Wincing slightly with arthritic joints, she bent down close to the water and released the goldfish.
She had bought the fish on the way back from the hospital mortuary, being drawn to the pet store with a sudden desire to buy a puppy. Bill had always loved dogs. She got distracted though. The fish had been in a tank on its own. “Isolation tank” the sign had said.
She identified with the fish. Old. Alone.
A tear slid down her cheek, remembering her husband’s final words just hours before. A weak, skeletal frame in the hospital bed, Bill gathered the last of his strength to whisper through dry, barely-moving lips, “I’ll soon be free, Betty”.
Betty reflected on these words afterwards, while she drove to the lake, their favourite secluded spot together. Bill had been right. He would be free. Free from the last four years of pain and suffering. Free from the anguish of breathing with sandpaper lungs. Bill was unconfined by illness at last. While Betty watched the life drift away from his exhausted body, she realised that although he was gone, he was also liberated. Free to float effortlessly in endless peace. She felt comforted.
She dabbed a handkerchief to her cheek, looking down into the vast expanse of crystal water.
The fish paused, looking outwards towards the openness. With hope in her heart, Betty saw it flick its bright gold tail and quickly glide away, disappearing into the unknown, gone but free, for eternity.