Ten of My More Reasonable Deathbed Fantasies

By Tim Poland

…nothing in his life
Became him, like the leaving it; he died
As one that had been studied in his death,…

— Shakespeare

Macbeth, Act I, scene iv

I wonder who gonna be your sweet man when I’m gone,
I wonder who you gonna have to love you, honey,
Who gonna carry your business on…

— Muddy Waters

We’re blindsided by birth. We don’t stand a chance. But if we’re lucky, we might be able to see death coming from a little way off, might be able to prepare ourselves. I want to be ready. So, on occasion, I practice. Every once in a while I get it right. Most often, things tend to spin out of my control.

Fantasy #1

Greta never could read a map. A foreign language to her. Fundamental geography escapes her. She claims she was sick most of her third-grade year, and that was when they taught geography in New York City. When I suggest that the study of geography was not restricted to a single academic year, she rejects the idea out of hand.

“Besides,” she would say, “I knew how to get anywhere I needed to go in the city on the subway. I’d have liked to see you do that, farm boy. What did I need geography for anyway?”

As usual, I’m snaking along the two-lane back roads, avoiding the interstates whenever possible. Every time I’m forced to pull onto an interstate highway, I curse Eisenhower and his capitulation to the gasoline-automobile-rubber-trucking-industrial complex. I marvel at how an interstate highway transforms the distinctive features of any landscape into a nondescript duplicate of any other interstate highway, no matter where it’s located. I tremble at the incongruous combination of terror and tedium I experience as I cower in the shadow of a semi roaring past me while my eyes begin to blur from staring at the same rear bumper and license plate for nearly an hour. So I cling to the narrow lanes and tight curves of the back roads. I steer through the canopy of trees hugging the road, turn up the car stereo, lean into the curves, swerve to miss raccoon carcasses mashed on the pavement, and smile in a small West Virginia town when we pass a little tavern actually named the Do Drop Inn. The interstate would have erased all of this, except, perhaps, some of the raccoons.

Greta has been asleep since Gallipolis. I try to keep my eyes on the narrow southbound lane of the bridge over the Ohio River at Pomeroy, but I want to watch her head roll gently back and forth on the headrest. When I see her resting, I’m happy, reassured, and I like to watch that. Her feet are propped up against the dashboard, and I can see the little chips in the red polish on her toenails. She often paints her toenails in the car, late getting ready to go wherever it is we’re going, not having the time to do it before we leave. The smell of fresh nail polish always makes me gag, gasping for air at my open window. I veer slightly into the path of an oncoming mini-van before I force my eyes back to my own lane on the bridge over the river.

She sleeps on, her head lolling, and I veer left onto route 33 eastbound on the other side of the bridge and turn the stereo down. Between Mason and Hartford, I reach over to her face and lift a dangling strand of hair from her forehead without waking her. On the other side of New Haven she wakes up. Her feet slide from the dashboard to the floor, and she squirms upright in her seat.

“Was I sleeping?” she asks. “Yes,” I say.

“How long?” “Awhile.”

I lean the car into a tight curve. At the tail of the curve we pass a wooden sign advertising a primitive campground ahead.

“Why in hell would you need a special place to be primitive around here?” Greta says. “Everything around here looks pretty damn primitive to me.”

I smile and turn the air conditioning control up a notch. A minute later Greta turns her face to me and speaks again.

“Where are we, Teddy? Are we halfway there yet?” she says, and as I open my mouth to answer, my chest locks with a thud, as if a huge pair of pliers have clamped down on my heart. My left arm feels like it’s covered with mosquitoes and drops limp to the arm rest. I slump to the right and drag the steering wheel along with me, pitching the car onto the berm. My right foot is the only part of my body I feel I can control at all, and I flop the foot onto the brake and somehow press down. The car lurches and skids off the road and slams to a stop, nose forward in a shallow ditch. The air bags inflate, and my drooping head is slapped against the edge of my seat.

