Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Last Plane

Deborah Rey


"Next time you visit a church, will you steal a candle and light it for me?" Tommy asked.

"I certainly will not," I answered, grinning. I stroked his rat-eaten balding head, careful not to touch the festering sores.

"You always steal a candle and light it for those who died ..." Tommy pouted.

" ... during the war," I interrupted. "And I don’t steal them. I refuse to pay for them, because the church is too bloody rich anyhow and they don’t do anything with the money from those candles, as far as I know."

"Lousy excuse," Tommy came back.

"True. I think it’s more kind of a revenge. Anyhow, for you I’ll buy a candle and put it in front of our window ... like I do for my other loved ones."

"To show them the way home," he whispered.

"Yeah, to show them the way home."

I looked down at his handsome face; handsome, in spite of the sores and the yellow skin that was stretched tight over his protruding cheekbones. My Tommy was no more than a skeleton, my Tommy was dying. Today.

My Tommy was going to die today. It had been decided to end his suffering today. Thanks to the thinking, human and compassionate lawmakers of our country, Tommy was allowed to stop living in agony. He didn’t have to wait until his lungs filled up with liquid and suffocated him, or until his liver gave up functioning. Today, his heart would stop beating, because Tommy himself had decided it to be so.

"Want me to wash you, babe?" I asked. The nurses didn’t have enough time to carefully wash his wasted body and some of them were too scared to. My Tommy smelled of rot and decay. Such a wrong smell for somebody who was going to die that same day.

"I love ya’, Meg," sang my friend.

I got the wash basins and the bar of Chanel 5 soap I bought for him and nobody used, because it wasn’t antiseptic. As if yet another infection would have made any difference. His body was covered with infected sores and one more....

"Don’t know if this soap will hurt, bud. I’ll wash around the sores, okay?"

"Don’t care if it hurts, Meg, it’ll make me smell good. Do you think Coco washed with Chanel 5? Put on gloves, Meg!"

"Nag, nag, nag," I laughed. "Jeez’, kid, Johnny trusted me more than you do, you know that!"

Tommy’s drug-misty eyes misted over even more. It was a year ago that Johnny died, exactly one year ... today.

My romantic friend decided to die on the same day as his lover did last year; even at the same hour ... that is, the product would be injected at exactly the same time.

"Mind giving my arse a good scrubbing, Meg? Those little nurses are scared shitless of me, but especially of my arse. Pray tell, would that be because it’s a gay arse?"

"I don’t give a shit, my friend, and in all honesty, you are full of shit ... your arse is, I mean."

I ever so carefully washed around all the oozing wounds that come with the disease and the ugly bedsores the non-care of the medical team had produced. It shocked me to see his body in such a poor state. After all, AIDS was no longer a word one didn’t pronounce and the nurses should be used to taking care of that damn disease’s victims by now.

The soap did its work. Tommy began to smell much nicer.

As I carefully rolled him onto his back again, there was a knock on the door. Before we had a chance to say anything, a splendid looking man in a long, black cassock walked in. The hospital’s priest.

"Please, wait outside, sir," I demanded. "I will be ready in a few minutes."

The priest looked at me and walked towards the window. He turned his back on us and stared outside.

"Outside, sir!" I barked.

The priest did not react and stood. Tommy grinned like a naughty little boy.

"He hopes to be able to take a peek at my...." he started in a loud whisper.

"Shut up," I hissed and continued to wash him. I changed his sheets and rearranged the Christmas decorations I’d put up all around his bed and on the stand of his intravenous drip.

"Jingle balls, jingle balls, kosher all the way," Tommy sang and I bit my tongue not to burst out laughing.

I dug into my handbag and put some make-up on his face. It made him look better.
"Want some eyeshadow and lipstick?" I asked.

"Sure, kid. I want to look my best today," Tommy snickered.

"You can turn around now, sir," I said, taking off my gloves.

I put out my hand. "I am Meg Deers," I told the priest.

"Ah," he answered, surprised. "Tommy’s sister?"

"No. I’m his wife, sir," I answered, straight-faced.

"His wife?"

"Yes," Tommy announced with pride. "Meg and I got married two months ago."

"You were joined in holy matrimony?" the priest panted and Tom and I both burst into laughter.

"Not very holy, sir," I began to explain, but he interrupted me.

"Father, dear. People call me Father."

I smiled sweetly and felt like kicking him where it hurts.

"Well, I won’t, sir. You’re not my father and, as far as we know, you aren’t anybody else’s father either. I will call you sir, sir. Oh, and talking about our marriage, sir, the matrimony in which we are joined, isn’t a very holy one. You see, sir, I am Jewish and divorced, and Tommy is gay. I think your church wouldn’t like that combination very much and never would have married us."

"We got married to get rid of my money," Tommy announced matter-of-factly. The priest cocked his head and stared at him.

"Before he died, Johnny and I sold all our boutiques and he put his part of the money in my bank account," Tommy went on. "Now, since we got married, Meg has that money in her account. We got married, because of the money."

The priest’s mouth fell open and his eyes almost popped out of his head as he stared at me in disbelief.

"After Tommy’s cremation, I’m going to Africa, sir. To invest Tommy and Johnny’s money in several AIDS clinics," I added.

"Oh, my goodness," breathed the priest.

"No, not your goodness, sir. Tommy and Johnny’s."

I bent over and kissed Tommy on his nose. He pursed his lips, his eyes twinkling with mischief. I grinned back at him and softly brushed a kiss on his mouth. I felt the priest’s eyes in my back and heard him thinking.

"No, sir, I’m not afraid to be infected. We don’t French-kiss, you know," I told him as I straightened up.

"I darn well would, if I were butch," joked Tommy.

"Go tell that on the mountain, lover," I grumbled and left the room to get some coffee.

As I was drinking the excellent espresso the machine gave, I suddenly remembered how a nurse protested, when I put up the Christmas decoration in Tommy’s room.

"That decoration isn’t sterile! He might get an infection," she told me and Tommy piped in with a loud, "Yo, sis’, it isn’t kosher either, but with a good Christmas ball infection, I’ll get out of here faster, and it‘ll save the Doc from giving me my final high."

The nurse was not amused; we were. Since the law on euthanasia had become a reality, the vast majority of the people saw it as a blessing, and spoke about it quite openly. Some still avoided it, however, like some people still avoid pronouncing the word cancer.

I walked back to Tommy’s room. The priest was just leaving.

"You are going against God’s will, my son," he said to the dying, suffering man in the bed.

"He’s not your son, sir," I barked. "And, if there is a God, I’m sure he’ll understand and if he doesn’t, he should abdicate. Now, would you, please, go home, take off your dress, put your feet up and relax. My beloved friend ... shit, no, my beloved husband, Doc David and I have more important things to do. Things, like ending his suffering and unbearable pain, his steady decay and his losing all feeling of being human."

The priest left, shaking his head. Tommy closed his eyes and sighed.

"Is it almost time?" he asked. I looked at the clock. It was ten to four.

"Doc David will be here in ten minutes," I announced and sat next to him on the bed.

"I’ll miss you, Meggums," Tommy whispered.

"Life will be lonely without you, my dearest," I said.
We sat without speaking, until at four o’clock sharp, Doc David walked in.

Doc David did have a last name and he even was a professor, but for all who knew him, the chubby and always tanned, soft-eyed medical man was Doc David.

"Ready, Tommy?" he asked.

"As ready as I’ll ever be."

"You’re absolutely certain you want to go through with this?"

"Yes, Doc, I’m absolutely certain. I’m tired and I want to ... well, like ... I want to go home, or on a long trip. I‘m really tired, Doc."

Tommy turned to me and put out his hand.

"Will you hold me, Meg?"

"I’ll hold you, Tommy."

I settled next to him against the pillows and carefully put my arms around him. He leaned his head against my shoulder.

"Quarter past four, eh Tom?" asked Doc David.

"Quarter past four," Tommy affirmed.

I put my hand on my friend’s chest and felt his heart beating. Damn, he must be running a fever again, I thought, stupidly.

Doc David stuck the needle of the syringe into the tube of the drip.

"You’ll get very warm," he said to Tommy. "It will be like a very warm wave."

"Like a Jacuzzi," Tommy murmured. He turned his head and looked at the clock. "Quarter past, Doc."

"Yes," said Doc David and slowly emptied the syringe into the transparent plastic tube.

"Meg?" Tommy asked.

"I’m here, dearest, I’m here."

Two tears rolled down Tommy’s cheeks, but his face was calm and almost peaceful.

When—I don’t know how much later—I felt his heart flutter and then stop, I almost expected him to smile. That would have been so typical of Tommy.

"He’s gone, Meg," said Doc David.

"He always loved to travel," I joked weakly.

"This time he’s gone on a very long voyage," answered the Doc, and disconnected all the tubes and needles. He didn’t call in a nurse to do it, he did it himself.

"We’ll keep in touch, won’t we, Meg?"

"I’d like that very much, David," I said. "Besides, I’ll need your help for Tommy’s and Johnny’s clinics in Africa."

The Doc touched Tommy’s hand in a farewell gesture and kissed my cheek. I straightened the sheet and stroked back the few puffs of hair my friend still had. Tommy looked as handsome as ever, even with the rat-eaten balding head. He looked younger than before. Tommy was free. I bent over and kissed his lips. We always kissed each other on the lips.
"Bon voyage, dearest," I said out loud and, quite suddenly, pictured myself at the airport, seeing him off on a trip. I heard his voice ... If you get lonesome for me, you know where you can join me, Meggums ... he always said that.

"Not yet, my friend, not yet," I answered, smiling. "First, I have to take care of some business in Africa. Remember?"

***

Deborah Rey (1938 - ?) was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and from the time she was a little girl, has worked in radio, television, publicity and the theatre, as a broadcaster, entertainer, scriptwriter, translator, editor, and actress, in the Netherlands, Canada and the USA.

Today, retired, she finally has the time to be a full-time writer for herself, and an editor for other authors.

Her work during the Second World War, as a 'baby-courier' in the Dutch Underground, earned her the honourable distinction of having been one of Holland's two Child Resistance Fighters.
Deborah Rey is married and has one daughter, and one grandson. She lives at the French Atlantic coast, with her husband, the Dingo-Dog and six cats.

© Deborah Rey

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012