The serial goes on. From latest work in progress, Vintage, Part Fourteen:
There is never anything remarkable about the room in which someone’s life is ending. Rooms are hardly ever built with the express purpose of containing a man’s last breath. They happen upon that role instead by quirk of fate, becoming through no intent of their own the unexpected terminus for that unpredictably snaking line that demarcates a human being’s limited time in the world. But once a room houses a death, it is defined by it. Death etches itself deep into the paint, and its tendrils seep through to stain the brick beneath. No matter what other, happier events have transpired in that room in the past, now, it can never be anything else.
That’s the room where my father died.
Etienne’s legs started to quiver as he heard the first cough, that dreadful rattle of a brew of blood and acid bubbling up from a stomach worn thin as paper. The bed held a mere echo of the invincible man who’d once held his hand so tightly, shrunken now to a shivering bag of bones under jaundiced skin and flaking white hair. The smell was enough to invite one to retch up one’s own contribution to it. In the memory Etienne knew he was to enter and sit at the edge of the bed and try to hold his father’s hand again, but he fought against repeating that history with every spare iota of fortitude. “Papa,” he said quietly. Reynand did not hear him. “Papa, c’est Etienne.”
His father tried to say his name, but the first syllable broke into violent wheezes. Reynand clutched a small, blood-soaked towel to his mouth, almost devouring it as he tried to stifle the tremors in his gut. Etienne did as his memory of the moment commanded and found a place on the bed after all, reaching for his papa, wishing and pretending that he would recover, or, if not, that at least the horrible coughing would stop.
It did, finally, and Reynand slumped against his pillow and let out a broken breath. “Etienne,” he was able to croak in a cloud of red spittle.
“Do you hurt?” Etienne asked. It was a facile question, asked by a much younger mind, but he was forced to play the role as it had been written and performed those long years past.
Likewise, his father could not find it within him to vary one consonant, one gesture from that old script. Reynand de Navarre had never been much for feigning a show of strength when he could find none within himself, and to his son’s pleading question he nodded, and shut his eyes to try and squeeze the tears back into their ducts. “Mon petit chevalier,” he said.
“Papa,” said Etienne, “I thought I could try to find maman. Maybe if I told her how sick you were she could come back and try to help you. She always made me feel better.”
His father started to shake his head and with even that merest of movements the coughing resumed. Reynand slammed a bony hand down on his son’s and squeezed while he saturated the towel with pieces of his insides. Etienne winced at the sensation of some of that old strength lingering in the man’s grip. “You said you thought she was living in Quermont now,” he said. “I have enough saved that I could hire someone to take me there. Then I could find her and ask her to come back. It would only take a day or two.”
“Maman is never coming back,” Papa insisted, with handfuls of breath tinted by long-simmering anger. “Don’t waste your money.”