It was the sound of her breathing that woke him.
He turned his head. Her eyes closed, jaw slack and her lips slightly open. Her face ghostly pale. Her left arm was over her head; her right under the covers. The breaths shallow, slow.
‘Marigold,’ he murmured, gently pressing on her arm. He had mixed feelings about waking her up. She could be a beast in the morning, particularly if she had too little sleep and too much alcohol. ‘Marigold. Are you OK?’
Her reply came as a groan as her elbow jabbed into his torso. He winced. She must be fine, he thought. Throwing back the doona, he lifted himself out of the bed. His head thumped like a bass drum. He didn’t hear her gasp as he left the room.
Later, he’d wonder if he had heard her, would things have turned out better. In moments of theoretical thinking, unadorned from emotion, he suspected not.
But in the kitchen, as he placed bread in the toaster and flicked on the kettle, he had no idea of what was happening with Marigold. After eating breakfast, he turned on his laptop and settled into work mode. All concern for her welfare melted in favour of graphs, analytics, and data. Two hours passed before he thought of her again.
‘Marigold,’ he called from where he sat. ‘Get up, hon. You must need water at least. Maybe some headache tablets.’ Actually, he’d not taken any since rising, maybe he should get some for himself. He pushed four tablets out of the blister packet, took two for himself and poured fresh water into a glass for her.
At the bedroom door, he froze. The glass slipped from his hand, smashed into pieces on the floor. The headache tablets fell into a pool of water. He ran to her in slow motion, his voice slurred as he yelled her name.
Marigold was still in the same position as when he left her, but everything was wrong. Her skin was tinged blue, her chest not rising or falling. The acrid smell of vomit overpowered as he moved to the bed. He lowered his ear to her mouth. She was still alive. When the ambulance arrived, he told them everything: New Years Eve in excess. He tried to slow her alcohol intake, tried to get her to drink water, but she wouldn’t listen. They’d had a bad year, she was determined to bring in the new one inebriated.
Now, some five years later, he still made weekly visits to the nursing home to see Marigold. She’d never regained consciousness; death would have been kinder. And each time he came, he wished he could turn back time to that night. He’d do it all differently.
With his head resting in his hands, we wiped his eyes, rose from the arm chair and kissed her goodbye before returning to his family.