rating: +18+x

It was snowing again. Slamming the rental car's faulty door shut, Ralph Roget could feel chills sneaking underneath his jacket as snow softly crunched underfoot. Luckily she'd been moved to the first floor to be closer if emergency services had to come again. Pausing briefly, he knocked on the door.

A now-familiar face answered. Lis Boyd was his half-sister. Presumably on the same side as himself and grandma. They had never really been close before Gillespie's condition. Now this was all there was left to speak about.

"Come on in. I'm glad you could get here on such short notice." Lis took his coat, hanging it on the wall beside hers.

Ralph slipped off his boots, wiping the watery snow residue on the carpet. "What happened?"

"I don't know. They said she fell in the night. Now if I'd have been here we'd have run every test in the book but it was 2 am and the hospital was full-up. Holiday traffic." Lis wiped her eye, smiling as she did so. "Eventually we just had to come back. Nothing to be done. After that was when her legs gave out on her."

Ralph slowly stepped past Lis and into the main room. There was a couch, television, and one occupied seat.

Shirley Gillespie is sitting in a large felt reclining chair. The television's flickering light revealing impossibly thin limbs neatly folded over a thick black blanket which covered her from the waist down. A thin line of drool was dripping off her chin. Beneath her skin black and blue veins crisscross everywhere, occasionally gathering around sores and bruises.

Ralph couldn't stop looking into her eyes. Where once there had been incredible sharp light there now persisted the dull glow of a blown-out lightbulb. There would be no recognizing him from someplace deep in her shattered consciousness anymore. Bags underneath those empty eyes were like tree rings of a felled redwood standing as a monument to what used to be.

"I think this might've been her last Christmas." Lis touched Ralph on the shoulder, guiding him gently to the sofa.

Nodding slowly, Ralph was unable to take his eyes from his grandmother. "That's… that's probably for the best. She wouldn't have wanted to live like this."

Lis sat beside him. "Do you remember before her faculties left her, those last few Thanksgiving dinners? Rob, you, and me, and Gillie, talking in turns so the cross-talk wouldn't overwhelm her."

"She didn't want to believe what was happening. Kept her mind active. Do you think that prolonged things?"

"Well… she really thought that with a busy mind it would be impossible to go demented. I'm glad she doesn't remember that now."

"I hope you're right."

"I… don't want to break into this too quickly Ralph but what are we going to do with her when… the time comes?"

"… The time came a long time ago."

Lis Snapping her fingers drew Ralph's eyes away from Gillespie. "Listen, we've still got her resuscitate on file. But… I don't know if she would have wanted that. Your call as the executor of her estate."

"So that's why you called me here? To sign a death warrant?" Ralph stood rapidly and began pacing the room. "No way. No way. I'm not signing anything like that."

"Sit down! You're going to upset her." Lis' expression wrinkled on itself. "This is bad enough without a meltdown."

"You're acting like she's not already dead inside. I can't even remember the last time she actually responded to me."

"When was the last time you talked to her?"

Turning, Ralph got on a knee at eye level with Gillespie. Taking her withered hand into his and looking directly into her eyes, he spoke. "Grandma… I love you."

Gillespie's salmon-pink lips pursed briefly.

"I love you too."

Ralph's hairs were all standing on end. Picking himself up before he could sink to the floor, Ralph's voice stood on the verge of cracking when he spoke. "I've got to go have a walk. I'll be ready to talk when I get back."

Lis nodded, patting Ralph's indentation on the couch. "We'll be right here when you get back."

Ralph couldn't remember anything between then and when he shut the door behind him. Hot tears began melting in with the snowflakes falling from above up and up to greater and greater heights until nothing was left but thin air.

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