Brushing his teeth at in the mirror, feeling the dull persistent ache of yet another tooth going bad, a simple stinging thought came to him with the biblical simplicity of a revelation. It stopped the rasp of his toothbrush and gave him pause.
This will be my last toothbrush.
A bird was pecking at some old bread someone had left on a feeder. That bird will be there tomorrow morning doing the same old thing. The bird will go on eating bread. The sun will rise. The sun will set. I won’t catch any of it.
This is my last day. Maybe my last hour. Maybe my last minute. I don't know how I know that, but I know. I’ll be gone before they call dinner.
The face looking back from the mirror was a soft map work of lines. The road map of his gathered years. The bed-head mop of unruly silver hair he had been so vain about only a short month ago, a soft mouth, framed a rabid looking ring of toothpaste foam over the silver beard stubble within. The blood lesions of the cancer covered his face like a hellish case of acne, which was what everybody had thought it was at first when the bleeding spots first appeared on his back. The lesions had made him stop shaving. The brush paused in the air between his lips.
I'll be gone by the end of the day. Yes.
I don’t know how I know that. I don’t even know how I feel about that. Will it hurt?
Leukemia hurts like hell off and on, especially if you stop treatment and you don't always take the pain pills. I can’t believe I’m still walking around the hospice house with this going on. Can’t complain, I guess.
I’ve had these thoughts before, but this time it’s real. Tonight they’ll carry me out of here. My kids sent me here because the leukemia is terminal now. Because I would never survive the chemo therapy a second time around without likely going septic. I mean, Christ, old dog, what's the big surprise? They packed you off to this place to die and it’s coming. Listen. You came here to die. It’s what people come here to do. Aren’t you even curious?
I want to feel it, he thought. Yes, I’m curious. If the pain comes, I want to feel the pain. If death comes, and it must today, I want to feel the death. Whatever happens here on out, I want to feel it. All the way. When death comes, I've always believed there would be nothing after. So when death comes, I want to BE there. But I don’t want to die badly, screaming or crying or unmanned or any less than myself. How should I die?
Live your day as if this were your last. Fuck the people who say that shit. What do they know about it? What do you do when it really is your last and you know it? What do you do? Climb a mountain? Read a book? Blow your life savings on hookers? Get right with God? Fall apart and weep for just one more day?
He let that thought settle. It had been a cynical thought, but it stuck. Maybe, yes. It sounded dumb. But it wasn't so dumb. It made sense in a way. Not that bad an idea, not really. Won’t get to feel that anymore, that’s for sure. A good orgasm, get up on your shit house and crow. Give death the flying final finger. Bible says somewhere Moses “kept his moisture” until the end. That meant in Bible talk he could still get it up in bed right to the end. And him being a hundred and twenty years old. Now. That’s a mighty man.
When was the last time he had made love? With a person? Joined his body with another person? Where?
He couldn't remember. For the love of God. When? Who? How did it feel? Feel? How did it feel? Only details. You slip it in, hold it there. You move it around. But. That's not how. That’s just details. What is it to be inside a woman? The same woman, over and over, a thousand times? How could that ever get old?
That would have been Aimee. I think. Before she took on Alzheimer’s and forgot who I was. We were both fucking strangers the last time we did it, even when it was with each other. Before me and the kids had her hauled off. Was that the last time? Or that crazy divorcee down the hall in the retirement apartments? Her? Nobody since?
I will die today. I don’t know how I know this. I only know I came here to die because that’s what you do in a hospice. You die surrounded by nice people,
He went on watching the bird outside pecking at the bread. The world is filled with ants. Leaves will go on falling. The sun will go on shining. All this without me. It seems unfair somehow. The world should miss me. But it won’t. I think a couple of people will miss me, but that's all.
I will never come again, feel that rising rush and spurt if I don’t go for it now. I will never have that feeling of being inside another, of being deeply in her space and holding her and exploring the mystery of her. I won’t have that again. I hate knowing I won't ever have that feeling again. Some things should never be over. The feeling of entering into another who wants me to be inside her. Woman's great gift to man, offering to him that eagerness, to bring him inside and hold him there, to keep him there inside awhile held by his desires.
He looked to the bathroom door, just down the hall way. He’d never done this act in someone else’s bathroom. Suddenly he felt like a guest here again right when he was beginning to get used to the place.
Honestly, I'm not even horny. When a man gets sick, especially this sick, it’s the lust that goes overboard first. It’s a challenge, I just wonder if I can get it up and go all the way with it. By God.
He looked down at his feet in their floppy bathroom slippers, "I have ugly feet too," he said out loud to no one. "I’m a ridiculous sick old man whose planning to jack himself off while maybe dying at the same time with my dick in my hand and I have ugly feet too. See how the morgue handles that. Shit." The room became a little gray. He touched the wall with his hand to steady himself. He swayed dimly.
