Coup de Grâce

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After spending a gorgeous star-studded night in an enchanted treehouse surrounded by giant redwoods, making love one last time, they awaken to stray beams of early morning sunlight that have managed to penetrate the dark coolness of the thick forest. And a wonderful last morning it is, indeed.

Downstairs, they hear pots and pans sliding onto and off of gas stove burners, serving spoons clinking into glass bowls, and an open refrigerator exhaling frosty air and its heavy door shutting on gummy gaskets; then they remembered that they forgot to cancel the breakfast that was included in the price of their last night’s stay. With or without breakfast though, this place was a real steal of a deal, thanks to their “Living Large” coupon that they’d bought on the internet.

The irresistible smell of $12-a-pound coffee brewing wafts up the spiral staircase, but they can’t have it. Too bad. Only now do they realize that their last cup of coffee was yesterday morning, served in a Styrofoam cup on the plane coming out here.

They’d had their last supper with their son and his wife somewhere between the airport and here. They had begrudgingly learned to love their son, always an odd and ungainly child with a penchant for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Even though they’d named him a perfectly good and respectable name, he’d insisted on calling himself “Boom.” They even learned to love his wife, Jezza, if only because she loved him for the very reasons they didn’t. The young couple, presently in their mid-forties, were failed strawberry farmers, and now, courtesy of Mom and Pop, were sinking another small fortune into vermiculture, a fancy word for growing worms. In spite of sounding like a foolhardy investment, handing over all their worldly wealth to these two young people felt like the right thing to do. At least it helped to assuage the guilt they’d felt all these years about their lack of unconditional love.

Their house, their cars, all their belongings, every trace of who they were, all liquidated and transmogrified into columns of numbers on financial statements. All their final papers are in order, all signed, sealed and just about delivered. They both have their own manila envelope, all set and ready to go. The only other thing they both have in their matching backpacks is their made-to-order, custom-fitted, zip-up mushroom suits, guaranteed to decompose their wearers more efficiently than natural processes alone. They’re the latest craze in green funerals.

Showering without any of the luxury soaps and shampoos provided by the host of the treehouse was a little disappointing, but the hot water and the power shower head helped rinse away some of the malaise that naturally asserts itself during one’s last anything.

They both dressed in yesterday’s clothes and took one last, mournful look around their charming little treehouse, and negotiated their way down the spiral staircase into the kitchen. Two silver-haired women, speaking softly in Spanish, were plating cheese omelets and blueberry pancakes. There was an inviting table set just for them with a four-piece Romantica Collection silver coffee set, lace place mats and double hemstitched linen napkins. Having to refuse such a beautiful breakfast almost made them cry. The women were so disappointed that their loving efforts came to naught, but they quickly packed up the omelets and the pancakes in cardboard to-go boxes, pressing the boxes on the mildly resistant couple as they headed out the door.

Who would be the recipient of the breakfasts they did not know, but waste not, want not; and what a sin to waste the earth’s bounty—such an ungrateful gesture.

They walked along the forest trails they had already researched and planned for their final walk, only now they were carrying these cardboard boxes, an inconvenient reminder that they could not eat the food so tantalizingly tucked inside while their protesting stomachs grumbled with outrage, which did, in fact, diminish their enjoyment of the walk.

Through the trees, they became aware of a man walking parallel to them, dressed head-to-toe in Hunter’s Orange. The woman’s first thought was to give him the boxed breakfasts, but quickly decided against it since the man looked a little agitated—actually, demented. He was mumbling to himself, his stride springy and stringent, his right hand grasping a shotgun, his index finger looped through the trigger guard. He was wearing an orange Elmer Fudd hunting cap. He never looked at them, but seemed to accompany them on the whole walk, keeping a distance of a hundred feet or so. They could hear his ranting punctuated by obscenities, conversations, and laughter.

Needless to say, the couple’s last walk was not the idyllic commune with nature they had planned.

As they approached “Sunset Associates, LLC,” a building that was camouflaged as a giant redwood, the man seemed to disappear and, other than an uneasiness that seemed to settle into the very marrow of their bones, they thought no more about him.

The receptionist looked up at them. “George and Adelina Edgecraft?”

“Yes,” they answered in unison. They had yet another coupon, also from “Living Large,” that they’d bought on the internet for “Assisted…,” well, they didn’t like to say the word, but yes, this was the best end they could possibly come up with. It was such a good deal that they couldn’t really pass it up. Plus, the timing was right, or so it seemed. Taking advantage of a free screening opportunity at their local Mall, George, 70, had just been diagnosed after a urological exam with some suspicious pre-cancerous cells, and Adelina, 69, had just been diagnosed with what could be a degenerative neuro-muscular disease. At the moment, both were asymptomatic, but they were told that could change with time. Both were advised to opt for aggressive treatment to “get out ahead” of any possible progression of their respective maladies. They both agreed that they were not prepared to witness each other’s nor their own decline, much less wind up at the mercy of Boom and Jezza and their damned worms!

