BillyShakespeare.com: It’s like Shakespeare...only in English.

Make-up sex is the best. I’ve been lying about it for years.” ~ B.S.

The Incomplete Worlds Of Billy Shakespeare | BillyShakespeare.com: It's like Shakespeare...only in English.

Who’s Gonna Read This, B.S.?

short short stories

"Love & War"
a story by Billy Shakespeare

His withered hands clasped tightly around one of hers. Patting, then softly petting the thin wrinkled skin there. His eyes wandered down the length of her fingers to where an I.V. tube pierced the back of her hand. His eyes followed the tube into a bank of machines and bags and wires and tubes and let go of her hand altogether.

He shut his eyes tightly and shut out the tears. With his eyes closed it was easier to remember her as she had once been...younger, really. It wasn’t fair to think in those terms, but...there it was. She had been young. She had been beautiful. And bright, and witty; she could make him laugh when no one else could. When no one else would even try.

God he had loved her so much then.

He supposed he loved her now. Although time had eroded any trace of his former bride, had eaten away her mind. Maybe it was more a sense of responsibility than love, maybe it was...

...time to leave her.

He opened his eyes again and caught just a quick glimpse of her dead, unseeing stare. Oh, there was life in there somewhere...just not a life worth living. Not as she was now; not as she had been for the past few months. A vegetable.

He wished he hadn’t seen her eyes. That was always the hardest. He could look anywhere else. He could brush her hair, adjust her gown, pat her hand, any of that. But something in her eyes, dead as they were, something there held him. And tortured him.

He looked again at the machines. Something beeped. Something clicked. Something whirred. It all reminded him of his time in the Navy. You heard so many things that, after awhile, you didn’t hear them anymore. You just blocked them from your mind.

He cleared his throat and the sound startled him. He realized suddenly that it was the closest he had come to talking to her in days. Weeks, maybe. What was there to say, after all?

Except goodbye.

And he had been waiting an eternity to say that. He had lived with that reality for months now. Each day as she deteriorated, he had prepared himself to say goodbye. He had steeled himself in near anticipation of the moment when she finally died.

Months now. What was she waiting for? Why was she putting him through this? He wasn’t the one who was dying. He had years ahead of him. A life to live...

...a life without her.

Well. He had prepared himself for that, too.

“Elizabeth...” Her name escaped from him like a breath of air, bringing him out of his thoughts. He put her hand down and turned his back on her.

Looking out of her hospital window he could see that it was almost sunset. The sky was reddening like blood. In the distance he could see streetlights flickering on as well as car headlights. So the day was dying, bleeding to death in the sky, while on the ground the world found a way to survive without it.

With this though in mind he turned back to his dying wife. From this far away he could almost imagine she was sleeping. If he closed his eyes he could imagine her sleeping after their honeymoon. After they had made love for the first time. After a war he was sure he would never come back from. He had never seen anyone so beautiful, so innocent. Her long beautiful hair radiating from her face; it wasn’t even the style then, but it suited her. And he remembered her smiling.

He remembered morning sun from their hotel window, pouring over her. She looked like an angel. A cliché, but true nonetheless. He knew then he would follow her anywhere, do anything she asked. Fight another war if she told him he must.

Where was his angel now? Who was this person he watched over like a...

...like a vulture.

Circling and circling her. Waiting for inevitable death. What was the difference, really, between him and a vulture? Patience, probably. But which had more?

His eyes scanned her machines once more. Which one of you, he thought, which of you would be the first to tell me when she dies? Will you beep? Whistle? Sound an alarm in the nurse’s station? Maybe she’s already dead and you’re keeping it a secret. Maybe you’ve been pumping life into a corpse for months now. What would happen if...

...if I unplugged you all?

Would she die? Well, let’s do it then! Let’s get it over with finally. I’ve watched her die a thousand times in my mind already. Enough rehearsal.

His eyes glazed over, no longer focusing on anything. The blur of machines reminded him again of his time spent in the Navy. He remembered the day his eyes had blurred staring at machines like these. Staring at a small blinking light...warning him of an enemy’s approach...and he just...

...kept staring.

Someone was shaking him and he just kept staring at the blinking lights.

“Mr. Leavitt? Mr. Leavitt!” The nurse was shaking his arm, bringing him out of his daze. “Are you alright?”

He was staring at her now, trying to nod, to speak, shake his head yes. Anything. Eventually he was able to focus his eyes and attention on the nurse. “Yes,” he said at last. “I’m fine. I was just...thinking. Blinking lights sometimes...”

“Are you epileptic?” she asked, looking into his eyes one at a time as if looking into his brain for her answer. “Were you having a seizure?”

He straightened himself and his tone was as rigid as his body. “I’m fine,” he said firmly. God, now he not only looked like an idiot to the nurse, he sounded like one.

“Can I do anything for you? Would you like the doctor to have a look at you?” Even though he was shaking his head no to both questions, he did finally allow the nurse to lead him over to a chair and sit him down. He looked to her nametag to thank her for her kindness. A badge clipped to a white jacket showed her name as Shannon, and he ran his eyes over the soft curves of her uniform. She reminded him of...

...who? His mind was clouded now with thoughts of young Shannon and his memory faltered. Elizabeth! Of course, Elizabeth. Not too tall at all, he used to kid her, but curvy as a coastline. Where was his curvy Elizabeth now? Who was this living corpse being attended to by a lustful husband. How could she just lie there silently, leaving him alone with his thoughts of the pretty nurse Shannon? But, then again, she had a lot of practice doing just that.

