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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