“My god, my god,” Greta screams. “Teddy, are you alright?”

The air bag deflates onto my legs, and I smell gunpowder. Greta slaps the flaccid air bag from her lap and yanks her seatbelt off.

“Teddy, Teddy,” she says, lifting my flushed face in her hands, watching my eyes dance wildly in their sockets.

“Oh my god, Teddy. Teddy. Hold on, baby.”

She rips down the zipper of her purse and fishes around frantically for her cell phone.

“Hold on, baby. Oh, damn it, what is it? Star 911 or pound 911? Shit.” She punches the keys of her phone and waits, eyeing the road behind us for a passing car, rocking in her seat and reaching to hold my arm.

“Goddamn it,” she says, and cuts off the phone, then punches the keys again, waits again. Her grip on my arm tightens.

“Yes. Yes. We’ve had an accident. My husband is having a heart attack. Help us.”

She pauses, twitching miserably.

“Where are we? Oh, I don’t know. Somewhere. Teddy, where are we?”

I try to move my lips, to mutter route 33, eastbound, West Virginia side of the river, seven miles east of New Haven, 5.5 miles east of the nuclear power plant, 2.5 miles east of the Racine Locks and Dam, 1.3 miles and one heart attack east of the Family Fun Primitive Campground. Only a thin strand of unintelligible air hisses from my mouth.

“Oh, I don’t know where we are. Teddy, are we still in Ohio? I don’t know. We’re in some goddamn bumble-fuck nowhere and my husband is having a heart attack.

It’s a road. There are trees. What? Hell, I don’t know. They look like trees, goddamn it.”

I see the terror in her wet eyes, and I wonder if, perhaps, they did teach geography only in the third grade in New York City schools. I feel another crush in my chest, no air enters my lungs when I try to inhale, and my eyes roll back in their sockets.

“Can’t you just find us?” Greta says into her phone. “Please, just find us.”

Fantasy #2

It all happens so quickly – a blink or two, a desperate clutch, then gone on a draft of rising air.

It’s our second day on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Greta’s doing it again. Hands on her hips, arms akimbo, she steps right to the edge of yet another precipice and gazes out across the unimaginable depths of the canyon. With each step she takes closer to the precipice, my vertigo ratchets up another notch, dizzying me, pulling me forward, teasing me out toward the unfathomable air. With each step she takes closer, I inch further away. The exposed height terrifies me, and Greta knows it. Despite her age, she never fully left behind that part of her childhood that may have had some value and use at one time – the petulant, willful child, testing the boundaries around her. She’s testing me now.

“Look at all this,” she says, firmly planted at the edge. “Amazing.” “Yes, it is,” I say, cowering against a rock, several feet behind her.

“But you know what, Teddy? It’s… Well, it’s too much. Too big. Too grand. You just can’t get your head around all this. Does that make any sense?”

“Yes. Now please, baby. Please. Don’t stand so close to the edge. Please.” “Oh, Teddy. Stop it. I’m fine. Don’t be such a wimp.”

This is a good time to tease me, and Greta isn’t about to miss the opportunity. She looks over her shoulder at me, grins impishly, and shakes her ass from side to side. The thin air catches in my throat, and my arms twitch involuntarily up and out, grasping for something I can’t reach from my sanctuary against the rock. And that’s when it happens. She twists her body toward me, laughing, and her foot slips on a stone in the arid dirt at her feet.

I’m moving before she’s finished falling. Her shimmering eyes flash wide, her mouth clamps shut, and she rights her contorted body and falls onto her outstretched hands and knees. A squeak, barely audible, escapes her lips and the toe of one foot slips just past the edge of the precipice, as I reach her side and grab one arm, just under her shoulder.

“I’m okay. I’m okay,” she says, but my momentum can’t be checked at this point. I set my foot and yank her back from the edge, dragging her chin-down into the dirt.

“Ouch. Stop it, Teddy. I’m alright.”

