IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH • by Gustavo Bondoni

“Our health plan doesn’t cover this.”

“I know, but it’s the only hope you’ve got. The doctors are saying that it’s a serious case, that your liver will fail within weeks and that you’ll lose brain function with it. It’s called acute something or other.” Tears were flowing freely down her cheeks. “You have to take the gene therapy.”

“Maria, I’m ninety-four,” Nick told her, smiling sadly. “I’m all worn out. If it hadn’t been my liver, it would have been something else. I’m just grateful that I’ve been able to have such a good life.”

“But don’t you see? If you get the therapy, the doctors say they can fix all of it, basically reprogramming your cells to think they’re young again, and create new healthy cells. They explained, but I didn’t understand much.”

“I know how it works. I’ve been following the progress on gene therapy for the past fifty years. But that doesn’t change the fact that we can’t pay for it unless we sell everything we have. We wouldn’t be able to live.”

“You could get a job again. After all, you’d be young enough.”

“Doing what? I’m not qualified for anything. The things I used to do don’t even exist any more, and I’ve never learned to use implanted AIs. All I could really apply for is construction work.”

“That would feed us.”

“Yes, but that’s all it would do.” They’d never build up the capital they needed in time.

This wasn’t the first time they’d had this discussion since the diagnosis, but he never quite got up the courage to tell her the true reason he’d decided to avoid gene therapy, and she hadn’t been able to guess it.

Nick looked around, gathering his thoughts. The hospital was nothing like the ones he remembered from his youth. Despite a terminal disease that was being treated with extremely high-tech methods, the only clue that his bed was in Intensive Care was that there were some wires and tubes extending from a panel into his arm via a subcutaneous needle probe.

The window looked out over a sunlit park where a mother was pushing a stroller while a pair of dogs ran after a ball.

This is a good place to die.

Silence reigned for a few minutes. Nearly sixty years of marriage had taught them to be comfortable enough around each other that neither felt the need to speak.

Those same six decades meant that Nick was able to tell that Maria was marshaling her thoughts, getting her ducks in a row for another onslaught. This calm preceded a storm.

She took a deep breath. “We can sell the apartment. That would cover most of what we need. It’s worth nearly a million. We can borrow the rest.”

“And the other million we need? Do you think anyone would lend us that?”

“What other million?”

“The one that will buy the gene therapy for you.”

“Me? I don’t need it!”

“Maria, you’re ninety. Up until a few days ago, you were the frail one. For the past ten years, I’ve been trying to imagine how I could possibly go on without you, trying to think how I would live that way. And you know what? I don’t think I could.”

“But now you need this, not me.”

“Do you feel stronger than you did last week?”

“Of course not, but that’s not the point. This isn’t about me, it’s about saving you.” She was crying again, and Nick felt the tears welling up in his own eyes, but controlled himself. It wouldn’t help, he knew. It never helped when she saw him cry. It always made things worse.

“So, I’ll be young again. And in two, three years, you’d die. And we couldn’t do anything to save you because we have no money. And I’d be alone, but without even having the consolation of knowing that we’d be together soon enough anyway. I can’t live without you, Maria.”

“But you don’t know that. By the time I need the treatment, maybe the price will have gone down. Maybe we’ll be able to afford it.”

He shook his head. “You know we won’t.”

A nurse entered the room and told them that visiting hours were over, and that the automated system was administering a sedative. Nick would be unconscious soon.

She took his hand. “Just think about it. For me. Please.”

“I already have. I’ve been thinking about it for years. I love you forever. I know I can’t survive without you.”

His lids grew heavy, but he didn’t fight the sedative. Just before he passed into unconsciousness she replied, “And why do you think I can?”

Gustavo Bondoni was born in Argentina, which, he believes, makes him one of the few — if not the only — Argentinean fiction writers writing primarily in English. He moved to the US at the age of three because his father worked for a multinational company that bounced him around the world every three years. Miami, Zurich, Cincinnati. He only made it back to Buenos Aires at the age of twelve, by which time he was not quite an American kid, not quite a European kid, and definitely not Argentinean! His fiction spans the range from science fiction to mainstream stories, passing through sword & sorcery and magic realism along the way, and it has been published in fourteen countries and seven languages to date. You can read some of his latest work here and here!

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 average 3.7 stars • 44 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Jill Spencer

    Wow! Very nice. Just wanted to express my appreciation. Thanks for a good read.

  • A pleasant story about aging tragedy, written in a glossed over voice that failed to take my interest in the couple very far. And then, there’s the cliches about ducks in a row, marshaling thoughts, calm before the storm, all three connected by commas like, well, ducks in a row.

    I need more from a story than a simple emotional situation.


  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Ditto Jeff.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    A very poignant ending. Most of the narrative, however, I found too formal, with complicated sentences and tenses used where simplicity would have been more effective. The word ‘that’ was used 21 times, which to my editor’s eye distracted me from the actual story.

    • S Conroy

      This is worrying. I don’t think I notice ‘that’ reading or writing… But I think that that is going to change.

  • I have mixed thoughts on this one. Very touching, but the ending was a little bit of a letdown for me. I’m not sure why. I wasn’t touched by it as I was earlier in the story by this old couple. I never really became attached to the characters. They seemed a bit cookie-cutter. There was nothing remarkable about either one. Perhaps that was the point. I’m not sure.

    Two stars.

  • S Conroy

    I was very taken by the idea that even if we can double our life spans in the future, we’ll be totally out of synch with the grandchildren generation who we’ll physically resemble. (It’s bad enough being an alien around the generation who are and look 25 years younger.)

    I enjoyed the ideas and the style and thought the ending was a nice bit of sly poignancy. I agree with the commenters who think the characters could be a little more idiosyncratic. But the best bits were reminiscent of Michael Hanecke’s amazing film ‘Amour’.

    • ‘Amour’? Really??

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        I didn’t want to go there…

        • S Conroy

          Well, it takes all sorts… 🙂

      • S Conroy

        Brilliant film I thought. It’s about an old couple where the wife becomes seriously ill and asks her husband to kill her.
        Or were you asking if I really thought of that film while reading? (Yes 🙂 )

        • Enjoyed the film. My kind of cinema.
          This is not that.

          • S Conroy

            I didn’t say it was… But the film did come to mind at some point as I was reading.

  • The impossibly high-tech fix all is intriguing, but the argument over it is not. Maria cries throughout the story, everyone’s heart is in the right place, consequences are obvious, in the end nothing big happens.
    When I do the 20% to my own work the first is the search for “that”. A seek and destroy.

  • Rose Gardener

    3D-bioprinting of body organs and the (almost daily) advances in gene therapies strongly suggest the day will come when life can indeed be extended almost indefinitely. The theme therefore isn’t far-fetched, but a future reality our children and grandchildren will face to some degree.
    Flash is the perfect medium to highlight the approach of a contentious issue without getting too sidetracked into the context of individual characters. Stories such as this are an opportunity to facilitate the necessary debate which arises when it’s no longer a case of ‘can we?’ but ‘should we?’
    I was initially disappointed the author didn’t explore the aspect of not desiring to live longer without bringing money into it. But then I realised the choices we make are indeed often influenced by financial constraints. So the question for me became: if they could have afforded it, how long would they have chosen to extend their joint lives?

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