Ludwig Von Beechtree awoke on the morning of August 21st, 2045 more excited than he had been in years. He opened his eyes with a snap, rolled out of bed, his old bones creaking as he made his way to the bathroom. In the mirror he saw pale blue eyes, a large nose, and a lot of wrinkles. A shadow of grey hair over the bottom half of his face; it was time for a shave. He pumped the thick white shaving cream into his hands and wiped it over his face. Today he was going to die.
“Ah fuck,” Ludwig dropped the razor in the sink, blood trailing down his chin. He leaned forward, clutched the sink for support and looked at himself once more in the mirror. He grabbed a handful of tissue and dabbed at his face, then applied after shave. He teetered back to his bedroom. The bed he and April had shared for forty years took up most of the small, dark room. Most other items had been cleared out. The dresser he had sanded and painted chestnut brown, the vanity where April used to do her hair every morning, the oddly square lamps the nightstands beneath them, the chest at the end of the bed that held blankets and warm winter sweaters were gone. The little odds and ends that make a house a home – the picture frames, the mirror that hung on the wall, April’s hairbrushes and make up, her perfume – all gone.
All that was left was a few articles of clothing hanging in the closet. A worn red and black flannel shirt, a pair of black slacks, his old black work shoes. Enough for one outfit. He hadn’t lived in the house for months. Instead, he spent most nights in the hospital, getting blood transfusions, playing poker with other patients and orderlies. Damn, had this process taken its sweet time.
He thought of the day he’d decided. He’d sat on the very bed his eyes scanned now. In his head he could hear Dr. Brown.
“Your disease is progressive. You know this, I’d say you’ve got about two or three good years,” too long a time.
“I understand you live alone and have no children, but do you have any friends or other relatives you can count on to drive you to and from the hospital when you are too sick to do it on your own?” Ludwig flinched. He had no one.
Ludwig shook his head and began to get dressed. He buttoned each button carefully on his shirt, pulled his pants up and buttoned them, checked three times he had zipped his fly, double knotted the shoes laces on each shoes then sat on the bed house keys in one hand, his cell phone in the other. Just then the phone rang and the shrill ring made Ludwig jump. He answered it.
“Sir? Your cab is outside.”
“Alright, I’ll be out in a minute.”
Ludwig stretched his legs out in front of him and stood up. He turned around one last time and looked at the room. He walked out of the door and made his way down the long staircase. When he reached the bottom he was only a few feet from the door. He paused and turned around. He looked at the house he was leaving behind, practically empty. He breathed in the smell of oak and dust and smiled. He turned back around and opened the door and made his way onto the porch. He checked three times that he had double locked the door and then went down the driveway and got into the yellow checkered cab. The cab pulled away from the curb and Ludwig watched the house disappear from view breathing the scent of cheap cologne that exuded from the driver. On the drive he recalled the day he had left the doctor’s office.
He had arrived home and sat on the bed, contemplating different ways he could end his life: a gun to his temple, a razor to his wrist, gas from the stove to his lungs. The image of splattered blood and death in the house he shared with April was too disgusting. He decided to send a request to the doctors of St. Clare’s Hospital to pump his veins full of poison. When his doctor told him he could choose a memory to die to he had been hesitant. How would it work? But two weeks ago his doubts were laid to rest.
He remembered the mask. Two big holes for eyes that you could see out of like sunglasses when the machine was turned off. The rest of the mask shined in silver and was covered with wires protruding from all sides. He lay on the lumpy hospital mattress, shifted his weight as the heavy mask was suction-cupped to his face and the machine was turned on. He was instructed to think of a specific memory. He thought of when he and April had picnicked at Washington Park, alone under the brilliant trees of fall. Suddenly, he’d left the cramped doctor’s office and his wrinkled sick body. He was with April, under the trees, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, rolling around on the grass with his arms wrapped around her. For the first time in ten years, he saw April, touched her pale skin, smelled her lavender and lilac fragrance, ran his fingers through her untamed black hair.
And then the doctors sucked him back to reality, into the tiny tinted room filled with the smell of old age and sickness. This process happened several times, with different memories, until he had chosen one perfect moment to die to.
Now Ludwig found himself getting out of the cab. He made his way to the St. Clare’s waiting room and told the receptionist his name. Thirty minutes later he was waiting in the doctor’s office, nurse and priest by his side. He couldn’t wait to see April again. Ludwig heard three knocks at the door. He looked up and saw Dr. Brown enter the room. His long white coat almost brushed the floor since he was such a small man in stature. He walked over to Ludwig and shook his hand warmly, his brown eye somber.
“Are you ready?” Dr. Brown’s voice filled the tense room.
“Yes, yes I am. Thank you again Doctor, for… all your help and… really, thank you,” No hint of fear could be detected in Ludwig’s voice.
Once again he felt the weight of the heavy mask and saw the room through tinted lenses.
“I hope you find peace.” Dr. Browns voiced faded into the distance and Ludwig looked around at his new surroundings.
April was in the bed, the covers pulled up to her waist, her knees were bent and she had a book in her hands which rested against them. Ludwig was in the bed next to her, his back rested against a mound of soft pillows and his legs were sprawled out long in front of him. He put the book in his hands down on the night stand and turned his head to face April. The window was open and it blew the familiar scent of lavender and lilac into his nose.
After a moment April felt his stare and looked up from her reading. They smiled at each other, a simple, sleepy smile. He reached over and grabbed her tiny hand in his. People said I was crazy to get married at twenty-five, but what the hell do they know. He leaned his head back into the pillows, her hand still clutched in his. It was perfect; they were just two kids, with their whole lives ahead of them. Ludwig threw his arm over his new wife and pulled her close. He snuggled his nose in the back of her neck, his knees in the back of her knees, his feet cradled her feet. He smiled again and took a deep breath. His eyes drifted close. Holding her body with his he fell into a deep sleep.