He stared out the window at a black December sky, and watched rain swirl down onto roofs below, run in streams into choked gutters and spill over in sheets to the sidewalk below, backlit by the city lights, its shimmering reflections the only visual relief from dark night. How easy it would be, to give in to this gloom and let it control his feelings. Why struggle against the pain and disappointment?
“Talk to me,” she said, “You’re too quiet. I might as well be by myself.”
“What do you want to talk about?”
“Do I need to give you a subject? Just talk.”
That had the effect of making his mind go blank. He groped for memories of good times they had had together, something he could talk about without triggering one of her moods—anger or despair. Their life together lived on in those vivid memories …
Like the afternoon sunlight, flashing brightly from wavelets on a Minnesota lake, where they had sat one afternoon, years before, fishing for sunfish and crappies under the dock, without much luck. She pointed at a small fish darting out from the dock.
“Look at that! that fish isn’t big enough to hold the bait in his mouth,” she said.
“Who cares? I’m here to fish, not to catch fish.”
“What’s the point of fishing if you don’t want to catch anything?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Yes, you did. You said you were not here to catch fish.”
“That’s not what I meant, I—“
“It’s what you said.”
“I meant the reason I am here is for the whole experience: holding the rod, baiting the hook, throwing the line out, reeling it in, getting sunburned, and soaking my toes in the water.”
“I don’t see any reason to do that if you don’t want to catch fish.”
“I never said I don’t want to catch—wait a minute.” At this, his rod tip began a jiggling dance, then dipped sharply. “I got one!”
The line sliced through the water towards the weeds on the other side of the dock, and he began to reel it in. The fish’s course brought it through the sun path on the water, chaotically scattering and blending the reflections. The fish flip-flopped as he lifted it from the lake, throwing droplets on their bare legs, that afternoon long ago…
His wife interrupted his thoughts again from her bed. “Where are you? Why don’t you say something?” She switched on the light above her bed, and he realized that he had not spoken a word about his memories.
“I was thinking about our vacation up north of Lake Vermilion, do you remember?”
“You mean the time we fished off the dock?”
“Yeah, that time.”
“What about it?”
He struggled to say what he really felt, “It was like we were so alive then, the sun was brighter and the sky was bluer than it ever is now.”
“It’s pitch black now.”
“I don’t mean right now, I mean when it’s daytime, and everything looks flat and washed out, compared to how it was then. And I miss you now, when we’re apart all the time. I keep thinking about the past, and wishing we were back there instead of here.”
“If you spent more time here, maybe you wouldn’t feel that way.”
She reached out and took his hand in both of hers. They sat, silently, for some time, until he realized that she had fallen asleep. Softly, slowly, he slipped his hand from hers and quietly walked out of the hospital.