The old man knew something was amiss. He’d had a nice run. He didn’t feel that badly. He was seventy-six. He didn’t ever really feel well anymore. Life was a process of diminishing expectations. He could still make it out to the mailbox and back. He could cut grass if it wasn’t too hot. Sure, it was the riding mower.
That was something.
There was something else in the way they acted. Everyone was whispering all the time. Lowering their voices. It didn’t matter. Doctor. Nurse. Millie. Clyde and Sharon. Herb Jr. and Hannah. None of them brought the kids. That wasn’t bad except for what it suggested.
The doc must have found something bad when he went in. Herbert was prepared. He had already thought it through.
It took courage to die. Herbert wondered if he had it. He didn’t want to go through chemotherapy or radiation. Were they the same thing? He didn’t know. He just wanted to have the misery controlled. He wanted to slip away peacefully. He didn’t want the aggravation of side effects. Was that weak? Did he have some moral imperative to hang on as long as he could? Did he owe it to his kids? To his grandkids? Was there a reason for him to spend what little time he had left trying to leave an impression more positive than the one he would leave if he just … died? Did he owe them that? Did he owe himself? These were weighty issues.
He thought about how he could have possibly gotten himself into this inextricable mess. He’d quit smoking thirty years ago. He knew — maybe a doctor had told him, or maybe he’d read it somewhere — that cancer was a random event. The wrong molecules just happened to meet, and it was more likely in people who had more of them, who smoked too much or drank too much, or did practically anything that was bad for you, and everything was. Herbert fantasized about that fateful meeting. Maybe it was the toxic smoke from a car’s exhaust, or something in the atmosphere that wandered down to earth from what spewed from the engine of a jet plane. Maybe he had just been puttering around the yard, minding his own business, and it happened, whatever it was, sort of like sex with the wrong partner.
Sex. Herbert remembered that.
He decided he wasn’t going to unnecessarily lengthen his life. He knew Dr. Fobregon would be in to see him shortly, and he was going to tell him some painful radiation was going to zap his invading army of evil cells, and maybe, just maybe, if their aim was true, they’d get all of it or most of it and, quite possibly, extend his life long enough for it to be even less worth living. And when he did, Herbert was just going to politely call bullshit, because there was a profit motive. Sure, he’d live a little longer, but the chief accomplishment would be for Dr. Fobregon, or some other doctor, to get a little richer, and, more likely, the two would get richer together because they’d tie themselves in, and the one who wouldn’t do the zapping would be a consultant, and he’d get in on the windfall, too, and that, Herbert knew, was why insurance cost so goddamn much.
Herbert was tired and too old for this. He closed his eyes and prayed for the courage to tell the doctors where they could shove their radiation, and he realized it probably hadn’t been a good idea to use the Lord’s name in vain, even if he hadn’t said it aloud, just thought it. Herbert didn’t think Jesus gave allowances for private thoughts. It would have defeated the whole purpose of being all-knowing. God wouldn’t limit the range of His knowledge. The Holy Computer had been around all along. These kids thought they were so intelligent with their text messages, their downloads, and their emails. God laughed at every one of them. Herbert hoped He did. It was going to require a sense of humor for Herbert to get to heaven. Oh, well. He reckoned he’d cross that bridge here directly.
He was still praying, or more like philosophizing in the Lord’s presence, when he heard the door open. He opened his eyes. It wasn’t Dr. Fobregon. It was Millie. His wife. The woman who’d stuck with him all these years. The one who’d been forgiving him just about as often as the good Lord. Oh, this was going to be tough. When he told her that he’d decided just to let it be, she’d cry, and he hated to put her through it. This was the test. He didn’t mind telling the doctor. But his wife! She wasn’t even as tough as he was. Once he was gone, Millie wouldn’t last much longer. They’d be reunited in eternity, and it wouldn’t be long, although, on second thought, there wasn’t even a concept of time in eternity. Herbert wondered how that worked.
She patted him on the hand.
“Millie, there’s something important I’ve got to tell you,” he said. “I’ve been thinking this over. I’ve occupied this earth long enough, and when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. I’m too old to put up with all this treatment. I’ve lived long enough. I’m going to tell Dr. Fobregon that I don’t want to linger. I just want him to help me die with dignity. If I can go comfortably, that’s all I require. Surely there’ll be time to set things right with the kids and the grandkids.”
Millie, who’d married him fifty-one years ago come October the Twenty-Third, looked at Herbert wearing an expression of charitable bemusement.
“Darling,” she said, “you have a respiratory infection.
“Put your clothes on. We’re going home.”
My novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, will be available for download at amazon.com, on Tuesday, July 21. It’s available for advance order now. It’s a KindleScout winner. http://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Natural-Causes-Monte-Dutton-ebook/dp/B00YI8SWUU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1436215069&sr=1-1&keywords=Crazy+of+Natural+Cause
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