He was twelve when he smoked his first cigarette. It was one of the happiest and most important moments of his life. It made him throw up. His second cigarette, and most of the ones that followed, had the opposite effect. They quieted the nausea that coursed through his restless blood. They calmed his storms.
The moment was on them before they had time to give it the consideration it deserved. Something had to be done. The status quo was untenable.
Janie’s automatic reaction to change had always been resistance but this time around she recognized its inevitability and embraced it as heartily as she was able. The old man was going to die. There was no way around it. Time was short.
He’d been a good enough father, as such things go. He hadn’t given her the love she wanted but he had so little to give. He gave what he could. He gave all he could spare. What more can you ask of a man than that?
The room was quiet except for the sounds of the old man’s tortured breathing and the syncopated beeps and ticks coming from the machines that kept his respiratory and circulatory systems running. It was the heartlessness of the machines, even more than their noises, that finally persuaded Janie to turn them off.
The silence stunned them both. The unnerving precision of the mechanical sounds came to an abrupt stop when their juice was cut off. The mechanisms of the human body don’t end so easily.
Without the cigarettes and machines to keep them at bay, the dark clouds rumbled in. A flash of lightning popped the old man’s eyes open. He cast his terrified gaze around the reeling universe until he found shelter in her eyes.
Janie. Memories of the sweet child she’d been soothed the tremors that snapped his muscles like rubber bands. She got up from his bedside and took his trembling hand in hers.
“I know,” her eyes said, with the eloquence of simplicity, “you did the best you could.” He inhaled a deep wet breath that splintered the edges of his lungs. He exhaled a vapor of blood.