She plucked a light blue sundress from a hanger in a closet that housed only two other dresses, darker ones, and a man’s XL jersey. Henry was still, eager to get back to work after another long lunch, but unable to move, so he watched her.
Lola—or something like that—wore her hair short and curly. She had loose, blonde curls that framed her face in a beautifully old fashioned way. He wouldn’t mind watching her all day, he thought, until a glow, her strange brilliance, began to overwhelm his eyes. He heard her yell something but he couldn’t make out what. She was rushing toward him, but as she neared, she became too bright, too much. He closed his eyes, allowed the comfort of darkness to embrace him.
When Henry came to his eyelids stuck a little so that he had to work to open them. He had been moved. The light in the room was greenish, fluorescent—the flat hue of a room with no windows. The girl was here, still in her pale blue sundress, and his first thought upon waking was to ask her name. But, as he searched for the words, as he took her in: her rough skin, her young but tired eyes, all he could think was how badly she appeared to need Vitamin K. He tried to say, “Go outside. Let the sun shine on you.” It was the same thing he told his grandchildren, whose misguided parents rationed the sun to their fair-skinned children as though it were junk food. But, when the words came out, they were garbled. The girl went out of focus again. He could hear her leave the room, muttering some sort of apology on the way.
Henry’s eyes opened easily and settled on his wife. Kristen’s curls were gray and tight. Her skin pink, and though wrinkled, still dewy and youthful around the cheeks. “You’re coming back to me,” she sang. “I can’t even imagine what I’d do without you.”
It had been a big one, the doctor said, the sort of stroke that erupts in the brain like a volcano. Henry would recover, so long as he took proper care of himself, so long as he took things slow.
A year passed. There was only a slight drooping, and eventually, there was a shorter gap between Henry’s moments and the rest of the world’s. Husband and wife sat together in a small booth at IHOP, holding hands, agreeing to “go wild” and split the large order of pancakes with blueberry topping, when the breaking point returned.
She asked for their order. A pale blonde curl hung over her left eye. Henry took her in, her glow in a well-lit room. She was healthier now. There was evidence of sun on her cheeks, and Henry felt glad. The way she looked back at him, however, made the room seem suddenly too bright, too much. He squeezed Kristen’s small, soft hand.
“Darling, you’re hurting me,” Kristen said, pulling away.
“I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.” He wondered if the girl would reveal him. He could see her disgust; he knew she remembered him. How could she forget? He was probably the one who scared her straight. He had probably traumatized her. Lola—was that even her name?—took a long breath, rested a hand on her bony hip, and repeated, “May I take your order? Sir?”