As they reached the door, he charged after them. "What do you think you'll do about your friend?"
Tali smiled, "Why do you ask?"
"It's not me, it's my ego."
"We'll have to think it over."
The old man growled and slammed the door.
A month later, Kolanski's ego chalked up a victory, which its owner, having suffered a sudden stroke and slipped into a coma an hour after the guests left his house, was regrettably not aware of. Bessie, despairing, took up permanent residence at the small hospital, never once straying from her husband's side, refusing to heed doctors' advice and get on with her life, shuddering each time she heard the vile e-word spoken.
During the first nights, she curled up next to the artist and whispered in his ear the kind of syrupy sentences that, had he been alert, would have won her a sharp slap in the face. By the following week, the syrup had dried up and all that remained was a gummy abrasiveness in her throat. Tired, drained of all hope, she looked at her husband with a distant stare and prayed that she, too, would be stricken. The stroke never materialized and the kindhearted woman, in her third week of waiting, was seized by an unfamiliar rage. She began hurling insults at her husbandchastising him for all lost time, for his appalling selfishness, for his unfinished paintings, for the disappointment sprawled across the empty white plains of canvas, for his devastating laziness, his unconvincing simulacrum of a corpsea somber flower next to a withering thorn. Certain that the change of tack would help her words pass through the hidden currents of the mechanized life-support apparatus, Bessie launched into long, fertile monologues, tyrannizing him, vowing that if he let go, she would wipe away all traces of his existence, destroy his work, and spread abhorrent lies about him. Seven days later, when she realized that her threats were not bearing fruit, she turned to her husband and said, in a conclusive tone, holding her voice flat, "Rafael, you remember the Edgar Allan Poe story about that cursed house, I can't remember its name, the one where the owner couldn't escape, until, in the end, it drove him crazy? You remember what he did? How he and his friend buried his sick sister and how, a few days later, the friend realized, to his horror, that the sister hadn't been dead and that he had helped bury her alive? I'm sure you remember the story. I say this because, as time passes, I'm beginning to feel like the crazy owner of the house. What are you asking me to do, bury you alive? Because if that's what you want, I'll see it through. But I don't want your death looming over my conscience. The doctors say you won't wake up, and I don't know, it's hard for me to believe them but I'm starting to. Oh hell, Kolanski, it's your sleep and my nightmare. What do you want? Their hints are getting thicker by the day. I keep hearing that word. Euthanasia. They say you're suffering; that with the flip of a switch I could deliver you from this torment. I can't stand the idea, but maybe they're right. . . ."
The ward's head nurse, eavesdropping at the doorway, smiled contentedly. She knew these monologues by heart, knew where they were leading. Within a week and a half at most, the woman would come to her senses and, after walking the weathered track of deliberation, would ask submissively to grant him eternal rest. If unexpected signs of optimism arose, the nurse would gently explain to her where true hope resided. She had, over the past decade, already nudged the spouses of ninety-nine men and women into proper bereavement, and it was now Kolanski's turn. After all, ever since she first experienced the wonders of euthanasia, she had vowed that after the hundredth death she would opt for early retirement, secure in the gladdening knowledge that her calling had been answered in full. The fifty-year-old nurse saw herself as an angel of salvation, delivering the comatose from the anguish of their loved ones. The other nurses dubbed her The Angel of Death, a nickname that clashed eerily with her frail and fragile bearing.
The World of the End © Ofir Touché Gafla 2013
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From NYT bestselling author Ann Leary
The captivating story of an unconventional New England family.
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