“Tell me again,” Arnold J. Strout repeated, for possibly the hundredth time that week, “why we’re redecorating the spare bedroom.”
His wife, Brianna, was standing on a ladder in front of the window putting up brackets meant to support a new set of curtains. “Weren’t you listening last time?” she huffed, impatiently pulling the trigger on her husband’s cordless drill before driving home the last bracket screw.
“I always listen to everything you say to me,” Arnold replied in equally impatient tones, “I just don’t understand this.”
Brianna gave the bracket a little jiggle then, apparently satisfied, descended the ladder and went over to kiss her husband on the lips. “My friend Nathan Butler is in the hospital. His doctors have only given him ten days to live and he doesn’t have anywhere else to go. That’s why.”
“So, why can’t he stay in the hospital, then?” Arnold asked plaintively, unable to resist wrapping his arms around his wife’s slender shoulders.
“Arnie, you’re kidding, right?” Brianna scoffed, pushing gently away from him. She walked back to the window to lift up the metal bar holding the curtains she’d chosen. Each curtain was lovely and cheerful; a simple, white piece of fabric with blueberries and butterflies appliqued on it. They went well with the new paint Brianna had used on the walls and ceiling over the weekend and the new carpeting that had gone in yesterday.
“Why would I kid you, babe?” Arnold replied, leaning idly against the door frame. He itched to be in there helping her, at least. That was the way his father had brought him up. Brianna had flatly refused, though. This Butler character was her friend and she wanted to do as much of the work as she could herself, thank you very much all the same, dear. He admired his wife’s tenacity and determination. He just didn’t understand why her friend had to come here.
“You tell me?” Brianna answered absently, stepping back from the window to check the effect of the curtains with the rest of the room. Arnold wondered briefly what she’d do if it turned out that the curtains were all wrong. Apparently, that wasn’t the case this time, however, because Brianna gave a little nod and returned to her husband’s tool box to pick out his laser level. “I’ve already explained things to you. Again. What more could you possibly want?” She shifted the ladder and ascended it again so that she could pin up the level and turn it on. Instantly a red laser line wrapped itself around the corner.
“What I want, is to know why we couldn’t use this room for relatives instead of…” Arnold began.
“Arnie!” Brianna interrupted, turning on the ladder to favor him with a hurt look. “Nathan Butler has been my friend since I was in diapers! I have to help him.”
“Fine!” Arnold responded in tones that made it clear that it was definitely not fine. “Help him! I just don’t understand why helping him couldn’t mean bringing him flowers or books or something like that instead of bringing him home!”
“He doesn’t have anywhere else to go,” Brianna repeated softly, hurt and disbelief now warring for position on her otherwise lovely oval face.
“Why can’t he stay at the hospital?” her husband shouted, taking an involuntary step into the room.
Brianna’s eyebrows dropped and a single line of anger appeared between them, the only sign she ever gave of that particular emotion. “Nobody wants to die in a hospital, Arnie,” she replied quietly, turning to the box of framed pictures and other items she intended to hang on the walls. She selected a medium sized one, professionally taken, depicting a happy family; mother, father, two girls and a boy; and a nail from the open box laying on the new dresser she’d had delivered this morning.
Arnold’s eyes moved from the dresser to the night stand, complete with a metallic lamp that could be turned on and off just by tapping the base. Next to it, the only evidence of illness in the room, a white hospital-style bed, complete with foldable bars, to prevent the occupant from falling out, and a remote control to make the head and foot of the bed incline. These, too, had been installed this morning. The bed had needed to be partially disassembled on one side of the door and then reassembled on the other, it was so big. To Arnold, who worked as the manager of a local bank and thrived on efficiency, this seemed like just so much hassle. Wouldn’t it just be easier to let the poor guy stay at the hospital, where he’d have doctors and nurses looking after him in a very competent manner day and night?
Then his wife’s statement seemed to rise up to meet him again. Nobody wants to die in a hospital, Arnie, she’d said. Arnold watched his wife busily hanging pictures and posters on the walls, trying to give the room a more homey feel to it; to take the mind away from the presence of the hospital bed. He tried to picture himself in a hospital where doctors he trusted had told him he only had a few more days left in which to live and that he had to spend those last few precious days hooked up to tubes and sensors in a sterile environment with doctors and nurses dancing attendance on him all day and all night and limited visiting hours.
“Hey, Babe?” he asked finally, watching his wife as she searched the little box for something else to hang on the wall. “Is this friend of yours allergic to lilacs?”
Her head came up from the box of pictures and she turned around, a look of surprise on her face. “No, I don’t think so,” she replied, exchanging surprise for confusion. “Why?”
“Oh, nothing,” Arnold answered, gazing around the room. “I was just thinking how nice it would probably be for your friend… What was his name again?”
“Nathan,” Brianna responded, sounding slightly dazed now.
“Yeah, Nathan,” her husband smiled. “I was thinking that Nathan might like to have some freshly cut flowers in his room. Lilacs would go really well with your decorations, wouldn’t they, sweetie? Maybe in that nice cut crystal vase my mother gave us for Christmas?”
Brianna’s eyes brimmed with tears as she nodded, obviously unable to speak.
“I’ll go get you some,” he said with a gentle smile.
“Thank you, dearheart,” his wife replied, her voice breaking as she spoke, “that would be just perfect.”
With a spring to his step that hadn’t been there before, Arnold went to look for his rose clippers.