By FRANCESCA FLORES
Fourteenth of September, I scribble into a brand new black Moleskine notebook.
I think: Wow, if I hadn’t seen my own hand glide along the page, I would have sworn the writer was about five.
It has been about a month since I woke up from a two-month coma, I write.
At least that’s what I’m told.
I don’t remember anything about how I woke up except weird bulbs of white light and feeling scared of them. I remember nothing about my first conscious month either. But I am told that I was rowdy and often hysterical, that they had to pin my arms down so I wouldn’t hurt myself or anybody else.
Nowadays I have nothing but therapy, all day, every day. A morning session to help me regain my mental abilities and one in the afternoon for all the physical stuff. They insist on calling me Tom.
I don’t feel like a Tom.
By “they” I mean the hospital staff and a woman who claims to be my wife. Sonia, she insists is her name. They are the only people I ever get to see. Anyway, I’ll leave it here for now. Sonia has just arrived.
“How are you, love?” she asks as she kisses my cheek.
She holds a cup of takeaway coffee. From my angle, as I lie on my bed, she looks especially beautiful. The plainness of her office clothes do not diminish her; in fact it accentuates her slender figure. Her dark hair is swept back severely, keeping the focus on her glamorous face.
I can’t believe she’s my wife, I think. For one, she is much too pretty for me.
For another, there is that woman in my dreams.
My thoughts are interrupted by a blinding stream of white light that takes over my room.
“I’ve rolled up your blinds, Tom. It’s way too gloomy in here.”
I don’t realize Sonia has stood up from my bedside.
“Besides, I know how much you love the New York skyline,” she adds.
But I don’t, I think.
So that’s where I am. New York. Though it feels like I could be anywhere in the world right now. I suppose all hospitals look the same wherever you go.
A nurse enters the room.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but you’ll have to leave soon. Dr. Ellis says your regular visits may actually cause Tom here to regress further into his hallucinations,” she says, speaking as though I am not in the room with them. “You have to trust in the process.”
“Oh, alright,” Sonia says. “I’ll come back after work, dear.” She gives me a kiss good-bye, then traces my eyebrows with her finger before leaving the room.
The nurse checks on my vitals, jotting things down on her notebook, then prancing out of the room wordlessly.
As I watch her leave, my vision gets hazy and I drift into unconsciousness.
The next time I open my eyes, I get quite disoriented. Then I see Dr. Ellis’ familiar face staring down at me.
“Oh good, you’re awake. But you missed lunch, so I’ll let you have some before we start on your therapy.”
The same nurse from a while ago enters the room and starts spoon-feeding me with porridge. I struggle to slurp the soupy mixture. It is only my first week back on solids. Patiently, the nurse wipes the drips from the sides of my mouth with a napkin.
Something in the porridge triggers my memory and I see the red-headed woman from my dreams scooping up porridge from a paper cup while sitting languidly beside a lake. I don’t quite know what it is that makes me recall this, but I am almost certain that this place is called Central Park. In my mind, I watch her throw her head back in laughter, her freckled nose crinkling into a million vertical lines.
As I finish my lunch, the nurse gets up to leave. Before she turns away, she gives me a sly wink, and I grimace in shock. But soon all thought of her is gone, and I only think of the red-headed woman from my dreams.
I’m brought to the physical therapy room and an intern I don’t recognize works on stretching my underused legs. Dr. Ellis watches and supervises, all the while chatting with me.
“Tom, did you have a good lunch? Did you eat a lot? You must, you know. You lost a good deal of weight while you were in the coma, fifty pounds to be exact. Do you remember how it happened?”
“I can’t recall anything from before the coma.”
“I’ll help you out. It was the fourth of July and you were rushing home from your job to get to a party. What do you think happened, Tom?”
“I’m sorry, doctor, but I have no idea.”
“You got into a car accident. You suffered a traumatic brain injury and broke parts of your neck and back. Do you not remember this?”
The doctor gives a massive sigh and continues jotting down notes on his clipboard.
It’s about eight in the evening when Sonia arrives.
“I’m so sorry. I was so caught up with work and we had a business dinner afterward, you know how it is,” she says. She tries to catch her breath.
“But I don’t know how it is, Sonia. What is it that you do again?”
“I’m a lawyer, sweetie, and so are you. We met in Law school?” she says. She’s fighting tears. “Don’t you remember anything about us?”
“I…,” I start to say.
“I’ve had enough of this. First you get into that damned accident and I come running to you. Then I find you in a coma. They tell me you might never wake up. Now you have, but you don’t seem to know me or, or care about me. You’re a different person inside the same body and this is not what I expected marriage to be.”
“It’s not your fault,” she cuts me off, “None of this is your fault.”
After a beat, she adds: “I’m sorry, honey. I think I’m just tired. I should go home. I still have work tomorrow.”
“All right, good night.”
“Goodbye, Tom. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
She smiles sadly. She knows I don’t mean it.
Second of October.
