An old man lies on a hospital bed that has been wheeled into his bedroom. Years ago he made a fortune in the furniture business, starting up a company, making the goods himself. He raised a family, buried a wife, looked after people. His hands are huge, workingman hands, and back in the day, they kept order. You did not want those hands on you. If they were closed in a fist you knew: your fight was over.
Under the sheets in his hospital bed, he wears a diaper. He’s blind from strokes and his hearing and his attention come and go in random pattern. They come and go and when they are returned, they seem, each time a bit more childlike, a bit more scrubbed of edges and fire.
I mean that, with each reawakening, it becomes clearer that all he’s ever said, all there is to say is, “I love you. I’ve always loved you. Do you love me? I’ve always loved you.”
Really, what else?
“Did you,” you say to him, “eat lunch?” (By which you mean, I love you.)
He says, “Yes.” (I love you.)
“Are you in any pain?” (I love you.)
“No.” (I love you.)
He takes your fingers in his big workingman hands. His grip is like iron cushioned in a ski glove. The smell in the room is of babies, disinfectant, sheets washed with too much bleach.
The years pass quickly. We cast about in nets of our own devising, in oceans we’ve called on ourselves like so many backwards prophets. Some nights, it seems like the woods are endless, and that the sun is too ashamed by our doings to ever rise again. In the tunnels below ground, the workers continue their ceaseless busying regardless. Everyone runs in circles until they fall down. Then they run some more. You want to say, “Oh let us stop. Right here. Right here,” but no one does. How can they? Have you seen how much a one-bedroom costs these days?
Yes, you hurt people. Can they forgive you? Can you forgive yourself? Can you stand up again?
After twenty minutes, the old man in bed releases your hand. He motions you in close and kisses your cheek, his lips ringed in stubble. Outside, day has turned to night and the rain to snow. There are messages on your phone and appointments to keep. A moment glimmers at your mind’s horizon and is gone, so beautiful it leaves a sharp ache.