* * * * *
* * * * *
Rosalyn Price sat at the foot of the hospital bed, with a copy of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park open in her lap. She brought the book, as she did every day, with the intention of reading but she rarely finished more than a few pages. Instead she sat lost in thought, or stared longingly at her husband’s pale body, still and tranquil. He looked peaceful most days, but sometimes would shiver and stir, as if uncomfortable or restless. The doctors assured her it was natural, but could never seem to provide a satisfactory explanation as to the cause.
Her husband was permanently comatose, they explained, and there was little to do but wait and see if he recovered on his own. Three weeks she had been there; three weeks of patiently waiting by his side; three weeks of reading interesting bits from the newspaper or reciting letters from her grandchildren. Sometimes she would sleep, restless and uneasy in the bedside chair, with troubling, disjointed dreams. She would wake with a start each time, never quite sure what her dreams had meant, never quite able to remember them.
“If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory.” She read the line again, blinking her heavy eyes. She may have dozed off again, she wasn’t sure, and she traced her finger along the page, trying to find her place. She felt herself growing tired again, her eyes began to lose focus, her shoulders began to slump.
Her husband stirred, trembled and Rosalyn bolted awake. His mouth seemed to move, but she was never sure anymore what was real and what was her imagination, her desperate anticipation, willing him to wake up. Air moved across his lips, and for a moment Rosalyn thought, believed, dared hope beyond desperate hope that he was trying to speak; that he would form words, any words at all, and she would know that he was still there, trapping inside a fragile body, but still there. She touched his hand, gently squeezed it, looking for some sign that he acknowledged her presence, recognized where he was, understood she was waiting for him. He did not move again and she slumped over, deflated, and turned back to her book.
“The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.” There was something about that phrase that suddenly seemed so profound, so distinct and potent that she stared at the book in shock.
She sat for a moment, motionless, clutching the book, and then her husband seemed to relax. His face regained its calm; the tension seemed to dissipate from the room. Rosalyn smiled and allowed herself also to relax.
As if on cue her head fell heavily against her chest, and her heavy eyes drooped and finally closed. Rosalyn slept, and almost immediately, began to dream.