|Maury startled awake to Dr. Scrim rapping on the door. He opened his eyes to a bundle of IV tubes staring him down. They led from bags of God-knows-what, to tired, punctured veins that will last until God-knows-when.
All his life, Maury had worked on various electronics at his hardware store. Now, he was more wired up than the last pressure washer he reassembled.
"Maury?" said Dr. Scrim, pulling up a chair, "You up?"
Maury blinked twice. He thought hard about how he wanted to respond. He had to. The cancer that brought him here had manifested as a stroke. Now, he talked just like his Pop before him, before Jesus called him home. Saying words like "Jesus" proved more and more difficult. They -- the syllables -- they just slipped out from his lips as tears rolled down his wrinkled face. Crying and talking. Crying and stammering.
"Yes," he managed. The doctor nodded.
"Well, sir," Dr. Scrim said, "we got your panels back." He opened Maury's chart, riddled with page after page of test results and provider commentary. Maury could just see over the folder, but his eyes were far too gone to make out much more.
"Well," Maury said. He instantly wanted it back. No inflection -- just a flat "well".
Dr. Scrim sighed. "It's not what we want to see, Maury."
Maury closed his eyes. The cancer had started in his lung, and spread to nearly every major organ. But the cancer, as Dr. Scrim explained when he first met him, must have really wanted to pick his brain. It settled in the left hemisphere, and occluded a vessel. Maury had been here since, in room 1558 of St. Augustine Memorial Hospital.
Opening his eyes, Maury opened his mouth to speak. He called on the Lord, be He the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, to move his lips for him. He knew the cancer wanted to pick his brain, but it couldn't pick his soul. And his God was greater.
"I ain't afraid, Doc," he said.
Dr. Scrim snapped his head toward him. Maury just watched the man watching him. He couldn't have not understood him.
"You're not afraid?"
Maury shook his head. No. Maury rolled his head away from the IV lines. Truth be told, he wanted to pull every damn poison line from his body.
"Well, Maury, it takes courage to face a cancer like this."
He was right. But, in a way, he was wrong. A man of science just couldn't understand.
"It ain't me, though," Maury said. He looked right at the man. The man who, despite knowing Maury was going to die with or without his help, had prescribed him every medicine in the cabinet to save him. "There ain't no saving me. There's only saving grace. Mercy."
"I don't know much about that, Maury," Dr. Scrim said, "but, if it gives you the strength to carry on, I see no harm in it."
Maury clicked his tongue against his teeth. And again. The clicks didn't come rapidly enough, but he saw in the young doctor's eyes the naivete of a generation.
"Don't turn away from Him."
"Maury, I can't keep having these conversations with you. We need to talk about our options." He shuffled the chart papers against his lap, and gave Maury a half-hearted grin. Maury hadn't given up on Dr. Scrim. Somebody needed to care for him. Not for the physical form, but the spiritual. The kind he didn't learn in school. Maury felt a heaviness in his chest, breaking his concentration.
The heaviness reminded him not to get too worked up over this doctor, but there was a piece of him that wanted nothing more than to grab the man in the white coat and shake him by the shoulders. Maury remembered his father's passing words. He remembered them every day, and took them to heart.
"You can't save me, Doc, but I can save you."
It was the mantra his father had spent his last breath, sitting upright and grasping his son by the shoulders, almost to a "t". "You can't save me, Maury, but He can save you." He hadn't stepped foot in a church in fifteen years, but his father went every Sunday.
"Maury, I think we have run out of options in terms of treatment. I--," he paused, searching for words, "I want you to be -- to feel -- comfortable. We have many medicines which can ease this process. And I highly recommend them."
Yes, Maury thought, more poison to ease me before I slip away. He looked down at the IV lines leading into his arm. He had stared at them for months, not feeling any better with the passing days. A lump rose in his throat, but another one rose in his lung. It pained Maury, and turned into a tickle.
Maury coughed, sputum rising and soiling his hospital gown. Dr. Scrim rose and called for his nurses and aides. Maury remembered the kind nurse who checked on him hourly. Her name escaped him, as he choked on the wake of his disease. He couldn't breathe. But he could still pray, and he extended his hand to the doctor.
"Lord, speak through me," he prayed silently, "speak through me, speak through me."
He opened his mouth, but no sound came from him. Was that it? Did he lose the time to speak? He could only wonder. As the nurses and aides and doctors flooded the room; as he followed Dr. Scrim's eyes following him as he began his last journey; as the coughing grew more severe, he felt a presence unexplainable by man or disease. He felt the ever looming, ever pressing, ever urgent passage of time -- but he was not alone. He called out.
What ever scream or cry he mustered was stifled by a nurse aspirating his airway. Within him, there was a sludge, a decay which would spread to his entirety. Try as the nurse did, Maury called out for mercy, and Maury faded into dark or light, to meet whatever came after life.