But it’s too late. The force of tugging her away from the precipice throws me off balance. I stumble forward, my arms flap at my sides, my feet slip from under me, and before either of us can steal another breath, I’m falling.

“Teddy,” Greta cries as I go over the edge, and my name through her teeth is the last thing I hear.

My fear of heights and the terror of the fall catch on the lip of the precipice and stay there with Greta. I do not flail my arms or scream. I plummet into the canyon with grace and poise, an aerodynamic human missile, streaking down the canyon wall. As I fall, what I suspected all along becomes certain. I had never been afraid of heights, afraid of falling. I had been dizzied by the struggle to resist the lure of the leap. I surrender to the rush of rising air against my falling flesh. I know now that the joy of the descent is worth what waits below, and I smile. I will die a tragic hero to my wife, my life sacrificed to save hers. And if she can endure the guilt, Greta will love me forever. No other man who enters her life after this will have a prayer of claiming her unconditional love. He will never be better than secondary to the dead husband who preceded him, always overshadowed by the absent, tragic figure who fell to his death and still owns the love of this pretty, sad-eyed widow he craves. I will always be there. The falling is delicious.

Fantasy #3

I have no business being up on this ladder at my age, cleaning leaves from the gutter, but there’s no one else to do it. We never had any children who might help their aging parents in their dotage, and we can’t afford to pay someone to do it. But, as Greta always says, it has to be done, one way or the other. She’s always taken such pride in her house, so concerned with all the details of maintenance, and I wouldn’t want to let her down, even though I never could bring myself to care about such things to the degree that she did, not to mention that I’ve always been a bit afraid of heights, even a height so slight as that at the top of a ladder. I don’t want her to think I’m a coward. I do it for her.

If I can just reach out to the soggy wad of leaves clogged at the end of the last foot or so of this gutter, I can avoid having to creep back down the ladder, move it, and crawl back up again. I inch my way to the edge of the rung and swing one foot out into the air away from the ladder. I see the spots on my hand stretch and expand as I grip the rung in front of my face with one hand and reach far out to the remaining clot of leaves with the other. As my fingertips begin to swipe at the wet mass in the gutter, I feel my hip socket crumble into powder. For a moment I seem to hover in the air, like a strip of Styrofoam, caught on a gust of wind, before I fall in a rumpled heap onto the patio stones. And though my hearing hasn’t been very good for years now, I’m certain I can actually hear my skull crack against the flagstone.

The light grows quickly fuzzy and blurred, but Greta’s face comes through the blur, her almond-eyes shining like they did in the sunlight that day long ago when we ate lunch from our packs on the rocks along the Rose River. I can’t move my legs or my arms. My lips are dry and begin to flutter, struggling to call to her. I hear only the single word “Greta” whistle from my throat. My head feels as if it’s been pierced by a shovel, and my lips stick together. I try to pull them apart to call again when I remember that Greta has been gone for nearly six years now. I recall how shocked and angry I was that she went first.

Her eyes recede into the thickening fog before me.

Fantasy #4

When the plane bucks the first time, Greta tells me to relax, that everything is fine.

“It’s okay, Teddy,” she says, and her left hand floats away from the magazine she’s reading and slips through my right arm, just above the elbow pressed into the arm rest between her window seat and my aisle seat. “Don’t worry, baby. It’s only a little turbulence. Do you need to take another one of your pills?”

If the plane crashes, her fate will be the same as mine, the odds of her survival no better than mine. And yet, she is searching for ways to soothe me. Is she considerate to the point of self-sacrifice, or is she profoundly oblivious to the threat of danger in which we are encased, the threat that all the Ativan in the world won’t alleviate?

“No, I just took one a little while ago,” I say, and set my teeth and screw my elbow deeper into the arm rest.

