I am Mercy
They turn yellow when the liver goes. She is about that far along. Someone has spiked the back of her withered hand with a needle. A clear plastic tube leads up to a sack of saline that hangs from a brass coat hook on the wall. She looks up at me; it pains me to see her try to blink. Her eyes are dry and sunken. Bottles of morphine, orange prescription pill bottles, laxatives, balms -- all manner of medications lay on the floor around the bed. I can smell the medications as much as I can see them. Deathbeds used to smell of spices, smoke and sour decay, now they smell of preliminaries, industry and calculation -- deceptively sterile.
"Who are you?" she asks. Her voice is as dry as her eyes.
"I am Mercy," I say. "I can help."
"Hospice?" she croaks.
"My son is taking care of me."
"I can see you are very ill," I say.
"If you're not hospice, who are you?"
I find her eye drops and sprinkle her eyes. _Asperges - Vidi aquaum_. She blinks and mutters a thank you. I did it for my comfort, not hers, but I let her think what she wants.
"I represent a group of investors," I say, "people you don't know, people that don't know you, and it's really best that we keep it that way. Please, ask me no uncomfortable questions and I will tell no uncomfortable lies."
She lays back. Her eyes are slick with the drops. She thinks she's imagining me. No surprise, the morphine bottles are plenty, and most are empty.
"My son went out for a walk. He's been cooped up taking care of me."
She rambles on, proudly. If nothing else I've learned to let them talk. I've seen people hang on for weeks just because they couldn't find someone to really listen. The pride soon turns to guilt -- she is a burden, she supposes. She motions for the morphine. I load up the oral syringe and give her a squirt. The morphine is bubblegum pink and drizzles down her corner of her mouth. I lick a stray drop off my knuckles, it even tastes of bubblegum.
"You're really not hospice, are you?" she says. She smiles and I know the morphine is her old friend. "Who are you?"
"First, let me say I've been doing this for many years. At the place of skulls I traded an infamously mad Jew a quick death for his fear. 'I am the son of God,' he said, 'grant mercy.' I said, '_Bahoor,_ aren't we all? Aren't we all?'. Then I put the spear in his side. It was only half a lie, of course -- there is no God. Never was. Only sons, only mercy. What spilled out of Joshua was blood and water, just like any other man."
I put more drops into her eyes like holy water from the copper font.
"Blink," I say and show her with my own eyes. The morphine is doing its job. I know her son will be back shortly, and while I can become inconspicuous, if need be. I'd rather just get the job done.
"I'm a broker. I want your fear," I say.
"My clients are prepared to offer one of two ends: a quick death, or an extra second of life. Lady's choice -- " She shakes her head. Her breath is shallow, suppressed by the morphine. " -- in exchange for the surrender of your fear and anxiety I can grant you a quick and painless death. You will cease to be ridden with the cancer, you will cease to be an old woman dying between dirty sheets. You will cease to be, and that is that. Or, upon surrender, I am authorized to give you another glorious second of being alive. You will have that second to do what you will, think whatever you like, be whatever you like."
"Can you fix the cancer?" she asks with sincerity so vividly innocent it takes me by surprise. They so rarely ask with such sincerity, but make no mistake, they always ask.
"No, you're broken. Nothing can fix it, abandon the flesh, say farewell to the eat-shit-fuck-machine. Are you interested?"
She closes her eyes -- thinking, I hope. If she dies before I get the verbal agreement, I lose my commission. I don't want to look desperate, but there is clearly precious little time.
"Can I have both?"
This time I can see she knows better. I don't even reply. After an awkward silence she says, "Yes, I'm interested."
I can hear her son coming. The front door opens, the floorboards creak.
"You've decided to commit? I'm so glad," I step close to her. She is beautiful -- but they all are. You can see how glorious it really is to be an eat-shit-fuck-machine in those first seconds of indecision. They worship the wrong things for the right reasons, and the right things for the wrong reasons. That's their biggest flaw. I forget how gorgeous humans are at their core, and why I really do this thankless job.
"Yes," she says. I nod and smile, then lean down to kiss her lips -- lips as dry as empty cicada shells. I touch her hair. I can taste her choice, and it taints the fear as I suck it up. The bedroom door rattles. I smell her living rot, it's as agonizing as Joshua's crucifixion. I step back -- back into the shadows. Her son comes in, the brilliant swelling of her transition overpowers his senses. He can't see beyond that, I have no reason to hide, but I do so out of habit. Her fear is in my mouth swishing around like weakened vinegar.
