Laurel is having a lousy morning when Jerry brings her the gift. The pain is so bad she loses her shredded wheat within an hour after breakfast, but not bad enough to numb her completely, to sweep her off into that suspended, solitary state of soul-annihilation.
This really pisses her off. She’s had a lousy night, flipping over from her right side onto her left and back again, and she had the dream. She dreamed again of the great ox, its big bright eyes rolling with fear. The shrill of pipes, the thump of drums. The flash of the knife, and then the beast’s anguished bellow. She dreamed of blood sheeting across the floor, drenching her feet in heat and a sticky sensation.
Which had bounced her right out of sleep, and sleep, however fitful, is a hell of a lot better than lying awake. Sleep is a hard-won privilege. She wonders how she could ever have taken such a simple act of living for granted.
When she’d woken, she was bleeding again, staining her clothes and bedding like a teenage girl who doesn’t understand her changing body. Laurel’s body is changing, too, and at this late date more mysteriously, irretrievably, than she or the doctors can understand.
What a weird shitty world this is, she’s thinking, when Jerry knocks on her door at 10 A.M. So she lets ol’ Jere have it, and she doesn’t give a damn when his big brown eyes mist over and his womanly lips twitch.
“What the fuck is this?” she says, chucking the box he’s brought on top of the litter of death books strewn on her coffee table. The box is small, oblong, neatly wrapped in bright red, flowery paper. The box looks like a birthday present, a holiday offering, a lipsticked smile, and she hates it, she doesn’t give a damn what’s inside.
“It’s a gift, Laurel.” Jerry quietly goes about his business, but she can tell he’s appalled at how awful she looks today.
“A gift? A gift implies tomorrow. A gift suggests hope. You’re not supposed to encourage my hope, now are you, Jerry? Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying, Chapter 12.”
“No, no, that’s Chapter 8, section C, footnote twenty-two.”
“Don’t get smart with me, mister. It’s cruel to encourage hope, when there is no goddamn hope.”
He flinches, the slightest shake of his delicate shoulders, but she notices his reaction. “Everyone needs hope. Even you, Laurel. Even now.”
“Oh, especially fucking now.“
“Want your shot, sweetie?” He turns away with his so-be-a-bitch patience.
What a saint this guy is, and his lover mysteriously, irretrievably dying of AIDS.
He trots out his little black bag. Actually, Jerry’s doctor bag is sky blue. And he’s not a doctor. She wouldn’t let him in her house if he were a doctor. Scum of the earth, that’s what doctors are. Living it up with their big incomes and fancy lifestyles, all the while thumbing their noses at their own dreadful incompetence. Their absurd infirmity at dealing with diseases they ought to have cured by now.
No, Jerry is a nurse. The hospice authorizes homecare nurses like Jere to dispense all sorts of fun drugs to people who won’t live long enough to become a dope-crazed menace to society.
Copyright © 2012 by Lisa Mason.
HUMMERS was published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, chosen for Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 5th Annual Collection (St. Martin’s Press), and nominated for the Nebula Award.
HUMMERS is free exclusively on Kindle.
From the author of The Garden of Abracadabra on Nook and Kindle, Summer of Love, A Time Travel (a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book) on Nook and Kindle, and The Gilded Age, A Time Travel (a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book) on Kindle and Nook.
Terri Windling received the World Fantasy Award for her tremendous contributions to the fantasy field and her editing of anthologies. Here’s her introduction to Hummers from Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 5th Annual Collection (St. Martin’s Press).
‘Ursula Le Guin has described fantasy as a different approach to reality, an alternate technique for apprehending and coping with existence.
‘Fantasy, like myth and legend, provides a means of storytelling that at its best goes beyond entertainment to travel the inner roads of the human soul. The following story does this beautifully, using the form of fantasy fiction and the symbols of Egyptian mythology to enter one of the most mysterious lands of all: the one that lies at the threshold of death. Readers who have experienced the loss of loved ones to cancer or AIDS will find this story cuts particularly close to the bone, but the fear of death is universal, and Mason’s exploration of this fear is both unsentimental and compassionate.’
Visit me at Lisa Mason’s Official Website for books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, forthcoming projects and more. And on my Facebook Author Page, on Amazon, on my Facebook Profile Page, on Goodreads, on LinkedIn, on Twitter at @lisaSmason, and at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
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Coming soon! Celestial Girl: A Lily Modeska Mystery, Books I through 4. Romantic suspense.