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Short story “Theresa” by Erwin Cabucos – Part 2

TheresaTheresa is panting and she allows her breathing to calm before she gets up for a day of filling his syringe of medications, enticing him to take his tablets, reading to him aloud, feeding him, greeting him even though he doesn’t respond, looking after him all day to make sure he’s safe. She sighs and brings the duvet down to her waist, letting the cool air in, bathing her body with the temperature outside her sheets.

It’s a vocation, she declares to herself as she rises from the bed. A kookaburra persists to cling on a tree outside her window. Theresa pinches the crucifix at the end of the rosary beads that hangs on her wall. She closes her eyes. “Oh God, I’m offering you this day. Give me strength,” she whispers. “In sickness and in health.” She recalls the day when they got married in St Mary’s in Warwick. She breathes in and peeps through the door left ajar next to hers.

“Good morning, sweetheart, how are you today?” It’s her usual morning greeting, the initial sound pronounced with gusto that mellows towards the end. She draws the curtain of his window. “How was your sleep, my love?” She doesn’t modify each day’s greeting as the doctor advised her to keep things familiar – so Wayne will recognise the normality, to ameliorate his anxiety. It doesn’t make sense to her, but somehow, she feels, this time, it doesn’t help to contradict. If only she had known how to perform CPR when Wayne fell on her as they made love that night, he would not have had severe brain damage now. The minutes it took for the ambulance to arrive were critical, but there’s no point blaming herself now. The rehabilitation therapy and love are now more important than anything, and, if they are lucky, the doctor believes, Wayne will regain fifty percent of what he had.

She climbs on his bed and plants her feet to either side of her husband. Taking his wrists, she breathes in deeply and hauls him to a sitting position, slipping two pillows between him and the head of the bed. Saliva runs down his neck and his bulging stomach escapes the elastic of his pyjamas. His expressionless face is fixed to the light that floods in from the window. Her presence seems to calm him and make him feel secure as she paces back and forth across the room, wiping his face and taking out fresh clothes from the cupboard, testing the cold and the hot water in the shower, and placing toothpaste on his electric toothbrush. But she is resolved that the best thing she could possibly do to help improve her husband’s condition is to keep eye contact between her and him. She hopes eye contact will re-activate Wayne’s reflexes and movement as well as re-ignite her waning feelings for him that she’s not just a carer.

Eight years was great, but longer would have been better. Their plan to have children did not eventuate as they were always trying to keep on top of their financial situation despite the onslaught of the drought, the rising cost of farm inputs and the complexities of marketing. And now, of course, his illness has put an end to hopes of children.

She sits next to him and have him wrap his hands around her and she starts to stand up to walk him to the shower. The weight that Wayne has gained has almost made them tip. She bites her lips and thinks that she shouldn’t give up. “Alright, mate,” she breathes in. “Let’s try one more time. One, two three,” she stands up, wanting to believe that her help by physical means is more helpful for his recovery than that of the machine, but the heaviness drags her down. She shakes her head, coming to terms with the reality that he is not ready for this yet and she can’t simply do it. She puts him back on the bed and rests her hands on her waist. Her eyes well with tears. It’s hard, and I can easily clamp his neck with my fingers and push my thumbs into his throat until he can no longer breathe, and his eyes will go wide and he’ll shake to his death, and all these things will be over, and all these bed sores, the suffocating urine smell of his room, the lifeless look, will come down to nothing. When one is dead, one is nothing. But what am I if I abandon him? What am I if I stop caring for him?

She wipes her tears and puts Wayne on the lifter, and she moves him to the bathroom. As Wayne sits on the commode chair, motionless under the pouring water, makes her realise how dependent he is on her, the man she married eight years ago is now glued to her like a turtle shell to its body.

Suddenly, he moves. His face looks away from the water. She covers her gaping mouth and pinches her chin as she lowers herself and breaks into heaving sobs. “You can move your face! You can now move your fucking face, Wayne.” She wipes his face and brings him closer to hers. “You used to sit there like a stunned mullet, but now, you can swivel your fucking neck. That’s incredible, Darling. You’re amazing!” She embraces him and clings to him before bursting out in a mix of laughter and tears. “You’re getting better, sweetheart.”

When he is dressed, Theresa wheels Wayne’s to their living room. The Radio National country living program blasts on. The minister for agriculture is predicting steady sales, “If not, an increase in demand for fresh produce due to lockdowns from corona virus. People should still eat and perhaps shop more as they cook more at home. Many are inclined to eat fresh produce for healthier options, aiming to increase their immunity from eating fresh produce.”

Theresa notices Wayne’s eyes blink as he sits in the wheelchair, staring at the tractor in the fields. His hand is flexing, as if he wants to lift it. “You’re really getting better, sweetheart,” she mutters. “Thank God.”

Theresa gets it: he probably wants to summon Greg to the house. But her dismay at Wayne’s lawyer for not thinking of her first to manage the farm still lingers in her mind. She would have wanted to do it and she is confident she could have done it successfully. She could at least have been asked, out of respect.

She walks around, putting away the magazines and mugs left on the coffee table, drawing more curtains to let in more light. Really, she is allowing her thoughts and feelings to settle. She sighs. Is it because she is a woman and she is seen as weak and unable to run a farm? She looks down the hill to the windmill, spinning freely in the wind. She places her hands on her hips, walks back to Wayne and sees him now slightly leaning towards her. Anyway, she thinks, showing care and concern for her husband in his most challenging time is more noble and worthwhile than managing a farm. Health is wealth, she says to herself.

She decides the quickest way to summon Greg is via her mobile phone. She shows Wayne the text she’s sent, and his face contorts to a smile. “You can now smile, too! Bloody hell!” she yells. Theresa kisses him on the lips. “You’re right, sweetheart. I know what you want.” His fingers wriggle and Theresa’s eyes go wide. “Wow, you are amazing! What happened to you today?”

He tries to reach for her hand, and she places her palm on his. Struggling, he lifts their hands towards the direction of his heart. His face contorts again and his eyes well up.

She hugs him and closes her eyes.

“Wait,” Greg booms from the steps. “Both arrested for disobeying the social distancing rules.”

She smiles: “Why do you water in the morning, and when it’s windy?”

“Because the source locks down from midday.” He opens his palms in the air.  “Coronavirus timetable.” “Not that windy, is it?” He gives a forced smile. Greg puts his Akubra hat on the coffee table. Looking at Wayne, he says: “How are ya, mate?”

Wayne looks at Greg sternly.