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Holding On
By Ann


Her breathing seems shallower today, and I move to check the oxygen flow once again, the gauge mocking me as it shows the correct setting. I stubbornly thump the read out display with my finger. Surely, there has to be some kind of malfunction, but the needle stays steady and true; the flow hasn't been interrupted.

Sighing, I retake my seat by her side and, gently, I reach for her right hand, the hand free of tubes and IVs. Each time I fold my hand around hers, I'm shocked at the gauntness of her once strong hand, and I try not to obsess on what now appears to be only bone wrapped in skin. Stroking my thumb across the back, I begin my daily routine.

"Hey, it's me, again. Not much has happened since yesterday. The yard still needs mowing, but on a good note, the lilies have finally bloomed. I'll bring a few cuttings for you tomorrow. Would you like that?"

Only the sounds of more shallow breaths accompanied by the low hum of the monitors can be heard. I can't help but glance at the IV pole and the bag of morphine slowly dripping down into the plastic tubing. Following its path, I stop at her left hand and curse the medicine that is keeping her from me while at the same time being so very thankful that it's stopping the unbearable pain.

It's been days since she last opened her eyes, and even though she didn't utter a word, she looked directly at me and smiled before succumbing back to oblivion. That's what I call it anyway; the doctors, of course, refer to it as a coma. I prefer to believe that she's still aware of her surroundings and that she's merely choosing to go to a place where she's free of pain, a place where the cancer can't hurt her anymore.

"Um, I'm going to go into work for a bit today. I know I promised that I'd go in every day, but I just couldn't leave you here with some stranger."

I wait for her to sit up and argue with me, but after several minutes, I continue with my one-sided conversation.

"Donna, the day nurse, is very nice and attentive, too. I've come to trust her, and she promises me that if there's any change that she'll call me right away. So, I'm going to give her a trial run today. Little does she know that I plan to call every half hour to check on things."

She doesn't smile or chuckle at my revelation, she just lies there, looking for the world as if she's sleeping peacefully. And, not for the first time I can assure you, I'm so very angry at our circumstance. Why? Why did this have to happen to us? And why did it have to happen to her? Why can't I be the one lying in the bed while she sits here, perfectly healthy and completely sound?

I fucking hate cancer. It's taken the woman that I love and turned her into a shell of a person, eating away at her beauty and slowly taking her from me. Don't get me wrong, she's still beautiful; it's just that I have to look past the tubes and the pale, dry skin and the chapped lips. I have to concentrate on the woman before me and see the woman that used to be. And I do, it's just difficult at times.

I know that I should pray for her to pass quietly and finally be at rest, but damn it, I don't want her to leave me, I don't want to let her go. I just need a little more time, that's all. A few more days, and then I'll be ready.

A knock on the door alerts me to another presence, and I turn to see Donna standing in the doorway. She holds up a finger to remind me that I only have a minute before I need to go. I nod at her, and she smiles as she leaves to give us a moment alone.

"Okay, I'm going to go now, but I'll be back soon. Don't be giving Donna any trouble, you hear?"

Standing, I lean down and lightly kiss her lips. For just a moment, I imagine that I feel her kiss me in return, and I decide to believe that she somehow managed the small feat. I place her hand back at her side and slowly let go, feeling as if I'm releasing my lifeline.

I walk towards the door and glance back over my shoulder. Quietly, I whisper, "I love you. Don't you ever forget that."

Turning, I step out of the room, praying that she'll still be here when I return.

The End

Companion piece A Little More Time by aftm

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