You wouldn’t expect someone as frail as Edgar to launch that chunk of lung butter as far as he did. The size of the thing was impressive, almost as big as a golf ball. It flew out of Edgar’s mouth with a perfect forward-pass spiral and sailed straight and level for five whole feet before smacking into Nurse Sally’s hair.
“You’re skating on thin ice, old man,” Nurse Sally said. It was a popular refrain of hers, along with “Don’t push your luck” and “I’ve just about had it with you.” It did not matter which phrase she chose. They would all have had the same effect if she had spoken them to a tree stump.
Edgar was too immersed in his dementia to pay any attention to her words. One look into his watery, vacant eyes and you knew the only reason he was still alive was that he was too bewildered to remember how to die. He was old, pushing 90, but it was not his advanced years that turned his mind into jelly. That dubious honor was earned by a tumor growing in his brain.
The cancer had started in his left lung. Edgar began smoking as a teenager. He quit in his 40s, thinking he would beat the odds and enjoy the same healthy life of someone who had never smoked. For more than 40 years, he was right. Then a tumor formed. At first, it was tiny, produced no symptoms, and was almost impossible to detect.
When it finally started to grow, it quickly hit a lymph node and cancer spread everywhere. There was virtually no part of Edgar that was not riddled with malignancies. This would have left Edgar in a state of constant agony except that his nerves transmitted their pain messages to the part of his brain where the tumor was.
A piece of lung butter had separated from the main projectile and hung dripping from Edgar’s lower lip. A part of his brain that still functioned decided that this was a piece of food because there was no other functioning brain matter to tell him it wasn’t. Edgar’s tongue darted repeatedly at the phlegm morsel, but it had already descended to chin level, just out of reach.
“Well aren’t you just a piece of work?” Nurse Sally said. “You disgust me.”
Edgar cut the cheese. Well, only about 80 percent of it was actual fart. The remainder was made up of a dislodged butt hair, diarrhea mucus, and a pinch of pus from one of his colon polyps that had gotten infected. His ass sputtered for several seconds, making the room smell like sour milk and whiskey vomit.
“I guess that means I’ll have to change your diaper again,” Nurse Sally said. “That’s the third time today. Your bowels have no problem letting go. Why can’t you do the same?”
She had been Edgar’s nurse for over a year, ever since his oncologist’s prognosis consigned him to palliative care. Most of Nurse Sally’s charges lasted a couple of months and her duties were to keep them as comfortable as possible and whacked on morphine while the body shut itself down.
Edgar showed no signs of shutting down. He had declined as far as a person could go without lapsing into a coma, but had leveled off months ago and there was no sign that the end was near. He could still eat, provided it was baby food, and while he had no control over his bodily functions, they continued to function with alarming regularity.
Nurse Sally had already made a vow to kill herself before she got as bad off as he was. As an RN, she had access to a variety of pharmaceuticals to facilitate her exit. She often thought of herself on the dispensary floor with her limbs akimbo, froth around her mouth, and a needle sticking out of her arm. She would be quite a sight to whoever found her, but the epitome of dignity compared to old Edgar.
She sometimes thought about killing herself right away. It wasn’t like she counted each day as a blessing. The way she figured it, being a hospice nurse was only slightly more fun than being a hospice patient. The only satisfaction she took from her job was knowing that she provided comfort to some poor soul all the way to the end. With Edgar, there was no end in sight.
“OK old man, let’s see how much a mess you’ve made of yourself,” Nurse Sally said, pulling up Edgar’s gown and unfastening his diaper.
This was the part of her job she hated the most. It wasn’t just the excrement. As a young woman, Nurse Sally had more than her share of lovers and by taking precautions, she was never sidelined by pregnancy or disease. Eventually, she found herself working more and more, leaving little time for amorous pursuits. Workplace romances don’t happen when those you work with are terminally ill. Seeing these people in a state of undress makes the point painfully obvious.
There was no engorged member on Edgar, just a garden slug with a varicose vein running through it. There were no firm buttocks for her to grab with her strong nurse hands, just two pieces of gefilte fish with gravy oozing between them.
Nurse Sally used a washcloth to wipe between Edgar’s butt cheeks. After she was done, she pried them apart to have a closer look. She leaned in and examined the old man’s withered rosebud. Any missed spots could lead to a rash or infection, which could lead to a bigger mess later on.
Not a speck of feces remained, but her relief was short lived because Edgar’s bowels exploded right at that moment. It was mostly liquid and came out in a high-pressure vertical sheet like a hull breach on a submarine. The mocha-brown spray hit Nurse Sally square in the face and she snapped.
What happened next was not a rational act. Like Charles Whitman climbing that tower or Andrea Yates drowning her children, any attempt at explanation here is doomed to fall short. Senseless violence does not need to make sense.
Nurse Sally jumped back and dropped into a tiger stance. Her hands came up and she let out a Bruce Lee martial-arts war whoop that sounded vaguely racist coming from a 50-year old white lady. She then advanced on Edgar with all the fury, if not the finesse, of a kung-fu master.
She landed two blows on Edgar’s midsection before jumping on top of him. The punches were of medium force, but given his decalcified bones, hard enough to fracture his ribs. Pain impulses shot through his nervous system straight to his brain tumor, which didn’t care.
Her thighs clamped around his leg to keep him from going anywhere even though there was no chance of that. She was sturdily built and always had been, which resulted in a lifetime of homophobic and inaccurate comments about her sexuality. She would be a formidable physical opponent to many men in their prime. With someone like Edgar, it was not a contest at all.
Still, Nurse Sally clamped her thighs tighter around his leg. There was no fight in him, but she enjoyed the sensation of riding his femur bareback, especially with the muscle around it as atrophied as it was. She tightened her grip. Capillaries broke and bruises formed on his leg.
None of this feeling in her loins made her relent from the beating she was giving the old man. If anything, they increased in both power and frequency the more stimulated she became. Nurse Sally let out an audible moan then punched Edgar hard in the throat, collapsing his windpipe.
The crushed trachea gave Edgar the sensation of being choked and with it, an erection. It was his first in a very long time. Nurse Sally felt the stiffening garden slug press against her leg.
“You’re not supposed to be enjoying this,” she said and launched a fresh flurry of punches against his head and chest. There was no point to them really. She had already delivered the death blow with the shot to the old man’s throat. Perhaps she feared his death would not leave him dead enough for her liking. Maybe she kept hitting him just because it was fun. She did not stop punching Edgar until his dick softened, when she knew he was dead.
Nurse Sally climbed off Edgar and went into the bathroom to clean the shit off her face. It clearly looked like a murder scene in the other room, but she didn’t worry. There are no investigations or autopsies for those who die in hospice care. The death certificate was already filled out. The cause of death would be lung cancer.
So don’t smoke.