Original story by me
It was after visiting hours when Karen pulled into the parking lot, but she knew no one would say anything. They hadn’t said a word when she brought a treat yesterday. What did it matter at this point?
The room was quiet and dim when she got there. The light from the silent television gave the room a strange moving glow. As she looked at the still figure on the bed, Karen felt her pulse throb in her throat. She couldn’t move from the doorway. Her fingers went icy cold. Then he stirred and opened his eyes, and Karen almost fell over.
“Hey, Karrie-Girl. How’s my pretty girl?” Dad asked. “Come in and sit down.”
She entered, scooting a chair closer to the bed, and sat. “Hey, Dad. Did I wake you?”
“I was just resting. You can turn that damn thing off if you want to. The nurses keep turning it on when they come in.”
Karen found the TV remote and turned it off.
“That’s better. Just you this time?”
“Yeah, I just wanted to see my Daddy.”
He smiled then, but it was a pale imitation of his old grin. Her stomach clenched a little, but she ignored it.
“How are you feeling tonight?” she asked.
“I’m fine. Kind of sleepy.”
Karen looked around the room. The cookie crumbs had been cleaned up. Yesterday she had been taken with an urgent need to make oatmeal raisin cookies. She’d eaten half a dozen as they came out of the oven, still warm and tasting of cinnamon. When she brought the kids to the hospital that afternoon, her son had insisted they bring cookies for Grandpa.
But when they got there, Dad shared the plate around, urging the kids to help themselves. The kids were happy to dig in. Karen watched her dad until he finished one cookie, the last one on the plate. She knew he wasn’t eating the hospital food. But he seemed to enjoy the cookie.
“Are you thirsty, Dad?” she asked, handing him a mug of water. He managed a few sips.
“My Karrie-Girl.” He patted her hand.
She clasped her fingers around his. His hand felt dry and shriveled, like it was withering away. She clung to it as they talked.
They talked about old times and laughed a little. Their voices were nearly lost in the murmur of machines, the conversation in the hall, the sounds from the parking lot. After a few minutes chat, the room grew quiet. Everything important had been said long ago. Karen laid her head down on his chest and he stroked her hair with his feather-light hands. She closed her eyes and prayed. But no tears.
In the days to come, when the phone call came, through the funeral and the lunch after, during the cleanup; she knew that half of herself remained there in that room, still sitting in that chair, still feeling the feather-light touch of his hand, still stroking her hair.