Monday, 13 April 2015

Orange Sky: Part Thirty-Six

[It never ends. Parts 1-35 are here. Thanks for reading and I'm sorry to everyone who I've made cry.

Spoiler alert: I'm not sorry.]

A few hours later, there’s a quiet knock on the door. James doesn’t move from his place in the wheelchair. He eyes stay trained on Alexander’s chest, watching it rise and fall with every pump of the machine breathing for him.

The door opens. “Mr Axton?” Violet’s voice echoes in the room. “You mother asked if she can come in.”

James doesn’t turn around. “Of course.” His voice is rough from hours of silence. Violet opens the door wider and Elizabeth comes inside. She stops when she sees Alexander.

“Oh God,” she whispers, covering her mouth with her hand. “Oh my God.”

James wants to collapse into her arms. “Mom.”

She comes over and hugs him where he sits. She seems to know that he doesn’t have the strength to stand.

“Oh, sweetheart,” she says, letting him go. “I am so sorry.”

“Did they tell you?” he asks hoarsely. He prays that they did. He can’t bring himself to say the words out loud. Elizabeth nods and takes a few tentative steps towards Alexander. She runs her fingers over his unbroken arm.

“They did,” she whispers. “I spoke to Dr Williams. He told me.”

James feels something like relief. He watches her look over Alexander. Taking in all the tubes and wires. All the machinery keeping his body functioning. All the machinery keeping him alive.

“How’s Michael?” James asks after a few moments. Elizabeth comes back and sits in a chair beside him.

“He hasn’t woken up yet.” She reaches for a box of tissues. James hands it to her. “I’m so scared of what’s going to happen when he…When he…” She sobs into a tissue.

James watches the machine monitoring Alexander’s heart. He listens to the beeps, counting the beats.

“He’ll be okay,” he says numbly.




“He’ll make it through.”




Elizabeth sniffs. “I’m scared that…” She shakes her head as if to dispel the thought.

James turns to her, but continues to count the beeps. “Did you know he was off Vicodin?”





James turns back to Alexander. It hurts to turn away from him even for a few seconds. He needs to keep his eyes on him. He needs to know he’s still there.

“Yeah. He told me a few days ago.”

Was it really only a few days ago?

“Why?” Elizabeth asks. “I don’t understand. Wasn’t he in pain?”




“He didn’t trust himself with them. He was scared he would relapse, so he stopped taking them. That’s how I know he will get through this. Because he’s already proven that he is so much stronger than we ever gave him credit for.”




“You both are,” Elizabeth says, taking his hand. “Both my boys are strong.”

“I’m not,” James says before he can stop himself. He bites his tongue.

Elizabeth turns to him. “Yes you are. Look at how much you’ve overcome. Look at how strong you’ve been for Alexander.”

James laughs bitterly. “Yeah. I’ve been real strong. Falling apart at every turn, hurting him more and more with every decision I make…I’ve been really fucking strong.” He cringes. “Sorry.” He knows she doesn’t like it when he swears.

“Hurting him?” Elizabeth says, ignoring the swearing. “You think you’ve been hurting him?”

James stares at Alexander. At his black eye, at his broken arm that leaked bone marrow into his body, at his chest containing a pair of broken lungs and an even more broken heart. At his head containing a brain filled with memories no child should ever have. A brain which may never wake up.

The thought feels like being stabbed in the chest.


“I know I have been.” He swallows. “I don’t want to talk about this now,” he says, shaking his head. “I can’t think about it now. I can’t.”

“You haven’t been hurting him.” Elizabeth squeezes his hand. “You can’t possibly think that.”

“Mom,” James says. “Please. I can’t hear this now. I’ve already heard it from Michael. I can’t hear how I’ve been a positive force in Alexander’s life while he’s lying here with a fucking machine breathing for him!” He takes a jagged breath in, composing himself. “Sorry,” he says again. “I’m sorry.”

Elizabeth squeezes his hand again and doesn’t say anything else.



James blinks.

“Thirty-six,” he whispers, looking at the machine monitoring Alexander’s heartbeats. “Thirty-six.”

A flat line runs across the screen.

It takes James a moment to realise that the high-pitched ringing he can hear is not only in his own ears. The door opens and several people rush in, knocking James and Elizabeth out of the way.

“He’s crashing!”

“Get the crash cart!”

“Charge to two hundred!”

“What’s going on?!” James shouts, leaping up. “What’s happening?? Alexander! ALEXANDER!!”

Violet rips the sheets off Alexander and cuts open his gown.


The defibrillator paddles are placed on his chest. His torso jerks up and falls back on the bed. Everyone looks at the heart monitor.

It’s still flat lining.

