Soap Operas and Soap Suds Part 4
When Josh woke up the morning after his surgery, Donna had been relieved. He had regained consciousness earlier, but she had spent the following hours of the night with her imagination running wild in fear.
Upon seeing her face creased from worry, Josh had chuckled, albeit weakly, and told her that she wasn't going to get a new boss that easily. Her plaintive, "Josh," just made his grin even broader.
She could almost think he was the same old Josh.
Oh, there were moments, in following days, when she would find herself prattling on before she realized that he wasn't listening. She would see him become quiet, watch him as he stared out the window or at his hands. He would catch her eyes resting on him, and he would smile, quickly turning the conversation to another subject.
As time passed there were more silences, and he became more irritable. There was something that he wasn't sharing with her, and the not knowing worried her.
Although not because she was controlling, despite what Josh might say.
Then came the call today. It had been... reassuring. After Josh had pushed her away the day before, the call seemed like an acknowledgment of the fact that he missed her.
Their normal manner of talking had reasserted itself. It was a sweet and funny mixture of little observations, friendly jibes, and unspoken messages that was all their own.
They had been discussing soap operas, of all things, when the conversation took a turn.
What had struck her first was the coolness of his words. Maybe she should have been glad that he was being so rational, keeping his head. But in some sense she felt that anger would be more understandable. For this man who was so passionate about what he believed in, the quiescence was disturbing.
She was troubled listening to him try to rationalize, to place into context, the actions of the shooters. He had made a comment, saying that the shooters were ordinary people who somehow, between breakfast and dinner, found the capacity to hate within themselves such that they could kill. And she thought perhaps that just beneath the surface of this tight control was rage, anger that he was trying to deny. She tried to reach him, in that cold isolation to which he had withdrawn, and he seemed to respond.
So when the night nurse at the desk, one that Donna hadn't seen before (which was strange since she had befriended most of the staff on Josh's wing in the time she had spent haunting the hospital) told her that visiting hours were over, and unless Donna was Josh's wife, mother, or daughter, she couldn't see him, Donna wasn't about to take that crap. Turning on the charm, she listed all the reasons why the hospital made an exception for her.
"So you see, and this is kind of funny in a way, well, not funny as in `Ha ha' funny, but rather more like a not very obvious but roundabout manner, I really am his family," Donna concluded.
The nurse was not impressed.
"Look, lady-" Donna began, switching into impatient, take-no-refusal mode.
She turned to see the nurse whom Josh had said looked like a football player. At the time, Donna had commented that he was just bitter because Jerome didn't have a crush on him as a vast majority of the female hospital staff did.
"Oh, hi, Jerome," she said.
"Are you here to see Mr. Lyman?"
"Yes. How is he?" She glanced triumphantly back at the night nurse, who was frowning disapprovingly, as Jerome started to lead her back toward Josh's room.
"He didn't eat his dinner."
Josh reluctantly, and with much grumbling, ate his hospital food, steamed string beans and all, under the watchful eyes of Donna. As a reward, she let him eat a few of her French fries.
They were sitting in a companionable silence, the low sound of the television murmuring in the background. He looked up and smiled at her every so often when he caught her with that crease between her eyes. She was still worried about him, he knew.
A part of him wanted to talk, but there was still a lingering fear, a need to keep her from the taint of his own festering wounds. And so he buried it beneath a smile and diverted her attention.
"Are you going to eat the rest of this?" He reached for the half of her Filet-o-Fish that she still had on the desk. (It was the fastest thing she could think of to grab on the way to the hospital, she had said, when he bugged her about going to McDonald's.)
"Yes." She quickly snatched it out of his grasp.
His eyes danced, and he put his hands up in surrender. "Okay, far be it from me to deprive a woman of food."
"You ate some of my fries," she pointed out.
This was good. He just needed to reassure her that she didn't need to worry.
"Oh look it's your favorite show," he said, gesturing up at the television.
It was still on the soap opera channel, and yet again it was showing an episode of A World Apart.
Donna swatted him on the arm. "Just because I watched it in college." She reached over him to grab the remote, and for a second he breathed in the scent of her hair. "Why don't you change the channel?"
"Hmm?" He was distracted for a second. "Oh, it doesn't-"
"Work?" The channel changed as she pressed the buttons.
Of course it would work for her. "I warmed it up for you."
"Hey, wait. Go back."
Her eyebrow rose skeptically. "Are you voluntarily asking to watch more soaps?"