"Ma," he says. "You okay?" He leans over and kisses her, then puts drops in her eyes. He looks at his wristwatch.
"There was a man here," she whispers. "He helped me with my morphine. He helped me not be scared. He took my fear. Do you know what I chose?"
It's a bullshit choice, I realize as a watch her try to explain through the haze of morphine. Another second of suffering or simple nonexistence. I used to feel it as a cruelty, but then, I realize that feeling anything was admitting there was meaning beyond the business transaction.
I swallow her fear into my belly, to keep it safe. I will claim my commission.
"Ma, Ma," he says. But to his credit he doesn't lose it, he lets her go. He just watches wide-eyed, a _sleep start_ takes her body and she jerks hard. Then the smell comes, and I see the black liquid drip down the side of the bed. Nothing romantic in the act of death -- it's the dying that's beautiful. Her son looks at his wristwatch again. He is looking for meaning in the time of her death, they all do this.
Now that she's expired, I don't have the protection of my presence being masked.
"Ahem," I cough into my hand. My handlers hate double-dipping, but they turn a blind eye and allow it as an unsaid perk. It makes up for the steady lowering of commissions.
He turns around and I step out of the shadows.
"W-who are you? From hospice?"
"No, they are clumsy hacks, ushers of Death. I'm a Mercy, allow me to explain ..." and I do. He looks to her, and to me as I talk. I guess I still must have the chutzpah, because shortly we come to terms.
Bosley Gravel is an eclectic hack.Descriptions of his completed and upcoming projects can be found at http://www.ripcot.com.
Embers in the Sky
It was midnight and they had gone to the park after the dance. The sprinklers had come on at eleven, and they had stayed dry by sitting in the gazebo. The temperature had dropped a couple of degrees after that, and then, to their wonder, toads had come out into the grass, and honked their damp forlorn calls. He thought he might love her, but he was afraid to say it. Her straight black hair hung down to her waistline; her eyes were two pools of amber.
"Cindy, I love you," he said, breaking from a kiss, his hand rolled down her back, behind her hair.
She smiled, "It's just a kiss," she said with no ill intent.
He pulled away; his mind racing in different directions, thinking that perhaps she was joking,and then knowing she was not.
"It's okay," he said,"I didn't mean--"
She kissed him this time, he couldn't think for a moment, but finally he pulled away.
"No," he said sadly,"I can't anymore."
He got up, and went to the edge of the gazebo, and listen to the toads, and watched the sky. She came up behind him, smelling his warm scent that contrasted the cool damp air. In the heavens, two falling stars, side by side streaked across the heavens.
"That's us," she said. "two embers between heaven and earth."
His stomach felt as though something soft and warm had nested in it.
"When we are old, we won't remember any of this, he said. "We won't remember." he shook his head sadly.
"I will," she said. "I'll never forget. I made it my wish. You get one too."
Sean licked his lips, "Well, I think I'll take that wish."
He closed his eyes, his head still facing the heavens.
She was crying when he opened his eyes, and he wasn't sure why, but he pulled her close, and put his lips against her warm neck, and savored the smell of vanilla on her. He felt her tears drip down from her chin onto his cheek.
"I think I love you, too," she said. "I'm sorry, I couldn't say it before. I want so many different things."
He didn't reply. The wind blew the tree tops, and the toads became quiet.
"It's okay," he said.
She pulled him close tears still flowing from her eyes. Sean found he was crying too.
"We are just scared," he said.
The toads started up again. They kissed again, each embracing the warmness of the other.
It was dawn before they left the park going their separate ways. They faded from each others lives slowly and steadily, by the time summer was over they would be gone. But that night lingered through drunken college parties, marriage, children and divorces. From time to time in grief or loneliness, they would gaze up into the stars and remember that rare evening, their wishes granted--the memory had always remained.
Bio: BOSLEY GRAVEL, eclectic hack writer, was born in the Midwest, and came of age in Texas and southern New Mexico. He writes in a variety of genres. His fiction focuses on the absurdly tragic, and the tragically absurd. He likes good black coffee, nightmares, Billie Holiday, and that hour just before the sun comes up. Coming soon: his debut literary novel "The Movie" from BeWrite Books (for pre-Christmas Release).
Motivation: Young love, bitter-sweet, sometimes has long lasting value despite the duration.