Quick & Painless

by Shellie Richards

Well, hell. She'd hesitated. It had all happened in slow motion. Fran had popped the donut hole in her mouth and it'd become lodged perfectly, sealing off her air passageways. So when she became red and her eyes had watered over, Lois continued picking and nibbling at her hangnail. The same thing had happened last Christmas at dinner. A piece of butter lettuce had settled itself such that Fran couldn't breathe, the piece of bib lettuce rising and falling like an impervious membrane between her mouth and lungs. In an instant, Phil, in an altruistic act of gallantry, reached his hand down her throat and retrieved the piece of lettuce. He'd saved her life. Dinner was quiet afterwards and no one really talked to Phil much—only Fran who praised his efforts and thanked God over and over again for his very small hands. Simultaneously, everyone around the dinner table surveyed their hands and agreed. Phil was the only one who could've saved her. Phil was the only one who would've saved her.

Now here they all were, a year later, gathered around the casket—the cheapest one money could buy. And there lay Fran in the cheapest gown money could buy and the only audible sound was that of Phil's sniveling. No one thanked Lois per se. No, that would've been too brazen even for this crowd. But several had nodded, and their eyes had said it all. Thank you for your hesitation. Thank you for not acting quickly. Thank you for letting her die.

Lois can't say she was entirely and completely without guilt. Fran had been her mother. And Phil's mother. And Jane Margaret's mother. And Terry's mother. And Audrey's mother. And the reason they stood here today was at least in part, due to Lois's hesitation. Truth be told, Fran had been in the middle of one of her famous rants—screaming at the top of her lungs in the tiny Ford Fiesta about Lois's gutters that Fran had claimed needed to be cleaned immediately.

"Your gutters are going to rot right off the side of your house and when they do, by God, don't call me to..."

and that's when it happened. The screaming stopped. Lois luxuriated in the sudden and new found silence. Fran had popped a donut hole in her mouth. More technically, a munchkin from Dunkin' Donuts had rendered her screamless and it was glorious.

Lois had been chosen to speak at the service. This is all she said.

"Mother died eating a munchkin. Glazed, not cake. We do not hold Dunkin' Donuts responsible and will not be filing a suit."

BIO: Shellie Richards’ work has previously appeared in the Belmont Literary Journal. She lives in Nashville with her husband and three children. She works at Vanderbilt University where she edits scientific papers for publication and is currently finishing an M.A. in English (Writing) while working on her first novel.