Milton Silverman’s Last Thought
When Milton sensed the end was near he told Magda he loved her. “Magda, I love you,” he said. And then he asked her to tell Vincenza, their daughter, to turn down the television set. He was adamant that the last thing he would hear would not be an Arby’s ‘We’ve got the meat’ commercial.
From the moment of his diagnosis he worried over what his last words would be. Would the ‘I love you,’ be the last words he would utter? There had been others, mostly purloined from great thinkers in his intermittent internet searches.
More deeply troubling to Milton was what his last and everlasting thought would be. Nothing, he hoped, with an enigmatic, uncertain meaning and no time to figure it out. Nothing disturbing that he could not then erase from his eternal memory.
His breath caught. It woke him. Irregular breathing: That was the sign. Did his breath smell? Would Magda lean over to kiss his cheek and be repulsed by his foul, acidic breath? How could she not? She would not say it. And perhaps not saying it, she would not think it. She was young. She was good that way.
Would there be, in his last instant, some hoped-for revelation? A thought, as yet, in all these years, un-thought? Unexpected and pure? The one universal revelation? Salvation unlocked, released, finally, from deep in the hypothalamic, lizard brain, that we all will think at the end?
Would the little lies come back to dog him? He had never really read Ulysses though he’d implied as much. The cat did not find a better life on a farm upstate. Mean things, he feared, he’d said and done which, at the final instant, would flood back in a torrent as his heart beat the last.
Or, when that moment came, when he heard the faint click of the lock of the door at his back, would he see himself as the man he hoped they would remember.
He was hopeful that at the very last thought he’d have the presence of a receding mind to depress the morphine button, close the curtain with satisfaction, and not to have rush through the door one last cerebral fart, one last post-synaptic criticism, one last neuronal drool, which would ablate and obliterate all that had come before.
Muffled voices filtered through from the other room. He closed his eyes.
Happily, he saw the foam-tipped waves hit the hard sand on the coast in Tofino, felt them thud in his chest, bump hard against his ribs. Magda in the surf. The setting sun at her back. The black rock monuments to time in the watery distance… He opened his eyes and reached for the button clipped to the pillow cover, fumbled with it, depressed it once, felt the morphine haze. He pressed it again, and again.
He closed his eyes once more…
He is walking down Fifth Avenue. The air is clear, crisp. It is Fall. A tall, attractive woman is coming toward him. A smart leather briefcase is slung over the shoulder of her dark navy blue business suit. Her heels click on the pavement. A silky white blouse. Fabric pulled tightly across the soft swell of her breasts. The shadow of a nipple. Only feet away. She looks up at him and her hand moves quickly, instinctively, to finger the buttons on her blouse, to cover her chest from his fleeting, intrusive, irretrievable, shameful, gaze.
“Die, Asshole,” she says in passing.