Words fell like a muffled weight onto her ears and her eyes stayed fixed on his, searching for helpful meaning. He was trying to explain, but despite this combined effort to hear with her ears and eyes, his words remained little more than unconnected sounds.
Her mind was busy with this and that, but mainly with the lamentable fact that she could no longer think and listen simultaneously. Half-formed thoughts exited her head, words hanging tantalisingly close to registering but instead rising like a ball to the hoop, only to miss and bounce off without direction. Her mind seemed littered with stray basketballs.
He continued. She knew it would be difficult to meet his expectation of an appropriate response, and her heart leapt a little. The words leapt too, in a frenzy of empathy, their message more obscure for all their concern. She leaned in, hoping that closer proximity would give greater clarity. Alas, nothing.
To hide the void, she uttered a non-committal, “Hmmm,” and held a pause that she hoped would suggest deliberation, a focused frown puckering her face. A slow, “I’m not sure,” was drawled out, sounding for all the world like a consideration.
Momentarily, he stopped speaking, his eyes rolled heaven-ward and silence brooded between them. Another slightly louder wall of words was helpfully deployed to make himself better understood. At this fresh onslaught, her heart jumped even higher than before.
“I really don’t know. I can’t think. Start again, I wasn’t really listening.” She looked down at her hands, steeling herself for the enormity of the exertion ahead.
Her hands were woven in her lap. Loose, papery skin was mottled and smudged, furrowed and crumpled in their folds. She remembered the first time he had held her hand, and the joy that sung and skipped about her afterwards. She recalled the warmth, the strength and the security of her hand in his. They hadn’t been papery then. She wondered whether her mind had similarly shrivelled. She imagined her brain, once plump with pink undulations and firing energetically, slowly withering to a grey, desiccated mass, only twitching when aimless basketballs rolled across its few functioning neurones.
His expectant silence cued a response.
“Sorry. Say that again.”
Not entirely imperceptible, his frown shifted from impatience to angst and settled on, ‘Hope she didn’t notice.’
But she had.
Her leaping heart lost its footing and plunged earthbound, ashamed. She noticed the mottled, papery skin covering her hands and it reminded her of a time, of something … she grappled around in her mind to find it, but whatever it was bounced away.