into the room, and first noticed a few things: the constant beep of the heart monitor, the steady breathing and rise and fall
of the man’s chest under the thin sheet. It was funny how you could know someone for years without having ever looked
at them. That is to say, really looked at them, not just having them in your sight as you talk and laugh and argue. He pulled
a chair over next to the bed and sat down, head resting on heels of hands resting on elbows resting on rock-hard mattress.
It was an odd face, honestly, when you
looked at it. Sharp cheek bones under deep-set eyes. Hollow cheeks. Thin, pointed nose. Pronounced hollow bisecting the upper
lip. Narrow jaw giving way to a long, arched, and narrow neck. Everything about it was long and hollow and thin, all sharp
planes and angles, cut by crow’s feet and creases. He didn’t remember those being there and idly wondered when
they had showed up, creeping in when he wasn’t watching. He was tempted to reach a finger over and smooth them out,
but was stopped by the knowledge that such an action would be utterly futile.
sat still for a moment, warring between moving forward and retreating. The logical part of his mind knew that had no right
to touch his friend while said friend was unconscious, particularly since he was rarely allowed to when he was awake, but
his morbid curiosity pushed him on, telling him that all would be forgiven eventually. He reached forward slowly and gently
brushed the white cotton aside. His friend shivered almost imperceptibly, covered only by a too-small gown half bunched under
his tall frame, sharp angles and planes half-threatening to cut right through it. Gentle fingers traced over prominent collar
bone, across thin chest, and down ribs, one, two, three—he could count them as he went, round hills and shallow valleys.
The last time he’d seen his friend without a shirt was before the infarction, when he’d been still been an active
athlete and they’d often gone running together in the morning before work. His friend had not had a single scrap of
fat on his body then, either, but a layer of sinewy muscle insured that he never looked naked. He looked naked now, like an
unfinished building, breeze blowing through the scaffolding and stapled-down plastic tarp flapping at the edges in its wake.
The soft touch left the rolling hills and
shifted more cotton aside to travel down into the subtly concave plain of the belly, palm spreading out over the (too much)
warmth, feeling the slow rhythm of the diaphragm moving under the only remotely soft part of the body. He suddenly shifted
slightly in his sleep, disrupting the steady ebb and flow of breath for a second, causing Wilson
to freeze like a rabbit and hold his breath. He warred again between staying and retreating, but just before he could make
his hand move, his friend settled again, breathing once more evening out. The fingers continued their path, moving over the
axe-blade hipbone into the hollow above the thigh. Here they retreated to sit up in the air, waiting for further instruction
and leaving the journey to the scrutiny of the eyes for the time being. One thigh was still heavily muscled, though less so
than he remembered, muscle arching upward in a long gentle curve down to the knee. The other was flat, even perhaps dipping
slightly, half the circumference. Wilson froze, hand still
poised in the air, lips parting to let a puff of air be sucked in sharply.
He suddenly jerked forward, as though overtaken
by a spasm, grabbing the cotton sheet and tossing it back over his friend. He stood up and walked to the corner of the room,
staring out of the window at the gray pavement below, arms wrapped around himself. He suddenly felt like a child caught stealing.
He glanced over at his shoulder at the prone, sleeping man on the hospital bed and oblivious to the world. He turned back
to the window, closing his eyes shut against the tears that threatened to fall.
was glad his friend was asleep, he’d never speak to him again after this display of maudlin pity, and Wilson cursed himself for indulging in it. It would be a while before he woke up, though,
if he ever woke up at all. Wilson crossed the room and again
sat down next to him leaning over to wrap an arm about the sharp shoulders and dampen the thin cotton with tears.