Every morning, after the night nurse leaves and before the day nurse arrives, I watch as the old man opens the front door and steps out. He leaves the door open so she can sit there in her wheelchair and watch him as his stooped form shuffles to the ancient blue car parked in the driveway. He pulls a soft cloth out of his coat pocket and rubs it across the surface of the car in circles. His movements are stiff and ragged as the cold air attacks, ruthlessly seizing muscles and cruelly pinching inflamed joints.
He never stays long. He just stares at the car and wipes away the dust as he dreams of the past. She watches him as he reflects on the freedom he felt behind the wheel of that car for so many years. All of the family trips and the quiet drives they used to take. He remembers when he first saw the powder blue car and how perfectly they matched her eyes. And just as he knew he couldn't live without her, he knew he had to get that car. He has never regretted either decision.
When his body can no longer take the strain, he shuffles back into the house, more slowly than he left. She waits at the door for him, watching him as she does every day. He wheels her chair into the family room next to his recliner and heads to the kitchen to start her tea and pour himself a cup of coffee. As he putters around getting things ready, she turns her head to watch him. The tea kettle whistles, he prepares her tea, freshens his coffee and makes his way shakily back to the family room and to her side. He sets the cups down on the little round table between them and lowers himself to his chair, with a small groan and a sigh.
He wraps her trembling hand in his gnarled one and looks at her. She is already watching him, as he knew she would be. Since the stroke last year, she can no longer speak but her eyes have always revealed her thoughts. It was what drew him to her when they had first met - those beautiful, expressive eyes.
"I love you with everything that I am. Promise me. Please promise me that you won't leave unless I can go with you."
I watch as a single identical tear drops from each of them onto their entwined hands. The two drops blending together before they travel the road map of lines embedded onto their tissue paper skin. I watch this every morning before the day nurse arrives.
She watches him as he leans in and leaves a lingering kiss against her pale cheek. This is when she finally looks away, eyes downcast, as a slight blush blooms under her skin. Now, he watches her. It is a brief moment and then her eyes return to watch him again and she's smiling.
I don't know what the rest of their day or night consists of but this ritual has remained unchanged for almost a year now. I have been coming here every morning since the very first day, about six weeks after the stroke. Every day I watch them together. Every day since that very first one when I was supposed to take her and...couldn't. I sigh knowing I have failed again and prepare to leave them. Maybe tomorrow will be different, maybe not.
Until then, I will keep watching and waiting.