Wednesday, 13 October 2021
“Allie?” She pokes her head through the doorway, almost too afraid to look. Her body tenses until she discerns the rise and fall of his chest, steady but barely there, almost lost within his oversized sweatshirt. He does not acknowledge her, not until she’s approached his bedside and knelt over him so he can see her. He’s lying on his left side, back to the windows and facing the nurse and his machines, awake but not really there.
He lets out a faint grunt, and his eyes move toward her, distant and pained and dejected as they are. He has such beautiful eyes. She gives him a little smile, which is all she can manage, for the sight of him is enough to make her fall apart.
His skin is ashen, practically faded into the sheets, the veins spidering beneath it in tortuous rivers. If she looks closely, she believes she can detect a yellow tint. He has not had the strength to walk for over a week, so his muscles are wasting again, leaving his limbs to protrude like twigs from his clothing. He is too weak to move on his own, and his nurses must flip him every hour or so to prevent bedsores. He’s lost so much weight that he is swallowed in his sweatshirt and flannel pants, for he has little appetite and must be coaxed to eat. The Alastair she once knew would never skip a meal, would overindulge until he felt queasy, but the old Alastair is gone. He hardly speaks anymore, just a few words here and there to let her know he’s sorry and he loves her. No more jokes or funny remarks, just remorse and fatigue, just desperation.
Marie sits on the edge of the bed as she usually does and nestles into him, her arms round his torso and her face in his shoulder. Propped up as he is by pillows, he’s at an incline sufficient for her to cuddle him without lying flat. She must be mindful of the tubes sustaining him, but ‘tis not a difficult task otherwise. ‘Tis pleasant, having him in her arms, feeling his warmth through her shirt, the steady breathing and pulse. The certainty of his being alive. She loves him more than anything, loves him to the end of the universe, and she will never let him go.
She made the right decision going on extended leave to be with him. She was being rent in half balancing work with her grief and being with Alastair, and when his condition started deteriorating last month—
Her tears begin to fall, only to get absorbed by the soft material of his sweatshirt. She keeps telling herself this will not be the end—a transplant will come—he’ll hold off long enough to celebrate Halloween or even Christmas one last time. He’s been through too much for it all to end now. He deserves so much more than immense suffering.
She must remind herself he will finally be at peace. He will not hurt anymore, he will be whole, he will smile at her from the heavens with that goofy grin of his for all of eternity. He’ll be whole again. Unleashed from a body ravaged and hurting, that he never truly felt comfortable in, that has been tormenting him ceaselessly for the past year. He will be reunited with his father. He’ll see the face of God.
“Why art thou crying?”
The hum of his voice radiates through him and into her bones. ‘Tis getting feebler day by day. His voice, so integral to her, a presence she always took for granted, fades at the end of his question into a slight gasp for breath.
“I--.” She refrains from repeating herself yet again. He already knows everything in this regard. “I don’t want thee to be sick. I hate it. I hate it so much.”
He shudders but says nothing. She knows enough of him is here to understand, but she wishes he could—he had the energy to speak. That he could do more than sit up and occasionally move his limbs. And she prays every day for God to alleviate his pain.
Gently, she rocks him back and forth. Mayhap the motion will soothe him. Mayhap he’ll drift off to sleep and be freed from pain for a few more hours. And she will still be here for him.
He twitches. ‘Tis nigh imperceptible, but ‘tis unmistakable, and she stops rocking him in surprise. She carefully releases him and scoots forward so she can peer into his eyes.
“Alastair?” He doesn’t respond. “Allie.” She presses her fingers to his neck to check his pulse. It has become a compulsion for her, for, if she doesn’t confirm his heart is still beating, she fears ‘twill stop and he’ll die without her having tried to save him.
His pulse is there. Rapid, weak, but there. The on-duty nurse comes over to ask if he’s alright and checks Alastair’s pulse for himself.
“Heart rate 70 BPM. He’s doing alright, Your Majesty.”
Alastair makes a little noise. Marie wonders if it means anything, if he’s trying to tell them he’s still here, or if he’s merely uttering an arbitrary sound. His eyes are glazed, so she suspects ‘tis the latter.
She hunches toward him to kiss his cheek just as her phone buzzes. The ringer is off, and it vibrates violently within her pants pocket, an insistent thrum that reverberates throughout. She jolts upright, extracts the phone, a flash of heat in her chest. ‘Tis like she senses what this is, like she already knows—
She skims the display, nearly dropping her cell when she catches the words.
The call is from the hospital.
“Queen Marie Kehrer,” she croaks upon answering. Her voice, and indeed her entire form, is shaking.
