“Until the day I die, I’ll never forget those glassy, unblinking eyes.” Alena dabbed her nose with a wadded tissue.
“You survived a traumatic event. It’s natural to fixate on a specific detail,” the therapist said.
She avoided looking into his eyes. Instead, she forced her gaze to remain within the black frame around his degree. She stared at the cursive letters of his name, Thomas L. Roberts, until they blurred into an undecipherable black smear.
“Would it help to talk about the accident?”
“Accident?” For a moment Alena looked into his eyes. “Oh.” She glanced at her hands folded in her lap, ignoring the large wheels just beyond the vinyl-covered armrests. “I guess.”
He nodded his approval as he fiddled with an apple cinnamon candle he’d lit before their session.
She returned her focus to the framed degree above his head. “I could’ve driven that road blindfolded, navigating by muscle memory. But I’d never traveled after dusk before. When I rounded a curve and saw the elk, eyes reflecting the headlight beam, I knew I didn’t have time to stop, so I swerved. Other than the slight turn of his head, made apparent by the shift of his antlers, he didn’t move. I remember bumping the guardrail at least twice and then sliding off the road where the guardrail ended. The next thing I remember is waking up in a hospital bed and a doctor telling me he couldn’t save my legs.”
“How did you react to that?”
“Are you serious?” Alena again looked at Mr. Roberts. “I was pissed. I called him horrible names. I accused him of being a liar, until I looked at the bed and saw the lump under the covers ended around what should’ve been my mid-thigh. I resented the doctor for saving me.” She caught sight of a painting to her left and turned her head to get a better look.
Mr. Roberts followed her gaze. “That’s Oswalt Krel. Said to be an ancestor of mine.”
She furrowed her brow as she studied the painting.
“It’s a replica, of course. Dürer’s work is rarely seen in private hands.”
“His eyes,” She murmured. “They hint of worry or fear, too much for a single man to bear. I know those eyes.”
Mr. Roberts waited for her to continue, but after several minutes, he asked, “Where have you seen those eyes?”
Attention still focused on the painting, she said, “My dad. He didn’t share burdens with us. He had many health issues we never knew about until after-the-fact. Whenever we’d ask him why he didn’t tell us, he’d just say, ‘I didn’t want you to worry.’ As if that explained everything.” She dabbed her face with the tissue again. “I see worry differently. I need it to feel alive. It’s like worry reminds me that I shouldn’t take this day for granted because it could be my last. If I am blessed with more time, I don’t see the worry as being in vain… it’s more like insurance.”
“Have you explained that to your dad?”
“Yeah. Soon after, he told us about a tumor that needed to be biopsied. He admitted his fears. For the first time, my brother, two sisters and I shared the burden of worry with him.” She clenched her eyes shut and took a deep breath. “But all of our worries together couldn’t save him. He died before the biopsy could be completed.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Tears streaked down her cheeks. When Mr. Roberts offered a box of tissues, Alena plucked several from the opening. “I had my accident the night he died. I should’ve worried about myself, I guess. Since then, I always see Dad’s eyes in the moments after cancer won and his soul returned to God.” She blew her nose into the mass of tissues. “I saw them in the elk. I see them in that painting. Those eyes will forever be the line between what I was and what I am now.”
This is my response to the Speakeasy weekly writing prompt. The challenge is to write a piece in 750 words or less (mine is 667) (1) using “Until the day I die, I’ll never forget those glassy, unblinking eyes.” as the first line; AND (2) include some reference to the media prompt: a painting by Albrecht Dürer,
Well, I’ve written ‘weird’ for the last two weeks, so this time, I decided to go for emotional. (You know, just in case you think you know what to expect, I have to keep changing it up 🙂 ) This story is somewhat inspired by a conversation I had with my best friend on Saturday. Her dad may have cancer again and isn’t a candidate for operation because of age and other health issues. My prayers (and thoughts, obviously) are with her.
The challenge is open to anyone, so if you’re curious, click the badge below for complete guidelines!