by Ava Galbraith

The room is sterile and impersonal, no cards or flowers clash with the gleaming tiles. Against the thick, starched sheets, she is delicate, skin translucent. Monitors compete with the oxygen tank for which can make the most noise.

The door creaks. A visitor. It has been awhile since anyone has come. Fatigued from bedside vigils, her family longs for the day her will would be read.

There is a lilt to his step. The dark gloom that she had seen around him in the past is lighter and more cheerful today. It reminds her of gray storm clouds. The hard plastic chair is dragged across the floor and set beside her; the piercing noise of rubber sliding across polished tile rings in her ears. He wears dark ripped jeans paired with a black hoodie; a Yankees’ baseball cap obscures his face. She feels naked in her hospital gown. She has not seen him in a long time and, yet, as she has grown older he has not changed.

“You came.” She clears her throat three times before wheezing through a cough.

His face holds a lazy grin. “You knew I had to come.” His cold breath frosts her cheeks as he grips her hand.

The beeping slows and blood skitters away from her fingertips, desperate to keep the heart pumping.

Wintry eyes flit along the wrinkles of her face and frigid, nimble fingers dance across the overly pronounced veins in her wrist.

Her shoulders sag and her weary gaze skips along his defined face. He is exquisite. He is her favorite among close friends. She had stopped pondering why he chose to get to know her. They flirted and promised endless days of freedom, but the relationship had never truly turned physical.

“Is dying as exciting as being born?” She wants reassurance that there is an afterlife, that all those hours in church being told of Heaven and Hell were not wasted.

“You tell me? You’re dying. Is it exciting?” He has an inflection in his voice that alludes to his oodles of knowledge.

“It’s long and slow and, frankly, boring.” She looks toward the small window in the door. Nurses and doctors rush to save lives. “You know me; I’m always impatient to get to the next great adventure.”

They laugh softly, reminisce about their first meeting in which he had stumbled upon her adrenaline-crazed form lying in a ditch, her body turned at all the wrong angles.

He tilts her chin back toward him.

“There is nothing becoming about dying, I’ve told you that before.” He rubs circles on her palm. “If you’re asking if there is a beyond, I hope that the church tithes are refundable.”

Tears fall.

“I always hate that people try to convince others that there is a place that saves your soul if they only follow this religion or another.” His hearty laughs fill the space between them. “There is nothing. You exist and then you don’t.”

“I won’t see you.” She did not want to be alone in the nothingness.

“I suppose you could think of it as seeing me all the time.” He has a knack for being blunt and, today, she enjoys it.

“People are not kind to the sick.” Her hourglass on life is running low. “Do they get punished?”

“Life moves on.” Death licks his lips. His smile turns wicked.

* * *
Ava Galbraith is fascinated by unexpected turns in stories, particularly the reveal of villains. She dives deep into characters’ psyches and uses stream of consciousness to tell stories. Her work has been published in Ripples In Space podcast, The Dewdrop, Finding the Birds, San Joaquin Review, Open: Arts & Literary Magazine, and Voyage. When not developing intriguing flash fiction, she competes in equestrian show jumping and enjoys emerging herself in foreign cultures. Ava lives in Tucson, Arizona.

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