How many affairs did he have? Too many. He almost laughed; some of them had been nurses. Some had even been prettier than Shannon here.

Had Elizabeth known?

Of course she had. Of course she had. She was no vegetable then. She was always very bright. And witty. And beautiful. And he had destroyed these things in her just as surely as time and disease had. He had been the first of the three to ravage her. He looked over to her bed, saw the profile of her face. No, not her face...some old woman’s visage; not his angel Elizabeth.

He knew her profile very well. He had carried it for years in his pocket, all through the war; he carried a photograph of Elizabeth and the handsome young sailor he once had been. He was wearing his crackerjacks and staring into the camera lens, and Elizabeth had been captured with her head turned in profile staring at the man she loved. The only man she would ever love, and ever make love to.

He had carried that photo all through the war, but put it away for safekeeping when he returned. The salt-water sea had nearly ruined it when he had been forced to abandon ship with the rest of his crew. The sea had worn most of the emulsion away, leaving only his beautiful Elizabeth’s image untarnished. He had placed the photo carefully inside a trunk, and had never looked at it again.

He slumped back completely in his chair, suddenly feeling drained of life. He caught himself looking again at the machine’s blinking light, and forced himself to shut his eyes. Even in the dark of his own mind, though, a light continued to blink on and off. It was a distant, but crystal-clear, memory from the war: a blinking light warning him of danger; a siren’s song that lulled him into an almost unconscious state, allowing the enemy to...

...allowing the enemy to attack. They had slipped right by as he watched over blinking lights like these during the war. He had allowed them in, and they had destroyed his world.

“...epilepsy...” he said softly.

“Mr. Leavitt?” Shannon was still there, attending to the IV bags that hung over Elizabeth.

“Epilepsy,” he repeated. “I didn’t always know I had it, though. Didn’t have a clue until...until the war.”

Shannon moved toward him and put a hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her, and felt himself whither under her gaze. “Mr. Leavitt, I’m going to have the doctor take a quick look at you, all right? Just stay here, and I’ll be right back, okay?”

He nodded vaguely, and his eyes, no longer filled with lust, followed her out the door. Eventually, they worked their way back to the old woman in bed beside his chair. The old woman with the sunken eyes and open mouth who was dying beside him. He was disconcerted by his complete lack of emotion. Absolutely nothing seemed to stir within him at all. His wife was dying, and he had stopped caring.

Die, already. I don’t know you, he thought. Elizabeth had already passed away as far as he was concerned. This living skeleton beside him just hadn’t been told yet.

He looked to the woman’s face and was startled to see it was no longer in profile. Had the nurse moved her? Because the old woman now stared back at him.

Elizabeth now stared at him.

Of course it was Elizabeth. Through the deep lines in her face, past the wrinkles in her skin, his Elizabeth was looking at him through dead eyes. Eyes that refused to focus. Eyes that stared for hours on end at nothing at all.

And now they stared at him.

Unseeing eyes, just like his own. Eyes that had conspired with the enemy, and betrayed everyone he loved. Unseeing eyes that had allowed the enemy to murder his shipmates and his captain.

He had almost died as well, floating in the Pacific alone. Almost alone. He had Elizabeth with him, staring in profile at her brave young sailor. The salt-water had torn him apart almost as badly as it had the photograph. But he lived through it. He had begged God to let him live through it, because he didn’t want to die alone.

He had to see Elizabeth again. His beautiful angel. She would ease his pain. She would make him laugh again. Make him forget all that had happened in the Pacific that day. She would ease his pain. For forty years she would try. She would make him laugh again and again, when he could only make her cry. She would make him forget all that had happened in the Pacific that day...until the day she died.

Something struck his arm. The old woman’s hand had slipped from the bed and bounced off his forearm. He looked up from his thoughts and stared into her eyes again. Her unseeing eyes.

He picked her hand up, meaning to tuck it back under her bed sheets, bet held it instead. He shut his eyes and spoke to his wife.

“You failed me, Elizabeth. You’ve left me floating out here alone again. I’m going to die alone, Elizabeth. You failed me.”

He sighed, and bent forward to kiss her hand. “I don’t want to die alone, Elizabeth.”

It wasn’t until he tasted the tears that he knew he was crying. Tears that had been held back for forty years ran into his open mouth, tasting like seawater.

He leaned back in his chair, still weeping. God, he was tired...

...tired of all the pain. Tired of all the guilt. He felt as drained of energy now as he did of tears. He felt Elizabeth’s hand start to slip from his as his own grew weaker. As his hand fell past her fingers, it was caught again in a grip not his own. Now it was Elizabeth who held his hand.

He felt her grip and opened his eyes towards his dying wife. She was looking back at him now. And though he still saw no life or sign of recognition in her eyes, he felt it in her grasp.

He now became aware of a noise from the machines. The machines were trying to tell him something. Telling him that the old withered woman, the vegetable, who he had hardly been able to look at for the last couple of months was dying. Elizabeth was dying.

Another face filled his vision, but he was unable to focus on it. There were voices, and then another face. Lights...blinking white lights shone into unseeing eyes.

“Elizabeth...” The name escaped from him like a breath of cool, fresh air. “Don’t let me die alone, Elizabeth.”

He felt himself being lifted from the chair and placed on a gurney. His hand was pulled from Elizabeth’s grasp as she died.