On a drive to hospital a man makes a promise. Can he keep it?
It rains. The droplets fall from the clouds. They hit the surface. They disappear, to be replaced by puddles, wet roads and fresh morning dew. The rain touches my hair, plastering it down before making its way down the slight curve of mu forehead, down the rim of my eye, over the slight curve of my mouth and then finally, it drips from my chin and falls to the surface.
I am kneeling. My hands sit limp by my side. A wet suit clings to my form and a half done up tie reaches to my legs. A light appears in my fields of vision. A brilliant nova of colour in the darkness of night. As it gets closer, words are whispered under my lips and the cogs of my brain slow to a crawl.
As a PR man, I know all about smiles. I know what they do to other people, I know what effect they can have, what a smile can mean. It takes more muscles to fake smile than it does to actually smile. An artificial smile can be detected because it lasts longer than a normal smile.
Sometimes, smiles can contain no mirth, no joviality, only the bleak acceptance that all you can do is smile. Because you are fulfilling a promise, because you are carrying out an order, because of a memory. These displays of emotion are just as real as showing your happiness, just people notice less.
And as the lights approached they separated, one on either side of a void in the darkness. I wore one of those smiles, raised my arms and.
“Pass the phone to Rebecca. No – no, I’ll be there soon, just pass the phone to Rebecca. Rebecca, you’ll be okay, I promise, as soon as you get out of that operating room, I’ll be there waiting. I promise. Love you.”
It had taken me a long time to work my way up to a position where I could afford a Lexus. A hybrid as well – nobody could accuse me of not trying to help the environment. It was raining then. I drove faster than I had ever driven before, as if I was the police chasing down a convict. I wasn’t.
The hospital reared its ugly head soon a enough, a grand construction of stone and brick and mortar that stared at the world with an air of sadness. This once proud building seemed to hold its shoulders low. The car park was full and I had to drive round the back, frustration and anxiety mixed in one boiling pot over the fires of my face.
My daughter was in that lonely, sad building. I had no time to care about parking. I skipped buying a ticket and instead rushed inside, sweeping past the rain and the receptionist into the A and E department. It was not a scene of chaos. That angered me somehow. I expected – no, wanted chaos. I wanted panicked nurses and scared children crying to their mothers. I wanted a fuss; my daughter’s life was in danger! I wanted acknowledgement.
Instead, I was greeted with a quiet, neutral room, painted a light blue with cheap plastic chairs laid out along its breadth. On one of them was my wife, quietly sobbing into her scarf. It’s as if a physical weight pulls you down. As if something leaps up and kicks you in the backs of the knees. As if the world is removed from under you.
I would like to think that my tie rose slightly into the air, that my knees made a loud thud as they hit the floor. But I doubt it. I was just one rock in the stream. My heart fell just like I did, but it fell further, through the floorboards, in fact, my heart is still falling.
I somehow got up and walked over to my wife. We did not speak. There were no words to say. Only a silence that could be filled with sobbing of loss. She raised a hand and pointed to a door. I ran to it, pushing it open to be met with the smell of incense and a tall man with thin fingers.
“Who are you?”
“Michael. Michael Winters.”
His face, just like everything else, fell. He motioned to a chair in front of his desk and clasped his hands together. And I knew what was coming. A bitter cry erupted within me.
And those two words that you think will never have that meaning suddenly do. “I’m, I’m sorry.” My mouth hung slightly open. My nose twitched ever so slightly and my eyes wetted.
“You’re sorry for what? You’re sorry that even though my daughter is okay, you can’t find a bed? You’re sorry for what? YOU’RE SORRY FOR WHAT?!” Tears streamed down my face, spit joined my lips when I spoke and my knees trembled.
“Your daughter is dead. I’m sorry.” And that last shred of hoe that you cling on to even when it is almost impossible is lost. I rose slowly. My mind started moving in different directions. But my one goal was to keep my promise. My promise to Rebecca.
I walked out of the room and past my wife. I walked out of the door and around the hospital. I walked in the pouring rain until I reached the road. I knelt. I cried softly and.
And then the car hit me. Four of my ribs broke instantly, as well as both my legs. My neck snapped as I hit the ground along with the rest of my bones. But one thing that remained unchanged was that strange mirthless smile that I wore on my lips.
I kept my promise. I met my daughter when she got out of that operating room.