William Quincy Belle is just a guy. Nobody famous; nobody rich; just some guy who likes to periodically add his two cents worth with the hope, accounting for inflation, that $0.02 is not over-evaluating his contribution. He claims that at the heart of the writing process is some sort of (psychotic) urge to put it down on paper and likes to recite the following which so far he hasn't been able to attribute to anyone: "A writer is an egomaniac with low self-esteem."
You will find Mr. Belle's unbridled stream of consciousness here (http://wqebelle.blogspot.ca) or @here (https://twitter.com/wqbelle).
A Light Lunch with Helium
by William Quincy Belle
Carl sat in the same booth. Sometimes it was taken, and he was obliged to take another, but generally, he stayed toward the front so he could look out the window. Was it habit from his years on the force? It was customary every Monday that the doctor would join him for usually whatever was the daily special at Ruby's Diner. Carl had a story to tell, and it felt best to tell it to his long-time friend.
As Bill pushed open the door, the top edge of it flicked a piece of metal connected to a small bell. He took one step inside and removed his sunglasses. Seeing his friend, he headed over to the booth and slipped into the opposite bench.
“How's it going?” Bill said.
Carl nodded. “Not bad. You?”
“Couldn't be better. How's Patty?”
“Fine. The two of us were out yesterday watching Tony play ball over at Hanover Park. He hit a homer.”
“All right.” Bill picked up the menu. “So, what have we got today?”
“Oh God, Carl, you know that I'll be farting my brains out for the rest of the day with that stuff. Ruby packs quite a wallop and on top of it, I’m just so damn—How should I say this?—allergic to onions.”
“Okay, okay. Too much information. You don't have to fill me in on all the details, you know.” He continued to study the menu. “I think I'll get the western.”
Bill stared at the menu with pursed lips. “Why not? Let's make it two westerns.”
A waitress walked up to the table, put down two glasses of water, and arranged two paper place mats in front of the men. “What can I get you gentlemen today?” she said setting out two sets of silverware wrapped in a paper napkin.
Bill looked up. “Two westerns if you would be so kind.”
The woman wrote on a pad. “Fries?”
Carl said, “Instead of the fries, can I substitute a side salad?”
“Sure,” she said. “Anything to drink?”
Bill said, “Water will be fine for now.”
Carl nodded, and the waitress disappeared behind the counter.
Bill glanced at his friend. “I heard you had to deal with an accident on Route 6 over the weekend.”
“Yeah.” He rubbed his forehead. “It was the oddest thing. The day was sunny. There was no traffic on the road, but then this guy swerves over to the other side and slams into a car coming the opposite way.”
“I found a cell phone in the car. I'm guessing the guy was trying to text a message and took his eyes off the road.”
“Why do you say that?”
“The phone was on and I could see on the screen a half finished text message. I think a few more letters and he would hit Send.”
“What was the message?”
“The message read, 'Stopping at store to' and that's it, nothing more.” He shook his head. “Oh god, I ended up having to tell his wife. She did not take it well.”
The two men looked at each other.
“I'm sorry,” Bill said. “It's tough on everybody involved.”
“It was a little spooky. The guy didn't have his safety belt on. On impact, he slammed against the windshield and was ejected from the vehicle when the driver's door popped open. He was lying on the shoulder and I was right there at his side when he expired. The funny thing was that it was a beautiful day. There was no traffic; nothing which would have caused such an accident.”
“You never know when your number will be up.”
The waitress arrived with two plates. She set the first plate in front of Bill and said, “Western with fries.” She set the second plate in front of Carl. “Western with side salad.” She glanced at each of them. “Anything else?”
Bill smiled. “No, thank you. That's perfect.”
“Enjoy.” She walked away.
Bill unwrapped his utensils and put the napkin on his lap. “Death is an odd thing. I've always found it a strange phenomenon how people die but continue to live on in other people.” He reached out for the bottle of ketchup.
“What do you mean?” Carl had started on his salad.
Taking the top off the bottle, Bill turned it over his plate and shook it. “Even though somebody dies, he leaves behind things which remind other people of him.” He held onto the bottle with one hand then picked up his knife and stuck into the bottle. “As long as other people remember the person, he lives on in a manner.” He took out the knife and looked in the bottle with one eye closed. He turned the bottle over and gave it a shake. A huge glob of ketchup spurted out onto his plate. He rolled his eyes.
“At the hospital,” Bill said, “I've had to deal with deaths in families and my observation is that the memories of the deceased are strong. Even though the person isn't coming home again, it feels like he is still there.” He put the top on the bottle and returned it to the end of the table.
Carl picked up one half of his western. He said, “Oh,” and bit into it. As he ate, he watched his friend dip a fry in the ketchup.
“Speaking of deaths, how's Mrs. Gilbert doing?” Bill said as he chewed.
“I spoke with her last week and I think she's sad, but she’s also glad Fred is no longer suffering. ALS is a cruel disease.” Carl took a sip of water. “Even though the funeral was two weeks ago, there are still condolences coming in. With Fred’s position as scout master for forty years and Mildred with the Girl Guides, I think the two of them have seen just about everybody in the community in one way or another.” He took another sip. “I miss my annual box of cookies.”
