Alfie wished he could run faster. He wished his body was not so heavy, he wished he had not smoked today. He wished he was a better person, who did not need to smoke any day. Halfway up the stairs he had to stop and catch his breath, leaned against the railing. Panting and sweaty he let all the worst case scenarios play out in his head. It was enough for him to finally manage to get his body up the stairs and through the hallway.
He practically burst through the door to her room, still breathing heavily, with the pink suit in disarray and his make-up a mess. But she looked even worse. She lay in bed, hidden under the blanket with only a pale face revealed. She was sweaty, her hair was frizzy and her mouth was open, seemingly required for her to be able to breathe. Her eyes were closed.
“How is she?” His voice went up.
Jimmy sat on a chair on the other side of the bed with his back perfectly straight and his hands neatly placed on his knees. He looked at Alfie absent-mindedly.
“She wakes up sometimes.” He sounded completely neutral. “Now she’s asleep.”
Alfie wanted to punch him in the face for stating the obvious like that. Instead he let go of the doorknob with a sigh of relief.
“How did it go?” he asked.
“Well”, Jimmy said calmly. “She’s fine. The doctor said this is normal.”
Alfie involuntarily wrinkled his nose at the presumption that whoever had done this was an actual, licensed doctor. Were they really both naïve enough to believe that?
“Has she bled?” he asked.
“There has been blood”, Jimmy confirmed, as if it was nothing.
“But not now?”
“And the baby?”
“There is no baby.”
Alfie’s heart sank. He had imagined a nursery, he had imagined a painting of her and their child, he had imagined her coming out into the garden and letting the little one down to run towards him, and himself getting on his knees with a smile to catch him as he came. He had planned to propose. Now it was too late for all that.
“There was never a baby, Alfie”, Jimmy said. “I saw it. It was a little red lump and nothing more. It wasn’t a baby. I saw it.”
He sounded almost as if it was himself he was trying to convince.
Alfie ignored him, taking a step further into the room and looking at her instead. She could be dead looking like that. She could have left him, looking like that.
“She didn’t even tell me”, he whispered. “I had to find out from Constance. She didn’t even…”
But whose fault was that? No one’s but his. He had decided not to listen to her in this, he had just kept on pushing his own plans at her, pushed her away from him. He could blame no one else for that. But, he looked at Jimmy, maybe he could.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
He shrugged. “Why would I have? It wasn’t my thing to tell.”
Alfie pointed at him. “She could have died!”
Jimmy just stared at him in incomprehension.
“But she wouldn’t have died alone”, he said.
Alfie slowly lowered his arm again. She would have died away from him, that was what he had thought about. She would have died without him. He had thought about himself again. But she would not have died alone. She had just chosen to die with Jimmy instead of him.
And whose fault was that?
Mabel’s eyelids flickered open and they both directed their attention toward her instead. For the moment being, everything else was forgotten.
“Sweetheart?” Alfie took a few steps to the bed.
Her hand reached out from under the cover and seemed to search for something, fumbling weakly against the bed.
“Jimmy?” Her voice was merely a raspy whisper. There was fear in her eyes that grew with every second, as her hand moved faster and more desperately.
Jimmy looked straight at Alfie and said, “I’m here.”
Alfie took a step back. Jimmy took Mabel’s hand in his own. The calm was instant, and her eyes closed again. He did not take his eyes away from Alfie.
If he had wondered what the way he looked at him was, he did not have to any longer. It was suddenly clear as day what that look in his eyes was, the stare reserved only for him. It was not disgust, anger, contempt, or even envy. No, as Alfie stumbled backwards another step, he knew exactly. It was nothing but pure disinterest, and the tiniest hint of pity. It was the look of a man who had won.
He had made a mistake. His heart was racing and the world was blurry. He turned around and half-ran, half-stumbled out of the room. He had to support himself against the wall to make his way through the hallway, which he did panting, with wide eyes. He had made a mistake.
Alfie sunk to the floor with his back against the wall, feeling the first tears break through. He had made a mistake. He cried silently, desperately, trying to contain the sadness to his face with his hands. His breathing was strained, his vision was blurred. He had not almost lost her. Why did he never know until it was too late? He had made a mistake.
And he was the one who had lost.