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A Thousand Years in Darkness

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She gave it to him, so that he could live, so that he could have a chance, and he thanked her. From the bottom of his heart he thanked her.

He thanked her even though he didn't want it.

Because what could he say? Everything she was giving up, everything she could have done or been, and she was giving it all to him. The greatest gift of all, the gift of life, and he already wanted to die.

He had never, never wanted this.

The only thing in this world that could have made it worth going on was her. Another thirty or forty years felt like forever, but forever meant nothing with her.

So now more than ever he wanted to die, and now more than ever he didn't dare.

Being conscious was hell. So he wanted to sleep. But if he went and laid down, no matter where he was, on her couch, a park bench, or in the farthest corner pew at Grace Church, he thought of her and he cried and cried.

So he didn't sleep. He wandered around to all their old haunts. Up and down Highline Park, a stop at Cup of Clay, through the dog run, around and around Greenwood Cemetery, straight past that dump in Chelsea.

And something in his head, in his own voice, told him, "This is what you did to him."

"Shut up," he said.

"He didn't ask. Just like you didn't."

"Shut up. Shut up." He felt sick. He needed a lie down. "That wasn't the same thing."

"Why not?"

"Because I didn't know what the hell I was doing. She did."

"Yeah? So? She was already dying. You didn't know you were gonna die. Same difference."

"No, no, no." He knew that didn't make any damn sense, but it felt right, so right he couldn't get away from it.

"You gave him how long again? 82 years?"

82 years. Forever.

"You gave it to him and she gave it to you."

He was vaguely aware of people staring, a few whispering. He made himself walk.

"Maybe they'll put you back in Bellevue. Wouldn't that be a riot."

"Shut up."

"So what do you think? 82 years is a long time. What are you gonna do with it?"

Nothing. Not a damn thing. What could he do?

"You could kill yourself."

He looked around to see who'd spoken, because that was definitely not his voice. But he was the only one to stop in the middle of the sidewalk, a hundred other people bumping and jostling him as they passed.

"You wouldn't be the first and you won't be the last."

"After all she gave you?" His voice again, condescending and sharp. "Who knew you were such an ungrateful little punk?"

"Oh, come on now. It isn't like you asked for this?"

"No? You promised her. What was it you said?"

"Shut up. Shut up. Shut up."

"'Even if I'm here a million years...'"

He started to run but the voices only grew louder.

"'If I'm here forever...'"

"Shut up," he begged. He could feel himself blundering into people, hearing them cuss him out. He didn't know where to go. He only knew he couldn't stop.

"A million years," bellowed the voice in his head. "'If I'm here a million years I won't turn out like Madeline.'"

"You have to say one thing for her," said the other voice. "She knew what she wanted and she went for it."

"I said shut up," he wailed, and it was then that the taxi hit him.

Except it didn't hit him, not really. It was already rolling to a stop at the light when he stepped of the curb. It barely bumped him. It wasn't even enough to knock him down. Through the windshield he saw the horror on the driver's face, and reflected back above it he saw his own face, pale and drawn and puffy from tears. He'd never imagined, never in a million years, that he would ever see that again.

"Sorry," he said weakly, patting the hood of the car, and shoved himself off. The voices were still there, arguing in the back of his head. He ran. What else could he do? They weren't going anywhere. But, at least for a moment, neither was he.

What was he gonna do? Was he gonna live or die? He didn't know. All he did know for certain was that when he saw Rosa Blackwell again--and he was going to see her again--he was gonna give her a piece of his mind.

It wasn't much by way of satisfaction, and it wouldn't last, but for now it was all he had and he hung on tight.