Should I Fall Behind

by Verlaine

 

We said we'd walk together baby come what may

That come the twilight should we lose our way

If as we're walkin’ a hand should slip free

I'll wait for you

And should I fall behind

Wait for me

 

I’m not sure he’s going to make it.

 

They let me in five minutes out of every hour. Sometimes, if the right nurse is on shift, I can sneak it up as long as ten before somebody comes to throw me out. On other shifts, they actually enforce the “only family” rule, and then I just sit out there and wait.  I’ve gotten pretty good at it. All those years on stakeouts are finally paying off now. I let myself slip into a half trance and keep one eye on the second hand of the clock and count, and wait until it’s over, and eventually the shift changes and I can go back to him.

 

The “only family” rule might make sense if there were any family here to take turns keeping watch over him  But as far as Aunt Rose and all the rest of them are concerned, he died the day they found out about me. I’ve tried to tell them this is real, this is it, that his heart’s already stopped once, that if they want to see him it has to be now, but by now they just hang up the phone as soon as they recognize my voice. 

 

We can’t track Nicky down at all. The last address he left is a vacant lot, and the phone number’s a fake.

 

If I had anything left, his mother would break my heart. At first she was like the others—I only have one son now, goodbye—but when I finally managed to get through to her how bad it really was, she changed her mind. Now she’s trying to get out, but she’s having trouble getting a flight, and I’m not sure—

 

I’m not sure she’ll be here in time.

 

We swore we'd travel darlin' side by side

We'd help each other stay in stride

But each lover's steps fall so differently

But I'll wait for you

And if I should fall behind

Wait for me

 

Tonight looks like it will be good—I’m already two minutes over the five, and nobody’s come in yet. I’m holding his cool fingers lightly; the memory of how warm those fingers used to feel on my skin is enough to rip out my guts, but I cling to it just as I cling to his hand. The hand is chilled, but the pulse is steady. Every minute, every heartbeat, is a victory. A few more precious seconds for his body to heal and get stronger to deal with the next setback.

 

And there will be more setbacks, I’ve got no illusions on that score. They won’t tell me anything officially—the “only family” rule again—but I’ve gotten very good at interpreting conversations between medical professionals in the last little while. The bottom line is pretty clear: If he doesn’t go into cardiac arrest again, and if no serious infection sets in (this much tissue damage with no infection at all is apparently not in the cards) and if no blood clots develop and cause a stroke, he’s got a chance. How much of a chance, nobody’s willing to spell out for me. What’s already definite is that a complete physical recovery is out of the question. The only hopeful news is he’s not paralyzed; at least none of the bullets got close enough to his spine.

 

What everybody thinks they’ve been hiding from me—on the assumption I’m so exhausted and worried I can’t concentrate long enough to assimilate what they’re saying—is that they’re pretty sure he’s suffered brain damage. By the time they got him resuscitated, he hadn’t been breathing for minutes. Nobody knows—or at least will say—exactly how long it was, and nobody seems to have any real idea how long is too long—but I’m trying, as best I can, to prepare for the worst. 

 

No more crazy word play. No more outrageous jokes. No more—

 

Prepare for the worst? Dear God.

 

Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true

But you and I know what this world can do

So let's make our steps clear so the other may see

And I'll wait for you

If I should fall behind

Wait for me

 

I’ll have to look after him— Huh. Have to. As if I’d let anybody else. His mother doesn’t have the money, and he’d choke before he’d let me take a penny from Nicky. Not that I have any pride left—I’d take it from Gunther himself if it would give him one more day, one more hour. My father always said I’d live to regret the day I walked away from what the family had to offer me, but I never expected his words to be so prophetic. 

 

There’ll be disability payments, I suppose, maybe insurance, though I haven’t checked yet. But the money’s going to be damn tight, no matter what. I’ll have to give up my apartment—his too. We’ll need a place on a ground floor, with no stairs, so there’s wheelchair access. Our cars will have to go: I’ll need to get something we can get him in and out of as easily as possible. Bathroom—I’ll need to do some reading on how to fix up a bathroom for someone in a wheelchair. And I’ll have to learn about physiotherapy.

 

I’ve been using my exhaustion as an excuse to put off thinking about things like that. But fairly soon, I won’t have a choice, because I won’t be able to put off deciding if I’m going to stay on the force. We’ll need the money, but I can’t work homicide and look after him, not with those kinds of hours. And I cannot afford to get hurt now. I can’t risk leaving him alone and helpless.

 

I’m surprised the captain hasn’t been pushing me on that decision already. Mind you, in the shape I’m in, I couldn’t stop a ten-year old from stealing a candy bar, so maybe he figures there’s no real point in trying to put me back to work. I’m also a bit surprised that Dobey is still letting me keep my gun. I’m not sure if it’s because he doesn’t want to put ideas into my head by asking for it, or because he knows full well I won’t need a gun to follow where I’ll have to go, if worst comes to worst. That decision, at least, has been easy to make. I told Dobey I already had a partner. Well, it works both ways. He still has one too, and I won’t let him go by himself into whatever he’ll have to face . . . afterwards.

 

Now there's a beautiful river in the valley ahead

There 'neath the oak's bough soon we will be wed

Should we lose each other in the shadow of the evening trees

I'll wait for you

And should I fall behind

Wait for me

 

There’s a touch on my shoulder, and I get up without looking around. They’ve trained me well: if I don’t make a fuss about leaving, there’s a better chance they won’t give me a hassle about coming back. I take just one more second to squeeze his fingers, to touch his hair, to pray for him to open his eyes, and then I follow the nurse out into the corridor.

 

Huggy’s waiting; I’ve only recently come to realize how often he just happens to be there. He gives me today’s variation on what he says every day: “C’mon, bro. Let’s get you cleaned up a little, get some food in you. You look like this when he wakes up, you’ll scare hell outta him.” I’m always so grateful that Huggy never says “if”, always “when”. Still, I pull back, and he gives me the next line: “You got fifty minutes. They ain’t lettin’ you back in before. Might as well use it.” 

 

I take one final look through the glass, to last me until I come back, and let Huggy steer me towards the elevator.

 

Darlin' I'll wait for you

Should I fall behind

Wait for me

 

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