I was in our garden. There was sun warming my skin, sending pleasant shivers down my spine. Birds were singing merrily. William was sitting with me, holding my hand. We were discussing the arrival of the baby. I could see love and excitement in his eyes. Had it all been a dream? Pain seared my consciousness. The baby! Only it was not labor pains. I looked down and instead of William’s hand there was a skinless boney set of fingers with exposed tendons gripping mine, so tight that the pain was unbearable. I tried to pull it away, but could not. I looked up. Instead of William, there sat a disintegrating cadaver. She smiled at me, gums exposed, gaping holes where teeth should have been. I could not move. A weight was lying heavy across my chest and I felt that the ground was suddenly falling away beneath me.
“Mrs. Aspern?” A hand shook my left shoulder. My heart was racing, but it was black all around me.
I cracked an eye open and peered out. “Mrs. Aspern!” A sister was smiling down at me, a benevolent ghost barely visible in the dim light from behind her white mantle. I knew her but from where?
I struggled to sit up, but the pain in my right hand as I tried to push up caused me to give up the effort immediately. I brought the hand up a bit but it was wrapped in bulky bandages, only fingertips were visible peeking out from the end. I still had my hand!
Panic struck me.
I tried to speak but it came out as only a mumble. My mouth was dry and all of the parts were glued together. The sister placed two extra pillows behind my shoulders then held a glass of water to my lips. A few sips loosened up my tongue and I tried again.
“What day is it?” I recognized that I was in a room.
My brain was cloudy, moving slowly as if trying to tread water in a pool of dark molasses. The sliver of light from the tiny window spread long across my lap, trapping particles of dust in its path. It was late afternoon. I could barely make out a picture of the Virgin and the infant Jesus hanging over the washbasin. A convent?
“Sunday.” She shrugged as she placed a cool, damp cloth across my forehead, brushing back wisps of hair.
I was given a few sips of broth but the effort was almost too much. I closed my eyes and drifted away again.
This time I felt the hand gripping mine again only it was my left hand and not my right. I could feel the rain on my face. Sadness filled my heart, a deep mourning, but I did not know precisely why. Then a clap of thunder. There was no pain. Was I awake? I opened my eyes to a flash of lightening and saw a male shape disappear through the doorway.
Wait! Don’t leave me…
My mind was playing tricks on me again. I registered this as my eyes shut once more, this time I welcomed the darkness and I begged God to allow me to leave this place forever. I wanted to die.