Louise almost left without taking her Cognizoid, but stopped at the door and went back for it. She took three without looking at them, afraid that seeing the little yellow diamonds would make her cry. And then she went to Penelope’s.
“You look like hell,” Penelope said upon opening the door. “Have you eaten?”
Louise shook her head and fell into her usual chair. She put her head in her hands and remembered that she hadn’t taken her pain meds.
Penelope bustled around her kitchen in her wheelchair, setting out a makeshift lunch of cut vegetables and dip, crackers and cheese, and some of her omnipresent cookies. Finally, she brought Louise a big glass of lemonade and pulled up to her own side of the table.
“So, spill, woman. What happened?” Penelope said, making a sandwich of a piece of orange cheese and two crackers.
“I… think Mick’s dead,” Louise said, taking a drink of lemonade.
Penelope stopped what she was doing and watched her.
“She’s been in hospice,” Louise said by way of explanation, then went on to add, “Lung cancer. I always told her the cigs would be the death of her.” She tried to smile, then became aware that it was a very poor attempt.
“She told you this?” Penelope said, setting down her cheese-and-crackers.
“I… I looked it up,” Louise said. “I used Mystery Woman’s programming skills to go hack in so I could look at her chart. She went into hospice a week or so before she contacted me. She’s been on Cog for a couple years. But last night she told me. I didn’t tell her I knew already. And she said they thought she’d go any time. And so…”
Penelope rolled around to Louise’s side of the table and set a box of tissues in front of her. Louise became aware of the tears dripping off her chin and pulled a handful of tissues out to mop with.
“You know,” Penelope said quietly, “I cried for a solid week when my husband dropped dead. I was a complete disaster. The burying only happened because my girl handled everything—the other kid was stationed abroad and was going through red tape to come home.”
Louise inhaled and exhaled slowly, wiping her face and nose. “I’m glad… I had some warning. I think I guessed beforehand, otherwise, why would I have gone looking? But I un-set my alarm so I could stay in as long as I could. That kind of thing.”
“That’s good,” Penelope said, taking Louise’s free hand. “That’s really good. I’m glad you could do that.”
They sat in a silence only punctuated by the ticking of the analog clock in Penelope’s kitchen and the occasional involuntary sob from Louise.