Contemporary Drama Fiction

Should he or shouldn’t he? It was the question that tore him apart every time the situation arose and that was every time he set out on a new job. Clive always came down on the yes-he-should side of the decision but it still remained a dilemma. He’d been doing ‘the job’ for a long time and at seventy years of age, he should now be retired. He should be pruning roses or growing tomatoes; the things that old people, like him, talked about when he spent time with them. A lot of his work involved doing just that; talking and listening to elderly people. They related to him, as they were of his generation. 

Clive had always worked alone, he thought it easier that way. He also lived alone, ever since his wife, Gladys had passed away. Now he had no one, just his work. 

At work, he always wore the same clothes, a type of elderly person uniform. A beige jacket and cavalry twill trousers; a thick, padded shirt with a small checked pattern plus a wool tie. That, and his non-distinctive appearance made him invisible. That was important in his line of work. He didn’t want to stand out. He carried an old and battered briefcase, as a retired school teacher might, but what he did was nothing like teaching. He helped people to die. 

Those poor, desperate, ill and often forgotten people; many of whom had reached the end of the road but we’re too weak to commit the final suicidal act and gain relief from the agony of their life. He helped them along their way and once his mission was accomplished he slipped away. 

Gladys had died a long and painful death, begging the hospital staff to give her something to stop the relentless, nagging pain she felt every one of her agonising days. Clive had sat with her, comforted her, but there was nothing he could do to ease her suffering. The end was a long time coming and several times, when the pain was so bad, she begged him to find some way to shorten her life. He had been desperate to help her but his hands were tied. Then, one night, he had watched a documentary about a man who travelled to Switzerland to get his release and the ensuing discussions around the subject. When Clive enquired about the possibility for his beloved wife he found that it was much too expensive. They had little in savings and owned nothing that he could sell. The banks were very patient with him, even sympathetic but all said no to his request for a loan. Their compassion was limited to the amount of collateral he could provide. Without surety, she died a painful, lingering death. 

One of the nurses tried to comfort him; her name badge said Alice. He’d seen many different nurses during his weeks at his wife’s bedside but never Alice. She was older, he thought, probably nearer is age than the rest of the youngsters who flitted in and out of the ward. He felt she was better suited to caring than to emptying bedpans so after talking to her for some time he felt very comfortable with her. She even suggested they meet for a coffee the following day, as she wasn’t rostered to work. It suggestion took him a little by surprise but automatically he said yes. 

The coffee shop was near to the hospital and Clive remembered, when he arrived, that he had been there before, with Gladys when she was first diagnosed with her illness. As he sat and waited for Alice those thoughts came flooding back and for some unexplained reason, he felt guilty. Here he was meeting a woman just a day after the love of his life had passed away. He arose from the table and made for the exit but came face to face with Alice as she was entering.

‘Hello Clive,’ she said and gently, she clasped his arm and led him back inside. ‘I know this is a difficult time for you but let’s just sit over here and relax for a few minutes. I have a proposition to put to you.’ Obediently, he sat down at the table she indicated and she slipped into the seat opposite him. 

‘What’s this about,’ he asked her, his mind racing? She smiled.

‘It’s about helping people, Clive. It’s about other people not having to feel the pain and anguish that your Gladys suffered before she died.’ Clive squirmed in his seat. This was not something he felt comfortable discussing but he remained silent.

‘We are a small group of like-minded people who are fed up with watching people die in pain. We believe that a person of sound mind should be able to choose to end their lives with dignity if they are suffering, and there is no chance of them being cured. We also feel that they should not have to pay for this.’

‘But that’s murder,’ he said. ‘It’s against the law and you could go to jail for the rest of your life if caught.’

’That’s the answer right there,’ Alice said. ‘We ensure that no one gets caught. Each of us recruits just one person and that one person deals only with us. I only know the person who recruited me and you would only know me and, if you choose to, anyone that you recruit. We have kept this going for over five years and nobody has even been spoken to in all that time. The system we use is foolproof, undetectable and are and easy to administer.’ She went quiet as a waitress approached their table. She ordered for them both and continued. ‘I just thought that with your recent experience you might be sympathetic to our cause but I understand if you are not.’ Their coffee’s arrived and Clive stirred in some sugar, the spoon circling the cup.

‘What if I went to the police now and told them you had tried to make me murder people?’

‘Then I would deny it and after over forty years of nursing experience I would tell them you were grieving and I was trying to support you as I have many before you. There is not the merest hint of a blemish on my career and that would be my defence.’ She smiled and slid her hand across and touched his. 

‘It’s fine if you don’t want to be involved, I would understand. You may just drink your coffee, leave and never see me again.’

That conversation happened ten years ago and Clive was still working with Alice. They spoke only when he was required. He still knew nothing about her and she knew little about him but he had continued to help others when they needed it most. The work had become the focus of his life but no matter how many times he had helped someone he always felt the same. Should I or shouldn’t I do this?

May 28, 2021 11:48

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Amanda Fox
15:44 Jun 01, 2021

A very interesting take on the prompt. I really wish that it was more common to let people die with dignity on their own terms.


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Steve Cripwell
07:10 Jun 02, 2021

Thank you for reading


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