“How now, Your Majesty.” The operator, a male, speaks in a smooth, borderline sultry, tone. Not that Marie concerns herself with trivialities such as seduction. “I am calling on behalf of Western Fardelshufflestein National.”
He eyes lock on Alastair, who watches her as best he can through his haze of delirium. Her stomach explodes in anticipation of what the operator is about to tell her.
“We have kidneys for your husband.”
Wilhelm dashes from his apartment in a hurry, phone in one hand and overnight travel bag in the other. Finally is the sole thought he can formulate: he is not encumbered by the gravity of his duty, and his mind is not racing. The lead that has been bearing down on his shoulders has lifted, the newfound lightness making him swift as he sprints out the door.
His mouth is aflurry with rambling, overly rapid words that trip and tumble over each other without coherence. His clothing is half-undone, the top of his duffle is unzipped, the mass of it straining the handle, his palm and fingers ache.
He bounces up and down whilst he awaits the limousine’s arrival. As he will not be in a state to drive for a long while, he sent for the chauffeur. He shall arrive any moment. Just as well, since Wilhelm is bereft of a security detail at present, and an exposed royal is a dead royal based on historical precedent.
Greta returns his frantic spews of language with more subdued tones. Although Wilhelm is supposed to watch Sophia this week, Greta must pick her up from school instead. There is no time to squander; he must get prepped for surgery now.
This is it. Today is the first day of the rest of his life, as the Western saying goes. It could very well be the last day of his life if all does not go according to plan. He would be lying if he said he was not dreading this moment, although he instigated it and prayed for it to happen. He is not looking forward to months of pain and lifelong complications. But Allie will be alive.
The silver grille of the limousine prowls into view, the purr of its engine unsettlingly familiar. What used to be calm is now a sleeping giant.
He tenses as the beast pads to a stop and the chauffeur emerges it maw. “Your Highness.”
Wilhelm’s hand goes numb from clutching the duffle.
He passes the bag to the chauffeur and follows the man’s progress with his eyes. The wind still tinged with winter rips through his thin coat, and he shivers, yet he simultaneously registers nothing. Reality, it seems, has set in, the gravity of what he’s committed to palpable at last.
Thour’t doing it for Allie. This is for Allie.
He slides into the belly of the limo, mind abuzz. Greta is desperately yelling in his ear to get his attention, but he hears her not, his heart is thrumming. He thanks her and forces out a brief apology ere he ends the call and his phone becomes dead weight in his grasp.
He’s coated with sweat by the time the limo halts outside the hospital entrance nearest the surgical wing. His slick palms slap uselessly on the interior door handle and slide along its rounded edges, fingers too cramped to bend. Hans the chauffeur opens the door for him; he staggers out, shaken and overcome with malaise, accepts his duffle from Hans, and inhales, taut.
The concrete beneath his feet hardens becomes brittle, his shoes slapping against it in an uncoordinated rhythm. Wind gusts in a brief but sharp swell that scatters his hair and cools the sweat upon his cheek. His attire, ruffled already by the day, is wrinkled further.
Upon setting his hand upon the pipe-like door handle, he hesitates. Another steadying breath. Allie, he reminds himself again. His brother’s face appears within his mind’s eye, and he opens the door.
They permit him to see Allie, who is already being prepped for surgery, for a few moments ere Wilhelm himself must be admitted. They will be wheeled in in tandem, but he wishes to hold his brother’s hand and give him a kiss on the forehead, reassure him everything will be alright. To have one moment with Alastair so he can, fearing the worst, say goodbye.
Time is of the essence, so he must be swift, but he minds not. He understands his task and the gravitas of the situation. He is beyond grateful they allow him to dash into Allie’s room, his duffle already in the custody of Greta, and wrap him into a hug.
Allie, paler than the paint stuck to the walls and his sheets, whimpers. Wilhelm releases him, not all the way, stutters an apology, throat thick with internalized tears. What if he doesn’t make it? He’s just so ill. Wan, his head lolled back, nonreactive, disconnected from the world—who is Wilhelm to believe he has the power to help save his life?
He must depart; there is no time. He will return anon as a patient and not a visitor, after he has bid his own farewell to his family. He could very well perish in his endeavor to rescue Alastair. He hugs Allie tighter, breathes in the scent of his shampoo, revels in the way his curls tickle his face. There is so much he yearns to say, yet nothing will exit his mouth, for it all sticks amidst the tears and regret that are his life. Instead, he plants a fierce kiss on Allie’s scalp, cradles his injured head for part of a moment, then lets him go, shamed at his inability to speak as he strides from the room.