Brevity (A Short Story)
It’s been raining for most of the week. Today is no different.
Helen looks out the rain pelted window, eying the drops of water trickling down the pane. She sees the dark grey foreboding clouds that have positioned themselves where the sky is supposed to be. Rain was supposed to bring blessings. At least that’s what she’d always been told. Helen tries to remember who first told her that. Could have been her mother, or a grandmother or a teacher in one of the many schools she’s been to. But it had taken root in her heart: Rain meant blessings.
Today she isn’t feeling particularly blessed. Luke, the man she loves, is sleeping in the bed next to her. He’s lying on his back so his face is facing the ceiling. Helen admires his profile. The strong jaw, the large nose that he’s always so insecure about. His eyes are closed but she pictures them in her mind. How inquisitive and playful they are. How those eyes of his look at her in a manner that makes her blush. How they look when he’s angry. She looks at his face. Luke hasn’t shaved in a while. His beard is coming in strong. It makes him look older. More distinguished? Maybe. But she can never tell him that or he’d never shave.
She asks herself how she got here. How she of all people found herself in this perfect bubble of happiness.
She met Luke at a bar five years ago. Her friend June set them up. “I have the perfect man for you,” June had said.
“I’m not going on a blind date,” Helen had told her. But then June showed her Luke’s WhatsApp profile photo. “Okay, one date.”
June squealed and did something like a jog on the spot with her eyes closed and her head shaking.
At the bar, June ordered a vodka for herself. Helen preferred not to drink but she got a gin and tonic. Minutes later, Luke walked into the room and literally every female gawked at him. He was dressed in a black suit. Helen thought that meant he was a corporate man that just got out of the office. That meant money. One point for the man. He was tall. Helen liked that. Two points. Then Luke said hi. Helen was done for. That voice! That deep baritone. She loved that. Loved!
She and Luke talked about everything. They were so lost in conversation they did not even hear June leave. Helen had four more gins. Luke only had a couple of energy drinks and a soda. She noticed and asked why. He said, “Someone has to drive you home.” She fawned at his consideration. And at the fact that he had a car.
Luke paid the bill that night and drove her home, still entertaining her with stories. Helen couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed so hard. At last, they got to her place. She was almost sorry the night was over. She wanted to invite him in, let him spend the night. All her senses told her not to but he seemed different from anyone else she’d dated. She didn’t invite him in. She waited to see if he’d insist. Frankly, if he had, she wouldn’t have hesitated. But like a gentleman, Luke respected her wishes. Sometimes Luke did dumb stuff like that. She so wanted to spend the night with him, instead Luke kissed her and in all honesty, she forgot how to speak. She stood by her door as she watched him leave. She slept with a smile that night.
Luke wakes up and looks at Helen. She smiles at him and his heart melts. She looks beautiful in her dishevelled hair and wrinkled up clothes. “Hi,” she says.
“Hi,” he echoes.
“You need to shave,” she says.
He laughs. “I don’t need to. You just want me to.”
“Is there a difference?”
“I have come to realize that there is not.” Luke glances out the window. “Still raining?”
Helen nods and smiles. “Your powers of perception are uncanny.” She sits at the foot of the bed and reaches for Luke’s hand. Luke entwines his fingers with hers.
“Are you worried?” He asks.
She stares into his eyes. Those eyes of his. She nods.
“Don’t be. It’s going to be okay.”
“You don’t know that,” she says. A rogue tear escaping her eye.
Luke smiles. A sad smile. “It’s going to be okay.”
Luke stood outside the jewellery store. He felt uncomfortable. His best friend Jack was standing beside him asking him over and over again, “Dude, are you sure?”
He was sure. Anxious, but sure.
They walked into the store and he bought the ring. It was perfect. Helen would love it. Jack was telling him how he would miss his independence. Luke didn’t’ care. He wanted Helen more.
He proposed one night at Helen’s place. He knew she didn’t like public displays of affection. So he proposed when it was just the two of them. She cried as she said yes. Luke felt like the king of the world and he told Helen this. Helen told him she regretted showing him Titanic. They had laughed and kissed and texted people and kissed again. Luke loved how Helen couldn’t stop staring at her ring. It made his heart swell with pride.
The doctor walks in and says it’s time.
Helen has been dreading this moment for a week now but the tumour had to go. But brain surgery? Not on her Luke. This type of thing happened to other people, not her.
Luke squeezes her hand and tells her for the millionth time that it’s going to be okay. She cries as they wheel him out of the room.
Luke smiles at her and gives her the thumbs up. Then she disappears from sight.
Luke took some aspirin. He’d been getting headaches for the past month. Persistent ones. He had to go to the hospital and get checked out. But when would he have the time? He had to work. He and Helen had a baby on the way. Babies were expensive.
He rushed down the stairs and grabbed a cup of tea left on the counter by his wife. He loved saying that. His wife.
He didn’t get to enjoy it. He fainted. His wife called for an ambulance.
Cancer, the doctor hadn’t said. He said tumour, but all they had heard was cancer. The big C. Helen had gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. Luke only stared ahead into blank space.
Cancer? Him? No. It was a bad dream. It started raining on that day. And it hadn’t stopped.
It’s been hours. Helen stares out the window. It’s dark now and all she sees are lights. Street lights, car headlights, and lights in office buildings not yet vacated for the night. Jack is here but they’re not speaking. June was here too but she had to leave. The room is cold but it’s cold from the fear and anxiety not from the temperature.
The doctor walks in. Helen and Jack both stand at the same time. The suspense is palpable. Helen’s heart is racing. She chews on whatever’s left of her fingernails. Jack is rubbing his hands like he wants to start a fire.
The doctor looks at both of them, clears his throat and opens his mouth to speak.