I awoke in thick darkness, my heart pounding and head throbbing.
For a long moment, this panic and pain were all I knew, followed slowly by disorientation and dread. And grief, oh, yes. Crushing, overwhelming grief. Elizabeth.
A sudden, muffled sob escaped me then, and a chorus of aches and pains awakened in response. The headache pulsed harder, and my cracked ribs sent a stab of agony through my right side. Hot tears trickled down my temples as I silently took stock of my other injuries. My left wrist ached as I flexed my hand within the elastic bandage. My upper back was stiff and sore - whiplash, I thought. My tongue sought out the rough and sensitive edge of the tooth that was chipped when my head struck the steering wheel.
And deep within, that secret ache. Oh, Elizabeth.
My sense of place was returning - I was not in my hospital room after all. It was never truly dark there, even with the door closed. I was back in my own bedroom, my own home at the edge of town, in my own pillow-top king sized bed that stretched out around me, too empty.
There it was, the creeping guilt that tainted my pure, saturating sorrow. No, I thought fiercely. I will not let you trouble me, even today. I have no regrets, save one.
Elizabeth... Oh, my dear... I never meant for this to happen.
Today... there was something about today. It was tied to the darkness in which I awakened, and the sense of urgency that lingered like a half-remembered dream. My eyes snapped open as the memory came rushing back. I turned my head slowly, painfully, to the green glowing numerals of the digital clock on the nightstand to my left. "No," I sighed. "Not yet."
The alarm shrieked. Another tear trickled out beneath the lids as I squeezed my eyes shut. My injured back spasmed in protest when I reached toward the nightstand to silence the clock. Long minutes passed in that heavy stillness. I sat on the edge of the bed, trying to marshal every ounce of strength within me to stand and face what lay before me, until finally I heard the faint, mournful whistle of a freight train passing on the Union Pacific tracks west of town.
I opened my eyes to the grey light of a cloudy dawn. At the end, I was left with just this: Elizabeth dead, and myself out of time to mourn her.
* * * * *