A friend challenged me to write a story a day for seven days, on love. I’m going to post one a day.
“Who are you?”
“It’s me, sweetie. Bertie. Your husband”
“I don’t have a husband! Who are you? Get away from me!”
The nurse comes over, face calm and patient, gait slow and measured. This is very familiar. Today is going to be a bad day.
Sophia has good days and bad days. On good days, she’s a delight. Alive, excited by the world, loving and kind.
On bad days…
On bad days you do what you can.
“It’s ok, Sophia,” reassures the nurse, “This is Bertie. He’s your husband. You’ve been married since you were high school sweet hearts.”
“He doesn’t look like anyone I’d marry,” retorts Sophia, “Why would I marry someone so old?”
It’s part of the brain condition. Sophia doesn’t know how old she is. There are no mirrors in this room. This is no accident. The nurse doesn’t need to add a shock related heart attack to her already busy schedule.
“Why can I smell flowers?” demands Sophia. She starts frantically searching the room.
There are no flowers. Another side effect.
Bertie and the nurse share a glance. Normally, Bertie brings a small arrangement. Sophia can’t smell them, but it helps reassure her. Calms her. Lets her believe those are the flowers she’s smelling.
They’re not. They never are.
“You remember Bertie, don’t you Sophia?” the nurse gently guides her.
“I don’t know,” replies Sophia grumpily, “maybe.”
“Let me tell you, beautiful,” soothes Bertie, “let me tell you about our lives together. Ok?”
Sophia watches him, suspiciously, “Hmm. What else am I going to do? But don’t think you’re getting lucky.”
Bertie grins at her. Even bad days have their lighter moments. And after all these years, Sophia is still the most beautiful woman in the world.
Or maybe, because of all these years, she is the most beautiful woman in the world.
The nurse smiles gently and leaves, quietly pulling the door closed behind her. It’s a comfortable routine.
Bertie shifts his weight slightly. Gets comfortable. It was going to be a long day. Some days just are.
“We met at Charleston High. I was a wrestler and you hated me.”
“Sounds about right so far,” Sophia mutters, waspishly.
Bertie grins wryly. It was an in-joke between them, although Sophia wasn’t consciously remembering.
“Your sister hated me too. More than you even. She thought I was arrogant and conceited.
At the time, she was probably right.”
“My sister likes being right,” agrees Sophia, “about everything.”
“Exactly,” continues Bertie, “and this is why you eventually said yes to going steady with me. You were sick of her bossing you around and wanted to prove her wrong.”
Bertie looks fondly at Sophia. “We thanked her at our wedding.”
He reaches out, taking Sophia’s hand.
“We’re really married?!?” She starts to panic, pulling away, then notices the ring on her finger. It matches Bertie’s.
She looks over at him, realisation and acceptance slowly dawning.
“Yes, sweetie.” he whispers gently.
Sophia softens, tension draining from her body. She still wouldn’t remember much, if anything, but she knew instinctively she was safe. Her intuition was getting through to her.
The day was improving.
Bertie looks at her with a softness, a deepness that only those who have loved for decades can truly comprehend.
“Do you remember our first date, sweetie?” he looks expectantly at her. She never does. He always asks.
She looks sadly at him, but says nothing.
“I took you to the milk bar. You wore a light blue summer dress. You didn’t tell me till years later, but you’d borrowed it from your sister. Of course, she didn’t know that.”
Bertie laughs lightly at the memory. Sophia manages a gentle smile.
“It looked amazing on you. I couldn’t take my eyes off you.”
Sophia smiles again.
“I’d saved for weeks to be able to take you out. I didn’t earn much in those days. In fact, it was just as well you turned me down so often. The more you pushed me away, the more I managed to save.
After that though, we were inseparable. I must confess in those early days, my hormones kept me chasing you. The thought of being able to kiss you was driving me crazy.
You though, you kept your modesty. You kept me at bay for more than three months. A lifetime to a teenage boy such as myself.
Still, it showed you I was serious.
You had a lot of boys chasing you – and rightly so.
I was patient. As much as it pained me, I knew you were worth it. From that very first day, I knew.”
Bertie gazes fondly at Sophia.
He clears his throat and looks out the window. The peach tree was in blossom again. Soon there would be fresh peaches he could bring in for Sophia. She always liked them. Eating noisily, juice running onto her sheets, happy in the moment.
“From that very first date, I knew,” he repeated, “I knew you were the one for me.
And eventually? Oh boy. You let me kiss you. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited in my life. I almost came right there and then.”
“Bertie!” Sophia looks shocked, but she’s smiling.
“I think that was when you first started to realise too,” Bertie continues, “you’ve always been a little slower on the uptake,” he teases her, gently.
“Hmph!” she says, still smiling.
“We stayed together all through high school and on into college. So very many temptations at college, for both of us.” Bertie looks at her knowingly, “but neither of us wavered. We knew what a great thing we had.”
“First jobs, first apartment together. Times were tough now and then, but we got through. Together. Always together.”
Bertie’s eyes mist over as he looks lovingly at Sophia. “Then your miscarriage.” He squeezes her hand. “The trying. The stress. The tests. The realisation that we couldn’t have kids.” He stresses the ‘we’.
He continues to stare gently into her eyes. She’s blinking, trying to assimilate this world of new information.
“We never…” her voice cracks, “we never had kids?”
He shakes his head, afraid to speak.
“Oh god!” she repeats, “oh god, oh god oh god.”
“I know sweetie..” he starts, but she’s not listening.
“Oh god oh god oh god.” She’s crying, arms flailing, face red.
He smells, and realises.
“It’s ok honey. It’s ok. This happens sometimes. It’s ok.” he soothes her as best he can. Reaches his arm around her shoulders. Helps her from the bed.
She leans on him, tears streaming from her face, embarrassment writ plain.
They struggle to the bathroom together, him supporting, her shuffling, whimpering.
“Just stand there, beautiful girl,” Bertie whispers, “I’ll take care of you. You’re safe.”
Sophia sniffs quietly, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her dressing gown.
Bertie kneels in front of her, gently removes her underwear and empties them into the toilet.
He throws them into a laundry bin in the corner of the room. Reaching for a cloth he warms it under the tap and softly, lovingly, cleans her.
She quietens, slowly.
Eventually, he’s done.
“Ok honey, let’s change your robe. Ok?” He reaches for a new one, deftly swapping her arms out, giving her one final wipe and sliding the new robe on.
He kneels down before her again, gently lifting each foot into fresh new underwear and sliding them carefully up her legs.
Sophia rests her hands on his shoulders as he does.
“Now, come here darling,” he whispers to her, “let’s get you cleaned up, ok?”
He holds a tissue in front of her, and she blows into it. Bertie softly wipes her tears with his thumb, leans in and kisses her on the forehead.
“Bertie?” she whispers.
“Tell me you love me.”
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