by Matthew Hamilton


It is such an incredibly idiotic word. It has a meaning, born only from whoever decides these things, these silly definitions, yet it does not do it justice. Sure, it’s a nice, neat, euphemistic way to sum up the issue at hand, but the designation doesn’t mean a thing in the face of something so abysmal-so…terminal.

It had been twelve weeks since Sally and I had first heard the word dryly roll off the doctor’s tongue in the same manner he probably used it with hundreds, if not thousands of people before us. To him, it was just a word that fit in his medical report. What didn’t fit in the report, however, was what the word did to the people who heard it pass his lips, ringing in their ears, and tear their world down. It did nothing to define the terror and pain that it brought upon them; it didn’t show the melancholy after-effects or tell anyone the answer to the question that invariably crept to the forefront of the brain: where do we go from here?

Once we left the doctor’s office and the crushing pressure in my chest began to abate, I once more continued my downward spiral in trying to understand the meaning and the power of this word. Twelve weeks had gone way too fast and all of a sudden the world seemed to have an end. Two weeks before that appointment, when that very same doctor had drawn Sally’s blood, he smiled and told her that she shouldn’t worry too much, that it was probably nothing. He said this very reassuringly, not like the way that dreaded word escaped his lips. That had been dry and unfeeling, or was it that I no longer believed him, that I no longer felt this white-coated, maniacal dream killer could be trusted?

Now, as I finally mustered up the courage to turn and look at her always wonderful face, I saw her eyes wide and unblinking, focusing straight ahead. I wondered if she was thinking the same things that I was thinking; I wondered if she was contemplating definitions and a lack of trust in that same bespectacled destroyer of worlds. I felt awash in an abrupt feeling of selfishness. There I was, wrestling with definitions and accusations while she stared out at the water. Should I put my arm around her? Should I tell her everything would be okay? No, I refused to be the betrayer that her body had also become. How could I tell her that when I didn’t believe it myself? The traitor in the lab coat had told her the same thing. I would not make myself complicit in his actions while she looked out toward the water while trying to come to terms with this monstrosity before us.

So, when Sally finally began to move, I moved along with her, a soldier in step beside his comrade. And that’s what I was, a comrade, ready to do battle against this…this thing right along with her. She moved as gracefully as I remembered, as if nothing at all was wrong, as if her body had not become an enemy instead of a familiar friend. It took me some time to realize that she was not moving toward the parking lot and our Chrysler, but further toward the waterfront where I loved the sound of the moving lake water.

When we walked as far as we could walk, where the land finally met the water in a rocky precipice that held back the choppy waves on stormy days, Sally and I stopped. On a day that had once seemed lovely, Michigan’s waters rolled slowly toward us, gravity pressing down on it like the weight of time now pressing down upon the two of us. I don’t remember when she took my hand inside her own, all I remember was how good and how soft it felt when a species of horror dawned, overtaking my thought process. The comprehension that she had been comforting me brought on a queasiness I felt I fully deserved. I did love the sound of the moving lake water, and she knew it, recognizing my inability to understand the situation for what it was and how the dread we both felt would crush me under its weight.

Another word that accompanied the one in which I had grown so quickly to hate, was guilt, and the pain of it when I noticed her looking at me, still holding my hand, was too much to bear. It was all such a cliché, but there I was, living proof of why a cliché is exactly that as I broke down. I felt it coming, fought valiantly for a second or two, and then folded under the power it presented. As if I hadn’t been feeling bad enough (and I apparently still had not understood who this was really about), Sally knelt to where I was and, placing her hand on the back of my neck, stroked the tiny hairs as she often did in a life that seemed already so distant, and whispered in my ear.

“Charles, time takes it all, whether you want it to or not.”

I realize now, twelve weeks later, that she was right. She always was. How stupid of me not to realize she would have been the first to come to grips with that dire circumstance. She had always been the strongest among the two of us and that’s what made me love her fifteen years prior. Actually, now that I’m reading this back to everybody now, I’m pretty sure she enjoyed being the strong one and that’s why she loved me, too. Fifteen years in ten weeks, that’s how we lived, her and I. That is how long terminal lasted. In those weeks we lived like we did when we were twenty and just met. We laughed when we could, cried when we should, and made love when we would.

Then it ended, time took it all, just as she told me it would, and I was alone. Regrettably, Sally Winters took the better part of me with her when she left (another cliché I’m discovering the root of), and I’m okay with that; I want her to have that wherever she is now. I’m not exactly sure what is left of Charles Winters on this Earth. I am just here, by myself, existing…

…Alone. Yes, that is the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue, even more so than terminal, I think. Murder doesn’t hold a candle and hell is only a poor synonym.

Category: Short Story, Uncategorized