The sun was well up, but the old man hadn’t risen. His wife had hobbled in on her crutches to check on him, but still he slept on. She just turned to go back into the other room when his eyes suddenly opened, and stared at her. “Martha”. His voice was barely above a whisper. Struggling weakly he freed a stick- like arm from the bed clothes, and reached for her. His eyes bored into hers. “I can’t take the pain any more”.
“I’ll get you more opium”.
His head, pale against the pillow nodded, no. He closed his eyes and a tear rolled slowly down his face.
Martha gathered her shawl, tying it, then hobbled as fast as she could to the Healer’s House. She asked for more opium. He gazed steadily at her. “Is it working?” Martha nodded, no, miserably. “and I can’t get him to eat. He won’t drink anything”. Suddenly her eyes brimmed with tears.
“Do you think it is time?”
Martha nodded again.
“I will come to see him, just to be sure”.
The Healer entered the room. The old man lay on a clean bed, propped up with pillows. The window was open and fresh spring air wafted in by the vase of flowers sitting in the sunlight. The Healer lifted the old mans wrist and felt his pulse. He lifted the bed clothes and noted how the growth at the base of the mans neck had grown, impeding his breathing, which came in wheezy gasps, as he struggled to get air onto his lungs. His eyes opened.
“Are you in pain?”.
Jem nodded. “Everywhere, and all the time” he croaked. “I want to go”.
Martha had come into the room. She took Jems hand, cold and frail and kissed it. Jem mustered a smile. “Please let me go” he said.
The Healer turned to her. “Now would be a good time. The water will be warm, so he will be comfortable, and by nightfall he will be gone. Say goodbye, and I will send someone to collect him”.
When the Healer left, Martha sat on the bed holding Jem’s hand.
“I am so relieved it will be over soon. But I worry about leaving you on your own”.
Martha stroked his arm. It was painful to see him like this. Such a strong man before the illness took him. Now wasted away it seemed impossible that life could still keep hold.
Jem smiled now, the first real smile in months. His eyes twinkled. “They say you re-live all your best memories. I will see you again, young”.
Martha started crying and wrapped her arms around Jem. She hated to see him like this. She didn’t want to let him go. She wanted him back, young and strong as he had been when they first met.
“I know, my love” Jem said gently, stroking her hair. “I know”.
When Martha stopped crying she pulled the blankets back and helped Jem to undress. Then she sponged him clean. As an afterthought she took some lavender scented cream and rubbed it into his face. He smiled at that.
Then the men came and lifted him in his blanket onto a stretcher. The walk to the Healer’s house was not far. They went through the house into the garden, and through the garden planted with fruit and vegetables and medicinal herbs to a wall at the back. The Healer unlocked a gate in the wall and they all walked through. There was an even larger garden on the other side, but wild with flowers and trees in blossom. Birdsong was everywhere.
“Listen” said Jem, squeezing his wife’s hand. The garden, a park really, was completely walled. Beyond the walls, woodland. They walked down a gentle slope to a large lake. There was a small jetty with a wire cot. The men lifted Jem out of his blanket into the cot then lowered it gently so that only his head was above water.
“Martha” he called.
“I’m still here”.
Jem smiled. As Martha and the men watched they saw a slender tendril of green slip through the wire of the net and search out a place on Jem’s neck. Other tendrils spread over his feet and legs and arms, slowly covering his body.
Jem was lying in a warm bath, in a luxury hotel. It was where he and Martha had honeymooned, twenty years before. He could smell lavender wafting in from the garden, through the open window. He felt young and strong, the blood coursing strongly through his veins. “Martha” he called out. Martha appeared in the doorway, her strong, athletic body revealed by the tight fitting swimwear. She had just emerged from the hotel swimming pool. “Get that off, and get in here” he said.
Martha, standing on the bank with the Healer watched. She heard Jem say “Martha” once and smile before the tendrils covered him. She felt strangely at peace, now Jem was at peace.
“I was good it is a warm day” the Healer murmured. “It speeds the transition”.
“In a few hours the plant will have entirely invaded his nervous system. He can feel no pain. As the plant feeds, it interacts with his brain stimulating his happiest memories. There is no sense of time. When light falls, the men will take him far into the middle of the lake, his final resting place. Stay as long as you want”.
Martha stayed on the jetty until the birds were silent and the light fell. Then the men came and attached the net to a boat and rowed to the middle of the lake. The healer walked Martha home. She washed the tears from her face, and covered her face with lavender cream. Then she crept into Jem’s bed and fell into an exhausted sleep and dreamt she was again on her honeymoon, twenty years before, when they were both young and strong, and newly in love.
Copyright 2014 Prayerwarriorpsychicnot
Dedicated to my husband, William Andrew McCleary, 1943-2013