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The long wait

Cecile Cristofari lives in South France. She teaches English to unruly but lovable teenagers, feeds birds and tries to grow things on her balcony, and she definitely plans to get a driving licence one day. She blogs at staywherepeoplesing.wordpress.com.
"It depends on what you feel is right for her," the lady said. "Social security can buy something short and painless. Of course you need to make all the necessary arrangements...."
"What about long and painless?"
The words came out sharper than Eva intended. It still stung to hear that woman offer in a soothing voice to kill her mother. She took a long breath.
"I'm sorry. You must get that all the time."
The lady just smiled, not as warmly as Eva hoped. That must be a tough job.
"Your mother won't suspect anything," the lady said. "She won't believe it if she's told. We can make that six months, if you can cover the additional fee. Only allow me to advise you against it. Six months is long enough for you to start hoping she'll recover. She won't. We're sorcerers, not gods."
"Six months is good enough," Eva said.
A week later, the diagnostic was confirmed beyond hope. Her mother would never leave her coma. As Eva returned from the shop, her legs felt like lead. Inside a little black box, she held six precious months of life--a frail sickly life, in an easy chair on the terrace, but a life still, where her mother would be awake and still know her, before that day in six months when she would go to sleep with a smile and never wake up. She would die in the summer, lulled out by cicadas.
Eva wondered if she could ever think about it without crying. Every day that went by had better be the best in the world. Half a year could race by so quickly when taken up by menial things. Eva couldn't even imagine her daily life without worry, doctors and cures. But no--she'd never manage to stop worrying. Nor could she stop hoping.
She raised her eyes just in time to jump aside. A horn screamed. Metal crashed. A blow to her stomach cut her breath and sank her to her knees. Then she met her eyes.
The two cars had crashed against each other and in the chaos of flying parts, she came face to face with a young woman, face surprised, then twisted in pain as the car slumped on her lower body. Eva ran, wetness spreading inside her shirt. She put the box on the ground and knelt, pushing, pulling. The woman was covered in blood, shaking more than breathing. The car was crushing her abdomen.
Pain spread in Eva's stomach. The wetness felt strange, neither hot nor cold, as if she had been turned inside out. But she couldn't care about pain now. Before her eyes, the woman was dying. In the daze, Eva reached for the box. The woman put a hand on hers. Their eyes met as the lid opened.
Eva woke up sore, smelling disinfectant. There was no one in the room. Soon the ache faded, and she sat on the bed, feeling her stomach. She vaguely remembered being hit during the accident. She waited for a long time, until someone entered the room. Eva went still, unsure what to do.
The woman smiled. She wore a nurse's coat now, and her gait was still stiff. She looked quite healthy, however. So that was what those tinned deaths did to you.
"I'm so glad you're better," she said. "I'm Laura. Do you remember me? You pulled me from under that car. You saved my life."
"Laura." Six months, Eva's brain added.
Laura sat on the bed.
"Eva, I'm sorry you must hear it from me. Your mother.... She's gone."
Silence followed, as Eva's dazed thoughts settled like dust in the sunlight. There would be no wait, no time to desperately enjoy her mother's presence before the end. As nature had meant it. And there she lay in a hospital bed, with a pretty young nurse who believed she was the one with sad news to deliver, when Eva was about to tell her that she only had the borrowed six months that had been meant for Eva's mother.
A slow death. A slow joke, you mean. Such a young woman. Eva opened her mouth, then closed it, and Laura's finger held hers for a while.
She was too tired to go back to work. Her doctor signed a discharge, and Laura took her home. They stood at the door, shyly looking away, like young lovers.
"Why don't you come in?" Eva said.
The sun slanted straight down to the balcony. Eva stretched in a reclining chair. After a while, she started to shiver, and Laura brought her a blanket.
It was wonderful, at first.
It was as if they had always known each other. Laura visited her from work, and they sat together until Eva was too tired to chat. After a while, Laura's smile grew fainter, her gaze sadder, and a hard fist began to clench in Eva's stomach. Over five months already.
One night as Laura was leaving, Eva grasped her hand. The words "I love you," were out of her mouth before she thought how much it would hurt afterwards, and before she could start regretting, they hugged on the couch, kissing, Laura's tears stinging her face.
"I love you," Laura gasped. "I always will. Six months are just so short."
Six months. She knew?
Laura saw her astonishment and kissed her again.
"You were dying," she said. "The car door nearly cut you in two. And you still pulled me out, and you had that box, and... God, it's too cruel!"
Eva shook her head, while Laura whispered sweet names to her. She closed her eyes to block out the tears. Poor, poor Laura. The sorcerers had guaranteed it: no one given one of their deaths could ever believe it. It would be too cruel. She was so tired_.
"We'll be fine, love," was all she thought to say. "Help me to bed, please."
Laura took her by the waist, calmly, as if the illusion had already soothed her mind.
"Good night, darling," she whispered through a kiss.
Eva drifted into the darkness.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, February 17th, 2017

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