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This was selected as the Best Short Story that was publsihed in Images Inscript.

The Loved One
By Susan Rutz

           Alice Casura settled uneasily at the edge of her chair. She had been instructed, as she had been many times in the past few days, to 'wait here.' She was sure it was part of the nurses' training, how to lead a patient's loved one to an obscure waiting area and instructs them to 'wait here.' She had brought along her knitting, a magazine from her garden collection and even a note pad on the intentions of catching up on her letter writing, but they remained in her tote bag. She didn't have the concentration or patience to involve herself with any of those projects. Her husband was in surgery and the only thing on her mind was that operation, and at the same time the only thing she was trying not to think about was that operation.

           A young man, Alice thought probably in his thirties, was ushered in by a different nurse and he too was instructed to 'wait here.' He was very neat and clean, and kind, he smiled and nodded at Alice, but she could see he was concerned; someone he loved was in there too.

           "The waiting is very hard." Alice offered.

           The young man nodded, "Yes it is. Most people say it's the hardest, I'm not so sure."

           "My husband is in for an operation, cancer of the prostate." The young man nodded knowingly. Alice walked over to a vertical window running from the ceiling to the floor, no wider than ten or fifteen inches. She could see the parking lot, people coming and going from the hospital, even the clouds graying up and moving in.

           "Probably be rain tonight." She said idly. The young man nodded again.

           "My name is Alice." She offered as she walked back to her chair. He raised his head and really looked at her then, and in the moment of seeing her clear blue eyes, and soft white hair decided she was no threat, not like others.

           "I'm sorry, Greg, Greg Stevens. I am so preoccupied with worry."

           "Believe me, I understand. But, I don't want to bother you, it's just that I can't stand to sit and not do something. Every since Mike got sick it seems like I've been in one doctor's office after another, waiting, worrying, and I just can't knit another thing." She patted her bag with the knitting.

           He smiled; he understood exactly what she meant. "I left mine in the car I was so sick of carrying it around. We've been going through the doctor's and tests now for about three months, it's a long hard road, but, you know, I think the hardest part, I mean for me anyway, is going home with instructions and I'm not a nurse, how do I know what I am doing?"

           "I know what you mean!" Alice was surprised someone else felt the same way she did. "My friends try to be so supportive and understanding but, it's hard to explain to them, that what I fear the most is that I will do something wrong. They give you a diet program, and medications that can't be taken with this food or that liquid, and then they expect you to watch for side effects or symptoms. Sometimes it's so scary!"

           The young man turned toward her chair and crossed his leg, leaning on the arm of his chair. "I have to deal with seizures, that's really scary. One minute you're sitting there watching TV or walking across the floor and then BOOM, down they go, on the floor. And I worry I might be there in time, you know, to catch the head before it hits a coffee table, or slams into the floor."

           "Oh, that is terrible. You poor thing. When my husband started his chemo, he was so sick, sometimes he'd throw up even when he was laying down for a nap. I always worried that he'd be laying on his back and choke to death or something. When he first got sick it was with diabetes and I had to learn how to give shots and monitor his blood sugar, all of this is just so overwhelming. And you know, something else that's hard?"

           "When they are quiet. Not talking, not being there in the room with you even when they are sitting right next you."

           "Exactly! Sometimes I ask him, Mike, are you okay, honey? What are you thinking about? And he answers, 'Oh, nothing.' Or you say, how are you feeling today, and they answer, "

           "I'm FINE" Alice and the young man answered together.

           For a moment they smiled but, it wasn't long before they drifting back to the knowledge of why they were there and the smiles faded.

           "Your loved one, what's wrong, if you don't mind my asking?" Alice asked

           "No, no, of course. We don't know, there is a lot of kidney damage and uneven blood counts, heart fluctuations, tests after tests reveal some sort of virus or something but, we don't have anything concrete yet."

           "That's too bad. It's hard enough when you know what you are fighting," Alice said.

           Greg walked to the window and stared out. A nurse had entered to speak with Alice and he graciously gave her the privacy she might need. After a few minutes the nurse left and Greg wandered back to his chair.

           "Everything okay?" He ventured.

           "Yes, she just wanted to let me know the doctor is running a little behind time and it will be longer than they thought." She wiped a tear from her eye before it had time to fall. "I'm sorry, GOD I love that man. We've been together for over 30 years, raised four kids, ran two businesses, we were ready to retire and travel. Mike," she smiled whenever she said his name, "Mike bought a huge camper thing, it's as big as the Titanic, how he thinks he's going to drive it, or PARK IT, don't know, the man can't drive. But, we were going to travel around the country just the two of us." She broke off in tears.

           Greg reached over and patted her hand. "Sometimes when it gets really dark around me and I think all the hope I could possibly have is gone, the only thing left is to pray and hope anyway."

           Alice sighed, breathing a 'yes' that was hardly audible. The young man was so understanding, the first person in a long time that really knew what it was she was going through.

           "I know what love is. We haven't been together as long as you and your husband, only a few years, but it might as well as be a lifetime. I wish it would all end, and then I'm afraid that if I say that some angel might misunderstand and think of death and take my love away from me. Most of the time I remain silent, waiting, hoping, but, sometimes, I hate to admit this, but sometimes, I lose faith, I lose hope and I wonder if it wouldn't be better to have death than to have the suffering."

           Alice reached for his hands this time and held them tightly, "I too have wondered."

           "It's just that you go through life waiting for someone to love and then there they are, and love becomes the most wonderful and important part of living, until, BAM, fate or whatever it is smacks you right between the eyes and all of a sudden Until Death Do You Part, becomes a frightening sentence."

           They sat quietly for a time, the young man and Alice, holding hands, whispering small prayers sometimes, looking at the doorway waiting for someone to come with the news and fearing that they might.

           Finally a nurse did come, for Alice.

           "Your husband is out of surgery, Mrs. Casura, the doctor will see you down the hall and around to the red line, follow that to the double doors and a nurse will direct from there."

           "Thank you." Alice rose and gathered up her things, "Well,"

           The young man rose also and smiled reassured, "good luck," he offered.

           She placed her hand on his arm, "I hope all goes well with you too, young man, God be with you."

           She started to hurry away and remembering Greg, turned quickly back. He stood and smiled at her. They nodded at each other that understanding bond between two strangers who shared a common bond, the knowledge that life and death are closely united and either can take over at a moment's notice.

           "Good luck." Alice finally managed to whispered and hurried off the follow the red line to the doctor who held the news of her husband's recovery.

           As she sat in hallway waiting for him to be taken to his room, she thought of Greg. Wondering if his loved one would be all right and suddenly realized she had never asked him who his loved one was, or how long they had been together or even if his loved one was a man or a woman.

           But, then it doesn't really matter, does it?

Susan Rutz retired from her job last November to stay home and care for her husband full time as he waits for a kidney transplant.   While caring for her husband, she also spends time on the Internet searching for websites that deal with writing, publishers, etc.   "Capper's Magazine" just accepted her short story "The Fifteenth Scarecrow" for publication in their March issue.   "As a beginning writer the recent success of my short stories is thrilling."   Had she known, or believed in her abilities sooner she would have tried before turning 50.   "It is still sweet, even at this age."

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