My eyes scan the interior of the cabin, searching out the face of the flight attendant. Flight is a daily occurrence for her. The rhythms and vibrations of a plane in flight register in her blood, and any irregularity would have to show on her face. She is nowhere to be seen in the cabin. A sure indication of impending disaster, and for a moment I imagine her in a secret compartment, strapping herself into the only parachute on board, preparing to abandon us to the hopeless tug of gravity.

“Really, honey. Everything’s fine,” Greta says, closing her hand around my arm. And for one or two seconds, maybe three, I’m completely serene, calmed and reassured by the sound of her voice before the plane jolts again and the propeller engine outside our window sputters out, spewing a thick plume of black smoke in its wake, and I make a mental note to myself to never, not ever, fly on one of these goddamn little puddle-jumpers again.

Greta’s fingers clutch deep into the flesh of my arm, and we both know that she can no longer deny my fears. The flight attendant appears from the rear of the cabin, stumbling frantically up the aisle toward the cockpit, as the plane begins to wobble and plummet like a buckshot duck and the pilot’s voice squawks over the speaker system, muttering about technical difficulties and emergency procedures. Something catches in his throat as the speaker dissolves into static. Out of the tumult of terrified voices filling the cabin of the plane, I can distinguish only the two voices directly behind Greta and me. A man and a woman. The man’s voice has sunk into a hoarse, desperate prayer. The woman, his wife, I assume, begins to kick at the back of my seat and scream at the man. “You’re a turd with legs, and I’ve wasted my life with you, and now this. Now this.” I think I can hear the soft, muted sound of her fists beating against the man’s shoulders.

The flight attendant has been knocked to her knees and is pounding on the cockpit door, pleading for entrance, as if being next to the plane’s controls will protect her from our common fate. Greta’s hand releases my arm and slides behind my back, pushing me gently forward into our egg-shaped crash positions. As I lean forward, out of the corner of my eye, I see the fat man across the aisle from me, trying to double over and clasp his arms around his thighs. His eyes are wide, the whites blazing, as he strains and sweats, only able to bend his torso halfway to his knees.

Greta and I are bent all the way forward, our arms wrapped around our thighs, our faces resting on our knees, looking into each other’s eyes, only inches apart. Our fingers strain forward from under our thighs and clutch, each holding the other’s hand tightly.

“Teddy,” she says, and my eyes lock magnetically to hers. “I love you, Teddy. We’ve had such a beautiful life together. I wouldn’t change any of it.”

“Yes, Greta, so beautiful,” I say. “I love you.”

The plane has dipped nearly into a nose dive, and we hang half-suspended by our seat belts, but we stretch our faces forward, just far enough to brush our lips together. And I’m completely serene, calmed and reassured by the sound of her voice and the wisp of her lips over mine and the shimmer in her eyes, and I know that when the plane hits and explodes us all into a million indistinguishable bits of meat and metal, I’ll feel exactly the same as I do at this moment.

Fantasy #5

They call it “dying in the saddle,” but I don’t look much like a cowboy. The aneurysm exploded in my brain exactly at the moment of climax, and I was dead before the shudder had run the length of my body. I lie face-down in a naked lump on stained sheets. Mashed into a pillow, my face is swollen, lips open, tongue protruding, and my eyes are still open, blank and clouding. My arms are splayed out, palms up, across the bed, and my buttocks poke up slightly, stuck as she left them when she squirmed out from under me. The woman who is nothing at all like Greta pants for breath as she frantically scrambles into her clothes.

“Oh shit. Oh shit. Got to get the fuck out of here,” she says.

Barely dressed, she grabs her cigarettes from the night stand and her bra from the floor, stuffing them both into her purse. One bra strap dangles from the open purse as she scoops her shoes from the floor and rushes barefoot from the motel room, slamming the door and leaving the light on.

Fantasy #6

Deleted at the last minute – too sentimental.

