Here comes the second installment of our current story. You can catch up to where we are now or reacquaint yourself with the story with the links below.
Terrence stood at the side of the bed, Ellen’s hand clasped lightly in his. Thoughts turned to just weeks ago, the wedding and the days before. So much lost, so much changed in such a short time. He scanned up and down Cicile’s body, outlined by the sheet that covered her. He stopped at her face, studied the sunken cheeks and eyes. The black rings around her eyes screamed abuse, screamed pain. The sickness had beat at her relentlessly, and left her broken and defeated. He turned away, ashamed to see her so frail and vulnerable.
The ping of the heart monitor and the drip of fluids through her IV were the sole sounds to fill the room. When Cicile’s lips parted and allowed a breath of sound through it echoed. At first they were unsure of where it had come from. Terrence and Ellen looked at each other and then down at the body in front of them.
Cicile’s eyes had sprung open. Cloudy and distant they swiveled around the room without settling on a definite focal point. She spoke again, a hushed breath that had the sound of death in it. “Apple.” They heard the word but it had no meaning. Before they could speak again she had fallen back into the black world she had been a hostage of.
“Apple?” Terrence said. “What the hell does that mean?”
Ellen turned from the bed to look at the room’s door. She didn’t speak, didn’t acknowledge the word. Terrence nudged her, tapped at her shoulder but still nothing.
“You there? What do you think it means?”
“I’ve read some of the research on White’s disease,” she said. “I never saw anything about someone waking up like this. We should talk to the doctor.” She looked around the bed for the nurse call button, pressed it once, then set it down on the bed again.
“Is there a problem?” The nurse’s voice crackled through the intercom.
“She spoke,” Terrence said. “She’s never spoken before.”
A few minutes later Dr. Panok knocked at the door and then stepped into the room. He walked past them without acknowledgment on his way to the bedside. Latex gloves snapped his wrists as he prepared to examine Cicile. He felt at the sides of her neck and then pried open each eye as he shone light from an otoscope into her eyes while making hhhmmm noises.
“You say she spoke?” He didn’t take his eyes from Cicile as he examined her ears and nostrils.
“Yes,” Terrence said. “It sounded like the word apple.”
“There is nothing else you can do here this evening,” Dr. Panok said. “Go home, rest, shower, spend life as a normal person for a little while.”
Terrence glanced at Cicile before he spoke. “I don’t want to leave her here alone.”
“You need a shower,” Ellen said as she pulled at his arm. It was an effort to pull him toward the door but he followed her after a final look at Cicile. She touched his cheek, turned his head away, toward the hall outside. In the hall she spoke again as the door closed behind them. “You gonna be okay? You can come to my place for the night, my couch folds out.”
“No, I think I need to go home,” he said. He ran his fingers through his gritty hair. Terrence looked down the hall, the long walk that would take him to his car and then the long trip home. “I don’t like it.”
“There’s nothing else you can do here tonight.” She had taken his hand in hers. “They have your number. They’ll call if anything changes.”
He arrived home after a quick stop for some take-out food. It had been the first place he saw open on the way home. He forgot where even as he pulled out of the driveway. A blind drive home, his car essentially on autopilot the whole way. It helped that the streets had been deserted at least as far as he could tell. No one to get in his way, no one to stop his progress.
His hands shook as he tried to jab his house key into the door of his apartment. They fell to the ground and he fumbled with them and the bag of hot food as he tried to find his house key in the jumble again. He took a deep breath as he turned the key then the door handle. A slight chuckle slipped out as he pushed the door open. He was afraid but couldn’t figure out of what. Was it the empty apartment or afraid of being away from Cicile? Either one worked for his anxiety but neither one quite fit the fear and dread he felt.
They had kept a fairly clean apartment. Cicile had complained about every speck of dust or detritus that fell anywhere within her domain. Enough of her harping had changed him to the point where he cleaned to keep her happy. Not much had changed since they had been in the hospital, except for the light layer of dust that had fallen throughout the apartment. It would have driven her nuts to see it like this.
He hung his keys and set the bag of food down on the kitchen counter. His appetite fled as he looked down at the bag on the counter. He needed a shower, wash away the stress and pain of the past week, of the hospital from his skin. The stench from his clothes chose right then to assault his nostrils. It was time, past time for a change.
Steam billowed out from the shower moments after he turned the knobs and adjusted the temperature. He had dropped his clothes in front of his bedroom door, and gone straight to the bathroom. As he breathed in the steam, let it fill him he took note of the soft pinks and blues along the walls and trim, the seashell border Cicile had pasted at the top of the walls. The tableau filled him with her presence in a way he hadn’t felt since she had fallen ill. It was the bathroom, but her touches throughout had made it her bathroom. He felt closer to her now than he had next to her desiccated form in the hospital. The hot water that blasted against his body wiped away grime and grit and the sorrows from the hospital. He emerged from the shower cleaner than he had felt in far too long.
He dropped his towel outside the bedroom with his filthy clothes before he crossed the threshold. It hadn’t hit him till he stood at the foot of the bed, the smell. They hadn’t cleaned when Cicile went to the hospital. He hadn’t been back. The sheets, the bed, were still covered with her blood, crusted and matted with bugs.
He almost lost it there, almost lost control of his body as he fought back the convulsions that wracked his stomach and chest. Through dry heaves he fought his way out of the room and into the kitchen. He grabbed a garbage bag from under the sink and some rubber gloves, then walked back into the bedroom.
Little could be done for the smell as he shoved the sheets into the garbage bag and took much of the new life that feasted on them with them. He opened the window and pointed a floor fan at it to pull the smell from the room. The mattress had been ruined. Blood had soaked into the fabric and it had been chewed away by maggots and other nasties. After he redressed he threw on his shoes and took the garbage bag to the trash chute. The mattress he set out on his balcony to get it and its wildlife out of the apartment.
Those two steps cleaned out a vast majority of the smell and other troubles of the room. Except for one small thing. It had fallen beside the bed and slightly under it. Terrence found a half eaten apple, uncovered in his efforts to move the mattress and the rotted sheets.
It had browned with oxidation and half rotted in its time on their floor. The odd thing about it had been the maggots that he found on its surface. Not a one moved. Like nature had been beaten by one of its own. He found a container in the kitchen to store it and placed it in the fridge to fight against any further breakdown.
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