This story is by Dawn Van Beck and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Leaning forward at the side of her bed, he reminded himself to obey the doctor’s directions and refrain from touching her.
Cold, lifeless eyes met his gaze amid the sterile odor of antiseptic permeating the room.
“Jasmine, baby. You’re at Mercy Hospital. It was a bad accident. You were temporarily unconscious, but you’re okay.”
Jasmine’s eyes narrowed. “Why did you call me . . . ‘baby’?”
Kendall stood erect, his head flinching back. He searched her face as the doctor stood in the back corner of the room.
“What do you mean?” Kendall recalled how inseparable they’d been for the past two years as the memory of her soft voice rang in the corridor of his heart.
“My God, Jasmine. You don’t know who I am, do you? It’s me—Kendall.”
On instinct, he reached out his hand toward her face, causing her to flinch. Stepping back, he turned toward the doctor with wild eyes. The doctor motioned Kendall to the back of the room.
“Kendall, as we suspected, your girlfriend has amnesia—caused by her head injury.”
The air evaporated from Kendall’s lungs and tears blurred his vision as he turned to face Jasmine.
“Everything will be all right, Jasmine. You’ll get better, I promise.”
Darting down the hall, he flung himself into a chair in the waiting room. He sat, running his fingers through his blonde hair. Upon finding him, the doctor sat beside him, placing his hand on Kendall’s shoulder.
“Stay positive, son. We don’t know how long this may last. The best you can do right now is visit frequently and keep talking to her. Discuss details of your lives, events you’ve shared; things that may trigger her memory.
“Be careful though. This may take time. Don’t push her, or she might not wish to see you at all.”
Kendall nodded in response and remained in the dark waiting room until the next morning.
Rising from his chair, he squinted at the light beaming in through the blinds. Stretching his arms, he located a coffee machine. With coffee in one hand, he rubbed the back of his neck with the other and approached Jasmine’s room.
“May I speak with her?” He watched the nurse adjust Jasmine’s monitor.
“Certainly,” the nurse said. “I’m all done. Push the red button if you need anything.”
Jasmine, awake and alert, studied Kendall as he pulled up a chair, positioning it beside the bed. He swallowed hard, hesitating.
“I don’t want to upset you.” His voice, gentle. “I just want to talk.”
Jasmine’s eyes sparkled as she smiled.
“I know. I don’t believe you mean any harm.”
Kendall released a breath he didn’t know he was holding, relieved Jasmine’s infectious smile had found him.
“Has anyone explained what happened to you?”
“Not in detail.” Jasmine licked her chapped lips. “There’s a lot of pain though.”
“Yeah, so . . . let’s start there.”
Kendall began explaining the events of her crash. She was driving home from work. The truck made a wide turn and didn’t see her approaching–it was a head-on collision. She suffered multiple fractures, including a fractured pelvis and blunt trauma to her head.
“That explains this fashionable gauze headdress I’m sporting, right?”
“Yes, actually. And just so you know, your headpiece is hiding an adorable, brunette, pixie haircut.”
Jasmine stared with no response.
“Anyway.” Kendall continued.
He told her it was March. Possessing a fierce passion for reading, she worked in a bookstore in downtown Baltimore. He told her all about her love of jazz, her insatiable affinity for popcorn, and her rooftop apartment boasting a balcony brimming with plants.
As Kendall’s hospital visits continued over the next two months, he’d tried to recount special occasions, silly moments—anything in Jasmine’s life that might trigger her remembrance, all the while keeping sensitive to the subject matter.
“Tell me about you,” she said one afternoon.
Surprised by this new inquiry, Kendall happily obliged.
“Well, let’s see,” he began. “I’m a graphic designer with a strong aversion to any species of spiders. I bike every morning, regardless of the atmospheric conditions. I loathe injustice of any kind, and I make a mean chicken enchilada.”
Although Kendall’s playful tone still managed to evoke giggles from Jasmine, each memory he shared was met by her vacant eyes.
