This story appeared in Death Zone and Other Stories, published by Pantoum Press in 2011.
“I hate saying goodbye.”
My lovely wife, her eyes wet with tears, grabs at my shirt. She clutches it and pulls me to her. I kiss her, my tongue probing hers with a familiarity that still arouses me. I pull her closer at the hips so she can know, after all these years, she still does it for me. When I release her, she melts into vapor and is gone, but the endearing love in her eyes stays, even after she is no longer present.
“Daddy! Are you coming back?”
I turn to my son and bend down on one knee to be on eye level with him. “No, son. It’s not that I don’t want to stay. I must go.”
“Is it like India? You will be gone a long time?” He reaches out and hugs my neck.
“Yes, only I won’t be coming back. You are the best son ever. I love you. Listen to your mother and do what she says. When you are eighteen, ask her for the book I wrote for you.”
“I will, Daddy. I love you! Please don’t go.”
As he fades into nothingness, I wipe the tears away. I still feel his embrace upon my neck.
“I didn’t expect you to go before me.”
“Mom!” I look at her sadly and hug her. I gently hold her eighty-three year old frame and caress her silver hair. “I didn’t mean for it to be this way either. I wanted to care for you in your winter years.”
“You did, son. You did. I’ll be along shortly, don’t you worry about that.”
And she too, fades into mist.
“Hi, son. Long time, no see.”
I turn and face my father. He had abandoned our family when I was one year old. I only saw him infrequently throughout my childhood. “What do you want?”
“I was wrong. I was confused, and the burden of a family was… I was weak.”
“I needed you. Mom needed you!” I shout, clenching my fists.
“You were better off without me. I didn’t live a good life. You are a good father. I know it doesn’t matter to you, but I’m proud of the man you became.”
With that, he fades. I stand alone. The quiet is complete, and when I move my feet, they make no sound.
I can hardly believe my eyes. “Mark! Is it really you?”
“In the flesh. Sort of,” he smiles and slaps me on the back. “This calls for a celebration! Let’s have a beer. There are a few others who want to see you, too. Your grandparents are waiting. Your grandfather said he never met you. Is that true?”
“Yes. He died long before I was born.”
“He can’t wait to meet you. Did you know he writes too?”
Warmth engulfs me and I feel appreciated and loved and complete. The brain can only sustain this euphoric state for about four minutes after it stops receiving oxygen. Then there is nothing.
It is the greatest kindness of dying.
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