by Ted Lietz
A nurse unplugs me from something. Aggie bites her lower lip. Our son and daughter and their spouses look ready to cry. Even my oh-so-world-weary teenaged grandson swallows hard.
If I could, I’d whisper, “Rosebud.” Anything to lighten things up.
The nurse increases my morphine flow. The pain eases. But now I can stay awake for only a minute or two at a time.
My son asks if there’s anything he can do for me.
Were I still strong enough to speak or even gesture, I’d ask him to move a pillow that’s hitting my back in just the wrong way.
But even a few days ago, when I could speak, I couldn’t always make myself understood. Sometimes I was confused. But other times, I couldn’t summon words to express perfectly rationale notions.
For instance, I’ve been thinking about What Comes Next. Who wouldn’t?
But more and more, I’ve been wondering what my final thought will be.
Something big, I hope. Something important.
Our daughter sees my grandson fiddling with his phone and snatches it from his hand. She glares; he scowls.
Now when my grandson thinks of this day, all he’s likely to remember is being pissed off.
That pillow. It’s still bothering the heck out of me.
My son and daughter reminisce about a time we went camping, just the three of us. They were very young. They don’t remember — Aggie and I never told them — that we’d hit a rough patch. For a few weeks I lived away from the family. I saw the kids only on weekends and tried to make that time special. I seem to have succeeded, at least once.
Aggie addresses our children, but I know she’s talking to me. “Our honeymoon. I took such pleasure in the Washington Monument. Your father couldn’t get enough of the Mammoth Cave.”
Our private language. I’m the monument and she’s the cave. Unsubtle, but the only one who seems to get it is our grandson. Trying to keep from laughing out loud, he nearly falls off the window ledge.
I hope he remembers that.
I also hope there’s at least a flicker in my eyes. Something to show Aggie that I get it, too.
That even this close to Judgment, I’d sell my soul to go spelunking one more time.
My son-in-law says, “Mom. He’s lingered a long time. Maybe for you. I’ve heard that sometimes people at this stage just need permission to…”
Aggie strokes my forehead and says, “Whenever you’re ready. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”
This is so hard on her. If I knew how, I’d already be gone.
That pillow. That damn pillow.
And my feet. Cold. So cold.
How long has it been since Aggie told me I could go?
My son-in-law must have the same question. He’s checking his watch.
Look at that. My grandson, just out of sight of his parents, has taken out another gadget. His eyes meet mine. He looks startled and slips the device back into his pocket. Then he grins and says, “Grandpa just smiled at me.”
Did I? Good for me.
If I could, I’d smile again. For my grandson. For all of them.
I can hear fine. Still, a priest shouts into my face. “I call on you to consider ways you may have offended God, and in your heart ask for forgiveness. Then, I’ll absolve you.”
Ways I may have offended God? Not a comforting final thought, but worth pondering.
Too late. The priest pronounces absolution.
I’ll take it.
Aggie holds my hand and the priest leads a prayer. “…now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
As if on cue, breathing becomes more difficult. Frantic, I turn over notions of love and life and death and God. That final thought. Close enough to see, hear, smell, taste, touch. I’d already have it, except for the distraction of that fucking pil—
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This story was originally published by Every Day Fiction.
© Ted Lietz 2020. All rights reserved.