By Evelyn Ellis.
Peter’s hands flailed the air, and I quickly trapped them in mine. His expression was wild. I had no idea what morphine-induced nightmare he was having, but he was wild-eyed and seemed fearful of something.
It was ten thirty when the hospital called me. I’d decided to have an early night, exhausted by day following day of hospital visiting. The phone rang just as I was dropping off, Peter was extremely agitated, could I come?
“Shsh, I’m here now, I’m here.”
His eyes lost some of their wildness and registered that he saw me. He murmured something unintelligible and gradually his hands softened and relaxed. I kissed him and stroked the gnarled knuckles, talking softly, until he slept.
The nurse had prepared a bed for me. I left him and lay down, but it seemed every time I nearly dozed off he called out and began to get agitated again. I wanted to lie down next to him, but there was no room. Instead, I rested my head on the bed and held his hands all through the night.
These rugged old hands, I thought. What a journey they’ve had. He’d learned to play the violin at the age of seven and by the time he was eighteen had sat and passed all the exams up to Advanced level. In a suitcase at home were the yellowing exam results and prize certificates from festivals all over England.
At twenty-one he emigrated to New Zealand. His new life, working in the Forest Service, comprised hard physical labor. Using an axe, among other tools, blisters formed which bled, before gradually forming hard callouses. During the winter he used a grubber to plant pine seedlings in the cold frosty ground. Cuts and nicks were part of the job, and the pads of his fingers soon lost their sensitivity. Playing the violin was never an option again.
I was seventeen when we met at a country dance. He had gorgeous blond hair and blue eyes, and I was smitten. We married the following year. I remember the way his hands clasped mine on our wedding day. He looked into my eyes as he slipped the ring on to my finger. We were too broke to afford a ring for him, and it was ten years before we could afford to buy one. I turned it on his finger now; a thin, tenuous band but strong enough to hold us together all these fifty-six years.
Trisha, Carolyn and Tony knew these hands well. They were gentle, soothing and helping on their passage from birth to adults. On rare occasions of admonishment, after childhood misdemeanors, they knew how it felt to have them smack their bare bottoms. Our daughters felt their warmth as he handed them over to their future husbands on their wedding days. Our granddaughters, as tots, loved walking hand in hand with Granddad. Tony was a bit of a rebel. He and his Dad were often at odds but in the end agreed to disagree. They greeted each other with a strong hand-shake whenever they met.
Into old age his hands held mine as we walked every morning. In memory, I feel his hands as we cuddled: a wake-up cuddle in the morning and a warm cuddle to go to sleep with.
I didn’t want to let go, but through that long final day, I knew it was time. Whispering in his ear I told him of my love that would last forever and said goodbye. Somewhere in the depths of his mind I’m sure he heard me, for he breathed his last and was gone.
And now? Now I wear his ring next to my own. I miss him and long for the caress of his loving hands.
EVELYN ELLIS has previously had one flash piece published by Long Story Short. She lives in North Queensland, Australia. Her husband, Peter, died in December 2014 and she is learning to live alone. Writing, such as this, helps her through her, very different, life.