“Mr Williams, would you like to come into the dining room with the rest of the residents, we’re going to be seeing the new year in in about 45 minutes?”
“No thank you nurse Daisy, I’m quite happy where I am, the new year isn’t really a big event for me anymore.”
“Okay well if you change your mind, just let me know and I’ll bring you through, okay?”
George’s eyes scanned the room until he locked onto the single photo frame that sat upon his bedside table, “Nurse, do you have 5 minutes to spare? I want to talk to you about something.” The nurse looked surprised knowing George usually liked to keep to himself, it was difficult to start a conversation with him, and it was a very rare occurrence for him to start a conversation with anybody else. He wasn’t miserable, not your typical ‘grumpy old man’ archetype, but he was always content in his own little world, so most of the time he just got left be. “Of course Mr Williams, what did you want to discuss?”
George briefly hesitated to think through how to phrase his question, “It’s no secret that I’m not a young man, I’ll be 67 next year…” he paused to look down at the framed photo that was now in his hands, “it was roughly this time 8 years ago that my wife died, I woke up January 2nd 1928, thinking it would be like any other morning, and all I remember is seeing her face, as soon as I opened my eyes, grey, lifeless – I knew within that first second that something was wrong. It was such a shock, it came out of nowhere, she seemed so healthy, and normal one day, we knew she didn’t have long, the doctor told us that, but I expected her to slowly decline, I wasn’t ready for her to be ripped away from me overnight. And the image of what I saw that morning has imprinted itself that deeply into my mind that it’s the last thing I see when I close my eyes at night to fall asleep. And every time a new year comes around, it just feels like a countdown clock to me, because I know my time’s coming. And I don’t know how to feel about that, every day I spend alive, I spend it thinking about her, missing her. And everybody says that when my time comes, I’ll finally get to be with my Elizabeth again, but what if that isn’t true? What if when I pass, that’s it, I sit here every day, and her legacy, everything that she left behind in this world resides within my head. Once I’m gone, so is she…”
Daisy was in shock, she’d never gotten more out of Mr Williams than “Can you close the curtains for me please” or “I’ll have oats this morning thank you”, and the occasional pleasantry as they crossed paths inside the care home throughout the day. “Sir…” George immediately interrupted, “You can call me George, please, I’m having this conversation with you as a friend.” Daisy, unphased by the abrupt interruption, continued “George, what you just said about your wife, she might not be with you anymore, but she knows, wherever she is, how much she meant to you, and when your time comes, I’m sure you’ll be at peace, the way she is now, and you’ll be reunited, but that’s no reason not to enjoy your life now whilst you’re living it, I’m sure that’s what Elizabeth would have wanted for you.”
George turned to look out of his window, partly to look up at the stars for some kind of hint that his wife was up there waiting for him, partly because he wasn’t usually a sensitive man, and he didn’t want to let the nurse see his eyes begin to water. George was enamoured of the stars, they were a constant in his life, a permanent reminder of the times he and Elizabeth would stare, in awe of them for hours, and talk about how each and every one of them had a story. Elizabeth used to be fascinated by astronomy, and George would listen, to her talk for hours on end about the stars. He was never really interested when she pointed out Orion’s best, and told him the story of how Zeus gave him away as a baby, and how he became a great hunter that fell in love with a moon goddess, nor was he interested in the story of Cassiopeia, the Greek queen that got her whole family thrown into the stars for being too proud of her daughters beauty – George didn’t care about any of that, what captivated George, was listening to the passion in Elizabeth’s voice, the way she just got lost in the stories and how she’d tell them in a way that made George feel like he was there, witnessing every moment of it as it happened. That’s what George missed, those nights alone with Elizabeth, all the times the new year came around and it was special, a new year they could spend together, a new year for them to make new memories together, another year of love and happiness that they could share.
