General Fiction posted January 11, 2016


Exceptional
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Don wanted to be in control.

The choice

by Tpa

The author has placed a warning on this post for language.

I refuse to let her do it.

My stomach quivered. I could feel my heart slamming against the walls of my chest. What makes her so irrational? I thought. Could it be the drugs? Eight years passed since I last saw her. She never stopped blaming me for the accident. No matter how much we fought, I still love her.

I moved forward in the chair leaning over my desk, feeling the perspiration inside my shirt collar. My hand shook as I moved it across the surface of the desk, pressing the button of the intercom with my forefinger. I felt more upset now than when I lost my first criminal case.

"Emily, cancel my appointments."

"But Mr. Stewart, you have a deposition at ten o'clock."

"I don't give a shit. Cancel it!"

"Sir, you canceled last week."

I detected cynicism in her voice.

"And now, I'm canceling this week." I snapped.

"Yes, Mr. Stewart," She responded mildly. "Should I give the party a reason for the cancellation?"

"Tell them I have to save a life."

I released the button, terminating additional conversation with Emily. She has been with me since I first started my law practice, five years ago. I am lost without her. She is a dependable, responsible middle-aged woman who can be overbearing at times, however too trustworthy to terminate. I was sorry about snapping at her, but the morning call from my aunt tattered my nerves. I'll apologize later, even add a box of chocolates to enlighten her spirits.

I stood up, and with the back of my knees, I pushed the chair away from the desk. I walked to the closet and slipped into my blue blazer. I decided to take my private elevator down to the parking garage. I wanted to avoid any fuming clients in the outer office but most of all, I wanted to escape from Emily and her frown of disappointment.

As the elevator doors slid open to the ground floor of the parking garage, cars were bumper to bumper. Drivers were honking their horns, waiting to be serve. My eyes began burning from the gasoline fumes as I searched for a car attendant.

I saw only one attendant parking cars. He stepped out of the vehicle and started walking towards his next customer when he noticed me getting off the elevator. He waved.

"Hey, Mr. Stewart, I'll be with you in a minute."

"Okay, Jimmy." I smiled and waved back.

He was a tall, lanky, young man with short curly blond hair and a neatly trimmed mustache. Jimmy was working his way through college to become a teacher. As a parking attendant, he moved like a turtle, and I knew his minute could take an hour.

Glancing at my Rolex, I had two hours before the doctor would arrive, at least, that's what Aunt Ellen called him. I referred to Dr. Sims as a murderer.

"Hey Jimmy, where's my car?"

"Row 6." He pointed around the corner.

I dashed along the concrete walk of the oval-shaped garage turning my head, catching a glimpse of each car parked between gray cement pillars of row 6. My black Porsche was parked at the end of the row. I stopped to catch my breath before opening the door and stepping into my car. I pulled my spare key from my breast pocket and started the car. I waved to Jimmy as he dropped his lower jaw when he saw me driving down the ramp onto Michigan Ave.


It was a sunny spring day. However, the bright rays of sun splashing through the car's front window shed little happiness in drowning my frustration and sadness. Throughout the years, I lost many loved ones, but refuse to let her go, especially this way.

I could still remember our lives changing after the accident. The house became a funeral parlor. She looked at me constantly with wet, dull eyes. The fighting continued every time I entered the house.

"It's your fault, you and your drugs. You killed him." She buried her face into the palms of her hands and cried.

Suddenly, the driver behind me beeped his horn, waking me from the past. I moved slowly as traffic crawled along the avenue. Protesters lined up in the streets with signs of anti- abortions, save young lives. All lives matter, young or old. I agreed. People were dying, inflicted with life-threating illnesses, but instead of fixing the problem, legalization of assisted suicide became the solution.

My hands clutched the steering wheel tighter, feeling irritated as protesters blocked the street where I wanted to turn.

Instead, I drove down several alleys, by-passing a few congested streets before driving on Lake Shore Drive and heading south to Orland Park where she lived.

I wanted to see her many times, telling her that I became a successful attorney, hoping she would be proud. But, the memories continued haunting us. Flames of fury never stopped igniting every time we tried making contact. I could still envision her cold, steady eyes devouring me, reminding me of the night my father died.

Traffic snarled again. Construction signs sprawled along the expressway, making three lanes merged into one.

