Friday, 17 April 2015

Orange Sky: Part Thirty-Nine

[Parts 1-38 are here. Thank you for reading Xo]

When James gets back to Alexander’s room, it's still empty. He paces back and forth, unable to sit still. The pain in his shoulder worsens. It eases some of the tension in his stomach.

After what feels like hours, the door opens and the interns wheel Alexander inside. James flies to his side, getting in the way of the interns as they try to re-attach the wires and monitors to Alexander’s frail body.

“How is he?” he asks as Dr Williams enters the room. “Is he okay? Does he need a second surgery? Is he still leaking bone marrow? Is his…Is his brain…” 

He can’t bring himself to finish the question.

The interns finish hooking Alexander up to the monitors and to the ventilator. Dr Williams gives them a slight nod and they leave, closing the door behind them.

“Why don’t you take a seat,” Dr Williams suggests, eyeing James’ clothes. James shakes his head.

“Just tell me,” he pleads. “Tell me he’s okay.”

Dr Williams gives him a small smile. “He’s okay for now. His brain is still showing signs of activity.”

“Thank God,” James breathes, hanging his head down between his shoulders. “Thank God. I knew you’d be okay,” he whispers. “I knew it. It’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay.”

“He’s not in the clear yet,” Dr Williams says.

James looks up.

“His brain is active, yes, but obviously it’s showing less signs of activity than a normal, non-comatose brain would. This is good news, Mr Axton, it is, but…You have to understand that the longer he is in a coma, the more his brain activity will decrease.” He pauses. He still has pity in his eyes. “I’m not trying to scare you or take away your relief in this moment, but it is important that you understand. It is important that you prepare yourself, should the worst happen.”

James looks at Alexander. His skin is so pale that it almost looks translucent. “No,” he says softly. “I don’t need to prepare myself.”

I already know what I will do if the worst happens.

“Mr Axton…”

“Is his arm okay?” James interrupts. “Does he need a second surgery?”

Dr Williams sighs. “No. The first surgery was successful. There is no need for a second surgery at this stage.”

“Good,” James says, feeling some degree of relief. “That’s good.”

“Mr Axton, I really think you might benefit from talking to one of our grief counsellors. It is one hundred percent confidential, and it could help you come to terms with what is happening. I can have one of the nurses arrange an appointment for you. I really think it would be beneficial.”

James doesn’t look at him. “Is there anything else I need to know about Alexander’s progress?”

Dr Williams takes a moment to answer. James can feel his eyes on him.

“No,” he says finally. “He is stable for now.”

“Thank you, Dr Williams,” James says.

Dr Williams can read between the lines.


“Okay, Mr Axton,” Dr Williams says, picking up Alexander’s chart and writing a few things down. “Okay. But should you change your mind, you need only ask.”

James doesn’t answer. Dr Williams finishes updating Alexander’s chart and leaves the room, closing the door behind him. James crumbles into a chair beside Alexander and rests his head on Alexander’s chest.

“You did so well, buddy,” he whispers. “You did so well. Now all you need to do is wake up. I know you can do it. I know you can.” He raises his head and takes Alexander’s hand. “Squeeze my hand, buddy. Tell me you can hear me. Tell me you’re still here. Squeeze my hand.”

James stares at their hands, waiting.




He is still sitting there when Dr Anderson comes in to check his shoulder and subsequently re-do his stitches, one hour later.

“Michael’s been asking about you.”

James looks down at his hand. “How’s he doing?”

Elizabeth sighs. “He’s okay. He’s eager to start physical therapy. I keep trying to tell him that he can’t possibly think he could be ready for physical therapy in just four days.” She laughs, but it sounds strained.

James waits for it.

“He wants to know why you don’t come to see him.”

“I do come to see him,” James says quickly. “I see him every day.”

“He wants to know why you don’t come to see him while he’s awake,” Elizabeth clarifies. “I told him you do come when he’s asleep.”

James shifts in his chair. He looks at Alexander. In the last three days, there’s been no change. No decline. But no improvement.

“You can tell him I’ll come by today,” James says, watching Alexander breathe.

Or rather, watching the ventilator breathe for him.

“When he’s awake?”

James doesn’t answer.

Elizabeth sighs again. “Sweetheart, you know he doesn’t blame you. Nobody blames you because it’s not your fault.”

“I blame me,” James says roughly. “And that is enough.”

Elizabeth puts her hand on his arm. He wants to pull away, but he knows she would take it as a gesture against her, rather than how he means it.

I don’t deserve to be comforted.

“James,” she says gently. “This is not your fault. Look at me. Look at me.”

He does.

“This is not your fault. Sometimes bad things happen. That’s life. We can either let them ruin our lives, or we can learn from them and move on. But this, what you’re doing, blaming yourself and shutting yourself away from the world…It isn’t healthy, sweetheart. It isn’t right. You’ve always tried to carry everything on your own, but you don’t have to do that. I’m here. Michael is here. We want to help you. Let us in. Let us know what is going on inside that head of yours. Let us share the weight of your burdens.”

James drops his gaze, terrified that she will see what he is thinking.

Are you going to help me if Alexander…

He can’t even finish the thought.

“I don’t see how this could be anything but my fault,” he says instead. “You and Michael, you act like I’m the best thing that ever happened to Alexander while ignoring all the ways I’ve hurt him. His heart has stopped three times, Mom. Three. He has…He has died…” He has to stop. He can’t say it. “His heart has stopped three times. You can’t sit here and tell me that wasn’t my fault.”

“You can’t sit here and tell me it is,” Elizabeth counters. “You’re acting like you deliberately set out to hurt him, to hurt Michael, but you can’t think like that, James. You can’t blame yourself for things you had no control over.”

“I wrote that screenplay. I didn’t listen to the threats. I got Michael shot. I listened to that fucking Dr Tate even though we were happy. Even though we were getting better. I took us to the snow to try to fix what Dr Tate broke. I was even the one who told Alexander to go wait for me under the tree across a frozen lake! And those are just some of the things I’ve done! Those are just some of the ways I’ve hurt him!”

He pulls his arm away from her.

“Sweetheart…” Elizabeth starts. “James, please…”

“This is my fault, Mom,” he says roughly. “And nothing you or anyone can say will ever convince me otherwise, so please stop. Please…Just stop.”

Elizabeth starts to say something, but she stops. The sound of the gentle beeps of Alexander’s heart rate monitor fills the room, drowning out James’ ragged breathing. It is over ten minutes before Elizabeth speaks again.

“Alright,” she says softly. “Okay, James. This is not your fault, and I will never accept your belief that it is. But we don’t have to talk about it right now. Not until you’re ready.”

“Thank you,” James says quietly. It’s better than nothing.

Elizabeth puts her hand on his arm again. He doesn’t pull away.

“You’re an amazing brother and an incredible father,” she says, trying to meet his gaze. “I am so proud of you.” After a moment she lets go of him and stands up. “I have to go to the store to get a few things for Michael.” She picks up her handbag. “Is there anything you need?”

James shakes his head.

“Okay.” She walks over to Alexander and smooths out his blankets. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Maybe consider what I said about going to see Michael while he’s awake. He’s worried about you and he’s worried about Alexander. I’ve told him everything we know, but I’m sure he’d like to hear it from you.”

James nods, but he doesn’t mean it. Elizabeth sighs and leaves the room, leaving him alone with his thoughts.