“I’d do anything to see her again.” George stated, his voice trembling as it left his mouth. “Just to spend one more day with her…” he looked up towards the brightest star he could find in the ocean of celestial bodies outside his window “Elizabeth, if you’re up there, then that’s got to be you, the woman who’s presence could brighten up any room, it only makes sense that you’d be the brightest star in the sky, and if you’re listening, just show me that you’re there, something, anything…” he turned to look at Daisy, there was no hiding the tears as one trailed down his face from his left eye, he didn’t have anything to say, and he wasn’t expecting her to say anything back, he just wanted the reassurance that came with knowing he wasn’t alone, that’s how he’d been for the last 8 years, and until now, he had made peace with the solitude, often he enjoyed it, but right now, he needed somebody.
He was still looking at Daisy, and she was looking back at him, she wore a comforting smile on her face, that told George everything he needed to know, without her having to utter a single word, but he was too ashamed to look her in the eye, he felt too vulnerable, him and his quietly confident persona weren’t used to being emotionally open. Daisy knew now wasn’t the time for her to speak, she just sat there and embraced the dead silence of the room.
When George finally gathered the confidence to look up, that human connection, the eye contact with Daisy, that was a moment of pure emotion, George at his most vulnerable, and all Daisy wanted to do was help him, so much so that he could see it just by the way her eyes gazed at him, no judgement, no pity, just humanity, that was the sign George had begged for.
Daisy broke the silence, “You’ll be with her soon George, but until then, you’ll always have me as a friend if you need to talk.” She saw the framed photo, “Can I see her?” she asked, already reaching over. George handed her picture, and as he did, he said to Daisy, “In that picture, Elizabeth and I had been married, for a little over a year, she’d just qualified to become a nurse, and that necklace she’s wearing, I got her that as a gift, to say congratulations when she first started working as a nurse.” As Daisy looked up to speak to George, he was holding out his hand, and dangling from it, swinging like a hypnotists pocket watch just in front of Daisy’s face, was the necklace, complete with the little feather pendant on the bottom “she used to love birds, all animals really, we once nursed a blackbird back from ill health after she found it in the back garden, worse for wear after one of the local cats got to it!” George started to laugh at the fond memory of his beloved wife. “Tell me more about her.” Daisy said in an inquisitive tone, “what was she like?”
George smiled once more “If it’s all the same to you nurse Daisy, maybe another time; right now, I’d like to hold onto these memories and have them for myself.” Daisy understood what George was hinting at “Okay George, well I’d best go and sort the other residents out, it’s got to be pushing midnight now and I’d better be in there to celebrate with them, everybody will be wondering where I’ve disappeared to! Are you sure you wouldn’t like to come with me?” George knew exactly how he was going to go into his new year “No thank you, you go and enjoy it, let me know how it was tomorrow.”
“Okay, goodnight Mr Williams, happy new year.”
“Goodnight Nurse, and to you, and thank you for everything… Honestly.”
Daisy left the room with a final smile, and just in time to see the new year in with the other residents, and as George listened to them counting down in the other room, his grandfather clock in the corner counting each beat like a metronome, he looked at the picture one last time, “I miss you” he whispered, and just as he heard the roars of excitement coming from the residents and the staff in the main room, he started to drift off to sleep.
“George… George… Wake up…” George’s eyes were stuck shut from his deep sleep, as he prized them open he was expecting to roll over and see one of the nurses stood there with his morning tray of medication, a glass of water, and a cup of tea. But as his eyes began to adjust to the daylight, “Good morning my lovely” there she was, fair, pale, soft skin as clear and smooth as the day they met, light brunette flowing hair that shined in the out of season sunlight breaking through the gaps between the two curtains that had been drawn the night before, her voice soft, calming, soothing; lips that wrapped around every word that she spoke, and golden hazel eyes like pools of honey staring into his own. “Elizabeth?!” George was awake immediately, he couldn’t believe it, “I love you, so, so very much!” were the only words he could muster up out of sheer amazement.
George knew this scene felt all too familiar, “What day is it darling?” He asked, “January 1st, New Year’s Day, why do you ask?” Elizabeth questioned, taken aback by the random nature of her husband’s query, George then clicked onto what had happened… January 1st, 1920, his wish had been granted, 24 final hours with his wife…
I’d like to thank Reedsy.com for providing the prompt that inspired this story. If you wish to join their short story contest, follow this link: https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/