I caught a glimpse of the clock on the dashboard, another minute consumed. Muscles knotted my stomach as my breathing became rapid. Would I make it there in time? Small bubbles of perspiration rolled across my forehead. Then, an alarming thought occurred, the one I least expected, the one that could impede my plan. I knew Mimi would do this to me. I haven't answered my sister's phone calls the past few weeks. I was busy with a murder trial. Besides, our last conversation turned into a hurricane. I needed to make sure she wouldn't stop me.

I pressed the button to my blue tooth that signaled my log of contacts across the screen embedded into my dashboard. I scrolled down until I saw his number, then hit the button beside the name. His phone rang.

"Judge Mason's office."

"Shelia, this is Don Stewart. I need to talk to him. It's urgent."

"Sure thing Mr. Stewart."

I heard a click followed by the music of Stravinsky's Firebird. A few minutes later, he answered.

"Hey Don, I expected you to be golfing on a sunny day like this."

"I would, but I don't have the luxury of banging down the gavel and ending my work day at my leisure."

He laughed. "I only do that when the Cubs are in town, but I can shorten my day when prosperous attorneys are picking up the tab." He chuckled.

"I'll give you a rain check. Right now, I need your help."

"Of course, anything."

I took a deep swallow then told him my mother has a brain tumor, and she is going to have assisted suicide.

"I want to stop it." I clear my throat, feeling my voice crackle.

For a moment, there was a bridge of silence between us.

"I'm sorry Don for your mother, but this new law-"

"I know about the law, but I need some time with her, talk to her. My mother is a courageous woman. She fought breast cancer twelve years ago and survived. I know she can do it again."

"I'm not exactly an advocate of assisted suicide, but having a choice at the end of life is a valid argument."

"But, it's like doctors telling their patients that there is no chance of helping them."

"Your opponents will disagree, determining that you are taking away their freedom of a right to choose death over their quality state of life. The whole point is to give people their choice."

"I agree on people's rights, but I want to be positive that my mother knows all the options are available to her, regardless of the cost."

"I understand. I'll sign an injunction, giving you twenty-four hours to give you and your mother a peaceful conclusion."

"Thank you, your Honor."

I gave him my mother's address. He assured me the messenger would be there within the hour.

As we disconnected, I felt as though a big rock had been lifted off my shoulders. It was the first good news I heard all day. Mimi might have devastated me with grief and plenty of confrontation in the past, but now, she can't lock me out.

The traffic began thinning. There were no more construction signs and barriers during that frenzied stretch of the configuration. Workers were gone and in most sections of the road, they never arrived.

I turned off the Drive and onto Summit Avenue. The street lined with brick bungalows and asphalt driveways that led to one-car garages. Manicured lawns surrounded the dwellings with each house embellishing an array of motley flowers or trimmed miniature shrubs along their walkway.

It was the neighborhood of my youth. The place I once loved and one day, it turned to hate.

Memories flashed through my head as I passed Lincoln Middle School. The place I met Tony Russo. He introduced me to things I wished I'd never touched.

He was an amicable kid, rowdy at times and talked to you as though he known you for years. He came into the neighborhood at the start of seventh grade and became popular by the second week of the semester.

Our first contact came when he copied my Algebra paper, and for the first time in class, he received an A on his paper. We became thick as a morning fog on Lake Michigan. His friends were now my friends.

After school one day, Tony invited me to the park along with five other boys. We walked under the grandstands where no one could see us. Tony pulled a small zip-lined plastic bag with four crooked cigarettes from his pocket. The kind you don't buy at the supermarket.

Tony lit one up and started passing it around.

I shook my head.

I had seen a documentary on marijuana and its effects. Besides, if my father found out, I wouldn't be sitting down for a month.

"Just one drag," Tony held the cigarette in front of me.

"I pass." I wanted to try it but, I knew the consequences would be worse than the smell of the cigarette.

"Chicken," one of the boys said.

"He probably still drinks milk from his mother's breast." Another kid laughed.

I sucked in my lips, gave him a cold glare while rolling my hand into a fist.

Tony grabbed my arm. "Pete is just messing with you. If you don't want to hang out with us, just go." He frowned, then he turned away.

I started to leave, but I thought about the fun I have with these guys and considered that no stupid documentary should ruin my friendship with Tony and the rest of the gang.

