[previous chapter] Hello. My name is Jean Simoneau and I kill people for a living.

No, it’s not evil. At least, I don’t see it that way, even though I’m sure many of you will. I work for a guy who works loosely with the Black Angels motorcycle gang. They don’t go for good guys, much. My boss is Abdul Bédard-Lellouche. Some of his business is drug-related, but not all of it. Among his professional interests you’ll find an outfit that specializes in assisted suicides, based in the city of Laval, just north of Montreal. This is where I work.

What we do is help people who are old, sick, and in pain, end their lives reasonably painlessly, for a fee. A good fee. As you know, assisted suicide is still technically not entirely legal in this country. I’m pretty sure this will change soon, but at the moment those who want help to end their lives are stuck. Most doctors hesitate to do anything – because they don’t want to be the ones getting caught and losing years of their lives in court battles. Nurses sometimes show individual patients mercy, but there again it’s random and there’s just not enough of them willing to act in the face of very painful, pointless situations.

I mean, if you’re dying anyway, and you’re in pain or so completely senile you don’t recognize your own children anymore, what’s the point of breathing? There’s a great line in the movie The Croods where the caveman father and his teenage daughter are having a fight over his crazy restrictive and paranoid parenting style and at some point he yells at her that at least what he’s done has kept the family alive, and she explodes “That wasn’t living! That was just… not dying!”

She has a point. There is a big difference between “living” and “not dying”. And that’s where we come in. We take care of the people who aren’t dead yet but should be. Most of the time we do this at the request of the family. They see their parents pointlessly not dying and after a while they can’t take it anymore and they contact us for help. We take care of things for them without pain for the suicided person. Because that would be wrong.

****

Like her husband, Amanda Toussignant was thoroughly unenlightened about her current, and final, status as dead woman sitting. There was nothing special about her evening routine that night. The nurse came in at 8:45, and supervised Amanda as she took her medications and supplements. She didn’t need to stay and make sure Amanda had gone to the washroom, as she was quite capable of doing that herself – a singularly acute point of pride, that, surrounded as she was by a sea of adult incontinence. (Pardon the pun.)

“Anything else, Madame Toussignant?” the nurse asked, in a slightly irritating tone. Why do young people have to sound like they’re singing to babies around old folks? Gawd.

“No, thank you. I’m fine,” she replied. She had no idea what that particular nurse’s name was. They kept coming and going, it was so hard to keep track. Oh well. No big deal, right?

If Amanda had realized this was going to be the last time she brushed her teeth, brushed her hair and peed before bed, she might have paused to give her bedtime routine a little more thought. One should probably floss thoroughly before showing up for eternal life. But she had no idea her body was already shutting down. She had no way of knowing that. She went to sleep… forever.

In a way Amanda Toussignant was among the lucky few. She appeared to have died a peaceful and painless death. Except if you were in charge of dealing with her mortal remains, I guess. Death is a messy business at the best of times, and usually death in an old folks home isn’t exactly that. There were bodily fluids everywhere, and the smell in her room was difficult to take, even for people who were used to this sort of thing.

The other residents had their own way of dealing with death, and they reacted to this one the way they normally did. Old people have a macabre fascination with the details of someone’s passing, and if you left them to their own devices they would probably talk about little else. The women, anyway. Most men don’t care what happens once they die. But the ladies, they’re always worried what other people will say about how they looked and smelled in their last moments on earth. It’s hard to stand up for yourself and defend your reputation once you’re dead. And to them, death is no distant abstraction. Debating and arguing over someone else’s demise is about as far from an academic exercise you can be with your clothes still on. Death is never kind, but it can be harsher with some than others.

Out of deference to Marcel, the ladies kept the post-mortem chatter to a minimum when he was around. They did their best to comfort him. At least she didn’t suffer, they would say, seeing as she had gone peacefully.

Poor Marcel. He didn’t fault the ladies for being the way they were, but he sure wished they’d shut up. What did it matter that she didn’t suffer? And how exactly did they know that anyway, huh? Amanda wasn’t supposed to be the first one to die. They’d agreed on that. He was devastated and shocked by her death. How was he supposed to go on like this?

Well, at the risk of spoiling the surprise, that’s not a problem he was going to have for much longer.

[next chapter]