Steven rubbed his hand over the stent in his chest, and for the first time in a year felt he could get up and move. He knew it was time to die.
He sat up and called out to Mary, slowly putting his feet on the floor. He was sore and tired, but it wasn’t the “fucking kill me with a hammer” sore and tired he’d been living with since they started the chemo and radiation. The floor creaked beneath his feet as Mary walked in. “You’re up,” she said.
“I feel better. It’s one of the good days I was told I’d have. Would you help me get dressed? I don’t want to waste any energy.”
She tossed underwear, a T-shirt, and socks on the bed behind her. She pulled his jeans out last and stood there, holding them with her back to him. He couldn’t see her face when he said, “Thanks for doing my laundry for me for the last ten years.”
“You hate it. I like it. It wasn’t a problem. Thanks for vacuuming and cooking dinner for the last ten years.” Her voice was thick but calm.
“That’s probably why I got breast cancer. All that women’s work.” He smiled weakly at his own joke. “Are you sure you’re okay with this?”
“I will never be okay with you dying,” she said. “But I am okay with you choosing when. The how scares me, but if it’s what you want to do I won’t try to stop you.”
“I just can’t stand the thought of leaving you broke.”
She walked over and set the jeans next to him. Her eyes were wet but hard. “I would spend every cent in our savings and live on the street begging to keep you alive for five minutes more. I don’t give a damn about the money. It has to be you who wants to do this.”
Steve held her gaze for a minute and then looked down, nodding. “Well, I do care about the money. And if my corpse picking vegetables for however long it’ll hold out means you have a roof over your head, I’ll take it over dying in a bed for free.”
Christian protesters, armed with signs and convictions, filled the streets and sidewalks outside the Second Life Clinic. Mary had to park a block away. “Think you can make it or should I get the wheelchair out?”
“If I can lean on you and we take it slow, I should be fine.”
They started walking toward the clinic. It took them about a half-hour to reach the periphery of the crowd. Chants of “You’re not Jesus,” and “There’s only one Resurrection!” were shouted at them as Mary dragged Steve through.
They took a break on a park bench halfway through the crowd so Steve could catch his breath. Mary said, loud enough to be heard over the throng, “Jesus would love you bullying a dying man. I’m sure it brings back all kinds of pleasant memories.”
“Oh, it’s hilarious,” he said, “imagine how brave they’d be if I still had tits.”
“Actually, I think you may be the first person in history whose cancer made their tits bigger. I should have let you borrow a bra for those lumps.”
“None of yours match my outfit.” Steve took a deep inhale, then a slow exhale.
“You ready?” Mary said.
“As I’ll ever be.”
They pressed on.
They signed the final forms and the nurse led them to a small room. A wheeled restraint chair rested in the center. Steve flopped down and fingered the cushioned leather cuffs. Mary sat in a stool next to him and took his hand.
They sat silently for ten minutes until a thin, dark-skinned man with salt-and-pepper hair walked in. He wore a white lab coat over a navy blue suit, and carried a clipboard in one hand and a syringe in the other. “I’m Doctor Supay. Have they explained what will happen?” Steve and Mary nodded. He looked at Mary. “I understand you want to be with him when he turns. I want to reiterate what the nurses told you. Do not get too close to his face. Until we get a chance to process him, he will try to bite you. If he does, it will transmit the virus to you, and you will die. And you’ve signed forms that keep us from being liable to any other members of your family.”
“There aren’t any other members of our family,” she said, “but I understand.”
“Are you ready, sir?” Doctor Supay said.
“Call me Steve. A man should be on a first name basis with his killer. And yes, I am.”
“All right. Then call me Ganesh.” He put the clipboard down and locked the restraints around Steve’s chest, ankles, and wrists, then swabbed his arm with alcohol and injected him. He picked the clipboard back up. “I’ll leave you two alone for his final moments.”
“Thank you, Ganesh,” Steve said.
“Goodbye, Steve.” He shut the door behind him.
“Does it hurt?” Mary said.
“No, I just feel tired.” His voice got quieter. “The pain is gone.” He whispered, “Thank you for the last ten years.” He closed his eyes and stopped breathing.
Mary held her breath. The seconds ticked by, slower than usual as she held his limp hand. Five minutes passed, then ten. After fifteen minutes Steve’s hand gripped hers again, tightly. His lids opened to reveal grey clouds where his beautiful brown eyes used to be. He jerked his body forward, snapping his jaws and growling at her. She tore her hand away from his and stood in front of what was once her husband.
“No, Steve,” she said, so quietly no one could have heard her over his growling, “thank you for the last ten years.” She put her forearm in front of his mouth, and he bit down.
About the Author
John F. Gardner lives in Warsaw, Indiana, a small town you’ve never heard of that controls whether or not you can get replacement bones. He has a wife, two sons, a cat, and a snake. He tries to post one snarky thing a day to Twitter. Follow him @wombatdeamor. This is his first professional sale.