"I'll try it." I walked over to Tony and took the cigarette from him. I heard a few cheers from the others as I took my first drag and suddenly felt my throat on fire. Everything around me started spinning like a wheel, but in a fun sort of way. I started laughing at an airplane flying over my head. Then, my head began feeling like it was hit with a tire iron. I took a few puffs that day, but those puffs were the beginning of destroying my family and me.

The bells and flashing lights interrupted my thoughts as the crossing gates came down before me. A freight train came chugging down the tracks that moved fast as a ninety-year-old-man crossing the street.

I glanced at my watch. Only one hour remained. I felt a stabbing pain in my stomach, wondering if I would arrive at the house before Dr. Death.

The train continued moving at a snail's pace. I decided, to my regret, to phone Mimi. I would, at least, have the courtesy of telling her I was coming, even though she didn't deserve it. I envisioned a lot of strife upon my arrival, but it's better to prepare for a storm than drown in it.

Mimi and I are as close as earth is to sun. I stole her away from our parents when they began centering their lives on me and my drug problem. I stole money from her to buy my drugs. She reminded me of my thievery every time we communicated, which added more fuel to the fire in our relationship. It became a reason I stopped answering her phone calls or listening to her voice messages. I just hope today she could show some compassion.

The phone rang several times before she picked up.

"Hello, Mimi."

The line went silent.

"What do you want?" she growled.

"Aunt Ellen called me. She told me about mom. I'm on my way to see her."

"What's the rush?" she sneered. "It's only been ten years."

"Eight." My lips tightened, making sure I wouldn't say anything that I would later regret. "How is she doing?"

"She's on her deathbed. How do you think she is doing?"

I tensed up as heat flushed through my body. I wanted to shout, put her in her place, but the crackling in her voice made me realize that she was suffering as much as me.

She took care of mom when dad died. I moved out of the house because mom and I quarreled all the time. She would never shut-up about the accident. So, I moved in with Uncle Paul and Aunt Ellen. I was sixteen. Even when mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, I refused to see her. Sick or not, I didn't want to get upset by her continuous bickering.

Mimi nursed her through the surgery and chemo. She was a twelve-year-old kid at the time, but the maturity of an adult. Meanwhile, Uncle Paul sent me to military school, hoping I would start to grow up. After all these years, I suppose my sister had the right to be scornful towards me even during these darkest days of our lives.

Then, she told me what I didn't want to hear.

"You better hurry. Dr. Sims is coming."

I pretended to be unaware of my mother's decision. I decided not to unravel my knowledge nor invoke my viewpoint of euthanasia.

"Who's Dr. Sims?" I sounded surprised.

Once, Mimi informed me that the doctor would assist our mother in committing suicide, I asked my sister of her opinion on the matter.

"I'm sad, heartbroken, and sick over it."

I heard a whimpering, hysterical note in her voice.

"Can't you talk her out of it? Call Fr. Ryan from her parish. She may listen to him. "

I hoped to convince her that our mother was doing the wrong thing. Instead, I exacerbated the matter.

"No!" she yelled. "It isn't about me. It's about her wishes. She is the one suffering. Tears never stop rolling down my mother's cheeks. I hate her decision, but I also hate seeing her in pain, watching her quality of life slowly disintegrate. She made her choice, and everyone should honor it, including you."

I remained silent as I listened to her cry. I thought Mimi may be in a cloud of empathy that inhibits her reasoning of keeping our mother alive. I knew my sister would suffer more hurt after my mother's death. Something neither one of us could never bare.

Life, to me, was a candle. Mom was that special candle to me, so full of warmth and glow. A flickering light that should not be taken by us, but only by a deity, which we worship. Instead, we must do our best to keep the candles everywhere lit with energies of hope, care, and love. At least, My mother deserved that chance.

Mimi and I disconnected, agreeing my visit shall be nothing more than words of passion and comfort, which I gave a cunning smile before saying goodbye.

The train finally passed, enabling me to continue my journey.

I gathered my thoughts, comprising the words to share with Mimi, hoping no argument would pursue, but only a discussion that would keep our mother alive.

Just then, the car phone rang. I pressed the button on my steering wheel.

"Hello."

"Hello, Mr. Stewart, this is Judge Mason's secretary informing you that the courier is on his way with the signed papers you have requested. He will be there at the address you specify within fifteen minutes."

