I sit up and open my eyes. I look at my watch. It’s 5:15. I call the office and Martha answers, bless her soul.
“Martha,” I say, “I won’t be in the rest of this week.”
I look over at Libby. Her chest rises and falls on the four count, the respirator ticking out the beats and repeats. Four counts in, four counts out.
“Martha,” I say, “Just clear my calendar for the rest of the month.” I snap my phone shut. Power it off, then slip it into the side pocket of my briefcase.
“Libby,” I say to my wife, “Your friend, Brett was just here. I don’t know if you realize that or not, but I just wanted you to know. He’s gone now, and he won’t be coming back. But I’m here, Libby, and I am going to stay right here until you wake up.”
I go around to Libby’s right side, the side not crushed in the auto accident. Her right arm is about the only part of her not broken, not shattered or in some nearly irreparable way damaged. I stroke her forearm. I remember she used to like this. It gave her the goosebumps, she had told me, but in a good sort of a way. Her small hand is nearly as white as the sheet. I take it in my own.
“Libby, there are some things I’ve been meaning to tell you.
“Sweetheart, you can’t cook for anything. You know that; right? But I have to tell you, the first time I tasted your pecan pie, I swear, it was better than Aunt Pauline’s. And that woman’s from Atlanta.
“And Libby, I know that you love me. I know it even when you probably don’t want to, or maybe you think you really shouldn’t, I know that you still do.
“You have a crooked smile that just knocks my socks off every time I see it. It was the first thing I noticed about you, that Mona Lisa smile.
I clear my throat, search the ether for a way to unpack the emotion so neatly collected through the years and preserved inside the vault of my heart. I know I’ve played it safe for far too long, realize that love’s not a commodity that can be secreted away only to be brought out in times of convenience or want.
“Don’t you think it’s about time we went to see it? The painting, I mean? I’m going to close the office for good, Lib. And just as soon as you get out of this place, we’re going to hop a plane and I’m taking you to see her. I’m going to take you to see the Mona Lisa.
“And who knows? Maybe you’ll even write a poem about it. And after that, Lib? Whatever you want, we’ll do it. Even if all you want is to go down to the Northstar and share an Orange Julius, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll use two straws, Lib, just the way we used to.”
Tick, tick, whoosh go the machines. Tick, tick, whoosh. I drop my chin to my chest, wondering if Libby will ever return to me. Subtly, ever so subtly, my wife squeezes my thumb, the one on the hand holding hers. It’s exactly the sign I’ve been hoping for.