The night-shift nurse smiled at the small man’s quiet drawl as he passed, the familiar John Deere hat, faded by countless summers spent in the fields on the back of tractors, twisted in his hands. He shuffled to the window, the sure movement of a man who knew his place in the world, who wore his skin with quiet comfort. Looking through the darkened glass, his somber eyes took in the sight.
“Hey there, Scout.”
The clock on the nurse’s desk beeped the passing of midnight, the death of another day.
“I been tryin’ to sleep, but it’s been hard. Jus’ too quiet. . .too quiet. Guess I done got used to bein’ round all the machines, what with the beepin’ and all. And now—“
His voice hitched. He rubbed his knuckles into his eyes not even noticing the hat still clenched in his fingers.
“Now with your mama gone….” He fell silent. There was something huge pressing on his shoulders, something so big he didn’t think he’d ever get out from under it.
“They turned the machines off two hours ago. Doctor said wasn’t anything else he could do, said she didn’t feel no pain though; hope he was right. She couldn’t talk none at the end, but I know what she was tryin’ to say, and I told her I’d tell you for her. She loves you, and she’s waitin’ for you. You know her, she’s stubborn when she sets her mind to somethin’. Yep, the nurses said she couldn’t talk, but I could read it in her eyes. I always could. . .I could read her eyes. That’s just somethin’ most folks don’t understand.”
The glass was silent. It never answered. Like a giant muted television screen. Little moving pictures with no sound, just wires and lights and that dismal hum that seems to breathe the lifeblood of every hospital.
“Sure wish I could come in and hold you. That moment right after you popped out was just too short, too short. I thought you’d be bigger, and Doctor said you shoulda been and that’s why they had to take you away so quick…. I was just so proud standin’ there in that room when I saw you. . .you was so pretty. . .the prettiest little baby girl in the whole world.”
He leaned against the window, shoulders tensed, holding the weight that was escaping from his eyes.
“And now Doctor says I gotta say goodbye to you too, but I don’t know how. I think maybe, if I could jus’ hold you and rock you for a minute then maybe you could tell how much love I got inside me. But I know when they turn them machines off for you, I’ll be lost. I’ll be lost, Scout.”
A fluorescent light overhead flickered, buzzed, and hummed back to life. He pulled on the John Deere hat, placed both hands on the NICU window, stared at his feet.
“There’s a clearing by the river up there on the mountain where me and your mama used to go to watch the northern lights. When you get up there, just know I’ll be lookin’ up at you, and I know I’ll feel you with me, and somewhere up there when the north star shimmers all alone in them green flames, somewhere up there in that black wilderness, somewhere between nowhere and goodbye, I’ll see you.”