Fantasy #7

I once said to Greta, “If I have to die, I want to die in your arms.” She tilted her head to the side, looked up into my face, laid her hands to the sides of my face, and kissed me. I could see it in her eyes. She thought what I said had been a touching, if a bit odd, way to say how much I loved her. And I could see in her eyes that she didn’t take my announcement too seriously. But I was serious. And still am. I meant what I said, literally, and I decide that if this matters to me as much as I’ve said, and it does, then I would do well to leave nothing to chance.

I wait until she’s sleeping, her breathing deep, smooth and regular. Sliding slowly out of bed, I walk naked to the kitchen and get the capsules. I’ve hidden them on top of one of the cabinets, well out of Greta’s sight and reach. The capsules lie on the counter while I fetch a bottle of chilled, filtered water from the refrigerator. Our local tap water is horrid, loaded with chlorine, arsenic, and other poisons and particulate matter – we drink only filtered water. I take a bottle of single-malt scotch from one cabinet and a glass tumbler from another and set them by the capsules and the water on the counter.

Statistics show that most male suicides are more violent and dramatic than female suicides. Men shoot themselves, hang themselves, throw themselves from high places, asphyxiate themselves with the exhaust from their automobiles, aim those automobiles between the headlights of oncoming cars. They turn upon themselves the technology and histrionic mayhem that they’ve learned is their terrain. Women are more quiet and

unassuming about doing themselves in. They swallow pills and slash their wrists in bathtubs. More considerate of those left behind, not wanting to leave yet another mess to be cleaned up. I smile, looking down at the capsules and water and scotch on the counter. I will be considerate, too, like a woman. The morning will be hard enough on her as it is. I’d hate for there to be a mess for her to clean up.

The pills go down easily, four handfuls, each handful of pills washed down with a long draught of water and a big gulp of the single-malt scotch. Greta always says it’s important to drink plenty of water, to keep the body hydrated. Ideally, she says, a man my size should drink nearly a gallon a day.

I put the bottle of scotch back in the cupboard, drop the pill bottle into the trash, wash the glass, and put the water bottle back into the refrigerator. My thumb and fingers leave clear prints in the condensation on the plastic bottle. The dogs are sleeping on the sofa. I scratch both of them behind the ears, and walk through the house, checking to see the doors and windows are locked. I want to know my family is secure for the night before I walk back into the bedroom. I want to be considerate.

Greta hasn’t moved since I got up. She’s still sleeping soundly as I slip carefully into bed and back my rear into the curve of hips. Her body moves by instinct against my backside, our bodies curved together like spoons in a drawer. It’s the way we always sleep. Greta says it makes her feel more secure like that, and I feel the same. I want her to be secure.

She begins to snore, the air rattling into her nose and rasping out her mouth. When she snores, I know with certainty that she’s resting deeply, and I’m glad. She’s so often restless, and she’ll need to be well-rested for tomorrow. I listen to the rhythm of

her snoring and anchor myself to the sound in the dark bedroom. I’m already growing drowsy, maybe from the pills, but mostly from the scotch and the late hour – it’s well past my usual bedtime. One of her arms slips around my shoulder while she sleeps. I reach behind myself, feel for the other arm, and lift it from where it’s curled against her breasts and wrap it around my chest. My arms are getting heavy, but I can still move them enough. I take each of her hands into mine, bring them together at the center of my chest, and hold them there tightly. I listen to her snoring in the dark and feel the rise and fall of her chest against my back. I feel safe and rooted, not alone, part of the body breathing behind me. As I begin to drop off, I smile, knowing that everything will be as I hoped. Because I was careful, considerate, left nothing to chance, the lives breathing around me are resting peacefully, safe and secure.

Fantasy #8

Japanese food has always been Greta’s favorite. And it’s alright with me, too, I suppose. After sitting through almost three hours of a lousy movie, I’d just as soon sidle up to a bar somewhere for a couple of cold beers and a greasy hamburger. But not Greta. I can hardly make a logical argument that a burger would be better for me at my age than seaweed, rice, and raw fish, and it doesn’t really matter to me that much, all in all, so she gets her choice and we go for Japanese. Sushi matters to Greta.

