For a Moment

S.E. Street

I had already seen many distant deaths,
the inexplicable: tiny babies and small children
and the inevitable: the aged and world weary
but this boy, dying of a brain tumor
at eighteen, was a year younger than me.

From the nurses’ desk, I had watched his mother gather herself outside his door,
breathing deeply,
rolling her shoulders back,
fabricating a smile
before she entered to hold her handsome, long-limbed son,
less than a year ago: Captain of Rowing, Captain of Rugby.

It was the end of my shift; I was heading for the stairs,
for Saturday night, car keys in my hand
but as I passed his door she leaned out and asked if I could stay with him
for a moment
while she moved her car.

He was asleep, so I stood by the window,
a grey, bare-treed, winter afternoon.
The sounds of a rugby game on the hospital oval,
a cheering crowd,
the long final whistle
assailed the room.
The world was playing on
and I turned to see if the barbs of noise had found their mark.

He was awake, watching me.
Rallying a deep breath, he whispered ‘Come here.
I perched on the side of the bed.
Let down your hair.
At that moment, my thoughts were of a passing matron
but I let my hair fall in a curtain across his chest.
He slipped his fingers up and held them there,
drifting back to sleep.

I heard the door open and close behind me.
His mother quietly crying.

last year