Palliative

As in:

Autumn, again.

Chloe was surprised to find herself living long enough to see the towering beams of golden cottonwoods along the streamsides in the Sawtooths. She’d expected to draw her last breath in late August, in the San Juans, when she had proposed to Perry and Duvall that they help her depart, Viking-style, by putting her freshly expired body in the blue dinghy, dousing it in kerosene, and shoving the burning boat out into the Strait of Georgia.

“Is that legal in Canada?” Perry had asked.

“Why the fuck should that matter?” Chloe had replied, purposely shocking both of them to laughter with her unexpected vulgarity. “It’s my last wish. Grow a pair.”

“I don’t think I could even do that without igniting my pants,” Duvall protested. “Can’t we just dump your ashes off Nanaimo?”

The De Havilland Dash-8 dipped its wings as it passed west of Stanley, offering a view that even the most experienced eyes would see as impossibly beautiful. There was a dusting of snow on the highest peaks and a topaz-blue hue to the rim of the sky. Undiluted sunlight illuminated the cottonwoods and the small puffs of clouds floating off toward the Lost River Range.

She’d always been afraid to fly. Even when she made her stand in Carp’s office in the Chrysler Building, back in ’62, she half-expected the 707s landing in the distance at La Guardia to crash into Flushing Bay. But now it was so pleasing to feel so relaxed and weightless, knowing that however tragic a plane crash in Sun Valley would be for everyone else aboard, for her it would be sweet release.

Among other blessings it would absolve her, completely, of having to come up with something witty and clever as a last earthly remark. She really thought the best writers she’d worked with–not just Perry and Duvall, but also Henry and Alicia and Drew–would want something in the realm of Dorothy Parker, something indelibly funny, or bitingly dismissive of mortality. They’d want to note it and file it, and perhaps slip it into a memoir, or a short story. And it could be hard, she imagined, in the last stages of a final headache, or a palliative delirium, to really nail a good one.

Dorothy Parker

Besides, the last thing she told Duvall that morning when he’d given her a lift to the airport in Vancouver is that his hair reminded her of the disco years, and that his breath smelled like halibut, pickled in gin.

That would do.

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