Luke never returned to the bar. Neither did Fleming.
But life went on. Larry and Mel continued to have their “tiffs” and Gil continued to smooth things over with free beers.
Gil had never told his story and most likely, never would.
“People’s lives are like road maps,” he once told Fleming. “Sometimes their travels are etched on their faces and other times, they’re etched on their souls. Sometimes we get to hear their stories and sometimes we don’t. Then there are times when we have to ask ourselves; in the grand scheme of things, does hearing or not hearing, knowing or not knowing really matter?”
He wondered about Luke and he wondered about Fleming. From the beginning, they were two doomed people. Luke was a cursed soul, looking for absolution and burning his candle on both ends. Fleming was an ill-starred savior, who thought Luke could be rescued.
He remembered telling Fleming, “pain can render unbelievable torture and the desire to help can, and so often does, result in failure.”
They both burned brightly but ever so briefly. He missed them. They had touched him and left an everlasting mark.
Two months after Luke told the final chapter of his life to Fleming, word got back to Gil that he had died. He had finally succeeded in drinking himself to death but it had been hurried by an accidental, or as some witnesses believed, intentional fall in front of a car.
He languished in a semi-conscious state, only occasionally, softly mumbling “Jenny.”
Medically, there wasn’t much that could be done for him, except give palliative care and hope for the agonal last breaths of death to come soon.
He was given no special treatment, just the same care that is most often given to drug addicts and alcoholics. After all, he had done this to himself so there wasn’t much, if any, sympathy.
He never had a single visitor…until one day, a woman came in and asked to see him.
“Are you family?” the nurse asked.
The woman said “I…knew him.” The nurse smiled and said, “come with me.”
She led the woman into a bleak, dark, sterile room.
She seemed to have a bit more empathy than most of the other nurses. “He won’t know you’re here and it’s just a matter of time before…well, you know. It’s a pity, isn’t it? We don’t know if he has any next of kin. There will most likely be no one to mourn for him.” Then she smiled and said “take your time, honey.”
Luke lay there, pale and gaunt, with tubes inserted and machines beeping the familiar cadence of a heart rhythm. The woman looked at him as if trying to will him to open his eyes, but he didn’t.
Just a few minutes later, his journey finally ended and his days on Earth were over. A smile came to this face and he took his last breath as the woman leaned down and whispered, “it’s me.”
Esto es el fin de la historia.
*The ending is purposely ambiguous. Who was the woman? Was it Fleming? If it was Fleming, was she showing compassion by trying to give Luke peace before he died?
Or was the woman Jenny? Or was Fleming really Jenny?
There are several hints in the story.