Enjoyed this excerpt? Buy the book!
Print and eBook formats available.
THE MOON THROUGH MY window is only a sliver, and I’m thankful for that. I tell the nurse this as she checks my tubes.
“In the movies, it always seems that these dramatic moments are under a full moon. I’d hate to die a cliché.”
She laughs at this, but then looks guilty, and covers her mouth.
“No, it’s ok. I’d like to think I made somebody laugh near the end. I always hoped for a funny death. Maybe an anvil or a piano dropping on my head.”
“That’s not all that funny, George.”
“We always laughed when it happened to the coyote.”
This will be my last night in this broken body. There is little left. The cancer has eaten almost all of me. I’m more tubes than flesh; they run in me and out of me. More medicine flows through my veins than blood. The last tube I let them stick in me was a hose to piss through, and the pain and humiliation of that made me call an end to it. I won’t let them give me a breathing tube, although I know I won’t be able to breathe on my own very soon. It’s a good thing I stopped eating, or they’d be asking to shove a tube up my ass.
I will leave this world with nobody to say goodbye to, give thanks to, beg forgiveness from. All have gone, slipped away into death, or else just slipped away. Regret is the last thing I would ever want to feel at the end, but maybe one hand to hold would have made it worth going back and changing a few things.
“Why do you do this, Althea?”
She smiles gently as she shoots the medicine into the tube leading into my arm. “Doctor’s orders.” She taps the chart. “It’s all right here, George.”
“No, this job. It must be hard to love a man after seeing what time and disease can do to him. This.”
“If anything, I love them more for it. Can I get you anything, George?”
Her eyes are blue through her oval eyeglasses. She looks back into mine, and I wonder how she can. I stopped asking for a mirror last week. “A cup of coffee would be great. And a pill to let me drink it.” I consider crying, but think better of it. “I think I’m going to sleep for a bit. Or longer, maybe.” I chuckle. “I guess this is goodbye. I don’t think I’ll be here tomorrow.”
“No, you won’t. But no, it’s not.” She sits with me as I drift off. I think that in a different life I could love a woman like her.
I wake up and look around at the room. I don’t have the money for a nice hospital, so I’m stuck here in County. I know it must be clean, but it doesn’t look it. The bureaus are rusty, the walls mottled with the blood of previous tenants, and there are mysterious water stains on the ceiling. I think these hospitals purposefully try to be as depressing as possible, so the patients will get better quicker or die sooner. This makes me laugh, and I’m surprised that it doesn’t hurt anymore.
“Are you ready for that coffee, George?” She startles me.
“What? Oh, I guess I didn’t sleep all that long.”
“Just long enough.” She helps me sit up, hands me a mug of hot coffee. I’m grateful. I hate when people offer me teacups of coffee. “I think you can drink this now.”
I sip, and it tastes like Sunday morning, sitting on my porch watching people walk by before church. This time I let myself cry a little. “Thank you.”
She’s changed out of her nurse´s uniform, into a long white dress, and her autumn hair now hangs below her shoulders.
I take another sip. “Are you off on a date, then? Or do you always dress up to hang out with dying old men?”
She sits on the edge of the bed. “You’re my date, George.”
I laugh at the absurdity of this statement. “I think you could do better than me, Althea. Hey, what did you give me? I feel much better.”
“Time. Time enough and the right time. This is it, George. This time is yours, and I’m here to spend it with you.”
I get nervous and put my coffee on the bureau. “Who are you?”
“I am, George.” She stands and begins to pull the tubes out.
“What are you doing?”
“You don’t need them anymore. This is your time, and you don’t need these anymore.”
The tubes all come out with no pain. I can breathe and lift my arms. I can drink coffee. “Wait, you’re…”
She nods. “I am.”
“But why are you here?”
“To show you that your greatest fear was unfounded.”
For a moment I try to find an icon in the water-stained ceiling. “To die alone.”
“Yes. You’ve always feared this, because your father was alone.”
“Mom found him too late. He was already gone.”
“Nobody dies alone.” She takes my hand and pulls me out of the bed. My body is still thin, but I move easily, as I haven’t in years. “Come. Let’s sit by the window and look at the moon.”
The thin silver crescent hasn’t moved much, so it didn’t take long. “But why are you a woman? I always thought, well …”
“Because you would have a harder time believing in my kindness coming from a man. I know you, George. So what do you want to tell me?”
“Tell you? About what? I’ve got a lot of questions, but I don’t know what I could tell you.”
She reaches over and takes my hand, squeezes it, and waits for me to speak.
I nod. “My last rites. I refused them.”
“Confession is good for the soul.”
I turn my gaze back to the moon. “Can I tell you about the good stuff, too?”
She puts her fingers in mine. “I wish you would.”
About the Author
GEORGE WELLS is an American expatriate living in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he teaches English as a Foreign Language and writes.
George is a regular contributor to Spark, and you can find “Patron Saint of the Lowlands” in Volume II. His short fiction “To The River” was published in Shadow Road Quarterly in Summer 2012, and will appear in Spark: A Creative Anthology, Volume III later this month.