“And you have both fasted for at least 12 hours and neither one of you is wearing any perfumes or deodorants nor have you used any soaps or shampoos in the bath or shower that you took this morning?”

They are ushered into a waiting room. Within a minute, a nurse comes first for George.

“We thought we’d be doing this together!” protests Adelina.

“No, we don’t have a double option. It’s only one at a time,” explains the nurse.

Oh.

They kiss and hug and tell each other what a good life they’ve had and how they love each other, and off goes George.

Adelina, sitting by herself, all alone in the sterile waiting room, starts to hyperventilate and shake, hoping it’s just nerves and not the degenerative neuro-muscular disease kicking in big time.

Half an hour later, the same nurse returns.

“How did my husband do?” asks Adelina.

“Oh, he passed out so we’re trying to revive him. State law says that you can’t euthanize someone who is not conscious.”

Oh.

She follows the nurse down a narrow hallway into a small room with a hospital gurney, and is given an adult diaper and a paper gown.

“Here you go! Take off everything and put your shoes and clothes in this bag and put these on, and I’ll be back in a jiffy!”

Adelina peels off her clothes and quickly puts on the paper gown just in case the nurse comes back too soon. The adult diaper is surprisingly thin and fits very comfortably. Hmmm…they probably don’t look too bad under jeans. Maybe if you’re not too heavy to begin with…? And if you are already fat? Well, who the heck would notice anyway?

She puts her backpack, the plastic drawstring bag with her clothes and shoes, and the two breakfast boxes on the floor under the chair in the corner.

An alarm cuts through the air and a mechanical voice drones, “Armed Intruder, Armed Intruder! Lock all doors, shut off all lights and shelter in place.”

The nurse barges into the room, deadbolts the door, and shuts off the lights. Side by side, they crouch on the tile floor and huddle, shudder and hyperventilate together. Both the nurse and Adelina are wimpering in fear.

An orange Elmer Fudd hunting cap and a scowling face appear in the little window of the door, and both women, paralyzed with fear, shake soundlessly.

Adelina’s paper gown has already ripped in a few places but she’s grateful for the adult diaper. It’s bad enough that her feet are already numb and she’s covered in goosebumps, but at least she’s not sitting bare-assed on that cold, tile floor.

The Elmer Fudd gunman kicks the door but it doesn’t budge. With the butt of his rifle, he smashes the little window, and fires into the room several times, miraculously not hitting them. A string of expletives and some hysterical laughter ensue. Newly enraged, he fires blindly into the room just once more, and the bullet ricochets off several surfaces in the room before lodging itself directly into his forehead.

George stumbles out into the hallway dressed in his paper gown and his adult diaper and almost trips over the dead hunter. He alternately screams like a little girl and bellows like a jackass, and in the end, is grateful to have been wearing that adult diaper.

Back in their own clothes, George and Adelina say goodbye to the receptionist on their way of out “Sunset Associates, LLC.” She reminds them that their coupons will expire in three days and that they are non-refundable. They gladly acknowledge that the coupon will expire long before they will, and they are delighted not to have extracted the value due to them.

Back out in the pristine forest once again, George and Adelina take their mushroom suits out of their backpacks, and stuff them into a bear-proof recycling bin. At a picnic table along the path, they sit down and eat their beautiful luke-warm breakfast from the cardboard to-go boxes. Never before, have cold cheese omelets and cold blueberry pancakes tasted so good!

After forcing themselves to finish it all, they head back to the treehouse where they’d spent what they thought was their last night.

The two silver-haired women are still there, the smell of coffee still lazing in the warm air of the kitchen.

“Hi, it’s us again! Two questions: Do you still have that coffee we didn’t want, and can we get another night here?”

Sitting at their little table with the lace place mats, they drink a whole pot of coffee between the two of them from the four-piece Romantica Collection silver coffee set.

George looks at Adelina and they smile at each other with new eyes.

“What the hell were we thinking, George? I can’t believe that we almost just did what we almost just did.”

“I can’t either, but I’m so glad we didn’t do it. Thank God for that crazy guy who almost killed us!”

Adelina gazes thoughtfully into her third cup of steaming coffee. “I’ll bet Boom and Jezza wouldn’t mind having us around for a few months. Maybe we could help them with their vermiculture business.”

“Why not?” says George amiably. “At this point, we really don’t have any other place to go.”

“Well, then,” laughs Adelina, “looks like we’re going up to the country!”

“The best part is,” says George, “we have absolutely nothing to lose! I never knew that could feel so good!”

Illustration Credit: http://www.pinterest.com (Oregon Treehouse)

Music Credit: Canned Heat, “Going Up To the Country,” youtube.com

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