Here’s a sample of the first of my series of short stories (all paying homage to Flannery O’Connor) . . .
“Yes, I know, sweetheart. I’m sure it is . . . for the best.” The old man searched her inscrutable back for any signs of relenting. Discovering nothing there, he sighed and dropped his head to gaze on the rosary in his hands, the tiny crucifix dangling helplessly below them.
His daughter rounded on him then, arms crossed and lips pressed together in a thin, hard line. After a few moments, moments filled with the loud labored ticking of her mother’s grandfather clock, she spoke again: “You’re not making this any easier for me.” And she turned back to the window so as not to betray any more emotion.
“Yes, of course. We all have to do our part.” Her father continued to sit there in his chair, on his rubber pad, awaiting the inevitable. He began to pray the rosary, the Sorrowful Mysteries, his fingers plying the beads and his lips forming the words in a barely audible incantatory fashion.
Outside the window, the woman watched slow-moving clouds with leaden underbellies obscure the small disc of the sun. It was just discernible as a weak round whiteness behind them. Somehow, it made her think of the old man. She blinked and winced when a gust tore a hole in the obscuring nebulosity, the light boring through the narrow window and striking her full on the face and in the eyes. She had been trying to ignore her father’s mumbled prayers, but now she couldn’t help herself.
She swung around again, this time with fists clenched at her sides. “Stop it! Just stop it. You know how I hate your superstitious religious amulets. And how can you still cling to that primitive religion—all that gory blood-sacrifice stuff and cruel talk about suffering and all those silly rituals—especially after what you went through with Mom? How?”
At this, the old man released his tenuous hold on the present and set his mind loose to drift on memory’s backward current, flying down the fleeting rapids of the most recent few years, then slowing on entering broad and deep pool beyond where the old live most vividly. Eventually, he bumped painfully up against the event from his past that loomed largest and came to a stop. There he rested for a time.
He saw again his wife in that hospital bed, obscenely perforated by tubes and connected to wires, struggling to breathe, frightened but striving to be brave for his sake. The priest was bending over her. He held in front of her face the Sacrament, that small insignificant-seeming consecrated Host, and spoke the words: “The Body of Christ.” His wife whispered her “Amen.” The priest then got out his oils to administer another Sacrament. That’s when the nurses rushed in—barking orders and calling for security.
The two grim-faced men in grey uniforms hustled the old priest out of the room. The nurses gave the old man a severe warning and checked the monitors. The younger nurse gazed down at the old woman with an aggrieved look on her face and delivered an aside to her colleague: “Why do they always want to drag it out this way. Just takes up valuable medical resources that could be put to better use.” The older nurse didn’t say anything, just nodded her assent. The old man heard it, but didn’t deign to answer. This had happened shortly after the Separation Act had been signed into law and just before Ethical Assessment of End-of Life Care (often referred to by extremist detractors as the “thanatos solution”) had been enacted.
The old man loved his daughter, so on returning to the present, he changed the subject. “When will Tom be home?”
“He won’t be back till next Sunday . . . after—” The woman swiveled abruptly back toward the window with the narrow view. She hugged herself defensively, staring unseeing out at the larger world beyond. As she turned, though, her eyes skimmed across the small cruciform outline high on the wall, lighter-colored than the rest of the dingy living room. “It’s time to eat. I’ll help you to the table.”
She put the walker in front of her father and helped him out of his chair, steadying him as he shuffled toward the small kitchen table. She saw where urine was beginning to soak through his trousers. She sighed and tried not to say anything. After setting the pot of meatless stew on the table, the woman called her son, her only child: “Peter, time to eat.” They both anxiously watched the closed door to the only bedroom in the apartment. But only silence met them, and the door remained closed. The mother again: “Peter, come on! Let’s eat.”
And here’s the blurb . . .
It’s somewhere near the middle of this century, and Ethical Assessment of End-of Life Care has been enacted into law. The authorities are ruthlessly implementing it throughout the land – no more medical resources wasted on the defective and dying, equitable distribution of quality medical care, no more lingering half-lives sustained by expensive machinery. The “thanatos solution” has arrived.
But there are, as always, unexpected ramifications, especially for those who wanted it.
The woman knows her incontinent, disabled father is scheduled for imminent termination. It makes sense for him. But then she learns that her son is afflicted with a terminal condition. And things change.
So this woman will soon learn that there is a far older, wider-reaching Thanatos Solution – one that is usually the only viable solution.
“The Thanatos Solution: A Cautionary Tale about the Near Dystopian Future” is a 10-page short story.
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