“Charge to two fifty!”

“ALEXANDER!!” James screams, trying to push his way over to him. “ALEXANDER!!”

“Get them out of here!”


Alexander’s body jerks again. An intern steps into James line of sight and tries to usher him out.

“Come on, sir,” he says, trying to make James leave. “You need to leave.”

James shoves him out of the way. “ALEXANDER!!” he screams hysterically. “ALEXANDER!!”

“Charge to two seventy-five!”

“I said get him out of here!”


Alexander’s body jerks for a third time. For a split second, silence hangs in the air.

And then…




James grips Elizabeth for support. He feels like he’s going to collapse.

“He’s back,” the woman with the paddles says, putting them back on the crash cart. James recognises her as one of the interns from the helipad. She looks over at the monitor. “O2 sats at eighty-six percent. Increase the oxygen. Get him up to at least ninety-eight. And page Dr Williams. He’ll want to come down.”

She uses her stethoscope to listen to Alexander’s chest. Her lips are pressed into a thin line. She puts the stethoscope back around her neck and picks up his chart, writing something down. After a moment she looks up at James. “He’s okay,” she says, putting the chart back at the foot of Alexander’s bed. “Dr Williams will be down shortly. He’ll talk you through everything.”

James hardly hears her. He takes a couple of unsteady steps towards Alexander.


He’s not sure if he said his name out loud. He takes a few more steps. He feels a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“He’s okay, sweetheart.” She’s crying. “He’s okay.”

James reaches his bedside. Violet has pulled the blankets back up around his chin. The heart monitor continues to beep.

“Dr Williams,” the intern says as he enters the room.

“What happened?”

James can hear them whispering behind him, but he doesn’t try to listen. He is afraid to hear what they are saying.

I would trade places with you if I could, he thinks, running a trembling finger over Alexander’s cool cheek. I would trade my life for yours without a second thought.

I would die for you.

And I will die without you.

He registers that Dr Williams is talking to him, probably explaining what happened. He tries to concentrate, but he can’t. Only a few words make it past the fog in his head.

"…Cardiac arrest…Fat tissue…Unlikely.”

James’ head snaps up. “Unlikely? What’s unlikely?”

Dr Williams looks over at Elizabeth and clears his throat. “I said,” he says slowly, “that at this point, it’s looking unlikely that he’ll be able to breathe on his own any time soon. His oxygen levels keep dropping despite being hooked up to the respirator.”

“So increase the levels on the machine.”

“We have, and we are continuing to do so,” Dr Williams says. “But…It may be time to start thinking about what you want to do.”

James’ heart stops beating.

“Excuse me?” His voice doesn’t sound like his own.

Dr Williams looks at Alexander. “Many families choose not to keep their loved ones on life support after it becomes apparent that they are unlikely to wake up.”

“Oh God,” Elizabeth whispers.

James struggles to make sense of what Dr Williams is saying.

“So it might be best to start thinking about what you want to do,” he continues. “In case…In case…”

James’ legs buckle under him. He fights to remain upright.

“That is not an option,” he whispers through clenched teeth. His voice wavers. “He is going to wake up. He is. He has to. He will. He has to. He will. He—” He takes a sharp breath in. “We are not discussing this,” he says harshly. “That is not a possibility.”

Dr Williams looks up at him. “It’s not something you have to decide right now,” he says gently. “We’re not there yet. But…I’m just saying you need to prepare yourself.”

James stares at him. He wants to sock him in the jaw for even suggesting it. He wants to leap over Alexander’s bed and throttle him until he admits that he is wrong. That it is not a possibility. That it will never be a possibility.

He wants to cry.

He wants to die.

He wants to trade his life for Alexander’s or die with him.

Dr Williams checks all the monitors and turns to leave. He pauses at the door.

“There are grief counsellors available if you wish to speak to someone,” he says quietly. “Just tell one of the nurses and they will make you an appointment.” He gives James a sad smile. He lingers in the doorway, giving James the opportunity to ask any questions he may have. When James turns away, he leaves.

“Oh my God,” Elizabeth says again. Her voice is muffled like she is covering her mouth. “Oh my God.”

James returns his focus to Alexander. His face is pale, making the bruise around his eye look even worse. James hesitantly takes his hand and brings their joined hands to his lips, mumbling against them.

“Please God,” he whispers. Begging. Pleading. “I can’t live without him. I can’t do this without him. Don’t take him from me. Don’t take him.”

He doesn’t say the rest of his prayer out loud for Elizabeth’s sake. He knows it would hurt her.

Or, if you have to take someone, either take me or take us both.

Because if you don’t…

If you take him and you don’t take me…

I’ll do it for you.