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The Last Rite

by Giovani Jacques

“The sinner will always plead in time of strife.”

It was a saying that he was anything but unfamiliar with; his mother making no failure to let it flow from the tips of her lips in any situation she deemed fit. She was an Italian woman that possessed a quite remarkable short, pudgy stature, though her qualities of remarkability, at least to the people that surrounded her, stopped there. That latter portion of her life was spent as a widow, becoming a God-fearing recluse, devoting any time previously invested into her husband and her son, Paul, in the church.

The saying was one that Paul hadn’t heard as of late, as communication between the two dwindled as the years went by. The estranged relationship was much to Paul’s own doing, but whenever she did find the chance to, (as scarcely as those chances came,) he couldn’t help but roll his eyes at it, believing he would never alter his beliefs, not even on his death bed.

“You’re just like your father, Paul.” His mother would scoff, “When the time comes, my last prayer will be in celebratory nature, not a pleading one. God willing it will be the same for you.”

As her days waned, and it was clear that her time had in fact came, her last prayer was exactly that.

The day of the last rite failed to see many tears shed. At least not by Paul, nor his mother. For her, there wasn’t too much to be in a grievance over: as death was more of a release to the pains and aches that life was guaranteed to distribute. Besides, it seemed as if she knew where she was headed.

Her designated nurse, Alaila, Paul only remembering her name because he recognized it as the Basque word for joy, spoke of the fabulous dreams her patient recounted to her. Dreams of triumphant Angels watching in glee as she gracefully walked upon Heavens steps. Dreams of her husband patiently awaiting at the top of those steps.

During Paul’s minimal visits to her bleak, dimly lit hospice room, he was hard pressed to avoid the lady, instead opting to give her a smile and slight words of encouragement to his ailing mother. “She has a wonderful spirit. You should come by more often; it’d give her more comfort.”

When he did come by and conversation became scarce, he remembered Alaila’s recounting of her dreams, and wondered aloud about them. “It was God speaking to me Paul,” she’d say in a state of wonder, “and your father was right beside him. God willing, it was your father beside him.”

Paul never asked for her to expand on what she meant by God-willing in this instance, deciding that it was for the best to let her dreams run unobstructed in her last days.

For Paul, the lack of tears stemmed from the endless booze that dripped through his pores: A rundown liquor store placed conveniently near the hospice building allowed for him to not have to face the reality of his perishing mother, at least not while sober.

He’d walk in as he usually did, eyes focused on dirty tiles, avoiding the gaze of the young store attendant who never failed to offer his smile and a polite “Welcome” to the mellow man who made him himself a usual at the establishment.

At times he thought about responding: “Today, I’ll say hello. Maybe even ask about her day,” he’d think to himself, attempting to give some form of an unconvincing pep talk. He’d never go through with the plans though, in the end realizing that he saw him as nothing but another drunk: one that rushed to the same gas station cooler every time he entered and evacuated without a word as he began to guzzle them as soon as he exited. Realizing that he was just one of the many.

"He didn’t know how he’d be able to make it home that night, but he also didn’t know if he planned to."

For a drunk, he had a quite impressive inability to hold his liquor, not that he wanted to anyway, and the effects of corrupted vision and drowsiness, as usual, began its quick onset. He didn’t know how he’d be able to make it home that night, but he also didn’t know if he planned to.

It was all worth it for him though, reasoning to himself that he’d do, “anything to avoid the tears.” ]

However, the tears that were shed, and the main source of sorrow, ironically came by way of the nurse tasked with easing the pain death would bring.

On the day in which death knocked its scythe on the grey hospice door, it was the nurse, her tag reading Alaila (A name that Paul recognized as the Basque word for Joy), who appeared to be the most distraught by the situation. Distraught to the point that Paul found that he had to be the one to comfort the young woman. Paul’s whispering pleads to quiet it down complemented by the pungent alcohol smell his breath carried, was to no avail.

“Aren’t you sad too?” she whimpered, confused at the lack of emotion that came from the drunk son.

The sound of snot being siphoned up the tunnels of Alaila’s nostrils made the sentence inaudible enough for him to ignore it, perhaps because he realized that the true answer to that question, would be unsatisfactory.

The sniffles and yelps became too much for the old woman who lay on her death bed, accompanied by the hospitals catholic chaplain prepared to oversee her death, eventually motioning for the young woman to depart from the room, and to not renter until she was “gone at last.”

With that, Alaila shuffled her feet past Paul, giving him a slight rub on her way out.

The clergy member began to commence the last rite, a series of prayer and rituals done on catholic practitioners near death. Paul’s now mute mother began to motion for his exit as well, seeking for peace and quiet in her last moments.

He drunkenly made way for the exit without a word opening the door to join Alaila in the depressing Hospice hallways.

Taking a last look around at the room, the lack of people increasingly became of note; The only people finding themselves present in her last moments being Paul, a now absent nurse, and a chaplain who knew nothing about her thirty minutes ago.

It was only in the time of death that Paul truly learned of his mother’s excessive reluctivity: never did he get a call from a loved one inquiring on her health, nor did he hear of anyone coming to check on her in person. It became apparent that, especially after his father’s death, all she had was Paul.

It was revelation that plagued his mind in the weeks leading up to the moment. As an adult, he seldomly made any attempts to maintain a relationship with his mother, instead choosing a life of overindulgence in whatever vice he chose. Whenever the going got tough though, he’d never fail to make a phone call asking for money, a request in which she always obliged.

However, the time in which they had a real conversation? One in which wasn’t congested with awkward-over-the-phone small talk; couldn’t have been any less than two decades from their last.

By now, a couple of new nurses awaited by Alaila’s side, listening in on their queue to enter the room for the inevitable last breaths. The commotion generated by the two nurses attempting to calm the now hyperventilating Alaila down was just enough for Paul to slip away without notice. But truthfully, Paul only desired to avoid the stares loaded with accusation that would arrive when leaving at time like this, Paul knew that they’d notice eventually, regardless of the secrecy in which he had done so, but this way he wouldn’t be here to see it.

He made the trek back to the conveniently placed corner store, seemingly tracing his exact steps back to the gas station’s cooler, purchasing the same three cans of beer he purchased just hours before. In a drunken state, Paul was able to gurgle a babylike, “Hello” to the usual cashier that was on shift. This time the store attendant didn’t bother saying hello though, nor did he bother providing a smile. Paul was too intoxicated to notice.

But as usual, on Paul’s way out, he stared. Watching the man as he began to drink the case of beer as soon as he stepped off the premise and hop back behind the wheel.

He didn’t know how the strange drunk would be able to make it home that night, but it also seemed as if the drunk didn’t plan to.

He diverted his attention away from the man, smiling and offering a “Welcome” at the next customer who walked through the sliding doors.

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