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HARRY IS DYING

“I babbled on merrily,” said Jane. “You’d think Harry’s life was a bowl of cherries.”

Gordon’s eyes were fixed on the TV.

Jane felt a small annoying prickle, pushed aside. Over time, she’d learned to pretend that he was listening. She liked to believe he knew that, and was grateful.

“I made an effort,” she said, chewing her lip. “I mean, I couldn’t say, ‘Why drag your dreary life out a moment longer?’ I couldn’t say that, could I?”

Gordon stared straight ahead.

Jane glanced at the screen. Another atrocity. “They shouldn’t call this news,” she murmured under her breath, “they should call it bad news.”

Absently, she straightened the disorder on the table: crumpled tissues, a half-full glass of tea, segments of orange peel. She tossed a pamphlet offering pleasantly-scented bug extermination into the wastepaper basket.

“I suppose going on is better than the alternative.” She wrinkled her nose. “But wouldn’t it be nice if…you know…the other side was actually a new chance, a new beginning.”

Gordon had switched channels. Explosions rocked the screen. He leaned forward.

Jane thought: the gifts we give on birthdays are camouflage for the gift that’s slipping away. Some people had a talent for using life. She was squandering it. No. Not squandering. Squandering implied a kind of careless grace. She just didn’t know how to catch the moments, how to shape them. They darted away like slippery silver fish.

Jane cradled the phone against her cheek.

“How’s it going, Rose?”

A soft explosion of breath. “Oh…you know.”

Jane waited. Waiting was better than rushing in to fill the pause with futile, fluttery comfort.

“Harry…” Rose began.

“What’s happening?”

Rose lowered her voice to a whisper. “He wants to kill himself. His life…he doesn’t have quality of life.”

Jane winced. She hated that phrase.


“How’s it going?”

“Still dying,” Harry rasped.

“As long as you’re here, you’re here,” Jane protested, feeling too hearty.

“Right,” said Harry. “Maybe I’ll take a course at that senior’s club.” He drew a laboured breath. “Philosophy…bridge.”

“Great idea.” Then, suspiciously, “really?”

“Sure,” said Harry, “if I can find a way of carting the cylinders around.”

“Oh,” Jane murmured. She never knew how to deal with gallows humour. “What’s Rose up to?”

“Busy taking care of me.” His chuckle ended with a phlegmy cough. “Keep smiling, sweetheart.”

“You, too,” said Jane.


“I spoke to Harry today. He’s declining.”

“Aren’t we all,” said Gordon, “aren’t we all. You do know the definition of good health?”

“Ha, ha,” said Jane. “Good health is dying very, very slowly. Can’t we have a serious conversation, without the stupid jokes? Harry’s the same.”

“Whatever works,” said Gordon, fondling the remote.

Jane pushed on. “Each time Harry and I talk, I want to say something helpful, something meaningful…” Her eyes begged for direction. She stretched her hands out.

Gordon peered at her. He was wearing his undershirt. He looked like a large baby, his body soft, his round blue eyes unfocused, a little wary.

“Never mind,” said Jane, “Shall I make popcorn?”

“Harry is Dying” was published in Parchment.

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