by Terry McKee
A Final Request
Everyone gathers around my bed, it wouldn’t be long now, I heard the nurse say. It’s too difficult to open my eyes, a raspy rattle deepens with each breath and my tissue paper skin hangs over protruding bones, making me look like a poorly wrapped mummy. It’s clear, death is near.
My children and their children have come to say good bye and wish me well on the other side. They take turns holding my once powerful hands, now frail and gnarled and wiping my brow with a cool cloth. Others sit vigil, talking amongst themselves, reminiscing about days gone by one last time, but not one of them sees the fly that rest upon my nose.
They whisper as if I’ve already passed. “He lived a lived a good life they all agreed, a successful old man in all aspects including death. Not in any obvious pain, he’s in his own bed and surrounded by loved ones.” I guess they’re right if you had to go? I can’t think of a better way to die, save, in your sleep perhaps.
Mary, my third and sweetest daughter, sits on the edge of the bed, flanking my left ear, stroking the few wisps of hair that remained from my once crowning glory. “It’s won’t be so bad, Dad, soon you’ll be with Mom again,” she whispers but all I hear is the incessant buzzing from the fly. Does no one hear it?
Tim, my second son, adds, “Better yet Pops, you’ll get to see Nana.”
I grunt out a laugh, still have my sense of humor, even death hasn’t stolen that.
As the last hour wears on, I sink further away, this old body turns cold and my breaths come even more slowly. Under the relentless droning, my family weeps softly, they know I’m on the verge; death is stealing their beloved patriarch. Unable to stop it, they acquiesce, allowing nature take its course.
But before it’s finished, I make one more valiant effort to speak. “Will someone kill that pesky fly so I can die in peace?”
A quivering tangle of nerves, Angelina stood before Don Giovanni, awaiting his decision. She felt like her spaghetti legs wouldn’t support her for much longer. Fear of the known and unknown tingle every cell in her body and oozed out every pore. Akin to rotten chicken soup, the stench was overwhelming. So powerful and repulsive, the smell permeated the village and had all the dogs barking wildly, even made the Don crinkle his big nose. His reputation as a merciless cut-throat was long herald and she would come know it first hand.
“Angelina Penola, you were caught red-handed stealing from me. Is there anything you’d like to say before I make my decision?” Don Giovanni sat in his white leather chair as if it were a throne, as he looked down his cigar at the poor trembling woman.
Angelina lifted her tearful eyes to the Don. “Please sir, I beg for mercy.” Dropping to her knees, she bowed before the esteemed patriarch. “I did it for my youngest. The child is ill and requires surgery. Surgery that I can not pay for. Without it, he will die. Please sir, I’ll never take what is not mine again but consider that it wasn’t for me. It was for my baby.”
“That is of no consequence. The fact remains you stole my money and got caught. According to rules of our village, now you must pay the price for such thievery.” Don Giovanni puffed on his fat cigar and blew the smoke in her direction.
Knowing what was coming, Angelina collapsed to the floor. “Please sir, I beg for your forgiveness. I’ve worked for you for many years, 16 hours a day, six days a week. Without my hand, I will be unable to work. How will I feed my children? Please sir, think of my children.”
Don Giovanni walked to the fireplace to consider her plea. He turned and looked upon this frail trembling woman and his eyes softened. “You’re right. There are the children to consider. . . I want it to be known that I’m not the cold-hearted, callous man people think I am. . . Bring in her first born,” he called to one of his servants.
As ordered, a man brought in her son, Anthony. Embracing her, Anthony knelt beside his mother.
Don Giovanni faced Angelina and her son. “This is my offer: his pinky or your hand. The decision is yours, Angelina. You have one minute.”
“Oh, but sir,” Angelina cried, “this child had nothing to do with it. He’s an innocent lamb. Please spare him.”
“You spare him. Thirty seconds.”
Tears rolled down Angelina’s face as she turned her eyes to Anthony. She looked from his finger to her own hand to the Don. Again and again, as if in disbelief, her eyes went from the finger to her hand to the Don. Finally, standing tall, she wiped the tears away and said, “Take the damn pinky.”
Terry McKee's stories have been published both online and in print, most recently in The Skyline Review, The Green Silk Journal and The Hiss Quarterly. Another story has been accepted for future publication in The Chronicle of the Horse. She resides in south Florida with her husband, three dogs and a horse.