Everyone Knows This Is The End Of The Line
By Misha Burnett
The deck chairs had been placed at wide intervals along the boardwalk so that the old woman, when at last she spoke, had to raise her weak voice to be heard by the old man.
“How do you think they'll do it?” she asked.
“Do what?” The old man was staring out to sea, watching the sun and the surf and the gulls wheeling.
The old man looked over. “Eh? Why, I don't think they'll do it at all. Isn't that the point of this place? To let nature take its course?”
The old woman raised a hand—thin and pale, but not shaking. Not shaking at all. She pointed to one of the red boxes that looked like vending machines scattered along the boardwalk. “That's not nature taking its course.”
The old man considered. “That's different. No one is going to make you use it. They just make it available. A convenience, like.”
“A murder machine.”
“It's not murder if you do it to yourself.”
“They used to call it that,” the woman countered. “Self-murder. It's a sin. A terrible sin.”
“If you believe in sin,” the man agreed.
There was a long pause. Then the man said, “It's been a long time since I've thought about it. I haven't had many opportunities for sin in my life, recently.”
“One can sin in thought as well as deed.”
“What am I going to think about? Sneaking an extra piece of key lime pie with dinner?”
“You could think about murder,” she said, her voice lowered. “I do. A lot.”
“Self-murder?” the man asked.
“No, the other kind.”
“Anyone in particular?”
“We don't have guards. We have nurses.”
“Pfui!” The old woman nearly spat her contempt. “They don't do any medicine, and they keep us from leaving. Just because they wear white uniforms doesn't make them nurses.”
“They don't carry weapons.”
“They don't need them. Not with a bunch of old, sick people to guard.”
“So...” the old man considered. “You think about murdering them?”
“All of them,” the old woman's voice was harsh with emotion. “Lining them all up and machine gunning them. Don't you?”
The old man closed his eyes. The sun was warm on his face. Beyond the boardwalk the sea rolled gently in. “There's no point. I don't have a machine gun.”
“But if you did?” the old woman prompted.
“It wouldn't help.” The old man sighed. “I'm eighty-one years old, and I'm dying anyway. My stomach is bad, my liver is all but shut down, I've got spots on my lungs. I'd be dying no matter what—even if there wasn't this place.”
“Well, I'm not dying,” the old woman said fiercely. “I'm here because I'm old and my grandchildren don't want me around any more.”
The old man opened his eyes and looked over at her curiously. “You didn't sign the release?”
The old woman scowled. “Of course I signed it—it wasn't like I had any choice.”
“Well of course you had a choice,” the old man said. “They can't make anyone come here. That's the law.”
“The Hell they can't,” the old woman shot back. “They keep working on you day and night, telling you what a burden you are to your family and how much better off everyone would be if you just... went away. It's inhuman. Using my own flesh and blood against me. Teaching a little girl to say, 'I can't afford to go to summer camp because my grandma won't go to the island'. It's cruel.”
The old man turned back to watch the sunlight dancing on the sea. “It's not so bad here,” he said at last.
“Everyone here is just waiting to die.”
“Better than waiting to die in a hospital,” the old man said contemplatively. “At least here there's a view.”
“Well, I'm not going to do it,” the old woman said resolutely.
“Not going to die?”
“No. I am healthy and I am going to stay that way.”
A bitter laugh. “Let me know how that works out for you.”
“I'm just afraid,” she dropped her voice again so that the man had to strain to hear her, “that they'll get impatient.”
“Whatever. You think they'll... take matters into their own hands?”
“Why wouldn't they?”
“Well, it is against the law.”
“The law!” the old woman's voice was contemptuous. “Do you see any policemen here? We're outside the law.”
The old man pursed his lips, giving the question serious consideration. “I don't see them doing that, honestly. This place can't cost much to run, not compared to a hospital. I expect they'll just leave you alone and see what happens.”
“I'll outlive them all,” the old woman announced defiantly. “I'll live forever, just out of spite.”
The old man laughed, and then coughed. The coughing turned to choking, and his face was red by the time he got his breathing under control.
The old woman looked concerned and started to get out of her chair, but the old man waved her back. “I like that idea,” he said at last, his voice weak but a smile on his wrinkled face. “I think you should. Will you dance at my wake?”
“Are you going to...?” she nodded her head in the direction of the red dispenser.
He shook his head. “Not like that.” He looked out to sea. “If the pain gets too bad, I'll just walk out there and let the waves carry me away. I don't expect they'll bother looking for my body.”
“Is the pain bad?”
“Not too bad,” the man sighed. “Not yet.”
“I'm glad,” the old woman said. “I don't want you to go. No one else will talk to me.”
“I can't imagine why not,” he said dryly. “You're so cheerful.”
She looked offended, then chuckled. “I suppose you have a point. But what else is there to talk about here?”
The man looked over at her. “I am going to get up,” he said, “and go to the bar and have one pina colada, which will make me very drunk. Care to join me?”
Her face wrinkled into a wry grin. “I shouldn't go drinking with strange men.”
“A good policy,” he agreed straightfaced. “I might take advantage of you.”
“Would you?” she asked. “Would you really?”
“Probably not,” he said. “But we could think about it.”
The woman began the slow process of getting to her feet. “Yes, let's,” she said. “Let's go to that den of inequity and sin in thought.”
has little formal education, but has been writing poetry and fiction for around forty years. During this time he has supported himself and his family with a variety of jobs, including locksmith, cab driver, and building maintenance. His collaborative project Duel Visions and his book series Catskinner's Book are available now.