The End Came With a Kiss(7)

By: John Michael Hileman

"I will never give up on you, Kate. Do you hear me? I will find a cure for this. You just have to hold on."

Her breath begins a shallow flutter, like the sound of a distant helicopter, and for the briefest of moments I wonder if she is responding to my statement. Is she clawing her way back to life? Can she hear me?

No. It won’t be that easy, I remind myself. There is no way to return from where she is without neutralizing the poison in her brain. There are some who believe there is no hope, that, like her body, her brain is dead. I reject that theory. She may not have a pulse, but she is still alive. There are memories in there. If she can access memories, her brain can’t be entirely dead.

She looks at the television and climbs to her feet. This signals that she is about to shift into another process, one that is part of her loop and cannot be interrupted. She lifts her hands and swings them in front of her as she slowly walks toward the corner of the room. I want to help her find what she is looking for, but it is better to stay out of her way. This scene is complicated; she must act it out precisely.

Her hand slaps the armoire and slides down the doors to find the handle of the top drawer. Her head remains cocked to the side, eyes staring blindly. Objects clunk around inside the drawer, and her lips start frantically sounding out words.

"It’s to the left," I say. Whether or not I speak is irrelevant. When she is in one of these scenes—the ones that are required for her loop—she is unresponsive. She yanks a flashlight from the drawer, hunches over to press down on the switch, and lifts it to scan the room. It doesn't matter that there is light in the room, or that the flashlight is broken. Her body is simply playing out the sequence.

If I could remember where I was standing or what I was doing, I could join her, because I was there that day. But loop scenes do not allow for adaptability, like the random processes do.

I walk to the center of the living room and wait for the one part I do remember, the part that I must see every day. It is what keeps me going. If it were not for this, I would have ended it. I swear I would have.

After several minutes she returns to the living room. For her it’s as if I have been with her the whole time. The flashlight is now gone. In her mind, I now have it. In reality it is on the dining room floor. I heard the thump when she handed it to thin air.

Her hand is in front of her as she walks slowly. Watching her fingers scrunch into a half fist. I can almost remember the feel of her clutching my shirt in the dark. We were so terrified. I watch the hand as it swings around and bumps into my side. We are now in sync. I have not moved, but to her I have come to a stop and turned around.

Her other hand comes up onto my chest, but she does not draw in close for fear that she may contaminate me. There is a mix of emotions in her eyes. Fear, uncertainty, sorrow. But a stronger emotion forces these away. Her full red lips tighten as her light brows lift. In this moment, I feel I could drown in her crystal green eyes and never find air. It isn't just her beauty that so enraptures me. It is her vulnerability. No matter how deep, no matter how private, she always had a way of laying the innermost parts of her heart naked before me.

Her lips move and I sound out the words in my head. "Tell me this is going to be all right."

"We're going to find a cure," I say.

"What if I don't want to be cured? What if I don't want to live with this pain?"

"We will find beauty in these ashes," I say.

Her eyes smile and her lips form the words, "How do you do that?" But the next sentence is too quick for me to read. I wait patiently for her to slow down. She always does. Her chin tightens, but no tears trickle from her dry eyes. "It hurts so bad, Ben."

"We will get through this. Just promise me you'll fight."

"I'll fight," she mouths. Her eyes come up and lock on mine. "For us, I'll fight."

"Even if this takes you," I say. "Don't you dare stop fighting."

"I'll fight," she says again, with airy emphasis.

"No matter how deep. No matter how far. If you hear me calling, you come back to me."

Her body is trembling now.

I grip her arms. "Promise me, Kate!"

I feel the familiar tingle as the hair on the back of my neck stands on end. It has come at last. The part that matters most. The part that reminds me all things are possible.