At the beginning of January, I had a story burning inside me, so I took a break from revising The Photograph and Zelda book promotion. The words flew on to the page (or rather my macbook) in a matter of hours. The result is this short story titled The Final Hour. All writing is personal in one way or another, but this story is heavily connected to the emotions and struggles from last year. The Final Hour is available here on this blog, Wattpad, and also in the Amazon Kindle store. The Final Hour will be free on Kindle for February 25-27 and after it will be priced at $0.99. If you read on a Kindle or a Kindle app, I would love for you to download the story for free today or tomorrow. Also, I would love your honest feedback. Let me know what you think!
The Final Hour
When I wake up to the phone ringing, my heart fills with dread. I glance at the clock. 4:02 a.m. The scenarios start running through my mind, and instantly I am awake and alert. The last time the phone rang at this time of the night, Mom’s heart had stopped beating.
I hear hurried footsteps approaching my doorway; I sit up, anxious for the news.
“Jake, get dressed, we need to go to the hospital,” Dad says.
“What about Claire?” I ask.
“I’m about to wake her up. She’s coming with us.”
“Is that the best idea?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “But Grandma and Gramps are meeting us there.” Even in the darkness, I can see the redness in his eyes.
“Okay.” I get up and turn on the lights in my room. I find a pair of jeans, throw on a T-shirt and a hoodie. I walk into the hallway and bump into Claire, my ten-year-old sister. At this hour, she resembles a zombie—her eyes are barely open, and she’s stumbling toward the bathroom. I change course and walk to the other bathroom downstairs.
Once my eyes adjust to the light, I splash warm water on my face. I stare into the mirror. My blue eyes are surrounded by dark circles.
“Jake, are you ready?”
“Yeah, Dad.” I open the door and walk to the kitchen. I look at Claire and give my dad a questioning look. He shakes his head from side to side, and I know Claire has no idea why we are heading to the hospital. I don’t know either, but I’ve learned to expect the worst.
The warm, humid air smacks me in the face when we walk outside to the car. I take off the hoodie immediately but carry it with me. The hospital is a cold place.
The drive is only fifteen minutes. At this point, I am confident that my father and I could drive here with our eyes closed. The car ride is silent except for Claire’s light breathing in the back seat. I wish I could fall asleep like she does. Honestly, I wish I could fall asleep and wake up to a new reality—a new life where my mother isn’t dying.
We pull into an empty parking garage. Dad hurries us out of the car to the front entrance. We sign in, get our visitor badges, and head for the intensive care unit. Claire is almost running to keep up with us. Dad’s pace worries me even more.
We pull open the doors to the ICU waiting room. Grandma and Gramps are waiting inside.
“Jake, why don’t you sit with Claire for a few minutes in here?” Dad says. I nod. Dad, Gramps, and Grandma walk through the double doors to the ICU.
“All right Claire, let’s find something on TV to watch.” I know I usually can find cartoons around channel 40. I walk up to the TV and flip channels until I find something suitable. I glance up at Claire.
“Will this work?”
“Sure,” she says. “Jake, what’s going on with Mom?” Her wide-open eyes plead for the truth.
“I don’t know Claire, but I don’t think it’s good,” I say. I look at her, wondering if she comprehends what I don’t have the heart to tell her. We both stare at the television. Minutes pass, but it feels like hours.
When the double doors open, Claire and I both jump. We turn and look, but we tune back into the television when we realize it’s not our father. Another few minutes pass before the doors open again. My father calls to me; Gramps and Grandma join Claire on the couch.
As I approach, I notice Dad’s face is flushed, and his eyes are puffy. I take a deep breath.
“The doctors say this is it. Mom’s organs are shutting down, and it is time to say good-bye,” he says, looking at the floor.
“But she was awake and talking a couple days ago,” I say.
“I know, son. But her body is giving out. There’s nothing else they can do.”
“No. She’s come back from this state before.”
“And it was a miracle. We had more time with her. But this is it.” My father reaches for me and pulls me in. I protest, trying to keep up a tough-guy image, but after a moment, I give in. A few tears well and drip onto my shirt. I back away and regain composure. I have known this day was possible for a month now, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
The doors open; I remember Claire.
“Claire,” I mumble. “What do we tell her?”
“We tell her the truth,” Dad answers. “She needs to say her good-bye, too.”
“It will crush her.” I am losing my mother at seventeen, but Claire is only ten. I am entering my senior year of high school this year; I’m almost an adult. Claire has so much more growing up to do. And now it’s without Mom. I can’t bear to think about it.
“Hey, we are going to make it through this,” Dad says, grabbing my shoulders and looking into my eyes. “We are going to be okay.”
I look back at him. It’s hard to believe him at this moment.
We walk into the waiting room. Dad motions to Gramps, who moves to a new chair, and Dad sits next to Claire on the couch.
“Claire, we need to say good-bye to Mom now. It’s her time to go home,” he says. Dad waits for a response from Claire, but she says nothing.
What really is there to say?
“Is she awake?” Claire asks, breaking the long silence.
