Jayne stood facing the window and watched the room behind her through the reflection in the glass. Helen slept, tucked up in the hospital bed, tilted ever so slightly so that her head was elevated from her neck. An I.V. drip pumped clear fluid into her slim arm and a breathing tube hung from her mouth. Whenever Jayne tried to look at her directly, she found herself hanging her head and watching her through half closed eyes. Somehow, looking at the world from the top floor window made it easier. She could see behind her or focus her gaze outside if she needed a distraction.
A priest came in moments before and she had sent him packing. He was trying to be comforting, but his talk of heaven and God’s will annoyed her. He tried his addresses at poor sleeping Helen and that had been too much. She wasn’t awake to defend herself, so Jayne did it for her. “Helen’s an atheist.” Jayne said. “God talk bugs her, so if it’s all the same to you, go away.” He had tried to protest, but the look in Jayne’s eyes convinced him he was going to lose the argument, so with a quick blessing, he pushed off.
The doctor told her to go home, that there was nothing more to do but wait. Jayne thought of going back to her apartment in the city and it depressed her. She would go crazy waiting there, but she hadn’t slept in a 36 hours and the weight if it all was too much.
The doctor had tried to comfort her, but his tone was grave as though trying to prepare her, to tell her she had done her best.
“It’s close.” He said. “If you’d found her earlier, I could be a bit more certain, but we got to her late. You did everything you could. It’s not your fault. The only thing we can do is wait and hope she comes out of it. We’re watching her ever minute.”
“What if she wakes up and I’m not here? Someone should be here.”
“Her husband finally reached us. He’ll be here soon. Why don’t you go home, get some sleep, have some food and come back in the morning. We’ll call you if anything changes.”
Jayne took another look at Helen. She looked so small and peaceful as she slept. She remembered the time they had stayed up all night watching films lying on Helen’s parent’s bed while they were away. The sun was coming up and peaking in through the curtains when they finally nodded off. Jayne had looked over at her friend sleeping, mouth slightly open, a soft snore like a purr coming from her. They were thirteen. Twenty years had passed, but to Jayne, Helen looked the same as she did then.
Suddenly, Jayne remembered Helen’s cat. She would have to go around and feed it, she thought. In truth, she wanted to get out of that room to think.
“When did Graham say he’d be here?” She asked.
“Soon, within the hour.” The doctor said.
“I’ll be on my cell phone if you need me.” Jayne said, and grabbing her coat made her way past the doctor and out the door.
When Jayne arrived at Helen’s house, the sun was starting to set. She pushed open the door she had been too panicked to lock when they left in the ambulance and wandered in towards the kitchen. Vester, the cat came running at the sound of her opening a cat food sachet and buried his black and white face into the cat food bowl.
Jayne knew the house so well. She wandered through the house towards the bedroom where she had found Helen, face down in the bed, the empty pill bottle beside her on the nightstand. Jayne looked at the rumpled bedclothes, half on and off the bed. It all happened so fast. It felt like she had only been on the phone to emergency services for a minute before she could hear an ambulance coming up the street. Could she have moved faster, she wondered.
Back in the kitchen, she looked out the window into the garden. Helen and Graham had a vast garden and a small orchard beyond the patio. From her vantage point, she could see the six pomegranate trees in a tidy row at the edge of the lawn. Grabbing a basket that hung on a rack from the ceiling, she went outside into the warm evening.
She examined each fruit as she filled the basket. To make pomegranate juice, she needed at least ten of them. The trees had been planted in the first year of their marriage and in the first season of bearing fruit, the three of them had gone out to pick some. Graham threw one at Jayne and it had split, spilling irremovable red juice onto her white shirt. When she swore at him, he laughed and said, “Come and get me. I dare you.”
When the basket was full, she went back to the kitchen and taking a cutting board from the rack laid each of the pomegranates side by side. Helen had taught Jayne her own method for creating the perfect glass of juice. Splitting each of the fruits in half with a sharp knife, she squeezed the plump red seeds from the white, hard flesh of the pomegranate.
