Frank was dying, despite everyone’s insistence that he wasn’t. He had already accepted it and couldn’t see why they couldn’t. He had lived a good life and a long one, probably longer than he had any right to, he was ready to go.
The sickness had come upon him quickly, as it did these days, turning him from a reasonably strong man to someone who was thin and weak. They all gathered around him, telling him he’d be fine, that he was soon to turn a corner and be back to his old self. Frank had no time for such nonsense. He would always stop them, gently at first but harsher as time went on, yet still they tried to tell him otherwise.
He spent most of his days lying in bed, dozing or enduring the few visitors that came, broken only by occasional trips to the bathroom and the meals that he took. Most of which were spent eyeing the food before taking a bite and declaring himself done. He knew he was wasting away but why prolong the inevitable? There was no treatment, no cure, just waiting until it finally took him.
Angela had already gone on ahead of him, about six years back, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and killed by a stray bullet. He had been sad, but the knowledge that she had protected a young boy from getting shot gave him solace. She was kind and giving, right up until the last. Jake, the only child they had ever had, ran away when he was fifteen and no one had heard from him since. Frank hoped he was still alive somewhere, that he had a good life, but he wasn’t foolish. He knew it was more likely that Jake had been accosted by someone, that he had been robbed and left for dead or sold off to some unscrupulous businessman .For years Frank and Angela would wait for a letter that never came by the phone that never rang. Frank was the only one left now, everyone else had died or left, the friends and family he had grown up with were replaced with strangers. Kind people sure, but he didn’t have the connection with them that he had with those that came before. They checked in on him, brought him food, made small talk with him, but there wasn’t that easy companionship that there had been. He knew that once he died they would descend on his place, small though it was, and strip it of anything of value. He didn’t blame them. He had already given away most of his valuables to those that deserved it, like Louise from next door, she had three children to look after. He would slip a piece of jewellery into her hand or a wadded pile of notes. He didn’t trust the banks, not many from his generation did. He suspected that some things had already gone for a wander, he rarely left his room and when he did he was more concerned about whether he’d be able to make it to the toilet, or back to bed afterwards.
Frank wasn’t frightened of death. He had thought he would be, it was always something that seemed to loom over them all, waiting. Now that he was experiencing it though he wasn’t afraid, he had made his peace with the world long ago. He was tired now and perhaps he would be born into a new world, refreshed and young, or perhaps there was nothing but darkness, he looked forward to the rest, whether it was brief or eternal.
Breathing was getting difficult, his chest felt heavy, as though a weight was sitting on it, he didn’t have the strength or energy to sit up, or to talk. Louise sat by his bedside, knitting away. He had told her to go home, to be with her family, they were his last words. She had tutted and shook her head, “No one should face this alone.” And she had gone back to her knitting. Occasionally she would pause and gently pat his hand, sometimes holding it, almost caressing it. Secretly he welcomed her company, the warmth of her touch, the cooling of the damp cloth as she wiped at his face.
Frank took his last breath, filling his lungs before his chest fell in a long, slow exhale. His eyes were still open, staring at nothing and everything. Louise stopped her knitting and gently sought out a pulse, she found none. She sighed and closed over his eyes. He had already given her so much, he had told her before that she could take what she liked once he was gone, but still she felt a tug of guilt. She rearranged the wool in her basket, picked it up and made her way through the small apartment. He had told her of a few of his hiding spots, she cleared out each one. When her basket was full and heavy with goods she repositioned the wool to cover it all, then she brought the basket home. Once that was safely put away she returned to Frank’s place and called the doctor. Within moments the word had spread and the people descended. Louise didn’t try to stop them as they pawed their way through his meagre belongings. She didn’t judge them for it, how could she after she had done the same? When everything was gone they stopped coming. A few stragglers would appear and seeing the bareness of the walls and floor, would turn and leave almost immediately. The doctor was still to arrive and the only thing left was Franks bed and body, once that had been removed someone would be along for the bed. Louise stood just outside the door to Frank’s room, unsure what to do. She didn’t want to leave him here, all alone in an empty apartment, but it felt wrong to stay. She went into his room and softly kissed his forehead, “Thank you.” She stood and left, gently closing the door behind her.