Suddenly it seemed the most important thing in the world to him. This act he was about to do. When he was a little boy they had called it self abuse. As if a person might molest themselves. Such bugaboos and taboos they'd made against it. Now it seemed like the most important in all the world. A statement or maybe a falling flag of defiance.
He took a few deep breaths. Felt his heart racing. He moved one foot in front of the other. With the motion his head felt better, his thoughts clearer.
He was in the hallway now of the big, Victorian house, which may have once been considered a mansion, but was now at least "a very fine house", with an upstairs and a downstairs. Most patients were on the downstairs level. Around him, here, outside the room there was a feeling of life, of activity, of a vibrant world he was about to vacate without leaving so much as a bubble behind..
Mercifully the door to the bathroom was open, available. He went in and closed it behind. Aagin that light sinking feeling in his head and the room began to gray. He leaned against the wall and spread his feet. He breathed deeply and ducked his head down to his knees. His face throbbed. His hair felt hot. He looked up at the door, and turned the thumb lock. The staff would have a key anyway, but just in case, to buy him a little warning jingle in case he was lost in the moment.
If you die while you ‘re coming do you go to Heaven? Or oesit just seem like it?
He put down the toilet seat and lid, checked for paper and waited for a happy thought to come.
Odd feelings of shame came instead and a light burst of excitement moved through his loins. The shame of it. The delicious sordid sin. Pathetic maybe, at my age men shouldn’t do this, but still. It's like being a boy again, he thought. He pulled down his pajama bottoms and kicked them free into a corner. He looked down between his legs.
There you are old hound dog. Let's see what we’ve got. What shall I think I about? Who, rather? A young nurse, that well intentioned, good hearted college grad Lara who keeps checking on me at night to see if I stopped breathing?
The idea of fantasizing about a woman so young was wounding somehow beyond words. The thought,made him feel irretrievably shameful about what he was about to do.
He sat on the toilet seat, looking down at his limpness. He touched himself there, moved it gently in his fingers trying to get the motor to turn over, but it remained flacid and somehow despairing. Like a dog with its sad head on its paws. On the floor there was a small pile of ant bait and a few lone ants carrying it away.
He thought of his favorite presidential candidate, with her raucous cackle and her pantsuits.
Yes. Her. She'll do.
A train. We're in a train station and the train is pulling in and her entourage of media experts and staff are with her and they have been planning the next stop. Our eyes meet across the room. She sees me, my salt and pepper hair, and sees an interesting man.
A stirring of anticipation below. Hello there, old friend. Are you awake?
We board the train, she snaps "Excuse me," to her staff and moves away from them. She comes up to me and whispers "Follow me," with the authority of a dominatrix. I follow her.
Below the anticipation moved to outright interest and a tentative firmness. He rises! It is Moby Dick! The image conjures another, a pacific island back when he was in the navy. He is young and strong now. And the woman is bare assed under the grass skirt, round bare breasts swaying pendulously, small faced, with thick shining black hair that smells of coconut. He has saved her life from . . . from . . . a shark! - and she is grateful. She has a hero's reward for him. There's a huge pink blossom tucked in her hair. She takes him by the hand and leads him from the beach to a hut. As they enter the straw smelling coolness, she turns her back to him, undoes a string of her grass skirt and it falls to the grass.
Her ass is turned to him, shaped like a mandolin, her cheeks round and caressable. She looks shyly over her shoulder, waiting. Past the swell of her strong right arm he sees the poke of her erect black nipple. She is wearing nothing now but the flower.
"Goddess Lalani," he whispers, "The gods have sent me to be a gift of love to you in your loneliness." These are not his words. He doesn't know how he knows this. Where does this come from? She turns to him and the vision of her smooth brown skin and bottomless black eyes stuns him with lust. He is young and vigorously erect. And for the first time in years he is not lonely and knows he will be happy. She touches his cheek gently and suddenly the pink petals of the flower fall away from her hair landing on her breast. He bends his head and licks them away.
"Robert?" The knuckles rapped softly at the bathroom door. "Robert, it’s Lara. Are you all right in there? Have you fallen? Robert?"
Someone had heard a hard thump of someone hitting the floor. Now the hospice staff were gathering around in the hall. "Mr. Zimmer, are you in there?" Lara rappedagain, but there was no answer. She jiggled the door knob. "Mr. Zimmer, please unlock this door. Can you answer me? Can you speak? Mr. Zimmer?"
Lara turned to a young man behind her. "Bring the key for the door. Don't call his family just yet until we know. Hurry." She rapped at the door again but there was only silence.