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Claire stood outside her mother’s room looking in at the multi-coloured tubes, wires and machines that were keeping Emily alive. Dr. Parker came up behind her.
“Ms. Lawrence,” he nodded. “I just gave her a mild sedative. She’s not in any pain. I wanted to keep her lucid so you could say your goodbyes.”
“How long, Doctor?”
“There’s nothing more we can do for her. She could go at any moment. It’s really up to you. You have the authority to keep her on life support for a few more days or to just let her go quietly tonight.”
“I want to see if she’ll talk to me. And Father Birney is on his way. I know she won’t want to die without making her last confession.”
“I’ll leave you to it. The nurse will find me if I’m needed.” He walked away briskly. Claire thought doctors and nurses were saints to do this job. Not something she would have the stomach for. In her vocation, she hid behind a camera lens looking for beauty and truth. There was no beauty in this place, not tonight. And death was the ultimate truth.
She heard footsteps coming down the hall. A tall, gaunt man approached. Black hair, black suit, little white collar. He looked more devilish than priestly but Claire put aside her biases and greeted him.
“Father, thank you for coming. I’m not sure what the procedure is. Should you talk to her first?”
“Ms. Lawrence, let’s go in together. She needs us both now.”
“Oh no, Father. She doesn’t need me at all. But you, you she wants.”
They entered the room. Claire studied her mother. With her eyes closed, she finally looked calm. She was much too young to die, thought Claire. Her middle-aged face was virtually unlined and still pretty. It was the only place on her body not damaged by the crash.
“Mother, can you hear me? It’s Claire, I’m here with Father Birney.” She touched her mother’s shoulder tentatively.
Her mother’s eyelids fluttered and then opened slowly and smiled at the priest.
“Father Birney. I’m so glad you came.”
He took her hand and held it. “Yes, Emily, I’m here. So is your daughter.” He nodded in Claire’s direction. “Would you like to have a few words with her? I can stay outside.”
“No, don’t leave me,” she rasped, panicking. “I need to talk to you. Claire can wait.”
Claire glared at the priest and shook her head slowly. “See, I know her better than anyone, I’ll be just outside the door.”