As Jayne did this, juice ran from the seeds through her fingers and into a bowl that waited to catch it. Her mind wandered back to the telephone call the day before. Helen’s calm was what alarmed her. The softness of her voice like an arrow to Jayne’s heart telling her everything was fine.
In slow, soft whispers she said it. “It’s ok, you know. You can have him. I’ll be fine, just fine, Sweetie. When he gets back from Seattle, he’s all yours.”
At first, Jayne’s heart jumped. Helen knew, but then her words and her tone were not Helen. She was too calm and Jayne wondered if the revelation had made her hit the wine rack before making the phone call.
A hundred thoughts raced through Jayne’s mind. How did she find out? Did she speak to Graham? Could she lie her way out of it?
“Jaynie, it’s all good. We always did share everything, right? I guess you figured, why not this too, right?” Her words were slurred.
Jayne tried to think of something to say quickly, a denial, anything to buy her time to figure out what to do. Then Helen hit her with the words that truly scared her.
“I’m just going to take a little nap now.” With that, she heard Helen drop the phone.
Jayne froze for a moment, then grabbed her keys and her cell phone. She would have to speak to Graham, to figure it all out on the way over to their house. Damn, she thought. Graham was away for the week. She rang his number over and over and got his voicemail.
When she reached the house, she let herself in with the key Helen had given her for the times she needed a cat-sitter.
They would talk it out, she thought. Whatever happened, they could figure something out. She went from room to room calling Helen and receiving no reply.
Jayne found her on the bed. The same bed they had shared with the same man and Jayne felt sick over what she had done in a moment of madness.
It was only the one time, she thought. No one would ever know and they could go on as if nothing had happened. How could she know? She played the incident out in her head. Had she left something there? Did Graham confess?
She moved to Helen’s side and it was then that she saw the empty bottle. The phone beeped angrily in Helen’s hand.
When the bowl was filled with seeds, Jayne took a mortar and pestle from the counter and transferred the seeds over from the bowl for crushing. As she ground the seeds, the doctor’s words rang through her head. “It’s not your fault.” Then who’s, she thought.
She transferred the juice into a tall, thin glass jug and added a tablespoon of sugar. As she stirred the liquid with a long wooden spoon, a thought occurred to her.
She rinsed her hands at the sink and went quickly to the living room as she dried them with a dish towel.
In the corner of the room there was an antique rosewood desk. On it were some files, a couple of magazines and the computer they shared. The screensaver was on, displaying digital tropical fish swimming across the screen.
Jayne nudged the mouse and the screen came to life. Her words to Graham starred back at her. The only communication about the incident that existed and he had not the sense to delete it. Jayne read and re-read the email. Stupid, sentimental Bastard, she thought. She wanted to grab the machine and throw it to the floor, to stomp on it and batter it with a fireplace poker until nothing was left but bits of glass, plastic and circuit board. Instead, she selected the offending email and clicked the delete button. It disappeared, but the queasiness in her stomach remained.
She stood, resolved to put everything away and return to the hospital. There had to be some way to make things right.
She cleaned the counter, tossing the empty shells of the pomegranates into the garbage bin under the sink.
As she poured the juice into a glass, she heard the front door open.
Graham stood before her, surprise clearly marked on his face. Through her rage Jayne could still feel the closeness and familiarity that came from so many years of the three of them together.
“Hi.” He said.
“Hi.” Jayne didn’t know where to begin.
“I’ve been to the hospital for the past few hours.”
Jayne looked at the clock, then out the window. Hours had passed without her notice.
“Helen?” She asked.
Graham stood, his shoulders hunched and shook his head. When he tried to reach for her, Jayne recoiled. She placed the glass on the counter beside her and gathering her things, walked out the door towards the cool grass of the orchard.