Choice

She’s old and frail. Her skin, under the harsh hospital lights, looks white-blue. The wrinkles and liver spots on her hands remind him of her age, of the life that she has lived up until now.

“It’s your decision to make.”

The doctor’s voice still rings clear in his head. He looks at the heart rate monitor, staring at the numbers that the nurses had tried to explain to him.

“We can’t say how long we need to keep her under for, but the guarantee is that her quality of life won’t get any better even if she recovers.”

He rests his elbows beside her, feeling her cool skin against his. He wraps one hand around his fist and rests his forehead on his hands. He takes a deep breath.

“James, it’s your decision to make. You’re her only family member. We can’t decide for you. I can only say that… this is as best as it can get for her.”

He remembers the nights his grandmother soothed him, patted his back as he sobbed into her lap. He had never been a particularly strong boy growing up, always spooked and scared by the littlest of things. He remembered particularly, after his parents had gone away, he had nightmares for weeks. His grandmother had always been there, comforting him with soft and low words that made him feel safe.

And here he is now, muttering the same calming words she had once said to him. Her eyes are closed, like the way his had been when he was a child. Spittle dripped from the corner of her mouth, the side that she is resting on. He does not recoil. He watches with puffed up eyes as the spittle ebbs and flows with every breath she takes, her entire body shaking.

“We have to consider what’s best for her going forward.”

James’ breath catches in his throat. He chokes on a sob and turns away from his grandmother. He stays motionless for a few moments, then he stands up and paces around the room. There are no windows here. He thinks it’s a horrible thing. The patients in this hospital deserve to have some natural light, don’t they?

He looks around the room. There are only two other patients in here, both bound to the bed with half of their faces covered with machinery. They’re sleeping.

James looks at his grandmother. She looks about the same, maybe a little more sunken into her bed. Just a little more skeletal.

She’s your grandmother.

He stares at the machines, the ones that are keeping her asleep and comfortable.

“It’s your decision to make.”

She’s all he has left of his family.

James walks around the bed, his breathing quickening by the second. He wants to cry. He doesn’t.

A few nurses linger at the door, but they all move on eventually. James continues to walk around the bed. He walks until it hurts to take another step. He sits down by his grandmother’s side and takes a sip of his water. The spittle is still there.

It’s going to cost me.

He shuts his eyes. It’s going to cost him.

After a few more moments of listening to the machinery and his own breathing, he presses the button to call a nurse. One of the ones that were hanging around the doorway hurries in.

“Yes?”

“I’ve decided,” James tells the nurse. “I’ve made a choice.”

Categories: fiction, short stories

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