When Time Runs Out

Katie Jordan

Wyld FLASH February 18th 2022

The funeral mourners line up to pay their respects. Men in paisley ties and dark suits and women in black dresses. Some are sad. Others not so much. I know this because I can sense pain, both trivial and profound.

Dad approaches and hugs me. “Too bad about your aunt Mildred.”

I nod, reluctantly returning his embrace. When I touch people, I learn their secrets, and their fates.

Dad has ten years left. He’ll go into cardiac arrest in the back corner booth at Denny’s, landing face first in his steak and eggs. It will take the waitress ten minutes before she notices, and another five before an ambulance is called. By then it will be too late.

I could try to talk him out of his morning bear claw and afternoon bottle of Sam Adams, but the future reveals a greater tragedy—his readiness for death. Four years before he goes, Mom will: drunk driver at the busy traffic light on Main. I’ve seen it all before. The same fates under the same tragic circumstances. It’s an unpleasantness that makes me cringe every time.

One down. Fifteen left in line. Handshakes. Hugs. Grandpa Dave gets pancreatic cancer. My sister Greta flies to Detroit for a work conference, leaves her hotel to get a decent cup of coffee, but gets lost and takes a bullet during a drive-by shooting two blocks from the hotel. She’ll make it to the hospital but die on her third day in the ICU. Cousin Ronnie gets Alzheimer’s. Mildred’s best friend passes away in her sleep at the age of 102.

More physical touch from them. Less emotional response from me. Their demises play out like movie scenes. Not because they don’t feel real, but because I’ve learned to detach myself.

Lung cancer. Kidney failure. Suicide. On and on, the devastation goes. I shake their hands, accept their sympathy, and ignore their confused expressions when I say, “thank you, and condolences to you as well.”

I could stop death. I’ve done it before. But it’s like a web. Try to protect one strand and you snag another. My childhood best friend was destined to choke on a balloon at a birthday party. I intervened, removing it from his hand and dragging him outside. An ambulance soon wailed in the distance. Sure, my best friend was alive, but a choking fatality occurred, nonetheless. I inadvertently killed the birthday girl. That’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re six.

Last in line: my husband, Sam. He kisses my cheek. The soles of my black pumps brush the ground as he squeezes his arms around me and lifts, whispering in my ear. “Good job handling everything. No one else knew how to deal with Mildred. You were always her favorite.”

I nod. Sam is wrong though. Mildred hated me. She locked me out in the snow when I was in elementary school, and pretended it was an accident. I learned to make careful, calculated choices around her. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Unlike others, I experience no guilt over my lack of grief. The wicked are not worthy of my tears.

I wrap my arms around Sam tighter and grin. “I like hugging you best.”

He laughs lightly, his brown eyes twinkling. “I swear the first time I met you, you held on forever.”

I smile at the recollection. “I know a good thing when I see one.”

We met through mutual friends at a party. When we said goodbye, he gave me a long embrace. His end of life reveal still takes me by surprise. I see myself there, my aged, dry face lying next to him in a nursing home. He caresses my fingers, holding on to my hand and sobbing, “I love you. Please don’t leave me.”

Inevitably, I do. Pneumonia. I go first. He goes days later. Sometimes, I wish it was the other way around. At least I’d know what to expect.

I see a lot of peoples’ end of life moments but think about the details of my demise the most. It’s not the sadness I immerse myself in, it’s Sam: the way he holds me and longs for me, as if sixty-eight years of marriage isn’t nearly enough.

The church empties. Mildred’s ashes are in an urn, inside a white box. I retrieve them. I know Mildred’s end, but I also know her beginnings. Life is a cycle. Maybe I didn’t love her, but I do wish to break the continuation of hate.

I hold the box up to my lips and whisper. “Rest in peace, Mildred.”

Maybe she can hear me. Maybe she can’t.

I carry the box carefully, finding Sam in the parking lot and latching on to his hand. The future will come, but the present is far more meaningful. At least I’ll have someone by my side when my soul departs.

Author Bio: Katie lives in the Pacific Northwest with her bonsai enthusiast husband, Brad, two daughters, and the world’s loneliest goldfish seeking a friend, Fishy McFishfish. She dabbles in writing dystopian, fantasy, horror, sci-fi, and women’s fiction. Find her at authorkatiejordan.com

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