It’s October and the people in the hospital are getting much too excited for Halloween. Eager interns decorate the hallways with streams of paper pumpkins and paper ghosts to please their superiors. I hear a famous superhero actor stopped by the other day to visit the children’s ward, though I didn’t quite catch his name. I’ve made a lot of progress with my rehab program and I can now walk and eat unassisted. Most of my vocabulary has come back as well. And with it some memories.
I have even received an invitation to the annual Mt. Carmel Hospital Halloween Party. As I write this, I can’t help but be swept into all the merriment.
Here comes Sonia now, and trailing her is the nurse.
“Hi, honey, your room is looking great!” Sonia says, gesturing to my new Halloween-themed decorations.
“Yeah, Sonia. It’s a welcome change.”
“What’s that in your hand, hun?”
“Oh, nothing, just the Halloween party invitation for the thirty-first.”
Says the nurse: “Ma’am, may I stress that this party is only for in-house patients and hospital staff.”
“But my sister will be in the city then!” says Sonia. “What a shame. I guess we’ll just drop by before the celebration.”
“Well, you and your sister wouldn’t want to catch anything from the patients at the party, would you? But if you must insist on dropping by…,” the nurse trails off.
“I do,” says my wife.
Now I see how I could have fallen for her.
I drift off to sleep. I do not know when my wife and the nurse left the room.
Here, in this expanse of dream and fantasy, I meet her again. And again. The woman in my dreams. They feel like memories and yet I know somehow that they aren’t. I’ve never met this woman before—but somehow I’ve fallen in love with her.
In this particular vision, it is an itchy hot summer in June. We stroll along with the tourists eating ice cream in the packed High Line. Though drenched in sweat, she seems only to get more beautiful. Perspiration lights the high points of her face, giving her an irresistible glow. I do my best not to reach out and wipe the thin strip of moisture building above her lips.
We are walking with a large bulldog whom we have named Sparkles. On the way home we stop by a pet shop to buy him a tutu and little pink shoes to match. Then the three of us dance to the music of vinyl on a record player in the living room. As I pull her close—close enough to smell her watermelon-scented shampoo—I hear myself say: “Why can’t it be like this every day?”
“Because you can’t dance with a June in June every day, Jay. If you could, it wouldn’t be special.”
Then I wake.
My name is Jay.
Her name is June.
Above me I see a smiling Sonia. What day is it? You never can tell when you’re confined in a hospital.
Sonia’s dark hair cascades in large waves, framing her gorgeous face. Her eyes are full of love, which pains me. What does she see in me anyway? I haven’t even seen myself since the accident.
I turn to face her. “Sonia, do we know a woman named June?”
“No, love, I don’t.”
She pauses and hesitates for a moment.
“But you might,” she continues. “You know, you woke up from your coma screaming for someone named June. I didn’t know what to do. I assumed she was an old high school girlfriend. I read it online that this kind of thing happens quite frequently for people coming out of a coma.”
“Is that so?” I say. “Maybe she was, but I don’t remember anything just now.”
“Enough about ex-girlfriends, I’ve received wonderful news!” she says, beaming.
“Dr. Ellis says that with the progress you’re making, you’ll be out of the hospital in time for your favorite holiday!” she laughs. She whistles the unmistakable melody of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
Christmas is not my favorite holiday, but I don’t tell her that.
It is the day of the Halloween party and everyone is dressed up in their costumes. My nurse is still dressed in her hosptial scrubs, though she has spattered blood all over it. For a second, those spots of blood on her look a little too convincing.
I shake the thought off.
Sonia comes early in the morning, before work, to decorate my hospital gown with R2-D2 cut outs. If she’d known me at all she’d know I’d have wanted to dress up as C-3PO.
I join the party and sit on a chair. The decorators really have gone above and beyond. I scan the room and sheepishly realize that most of the guests are children. To think I had gotten so excited for this party.
Anyhow, I am here now so I may as well enjoy it. I watch as the children play games, I watch as the hospital staff give the adults candy so that the children can go around the room trick-or-treating.
When the party nears its end, I see Sonia hurrying towards me.
“I’m so sorry, Tom! Work had me glued to my desk. I’m here now,” she says.
She bends towards me, takes my face, and kisses me.
When she straightens up, her head no longer blocks my view. I see clearly who is behind her.
“I told you I’d bring my sister, didn’t I?” she says, looking over her shoulder. “Come greet Tom, Cindy!”
Behind her is the woman of my dreams.
Red hair flowing wildly behind her, freckles all over her face. Her eyes meet mine. She smiles.
Though nearer to me now, she still seems so far away, like a dream.
My name is Tom.
Her name is Cindy.
Christmas isn’t my favorite holiday. Halloween is.
Francesca Marie V. Flores was born in Pampanga in 1997. At the early age of 2, she was captivated by words and stories. This allowed her to read avidly throughout her formative years spent in Dumaguete. In May 2017, she finished her bachelor's degree in Management with a minor in Literature at the Ateneo de Manila University. Her chapbook, Storm Surging, was published in 2017. She lives in both Dumaguete and Cebu, with her dog Bootie.
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