We’re both leaning toward the center of the table, talking about the movie we just saw, when the waiter brings our dinner. We lean back to allow him room to place the platters of fish-wrapped rice and shredded ginger on the table.

“Will there be anything else?” he asks.

“Looks good. I could use another beer,” I say, picking up my empty Kirin bottle and giving it a little wiggle.

“Certainly.” He takes the empty beer bottle from my hand and walks away as Greta and I lean back into our conversation.

“Seriously, Teddy,” she says. “A refund. You should be able to get a refund for a shitty movie. You should.”

“It’d never work,” I say. “Everyone would claim they hated the movie, whether they did or not, and they’d demand a refund. It’d be a mess and a joke.”

The waiter returns with my beer, pours half of it into my glass, then leaves again, as Greta and I dip chunks of tuna into sauce and stuff them into our mouths.

“You’d have to have a system,” Greta says, pinching a plug of salmon in her chopsticks. “You’d have to be able to provide a serious, critical analysis of why the movie was lousy and, thus, you should get a refund.”

“And who are you going to deliver this serious, critical analysis to?” I ask. “The pimple-faced, sixteen-year-old slacker working the ticket booth?”

“Well, I’ll have to work that out. But you know what I mean.”

I’m smiling as I down another swallow of beer and lay a large piece of hamachi into my mouth. I chew and talk around the chunk of fish in my mouth.

“Okay. What would you say about this movie to get your refund?”

“What would I say?” she says. “I’d say that I don’t care if it was Kubrick’s last movie. That, in fact, I’m glad the neurotic freak won’t be making anymore films. That the movie was a piece of shit that only showed us how out of touch with the world Kubrick was. That the film had nothing to do with the world around it and everything to

do with the director’s own pathetic, male sexual anxieties. That the entire premise of some elite men’s sex club full of faceless, nameless, big-tittied sex toys is ridiculous and offensive. Jesus, what couldn’t I say? That it was an out-dated pile of Freudian nonsense, not to mention that Tom Cruise couldn’t act his way out of paper bag. And don’t even get me started on that skinny-ass wife of his.”

I jam another chunk of hamachi in my mouth and begin to chew as she says this. I laugh and inhale awkwardly, and the lump of raw fish and rice lodges halfway down my throat. I jerk into a spasm as my right hand clutches tight around my chopsticks and my left hand waves in front of my face, as if I’m fanning myself.

“Slow down, Teddy,” Greta says. “Don’t talk with your mouth full. How many times do I have to tell you?”

My face begins to turn purple, and I twitch and slap at the surface of the table. “Teddy, are you alright? Teddy?”

I lurch back in my chair and clutch at my throat, pointing at my mouth frantically. “My god, you’re choking. Help. Help.”

Greta leaps from her chair and rushes to my side, waving her hands over her head. “Help,” she calls again, as our waiter trots over to our table.

“What’s the problem, ma’am?” he asks, his hands fidgeting uselessly over the surface of his white apron.

“He’s choking, you fucking idiot. Do something.”

Our waiter looks terrified and begins to pat tentatively on my back, as other customers look at us from their tables, chewing slowly. The sushi chef, a young Japanese woman in a kimono and sandals, comes out from behind her counter and walks in quick,

mincing steps to our table. She mutters something in Japanese, pushes the waiter out of her way, and steps behind me, pushing the sleeves of her kimono up and encircling my waist with her thin, pale arms.

“Oh god, do something,” Greta says. Her voice squeaks and her arms still wave and flap.

