The Last Five Minutes
A short story by Warren Pilkington, July 2003
Steve looked around his surroundings. All he could see was blank white walls, painted barely with just enough cover, and with a cheap paint. He could always tell this because of the way it chipped at the skirting boards when the weather or conditions changed. He sat there, still, with not a care in the world or a care for anyone. He had come to realise that it wasn't worth fighting anymore and that he may as well make the most of the time he had to do what he felt like. It was a time for reflection, a time for thought, a time to be alone for a minute.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a lonely pale face outside the window of the hospital ward that he was in. It was his wife Therese. She had rushed back from a business meeting as quick as she could, despite the fact that everything was mounted in her way to stop her getting here. Whether it be the delayed train, or the eternal wait for a taxi from Manchester Piccadilly station, she realised she had to be here for Steve and had so thrown caution to wind, as well as ten pound note to the taxi driver, to ensure that she had rushed to the hospital and got there. Steve could see despite the pale face, going even more pale with the realisation of what was happening, she was sweating rather profusely and so was slowly getting her breath back.
"Oh Steve!", Therese cried as she composed herself and entered
the hospital ward. "I'm so sorry!"
"Sorry for what?", asked Steve. "Work's work, you have to carry on, and you can't just put everything on hold because of me feeling not so great at the moment". Clearly even at this late juncture, Steve's humour was as dry as ever.
"But I feel so guilty!" panted Therese. "I mean, there I am in the meeting, and as I'm leaving for the hotel, there's a text message from the doctor saying I need to come home as soon as I can because you've got worse all of a sudden. I didn't realise that you were going to feel this bad."
"I'll be fine", reassured Steve. "I've thought about a lot of things in the last few hours, and you're right, I can't fight myself anymore. I need to go somewhere where I'm not going to feel the pain, where I'm not going to hurt you, where I'm not going to shout abuse at you and then expect you to cuddle me because you understand.."
"Stop it!" screamed Therese. "I stick with you because I know your condition has made you do this, I know you love me deep down. I know you do". With every word, her voice got more and more calm and then she just sat there, with tears running down her cheeks almost river-like.
Steve and Therese embraced. Steve knew that it took someone special to care for him when he wasn't fully in control of himself or his emotions. The two of them just sat there, silent, and no amount of words or emotions needed to express anything. The pure essence of silence, the warmth despite the coldness of the room, the sheer moment of realisation was hitting them both. It was soon going to be over for the two of them as far as a relationship would go, but definitely not the end of their togetherness. In these moments of embracing and being close to each other, they both knew that this would be a moment that would stay with them in their own different ways.
"Steve", whispered Therese, "Tell me anything, any of your moments that you most enjoyed while we've been together. I'd love to hear what made everything so lovely for you. I know for me when you held me at night when we first met, I was scared but also assured that you wanted me because you love me and not because you just wanted to go straight to bed with me, and even now that means a lot to me."
"I know it does", whispered Steve back. "When I saw you awake the first night you stayed with me, you woke up with a little smile that made you look beautiful and also at the same time so sacred, so... well, you, really. It's a moment that I was thinking about before, thinking nothing else but hoping you could be here and be together with me."
"Listen", continued Steve, "You asked me about a special moment we had together. Well I can think of another one that really meant a lot to me. Do you remember the first time we went to the beach at Abersoch?"
"Yes," smiled Therese, "I remember it so well. It hammered down with rain on the way there and yet as we approached, the sun decided to come and shine, as if it was waiting just for us and no one else in the whole world to arrive".
"It was beautiful", said Steve, with a face of pure joy and unashamed joie de vivre, "we just sat on the beach with the blue sea over there, and we just picniced and had a lovely lunch, and just spent the walk avoiding the jellyfish washed on to the beach. But I know what I remember the most."
"And what was that?
"Sitting by your side, as the sun came down, with your arms around me. From that moment I knew you were the one for me."
"Can I ask you something that I've always wished to ask you?" inquired Therese.
"Well, you'd better make it quickish!" grinned Steve nonchalantly.
"It's like this," asked Therese, "I was subconsciously hoping that you were going to bend on one knee and propose to me that night, and if you'd have asked me then, I would have at that point said yes without any questions."
Steve started to cry, but these were not tears of joy, they were tears of pleasure and happiness. Inside, he knew that what Therese had said had rung true: he did want to ask her to marry him that day, and he half wished he'd had, but at the time he felt that he didn't want to rush her into anything. A year later, he had asked her while they were in Italy together, and she had responded yes without doubt, which led to the two of them being married three years ago. They had had their ups and downs, but like any couple that was strong, they not only kissed and made up, but made themselves stronger and bonded themselves closer with every moment they spent together.
Therese knew what Steve's tears meant here, they were tears for her as well as himself in that they both had wished for the same moment to be the moment of persuasion. Nothing could detract from the fact they were happy together, but to know how much he loved her even in those early days meant so much more than a million times the three magic words "I love you", and just by the fact that although Steve wasn't always one for romantic gestures, by his body language now, she knew how much it would have meant for him as well as her to have proposed then.
Steve looked at Therese longingly, wishing so much that he wasn't going anywhere at that moment. It was like he had to get the last train home but didn't want to go to the station (and anyone who's had a long distance relationship relates to that, as theirs had been in the early days of being together). They both gazed into each others arms for one last time. No words were necessary except two words to each other: "Good night".
A single solitary silent beep of the machine rigged up next to Steve in the ward told Therese all she needed to. Steve was gone, and right now heading for eternal peace. She camly walked away from the ward, not crying. Not because she didn't care, exactly the opposite. She and Steve knew that Steve's illness had got worse and they both knew it was a matter of time. One of Steve's wishes was that she wouldn't get upset but would carry on her life and dedicate her career and her progression to the memory of him.
As Therese left the hospital ward, she saw Marcus, one of Steve's friends, who had been waiting for any news and had allowed the two of them to spend their time together.
"He's gone, hasn't he?" asked Marcus softly.
"Yes," said Therese. "I was just relieved to be there. Thank you for being such a good friend to us both and allowing me that private moment and space. Let's go, there's nothing much more we can do."
Marcus and Therese went their own separate ways, each other realising the pain of loss was hitting them in different ways, but that the memory of the one they both cared about would be one they carried with them.