End of Days

As Brenna lay dying—slowly, inevitably—Candace sat alongside her. Holding her hand. Smoothing her hair. Feeling nothing. After forty-five years together. How was that possible? She studied her lover's face while slipping a sliver of ice between cracked lips. Lips that had once been soft and mobile. Lips she'd loved to kiss. Lips that could no longer form even the most vulnerable of words: Stop. Please. Help.

Dulled, indifferent, and dead herself, Candace was only going through the motions. Crushing a Lorazapam tablet between spoons. Adding liquid morphine. Sucking the mixture into a syringe, administering it. Wiping Brenna's mouth. Smoothing balm on the fissured surfaces. Checking the oxygen, adjusting her cannula. Taking a break while an LPN bathed Brenna. Then emptying her urine bag, sanitizing the room. Massaging that passive body with lotion. And trying hard not to remember…

Brenna's discerning brown eyes, sizing her up. Brenna's wicked wit, provoking uncontrollable laughter. Brenna pulling her close that first incendiary time. Turning Candace inside out, exposing every hope, wish, and desire—then granting them… But already that person seemed to have vanished. Seemed unreal—a fairytale contrived for comfort in dark and lonely hours.

Death arrived quietly, with none of the indicators Candace had been told to expect: apnea, chilled extremities, cyanosis. Brenna simply ceased. Breathing. Needing. Being. Candace didn't dare shut off the oxygen concentrator, for fear she'd be accused of murder. Its rhythmic thump and wheeze were the only sound in the gloom. Forcing herself upright, Candace phoned the hospice. Which would call the mortuary.

Then she made a list. Notify friends of Brenna's death. Schedule a memorial service. Off-load the ugly, utilitarian furniture of terminal illness. The hospital bed, the portable commode, the wheelchair, the pill bottles. Invite her niece to come for lunch, to stay afterward, till they'd restored the guest room to its former charm. Then what? Candace's days stretched ahead, vacant and arid as a desert highway. What to do with her time?

Her eyes fell on her own aged hands. On the wedding band Brenna placed there decades before anyone had thought to sanctify lesbian love. The ring Candace could no longer force past an arthritic knuckle. A symbol she couldn't shed, even if she wanted to.

The doorbell rang—the hospice worker had arrived. To examine Brenna. To certify her demise. To usher in the undertakers, who appeared shortly thereafter. To confiscate the remaining supply of morphine and tranquilizers. To provide such solace as she could. And still Candace felt nothing. Nothing.

Only as the undertakers zipped the body bag, placed it on the gurney, rolled Brenna out of her home, did Candace grasp why she felt so distant, so uncaring. Because if she risked acknowledging her pain—if she set it free—it would burn the heart right out of the universe. Melt every star. Shred the fabric of space and time.

As the gurney thumped onto the porch and the door clicked shut, a ragged wail rose in her throat—

The End