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Can We Drop the Subject Now?

by Desormais 

Posted: 04 February 2017
Word Count: 972

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We don’t talk about death here.  It’s not encouraged.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s actively discouraged by the powers-that-be.  They’re definitely from the “don’t spook the horses” faction of residential care-management.
Which is a bit unfair really.  With death being just about the next item on the agenda for most of us here, some of us don’t mind discussing it.  It makes a change from tomorrow’s visit to the library, or the theatre (and the abundance of lavatory facilities therein). 

Or the proximity of the best emergency hospital.

There’s five of us, Chuck, Bill, George, Emily and me, who don’t mind bucking the system though; five of us who haven’t yet slipped permanently into la-la land (though one or two of us drop in from time to time.)  And we’re looking for a bit of meaningful conversation before we do.  About the things that concern us, you understand.

Oh, they watch us, the management, sometimes following us around the grounds, eavesdropping, but we haven’t lived this long without learning how to fool people.

And then Lily arrived, with her gleaming white hair, lavender-blue eyes and wrinkle-free skin.  When we found out that death was just about all she talked about, we were pretty damned pleased.  Normally we take some time getting to know the newcomers.  Some of them cling like limpets to the first soul holding out a welcoming hand, and then can’t be shaken off.  But with Lily it was different.  She just walked up to us as we huddled round the back of the gazebo having a crafty smoke, and struck up a conversation.  She had clear views about the hereafter, which she wasn’t averse to sharing, and though we didn’t all necessarily agree with them, it was refreshing to get a different slant on things.

Soon she was an accepted member of our group.  And we enjoyed her company.

It was Chuck who first postulated that Lily was an angel, sent to bring us home safely.  The signs had been there for a few days that Chuck was about to take his next trip to la-la land, so we didn’t take much notice really.  He’d be back with us just as soon the pills took effect; two or three weeks should see him right.

Only Chuck didn’t come back this time.  The meds, it seemed, were a bit strong for him, and though we visited him very day we could see things were going downhill.  Lily stayed with him all the time though.  From dawn to dusk, she was there, talking, stroking, soothing.

The management said it was the most peaceful passing they’d ever seen.  Never even got him to the hospital, no need.  He just drifted off after lunch, with Lily by his side.  The management kinda liked that.  Looking after our own, they said.
After a while we noticed that Lily was quite busy easing several of the residents out of this life.  The management said she was “a compassionate soul, always there for people,” and we thought so too.  For a while.

Things changed after Bill got a chest cold which turned into something more serious, and since we’d been pretty close for several years, I visited him often in his room.  Lily was always there, plumping his pillows, lifting his feeder cup to his lips, soothing with her endless chatter.  The doc looked in occasionally, saying he was doing fine.  Lily always kept quiet then.
Bill kept looking at me strangely – couldn’t put my finger on it.  A bit like he was trying to tell me something.  Then one evening, just after dinner, Bill gave me an exasperated glare and died.  Just like that.  Lily replaced his hand gently on the coverlet, with a soft smile.  Kinda spooky, I thought, afterwards.

The remaining three of us discussed it at length.  I suspected that Lily wasn’t so much guiding folks as dispatching them, and though Emily and George weren’t entirely convinced, they agreed we should talk to her about it. 
One day, when nobody was dying, Lily joined us behind the gazebo and we tackled her.  Her lavender eyes filled with tears.
“How can you say such a thing?” she said.  “All I’m doing is talking to people, caring for them, preparing them for their journey.  That’s my mission.  I can’t believe what you’re saying.”

She didn’t hang around with us much after that.

And then I had a stroke, just a mild one, and was confined to bed. I asked, in so much as I was able to frame a coherent sentence, to be taken to the hospital, away from Lily.  But no-one understood me.

So Lily sat there, day after day, stroking, soothing, and talking about death.  There never seemed to be a moment when I was on my own.  Her very presence was wearing me down, bit by bit.  I couldn’t relax, watching her like a hawk, particularly when my meals were brought in on a tray.

When Emily and George came to visit me, I tried to get my message across with my eyes, glancing at Lily and then looking imploringly at them.  I think they weren’t quite as perceptive as they’d been once, maybe they were  beginning to get distracted about our diminishing numbers.

I’ve not been so good today, feeling tired, finding it hard to breathe.  If Lily would only leave me be for a while… but on and on she rambles, about the tunnel, white light and the pearly gates.  If she’d just shut up I could get some sleep.  I can’t take much more of this endless chatter.  I’d be better off out of this.

Maybe,” I think, “death might not be so bad after all.”

“That’s it, dear,” Lily whispers, leaning over me.  “Now you’ve got the idea.”

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Comments by other Members

Bazz at 21:03 on 04 February 2017  Report this post
I like the subtlety of this, Sandra, Lily's ambiguous methods, not so much dispatching people as waring them down, almost vampirically leeching their will from them, far more disturbing and unsettling than anything more obvious. An interesting and refreshing set of characters too. 
Glad to see you back writing :)

BryanW at 22:47 on 04 February 2017  Report this post
What an enjoyable story - building cleverly and keeping us guessing up to the end. Your narrator's observations and voice work very well. Good'n, Sandra.

Desormais at 09:01 on 05 February 2017  Report this post
Thanks Bryan and Bazz.  Glad you enjoyed it.  And even more glad you 'got' it, as it seemed a lot less clear to me this time around.

scriever at 21:37 on 05 February 2017  Report this post
Lovely story Sandra, and a clever take on an angel helping souls on their way. I presume it's for the challenge?


Desormais at 22:29 on 05 February 2017  Report this post
Thank Ross.  There used to be a rule in this group that you could submit a 're-tread' for fun but it wasn't to be admitted for the challenge.  That's why I said I was just making up the numbers.  This story hasn't (so far as I'm aware) been on here before but it was published by Eclectic Flash in paperback form back in 2011.  And anyway... I set notoriously lousy challenges.  You've all dodged a bullet here.  :)
Cheers, Sandra

Chestersmummy at 17:35 on 06 February 2017  Report this post
Read it again - was a bit rushed the first time.   It is a great story Sandra - thoroughly enjoyed it.


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