I thanked her and disconnected. I smiled for the first time that day.

I made a turn on Barry Avenue, the final street to my destination.

I passed the police station, and haunting memories began stirring in my head. One evening, during my youth, the police caught Tony and me vandalizing the school. We were high on coke that night and placed in a squad car. We drove to the police station. Tony and I thought it was cool like we were criminals on Law and Order. We were even handcuff and pretended to be Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, but the cops driving us didn't find it amusing and told us to shut-up.

We arrived at the station and were escorted to a small room with a metal table and chairs with gray plastic cushions. After hours of chatting, at least, that's what the cops labeled it, Tony and I admitted our guilt before the officers called our parents.

Five hours passed, Tony's dad came and took my friend home.

I waited, fearful my dad wasn't coming to get me. His mood was testy when I called him two in the morning and told him where I was.

While I waited for my dad, there was a commotion outside the police station. I saw flashing red lights of an ambulance through the second story window. I overheard two officers talking about an accident. A pedestrian had been run over by a drunken driver.

Uncle Paul came to pick me up and told me that the pedestrian was my father. He died on the way to the hospital.

My mother blamed me. We had our private World War Three at the house that never ended. My only means of escape came when Tony and I met in the park, behind the grandstands. We would smoke a few joints. Often, I stole money from ma's pocketbook and Mimi's jewelry box to buy more smokes and cocaine.

Uncle Paul then stopped the storm at the house and took me into his home. He was strict, gave me one choice, follow his rules or follow the path to his front door and not to slam it as I walk out. As a sixteen-year-old kid, my choices were limited. Since I had no place to go, I followed his rules as a private in the army. I hated every minute of it, especially when he sent me to a hospital in Montana to get the drugs out of my system. He even made sure I stayed away from Tony after my hospitalization. Uncle Paul transferred me to a military school in Wisconsin. I regretted it, even thought of running away as if I could. I couldn't afford money to buy a Snicker's bar let alone put a roof over my head unless I wanted to live in a cardboard box.

After graduating from military school with honors, I went home to my aunt and uncle. They wanted to take me to see my mother. She had her first bout with Cancer. She asked to see me, but I said no way. The wounds never healed.

Instead, I took a bus to see Tony. I was drug-free for five years, but a few clouds of smoke to renew acquaintances wouldn't make me fall off the wagon, but hearing the tragic news when I arrived at his house almost did.

His mother told me that several weeks before my visit, Tony pumped too much coke into his vein and never regained conscientious. He died on his seventeenth birthday.

I started looking at life differently, even started to appreciate the sacrifices my aunt and uncle made for me. I received a scholarship from military school and further financial help from my uncle. I went to college and pursued my dream. Now, I wanted one more dream, to keep my mother alive.

I parked in front of my mother's red and white brick ranch home. The grass was overdue for cutting, and the garden was burdened with weeds. I walked up the cracked cobblestone walk to the front door. My eyes skimmed across the bay window, noticing the chipped paint on its wooden frame. The screen on the door had rips along its sides, and when I opened the door, it nearly fell off its rusty hinges.

It was difficult to imagine what became of this house. Both parents kept it in immaculate condition. They always referred to it as their dream house.

Dad trimmed the grass and bushes every week while mom took care of her rose garden. Inside the house, she cleaned it as though we lived in the surgical suite. You could eat off her shining, polished floors.

Once, I spilled milk on a small portion of the living room rug. She made me shampoo the whole rug, but that was the mom I once knew. She was a loving, caring mom who didn't accuse her son of killing his father.

I started to knock on the front door when Mimi suddenly opened it.

Her eyes were cold and flat. She turned her back on me as I walked into the house.

"Where is she?" I asked.

She pointed towards a room down the hall. It was once our toy room, then it became dad's office until he died. Mom closed it after his death, refusing admittance to everyone except herself.

"Don't say anything about the choice she'd made," She said.

I turned towards her. "There are other choices."

"Damn you, Don! What gives you the right to barge in here and play God?" Her temples throbbed with rage.

"I'm her son and the only one level-headed to have her make the right decision to stay alive."

"You're a bastard, coming in here after all these years. Should I bow to the big lawyer in his expensive suit and fancy car?" Mimi gave a dismissive wave of her hand.

