This could have been a love story, under other circumstances

He was waiting outside of her room, his clothes half-empty and this exhaustion of the half-dead in his face. In his grief, he had forgotten how to use a chair. He had collapsed in it, legs splayed out straight before him like a puppet that had fallen from some high shelf. I asked him if his spine was okay and he gave me a surprised smile but didn’t answer. Suspected maybe he was foreign, though he didn’t look it.

She had come under our care because of a head injury. Like her spineless boyfriend out in the hall, the lady could not speak, but for a different reason. Aphasia, which was a shame, because she looked like the sort of woman who would have a beautiful voice. The treatment ahead of her was long but the doctors had high hopes of fixing her.

“There’s someone here to see you,” I told her.

She lifted her head. She spent most of the day sitting in bed with her hands folded and her eyes in her lap. She looked up at me with the most searching intensity, tried to ask a question and then remembered. She looked around for the piece of paper she’d been writing everything down on for the last two days, and found the last empty spot.

Who is it?

I smiled, shrugged, said “you’ll see” because I didn’t know anything about the boy before I was instructed to send him in. I went out into the hall and beckoned him in. He came alive in the chair, sprang to his feet, spine magically cured, and hurried into the room.

Her expression did not change. He sat beside her in the chair we’d put there for guests, this time sitting upright, this time completely proper. I closed the door and went away, busying myself with things around the ward, and when I came back, they were still sitting there, still and quiet, and somber. They were having an argument. They had used up every surface in the room that could safely be written on, paper, clothing, her bandages, and now they had to write on their skin. She wrote in her hands, the words “DO NOT” in big foreboding letters in her left hand, and in a gentler, sloppier script, the words “fall in love with me” in the right. She held these up to his face so that he could read it clearly, her fingers trembling and her face miserable. I watched them through the viewing window. Neither of them could see me. At first I wondered what the boy would do, I could not see his face. I did not need to. He wrapped her left hand in both of his, brought them to his face, kissed them, held them to his chest, petted them, would not return it to her. It had been two hours, and visiting hours were over. I didn’t want to tell him to leave, but I knew I had to, so I knocked on the door gently. They looked up at me.

“Time’s up,” I said.

They looked at eachother, then at me, then at eachother again. The boy nodded and began to get up. The girl sighed. He bent down to put his arms around her, and as he turned to leave, she reached out, grabbed onto his shirt tail. He turned back. She beckoned, held out her hands. He didn’t know what to do, so she grabbed his. She took her pen, which I had given her, and scribbled something down in his palm, then in his other palm, then on the back of his hands, extending out to his wrist. She pulled back his sleeve and finished somewhere around the elbow, writing furiously, writing frantically. It hurt him a little, I could see that, but he kept his jaws clamped, did not try to slow her. She finished, and looked up questioningly, closing his fingers and pulling his sleeve back. He searched her face, then sighed.

“Come on,” I said quietly. I lead the boy out of the room and out of the hospital, opening doors for him so that the girl’s parting words would not be smudged. He nodded his thanks.

“What did she say?” I asked.

He just looked at me, looked at his hands, shrugged at me. I asked if he would be back tomorrow. He just looked at me.

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