A Gift of Death
Kenneth James Crist
Always pitch your
tent on high ground. I mean, if it’s just a silly little, one-man Wal Mart tent
and it doesn’t look like rain, fuck it, put the damn thing anywhere it looks
good. But if it’s a good-sized, serious tent and you’re gonna be there a while,
find the high ground and, if there’s a stream or river nearby, look for
high-water marks and locate above them. This way, if it storms, you get
drainage and a flood won’t carry your ass away, to be found weeks later,
drowned and a putrefying mess.
“Is this a good
spot?” Katie had never camped out and it had been a while for me, too. We had
forest all around and a stream nearby. We were on federal land in a National
Forest and our permits were in order, all fees paid.
“This is about as
good as it’s gonna get, Babe. We’re a few miles off the beaten path and I think
we’re gonna have the place all to ourselves. It’s too late in the season for a
lot of city folks to come up here. How you feelin’?”
actually,” she said, “Other than being a little winded from the altitude.”
I was amazed at how
well she was holding up. We had hiked in from a parking area several miles
away. True, I had lugged most of the equipment, but she had done well,
considering how sick she had been just a week before. I dropped everything I’d
been carrying and reached for her. I kissed her neck and her lips and the top
of her bald head and we sat down together and rested for a while.
Katie had survived
cancer twice before. This time, she would not. I knew it and she knew it and
all her doctors knew it. The chemo had left her weak and skinny and bald and
she had good days and bad days. But now she had put all the bad days behind
her. She had opted, now that she was nearing the end, to just let all the
treatments go and end her life in the most natural way possible.
In the state we were
in, laws had now been passed to allow assisted suicide, under the supervision
of a doctor. I was that doctor. Nowhere in the law did it state that the doctor
assisting had to be the patient’s regular physician. Any licensed doctor could
assist. And when the time was right, I would help her on her way.
It would not be
easy. We had been married only eleven years and we were still very much in
love. We had hoped to be together for fifty, sixty, seventy years, but it was
not going to happen, at least not this time around.
“So, you gonna show
me how to set up a tent, or are we just gonna sit around and listen to the
wind?” I gave her another quick smooch by her ear and got up and started
breaking out the tent. It was not new, by any means, and it was borrowed, but I
was familiar with what went where, and in about forty minutes, we had a canvas
house, complete with mesh windows, roll up covers and a floor. Katie didn’t
like bugs all that well.
Blowing up air
mattresses when at an unaccustomed altitude is a pain in the ass and a dizzying
experience. That took almost as long as setting up the tent. By evening, I had
built a fire pit and we had a nice fire going and dinner was in the skillet.
I wish I could tell
you about a whirlwind romance, riding horses in the surf, sneaking off to an
isolated cabin for Christmas, calling each other in the dead of night, talking
breathlessly about our love and our future together.
It wasn’t like that.
When I was in Medical School at Kansas University in Wichita, Kathryn Ann
Gilmore had just been there, on the periphery of all the craziness and 19-hour
days, the absolute cramming of knowledge into the stubborn cranium that is the
experience of med school.
She was a secretary,
nothing more. No aspersions on that honorable profession, and one as dedicated
as she truly made it a profession, not just a job.
Our first date was a
total bust, mostly my fault. Dinner and a show had turned out to be Hardee’s
burgers and me sleeping through a movie I can’t even remember now. Why she ever
agreed to a second date is a secret she’s taken with her to her grave…
I don’t know why
soldiers bitch about MRE’s. Meals Ready to Eat require only water and some heat
and they’re ready to go. They will easily last 25 years and they’re actually
pretty tasty. Better than their predecessor, C-rations.
We had beef
Stroganoff and some canned peaches and a couple beers that I’d parked in the
ice-cold stream when we arrived. We fed the fire and talked about anything and
everything, except Katie’s demise. We carefully avoided that subject, at least
At about ten, we
turned in and, much to my surprise, Katie wanted to make love. We had tried a
few times since the chemo had started, but found she was dry and it was
painful, so we’d left it alone. On this first night in camp, she got in her
purse and got out a small bottle and carefully anointed me with a very nice
lubricant and then straddled me and carefully joined us together. It was the
best we’d had in a long time. The darkness was good, only the light from the
dying fire to illuminate the tent wall. It was hard to see the scar on her
chest and the one missing breast. Afterward, she cried a little. Tears of joy.
Tears of sorrow, too, I supposed. I held her against me and soon, we slept.
I would be the first
to admit that my initial attraction to Katie was entirely physical. I wanted to
fuck her. Sometimes, so badly my teeth itched. In medical-psychological
mumbo-jumbo, she fit my “template”, so much so that thinking about nailing her
was screwing with my grades.
She was small and
willowy, small breasts, small hips, and at the same time shapely in a way that
was almost voluptuous. With our schedules and all the studying, it was nine
half-assed dates before I finally got her in bed…
As the days went by,
I watched as Katie got steadily weaker and I knew she would never leave this
place alive. She didn’t know it, but I had arranged an airlift of her remains
by helicopter, once it was all over. I had scouted a small meadow just a
hundred yards away for the chopper to land, so it could be accomplished
quickly. Mr. Efficiency, that’s me, alright.
The first time we
made love, I had expected a certain reluctance on her part, that she might have
to actually be seduced. As it turned out, she was as hot to go as I was and
many of the things I loved to do to her were exactly the things she’d been
hoping for in a lover and eventually, a husband. I think I must have fit her
“template.” Moving in with her meant I had to get some transportation, but I no
longer had to pay rent. I bought my first motorcycle and we were off to the
On the last day,
Katie woke up with chills and a quick check with a thermometer showed she was
spiking a fever. It is often the case that the cancer does not kill the
patient. Often a secondary infection such as pneumonia or influenza will do
that, something the person could likely survive if their immune system was not
already compromised by the cancer and the chemotherapy.
Late in the day, she
rallied somewhat and was able to eat some soup and crackers and she got some
In a way, I
regretted we had not had any kids. Once Katie was gone, there would be nothing
left of her but memories and a few trinkets. No little Katie-clone to comfort
Daddy or for Daddy to hold. But during our lives together, at least for the
first seven years, we thought we’d have plenty of time for kids later. After I
had my practice established. After I paid off a hundred and sixty thousand
dollars’ worth of student loans. Now, time was short, and some things would
never be accomplished. I hoped she had no regrets…
At nine in the
evening, I was sitting by the fire, when I heard her call from the tent. I
helped her to the chemical toilet and then she wanted to go back to her bed and
she wanted me to join her. I held her as she shivered in the dark and she said,
“I think it’s time to hook me up, Johnny.”
Through a veil of
tears, I got out the equipment and started the IV. The process would be started
entirely by her, with the simple press of a button, only and not until she was
In the dark, she
said, “I’d like to try making love one more time.”
“Are you sure? Do
you really feel good enough?”
“No, but I want to
That was a phrase
I’d heard from her all our time together. Her first ride behind me on the bike.
“Are you okay with this?” I knew she was scared shitless. “No, but let’s do it
anyway…” then the discovery that she loved riding behind me, whenever we got
At an amusement park
in Kansas City, looking at one of the world’s great roller coasters. “Sure you
wanna do this?”
“Fuck no, but I’m
gonna do it anyway…” Then, when we got off the ride, asking if we could go
This time she wanted
to be on her back and we were careful of the IV and bottles and tubing. She
cried out when she climaxed, and I was glad she had that pleasure. I stayed
awake for a long time and eventually she slept. I figured maybe it was a false
alarm and we’d have another day or so. I listened to her somewhat raspy
breathing, not liking the sound of it at all, and I thought, Are ya sure you wanna
do this, Katie? And in
my mind, I heard her laugh and say, “Nope. But I’m gonna do it anyway…”
In the morning, I
found that Katie had passed away, sometime after I slept. The button on the
lethal IV had never been activated. The bottles were still full, all except for
the normal saline, which was about half gone. In the steel-gray of the morning
light filtering through the trees, I washed her and dressed her and wept at her
enduring beauty and my own loss.
Last of all, I kissed her cold lips
and then I went outside and called for
James Crist is Editor
Emeritus of Black Petals Magazine and is on staff at Yellow Mama ezine. He has
been a published writer since 1998, having had almost two hundred short stories
and poems in venues ranging from Skin and Bones and The Edge-Tales of Suspense
to Kudzu Monthly. He is particularly fond of supernatural biker stories. He
reads everything he can get his hands on, not just in horror or sci-fi, but in
mystery, hardboiled, biographies, westerns and adventure tales. He retired from
the Wichita, Kansas police department in 1992 and from the security department
at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita in 2016. Now 74, he is an avid motorcyclist
and handgun shooter. He is active in the American Legion Riders and the Patriot
Guard, helping to honor and look after our military. He is also a volunteer
driver for the American Red Cross, Midway Kansas Chapter. He is the owner of
Fossil Publications, a desktop publishing venture that seems incapable of
making any money at all. On June the ninth, he did his first (and last)
parachute jump and crossed that shit off his bucket list.
Kevin D. Duncan
was born 1958 in Alton, Illinois where he still resides.
He has degrees in Political Science, Classics, and Art & Design. He has been
freelancing illustration and cartoons for over 25 years. He has done editorial
cartoons and editorial illustration for local and regional newspapers, including
the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His award-winning
work has appeared in numerous small press zines, e-zines, and he has illustrated
a few books.