You never had to tell her. She would just go. You would help her dress, put on socks, slippers, guide her out the door, into the hall, and down the corridor she would go, touching the handrail every now and then, just to make sure it was still there.
I stood in the shower, washing off her eyes, but they wouldn’t leave me. Empty, lifeless, sunken and glazed over. Just slightly open. Just enough for me to know. And so I ran down the corridor, punched the big red button with my palm, unlocking the doors, slammed my body against the door and ran through.
Bill looked at me with perfect serenity, the kind of peaceful reassurance I can only hope to learn. He walked through the hall with me, his stethoscope around his neck as always. He would remove it and then he would know what he already knew. I stood in the shower as he told me over and over:
This is what she came here to do.
It would not wash off, you know. The smell of it. Jean told me in the parking lot, I was freezing because of the cold December rain, she told me in the parking lot that that was what it smelled like, every time, and sometimes you could smell it for days before. Especially the ones with cancer, because they always bled out. Always.
I nodded and turned on the shower. The hot water wasn’t hot enough. Nothing would burn off the smell. I remember him asking me if I still intended to come back the next night. I said I would. He said this was the breaking point. Some didn’t come back. Some did. I knew I would.
Someone would crack a joke about it, days later. Some would ask questions. Others didn’t speak, because they already knew. Jean inhaled more poison from her cigarette. I stood in the shower until my eyes burned, but it wouldn’t stop, the smell, and the throbbing in the back of my head. And everything they said got lost in the noise. There was no need for them to understand. This was my death. The first of many.