Why He Woke Up (A Short Story)

The gentle, soft clicks of Betty’s crochet hooks were so ethereal to Harold’s ears, it was impossible to keep his eyes open, especially when he relaxed in his favorite chair. At 83, the retired detective found he drifted to sleep more than he cared to admit. Still, it felt nice to let the world fade away.

“Harry, are you asleep?”

In the deep of sleep, he heard nothing but a distant, ghost-like sound swimming through his mind. She repeated her question, loud enough to startle him awake. With a cough, he cleared his throat and tried his best to sound nonchalant. “Um, no.” He looked at Betty. She was sitting up sideways in bed, letting her legs dangle off the side. This was the most mobile she had been in weeks, now showing an impressive display of dexterity as she worked the hooks through a difficult weave. Impressed, he said, “Honey, you’re looking much better today,” trying not to sound as surprised as he felt.

“Thank you, but did you hear what I just said?” Harold almost took a guess, but Betty offered, “I was trying to tell you about this new pattern.” She held up a potholder, exactly like the dozens of others tacked on the walls of their room, each only varying by color. This one was white with a blue spiral. Harold did his best to look interested.

Betty learned how to crochet potholders right before she was admitted into hospice care at this senior community. As her strength left her, it was the only hobby she could manage. To keep her spirits up, Harold acted excited after each one.

As Betty laid it down on her nightstand, something caught her eye outside their room. “What is that?”

Harold pushed himself up and shuffled over. He was well past solving crimes, but the thrill of a potential mystery was still pulled him in, no matter how trivial. He leaned next to her, matching her perspective.

“That, outside there.” The door was open just a crack. She pointed through it into the hallway. “On the table. I think that’s Mike’s helmet.” Their son’s motorcycle helmet was unmistakable; it had bright-neon stripes and a dent in the side.

Betty stood up. Harold reached out to help her – purely out of habit – but found she was keeping her balance quite well. She walked to the door, swung it open and leaned outside. “I don’t see him anywhere, but that’s definitely his.”

They both walked into the hallway. He picked up the helmet and flipped it over. Scribbled inside, along the back rim, was Mike’s name. Harold looked around and confirmed the hall was empty except for an orderly at the far end.

“Maybe he can’t find us,” Betty offered. It was a plausible explanation. Some of their past visitors told them the front desk sometimes gave out wrong room numbers.

“I’ll go check with the front desk,” said Harold.

When he took that first step away, Betty grabbed his arm and pulled him in close. She wrapped her hand around the base of his neck and kissed him softly on his lips. She whispered in his ear, “You know I love you, right?”

The question caught him off guard. “Uh…yes, I know.” Her eyes had a twinkle, something he had not seen since her diagnosis the year before.

She moved her hands to the sides of his face and said, “When you find Mike, tell him I love him too.”

Harold scoffed with a slight smile. “I’ll bring him back here, and you can tell him yourself.” He kissed her forehead, then started toward the front entryway.

Trips that distance were not always so challenging. When he finally reached the front desk, he asked the young lady stationed there, “Excuse me, ma’am, did we have any visitors check in today? I think my son’s here, but I can’t find him.”

“Here,” she said, pushing a clipboard toward him. “You can check the visitor list.

See if any of the names look familiar.”

He ran his finger down the list of names. He stopped his finger on a name near the bottom and looked up, confused. “I don’t understand,” back down at the list, “most of my family signed in. Where are they?”

She pulled the clipboard back to take a look. “Well, they haven’t checked out, so they’re still here. I can have someone help look.”

A voice behind him said, “Oh, Dad, there you are.” A hand landed on Harold’s shoulder.

He turned around to find his son, Mike, who immediately pulled him into a tight embrace.

“The doctors told us you were asleep,” said Mike. “When I came back, you weren’t there.”

“Did you say hi your mother?” Harold asked.

Mike pulled away, confused. “Say hi? Dad, she’s gone. She passed away last night.”

It took a moment for the words to register. Harold shook his head. “I just talked to her. She looked fine today. Great, actually.” Despite logic and reason, Harold’s heart dropped into his stomach.

Mike guided his father back to his room, and along the way, gestured to a nurse to follow them. Once back inside, Harold scanned the area. “Well, she’s not here now,” turning back to Mike, “she’s probably looking for you. We found your helmet out there.”

“Dad…” He struggled with his words. His voice was shaky, cracking. “She’s not here, Dad. She died in her sleep. I’m sorry.”

“That’s not possible,” Harold said. He grabbed the white-and-blue potholder off the nightstand and held it up. “See, she just finished this.”

The nurse, standing just outside the room, stepped in to interject. “Harry, you finished it!” She was enthusiastic, almost proud. “You’ve been working on it for days.”

Harold ran his finger along the weave. In a hushed voice, almost to himself, he said, “I don’t know how to crochet.”

“That’s what you always say,” she explained. “But look how many you’ve done!” She pointed to the potholders pinned to the wall. “You’re a good man for learning. It gave her such joy to watch you.”

Harold was silent, staring at the woven pattern in his hands.

“Dad, let’s go see the others,” Mike said, then followed the nurse out.

Harold looked around, letting each potholder complete the memories of their time there. A tear rolled down his cheek as he remembered watching her pass away last night and afterward praying that he would hear her crochet hooks one last time.

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