Someone Lost, Something Gained



The house is dark when Veda steps inside. Toeing off her flats, she sets her luggage on the floor just inside the door then makes her way through the halls until she reaches the kitchen. Everything looks the same.

Pill bottles line the counter, organised by time of day, and the list of emergency numbers is pinned to the refrigerator with a disfigured cactus magnet. Veda spares a second to open the curtains over the windows, and bright sunshine fills the room, dispelling the darkest of shadows that desperately cling to the corners.

Silence presses down oppressively as she heads to the stairs. It should hurt, really, that there aren’t any photographs of the family on the walls past Hattie’s second birthday. It doesn’t affect Veda any more. It’s been almost twenty years since they were all in the same room, and her life is absolutely better without them anyway. Blowing out a breath, Veda comes to a stop outside a door right off the landing. The wood is cool beneath her fingertips, then she’s stepping into the bedroom.

Patrice glances up from the book in her hands, smiling softly through the little sunlight that peeks in through the blinds. “Hey, honey. He should be waking soon.”

“How’s he doing?” Veda whispers, though she isn’t sure she’s ready for an answer.

“I…” The nurse sighs, turning off the small light clipped to the pages of her book, and sets the novel aside. “I don’t think it’ll be much longer. He’s been fighting so hard to make sure you were home, and I, I think he’s tired.”

“I’m not ready.”

“None of us are, baby, but…that’s not in our control.”

Veda doesn’t know what else to say, so she stays silent. She sits on the edge of Granddad’s bed, making sure to not jostle the oxygen tube, and stares at his sleep-relaxed face. He seems to have aged years in the three days she was gone. The lines around his mouth and eyes have grown deeper, his skin more translucent and ashen. She clears her throat and reaches for his head. Tears slip down her cheek at how frail he is.

“I’m going to go,” murmurs Patrice after a few minutes, and she kisses Veda’s forehead on her way to the door. “Call if you need anything, sweetie.”

“Thanks, Patty-melt.”

The nurse sticks her tongue out then she’s gone. Veda moves to the now-vacant armchair on the other side of the bed, settles in to wait. True to what Patrice said, Percy stirs awake about fifteen minutes later. He grumbles quietly before groaning low in his throat, and Veda instinctively grasps his hands again. His gaze is slow, stilted, but it lands on her soon enough.

“Percy? I to-told you not to cut your vacation short.”

“I know, Granddad, but you know me. I’m too stubborn to listen to ridiculous orders.”

She smooths down the blankets and adjusts the cannula so he can get unobstructed airflow. He swats tiredly at her hands. Fear zips through her at the weakness in his movements. Sitting on the edge of his bed, Veda pushes his silver-white hair from his forehead, making a mental note to lotion his skin. It’s too reminiscent of paper.

“So. Patrice told me you tried throwing a rager while I was gone. Thought we talked about this, Granddad.”

“You can’t tell me what to do, young lady. I wanted some tail, and no granddaughter of mine is gonna stop me.”

“You are an awful old man. I’m… I’m glad I came home early.”

“I wish you’d stayed with Ellie just a bit longer. How was the wedding?”

“Oh, Granddad, it was beautiful. I have pictures, if you wanna see?”

Veda hands him his glasses off the bedside table then unlocks her phone. After helping him to sit up against the pillows, she curls up next to him, resting her head on his shoulder, and shows him all the photographs she took. He makes the appropriate comments at the images of Ellie and Christ as they got ready, the ceremony, and the little bit of the reception that Veda was there for. His bright smile, feeble and brittle though it is, warms her through to her core.

Granddad pats her arm gently once she reaches the end of her camera roll, and she tosses her phone onto the nightstand. She laces her fingers with his, closing her eyes tightly when he gives her hand a weak squeeze. He murmurs something under his breath, quietly enough that she thinks she imagines him saying he’s proud of her.

“You still awake?” she asks softly after a few minutes, wanting to hear his voice. Wanting to hold onto him just a bit longer.

All Veda gets in response is the shaky yet steady breathing of a sleeping man. She waits for another minute, making sure he’s really asleep, then heads to the attached bathroom. After using the toilet, she washes her hands and stares at her reflection in the mirror. Her makeup from yesterday is a mess, her hair not any better. Sighing, she turns, tiptoes through her grandfather’s room. The hardwood floor creaks under her feet as she scurries down the hallway to the stairs, up to her bedroom.

Being away from Granddad makes her heart pound - every second carries too much risk - but she can’t stay in the bridesmaid dress any longer. Grabbing a pair of clean pyjamas from the dresser, Veda changes quickly and pulls her hair out of the bun it’s been in for the last sixteen hours. She groans, tugging a brush through the tangled puffy mess of her hair, but it does no good.

Braiding her hair as best she can, she runs back down to Granddad’s room, heart in her throat. He’s still sleeping peacefully, completely unaware of how his granddaughter can scarcely breathe through her fear. She curls up in the armchair, watches his chest rise and fall. Her entire body trembles, tension wreaking havoc on her muscles, and Veda reaches for his hand and holds it tight.

She keeps watch over him for the rest of the day. The only time she leaves her post is to use the toilet, and even then, she doesn’t go far for long. Veda knows she should eat something, but her stomach churns uncomfortably at the thought. So she stays hunched in on herself in the chair, counting the seconds that pass as a victory against the inevitable.

“You are the strongest man I have ever known,” she whispers, long after the clock chimes midnight. Her voice cracks with emotion and disuse. “I’m so thankful for everything you have done for me. You taught me how to be a good person. A kind person. How to drive, cook, fix things I’ve broken. You taught me to apologise when I was wrong. If it wasn’t for you… I’d be nothing. I’d be Debbie or, worse, I’d be Olivia. But you stopped that from happening.”

Her words fall away, replaced by her sobs, and she drops to her knees at his bedside. The sheets rustle under her forehead. Clinging desperately to his hand in hers, Veda lets herself be swept up in the maelstrom that explodes through her soul. Tears drop steadily onto the mattress, coat her cheeks, and she sniffles through a stuffed nose. She turns her head so she can stare up at Granddad’s lined, fragile face. Her vision blurs again.

“I don’t want to let you go. I fucking need you so much. You’re all I have, and I, I can’t lose you. I mean, what am I supposed to do without you?” she pleads for an answer, shoulders shaking and heart clenching. She wants to scream with the unfairness of this all. “I’ve never been without you, and I’m so fucking scared. I don’t want to live without you.”

Veda releases Granddad’s hand long enough to clamber onto the bed beside him. She tucks her head against his shoulder, fingers curling into the fabric of his nightshirt. Her heart pounds out a tattoo beneath her sternum, beats a wild rhythm that steals her breath away. Or maybe that’s the tears that won’t stop coming.

She closes her eyes, whispering, “I can’t be selfish, can I? I can’t keep asking you to fight just because it’s going to be hard for me.” Granddad doesn’t respond, but she listens for the part of her that doesn’t want him to keep suffering. It tells her all she needs to know. She has to lie to him. “So if… if you’re ready, you can stop fighting, Granddad. You can be with Mom-Mom again. It’s okay. I’ll, uh, I’ll see you on the other side, yeah?”

Veda tries her damnedest to stay awake through the night. She doesn’t want to lose any time with him. She doesn’t want to lose him. But sleep eventually claims her as its victim, dragging her into the dark.