by Devin Miller
You are dying again. This time it’s your heart—a massive blockage that sucker-punched your left ventricle, and for the first time in sixty years doctors are telling you that your blood pressure is too low. A machine beside your bed does the work of your kidneys. Every so often you feel like you’re drowning. You are most certainly dying again.
You’ve made it farther than ever before—ninety-one this time. It’s amazing how technology can keep a heart pumping, nerves firing, muscles twitching, long after they’ve declared to the world that it’s time to slow down, ease up, take a much needed rest.
Looking around, it occurs to you how different this death is compared to the four before. This place you’re in, it’s a place of death. You can sense the hundreds of souls who’ve passed away in your bed, and it’s unsettling. You’ve known death to be peaceful, a relieving sensation, but now you feel like you’re being watched with hungry anticipation.
As in the past, it strikes you as odd how your previous deaths—and lives—return to you now that this life is undeniably over. You can’t speak; you can barely perceive; you may have believed you’re hallucinating, thinking you’ve had all these past lives, past deaths—but what convinces you they’re real are the memories. Vivid, detailed, comfortable, familiar memories.
Your last death was as Peter Boone, and it was a sad one. The entire final year of your life as Mr. Boone was packed with fear and regret. A Charleston native, you grew up with dreams of a life at sea, yet somehow you ended up barefoot in Georgia, a rifle that couldn’t shoot straight over one shoulder, awaiting General Sherman’s march, fighting for slavery you didn’t believe in but didn’t have the courage to abolish. Mr. Boone died in the grass alone and full of wishes.
Before that, though, now that was a life to remember. Nine children! And all healthy, smart, and loving—thanks to the missus, of course. You went by Norman Doyle and lived in York as a shoemaker, and a damn good one. Half a dozen noblemen sought your work, and when the time came to occupy your deathbed, those high and respected people sent letters of condolence, and your huge group of gathered family took turns reading them until, with peace and satisfaction, you floated away.
The previous two deaths were equally merciful, one as old Frau Mueller—whose mind wasn’t always there—and another as Patrick McMurray, he of thirty grandchildren. Both deaths came fast—healthy to dead within a week—but that’s how things went back then.
Not now, though. You have three daughters and eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and none are here in this sterile place of watchful ghost eyes and prodding fingers and sharp irritations and restlessness. The energy to fight for life has evaporated, and when it did you knew for sure that you were dying again, your mind filled with a million memories and the desire for death to come, because if you must say goodbye alone it may as well be sooner than later.
Your last series of thoughts begin with what a shame it is that there’s such a thing as visiting hours, that loved ones’ presence is discouraged because people in this place are simply too sick. Perhaps next time will be better. Perhaps next time, we’ll know that the old ways were good ways.
You die with a light sense of letting go, like breaking a thin string in two with your fingers. If you had the strength, you’d shrug. You’ll come back one day, you always do, but for now, you depart vaguely eager, for the Land of the Dead is always a more fun and exciting place to be.
BIO:Devin Miller works as a nurse three days a week, writes four days a week, and loves life seven days a week. His fiction has appeared in magazines like Allegory, Ray Gun Revival, Electric Spec, and others. Drop him a line anytime at devinmillerwriting.blogspot.com.