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A Place Like Heaven
by Chris Ringler
Dark. It's always dark it seems. Maybe it isn't. She can't tell anymore. Maybe it always just seems dark. She doesn't know, why doesn't she know? She reaches for her glasses and slips them into the deep red ruts on her nose and the world is none brighter but more clear now. She wishes it wasn't. She grimaces as she pushes forward in the chair and lifts herself out of it to the accompaniment of her popping hips, she walks barefoot to the front door and opens it slowly, quietly, and looks out into the gloom of pre-dawn. Still. Dark. Like Heaven. The air is cold, but it's always cold here, at least it always feels cold, maybe it's her, her body, but that is another thing she cannot decide. One of many. Attached to the door is another note, this one looks more official though, not like the others. She had heard them last night, knocking, yelling, swearing, had heard them and had hid behind her chair, the lights out, hoping they wouldn't see her. Hoping they wouldn't wake Cedric. Please don't let them wake him, please don't let them wake him, pleasepleaseplease But finally they had left, and when she checked on Cedric he was still there, still, silent, the only sound coming from the respirator.
She hated that, that damned machine. Its soft whispers filled the house, filled her dreams so that she couldn't even sleep in there anymore, couldn't sleep next to the man she had been with for fifty-three years but had to sleep out here, in the living room, in the cold. Alone. Some nights she wondered if Cedric was even there anymore, if there was anything left of him. All the doctor's could tell her was he wasn't in pain. Or that it wouldn't be much longer now, as if she was waiting for him to be, to be She hated them too. The doctors. The doctors and all their lies. Their disinterest. Taking the last thing she had away, her husband, and resigning him to hours, to days, to weeks perhaps, but no more.
All she had left.
Brian and Jill were gone. So young. Jill but a teenager when polio took her and Brian not yet a man when his country took him. And now there was just Cedric. And soon
She hated all of them. All of them. But most of all she hated the bill collector's the most. Their hands always out, their smiles always just a little too wide, revealing each of their shiny sharp teeth as they told you how late your payments were and how penalties were going to have to be levied. And there were so many of them. So many. And after Cedric had had his first stroke it began to be too much and the bills just began piling up everywhere until everything was taken from them one by one, everything they had worked so hard for - their newspapers, their phone, their electricity, their heat, and now finally the house. And then what? What would they take then?
She looked again at the note, this one a bright pink, not like its yellow brethren at all, and closed the door without taking it, reading it. Knowing already what it says and knowing, knowing
She looked into Cedric's room and frowned, so cold, always so cold in there. She walked in and looked down at him, his eyes open but seeing nothing, his chin covered in drool, the room filled with the stench of what had was spreading across the sheets. She leaned forward and kissed his forehead, then each cheek, the way he would kiss her when they were first courting. As he had on their third date. She sighed and left the room. Forcing herself not to cry.
The kitchen is cold too, the floor freezing beneath her feet, reminding her of when they had first married and had had to live in the basement of a friend's house for the first six months. Having to make love quietly in the late hours so as not to make a sound, but unable to stop from touching one another, loving one another. It had been a year now. A year without his touch. A year. But her flesh still burned from where he had last touched her, and she smiled to spite herself, running her hands along her arms as he always had when he was feeling romantic. She blushed and then as she opened her eyes and saw their cold empty kitchen that blush deepened into a sickly crimson and her arms fell cold to her sides and the cold glare of anger replaced the warmth that had been his touch. She had work to do. It was getting late, and they would be here soon.
Soaked. Everything. Everything had to be soaked. And after three cans it was.
She looked back at her work and smiled grimly, sadly, bitterly. Brother Sun was up now. They would be here soon. She emptied the last of the third can three feet from Cedric's bed, as it had become, and dropped then threw the can weakly against the bedroom wall. The stench was so strong, stronger than the scent of Cedric, or the aftershave he had used as long as she had known him, or the scent of their lovemaking, or even the scent of his sickness now. And the scent of it now made her want to wretch but she fought it, fought it hard, and sank to her knees beside Cedric and took his hand in her own. And this time she can't stop the tears and she finally lets them come, and god how they come, and everything comes to her then, all of it, every last memory, and the tears come harder and harder and now she couldn't stop them if she wanted to, and god she is tired. So tired. And there he is, this man she adores more than anyone, anything, and his body is so small now, so frail, this man that had always lifted her into the air and told her that she was prettier than the sun itself, and there he is, lying in the bed they had made love in so many times and he looks like a corpse. A zombie. Living within death. Her sleeping beauty.
She leaned forward and kissed his cheeks and she can hear them outside now, their car doors slamming one by one, and it really is too late now.
Or is it?
She strikes the match and throws it towards the door and suddenly the world is an inferno, the world a living flame, the home warm now, everything warm now and she can smile into the flames, can smile into the light. And finally the darkness is gone. And she can hear them outside scream, yelling, calling, and smiles wider still. She leans forward and kisses Cedric on the lips softly and then everything is bright and its like living in the sun, and there is nothing called darkness and everything is warm so warm and she can smell Cedric again, the rich, strong smell of him she had known since their first awkward meeting and then, and then there is nothing.
My name is Chris Ringler and the better part, and I do mean better, of my life has been spent writing. The now defunct University Editions published my first book of short stories in 1999 and I have since taken over all the sales and distribution of it. Yikes. I am a die-hard short-story writer and have yet to really do anything of great length save for one series of stories that has decided it wants to be a novel. I have no aspirations to be the next anyone, and do not expect to become rich, I just want to be a good writer, dopey as that sounds. And as always I am desperately in search of a publisher with the desire to publish something different and that is actually looking at manuscripts.
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