“No, dear. The doctors have her sleeping so she isn’t in pain. But you can still say good-bye. She will hear you.” I can’t listen anymore. I stand up and walk to the other side of the room and sit down at a table. I take out my iPhone and play the latest mind-numbing game. I don’t want to think right now.
“Jake, c’mon,” Grandma says. My family is moving in the direction of the double doors. I stand up and walk through them.
My father leads us to Mom’s room with Claire at his side. The nurse tells us to take our time and to tell her when we are ready. The room is eerily quiet except for the beeps of the machines and her ventilator. My father walks to the left side of the bed and takes Mom’s hand. Claire stays at our father’s side, clutching his other hand. My grandparents walk to the opposite side of the bed. Gramps lays his hand on Mom’s shoulder, and Grandma takes Mom’s right hand. I watch from the foot of the bed, trying to ignore every inclination that is telling me to run away from this scene.
“I wish I didn’t have to say good-bye to you,” Grandma whispers.
“We love you,” Gramps says. He gives his daughter a kiss on the forehead and takes Grandma’s free hand. Grandma whispers something into Mom’s ear and kisses her on the cheek. She releases her grip on my mother, nods to my father, and turns for the door. Grandma takes my hand as she passes and squeezes it before exiting the room.
“Jake, why don’t you take Mom’s other hand,” Dad says. I take Grandma’s spot next to the bed. Mom’s hand feels strangely warm.
“Claire, it’s time to say good-bye,” Dad says softly. Claire looks at him and then to our mother.
“Good-bye, Mom,” she says. She turns away from Mom and buries her face into my father’s side. I hear the sniffles; I need to escape this place.
“I’m sorry, Mom.” I walk out of the room, through the double doors, out of the ICU, and into the hospital hallways. I hear my name, but I don’t stop. I am almost running by the time I pass the desk at the entrance. I shove open the doors and step into the fresh air.
Compared to the dry, cold hospital air, the summer humidity has never felt so good. I walk to the other side of the building, out of immediate sight from the hospital entrance, and collapse to the ground.
I breathe in the fresh air. Peeks of light are breaking through the sky. The sun is beginning to rise. I stare at the sky, wanting this day to end.
“Jake, it will be okay,” Claire says, walking toward me. “But we have to say good-bye.” I see my grandparents waiting at the corner. Claire offers her hand to help me off the ground. It’s almost comical; there is no way her tiny frame could support me. But I can’t deny her gesture. I grab her hand and stand up.
“I’m so tired of all this, Claire. I’m tired of all this hurt,” I say as I walk with her to our grandparents.
“I know,” she says. “Me, too.”
My grandparents say nothing, and we walk back in the hospital, down the white hallway, through the double doors, into my mother’s room. My father is still next to her, stroking her forehead and whispering to her. When we approach, he waves us in. The beeps of the machines and the rhythm of the ventilator have disappeared.
“It’s time,” he says. I know I can’t escape this time. I walk to Mom’s free side. I grab her hand. It has already lost some of its warmth.
“I love you, and I will miss you,” I whisper. I squeeze her hand. Claire walks over to me and grabs my other hand. My grandparents stand at the foot of the bed. The nurse stands behind them.
We watch and wait. Mom’s breathing is labored. I can see it’s a struggle for her without the machines. I glance at the monitors behind Dad. The heartbeat blip is taking longer each time. I can’t believe she is fading so quickly. I look at Claire. She is staring at Mom with tears in her eyes, but for some reason she is smiling. Gramps has his arm wrapped around Grandma. I hear a slight gasp, and I turn back to Mom.
“It’s okay, honey. Let go,” Dad says to her. I hear one last breath before I notice the flat line on the monitor above him. We stand for a few more minutes, hoping for a miracle.
The nurse moves into the room.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” she says. She looks at Claire and me. “Your mom was a fighter.” She nods to my father.
“It’s time to go home,” he says. He gives his wife one last kiss on the cheek and stands up slowly. He waits by the door as Gramps and Grandma give their daughter one last hug. When they finish, Claire nudges me to the side. She walks up to Mom and whispers in her ear.
“Enjoy the stars, Mom.”
Mom’s hand is freezing now. I can’t believe her body is cold already. I have nothing left inside me, no words to say. I turn and walk away.
My father, sister, grandma, and grandpa walk through the double doors for the final time. We exchange no words, only tears and sniffles. As we walk through the hospital, I examine the white hallways I’ve memorized over the past few months. I don’t want to see these hallways ever again. When we pass by the front desk, the woman tells us to have a good day. Nobody responds.
The doors slide open in front of us. The sun has risen, and the brightness is blinding. I feel a small hand grab mine.
“The sun is up,” Claire says with a smile.
“Yes, it is.”
“It’s going to be okay,” she says.
“Mom said as long as the sun rises every day, we will be okay,” Claire says, releasing my hand. She runs forward and grabs Dad’s hand. I hear her tell Dad the same thing. Her words are something Mom would say. I stop for a minute. I hear birds chirping amid the sounds of the street and cars. I see my family walking in front of me. Claire is now skipping. I look up at the sky, the few scattered clouds, and the bright ball of sun. I take a step forward.