Gaph chuckled at the flickering television screen. His giggles turned to choking coughs. He spat more slimy red globs into a tissue.

The woman in white scrubs moved every item off every surface in his private room as she wiped and wiped with some stringent solution. The force she used to scrub combined with the brisk paced in which she moved caused her salt and pepper hair to fray right out of her high bun. No one would ever accuse the nursing home staff of being filthy. Or overly friendly, for that matter.

Gaph’s favorite horror movie continued to play on the T.V. and the nurse continued to clean. Gaph continued to die.

Mercy would be along shortly. She came by every Tuesday morning. They’d drink coffee and critique Gaph’s old films as though they were still relevant. She was running late today. Though he was a stickler for tardiness, at their age Gaph figured it was forgivable. Besides, he wasn’t going anywhere.

With an itchy wool blanket draped across his lap, Gaph reclined in the lazy boy his son had bought him the last Christmas he was alive. Murphy had always been a solid, healthy lad. Gaph had never imagined that he’d attend the funeral services of his son. The shock of seeing his boy, an elderly man himself at his death, in a coffin had dried the tears right up in Gaph’s eyes.

He cleared his throat and reached for a clean tissue to wipe the tears that now leaked freely from his eyes. Over a hundred years of being the strong one, the man of his household since his early teens when his father had left him with a sickly mother and six siblings, had left him weepy. A spark of the old anger flashed through his gut, but was gone quickly. Now, he was just plain tired.

Maybe his Lilly would come for him today. Murphy was three years old when his mother died. Her car had cleared a bridge and dove into the river below. She’d saved Murphy, but was lost when she went back down for Alice. More tears for his wife and baby girl eeked from the corners of Gaph’s eyes.

At noon, Mercy still had not arrived. Gaph ate the cardboard lunch his nurse served him before she left for the day. Even with a two hour nap after lunch the afternoons and evenings were unbearably long.

Coming out of the shower, Gaph’s foot caught the slippery corner of the shower curtain and went right out from under him. The porcelain toilet broke his fall. He raised a shaky hand to his head, saw blood on his fingers through blurry vision.

Gaph turned his head to the right and watched a pool of blood spread across the floor. Just above him, within reach, was the red call button that would bring one of the nurses to his rescue. Instead of pressing the button, he turned onto his back, crossed his ankles comfortably and clasped his hands together on his chest. How many times had he been in such condition? How many times had he prayed it would be the last?

Once again, he waited patiently for Lilly to bring him beyond this life. He daydreamed of golden fields shining in the sun, Lilly dancing among countless rows of wheat. He pictured them sitting together under a white gazebo overlooking a meadow where Murphy and Alice played, surrounded by old oaks.

Mercy had not come that day, and that was okay. Lilly, Murphy and Alice weren’t there either, and that was okay, too. Gaph hadn’t been waiting for any of them. Not really. What he had been waiting for had finally come. Darkness found him content and brought him peace.


2 thoughts on “A Matter of Life and Death

  1. Love this! The depth of character and emotion in such a brief piece was amazing … I really liked the little details that illuminated Gaph’s last hours, the “itchy wool blanket” and the “cardboard lunch”. The ending was wonderful, and genuinely moving. Thanks for posting 🙂


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