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Her Old Man

Chuck Rothman has been writing science fiction for almost 30 years, with publications in Asimov's, F&SF, Realms of Fantasy, Baen's Universe, Space and Time, and many other markets that he's outlived. He lives in Schenectady with his wife Susan and cat Lightning and blogs at greatbutforgotten.blogspot.com.

Rose knew the signs of death better than most. The second she stepped in the hospice room, she knew it was not far off.
The man on the bed was pale and thin, his skin like tissue paper, his hair a few wispy strands that made him look like an ogre. There was a well-worn bible on the bedstand next to him.
He looks so old, thought Rose. Her old man. And even though she had never thought of him that way, it now fit with sad precision.
It had been ages since she had last seen him. He had cut off all communication as soon as she told him about Irene. There were some things not even the closest of family would accept.
He snorted for a moment, then his eyes snapped open. They were as blue as she remembered, but she did not remember the hate.
"What are you doing here?" he snapped.
"You're dying. I had to come."
"Are you still with that bitch?"
She winced only a bit. She had expected this. "Don't blame Irene," she said.
"Who should I blame? She did this to you. You two together--it's an abomination."
Rose sighed. It was my decision, she wanted to say. She makes me happy. "Maybe this was a bad idea."
"It was. You remember what I said."
Like one remembers a burning hot poker to the eye. "You're dead to me," he had said, and when she tried to make a joke about it, he had simply turned and left. If she hadn't happened to hear that he was now under hospice care, it would have been the last words he ever said to her.
"I came here to offer you something," she said.
"You have nothing to give me."
"Not your life? I could turn you," she said. "Make you immortal. You'd still look 82, but you'd be perfectly healthy."
"Make me a monster," he said. "Like you are."
"It's not like that," said Rose. "I'm not--"
"Go away," the old man said, and Rose felt that she had grown old, too, in an instant. "I'd prefer to die."
Rose felt tears welling up. What could she say? That it's not what you think? "You won't let me give you this gift?" she asked.
"No," he said. "Let me die in peace."
The years had changed nothing. "I love you," she said.
He rolled onto his side, away from her.
Rose stumbled out of the hospice and into the car. Irene was waiting.
She didn't have to ask. She pulled Rose close and held her to her shoulder. "It's all right," she cooed. "It's all right." She held a pouch of whole blood. Human, stolen from a blood bank. "This will make you feel better."
Rose shook her head. It was a kind gesture, but she wasn't hungry. "It was a terrible idea!" she said.
Irene gently ran her fingers over her hair. "No, it wasn't," she said.
"Nothing changed!"
"You shouldn't have expected it to. Tearful deathbed reconciliations don't happen in real life. But you had to try. Now you won't be haunted by regrets."
Rose looked at Irene. "Were you? When it happened to you?"
She shrugged, and Rose knew the answer was yes. "You had to see him," she said, starting the motor. "He was your son."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Author Comments

I was in the midst of another vampire story when the opening of this came to me: a vampire visiting a dying loved one and offering to make him immortal. But I only had a rough idea where this was going until the last line came to me out of nowhere. That's when it all came together.

- Chuck Rothman
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