Short Stories

Short Story: “A Matter of Choice”

The light in the lonely hospital room was dimmed, as always at this time of night. The respirator’s sighs and the beeps of the heart monitor joined in a lulling rhythm, only disturbed by the occassional dissonant beat. Beneath the bed, the machine pumping liquid food through a narrow nasal tube hummed the base line. A strange orchestra. Only the two IV’s dripped without a sound.

The sole beneficiary of this performance was the skeletal figure of man lying between standardised linen sheets. His features were taut, yet his hair, thinning after prolonged medication, betrayed that he was not as old as he looked. He would never be as old as he looked.

In all, the situation had the appearance of a foregone conclusion. However, the entry in the visitor’s little black notebook contradicted this assumption. The visitor tucked said notebook in the pocket of his equally black waistcoat and grumbled.

Indecisiveness was so tiresome.

The mattress wobbled as the visitor sat down on the end of the bed. This woke the patient, but the visitor disregarded the wearily opening eyes in favour of studying the file kept in the holder at the foot of the bed.

“Who are you?” a dry voice croaked.

“A specialist,” the visitor answered without looking up from the file. “Your doctors have been expecting me, didn’t they say?”

“They don’t tell me… anything, except that they… don’t know what’s… wrong with me.”

“So I see. Paralysis, arrhythmia, respiratory problems, yet no definite diagnose.” The file snapped shut. “What do you believe is wrong with you?”

The bony throat wheezed despite the respirator’s mask. It may have been a laugh.

“I don’t… believe anything, mister… I’m done for.”

The visitor arched a thin brow. “Why would you say that?”

“Why… not? It’s the truth…”

“According to your files, it is not. Your doctors believe the symptoms to be psychosomatic, not a manifestation of an illness. And I’m inclined to say they are right.” He scrutinised the patient. “You do not need these machines to sustain you. In fact, you could make a full recovery, if you wish.”

“What if I don’t…?” the thin man grated from the pillow. “I have nothing to go on for.”

The visitor shrugged. “No family? Friends, perhaps? Those always seem to be a solid motivator to most people.”

“Oh, I have those… My wife still comes… every day.” The rhythm of the heart monitor sped up. “But if I live for her… make her happy by staying around…” He tried in vain to move. “Her life’ll go on… but what do I do… with mine? How do I fill my days… except with existing for her sake?”

“Is that not enough?”

Stick fingers struggled to prise the clear mask from the sallow face. “People are… no ornaments… No furnishing… to complete the… fantasies of others.”

“How very true. So that is your final answer?”

The heart monitor beeped fast and irregularly in the silence. It was ignored.

“You wish to die, then?” said the visitor. “You have that option, but you would rather live, it must be your decision to do so.”

Shrivelled features contorted further. “…can’t imagine… why I’d bother…”

The visitor flicked a speck of dust from his sleeve. “Ah, yes. Fear and frail hope masquerading as resentment.” He glared at the sunken eyes as he rose to his feet. “Do not think yourself unique in your despair. Or justified, for that matter.”

On the pillow, resentment became dejection. “Look at me… How can I…?” The head fell back. “I don’t know… what I want… anymore.”

“Then I suggest you decide quickly.”

The machines shrieked when their power cords were yanked out. At a gesture of his hand, their sirens fell still, leaving only the strangled screams of mortal fear from the bed. The visitor did not stay to watch the outcome. His notebook would tell him when he completed tonight’s accounting. Instead he left the room, quietly closed the door behind him, and straightened his tie for his next appointment.

The End

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