Since Jasmine’s transfer to a rehab facility, renewed hope took Kendall’s thoughts captive. Her next step of recovery was underway.
On a sunny day in June, he set down a vase of fresh-cut flowers on the tray table. Jasmine tapped her fingers incessantly as Kendall rambled about current events. She didn’t care about the local news. She wanted to know more.
“Will you tell me about us?” She interrupted him.
Kendall paused, measuring his words.
“Certainly. Maybe it will help.”
Kendall told her how they met in the bookstore where she worked. They went out for breakfast every Saturday morning. They enjoyed sitting on her rooftop at night, watching the stars dot the sky. They’d been together a little over two years now—they were crazy in love. He halted, finally knowing exactly what to share. Cape May, New Jersey. There was nothing like a Victorian fall.
“Eight months ago, we took a trip to Cape May. Remember the lighthouse overlooking Delaware Bay?”
She frowned, shaking her head no.
He recounted their October trip, when they attended the “Victorian Weekend”. They each dressed in Victorian costumes to attend the annual festival comprised of Victorian parlor games, historic tours, trolley rides, crafts, and more. The highlight of their weekend was climbing the 199 steps to the top of the lighthouse. Fall was in full bloom with a vast array of trees boasting vivid colors of orange, crimson, and gold. They vowed to make a return trip to the festival each year from that day forward.
Jasmine found herself captivated by Kendall’s calming voice. The trip sounded amazing, and she admitted to herself how physically attractive Kendall was. With his curly hair, blue eyes, and rugged build, he was nothing short of gorgeous. She’d discerned he was a kind man too, but still, there was no recollection.
“Kendall, I’m so sorry,” she said with a blank expression. “I just . . . don’t remember.”
He assured her it was okay. He’d keep visiting. He’d keep talking. He’d be patient.
Kendall had been patient. Six, long months passed, comprised of visits, therapy, and doctors. He’d read to her, watered her plants, brought popcorn . . . talked. He wrote her several letters for her to read when alone, hoping to spark recall. She’d started reading them, however eventually stopped. It was too painful not to remember.
They were becoming new friends. Still, a sharp ache stung at Kendall’s chest each time Jasmine’s eyes filled with a familiar depth.
The overcast gloom of September’s arrival matched that of Kendall’s heart. Jasmine, finally at home in her apartment, began to regain a sense of normalcy as she assimilated herself back into a daily routine. She still had no recollection of the Victorian Weekend, serving as a stark reminder to Kendall of the doctor’s words reverberating in his mind.
“Jasmine’s memory may never recover. You should prepare yourself for that possibility.”
Kendall’s hope was wavering.
On a crisp October morning Jasmine sat alone in her apartment. Opening Kendall’s remaining letters, she began to read. Skimming his words, she smiled when he spoke of how a butterfly is proof one can go through darkness and still become something beautiful. Her eyes glistened when he suggested if she doesn’t have her old memories, they could make new ones.
As his words floated off the pages, she felt as if she’d known him for years. She knew him very well . . . didn’t she?
One of his letters contained words describing a seaside Victorian resort with gas lamp-lit streets, and the phrase, ‘there’s nothing like a Victorian fall”.
Her breath caught in her throat. Victorian fall? Her eyes shut tight. Cape May.
He stood at the top of the lighthouse among the orange, red, and plum-colored trees lining the bay below. Wearing his black tailcoat, complete with a floral vest and top hat, he shut his eyes against hot tears. Spontaneous sobs burst from his chest at the thought of a new reality without Jasmine.
Ascending footsteps sounded behind him. He swiped away the moisture on his cheeks as a familiar, sweet scent of vanilla perfume wafted through the air. He turned to discover the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen wearing a flowing, yellow dress and a floppy, flower-lined hat.
They held each other’s gaze for a long moment before he finally spoke.
“I don’t understand. Why are you here? Do you . . . remember?”
Jasmine put her finger to his lips, smiling. Pulling his face closer, she pressed her lips against his, then whispered.
“There’s nothing like a Victorian fall.”