“I should drop around sometime and pay my respects. I'm certain Mildred will have a lot of things to sort through and I imagine she’ll consider giving up the house. It’s a bit much for a single person. She should probably move into an apartment. I know she's still healthy and mobile, but I wonder if she should not consider one of the assisted living places. You can still be independent, but you can get help.”
“Yeah, that seems like a good idea. Sooner or later we'll all need something like that.” Carl half smiled. “When I was there, Mildred asked me if I’d like to take their canoe.”
Bill grunted as he continued with a full mouth.
“She took me out to the garage to look at it. Seems to be in good shape so I'm going to talk with Patty. I think I can store it in our own garage and what the heck it's free. Why not, eh?”
“You're going to have to talk to the boss about that one. I'd take it myself, but I should follow Patty’s lead. She likes to avoid—quite wisely mind you—picking up things here and there that in the long run you don't really use.”
Carl said, “Mildred may have other things she’ll unload now that Fred is gone. Who knows what else they may have lying around the house? Heck, I was surprised to discover Fred had a canister of helium in the garage.”
Bill stabbed his fork into another fry and swirled it in his pool of ketchup. “A canister of what?”
“A canister of helium. Mildred told me that from time to time, Fred organised various events for charity and he used the helium for balloons. The kids loved them.” Carl noticed Bill had stopped eating and was staring off into space. “What?”
“Fred was cremated, right?”
“Nothing. Just an odd thought.” Bill stabbed another french fry.
“What are you thinking of?”
“I wonder if Mildred offed Fred.”
“Offed him? How the heck could she have done that?” Carl furrowed his brow. “The coroner said it was natural causes; respiratory failure. After all, Fred did have Lou Gehrig's disease.”
“There are organisations which support the right to die.”
“I won't, we won't argue whether it's right or not, but these people believe in a person's right to choose to die; especially in the cases where the person may suffer from a debilitating disease like Lou Gehrig's. Some practitioners who subscribe to this idea have invented euthanasia devices to be used in an assisted suicide. Such devices work on the idea that the patient has the final say and press the final button.”
Bill wiped his mouth with his napkin. “Kevorkian, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, is probably the name most people know of in this regard. He had a device which delivered a fatal dose of barbiturates, but the patient had to throw the switch.” Picking up a french fry in his fingers, he dipped it in some ketchup and put it in his mouth. “I recently ran across some information about an organisation in Australia called Exit International. The founder, a doctor, came up with a device or should I say method of euthanasia which is fast, painless, and easy to put together based on easily obtainable materials.”
Carl reached over and took to a fry. “Go on.”
“The human body has a strong reaction to the build-up of carbon dioxide. If you hold your breath, CO2 builds up in your system and the body's natural mechanisms force you breathe again. However, inert gas asphyxiation can happen without you even knowing it.”
“When you hold your breath, you feel a burning sensation as if your lungs are crying out for more oxygen, but that's not the case. Your body is actually protesting the buildup of carbon dioxide. Based on this idea, the method Exit International came up with what involves giving an inert gas to the patient. Put a plastic bag over the head; use a tube to pump in the gas, and as the patient breathes, the oxygen in the body is replaced with the inert gas. The level of CO2 in the body remains unaffected, so the patient does not panic. The patient is unconscious in about 10 seconds and dead within 3 minutes.”
Carl pursed his lips as he looked at his friend. “Really?”
“Yes. Any inert gas will do, but Exit says it’s easy to get helium. After all, any party store dealing with balloons sells it. And the whole thing is virtually undetectable. I say virtually undetectable as while tests may overlook the helium, tests can determine signs of anoxia or oxygen starvation. Anybody looking at the body would think the person is asleep and any professional looking at the body would assume natural causes like the heart just quit. Consequently, who would even think about doing any tests?” Bill waved to the waitress and made a motion with his hand as if signing something. She nodded.
“Are you suggesting Mildred did this to her husband?”
“We'll never know now since the body is cremated, but it was just an idea that came to mind considering Fred's condition. As long as the equipment is removed, the bag, tubing, and the canister of helium, I'm sure nobody would think there was any foul play. It's a shame that people can’t die with dignity. Once you get to the advanced stages of some diseases, the quality of life drops dramatically. Perhaps, it's not living at all. Some say we should allow people to decide if they want to continue.”
“I know Mildred,” Carl said. “I find it hard to believe she would do such a thing.”
“Do any of us know what we would do under those circumstances? If Mildred loved her husband, which I know she did, she would want what's best for him. To stand by and watch Fred live a life that was getting more and more untenable, she would be torn between life and death, or should I say, escape.”
The waitress arrived with the bill and put it on the table. As she turned to go, Bill said, “Hold on.” He glanced at the amount and put cash on the bill. “Keep the change. Thanks.” He looked back at Carl and said, “My turn this week. Next week, I'm ordering steak.”
The two men slide off the benches of the booth and got up. “Thanks, Bill,” Carl said.
“Hey, no problem.” Bill glanced at his watch. “Oh boy, I've got to get back to the hospital. I have an appointment right at one o'clock. Listen, take care and say hello to Patty for me.”
Both men walked out the door of the diner. Bill turned right and walked toward the hospital. Carl stood watching him. The detective in him made him think about the truth. What had Mildred done or not done? Nevertheless, the humanitarian in him agreed with Bill. Without quality of life, what did one have? After all, the old saying was true: health is everything.
Carl turned and walked away.