The chunk of hamachi is stuck irrevocably in my throat, and my brain is already starved for oxygen. The Japanese woman presses the knuckles of her locked hands under my rib cage and jerks them up into my chest cavity. I can feel my throat clench more firmly around the piece of sushi. She pushes her fists into me again. And again, pressing her slender body tight against my backside. Through the folds of her kimono, I can feel the points of her small breasts flatten onto my back and the pressure of her lean hips grinding into my buttocks. And through the last shreds of sense left to my air-famished brain, while the waiter wrings his hands and the sushi chef pumps at my body from behind, I realize that I’ve become aroused. I feel myself stiffen as I shudder into one or two final spasms and look with fading sight at Greta’s desperate face behind her flapping arms and hands.

“Teddy. Oh god. Do something. Do something.”

Fantasy #9

As it turns out, all those warnings about tobacco are apparently true. The monitors blink, the morphine drips into my veins, the tube in my nose forces oxygen into what’s left of my lungs, and Greta sits exhausted in the chair by my hospital bed. She’s been there

everyday, all day, for nearly a month now, her face a map of the progress of my dying. She’s had no time to color her hair, and more of the gray is showing through. Her face has grown pale, the fatigue draining some of the richness of her olive complexion. The skin under her eyes sags into dark half-circles. Her eyes, eyes that glistened before I was put in here, are red from lack of sleep and from the crying I know she does when she steps away from my bed for awhile. Still, for her age, she’s a beautiful woman. There’s no expression Greta loathes more than “for her age.” If anyone utters it in reference to her looks, she goes into a deep funk for a day or two. But it’s true, for her age, she’s looks marvelous. Admittedly, I see her through biased eyes, and it wouldn’t matter what her aging body had shriveled into, I’d see the same perfectly-formed hands, the same blazing blue eyes the shape of almonds, the same woman I chased after with such determination so many years ago. When I can manage to open my own eyes, now clouded and sinking into the sallow skin around their sockets, that’s who I see. That woman.

I’d like to eat one of her eyes. To hold it on my tongue, roll it around in my mouth, suck on the glistening ball, and swallow it into the center of my decaying body. Greta has always been uncomfortable with my attraction to ritual cannibalism and to her position as the sole object of that attraction. Once, many years ago – it was summertime, I think – she was slicing tomatoes in the kitchen. I walked up behind her, put my arms around her waist, set my lips to her bare shoulder, and nibbled lightly on the small, firm lobe of muscle.

“Ow,” she said, smiling and pushing me back.

When I told her that I’d like to eat a piece of her flesh, she laughed, continued slicing the tomatoes, and said that she didn’t think she’d taste very good. When I didn’t join her joking banter and told her that she could, of course, eat a piece of my flesh, as well, she realized I was serious. She stopped cutting, the knife hovering over the unsliced half of a bright red tomato.

“Stop it, Teddy,” she said. “That’s just disgusting.”

For the rest of the day, she kept me carefully in her sights, wondering if I’d try to sneak up behind her again, mouth open, teeth bared. But I never would have actually done such a thing – not without her permission.

The air pumping through the tube into my nose barely inflates my lungs. There’s not much left to them now. My eyes roll up to the ceiling again and look at the brown water stain on the ceiling tile directly over my head. I’ve been staring at it for two weeks now. After my second day here, I realized it was shaped like New Jersey.

Greta’s head slumps forward as she dozes off. The magazine she’s been reading slides from her lap to the floor, making a slapping sound when it hits, startling her from her moment of rest. She looks at me and reaches to my limp hand on the sheets.

“How are you feeling, Teddy?” she asks.

I try to return the press of her hand and turn my head, so I can look at her, look at those delicious eyes.

Attending to my disintegrating body and mind is killing her, and I’ve got to do something about it. This has all gone on long enough. It’s not fair to her.

