Shapes in the Snow

I was overjoyed, we were all overjoyed, when he finally woke up. I got the call from his sister, who was waiting by his bed at the time. I was in the Tim Horton's across the street, and could barely wait for them to hand over my order, but remembered I was buying food not just for me but everyone who was gathered at the hospital.

He didn't speak, he barely opened his eyes. But he was moving his hands, his lips, clearly conscious. He looked far too battered. I wondered if he could see himself right now, if he had been in his right mind, what would he think? I had put the box of donuts quietly on a side table.

His sister, Julie, had cried. She was holding on tightly to his hand, almost too tightly. I wanted to ask her to loosen up; I only smoothed back his hair. How do you comfort a person who's barely conscious?

It was like that for many days. He floated in and out of consciousness, sometimes mumbling gibberish, sometimes looking around in a way that I could swear he was taking it all in.

"Will he be okay?" we had asked way back in the beginning.

"Impossible to say how things will be," the doctor had said, adjusting her glasses over her face heavily lined with fatigue. "Severe head trauma can cause all kinds of mental upset, and the full extent will be impossible to gauge until he's awake."

The first time he talked to me was a week and a half after he had come back to us. "Food?" was all he said, but it stirred up incredible demons inside of me. I rushed to alert a nurse. The nurses didn't enjoy being hurried; he was hooked up to an IV anyhow. But it seemed so utterly important. He'd entrusted something to me, a task. I had to see it through. When I did get a small dinner roll and brought it up to the room, he had fallen asleep again.

My boss had been heckling me to get back to work for a while now. It had been… three weeks since I asked for time off. At first they had been understanding; but then they had gotten impatient. There were only three employees at the farm equipment co-op who could do what I did. Sure that Julie could look after him, I went back to full time work.

To be honest, I didn't mind it very much. There was nothing quite so agonizing as spending twenty four hours a day fretting over a mostly comatose body. Although I regretted not being able to comfort him every day he opened his eyes, all the lifting and moving at my job kept my mind in my body, in the present.

"Sorry about your boyfriend," one of the guys at work said. I found it funny to hear such soft, sympathetic words coming from such gruff men. Even the woman who worked in the greenhouse section looked off when she spoke about it.

On weekends, and sporadically during the week, I dropped by the hospital to see him. He blinked at me, usually. Sometimes he made light conversation. It was heartbreaking to hear.

"A bird came by the window yesterday," he said.

"Oh yeah?" No bird could have come. It was dead winter. The window was half obscured by the snow piled up there.

"Mmmhmmm," he said.

On the second weekend after going back to work, I was sitting by his bed. The snow that I couldn't shake from my shoes at the front door was slowly melting off my feet. He had been humming tunelessly.

"Hey," he said, "um, you."

"Yes?"

"What's your name?"

"It's Mark," I said. "Just Mark."

And he kept humming.

The nurses were always very positive about him. "He's really sweet," one of the talky ones said. "Not a bitter bone in his body." He always thanked them when they helped him, changed his sheets, brought him food, anything.

"His progress is quite good," said the physiotherapist. "He'll be up again soon. I have full confidence he'll be back to full mobility within six months."

"Things aren't great," said the psychotherapist, after consulting the neurologist. "He's lost a lot. A lot of his memories that have to do with emotions, social relationships, the like, have suffered losses. His basic memory seems to be alright though. He remembers his name and address," she said.

I would wheel him to the common area and he'd talk to other residents. He was popular around there. "I can't wait till I can walk down here myself," he said. His eyes twinkled, like he was imagining the best present he could possibly hope for. Sometimes he could remember me and what we'd said during my visits, sometimes it was back to square one.

The house was lonelier. I would leave a lot of lights off, the night usually on by the time I arrived home from work. I would sit in the kitchen and eat pasta dressed with only butter. The bed felt wide and empty. Sometimes I would think that this is what it would feel like if he'd left me.

"Eddie's so funny," he said to me once, his eyes smiling. "He's always down playing checkers, and when I win, which I always do, he'll make a funny joke about how it was just luck, or he was distracted. Can you believe it? And the other day he told me this great joke. What's the difference between.…"

Julie stopped looking after him so much. He was doing a lot better, she said. He would be okay. She looked worn out when she said so.

That night, the night it had happened, had been so unassuming. Out for a smoke, he'd said. "Those things'll kill ya," I said.

He always packed the snow on the porch down with his feet. Then another sheet would fall. Before long it was a thick packed layer of ice. From the kitchen window I could see his little flickering orange light.

What's to say? He slipped and cracked his head on the ice that night. After ten minutes, thinking he'd been out a long time, I checked to see him, a fallen snow angel with blood pooling around his head. I can only be thankful that it wasn't snowing then, that the roads had been cleared that morning and the ambulance had no trouble coming by. I remember I laid him on the couch with plastic bags under his head to keep the couch clean.

I go to see him at the hospital. He sits in the common area with Eddie, who makes him laugh. They look like young lovers, exchanging first vows of undying devotion. I look, and feel so old.

A/N: Sorry for writing such sad stories, guys. But this is what you're stuck with I guess. This story feels like a companion for 'Quartz Underfoot'. They were both written in an uncontrollable burst. And incidentally, I typed with my eyes closed, which I find helps with my flow. I find they are both kind of 'anti-slash', which is I hope isn't a big disappointment. But, as any painter will tell you, the negative space matters – a lot!