Stephanie felt the cup slip out of her unresisting fingers and splash water across the tray. A small sob almost escaped her lips at the sight of it, at the knowledge of how weak her left hand had become since the accident.
She grabbed tissues from the bedside cupboard and began mopping the spill, hoping none of the other patients had noticed the mistake. The doctors had told her to learn to do things with her right hand instead of the left, which had been crushed when she came off her motorcycle, but she had always been left-handed and she didn’t want to change. It was too hard, it didn’t feel right.
She managed to get the tissues into the bin beside her bed just as the first arrivals for visiting time appeared in the ward. Smiling people, spouses, parents, siblings, children, all come to see someone. Stephanie glanced forlornly at the passage of visitors. She had no family to visit her or, at least, she didn’t remember any family. Everything before the accident was a blank, and no parents or siblings had shown up to claim her.
Those first few visiting times had been awful. Watching the clock as the other patients talked with loved ones, cringing at happy laughter, close to tears when someone offered comfort or compassion. She had no idea if she had been lonely before the accident, but she certainly was now.
And then a smiling young man turned up at her bed one day with a bunch of flowers from the hospital shop. She had no idea who he was. He called himself Ed and sat down beside her. He was so good-looking and charming. Stephanie didn’t feel such a mess when he looked at her, even though she did self-consciously pat at her bed-flattened hair. He stayed the whole hour and then left promising to come again when he could.
He had been so nice. She watched him leave, missing his welcome presence already and so grateful to the handsome stranger who had bothered to stop and talk with her. She supposed he was one of the volunteers who popped into the hospital to spend time with patients who were alone during visiting time. Someone, a nurse probably, had noticed her loneliness. She felt quite emotional at the kindness of such people and had no way of knowing how she could thank him. Just saying the words didn’t seem enough.
He came back four days later, just when she had given up hope of seeing him again. When he walked on the ward her heart began to beat faster and faster, she wanted to jump out of the bed and run over like an excited child. Stephanie couldn’t believe how rapidly she was falling for this kindly man.
He brought some books this time.
“I hope you like them.” He said, “Wasn’t sure what you read.”
She told him anything that helped pass the long hours on the ward was appreciated. Then they stumbled into silence. Perhaps it was her sudden infatuation for him that made conversation abruptly awkward. They started to debate the weather, which she knew was a bad sign and, without thinking, she reached for a cup of water with her left hand. Of course her fingers failed her and she spilt water all over him.
“I’m so sorry!” Stephanie was so mortified she started to cry.
She was so embarrassed by her battered body which no longer obeyed her control. But the handsome stranger only laughed.
“Don’t be silly.” He grinned, “A little water never hurt anyone.”
“The doctors say I will never get the full use back in this hand and I have to learn to use the other one more.” Stephanie desperately explained, clenching her bad left hand into an awkward fist.
To her surprised Ed took her hand and gently opened it.
“Doctors don’t know everything.” He said, rubbing her fingers gently, “Gosh, your hand is cold.”
“Cold hands, warm heart.” Stephanie said automatically and then she blushed bright red.
After that they slipped back into conversation like they were old friends and Stephanie felt so much better when Ed left that she almost begged him to come back the next day, but resisted. Surely he had other people he visited and who needed him so badly too.
And now it was the day before she was due to be sent home. If Ed didn’t turn up today she would never see him again. Her heart sank to the pit of her stomach, the thought of never seeing his smile again hurt her more than she could have imagined.
It seemed all the visitors who had been waiting had come onto the ward and there was no Ed. She looked at the doors hopefully for a few seconds after the last person had come in, then sighed and hung her head so she didn’t have to look at the other patients. She toyed with a fragment of tissue left in her lap.
“You look rather miserable for someone who is going home tomorrow.”
Stephanie looked up and there he was, walking towards her with a fluffy teddy bear in his arms.
“I know you don’t really need another gift.” He said apologetically as he handed it over.
“Ed!” Stephanie’s spirits soared for a second and then came crashing down, “Oh, but I go home tomorrow.”
“Isn’t that good?” Ed asked.
“Of course! But…” Stephanie sighed and then blurted out, “Oh, but I won’t see you again!”
Ed sat down beside her, a strange look on his face.
“Do you know who I am Stephanie?”
“One of the hospital volunteers who visit people with no family.” Stephanie said, gnawing on her lip at the look in Ed’s eyes.
“The doctors said the memory loss could be severe, but I didn’t realise…” Ed suddenly looked emotional. “I thought the way you talked you remembered me.”
“Remember you?” Stephanie stared at him, but she couldn’t fill that black gulf in her memory, “I don’t remember anything except spinning off my bike. I only know my name because the nurse told me.”
“Stephanie…” There was a catch in Ed’s throat, “I’m your husband.”
He showed her his wedding ring, instantly Stephanie glanced down at her own damaged hand.
“They had to cut your ring off.” Ed swallowed hard as if holding back tears. “Do you remember nothing?”
Stephanie stared at him again, longer this time, harder. She remembered the fast beating of her heart when she first saw him, the elation of his presence, the disappointment when he left.
“I don’t remember things,” she said, trying so hard to explain. “Not pictures. But, I remember emotions and I remember from the first time I met you I fell in love with you. When you walk in this ward it’s like… it’s like, everything gets brighter.”
A smile slowly crept back onto Ed’s face.
“And now I learn I get to come home with you!” Stephanie laughed. “That’s like Christmas, no better than Christmas, because it’s all the time, forever.”
She grabbed his hand.
“If you don’t mind having a lop-sided wreck living with you of course,” she added.
Ed’s eyes were sparkling with unshed tears. Impulsively he leaned forward and kissed her on the lips. It was as though a light flicked on in Stephanie’s brain and suddenly everything felt right. She remembered Ed’s smell, the feel of his lips, the touch of his hair brushing her skin. She remembered how they would walk hand-in-hand, the way he snorted when he laughed hard and the cute wrinkles that would draw in his forehead when he sulked. He pulled back and just stared at her smiling.
“But there is one thing I don’t understand.” Stephanie felt uncertainty grip her. “Why haven’t you visited me more often?”
“Oh that’s simple.” Ed squeezed her hand, “I had to get someone to look after Dotty and that wasn’t easy to do.”
“Please remember her, Steph.” Ed was pleading, “Dotty. Dorothy. Our baby girl.”
Stephanie’s mouth formed an ‘O’ of surprise and then understanding. Dotty! For a second a memory of the smell of baby skin and talcum powder filled her mind and then there it was – the image of her little girl all smiles and dimples.
“Dotty! But it’s her birthday tomorrow!” She said.
Ed couldn’t help but grin.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be home for it. The best birthday gift for a little girl is her mum home.”
Stephanie cried out with delight and flung her arms around him.
“Please tell me this isn’t a dream.”
She clung tightly to him.
“I love you Ed.”
He kissed her ear.
“I love you Steph.” Then for a moment he went serious, “And don’t you ever get on a motorbike again.”
“Motorbikes? I’m sorry Ed, I can’t seem to remember what they are.”
Ed rolled his eyes in fake exasperation and hugged her hard.