The Look Of Love
She entered the room and silently closed the door behind her. Her legs hurt on account of the stairs. The stairs and the decades. There had been thoughts of installing a stair-lift, years ago, when the necessity of it first presented itself, but they couldn't afford it. Money shortage had been an issue for a while in the past, but of late, it didn't matter anymore. Almost nothing mattered anymore, money even less. And – the thought of it almost moistened her eyes – there were some things she alone could think about and take care of.
When you're sick and in pain, you can think about and take care of nothing else.
She approached their bed, limping slightly. Luce lay there, almost immobile, almost expressionless underneath the horrid mask of malformation due to illness and pain. Lay there under sedation. Rachel had by now gotten accustomed to this sight.
No, she damn hadn't.
She sat at he bed, groaning slightly. A faint smile interweaved with her wrinkles. It had never before crossed her mind that there's the age of seventy-five! An astronomical number! Years ago she had bidden the last farewell to her parents, both of them full of days, Ned at ninety, Tessa at ninety-one. God's will. As it had also been God's will that she lose her little sister, Henrietta, at a railway accident, at the age of only twenty-two. There was no-one alive, none who meant anything to her. Excepting the woman in their bed. Whose life was about to end.
For some time she sat on the bed not being able to bring herself to turn her look toward her beloved. She had the impossible thought that after she's administered the euthanasia drug, Luce'd be transformed, just before the end she'd become beautiful, young and radiant again, as back then, and that's how she'd make her exit, leaving Rachel behind, old, bitter and alone.
Minutes went by. She glanced out the window. An unfamiliar London, completely altered by technology's stupendous progress. Skyscrapers everywhere, glass, metal, novel synthetics. Automation, breakthrough techniques and a bizarre co-existence of man, machine and nature. Trees on building-tops, cantilevered or suspended flats and penthouses, street and park robo-cleaners. Their flat, the last one in the neighbourhood left unchanged, looked old-fashioned, even quaint in comparison. They loved it that way. Had for almost fifty years.
Thinking of parks, she remembered that even better than looking into each other's eyes, was both of them looking towards the same direction. The most valid proof of identity. Cold mornings with a take-away coffee at Primrose Hill, cool evenings munching at hot-dogs at Battersea Park, summer nights sitting at the balcony of their flat, vases and flower-pots brimming with blooms everywhere. Sitting side-by-side, not moving, not speaking, gazing into endlessness.
Another attempt to turn her look to her darling failed too. She could hear her shallow, morbid breath, could guess the other's battle to talk, to talk to her, maybe to ask her something, anything, no matter what. They had agreed that it should end this way. They couldn't take it anymore. The recent anti-cancer drugs were nearly miraculous . Nearly. They could sure prolong the patient's life for years. Ten, even twenty. But they couldn't avert the inevitable. Death was sure to come. The pain wouldn't leave. Disfiguration was unavoidable. Luce had been on medication for five years. Slowly, unfailingly, she was waning.
And the end was drawing nigh.
They'd been so "into" each other, that they sort of lived a bit cut-off of a quickly changing world. "Flowered Up" hadn't been doing well, there were few romantics left asking for real flowers. One could procure the weirdest mutations – let alone artificial flowers made of revolutionary new materials – thus roses, lilies and azaleas were commonplace. They had tried to adapt to the customers' wishes, but the hypermarkets' prices were unbeatable, plus they could deliver home robotically.
Rachel's magazine had shut down years ago. Blogosphere, autojournalism, nano-reporters and the Internet had led the printed press to near-extinction. They both had their little pensions. This, plus the rent from the house of Rachel's parents, which wasn't altogether much. Single-storey houses just weren't the fad…
Getting an euthanasia permit, the drug itself and the state doctor's fee cost a lot of money, which, of course, would be of no moment anymore. Mercifully enough, no legal witnesses were required. The medical committee had examined Luce, had given their verdict and signed the prescription of the mercy drug. The patient was free to die of his or her own hand. The attending physician would discreetly wait in another room and would be summoned to verify the termination of the life processes of the euthanasee. Official documents would be presented and signed and the mortal remains of the deceased would be taken care of.
Rachel wanted it all to end as long as it was still light, as long as they could behold each other. She took the tiny capsule out of her dress-pocket. She held it tight, her glance not daring to leave the London futuristic skyline. She stiffened her dry lips and made the third attempt to look at the woman she'd presently put to sleep.
"Don't look at me" came Luce's hoarse whisper and she stopped in mid-motion. She couldn't, though, resist from having at the corner of her visual field the outline, albeit malformed, of her woman's face.
"Don't look at me" her voice was heard again, husky, dry-swallowing.
Rachel couldn't take it anymore. She put her palms over her face. She felt her stomach-muscles and diaphragm tense and thought she'd let out a shrill cry, almost like that time. That time when she felt she'd have to shout for her life, she'd shout her love for all to hear. That time, it worked. Would it work now, if she were to try it? Would a clearly pronounced "you're a wanker, Grim Reaper!" make things as they were?
As they were… but when? She now, at the eleventh hour, realized that you can't freeze time, you can't encapsule yourself into a fine moment, as you would stuff an animal or capture a snapshot. And, even if the Godhead deemed it meet to gratify such a preposterous demand, which moment would she choose, to cherish for all eternity?
"Do you remember?" came the question from the woman in bed, as if having read Rachel's mind.
"Yes" was all Rachel could say.
Yes, she remembered all she had to, which had nothing to do with her mental capability, because everything – she now knew – she had seen with her heart's eyes. With the look of love. And she wouldn't have to remember anything other than the love, the true love she felt for Luce. Love that regenerated itself every passing second, love that perpetuated itself with every look.
And through all these long years, these endless separate and unique moments, she could distinctly remember the fateful three seconds, those fated to bring the two women together forever. The three seconds during which they exchanged their very first look, the look of love.
"Will you… put… it… into my mouth?" came her plea.
Trembling and half-swooning from emotion and fatigue, she extended her hand. She held the capsule between thumb and index, while with the back of the other fingers she felt, slowly, agonizingly, her way towards Luce's mouth. She reached her chin, felt lumps, blobs and creases, found her lips, her once lovely and now even more dear lips and shoved the death-drug inside. Prayed for instant death. Hers and hers. She felt her guts decompose, half-bent over, her weary feet ready to give. She blindly groped for Luce's hand. Found it, held it.
"Don't forget me" came her last words.
The years since these words were first spoken blasted through Rachel like a hurricane. She barely had stamina left to sit up, yet she did and thought she'd die first, then and there.
"I won't remember anything else" she uttered.
And she kept holding the hand of her love. Felt the weak pulse grow weaker, butterfly-like, even weaker. She then felt nothing more.
Now that the spell had been broken, she could turn and look again at the person who made her realize what true love is. Now she could let her tears flow, the last ones she ever would. Now she would see if her prayer, her unuttered wish to vanquish the horror of the moment gone, had been answered.
She turned and looked at her beloved one. The miracle had been wrought. She was beautiful, young and radiant. She had the look of love.