Desperate to endure its enormity, he pushed the mountain back and braced himself to hold it there. Satisfied that he could hold it there, for now, he smiled.
"You'll be just fine."
It was such a lie.
He sat on the edge of her hospital bed for a while longer and talked.
1.) You must rest now.
2.) I gave the nurse my pager number.
3.) Just ask the nurses if you need anything at all.
4.) I'd like to fool around, but I don't think the doctor would approve.
5.) Look, see? They made these gowns just for frisky people like us!
6.) I love you very much and I cannot wait to have you all to myself.
7.) Yes, I took care of that. Leave everything to me.
Those were things he wanted to say.
He couldn't be sure whether or not he actually said them because he had to keep one eye on the mountain, just in case.......
He kissed her very gently, and bidding her goodnight, he slipped out of the room.
The mountain was shifting.
He walked down the hall towards the elevators. Casually at first, because he was still within earshot. Clean tiled surfaces do absolutely nothing to dampen sounds. After about ten paces, he began to walk with long, swift strides.
He had to hurry, because the mountain was moving again, and he wasn't going to be able to hold it back this time.
Reaching the elevator, he jammed at the button with his thumb. COME ON! He heard the hum of the elevator car, but it was scarcely fast enough for his liking. He hadn't really exerted himself, but he felt breathless. A frantic eternity passed in the space of about seventeen seconds. The elevator door opened lazily after emitting the obligatory "ping". He nearly ran into the orderly that was stepping out. Safely inside, he might have looked tired as he reached for his handkerchief. The elevator door closed.
Exhausted, he gladly allowed the mountain to crush him.
He cried, wept, sobbed, wailed, shrieked, wailed, and bawled. Not necessarily in that order, and sometimes all at once. Fleetingly brief periods of self control were used to wipe his face with the handkerchief. Still weeping, the elevator discharged him into the lobby. He didn't bother trying to compose himself, the attempt would have been futile. He wandered out into the parking lot, found his car (perhaps by smell: he certainly didn't appear to be actively looking for it) opened the door and collapsed inside. A good deal more crying followed.
It cannot properly be said that he ceased crying, and he was not weeping uncontrollably, he just chose not to control it. His mind eventually wandered out of the gloom. There, that's more like it! Think man!
She was going to die, but that was as it should be. The fire that burns brightest consumes its fuel fastest and dies out sooner. It was the fire of passion that burned so painfully now; the grand lives they had shared in such a very short space of time. The passion was still fresh, but now suddenly rent horribly asunder. It was too much to bear. It was...
Is. Is. Is. Is. Is. Is. Is. Is.
I am not dead. She is not dead, and I will not give her up to death. The passion is still very much alive. We are only being.... sidetracked. Her malady is unfortunate, yes; but we should continue to live well while we are alive. Precious moments are wasting. These moments shall never return to us... I need some way to... ... ... Yes!
Then he did stop crying. He reached for the small notebook that he kept in the cutout for the parking brake handle. He had such a poor memory that it was necessary to write down ideas lest they be lost forever. He uncapped the pen ..... but hesitated at first. His eyes shifted and his mind roamed...... Finally he wrote sporadically, and then furiously. He needed a telephone! He needed a telephone directory! He needed.... well, he needed a bath too.
He strode into her hospital room wearing a dark blue suit with a portable CD player in one hand and a bundle in the other arm. She looked pale, glad to see him, and insatiable about knowing what he was up to. His smile was akin to the sunrise. It was all that he could do to stay calm. He was proud and excited and pleased with himself. He put the things down on a chair and went and sat at her bedside.
[Admittedly, it is cruel to make people wait for their surprise gifts. Procuring the gift is a very special act in and of itself, but so very fleeting is the actual giving. A very great and grand thing it is for the giver to savor the moment before the giving. To feel the incurable curiosity and palpable excitement, and profess indifferently "Oh, its just a trifle.... nothing special." while delaying that blissful moment for as long as possible. Ah, the excruciatingly tenuous anticipation.]
He knew she would be brimming with curiosity, but he spent an inordinate amount of time fussing about how she was feeling and how well she had slept and whether the nurses had been good to her and was it very painful when they drew her blood so early in the morning and did she know that it had rained overnight and that the rain had not been in the forecast and wasn't it just a shame that they can't forecast rain like that and isn't it just as if we were still living in the Stone Age when we can't even tell what the weather is going to be like tomorrow and...
His smile completely gave him away (as he knew it would) and she lovingly struck him with the plastic knife that had been on her breakfast tray. She demanded to know what was in the parcel or she would find a very unpleasant use for the plastic knife.
His smile blossomed. He feigned reluctance as he slowly surrendered the bundle wrapped in colored paper. The paper did not last long. Then, for the first time in about an hour, you could hear a pin drop. He smiled a mix of pleasure and adoration. She just stared for a moment.
"What did you do? Karl? What did you pay for this?"
"It's a trifle," he insisted. "Look."
He showed her how he had cut the blue gown open at the back, and down the backs of the sleeves, and how he had added hook and loop fasteners to close the gaps so that it could be worn properly.
"It is a much more appropriate hospital gown for you, my dear.
"Now. You must put it on."
She protested faintly, and was fairly weak, but stood shakily as Karl closed the dress around her.
He set up the CD player and started the music. The opening strains of the Blue Danube filled the room. She was pale, excited and happy, but unsure...
"But..... Karl, I can't dance....." she said, not wanting to disappoint him.
"You do not have to."
Karl tried to contort his face into a debonair and dignified look, but he knew it didn't quite work on his features. She smiled at the attempt all the same.
He moved to stand facing her, and reached for her hand. Bowing to her, he kissed her hand. Straightening up from the bow, he moved a step forward and put his arm around her. Straightening fully, he lifted her off the ground with the arm he had put around her.
Karl was suddenly shocked by how light she was, but he recovered quickly and, not wanting to jolt her too much, started to sway around the room. Her eyes misted and after a while she laid her head on his shoulder and kissed his neck.
"Would you like me to stop?"
"Very well then" he smiled.
He pranced around the room as the orchestra's performance reached a crescendo.
bah-dah-dah-dah dum, dum dum -
The heart monitor wailed. The attempt at a debonair look was frozen on Karl's burned face. A twisted smile of delight on his taut lips. Lying on the gurney in the ICU, with his blackened and oozing arms outstretched he looked like a mannequin separated from its eternal dance partner. Despite the urgent wail of the monitor, the only pertinent activity is a woman's grief; watching this destroyed man slip away from her. She sobs helplessly.
A passerby takes in the scene with some alarm, but querying a local nurse receives only a brief countersign; "DNR."
She lifted her head from his shoulder. Her complexion wasn't nearly as pale as he had thought earlier. See? It was just a trick of the light! She only needed some air; to be up on her feet a little. Isn't this wonderful?
She was up on her feet. She was dancing. And it was wonderful.
He did hear someone wailing in the distance. Yes, over there - down the hall. In the ICU. Well.... it's a shame that someone should be hurt or dying while he was having such a marvelous time, but he couldn't very well help everyone, could he?
Karl Erik Aune
[alternate title - A Time of His Life]
People should know what horrors lie in wait for burn victims. Especially after the fire is out. People go into the flames but shattered lives and broken minds come out of rehab years later. Life is precious, but it is the quality of life that matters.