A story a week.

Here is the first of my stories. I hope you enjoy them. Feel free to comment or give CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.

Wait for me

Gino sat at the side of the hospital bed, his hand absently stroking her sparse white hair, moving to caress her forehead. He stroked her hand,intensely aware of the harsh clicks and beeps of the machines attached to her frail body. She seemed asleep, but the wheeze and hiss of the respirator was a relentless reminder of reality. He gazed at her lovingly. Was she getting smaller, shrinking with the passing days?How many had passed now? He tried to calculate, but gave up. He was counting in years now, not days. “How many more,” he thought, and his shoulders stooped lower with the pain of the thought.

He remembered the day of the accident as if it were yesterday. She’d been shopping for their lunch. A block away from home, she’d been crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing and that BASTARD had run her down. Hadn’t even stopped, although they’d caught him later. Sentenced him to six years. Six years! And his beautiful Maria had been sentenced to an eternity in limbo – and he with her. Where was the justice? He shook himself physically, as if he could shake off the pain and anger that threatened to engulf him.

“Maria,” he called softly, “wake up my darling. I’m waiting for you. Come back to me. I need you now more than ever.” His arms trembled as he stroked her hair and rubbed her cold hands. Such small hands! Her simple gold wedding band was easily two sizes too big now. Noticing that her nails were long, he rummaged in the bedside drawer for the clippers, then began trimming her nails, muttering angrily to himself, each sentence punctuated by the click of the clippers .

“They never cut your nails! Why don’t they look after you better? Four years and we are still at the same place. My treasure, I long for the day I will hear your voice again, but it hurts so much, I don’t know how much longer I can wait.” Taking the hand cream from her bedside, he gently rubbed the cream into her hands, massaging her fingers. Unshed tears pooled in his rheumy blue eyes.

“Ah, Gino. We can never know for sure what is possible.” He hadn’t heard the young nurse enter the room.  “You must be strong for Maria’s sake.” She patted him softly on the shoulder, her concerned gaze holding his for a moment. She was his favourite among the nurses, and although she hurried through her routine with Maria, Gino knew that her concern for Maria and for him was genuine. She had started nursing soon after Maria’s dreadful accident, and had built up a relationship with the old man who visited his wife every day without fail.

” Ciao Bella!” A fleeting smile passed over his face. ” How can I be strong after so many days, so many years without my Maria by my side? I’m tired, so tired.”

“Come on now, you know what I told you. She can hear you, so be positive. Why don’t you go downstairs for a coffee while I do my job here? Fifteen minutes and your Maria will be beautiful and ready for your visit.”

“Ok, Laura.” He headed for the coffee bar.

After completing Maria’s routine, Laura headed for the nurse’s station to write up her notes. Her short conversation with Gino was still running through her mind, so she spoke to the head nurse.

“Have you seen Gino Conte lately,” she asked.

“Saw him yesterday and this morning, but we didn’t talk. Why?”

“Well, he seems so down. And I think he’s losing weight.”

“It’s understandable,” came the dry reply. “Laura, you can’t take on all the problems of your patients and their families. Your responsibility is your patient and their physical well-being. Contact his family if you’re worried, or social services.”

“He doesn’t have any family. Maria is all he has. And you know that if social services gets involved, he could be put in a home. And he would never forgive me!”

“Then I can’t help you.”

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Laura changed shifts the next day and it was a week before she was on day shift again. She had thought about Gino during the past week, but hadn’t had much time to do anything about her concerns. Now she was anxious to see him again, if only to allay her fears about his health. Striding into the little ward, she fully expected to find him in his usual place, holding Maria’s hand or soothing her brow. But he wasn’t there. “Probably gone to have coffee,” she thought.She looked at Maria and her heart leapt. She was off the respirator! She was breathing on her own! How happy that would make Gino! Greeting the frail body in the bed, she started her caring routine. Fifteen minutes later, Maria was washed and massaged, and Laura was on her way to the next patient. Gino was still nowhere to be seen.

It was late afternoon before Laura had finished her shift. Her feet were aching and she longed to put them up with a good coffee and a snack, but she knew there was still one thing she had to do. She opened Maria’s file and looked for her home address. She was surprised to find that it was on the outskirts of Milan, quite far from the hospital. It meant taking the train and two buses, but she was determined to talk to Gino. He hadn’t been to the hospital that day, and the other nurses weren’t sure if he had been the day before.

Stepping off the bus, Laura looked up and down the street. The gloomy November afternoon light made it difficult for her to see the street numbers. A cold breeze wrapped itself around her and she pulled her collar closer, squinting at the number above the nearest door. Almost there…at 579 she surveyed the names above the door bells. Conte. There it was. She rang the bell. Nothing. She tried again, leaving her finger on the bell a little longer. Still nothing. Looking around, she saw that there was a bakery a few doors down. She went in, wondering what to say.

“Excuse me, have you seen Gino Conte today?”

The man behind the counter eyed her suspiciously. “Why do you want to know?”

“I’m a nurse from the hospital where his wife is. I need to talk to him but he isn’t answering his doorbell. Do you know where he is?”

The man shouted the question into the kitchen, and then asked the customers in the shop.

“Anyone seen Gino today?” Heads began shaking, tongues clicking.

” Is there someone who can let me into his flat? Does he have a friend here? I’m worried about him. Heads nodded and brows wrinkled in concern.

Someone called out, “Alberto is the owner of his block. Ask him.”

“Come with me,” the baker said, and they rushed out of the shop, a curious entourage following them. A quick explanation from the baker and Laura, and they were let into the building, the little group standing guard at the main entrance. They ran up the gloomy staircase to the first floor flat. At the door, Alberto knocked loudly and called Gino’s name a number of times. One couldn’t simply burst into a man’s home without warning, no matter how serious the problem!

Finally relenting, he fumbled with the keys and swung the door wide to let Laura in. She called Gino again as she walked into a small entrance. Still no reply. She glanced into the kitchen as she passed it, but headed straight for the bedroom. The curtains were drawn, darkening the room, but she could make out a shape on the bed.

“Gino!” He was fully dressed in an old suit that must have been smart in its day and a clean, white shirt. His shoes were laid carefully next to the bed. His legs straight out as he lay on his back. Was he sleeping? She grabbed his wrist to feel for a pulse. “Oh, Gino!” Shaking her head, she laid his wrist down and allowed the tears to flow. “Why didn’t you tell me how bad it was?”

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Across the city in a darkening room, Maria’s eyes fluttered open. There was no one to see. No one waited by her bedside, held her hand or stroked her soft hair. For a moment, she lay looking at the ceiling, head cocked as if listening. She smiled wearily, then, closing her eyes, she whispered, “Wait for me, Gino. I’m coming too.”

Copyright M Smith 5 November 2012

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This story was inspired by a newspaper report. I couldn’t bear the thought of the wife waking to a world where her husband no longer existed, so I changed the ending. Hope you enjoyed the story. Please feel free to comment. Thank you.

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