She slipped silently into the room. The only sound was the rhythmic beeping of the heart monitor, echoing the pulse of a life lived too long.
She sank into the visitor’s chair and sipped the awful coffee she’d gotten from the vending machine. Gazing at his pale face, she let her mind drift, and remembered the first time she’d seen him.
He was so handsome! She was no sports fan, but from the first moment she caught sight of him on her TV screen, she’d become a fan of his segment on the nightly news. Every night, she’d endured the endless drone of the anchors, immune to the guy’s over-styled hair and gleaming smile, and slightly scornful of the vacuous blonde bimbo at his side, anxiously awaiting the sports recap.
“Now let’s hear from sportscaster Mark McIntosh. How ‘bout that ball game, Mark?” Watching him enthusiastically replay the sports events of the day, she’d been mesmerized.
She studied the still form in the bed. You’re not so mesmerizing now, she thought.
She’d been thrilled when she finally got to meet him. She’d wangled an invitation to the cocktail party after the golf tournament at Mishipac Country Club. It didn’t take long to catch his eye, or his fancy. She’d looked up and there he was, standing at her side bearing that devilish smile and a glass of Merlot, which he handed to her. After a brief flirtatious conversation, he’d moved on, tucking her phone number in his pocket as he went. Oh, sure, she’d known he was married, but that didn’t matter. He was probably 20 years older than she, but that didn’t matter either. She knew she’d never hear from him, and it was fun to fantasize.
His call came shortly after the party. He was covering a game at the stadium next weekend, he said, and asked if she’d like to meet him there. Thinking that it sounded harmless enough, she’d agreed. They’d spent a delightful afternoon in the crisp autumn air, sharing a thermos of wine, which led to a candlelit dinner and yet more wine at a restaurant in the country, which led to a steamy night in a room of the inn attached. She had way too much Merlot, and when she awoke the next morning, she was alone in the guest room, with only her shame and a world-class hangover to keep her company.
Determined never to succumb so easily to her fantasies and a smooth line again, she’d switched channels to his competitor’s station for the 11 o’clock news show. “Time to grow up, Girl,” she’d told herself.
But then he’d called again, and she was powerless to stop herself. And that was how it had begun, her slow torturous journey to this hospital room.
They’d continued to see each other, always meeting in out-of-the-way places near whatever sports event he was covering that day. Each time, she swore, “never again!” And then he’d call, and her resolve melted at his first word.
He loved her, he told her. His marriage was over, but he couldn’t leave. The kids! The kids needed him! As soon as they were in college, he’d promised, he would get a divorce, and they’d be together.
And so it went. She’d spent year after year, holiday after holiday alone, trying to ease her aching loneliness with a bottle of their favorite wine and the thought of their future together.
Stupid, stupid! Now, as she looked back on the years passed, she realized she should have known better. He’d played her. Oh, how he’d played her. His kids had not only gone to college, they had both graduated. And he’d stayed in his “loveless marriage.”
“My wife is sick,” he’d explained. “I can’t leave her when she is so ill. I know you understand. Just be patient.” His wife had lingered, but when death finally came last September, she knew the 20 long years of waiting were over. For propriety’s sake, they’d set a date for the following June, and she’d begun planning, thinking that good things come to those who wait.
And then one night as she watched TV, she saw him. It wasn’t on his sportscast. No, she hadn’t been able to stand watching him turn on the charm for the blonde bimbo-du-jour for years. It was during live coverage of the riotous celebration after the Super Bowl in New Orleans. The hometown boys had won and their local fans were in a frenzy.
There he was in the midst of the reveling crowd, still looking as handsome as ever, even after all these years. And on his arm, there she was, blonde hair riffling in the breeze, her unnaturally pouty lips turn up to meet his kiss.
Oh, yes, she thought now, the beep-beep-beep of his heart keeping time to the pounding of her own. I should have known better.
It was time, she thought as she set down the barely touched coffee, its bitterness matched by her own. After so many years, it was finally time. She’d already waited too long. She knew the vultures were circling outside, fighting over the best morsels, and someone could come in at any moment.
Her rented nurse’s uniform rustling slightly, she moved to his bedside. Though she hadn’t seen him in the weeks since the night he’d been admitted, she knew he hadn’t moved or spoken a word. But as she reached over to touch the thin vein slowly pulsating in his hand, his eyes flashed open and he said, “You!”
She drove the needle home, pushing in the large air bubble she knew would soon travel to his heart and stop. that. endless. beeping.
“I screwed up the last time and didn’t put enough poison in the bottle of Merlot I sent you on Valentine’s Day,” she whispered in his ear. “But this time, you bastard, I’ll finally put you out of my misery! And, then, I plan to celebrate with a nice glass of wine.”
This was written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory.