bench slapped

Civilian:

I fell into the bench. The sharp slap of old wood connecting against my bones hardly registered and I immediately buried my hands into my face. A shuddering sigh escaped my trembling lips. Tears were forming so fast and thick that it felt like beads were pushed under my eyelids. The fact that I was such a mess and in public should have embarrassed me, but seeing as this weathered bench was in a garden area located on the property of a hospital which was currently full of people too worried with their own personal nightmares, I was willing to deal with it. The sun was shining brightly in a picture perfect blue sky. Weather, I normally would have categorized as “beach weather”. Now, however, the Rockwell portrait was cruel joke, mocking my current state of existence. I couldn’t bare to look at it, so I focused on my hands through blurred vision.

Someone sat beside me. In the corner of my eye, I could see he was dressed in black, his hands hidden in his pockets. I quickly rubbed my eyes feeling uncomfortable. I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone. I wasn’t even in a state of mind to think.

“Lovely day, isn’t it.”

He had an accent. Something that brought rolling green hills to mind. Despite myself, I snuck a glance. He watched the skies completely relaxed in my company. I found myself doubting that he was a stranger at all. He seemed to act as if we were old acquaintances or associates, but that couldn’t have been right. I didn’t even live in this area. We had gone this far to see the specialist. The best one on this side of the country. I pushed those bitter thoughts aside.

“Yes. It is.” I replied with a sniffle.

He reached into his jacket where a breast pocket must have been and procured a handkerchief. It was a grey square of fabric with a red “C” embroidered on the corner. I accepted the offer more out of surprise than anything else.

“So, why is a pretty thing like you crying all alone out here?”

The rough quality of his voice was soothing. I shrugged trying to remain composed, but the simple gesture brought more tears to my eyes. It seemed my grief remained unrelenting. I nodded across the garden at the other people occupying the space. A nurse helped an old man shuffle along with an IV, a couple held a child completely devoid of hair, and a woman weak and old stared vacantly into a tree.

“The same reason they’re here, I guess.”

I anxiously toyed with the handkerchief.

“Ah. The “C” word.” He paused. “Is it you?”

I shook my head not daring to speak.

“A loved one then.”

I nodded. I swallowed hard a few times. My throat was so raw it felt like something was permanently wedged there.

“Inoperable…” I choked on a sob, yet managed, “stage 4.”

“No!” He breathed sounding taken a back. “If only there was some way to fix it.”

I shrugged and bobbed my head up and down in helpless agreement. I gave in, dabbing my eyes with the soft fabric.

“The doctors,” I gasped for breath, “said there’s just nothing they could do anymore. They just kept saying ‘as comfortable as possible.’”

“That’s just awful. What if I said,” He was speaking carefully now, choosing every word with particular purpose. “That I could help?”

“You’re a doctor?” I asked finally looking into his face.

White skin, lines around his eyes indicating middle age, and his hair line pulled at the front, but otherwise he seemed distinguished, like a character from book coming to life.

“My methods are a little more… outside the realm of science.”

His eyes flickered to mine. For a moment I was thrown off by his words. Did he mean some sort of pathos treatment? But his gaze stayed steadily on mine.

“Are you a… Healer?”

“Something like that, but mine actually works.”

I pulled my lips in and pursed them together. No matter how desperate I felt, I had my reservations.

“And what exactly do you do?”

“For a price,” he shrugged, “I eradicate that nasty cancer and your special someone lives on. Plain and simple.”

“What’s the price?” I asked feeling a bitter cynicism take hold.

He shrugged ever so slightly again, “After a long ten years, I get something of yours.”

My brows squeezed together. “What?”

“Your soul.”

The words left his mouth so casually as if it was the simplest solution in the world. As if what he was suggesting was normal and obvious, yet delicate to discuss. I blinked.

“M-my soul.”

“That’s right. You get ten long years to spend with whomever it is in there whose imminent death is breaking your heart, they live out their life and all it costs is your soul.”

I sucked in sharply. The doctors hadn’t even used the word “death”. They danced around it avoiding the uncomfortable taboo.

“What happens to my soul?”

“It’s mine to do with as I please.”

His tone was still soft and casual almost like he was discussing the breakfast menu. I looked down into my hands. My fingers were turning white as I gripped the handkerchief. The cursive “C” stared up at me. My hands finally relaxed and I looked up at him.

“Have you made your decision?” He searched my bloodshot eyes and I had.