The Longest Goodbye

‘Just go…I don’t want to see you here!’

William sighed. Orbs of light, finding their way in through the not-quite-shuttered blinds, illuminated patches of his face. A weary face. Full of cracks and crevices. One taut and contorted in a resigned exasperation.

‘Margaret, listen…’

‘Don’t bloody ‘Margaret listen me!’ ok?! I’m telling you to go so bloody well bugger off out of here.’

‘Look Margaret, I’m sorry that you feel this way but…’

‘Oh just shut up. Shut up. Please just shut the hell up you insufferable bloody man!’

William sighed once more. He grimaced, struggling to quell the familiar strands of frustration and anger welling inside of him. He looked at Margaret, appealing silently to her for calm, for common sense. Only to be met with stoic resolve. Bitterness. Hatred, even.

‘Margaret, dear, listen…’

‘Don’t you DARE call me ‘dear’!’ she spat. ‘You have no right at all to call me that! No right!’

‘But look, if you’d just…’

‘If I’d just what? Hmm? I’ve already told you I’m done talking to you, haven’t I? I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to listen to you. I don’t want to deal with you. Just go for god’s sake!’

‘Margaret…Margaret…if you’d just listen to me I can explain. I’m not here to annoy you, I’m not trying to hurt you, I never did, all I want is…’

‘I’ll scream you know.’

William stuttered slightly, winded by this latest fragment of poison.

‘I’m…I’m sorry, you’ll do what?’

‘I said I’ll scream. If you don’t clear off. I will.’

‘Oh don’t so bloody stupid Margaret, for god’s sake!’ grumbled William to himself, barely audible enough for Margaret to hear.

‘What!?’

‘What?’

‘What was that you said there? Under your breath. Like the sneak you so clearly are!’

‘Nothing Margaret. Ok? It’s not important.’

‘Ha! You’re right there anyway. Just go.’

‘No, listen Margaret,’ William said clearly as he stepped forward, visibly preparing himself for a pre-prepared speech, ‘it’s me. Ok? William. Your William. No-one else. No-one else’s. I’ve always been your William. And always will be. You need to know that. You need to understand that.’

‘Understand nothing!’ snarled Margaret. ‘You are no-one to me, ok? Get that into your skull. My William? My William?! For god’s sake, you were never my William! And I was never ‘your’ Margaret, whatever you might think or believe. Ok? Understood? I DON’T want you here. I DON’T want to talk to you. So just bloody well GO!!’

The pin-point ferocity of the latter part of her diatribe stunned William once again. He winced, took a step back. His facial expression sagged, seemingly preparing for surrender. The silence of the room seemed to prod at him, stifling his airways almost.

‘Oh!’ he cried, suddenly animated. Life, hope, instantly careering through his veins.

‘Bloody hell, what is it now?! I’ve told you to go! Go!’

William paid no attention to the venomous words being fired across the room towards him as he walked purposely towards the large teak sideboard pushed up against the opposite wall. On top of the sideboard sat a CD player. Fumbling with the controls William drew further ire from Margaret.

‘What the bloody hell are you up to now!? Eh?’

He composed himself before closing the CD player lid gently and pressing play. A few seconds of static pierced the silence before the familiar jangling sounds of The Shirelles ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ engulfed the room. That bass line. The strings. Those harmonies. Surely that would do it. The song they danced to at their wedding. Their song.

William stepped away from the CD player and moved towards Margaret as the words crept in the air. Tonight you’re mine completely. He caught Margaret’s gaze. And smiled. He smiled long and benevolently, never taking his eyes from her, as verses and choruses came and went. Looking for recognition, looking for any kind of wilting in her armour.

As the song’s final notes rang out Margaret’s glare seemed to soften slightly. William smiled wearily. He could see she was preparing to speak. To forgive maybe. To remember.

‘What…’ she whispered croakily, ‘what the bloody hell was that in aid of? Eh?! I ask you to bugger off, to go, and you blast out music instead!? You’re a bloody mad man. Off your head!’ The venom, the resolve, returned.

William’s hands started to lift in appeal before lowering again. Any hope that existed within him now clearly, and emphatically, gone. Sadness framed his face.

‘It…that’s our…it…it doesn’t matter Margaret. Just…just forget it…’

‘Well you’re bloody right there! I will! You know what…yes…I was going to tell you to go again but given you’re clearly not doing so I’ll just have a sleep. Ok? And if you’re here by the time I wake up then I bloody well will scream! And you can believe that, I promise you!’

Almost instantly her head collapsed on the pillow and she slipped into, what appeared to be, a deep sleep. William looked on with a growing sadness. Failure flooded his thoughts. Failure and rejection. He walked the few paces to the chair by the bed and lowered himself into it. His whole body hunched. Exhausted and beaten. Tears began to form in his eyes, inspired by the cauldron of frustration, grief and fear swirling through his mind. He stared at Margaret, sleeping peacefully. And the tears continued. Streaking his face like disparate imprints of waterfalls, each glistening sporadically when touched by the fleeting light still creeping in through the blinds. He lowered his head into his waiting hands. He sobbed. The palms of his hands stifling the louder of his outbursts.

The sound of the door creaking open brought him back. He harshly rubbed his eyes with his clenched fists, slightly embarrassed by his display of grief. A younger woman, mid-to-late thirties perhaps, blonde hair tied in a bun entered the room. Her smiling demeanour fading rapidly as she saw the remnants of sadness adorning William’s reddened complexion.

‘Oh William…’ she said sadly.

‘Hello dear’ came the reply as William stood up from the chair slowly.

‘Another bad day I take it?’

‘Yes it is Lucy, I’m afraid. Another bad day.’

Lucy, the nurse, approached William and laid a soft, comforting hand on his shoulder. Contact enough to convey the pity and empathy she felt for the man.

‘She did seem chirpier this morning William. That was before her nap though. She naps a lot more these days. As you know.’

‘She does Lucy. She does.’

‘Was she abusive again? Can I ask that?’

‘Abusive?…Eh, no, not abusive Lucy no. It was more hate than abuse. Just pure hate in her eyes. She didn’t seem to know me or want me here. And you know what, I almost can’t say the words because they’re too painful but…it seemed like…it seemed like, just momentarily, she did come back to me. That she was there. But you know what? The hate, the bitterness was still there aswell. That’s what hurts.’

‘William, listen…’ Lucy stepped towards Margaret’s pillow, gently adjusting it for added comfort, ‘that’s still your Margaret in there. That’s still your wife in there. Still the women that loved you and has been married to you for…for how long is it now?’

’42 years.’

‘For 42 years, yes. That doesn’t just disappear.’

‘You know sometimes I’m not so sure dear.’

‘It’s true William. That’s still the woman you love lying there. And you’re still the man she loves. I know it’s hard. Believe me, I know how hard it is for you. But you need to remember that. Today was the disease. Not Margaret.’

William wiped the last beads of moisture away from his eyes, now slightly raw under the strain of grief, and nodded slightly.

‘I know Lucy, dear. You’re right. I know. It’s just…it’s just hard, that’s all. Very hard sometimes.’

‘I know. Sometimes life can do this. It’s not fair William. Really it’s not. But we all have to find the strength to go on from somewhere. To persevere.’

‘I know dear.’

‘If not for yourself then for your Margaret. For your wife.’

‘I know dear, I know. It’s just…what…no, how…how can I carry on as normal when I’ve already found the love of my life but keep losing her? And soon I’ll lose her for good. Where the hell do I go from there?’

‘Look William…I…’

‘No, it’s ok Lucy. I’m sorry dear. I’m getting carried away. Don’t answer that. I shouldn’t have said it. It’s just been a, well it’s just not been a good day really.’

‘Not at all William, I understand that. We all need to cope somehow. And hey,’ Lucy stepped over to William once more, returning her hand to his shoulder briefly, ‘tomorrow’s a new day. And it could be a better one. For her. And you.’

‘Yes dear’ William smiled sadly and stepped towards the door. ‘Yes, you’re right. You are. I’ll see you again tomorrow no doubt. Bye now.’

‘Bye William. Take care.’

William glanced back at his Margaret, his wife, the love of his life, lying peacefully in the bed as he stepped through the door. Willing her all the while to come back to him. To return to him. To be by his side, fully and completely, just one final time.

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