i want to hold your hand...

It is the Lord's Prayer in her native tongue that she mumbles as she presses her lips to his brow and steals a glance back at the monitor that clocks his vitals. He is stable and that's all that she can hope for as the doctors scramble to find the cause of his condition. Her sister has been by her side for most of it, offering up all her medical know-how. Most of it comforts her. The questions that Sasha can't answer are the ones that she desperately wants answers to. Katya isn't so selfish to pressure her sister into bold promises but she is grateful when she reminds her to eat. Sasha keeps her company as Katya forces herself to remember how to chew.

Eventually, she has to get back to work and the hug she gives Katya is enough to keep her until she reaches the hospital room. An empty bed greets her when she returns and the panic overwhelms her, face pale and drawn. When a nurse explains that Ken has been moved for further testing it renews some of the colour in her cheeks, but her brow stays furrowed, knotted in concern until they bring him back. They still have no answers.

There are places she can go and places she cannot go. It's a surprise when she learns he has listed her as his next of kin for emergencies and for some reason learning that is what makes her cry at last. She fills out the rest of his paperwork for the receptionist. Her calls to Karen from his phone go unanswered, but she manages as much as she can without help, leaving his daughter a voicemail, asking her to return her call.

Now she is finally alone with him. Ken sleeps in his hospital bed, the rise and fall of his chest transfixes her, vision blurring with tears as she stares ahead at nothing, her hand reaching for his, covering it gently. There are some mornings when she makes a pastime of watching him sleep, but doing so has never filled her with this much sadness. It is a gut-wrenching pull in her belly that sets her heart racing when her thoughts run away with her. What if he never wakes up?

"I don't know if you can hear me," she speaks gently against his temple, pressing her lips to his hairline. "But you really need to wake up," Katya squeezes his fingers, then lets them go, looking at their hands together, expecting him to squeeze back. Hers is so small next to his, but his suddenly seem the more delicate. Ken doesn't move and she sighs softly, brushing his coal-black hair from his face, knowing it would not be enough to rouse him. "I had to try," she says with a soft chuckle, though it's a sob by the time she glances back at his face.

Katya wants to curl up next to him, but she fears upsetting the cords and tubes that tie him to the flashing monitor or buckling his bed with their combined weight. It's an irrational fear that he always scoffs at. Ken laughs when she sizes up restaurant chairs, bracing all her weight against them from the side before she finally sits. He likens her to their puppy who circles her bed three times before she takes her spot.

The first time he catches her doing it, Katya tells him the story about the wooden chair she made as a child and how she'd broken her arm falling off it as she tried to reach for the biscuit tin in the old house. It's not the complete story. Katya recounts how her grandmother used to use the old tins to store her sewing materials and how she'd fallen into an upturned pin cushion too. Ken isn't convinced and he makes a point of it by picking her up and spinning her around as though she is a small child. It does not squash such an old dread, but she delights in his strength, in warm arms hoisting her up and holding her close.

His strength has left him now and she is quick to pull his sheets out to cover his toes. The last thing he needs is to catch cold as well. Katya moves to the chair at his bedside, pushing it closer to his side so that she can reach out for his hand with ease. Her thumb brushes over his knuckles gently, describing soft circles against his skin as she regards him. It is a dark thought that crosses her mind, urging her to commit his face to memory. It is hard to ignore, but she finds an alternative when she stuffs a hand into her pocket and unearths the pendant of St Christopher that the chaplain gifted her that morning. Katya turns it over in her hand as she begins the Lord's Prayer. Katya recites it three times in Russian because it is the language of her Babushka and she hopes that her grandmother will intercede on her behalf too. The third time, she falls asleep before she reaches Amen.

to be continued...

pt. 2back