“Promise me,” she said. “This is one promise you have to keep.” Her voice was diminished but emphatic.
“I don’t know if I can,” he replied.
“Yes you can; you have to. If you have any regard for me, you have to.”
“Maybe it’ll be okay. Maybe it’ll change or it’s not what they said. Sometimes they’re wrong. They’re not God.”
“Stop it. Stop your goddam stupid Pollyanna crap. It’s not going to get better and we both know it.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just so damned unfair. We don’t deserve this. It’s a time when we should be relaxing and enjoying life.”
“We? We, relaxing and enjoying. How often have we ever relaxed and enjoyed. Not once since that day I found out.”
“Jesus, can’t you ever let up on that. I guy makes a mistake once. Is that a good enough reason to throw it up at him forever?”
If it’s a big enough mistake,” she said. He remained silent and she waited almost a minute before speaking again.
“Forget it. I don’t want to hurt you, not now, not anymore. The way things are it doesn’t have much significance anyway. The thing that matters is that you promise to call when I’m ready.”
Christ, I can’t believe this is happening,” he said. It can’t be real.”
It’s real all right. It gets more real day by day with little pieces of me shutting down one after another.” She looked at him plaintively.
“God, can’t you understand? There will be a point where all my control will be gone; the agony of no control,” she said.
“I’ll still be here to help you. I won’t leave alone. You know that.”
“You poor man you don’t understand. All our lives together I made the big decisions; the house, your job, the car, the kids, the doctor, everything. I’m the controller and I’ disintegrating into a helpless blob. The last thing I can control is when it stops and I need you to make a simple phone call.”
“Are you sure it’s all arranged? Are you sure it’s really what you want?”
“Oh God. Of course I’m sure. The man has got my statement and the video. Ellie witnessed it all. It’s all set.”
“Maybe Ellie should—“
She cut him off. “No, godammit! You do it. It’s your responsibility. Do this one last kind thing for me please—please.”
“How will I know?” he asked.
“It will be when I can no longer speak. I’ll tell you with my eyes. You’ll know.”
He stood looking down at her, the stooped shoulders, the shriveled body, the pencil thin legs dangling from the chair seat. She looked up and began to read his mind.”
“You don’t have to be here when it happens. I know it will be too much for you. You can take a walk. Take a walk down by the lake and wait by the big rock where we first made love on that warm summer night so many years ago.”
She remembered even then she had initiated the passion, took control, but she made no comment about it. “That will be a fine memory for you,” she said. “It will please me to know you will be thinking of me when I was young and pretty and we found so much pleasure in each other.”
He turned away to look out the window toward the lake and she knew he was misting up.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you too, I’ve always loved you even when I”—. He stopped.
“I know,” she said. “Promise me you’ll make the phone call when I’m ready. It won’t be long.”
“Thank you,” she said.
Roland Howell 1998