"I didn't come to argue."

"No, you came to run people's lives like you did when you were a kid. You had to be the center then, and you want to be the center now."

"You're wrong. I'm here to help her."

"Help her! Help her!" she screamed, her eyes opened wide. "Where were you when she was puking her guts out? Where were you when her bedpan needed cleaning, or lifting her up when she fell on the floor? But, now you're here to help her make decisions. What a crock."

Just then, we heard a knock at the door.

Mimi walked to the door and opened it.

A tall, young man with wavy blond hair stood at the entrance. "Mr. Stewart." He smiled, holding a manila envelope in his hand.

"Thank you." I went to the door and took the parcel from his hand. I then reached into my pocket, pulled out a five-dollar bill, and gave it to him, making his smile even bigger. I closed the door.

Mimi stared at the envelope. "What's that?"

I took in a deep swallow. I knew a war would break out once she found out. I made the right decision, and she would have to deal with it. After telling her about the contents of the envelope, the storm began.

"You're a son of a bitch. Get out of the house." Her right arm shot up as her index finger pointed towards the door."

"These papers give me the right to stop the foolishness."

"Foolishness, you call it." She raised her eyebrows as her lips twisted with fury. "I call it giving a woman a choice to rid her agony."

"I have the money to give her the best medical care."

"Well, look at Mr. Trump buying some love." She flipped me the bird

Bitterness filled my mouth. I could feel my stomach heaving. Any other time I would tell my sister to go fuck herself, but not now. I have to be sympathetic, show her compassion, at least for now. "I'm not buying anyone's love. I'm just trying to save the woman I love. Won't you help me to bring our mother to her senses?"

"No!" she yelled. "I won't be a part of your scheme to keep her alive, let her suffer longer because of your egotistic ways. I love my mother, and she knows it. What about you? Did you ever tell her your true feelings?'

Mimi gave me a disgusted look then walked out of the room.

I stood alone, absorbed in her last words.

I hated to admit Mimi was right. I did blame my mother for our fights, her shutting me out of my life. I always looked at her faults never my own. It was the time I did.

I walked into her room.

"Mother," I called.

There was no response.

The room was dark, except for a few rays of sun slithering through the blinds.

I tip-toed towards the bed, calling her once more, but to no avail.

The room reeked of urine. The nightstand cluttered with bottles of pills and next to it stood a glass of water with a plastic straw. Soiled tissues scattered on the coffee stained rug.

I clicked on the lamp on the mantle. It was a soft low-voltage bulb, but enough to see photographs on the wall. I saw one picture with my mother's arms wrapped around me as I blew out the candles on my seventh birthday. Another snapshot showed my mother and me laughing as we sat in a boat. Glorious images of the past were capturing moments of joy and love, which I so selfishly destroyed.

I stepped towards the bed.

She was on her side. Her eyes were closed. Her skin was white as the sheet that she was lying on.

"Mother." I touched her arm. It felt warm and clammy. I called again, softly sliding my hand up and down her arm.

"She won't answer you."

I turned. Mimi stood in the doorway.

"But, I want to ask her forgiveness. I want to be that son she lost many years ago. I want that second chance."

"It's too late for second chances."

The tears welled in her eyes as she walked towards me, gently touching my hand. "The Cancer destroyed her hearing and eyesight," she whimpered. "Mom knew this would happen and requested to end her life, refusing to live this way. The woman we knew had faded away, her desire and strength to live were gone forever."

My throat thickened with sobs. I felt tightness in my chest and limbs as the screams of agony inside me ripped my heart.

"I tried calling you before she got this way," Mimi cried, "but my calls went unanswered."

"I'm sorry." I wrapped my arms around my sister as she laid her head upon my shoulder, and we both cried.

The doorbell rang. Mimi went to answer it.

I turned towards my mother. I bent down and kissed her cheek. I placed my fingers into her cupped hand. My voice crackled, telling her that I loved her, and I was sorry for everything. I hope by a miracle she could hear my every word.

I walked out of the room. I saw Mimi standing with the doctor. Their faces were stoic as I sauntered towards them with the envelope. I tore the parcel in half, gave it to Mimi. It wasn't my choice, but for the woman I loved and wasted my life not telling her.





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Too often, we don't say things we should before it is too late. This was one of those times. Does this ever happen to you?
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