8th September


They were revisiting that old topic again. They couldn’t leave it alone. ‘We’re like Jack Spratt and his wife,’ she said. ‘Gnawing away at it, fat and lean. Where’s it getting us?’

‘Nowhere,’ he said. ‘You’re right. What more can we do or say? We’ve written down our wishes. The kids know how we feel. Not that I trust the kids, but it won’t be their responsibility. It’ll be ours.’

‘Yes, so long as we can control the timing. We each know what the other one wants.’

‘What the other one doesn’t want,’ he said.

‘Exactly. Don’t put us in one of those places. Stock up with the special pills before it gets to that stage. Hold hands and exit while we still have the key to the door.’

‘Exit with dignity,’ he said. ‘Get out before some interfering busybody takes the key off you and you can’t leave even if you want to. Can’t even get out into the garden for some fresh air.’

‘Prison with cushions and catheters,’ she said. ‘God forbid.’

‘Let’s change the subject,’ he said, and he fetched the decanter and refilled the glasses. ‘Here’s to us, and to many years before we get there.’

The glasses clinked. ‘Here’s to us,’ she said.

A minute later she said, ‘There’s going to be a lot more of it. People taking matters into their own hands.’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But let’s not talk about it any more.’

He picked up his book and started reading. She stared into the fire. She saw the old couple again, the couple outside the chip shop. They had been passing by as she was coming out with the fish suppers. Heading for home, she’d supposed. And he was leaning on a stick and she, a few paces behind, was leaning on a stick too. And it was clearly such hard work for them both. When he crossed the road he looked back to make sure she was still with him. He didn’t say anything.

There was something heroic about how they kept going. She wondered if they’d had these same conversations. Planning for the non-future. Maybe they weren’t the planning kind. Maybe they just kept going.

Reader: Marianne Mitchelson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Subscribe here for more stories & music