When the alarm woke me at five, my first instinct was to leap out of bed; but then I remembered that this day was different. So I turned off the clock and snuggled deeper under the blankets. This day was to be an experiment. I’d finally decided to follow the advice I’d encountered three times: first from my pastor, then from my therapist, and finally from the bumper sticker on the car that cut me off last night.
When I was fully rested, I rose and dressed. No need for a bra today, I decided. Then I headed for the kitchen, where a box of Special K cereal greeted me, crisp white and red, officiously nurse-like. I pushed it aside and reached for the olive oil, and then: what the heck, why not butter? I put a pat in a frying pan to melt, while I prepared the bacon, eggs, and sour dough muffins.
The phone rang. I let it ring, and then listened to my boss’s strident voice on the answering machine. “Where are you? You’re over two hours late.”
That’s right, I thought, and I’m going to be even later. You’re going to see how indispensable I really am.
After breakfast, I still had an hour to kill before the banks opened. I could have worked on my novel – but no. I was slap dab in the middle of it. There was no way I could finish it in a day. Better to watch a couple of soap operas.
At the bank, I announced that I would like to empty out my savings account.
The teller counted out a wad of notes and a handful of coins. “6, 457 dollars and 87c.”
Now I had to figure out how to spend it. I’d always wanted to go to Spain, but I wouldn’t be able to enjoy a vacation in the next twenty four hours. A high end male prostitute? I toyed with this idea for a couple of minutes and then rejected it. Getting naked in front of a handsome young man – even one paid to appear appreciative – would make me uncomfortable. I decided on a massage instead, the most expensive available.
I found messages on my cell phone when I came out of the sauna: my boss threatening to fire me if I didn’t turn up or explain myself. Ha! I liked hearing the anxiety in her voice. There was also a message from my dentist complaining that I’d missed my appointment. Damned right! No point in sitting in the dentist’s chair on your last day on earth.
At noon, I sat at a table decked out in white linen, silver silverware, crystal glasses and a single pink orchid and made small talk with my mother while we waited for the others. My siblings had made excuses at first, but I’d insisted. My brother and two sisters arrived, looking hurried and concerned. When they were all seated around the table with full glasses of chardonnay, I dropped the bomb. “I’m dying,” I told them. “I may not survive the night.”
Shock, horror, and questions followed. They loved me, I realized, in spite of everything. My death would be a loss to them. I described the cancer and my brave attempts to hide the course of my illness. My mother looked at me with wonder and admiration.
But my younger sister was skeptical. “You don’t look deathly ill,” she pointed out.
“No,” I agreed, “That’s one of the cruelest aspects of this disease.” That’s the sort of thing people say in this situation. I took a roll and added a thick layer of butter. “At least, I don’t have to worry about my figure anymore,” I said with a sly grin, and I could see them thinking how brave I was to make light of such a tragedy. “I’d prefer not to talk about my death,” I added, through a mouthful. “Let’s focus on the good things. Tell me about the happy times we’ve had.”
There was a brief pause while they marshaled their thoughts. Then they started, each describing some event from our life together, in every case, as I’d anticipated, an event that showed me in a flattering light. I basked in the glow of their love. I wasn’t sure about the ethics of lying to them. Making them suffer was cruel, but I consoled myself with thought of how relieved they’d be when they realized I was perfectly fine.
Over burned cream, I apologized for how I’d hurt them over the years. I could have listed some my transgressions, but they leapt in with their forgiveness, to save me the trouble. After coffee, I insisted that I had affairs to settle. We exchanged hugs and kisses, and parted, perhaps for the last time.
I stopped off at the church, and was momentarily struck by the solemn dark and the luminous windows. Jesus calling Peter out onto the water. I knelt and asked for God’s forgiveness without bothering to go into detail. Long explanations would be an insult to omniscience. I waited for my prayer and His forgiveness to sink in, and then headed down towards the theater district in the gathering twilight.
Restored, I decided to spend my last evening enjoying myself. The ticket for La Traviata was expensive but I figured I might as well use up some of my savings rather than leave it all to my siblings.
A big steak dinner, chocolate mousse and three cocktails left me feeling stuffed and a little woozy. So I took a taxi back to my apartment and lay on the sofa. The still lingering bacon smell made me queasy. What would tomorrow bring? Well, I might be dead, and if not, the bumper sticker did say, “Live EVERY day as if it were your last.”