His gait was slow, but steady as he entered the room. His eyes, once a vibrant blue, now faded with the passage of time, took in the sunflower wallpaper and mismatched curtains, something the occupant had obviously brought from home. Photographs adorned the wall, and every flat surface held a book. He smiled when he recognized his name emblazoned along the spine of the one on the night stand, but it was also a feeling that cut something deep inside of him.
A young woman was fast asleep in the chair next to the bed, her long dark hair obscuring her face. One pale hand was stretched out toward the huddled lump beneath the bed sheets, the other cradled her own very round belly. The girl was very obviously pregnant.
He hesitated, not wanting to wake anyone. He gave a thought to leaving without a disturbance, but there was a sigh from the bed. She was awake, and watching him. "Leaving me already?" Her voice was weak, but still the same after all these years. "You didn't even say hello." He looked into her eyes and saw that, although her voice was teasing, she was holding back much more.
He steadied himself on the door frame. "Hola," he said, finally, bringing a smile to her face. "I didn't want to disturb you, or your..." he hesitated, nodding toward the sleeping girl.
"Isabella, my grand daughter.". The woman shifted herself on the bed, bringing herself straighter. She leaned over and brushed the hair from the girl's face. "And she’s carrying my first great grand daughter."
He licked suddenly dry lips. "She looks like you did," he said. He tore his eyes away and looked at the woman on the bed.
Her eyes met his, and she smiled knowingly. Gone was the fear and doubt of so long ago, and he wondered at it, seeing that old light again. Then, remembering why he came, hated her clarity with a savagery that staggered him.
"I missed you," she told him, and indicated the chair on the other side of the bed.
He wanted to flee, but somehow found the strength to take the five steps to her bed side. "I'm sorry," he told her, but couldn't say anything else.
"You are still the same. So enigmatic," she observed, and laughed. The laugh turned into a cough as she struggled to breathe.
"Should I call a nurse?". He made as if to get up, but was stopped by her hand on his. She didn't grip him tightly, just a touch of skin, but she couldn't have held him harder with chains.
"It passes. It always does.". She looked away then, at the walls. "Sunflowers. Isn't it crazy? Everything in here is supposed to be soothing, but I look at the wallpaper and think of Van Gogh's sunflowers, and how angry they seemed."
He blinked at her sudden change, realizing her old defense mechanisms were still in place. When she was scared or at a loss, she had always spouted off the strangest facts she could remember. He tried to glean the meaning beneath the words. "Van Gogh?"
She looked down, then back at him. "I know I should be at peace now, but I don't want to go.".
It was a whispered confession that he almost missed, then the weight of her words dropped on him. He took her hand in his now, finally, and ran his thumb along the paper thin skin of her palm.
"Don't be scared," he whispered back. "God is here with you."
"And you...?" It was a question.
He swallowed, nodding. Finally he said, "I'm here now, until-"
She closed her eyes. "You were always here," she answered, placing her free hand above her heart.
She didn't open her eyes. "Shush. Just let me enjoy your presence for a while." She sighed, and he felt something heavy pass from her. He could feel the feelings release from her. Sorrow. Longing. He felt it brush by him with a feathery kiss along his cheek.
"I still read your words. I thought of you every day." There was no urgency in her words now, just that strange calm he had seen earlier. Her breathing slowed, and a chill formed in his gut.
He squeezed her hand. "There's so much I-"
"It's okay." She squeezed his hand back, but it was barely a pressure. "I know. I do. It's okay.". She sighed again. "I'm tired now. I think I may be able to finally rest. Will you stay until I fall asleep?"
"What about Isabella?"
"She won't wake, it's all right."
"All right." He stroked her hand. "Do you want to talk?"
"I want you to sing me to sleep with your words," she told him. "I want to ride their wake."
"I love you. Don't forget."
He began to speak, weaving the words of his own poetry, old, beloved poetry, shared songs. He talked until his voice was barely a whisper. He kept talking, even as he felt her go, the only sign he knew was the dampness of his cheeks.
The girl in the chair across from him stirred. He stood, carefully, and leaned forward one last time, placing a kiss on cold, silent lips. Then, he turned and left, unable to look back.