Here’s an excerpt from the debut story by Audie Cockings, the author of Little Red Rider, a fiction thriller available on Amazon. She holds a Master’s Degree in Adulthood and Aging with an emphasis in Health Care Administration and has been published previously in health care.
Woody couldn’t sleep. “Damn eye drops,” he thought. The clinic nurse said the eye drops would help his glaucoma but that beta blockers sometimes have noticeable side effects–like sleep apnea. Woody remembered putting the eye drops back in the fridge after his Hungry Man dinner, but didn’t actually recall administering them.
Woody’s a retired Marine. And like other honed soldiers, shut-eye came as soon as he shut his eyes. The crazy shit that came after his eyes shut is another matter, but initially getting to sleep was never an issue for him. Woody got to sleep just fine, medicines or not, until last month. He just couldn’t sleep well without her. At eighty-two, Woody’s calm had left him.
He yawned as he rubbed his palm over the closely shorn hair of his youth. Despite his age, Woody’s flat top was thick and taut, his deep brunette hair now bunatti gray.
Naomi’s face was the most beautiful he’d laid eyes on. Not the sallow bearing she left behind. He first spied her bewitching profile illuminated in the light of the film screen. She was a peculiar beauty, one that warranted his full attention. Woody looked away when she first caught his gaze, but by intermission he’d managed to muster up enough stones to shoot her an all-out brazen stare. One to make her know that he meant business.
She had a natural look to her. Not all that Marilyn Monroe bleach blonde, heavy eyeliner, and red lips that the other girls imitated. Naomi’s beauty was subtle and her sweetness appealed to the young man who had boxes full of distant girls on paper at the barracks. Woody desired a nice girl. One that he might actually touch.
Naomi was petite. Short wavy cinnamon hair, blue eyes with flecks of gray, a freckled nose, and a full pout. Perfection. He watched her gloved fingers curl around that tub of popcorn as if it were Lana Turner doing a strip tease. Woody had waited months for High Noon to get to his neighborhood theatre, yet his eyes were fixed on the girl across the aisle and three seats down.
He closed his eyes and quietly moved his arm under the sheets to her side of the bed. He imagined scooping her up around the waist and pulling her in closer. It was routine after fifty-five years together. She’d laugh and push him away, then change her mind and giggle after a little convincing.
His arm twitched. Protesting its emptiness. Every part of him missed her.
He opened his eyes to inspect her pillow. A perfect rectangle. It hadn’t been touched except for a laundering every Tuesday, just as she would have done if she were still alive. The linens remained as crisply ironed as the day Naomi went to the hospital and didn’t come home.
She shared Woody’s disciplined nature. Their home was immaculate, even with her stage four cancer. But when evening came that day she was different. Pained and seemingly feeble. Her words came slowly and she shuffled about the house nervously, unlike the strong seasoned wife of a decorated Marine.
Her heightened confusion agonized him. The capable woman he loved had been broken down little by little, in increments that only he would notice. Her smile, from one of joy to one of consolation. She was embarrassed to need him so much. The medicines keeping her body from relentless pain were causing her to forget. Her faculties were slipping and she knew it.
That evening it took Naomi several minutes to ease into her nightgown and into bed. Woody sat down beside her and tucked an unruly curl behind her ear, then kissed her gently. He stroked her cheek until her breathing softened. When she nodded off, he picked up the bedside phone.
Upon hearing the receiver, her eyes opened. “Don’t call,” she asked in a childlike voice.
“Mimi, honey, it’s been a bad day. I’m worried.”
“I’m fine. Just tired, Chief. Tomorrow will be better.”
“Can you feel it?”
“Just a little,” she replied. But her admitting to it upset him. The woman never complained about anything. Maybe they could give her something stronger this time. He bowed his head and pleaded for less pain and more time for his bride.
Woody called the Medicare Emergency Hotline. He was transferred to a physician. He voiced his concerns then asked, “Can you call in something to help with her pain?”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t call in narcotics. She’ll need to go to the nearest hospital.”
Woody confirmed their address with the national ambulance service as Naomi slowly got back out of bed and redressed. She couldn’t stand the thought of the ambulance staff seeing her in a nightgown. She then headed to the kitchen, picked up a sponge and spray bottle full of diluted vinegar and looked for something to clean. She didn’t want the EMT to think that she had an untidy home.
Woody asked his wife to sit down and relax, knowing full well that she considered sitting down in idleness a complete waste of time.
From the front bay window they watched the ambulance kick up dirt in the drive. Naomi and Woody looked at each other as they had many years prior. The look of a loving couple who would be separated. The same uncertain gaze they shared when his plane left for multiple tours abroad. Woody was barely twenty when he signed up. No one in town knew what Woody had accomplished in his years of service. Naomi was his last living confidant, and she would never tell.
image via Liberty Island