Flash Fiction: The Pill

The light was blooming through the open the kitchen window. It was the only light on that kitchen, white and calm. Gertrude smelled the spring through wide nostrils. She had lived so long. She had become 92 years old just a few days ago; the same age as her husband was, when he died, three years ago.

She thought a lot about Peter. They had met at band camp. He had played the trumpet for the Red Creek Brass Band, and she had been a flutist on W. West High School Brass. All evening they had cast glances, and when they eventually spoke, they had fallen into a senseless argument over state ranks and stupid traditions. But, the glances won in the end.

She had gone on to teach flute and musicology at Pentwood College, and he had taken a degree in technical drawing, and become a sort of architect of suburban housing. 

No kids, they just hadn't come. But she had seen so many grow; pupils, nieces and nephews... they even had John in foster care for those two years, before he moved for work as a taxi driver a the neighbouring city. He was killed four years later in a head to head collision with a family father, "under the influence". She had not asked who was under the influence, but she had guessed.

"At 92", she told me, "many of the people you once knew, have died." "I know," I said, and put my pen down on my notepad. "You see, without kids... We who grow to become this old," she was very eloquent, "get used to life's passing. To it's growing, blooming and wilting. It's not a mystery anymore."
    A slight southern drawl betrayed a four year stay in Jacksonville as a teenager. Her mother had worked a textile mill. It was cotton white dress shirts, fake ivory buttons, and a red seam on the sleeve for the special "Millhouse Dresswear" style.
    "Mrs. Hanson", I said. "Gertrude," she corrected. "Gertrude. It sounds like you have lived a full life. I need you to tell me, why you wish to be given the death pill."
    Mrs. Hanson sat back. Her eyes went to the ceiling as she was drawing herself up, into herself. "Do you know any philosophy, John?" "Yes, I do." "Good, I do to. I don't believe in a god, and, Peter didn't either. But, there is still a world beyond." "How do you imagine it, Gertrude?".
    "No, I'm... I'm thinking of Kant. For him there was the world as it appears to us, and then there was the world in itself; without us. It was the phenomenal world, and the noumenal. And no matter how we tried, we could not know the noumenal, not really; we were forever phenomenological beings; trapped here, in our body.
    She fiddled with the teaspoon. It is now three years since Peter passed from the realm of the living to the realm of the dead. He transcended into the noumenal. He... shed his mortality."
    She sat up in the chair, and leaned on the kitchen table.
    "I cannot explain it exactly, but... we are all made from atoms and void, as Lucretius taught us, but some of these atoms constitute a phenomenal, conscious world. But, for my Peter, these fiery atoms lost their spark, and became.... a thing. And, so he is gone."
    The upward inflection at "gone" made it all seem matter of fact. "I had never thought of it quite that way, Gertrude." "Peter, passed three years ago. But when it happened, do you know what?" "No." "I... I... I wasn't sad, I wasn't. I... understood, him. I... lived with... I... I knew that he had passed from the phenomenal to the noumenal, but he wasn't dead. Well, he was, but he wasn't gone. You see, nothing really goes away; all energy stays here, on earth, and, I envied him."
    Mrs. Hanson took a breath. "I want to follow him, Peter. I want to cross. Look at me for chrissakes, I'm like a raisin!" At this he started laughing, and she laughed so long, and so heartily that I started to smile, and then I laughed a little as well.
    I was filled with a fatherly compassion for her, and I wasn't afraid that she would die. Even though, she would, but, it was somehow okay.
    "Okay," I said. "I'll have to fix some paperwork, and then I'll come by your house early next week, with the pill."