It seemed like days since she had been standing on the shore welcoming William home again. Two months at sea was torture but the parting after three weeks together was far worse. The harbour lights twinkled through the stubborn tears that welled, holding onto her lashes like her love for William, refusing to let go. The wind whistled until finally as the ship turned away from the harbours mouth making for the horizon she finally allowed herself to fall apart. She knew that in two months time she would be standing on the dock again waiting for the pin prick on the horizon and she could rejoice because 3rd March 1953 would be the date she said I do to the love of her life. She was aware that this trip would be the worst, the storms were always so treacherous this time of year. She hated him coming home even more than him going as it always seemed like they were chasing time, trying to cram as much into the three weeks as they possibly could. She longed for the summer days when they could do so much more. She still had a lot to plan with the wedding and with William away it was on her to sort it. She got butterflies thinking about it.
With the turning tide of the harbour, a strong smell of fish whipped up and filled her nostrils. It was too early in the morning to stomach such a strong smell and it made her stomach churn with each inhalation. The sky was angry with heavy clouds of different shades of grey, all vying for prime position to shed their load of water.
Joyce turned away from the sea, focusing on the journey home and into the warmth. She shivered, more from the thought of William than the cold. She pulled her coat in tight around her and revelled in the lingering smell of the Old Spice scent that had clung to her clothing following their heart wrenching embrace. She wondered how long she could hold onto the smell before it was taken by the air, she vowed to buy some to spray on her pillow. She whispered under her breath ‘Stay safe my darling, stay safe’ before it was whipped away by a gust of wind that battered her face leaving her feeling bruised and sad. Her long, auburn, curly hair whirling round her face in a frenzy of fire, making it difficult for her to see where she was going. She stepped out ito the road, tears stinging her eyes as they mixed with the early morning drizzle and the dank, cold mist that had just descended on the bay. She tried to wipe the wetness from her face, raising her hand. She didn’t hear the lorry that had just rounded the corner on to Fisherman’s Wharf, neither did she see it. The driver on the other hand saw her just as she stepped off the pavement, but it had been a heavy night the night before, his mate Peter’s 40th birthday, he’d had a few beers down the pub with him to celebrate. If truth be told he was probably still hung over, but there was usually nobody about this time in the morning. So when he reached for his cup of coffee from his flask he never dreamt that there would be anyone about, especially in this treacherous weather. It wasn’t until he threw his head back and took a swig of his coffee then went to return it to the flask that he caught sight of her, but it was too late, he jammed on the brakes, causing the lorry to swerve. As the tail end of the lorry aquaplaned on the wet surface it skidded round, hitting Joyce with the full force of it’s empty container.
Margaret stood on the quay waiting for the site of the ship nearing the harbour, this was a meeting she did not want or need. It was surprisingly warm for March, she could hear the birds tweeting, full of hope for the impending spring. The sun was low in the sky, causing her to wince to catch a glimpse of the horizon. She felt cold and numb and as the sea air caught the back of her throat she felt nauseous. The black spot in the distance made her sigh with each knot it advanced, closer and closer.
As the ship neared the dock she could see him standing on the deck, all expectant his eyes flashing with excitement, until he saw her, then they turned to concern. With his knapsack slung over his shoulder he disembarked the ship with haste, eager but apprehensive, his face now taught with worry.
“Mrs Butcher! Where’s Joyce?” William looked about in earnest, his eyes resting on the crease on her forehead, which told him there was more to her being there than just wanting to give him a lift back.
“Come let’s sit in the car.” She indicated over at her bright red Mini.
“Look what’s going on you’re scaring me now.” Williams face twisted, his brow creasing to mimic hers.
“Let’s sit.” William tossed his knapsack over the seat and sat down in the passenger seat. The lingering smell of chips clung to the leather seats making William feel hungry for something other than fish. The seat creaking as he squirmed to get comfortable. “There is no easy way to say this so I’m going to have to just come right out and say it. Joyce is in hospital, the day you left she was hit by a lorry in this very street, she is in a coma, the chance of recovery is slim.”
