I’m not going anywhere, he told her. Staying put. Right here till the end, he lit a cigarette. I’ve been waiting a long time for this, he said. Waiting for you to pass on to the next life, the old man placed his wrinkled hand on her hand. He gripped it tightly. Her hand was limp.

She laid there quietly. The sound of the heart beat faintly as he put his ear to her chest. It was just as they’d planned it when she first learned of the sickness. The old broad wasn’t going to stick around for meds, and chemo, and throwing up, and all that came with it. The two had made a pact. He was going to live up to his end of the bargain. So was she.

Her eyes were closed. He wondered if she was in peace. Or, still in pain. The other night, he made her a final meal. Fried chicken with mashed potatoes. Some kind of gravy he’d whipped up with milk and grease. Bits of the fried skin were in it. She said she loved it, but he knew differently. He knew she could no longer taste. She didn’t finish the meal. He wiped the gravy from the corners of her mouth and called it a night. She fell asleep and never came back to say thank you. He kissed her forehead. Turned on some Bill Evans. And stayed there with her.

The old man listened to her heartbeat fading and fading till it was gone. Her trip had just begun.

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