There was only the sound of the mechanical respirator and steadied pulse of the EKG machine to accompany the solemn party that had gathered in the hospital room. Most of them sat, their coats folded neatly over their arms and resting simply in their laps. Unlike before, no one had bothered to hang them on the hooks near the door. It was sad to think that this wouldn't take very long.
He glanced out the window, his falling on the brilliant red and yellow leaves hanging delicately on their branches. He contemplated their bright hues, a far cry from the dull and uniform green of summer. Autumn had brought out their vibrance and life, and yet it was merely a foreshadowing of their own imminent death. He though about the close parallels between the two environments he now witnessed.
He heard the doctor speaking softly to her mother, but the words weren't important to him. He had sat there as she had vehemently rejected this future, insisting she knew what was best for her own flesh and blood. And when her weary eyes had fluttered open that drab day in early September, he wished she would have jabbed a finger into the doctor's chest, proclaiming 'I told you so! I told you so!' But she never did, and that brief glimpse at a second chance was just that -- brief -- when their world was reset within the week.
He hadn't been back since then. He couldn't bear the thought of simply sitting of front of her prone body and wallowing in his own self-loathing and the heaps of guilt that washed over him each time his eyes opened. It wasn't healthy, he knew, to simply avoid the situation as if she and him had never existed the way that they did; his conscience told him immersing himself in it wasn't either. So it had been a month, a month since they had spent time together, even if he was the only one making the conversation between them.
He watched as the doctor, his the only body still standing in the room, glared at her mother with heavy eyes. The question was incommunicable. Her mother looked down at her trembling hand, then briefly into his own eyes, and finally back to the doctor. Her husband took a hold of those trembling fingers, listening as his wife tried vainly to hold back the tears for her only daughter. She solemnly nodded her head, slow at first and then rapidly, her eyes squeezing shut, unable to watch.
He had never glanced over to her as they watched the poison fill Mickey Scott's veins. His own eyes had been glued to justice system turning its wheels before them. Had she watched as his breathing increased? Had she tried to shut the increasingly rapid heartbeat from her mind? Had her breathing shortened as his tense arm suddenly relaxed? Now he would never know.
With a calm that reminded him that this man had done this numerous times, the doctor flipped the small switch on the respirator's main console. A second later, the steady pulse became a quicker one. How easy it was, just a flick of the switch. A flick of the switch. Up, you're alive; down, you're dead. It was so simple a remedy for a problem so difficult to tackle. At what point does living ones life in whatever state and condition become meaningless and never-ending? Who are we to decide when medicine is no longer appropriate for one patient or another? When does one stop being a human being and become God?
To think that drab day in late July, when the sky had grayed and the temperature had dripped so low it could have fooled a tourist into believing it was only early April, had begun with these very same questions.
The pulse quickened with an intense pace. And then it came. The singular beeps failed to be singular any longer, succumbing to a single elongated flat line. He felt a small pressure on his shoulder, and found her mother hand clasped to it, her eyes now puffy and red from her tears. Her eyes communicated abundance of sympathy -- for herself and her him -- but his mind was incapable of listening. He seemly stared, much as he had that day, his stone face communicated an emotion of grief his mouth could not.
The doctor and nurse, who had slipped in quietly, uniformly switched off the machine. The room was silent, the absence of her mechanical heartbeat leaving a vast void in the room, and all that was heard were the rustling of fabric from coats and shirts and pants. It was over as quickly as it began, its effect not quite setting in with any of them.
Her mother and family stood still in a small vigil, but he quietly slipped out. He gently closed the door, unwillingly to let even the slightest noise disturb their grief. He wasn't sure what emotion he was running on at this point -- dozens were churning through his system, ranging from anger to grief to pity to guilt and back again to anger -- but he was sure it created an autopilot in his demeanor.
The stolid faces of Detective Briscoe and Adam Schiff looked back at him. Neither made an effort to speak, neither sure which words were appropriate for the question that invaded their minds. How do you ask if a loved one, a colleague, a friend, is dead? What possible combinations and sounds and syllables won't betray your emotions?
Jack simply glanced at the floor, turning his heels, and left the two standing silently in the hospital hallway. He knew. They knew.
Outside, he turned the collar of his jacket up to accommodate to chilly breeze that blew around him. He paused when he saw the tree that had entertained him from the hospital room above, and he watched as the brisk breeze blew dozens of bright leaves to the ground. They joined the withered and brown leaves, whose fate it was to be blown into the street or crushed under the foot of passersby. He felt the tears stinging his eyes, but he found himself convincing himself they were merely no more a result of the wind than of the pent-up emotion burning inside him.