You open tired eyes when you hear the whisper of your name but you don’t recognise the voice. She’s still asleep, in the chair, an open magazine half-falling off her lap. The kids have come and gone, their kids too, but she’s still here. She won’t leave.
The room looks different in the dark but you still know where you are. You study each blinking light, each digital readout, all the numbers and colours and flashing. That beeping hasn’t stopped but you’re used to it now.
You think about Harry. His face has aged with yours, but only in your memory, as if he’s both young and old at the same moment. The last time you thought about Harry was after the crash.
Someone walks past the door but they don’t come in. It’s not your time yet.
You’re driving that coastal road again, roof down like it was in the sun, but you’re also lying in bed. You’re laughing and taking the corners too fast. You can hear her breathing in her sleep but she’s also telling you to slow down, her hand gripping your thigh. The wheels slip on the road.
It was a stupid place to stop, that’s what you told yourself. He should’ve been more considerate. The blind corner saved you from a prison sentence, but it didn’t save him from anything. That was the last time you thought of Harry, when you were kneeling on the side of the road breathing exhaust fumes with the taste of blood in your mouth. When you were pumping that old man’s chest twice a second and watching his eyes turn to glass. When you heard his throat rattle.
You could do with a glass of water but you don’t want to wake her. She’s too peaceful. She didn’t blame you for crashing, even though she could have. She should have.
Seatbelts are better these days, or so your kids tell you. Not like when you were young. The world changes. If you were this old back then, you would have been dead already.
You think about the crash, concentrate on his face, but he looks like Harry now. You don’t remember him anymore.
You thought of Harry then, but you’re not sure why. You’re thinking of him now.
Harry was a cocky one, high waistband and slick hair like an American, but you liked him. He had a way with women, taught you how to charm. She’d be sleeping by someone else’s bedside if it wasn’t for Harry, but she didn’t meet him. You never told her about him.
He’d volunteered like you and you liked that. That’s when you met, at training. Not like now with computers and tests. They gave you boots and a gun, that was all.
It was near the start. You shipped out to France together but in different regiments. You didn’t see each other for a few weeks but met up again on a battlefield.
The machines are still beeping, still flashing. You’re crouched, face down in the mud, but you’re also still looking at her. You’re taking fire near a clump of trees. Someone stops outside the door, waiting to come in, but you’re stuck behind a small verge. They leave in a hurry. You hear a shout but you can’t see anyone. You hear Harry’s voice. He’s directing you. He lays down fire, him and the others, and you run. You charge through bullets and sun and heat and thick grass and you get to the trees. The machines stop beeping. He saves your life, but it costs him his.
She murmurs in her sleep, but she won’t wake. You smile at her. You wish you could tell her how much she means to you but words never came easy. She knows.
You remember now. Before the bullet hit your shoulder, before it went through Harry’s neck, you saw.
You see now.
You see my feathers, black as the shadows. You see my hand on your shoulder like it was on Harry’s. You feel me here. You know.
You want to tell her, you want to kiss her again, but this is just a moment. She’ll wake up but you won’t and this is a fight you can’t win.
My face is like Harry’s, but old and young at the same time. My wings keep you warm.
You remember everything now. You saw us on the battlefields, amongst the dead. You saw me on the beach at the end. You’ve seen me since, when your mother died, and again with your father. Your neighbour. Your friends.
You think of that holiday to Greece, where you heard someone fall from the balcony but couldn’t save them. You saw me then.
She smiles in her sleep. She knows you, she always knew you. She loved you no matter what.
It’s your time now.
* * *
Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea with his family and two cats.