My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ray Shelby is facing the immanent truth that his wife is going to die in the next week or so from a brain tumour. The idea of facing life alone after nineteen years together with Virginia is almost more than he can bear. Taking a break from his round the clock vigil by her hospital bedside, Ray gets a whiff of cigarette smoke and sudden desire for a long forgotten habit takes a hold of him, leading him outside to a sterile patient garden that every hospital seems to have. There he meets Eli Wolfram, fellow smoker and vigil holder. Almost offhandedly Eli asks Ray how long his wife has got, and then hands over a worn business card that has a thirteen digit phone number on one side and a barely discernible crest on the other. They can help Eli promises, even the hopeless cases, and to ask for Rasmussen.
Withdrawing back to his wife’s side, Ray is then told by the doctor that rather than a couple of weeks, Virginia has hours to live. When Ray and Virginia first got her diagnosis they threw everything they could at the cancer, but without a lot of financial clout there is precious little they could do. With nothing to lose Ray decides to ring the number, believing that it can’t hurt to find out more. As vowed, Rasmussen is able to promise that Virginia can be cured, but it comes at a terrible price. Ray is going to walk away, but Rasmussen, the perfect salesman, touches at the deepest part of Ray’s grief. How terrible could it be, wonders Ray, one crime to rid himself of the heartbreak of losing his wife? He then makes an unalterable decision.
This snappy little novella has just the right amount of creep to it to be satisfying. Enough is said for you to be frightened of the cold and calculating Rasmussen. Yet there is the undeniable pull that we all feel to stop the misery of death in its place, to avoid the reality of dust turning back to dust. The desperation to avoid his wife’s death fair wafts off the page from Ray, real, vivid and palpable. The choice seems unimaginable, the repercussions long. Clever and twisted, this is a terrific little read for when you are in a slump and feel that you couldn’t possibly read anything. Disturbing.