by Ashley Hutson
Mickey was a euthanizer who worked the night shift at the hospital. His main task was accomplished by pressing a button. The button was connected to two IVs that administered lethal drug doses in a one-two punch to terminal patients, and all the required equipment was housed in a metal apparatus on wheels.
Everyone felt pretty grim about the death cart. Most of the staff didn't know how to act when the time came to drag it out of locked storage, and there were those who tried to be brave. “Roll out the death cart!” one of the newer hires would sing to the tune of “Roll Out The Barrel,” eliciting a few thin titters from anyone nearby. But it was all show. No one touched the cart but Mickey.
Jacquelyn also worked the night shift. She was a bright young woman who smiled with all her teeth and sometimes walked beside Mickey as he pushed the cart to the next patient. She filled up the empty long hallway with words. “I'm cooking a crème brulee tonight,” she'd say. “I have the butane torch ready to rock and roll. Linda bought it for me last week, isn't that sweet?” Linda was her girlfriend. “It's getting serious,” Jacquelyn confided. “We're considering co- parenting a puppy.” She often worried that Linda didn't love her as much as she loved Linda, but she remained hopeful. Mickey listened, his face a monolith. Jacquelyn had never pushed the button.
One night Jacquelyn met Mickey at the door of the death cart's closet and asked him for a favor. Mickey took a long look at her. She was the type of person who wouldn't leave things alone. Once she'd asked the question, she'd be asking it forever. He nodded.
Linda showed up an hour later. In a dimly lit room, the death cart between them, Jacquelyn stuck one IV into a patient's dying vein and Linda followed suit with the second IV. They pressed the button together, looking into the other's eyes.
A week later, Mickey was on his usual rounds when he saw Jacquelyn crying in an empty room. “We got the puppy,” she told him. “It's not anything like we thought it would be.” She shook her head and looked at him. “Everything we figured for ourselves and how we figured it was wrong.”
Mickey just listened and looked out the window. “Poor doggy,” Jacquelyn murmured. “Linda named it Hellebore. Can you imagine?” She was grieving for the dog's future, which was a handy way of grieving for her own. Mickey left her where she was and continued toward his destination.
The next patient on the list was an old woman with throat cancer. Before the death cart arrived, the woman's family gathered around her bed. They held hands and sang softly. The light was low and flowers choked the room, indifferent to everything since being cut from the earth. Mickey opened the door.
Mickey and his cart came to me in a dream. Our brains are trying to work out death at all hours, I suppose. Isn't it funny that each of us has the agency to end it all at any time? And that our silly bodies are more than happy to assist? We're all our own Mickeys, really, with death-cart capability built right into us. That has nothing to do with my story, though. I thought up that little chunk of non-wisdom just now. I have no idea what the story means.
Ashley Hutson lives in rural Maryland. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in several journals, including Fiction International, Sundog Lit, McSweeney's, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Hypertrophic Lit. Read more at www.aahutson.com.