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Last Rites
by Phil Robertson

‘Thank you Father.’

Frank heard the door close as the priest left. He hoped Beryl hadn’t been listening at the door to his last confession. That was the trouble with all this absolution stuff: you had to get it off your chest before you went, but you didn’t want the wifie hearing everything you’d been up to.

Entering the room, Beryl straightened the curtains and then the counterpane.

‘All right?’ she asked.

‘Aye, I suppose.’

After fifty-two years of marriage, there wasn’t much left to say, even in these circumstances. Frank desperately thought of something to say, something to leave his wife with, but nothing came.

‘You sleep now Frank.’ And with that she was gone.

Sleep. Bloody sleep? Days to live; maybe hours even. There was no way he was going to waste them sleeping. Frank reached for the remote control and flicked on the television.

‘Bloody load of old crap, as usual.’

Determined though he was to remain awake, sleep soon stole some precious hours of whatever he had remaining.

Later he awoke to the sound of the pips on Radio Four before the evening news. The television was off.

‘Bloody shite. Still here.’

Frank moved his fingers, then his toes. Hard, but still working. Experimentally, he tried to raise his knees. Just.

‘Life in the old dog yet.’

At that he stopped and sniffed. Disbelieving, he sniffed again to be sure. It was. It was his favourite smell. The smell that went with his favourite cake. Lemon drizzle fruit cake. Individually made in little cases and sprinkled with icing sugar. Moved by his wife’s thoughtfulness in this, her probable last gift, he too decided to make the effort. He’d go to the kitchen, instead of Beryl having to fetch them to him.

He would have liked to think he swung his legs from the bed, but it took far too long and wasn’t graceful enough to be described as anything such. Feet in slippers, Frank then considered his options. Walking wasn’t one of them. He nearly gave up then and there, but he thought he might manage if he crawled. There were no stairs to negotiate since they’d moved his bed downstairs. Perhaps it was possible.

It seemed like hours later, but it couldn’t have been more than thirty minutes - as the news was just finishing - when Frank arrived in the kitchen. His last, shuffled, crawling jerks brought him to the base of the kitchen table. Beryl was at the sink. She hadn’t heard his arrival over the sound of the radio.

With one final effort, Frank brought his hand up over the table, and with a feeling of great achievement and triumph, he grasped one of the freshly baked cakes. He felt the soft warmth through his fingers. He looked up just in time to see the wooden spoon come crashing down his knuckles.

‘Put that down you bastard, they’re for the wake.’