The coughing spasm came again, causing a fire in his chest and compromising his already ragged breath. When at last it passed, he laid there, physically drained. It would be a while before his breathing returned to normal and he again could rest. He let his head fall back on the pillow. His hospital bed had been raised to make him more comfortable, but it also afforded him a view out his window,.
He knew it was just a matter of time before he would be moving on, and that was OK. He had lived a long and fruitful life, and he was ready. Well, almost ready. With little to hope for, he had taken to watching the street below. On the corner there was a little maple tree that provided him with a calendar of sorts. As the seasons changed, he could imagine how it felt outside. Relive the memories of years spent inhaling the beauty that each provided. Fall was his favorite. He loved to watch the little maple slowly put on a new dress. Life in slow motion he thought. A parade of color to celebrate the end of summer. He looked out now and saw that the dance had begun. Once green leaves now tinged with hues of red and orange.
To him, it was theater. A performance that although timeless, was always different. Always provoking. Hints of color at first, teasing the eye. Then, as the play progressed, the reds and oranges took center stage, forcing him to watch in anticipation. And at last, before the final bow, the costumes were removed for the winter and quietly stored.
He knew the story so well, but was never disappointed in the enactment. It was like a favorite book. The touch and text oh so familiar. He held it with the reverence reserved for a newborn.
The coughing began again and he cursed his affliction. It was slowly robbing him of what little time he had left. But he also was stubborn. He had decided some time ago that he would not leave before the end of act three. This was a command performance after all and, by God, he was going to see it all.
As time passed, the days seemed to become longer. Like soldiers in lock step, time marched on, the destination known, but not the hour of arrival. Each day, upon awakening, while his body was at it strongest, he would first raise up and check on his tree. It was well on it’s way to blossoming into full color. He could see it dancing to the orchestra of the wind, throwing it’s leaves with utter abandon, sharing the beauty it possessed. It was just a matter of time now before winter would enter the stage and the little maple would take it’s final bow.
“Good morning, Mr. Bailey” the nurse said cheerily, moving about the room as she did every morning. “Let’s get you sat up and I will bring you some breakfast. Are you hungry?” It wasn’t until she received no answer that she turned and walked to the bed. It was then that she realized that Mr. Bailey had slipped away. No more coughing. No more shortness of breath. He was at peace. The stress was gone from his face and it had in fact captured a soft smile.
Nurses see this every day and learn to compartmentalize the loss. But Mr. Bailey was different. He had been here a long time and, if the truth were known, he was one of her favorites. This time she felt the loss more acutely. Turning from the bed, she slowly walked to the window and opened the blinds, flooding the room with light. For a moment she stood there, absently looking down on the street below. She watched the people beginning their day, moving swiftly in the chill of the morning. Life and motion again reborn. Another day upon them. She started to turn when her gaze fell upon a little maple tree, now naked of the trappings of fall, standing all alone on the corner.