“I give up”.
“What?” He had said it so quick she was not sure if she had heard him.
“I give up. I’ll take the pill”. The tone of his voice told her that he was serious this time. She stood up and moved up behind. He had been standing at the window for nearly twenty minutes now. Gently the girl began to rub his back. He showed no sign that he felt her. “I just can’t take the pain anymore.” She could not see his face but she knew that a tear was rolling down his cheek. There had been so many tears lately, but soon they would end.
“You know all I want for you is to be happy? The pain is too much but this will end it.” She chocked back tears. “Don’t worry about me, I will be fine”.
They stood at the window for awhile longer then he turned and hugged her to him. The smell of her auburn hair played around his nostrils. It brought back so many memories. It reminded him of the time they had taken a drive threw the country just to count cows. You know, if you honk your horn while passing a herd of cows, one out of four cows will look up nine out of ten times he told her. They spent the next three hours honking at cows and laughing. He stroked her hair as he thought of the time they had walked through the park where he had worked during his high school summers. Over there is where we used to play Toro Polo on the riding mowers. Over there is where the guy who owned the BBQ restaurant had his family reunion every year. He used to give us a plate of ribs and slaw for keeping the garbage cans empty. As he led her to the couch he remembered the time that she took him to the wine tasting in the valley. He had never really cared for wine one way or the other but she taught him how to tell the difference between them. He made a glass of wine part of his nightly routine now. They sat on the couch and she snuggled up to him as close as she could. He thought of all the things that they had planned to do; The cabin, the beach house, the cruises, the walks, the trips. There was so much that he had been looking forward to that would never happen now. He silently cried while she fell asleep on his lap.
Light Christmas-Eve snow fell in large flakes as the couple made their way to the Doctor’s office. As usual he had left way to early so they decided to take the side roads. She held his hand as he drove. Her hands were always ice cold and she loved how his warmed hers so quickly. They passed by some of the old places they had frequented. There went the bar where they played darts when they could. They passed the Mexican restaurant where they would meet for lunch. There were so many they lost count. They had begun the trip talking quietly but as they neared the end they fell silent. When they turned the corner onto Cummings Ave she squeezed his hand as the Dr’s office came into view. He slowed the car almost to a crawl.
The waiting room seemed extra cold. The lights were as bright as ever but something about them seemed less friendly. “Wait over there” he said as he moved to the window to sign in. The receptionist looked at him with a curious smile. It almost seemed to him as if she were sorry for him. As if she knew what he was giving up.
“Doctor will be with you shortly”. He can take his sweet time he thought as he took his seat next to the girl. The two sat hand in hand staring at nothing until a voice jolted them out of their trance. “Mr. Hart you may come back now”.
“So how are we doing today?” Dr. Stern was a friendly man. When he asked a question like that he really meant it. Talking to him was like talking to an old friend.
“I’m…I’m O.K.” he tried his best not to sound too scared. He did not want to upset the girl anymore than she already was. She said nothing.
“Well we have been over all of the details. If you can just sign these forms we can get started. Do you have any questions?”
“Just one. Can I say goodbye to her?”
The Doctor sat back in his chair and folded his hands across his ample belly. He let out a sigh. “Joshua, you know that she is not real. There is no one sitting in the chair next to you.”
“I know but I want to say goodbye all the same. It won’t matter after I take the pill anyway, right?”
“Five minutes then.” Dr. Stern patted him on the shoulder as he left.
Joshua turned to the girl and smiled the best he could. Tears ran down both their cheeks. He took her hand and patted it gently. “Promise me you will not forget me.” The pain in his voice nearly broke her.
“I will always love you”. He held her close till the nurse knocked on the door.
“It is time.” She watched as he kissed the air where the girl’s forehead would have been. Wiping tears from his eyes he went with the nurse to the examining room. It smelled of death to him. He wanted to run but he had promised her he would do this. He would end the pain. Why couldn’t she be real?
“Ok, now when you take this pill it will make you go to sleep for awhile. When you wake your mind will be clear.” The Dr. handed him a small cup with a silly looking pill inside. The nurse handed him a cup of water. Joshua sat there looking at the pill for a few seconds and then tossed it down his throat. He lay back on the table and fell asleep thinking of her.
The drive home was confusing to him. He passed by places he knew he had been in dozens of times but couldn’t quite remember ever being in any of them. When he put the key in his door he had the strangest feeling that he was forgetting something. The apartment was as it had always been. The coat rack was there waiting for him. Weren’t there two coats there earlier?? He shook the thought off and hung his coat up. The kitchen held the evidence of a light breakfast. He put his dish in the sink and turned to pick up a second plate. He stopped short. I live alone. There is only one plate. What am I thinking? He decided it was time for a nap. The bedroom was the same as it had ever been. Joshua lay his head on his pillow and the soft crinkle of paper made him lift it again. There was note on the pillow. I will always love you was all it said. He had no idea why he put the paper to his nose but he did. The faint smell of vanilla perfume radiated from the paper. Hmmm must have gotten mixed up with my mail. That happens. He sniffed the note one more time and then threw it in the trash. He lay back down and fell quickly to sleep. He dreamed of driving through the country with an auburn haired girl by his side. They spent the night counting cows.
“I give up”.