"Will you just-"
"Okay, okay." She changed the channel back. "Oh, look, it's your favorite couple." She mimicked his words.
"Well, see now," Josh pointed at the characters on the screen, "that's one of the things that bothers me about them. What is his relationship to her? I mean, he's dating that other girl, he works with this woman in a strictly professional capacity, and she's always contradicting him. Doesn't he find it annoying?"
"I'm just asking."
"Obviously he's in love with her. Just look at the way he watches her. The way his eyes follow her when he leaves the room."
It almost made him laugh, although he would never tell her for fear of his life, that she could get so animated discussing subjects from the budget surplus to soap operas.
"Hey, isn't that considered stalking in some states?"
"Stalking." She had that expression on her face with her forehead furrowed and slim eyebrows drawn together, her upper lip drawn back slightly in disbelief.
"Because he watches her."
Another roll of the eyes. "You, Joshua Lyman, are utterly devoid of romance."
Her exasperation made him grin. "So he's not a stalker."
"Definitely not a stalker."
Secretly, Josh agreed. The character was completely besotted. It was evident from every look, every touch, every element of body language, that he could not exist without her.
"Hey, you two." Jerome stood in the doorway. "You're still up."
Donna glanced down at her watch, only then realizing the time. An apologetic expression came over her face.
His smile was easy-going and understanding as he turned to leave the room. "No problem. Just make sure this guy gets his rest."
She switched the television off and placed the remote on the desk. "Maybe I should go?" Her eyes looked questioningly at Josh.
He reached a hand out. "Could you-" The words caught in his throat. "Could you stay a little longer?" Internally, he winced at the pleading tone in his own voice.
Her eyes searched his with such sincerity that he had to glance away. "Okay." She took his hand and moved her chair closer to the bed. With her other hand, she turned off the small light on the desk.
The darkness blinded him momentarily as his eyes tried to adjust. In the silence, he imagined that he could almost hear his own heart beating. It was going to be okay. He was alive in this moment, and she was here beside him.
"Josh?" Her voice was soft.
"I think maybe-" She stopped.
"I think she's in love with him too."
His lips curved into a hidden smile.
It is the same dream every time.
I stand face to face with one of the shooters. I interrogate him, asking him why he did it. I ask him how he can hate so much. I start out completely calm. Despite what Donna might say, it is possible for me to be cool in confrontation.
He has this smirk on his face, this sneer of self-satisfaction. And he doesn't say a word.
I tell him that maybe he had hard childhood. Probably his parents were racist bastards who had brainwashed him until he couldn't think for himself.
But all he does is smile.
I keep telling him that doesn't have to be consumed by hatred, that he must be capable of rational thought, that there must be a shred of human compassion within him, a hint of decency, if he just listened to what I was saying, if he only saw with clear eyes, if he would just stop being so goddamned ignorant.
And still he smiles.
I start yelling, getting in his face, shouting and cursing at him, shaking my fists, anything to get a reaction.
And still he smiles.
My hands are suddenly around his throat, throttling him, squeezing the life out of him, trying to squeeze that damn smile off of his smug face.
At that moment I am jerked into consciousness.
I awake, sweating and breathing hard, my chest burning with pain. I blink my eyes to clear them of the lingering dream vision.
The hospital room is dim. There is just enough light for me to make out Donna's still form, her head resting near my side, her face turned toward me, her cheek pillowed on her elbow. Her other hand is still clasped in mine.
The faint light in the room reflects off her hair, silvering it in rather appropriate imagery. She will probably get a crick in her neck from sleeping in that position, but I'm too damn selfish to wake her and tell her to go. I reach my free hand to touch her hair, when the memory of my dream stops me.
I look down at her hand in mine. Its slender fingers, its pale (alabaster I should say) skin, its delicate fingernails. And there is mine, that moments ago was wrapped around the throat of another man, even if it was only in dream. A wave of revulsion sweeps over me. How can I hold her hand in mine?
I try to let go, but at the movement, her fingers tighten unconsciously. Unless I want to pry her fingers loose one by one, it looks like she is going to hang on.
Oh, Donnatella, you are a stubborn, stubborn woman.
I place our hands back where they were before, and I swear she's smiling a little. "Okay, you win," I whisper. "For now." I lift a strand of hair from her cheek and tuck it behind her ear.
For now, for tonight, maybe Donna can be my talisman against the nightmare, my protector against myself. I close my eyes and hope to God that I don't dream.