Linda stood by John’s bed and watched his chest rise and fall. Tiny droplets of vapor collected inside the oxygen mask every time he exhaled. A thin layer of crust had formed on his eyelashes, like cobwebs in an abandoned house. Clear fluid dripped from an IV line in slow, almost hypnotic droplets. The room was quiet except for the staccato beeping of the heart monitor and the whooshing, Darth Vader-ish noise of the ventilator. Behind the clear plastic mask was the face she had loved for a lifetime.
Was he in pain? She hoped he was. That rat bastard!
She closed the door after a quick check outside the room for any nurses walking by and reached for the plug that bound him to life and to her.
They had come to see John that morning. Melissa, a tall, busty brunette and her daughter. Was that lipstick? Who wears lipstick to a hospital? Linda pasted a smile on to her face and shook hands with her.
The girl’s face was buried in her phone. Linda couldn’t remember her name. Melissa nudged her daughter. She looked up at Linda with the discerning eye of a ten year old. “This is her?” she turned to her mother. “But Dad said she was…” Melissa growled before she could finish. The girl swallowed her words and said a rehearsed hello.
Linda stood back as the mother and daughter held John’s hand. The three of them looked like a family and she was now the outsider.
John had told her about his other family the previous week. Linda sat at the kitchen table, her mouth half open. Who was this man? Why had she given forty years of her life to him?
“I’m sorry, Lin. It was all a mistake. She got pregnant. I couldn’t just dump her, you know.” His eyes were moist. “Please Lin, please forgive me. I love you.”
John was still kneeling as she walked away without saying a word. A few steps later, she heard his voice bursting with pain. She turned back to see him clutching the left side of his chest.
It was as if he had handpicked that moment to tell her. As if he knew his heart attack was coming. As if his hospitalization would dampen and eventually quell her anger. The lava boiled afresh as she stood watching the three of them play family, . She wanted to erase these two aberrations out of John’s and her life. She wanted to scream, but this wasn’t the time. Not here, not now.
Linda walked inside her house like a zombie that evening. Her eyes settled on their honeymoon photo on their ascending photo wall. John had his arm around her, his smile spread to his eyes. Her head was turned towards him like a sunflower towards the sun.
She wondered when exactly in this timeline John had met Melissa. Maybe she was there all along. Like an ominous shadow.
Linda heaved up a vase and banged it against the photo wall. Shards of glass piled on the wood floor like tiny twinkling diamonds. She grunted and gave it another blow. And another. Until every single frame and photo was part of the rubble.
The flames of her anger only blazed brighter. She picked up her car keys and drove back to the hospital. There was no sign of Melissa and her daughter.
Her heart threatened to jump out of her body. Bending her knees, she reached for the plug. Her clammy palms trembled. She gulped her thirst in. Hesitation and fear raised their heads again. She looked at John’s face. Her John. What was she doing? She went back to her chair and took deep swigs of water from her bottle.
There was a soft knock on the door. Melissa let herself in.
“Linda, did you want to go home and rest tonight? I’ll stay here with John.” She dug her hands into her pockets. “Oh, if it’s okay with you, I mean.” She added with a sheepish smile.
Linda smiled. As she closed the door on John and Melissa, a crazy idea sprouted.
She packed a bag and loaded her car with a few essentials. She drove south until she could see the purple and golden Disneyland sign. The wind whooshed through her loose hair as she squealed and screamed on Space Mountain. The grip on her chest loosened. She wasn’t the sunflower, she was the sun.