For months now she has fought desperately against this final illness, just as she’s done battle with every other unalterable outrage and insult that has been thrown in her path throughout her entire life. She has guided and controlled every aspect of my care, refusing surgery as dangerous and invasive, seeking out every alternative to conventional medicine, from acupuncture, massage, and macrobiotics to homeopathy, Reiki, and putting crystals under my side of the bed. She resisted radiation and chemotherapy until even she had to admit there was no alternative remaining, and then spent day after day pouring Japanese miso soup and kelp down my gullet to counter the effects of the radiation. She forbid the nurses even to bring a tray of hospital food into my room. The battle against the inevitable has left her spent, her own health in jeopardy from months of fighting for mine. And still, here she sits in the chair by my bed, exhausted, waiting for the next thing to fight, refusing to see that there is nothing left to fight and that if there were, she has little left with which to take it on. She’d never admit to that.

I try to grip her hand more tightly. I’m having trouble focusing on her eyes through the cloud of morphine.

“Do you want me to die now?” I say. “Don’t you think it’s time?”

She pushes herself out of the chair and leans over me, stroking my cheek and forehead, running her hand over the bristling bit of gray hair that has begun to grow back on my head.

“No, Teddy. No,” she says. “I don’t want you to die now. Not ever. Don’t talk that way.”

My head rolls back onto my pillow, and I fall back into the morphine haze, unable to move or speak. The shreds of my lungs fight the air invading them.

After a while, she checks the morphine drip, looks at the monitor, kisses me on the forehead, and steps out of my room. She’ll have a word about my condition with the

nurses down the hall, tell them to do this or that for me, and then she’ll slip outside for a quick cigarette.

It’s gone on long enough. I have to do it now, while she still has enough left in her to go on afterward. Now is my chance.

The nurses say nothing to me when they come into the room, knowing I probably can’t respond, knowing there’s very little of me left here in the bed. One of them speaks to the other as they change my morphine drip and check the gauge on my oxygen.

“I’m telling you, if that old goat in 307 doesn’t keep his hands to himself, I’m gonna stick the other end of his catheter in an electrical socket. I’m serious.”

I let my lungs collapse in on themselves, refusing another breath. It’s easier to do than you might think. My eyes turn up to the ceiling. The water stain in the shape of New Jersey floats above me, blurring, melting, shifting into the shape of Greta’s eyes. My gnarled tongue presses into the roof of my mouth. I imagine one last time the luxury of her flesh in my mouth, of her eye on my tongue, and I’m gone.

Fantasy #10

The nurses’ aides have rolled my chair into the hallway, so I can look at the floor out there while they do something in my room. I can hear their young voices, but I don’t understand what they’re saying. I sit slumped over in my chair, unable to raise my head up at all any more. My hands hang between my legs, limp and curled, virtually useless. The fingertips of one hand just barely touch those of the other. I must be wearing a hat because I can see the tip of its bill above my eyes. There are slippers on my feet, blue ones, resting motionless on the foot rests of my chair, hovering over the shining floor.

I hear footsteps coming toward me down the hall. The footsteps come closer, then stop at my chair, and I hear a voice.

“Teddy? How are you today, dear?”

The voice is old, soft, and a bit raspy, but unwavering and strong. The tip of a finger pushes a wisp of hair over my ear. A thin string of air rattles from my throat, and the blue slippers hovering over the shining floor begin to fade out. I hear the voice once more.

“Teddy? Teddy? Oh…Teddy.”

The voice is beautiful, soothing, and for just a moment it seems familiar, as if I’ve heard it before, as if that voice was once something very important to me.

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About Tim Poland

Tim Poland grew up in Ohio and now lives and works in the New River Valley near the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwestern Virginia.

He is the author of the novel, The Safety of Deeper Water (Vandalia Press/West Virginia University Press, 2008), Escapee (America House, 2001), a collection of short fiction, and Other Stones, Kinder Temples (Pudding House, 2008), a chapbook of poems. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in various literary journals, such as North American Review, Cimarron Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Literal Latte, Appalachian Heritage, Rattle, Main Street Rag, Sow's Ear Poetry Review, The Furnace Review, Stickman Review, and others.

He is the recipient of a Plattner/Appalachian Heritage Award (2002), and his work has been included in the Best of the Net anthology (2007) and has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  He is a professor of English at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.

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