’t want to be a pilot when he grows up. Not anymore… not after your crash.”
Ignoring the pain that statement causes he takes her hand and tenderly cradles it.
“I’m sorry,” he croaks, disheartened at his inability to voice everything he needs to tell her. That if he had only picked a safer profession—but no, that wasn’t it. What exactly was it then?
“It’s not your fault,” she says.
“I don’t how much you remember, but everyone is expected to serve. When your tour of duty was over you were going to leave… then fighting erupted on the border.”
“You know, I remember the last thing you told me before you left. You said you were heading off to protect us, and you did! You’re a hero.”
“No!” he shouts.
“If I hadn’t gone, or if I’d asked to repair the planes instead of fly them, I wouldn’t be here unable to remember anything about my life.”
“Up until I saw that picture I had no idea you were my wife. If I hadn’t crashed I’d be at home with you—with my son—listening to you tell me about your day while I help him with his homework!”
She opens her mouth to speak but he holds up a hand to quiet her.
“I need to say something, and it’s important I say it now because I feel the fog coming back. I’m scared I might not get another chance.”
“I don’t know if my memories will ever permanently return. I wish this clarity would last forever so I could return to being the father and husband I used to be. All I know is that I will always love you, and I remember everything now. If only for this moment.”
“My name is Kaito. I love my son, and hope he grows up strong and happy. Tell him I said he can still be a pilot if he wants to be. Don’t let the tragedy of what happened to me discourage him from chasing his dreams.”
“I love you my beautiful wife, and I always will.” He kisses her forehead softly, breathing in the intoxicating scent of her coconut shampoo.
“I hope you don’t linger over a husband who can’t remember you. I wish I had more time… I wish I had…”
He stops abruptly, burying his head into his hands. When he looks up his eyes have become glazed and distant. Turning himself around, he heads back to the window. The photograph slipping from his lap onto the floor.
She leaps to her feet, panic overwhelming her as she rushes to his side.
His head turns toward the sound of her voice. There was something familiar about it, like a melody from an ancient time.
“Please tell me you still remember me Kaito!”
The sun engulfs the horizon, the rays of light transforming his damaged face. He stares at a young couple as they exit the hospital. Hand in hand they walk beneath the sycamore trees and smile as they embark on a quest to create new memories and forget old wounds. Something tugs deeply within the back of his mind.
He forces it down like bitter medicine and watches the clouds drift through the sky, longing to fly among them. Do you know why planes fly? Because they want to go up, up, up! He beams at her. The words repeating themselves over and over again, warming him like poetry. Finally he hears her calling to him.
“Kaito, you remember me don’t you? Please come back,” she pleads.
“Who are you… and who is Kaito?”
Category: Fiction, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing