When I arrive, John is sitting in the chair by the window. Sunbeams bounce off the yellow brim of his Denver Nuggets cap and make me squint.
“Hey, hon,” he says. “You missed the ship again.”
Pressing his lips together, he gazes out the window as if that might bring it back.
I set down my tote and rub my aching shoulder. “Any luck identifying it?” The hard mattress of his bed barely shifts when I sit.
“No.” Various three-masted vessels blur beneath his fingertips as he scrolls through search results on his tablet. “It’s driving me crazy. This one’s close, see…”
If I look, maybe he’ll let it go.
“But, it’s still not quite right. And there’s no mention of any historic vessels mooring in this area.” With a shaky hand, he rubs my knee and smiles. “It might come back tomorrow. You never know…”
I raise an eyebrow. “Quite the mystery.”
I’m so tired of talking about the stupid ship. A fluttery bubble jumps in my gut. There’s no time for this bullshit. Why are we wasting time?
“You going to stay tonight?” he asks.
I only hesitate a second, but he notices, and he pulls his hand from my knee.
“You don’t like sleeping here. The sofa thing sucks, I know.”
It’s not the sofa. It’s the beeping. The endless beeping, barely tolerable during the day and utterly unbearable at night. And then there’s the moaning. And the crying. Usually from a room down the hall.
“No. It’s just, I have my early Friday meeting, that’s all. I’m always late when I stay here.”
He shakes his head. “God, this must be so hard for you. Trying to keep up normal life out there all this time.”
Maybe this is it, our chance to lay it all out. “John,” I start, but he only picks up his tablet and starts scrolling through the images again.
For the next few hours—as hospital staff, visitors, and patients come and go—we talk about anything, everything, and nothing at all.
My heels click on the laminate floor almost in time with the beeps.
“Mrs. Brooks,” the nurse says from John’s doorway. “He took a turn since lunch…it’s good you’re here. But, just…we wanted you to know before you go in.”
I swallow back vomit and blink the burning away.
My husband doesn’t sit in the chair by the window today. He lays in the bed. His gray lips barely part when he whispers my name.
Not my name.
Taking his hand, I sit. “Just relax, baby.”
When I kiss his forehead, his skin is so dry. His eyelids flutter closed, and he’s quiet.
It’s just us and the beeps.
And then nothing.
Without a final goodbye. No “I love you, Shelia.” Just, “the ship.” And I still missed it. Missed seeing the fucking boat that was so important to him.
I’m on my feet. At the window. I grab the binoculars he’s kept there all month and jam them to my face. Well, what do you know? There it is. The stupid ship. Of course. After all this time. Back but too late.
I zoom in on the deck, on a spot of yellow illuminated by the dying light of day.
The Denver Nuggets.
He sees me and waves, his face beaming to rival the setting sun. In a flash-flare, the ship nose-dives into the ocean, and it’s gone.
Someone shakes me, but I can’t look away.
It might come back. You never know.
Jessica Bayliss is an author of commercial fiction who loves nothing better than getting lost in a good story, whether in print or on film. She was recently published by Leap Books in “Beware the Little White Rabbit,” an anthology of twisted YA stories inspired by “Alice in Wonderland.” April 14, 2015. Her romantic, ghost story, “Breathless” was just released by Three Worlds Press as part of their Sea Mist series, and her short horror piece, “The Muse,” was included in Issue 31 of Sanitarium Magazine. Between short stories, she works on various novels, which span genres and age groups. Jessica has more books in her head than she knows what to do with and three completed novels she’s currently querying. But woman cannot live on words alone. When not busy with her latest fiction project, she can be found loving her friends and family—especially husband, Eric—playing with one pesky Havanese, or trying to appease a particularly ornery cockatiel, typically with a cup of coffee near at hand. You can learn more about her at:
Image by Jessica Bayliss