William searched Mrs Butchers face for a glimmer of hope that it was just a joke, a cruel one at that, but just a joke. He saw nothing. His head was struggling with the news. He had left her on that windy day. The chance of his survival a lot less than hers, yet here he was sitting on the dock and she was in a coma. How do you get your head round that. It had only been two months since he had last seen Mrs Butcher but her face showed the trauma and stress of two years. He searched his brain for some meaningful words but nothing came out. He was stunned into silence, his brain about to explode with this information. He wished he could rewind the last ten minutes to the time when the boat was heading for shore and he was full of expectation of seeing his true love, knowing that soon they would be married. He had not expected this, not in his wildest dreams. Now they were in tatters.
“Can I see her?”
“Of course you can, but I have to warn you she is hooked up to a lot of wires but please talk to her, we don’t know if she can hear us but we remain hopeful.”
William took a deep breath and opened the hospital door. The same door that he had walked through five years previously, that familiar clinical smell assaulted his nostrils and sent memories flooding back. He could almost taste the anaesthesia in the back of his throat. The long nights sitting by her bedside meant the experience was deep rooted into his subconscious, the feel of the cold hard chair, the flimsy privacy curtain draped round her bed, they all made him despise hospitals. Then finally another massive heart attack and he left the hospital on his own. This couldn’t happen to him again. He followed Mrs Butcher but she didn’t have to show him where Joyce was he knew, it was the same ward, the same bed, his beloved mother had slipped away from him. It hadn’t changed in there one bit, only the patients had changed. The flowers in the centre of the room reminded him of death, the nurses station at the end of the hall felt more like a teachers desk. He knew which bed she was in instinctively, firstly it was the bed with the curtains round, but not only that it was his Mum’s bed, the same bed the angels had taken her from him. The same bed that, although he was 15 had deemed him an orphan. For the next few years he had lived with Foster parents before becoming a fisherman. Joyce was his harbour, his beacon of light to come home to. What would he do without her? He felt like he was becoming an orphan all over again. Mrs Butcher pulled back the curtains, and there she was, his beautiful Joyce, lying there motionless. It was almost like she was just sleeping, there were no visible lacerations, no black eyes, nothing. Her face looked so pale, so translucent, it was like all the blood had drained from her face. He moved round to the side of her bed, Mrs Butcher left him. He sat down on the familiar, hard seat and leant forward, embracing her left hand in his. Her hand felt warm but clammy. He drew her hand up to his face and brushed it along his unshaven cheek, kissing her fingers tenderly, finally placing her hand back on the bed and bending his head down to lay it to rest on top. He didn’t know how long he stayed there but he was awoken by a hand on his shoulder. A nurse stood over him, her crisp white uniform rustling with every movement.
“You need to go home Sir, she has been like this for two months now, we are not expecting any change.”
“Can I stay just a little while longer, I’ve been at see for the past two months and we were supposed to be getting married next week.” William pleaded with the nurse.
“OK, you can stay another ten minutes, but then you’ll have to come back during normal visiting hours.”
“I will, thank you, I promise.” William held onto Joyce’s hand and bent his head down in prayer.
“Please God, don’t let my fiancé die, especially not in the same bed you took my lovely Mother, I couldn’t bear it. ” He whispered, squeezing her hand tight, hoping he could transfer every bit of strength he had to her, to help her fight. “I promise to look after her and always stay by her side.” Tears started to fall onto her soft translucent skin, he smeared them away, leaving her hands damp. He circled her finger where her wedding ring should sit imagining the single gold band in place as he said I do. Spontaneously her finger flinched, making him jump. “Nurse, nurse.” He shouted loud enough to wake the whole of the ward. “She moved.”
“Sir, that sometimes happens with patients in a coma, its a spontaneous body movement.”
“No she really moved, look.” William couldn’t control the excitement in his voice, it was full of hope.
It wasn’t quite as they had planned, but when they both turned to each other and said ‘I do’ witnessed by a couple of nurses and Mrs Butcher. It seemed fitting to be married in the last place he had seen his Mother, it felt like his Mother was watching over them. Progress had been slow but with help and support, Joyce was expected to make a full recovery. Whether it was the hand of God or under the watchful eye of his Mother that Joyce had come out of the coma he would never know but he was oh so thankful for whatever reason.