“Carl.” Her voice was hoarse, almost inaudible. “Would you pour me some water, please.”
He reached across the safety rails and lifted the plastic pitcher off the over-bed table. As Carl poured half a cup, he kept his eyes trained on what he was doing so that he didn’t have to look at his wife. He didn’t want her to see what was in his eyes, what he knew, what the doctor had told him. He shifted the lever that raised the head of the bed to bring her to a semi-sitting position and gently put one hand behind her head before putting the cup to her mouth with the other. She parted her crusty, pale lips. The smell of her breath was overpowering. The smell of death. The disease had eaten away at her insides, and the rot of it was seeping out the tiny opening. Carl turned his head to escape it. He look up feigning interest in what was on the television.
“Carl. Stop.” Leslie’s words came with a fit of coughing.
He turned back and the water was dribbling down her chin and onto her nightgown.
“Oh, God, I’m sorry.” Carl jumped up and put the cup back on the table and ran to the bathroom. He ripped a couple of paper towels from the dispenser and ran back to his wife.
“I’m so sorry, hon.” He said as he dabbed and wiped, still not meeting her eyes.
“It actually felt good, refreshing.” She tried to chuckle but it just caught in her throat, causing a second coughing fit. “When I get out of here, I’m going to take a long shower, really long.” Leslie took a couple of short shallow breaths. Her eyes closed. She was asleep just that quick.
Carl walked over to the window and looked down at the cars in the parking lot without really looking at them. There were no longer machine noises in the room. They had removed life support monitoring. There was just the hum of a semi-muted television. He couldn’t even hear Leslie’s breathing. That thought made him turn around quickly. He could always hear that soft wheeze, always. He went to the bed and put his hand on her chest. It did not move. He tried to feel for a pulse but felt nothing. Carl ran into the hall.
Leslie felt strange, sort of like being in a dream and thinking you’re in a dream. She saw Carl standing by the window looking out, away. Poor Carl, she thought. He’s been such a trooper through the whole cancer thing. Leslie felt floaty. She could see her body on the bed. Carl running into the hall. Then everything went dark. It was so black. She couldn’t see or feel anything. It’s like walking in space, she thought. Breaking through the darkness was a pinprick of light. Leslie moved toward it, traveling down a long tunnel. The light got brighter and felt more radiant as she neared it. Then, like a door closing, the light disappeared and she was back in utter darkness. She wanted to cry. The light felt safe, was beautiful. A hand gripped her shoulder. It smelled of dry dusty old books.
“Greetings, Prisoner 11384. You have served your sentence, and you are now free to go.”
“Go where?” Leslie asks. “Go where?” But whoever had spoken was gone.
“Go where!” she screamed out.