***TW: This story references assisted suicide.


We sit side by side on the bed, you and I, our shoes on the floor, our best suits and ties folded on the ottoman, ready for the undertaker. The stereo plays Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde—our favourite ever since we saw it with Plácido Domingo at the Opera House in 2005.

Your eyes are moist as you take my hand, a smile dancing across your lips as you hum along to the aria. Dein schweigen fass ich: I understand your want of words. 

A momentary shyness flusters me, and I’m back to that twenty-five-year-old who undressed you for the first time, hands fumbling with buckles and flies, our bodies uncharted territory. Silly such a sentiment should creep up on me at this moment, the culmination of all our years of intimacy. I trust you implicitly. After fifty-five years together, can there be any part of you that I don’t know?

It’s warm in the bedroom. The gas bill we’re racking up will be enormous. I laugh, shaking off this thought; saving money is of no concern to us now, nor are we leaving this devastated planet behind to any children of our own. Our lifetime’s attempts to scrimp and save mean we can enjoy clean consciences. 

“Our final adventure,” I say. 

“Into the unknown.” From the way your eyes crinkle at the edges, I can tell you’re thinking of that first holiday we took hitchhiking across India; the stern warnings from our parents to watch our backpacks and drink bottled water. 

“I feel like I ought to offer some profound insight on the meaning of life.”

The corner of your mouth lifts into a lopsided smile. “Don’t feel obliged.” 

I clasp your hand tighter as a warm rush of euphoria transports me back to that time, so long ago, when we got high on Douglas’s couch and listened to Music with Changing Parts in a loop until dawn, and how we both couldn’t get it out of our heads for weeks after, joking that we were the first people on the planet to get an earworm from listening to Philip Glass. In the dizzy weeks, months and years that followed, our two halves fused into an enchanted ‘we’. Andrew and George, George and Andrew. It’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t view the world through your eyes. 

I almost expect you to interrupt my thoughts, teasing me for that time I pretentiously referred to ‘our unmatchable union’. Instead, you say, “Shall we get on with this, then?”

I squeeze your hand in mine, “Nothing like living for the moment?”

“I see this as forward planning.” You chuckle quietly, not quite meeting my eye. “What’s that line you used to tell your students on the first day of class?”

“’Do something today that your future self will thank you for.’”

“That’s it.” An infectious smile lights up your face. “How do you figure your future self will react to this little stunt?”

Even now, you’re trying to wind me up, as was always your way. Our little routine. You goad me, and I rise to the bait. 

“I don’t think my future self would say much at all. Now quit procrastinating.”

“I’m not procrastinating.”

My lips twitch, but I’ve got you looking at me and that old yearning for a heart-to-heart takes over. When else, if not now? “We went through this exact routine when we came out to your mum. How many days did it take you to fess up?”

The tensing in your jaw silences me. Now isn’t the moment to unearth that memory of her processing your big reveal: not best buddies after all. Why else did she think we spent all that time together? Christmases and birthdays sneaking into each other’s rooms after midnight, then back again before dawn. 

“As I recall it, you jumped the gun. I came downstairs to find you in the kitchen, telling her.” 

I bristle. “I didn’t envisage you getting round to it. She was grateful, anyway.” Drying her eyes, she thanked me for my honesty, adding, My own son, and I never really knew him.

You drop your gaze. “All I’m saying is that it wasn’t your place to tell her.” 

“Come off it, George. She needed to know at some point.”  

“I don’t want to talk about this now.” Releasing my hand, you lean over to the bedside to reach for two navy-blue boxes. “Let’s see what we’ve got here.” Each is no bigger than that Andy Warhol book that sits on our coffee table downstairs, a memento of our earlier years together. You stack them on the bed, your hand concealing the white cursive of the logo, as if you’re alarmed by the brand name printed underneath, or maybe just appalled by the extravagance of such a purchase; we spared no expense. 

The plastic seal that holds the tab in place splits under the pressure of your thumbnail, and the cardboard lid springs open. 

The revolver nestles inside its sheath of transparent blue plastic. A heady scent of gun oil sharpens my synapses, a lonely ache expanding in my chest, reminiscent of those months after your mum died. You said you needed some time out, slept on friends’ couches for a few weeks. Meanwhile, I deliberated, torn between rushing to your rescue or allowing you the space you’d requested. 

“So, that’s why you broke up with me? You were annoyed.” 

“We didn’t break up.” You tap your temple where a thin smattering of grey hairs hides your skull. “It’s just that not everything needs to be shared, Andrew.” 

The air separating us grows opaque. Yet it’s no great revelation you held this against me. The fact remains, I did what was best for us. 

I try a different angle: “I’ve always been open with you about my feelings. Take that time I went through a bad patch.” 

“That must be thirty years ago… if not longer. Where did time go?”

“The pills the doctor prescribed made me feel worse. It was thanks to you I got through.” I explained how the world was sinking in on me, daring to utter the word ‘depression’. “I always wanted to be that person to you.”

“And you have been.”

“Have been?”

“Are. Stop splitting hairs.” The instruction manual in your hands, you flick through it, one eyebrow cocked in that disapproving way, like when I’ve screwed up, failing to follow your good example. “Now who’s procrastinating?”

“Don’t you think we should at least raise a toast?”

“You gave up drinking.”

“Where’s the harm now?”

You pull a face, sure, and I slip into the cool corridor, down the stairs. 

The double malt you kept for guests and emergencies is at the back of the drinks’ cabinet. I fetch two glasses and unscrew the bottle, the aroma bringing back those long nights alone after your mum’s death. Maybe that was what I’d hoped my breakdown would achieve: my invitation for you to open up about your struggles. Instead, you clammed up. Never one to bare your soul or share your vulnerabilities, your mother brought you up to have a stiff upper lip. I gave up worrying years ago that your bashfulness signalled a deficiency in your feelings for me: it’s our lot as human beings to want more than we can have.

Back in the bedroom, my chest heaves. Those stairs get a little harder each time. 

Your smile’s returned. You hold up a pamphlet—a government order for public registration of weapons. “D’you reckon we’ll get into trouble for failing to complete the paperwork?”

How I admire your bravura now—as I did then, when you got me back on track. That surprise Christmas trip you organised for us in the Hebrides was a chance for me to take stock. In the weeks that followed, you lovingly prompted me to take better care of my body, promising that improved mental health would follow, how I should stop hanging around with those friends of mine who led me astray. Within weeks, I’d given up booze and weed. I even managed the odd jog around our local park.

I pour us both a glass and hand one to you. 

To us! We drink, the liquid burning my throat.

Your hands tremble as you nudge the other box over to me on the bed. It’s like we’re celebrating Christmas day all over again and my stomach crawls with the memory of watching you open gifts from me, trying to tell if I’d got it right. “Go on,” you say. “Your turn. I’m counting on you, you know.”

I rip off the seal. “Are you afraid?” 

“Petrified. You?”

Am I? My rational self tells me this is necessary. The descent into old age is as terrifying as it is inevitable. Neither diagnosis is bad per se. Mine hints at a slow degradation, a loss of mobility and steady decay, incontinence somewhere further down the line. Yours is a loss of mental acuity, confusion, and a gathering anxiety. As time elapses, each of us will present a burden in our respective way. It was you who pointed out a gradual wasting would drive those happy memories into the ground before our bodies were ready to rest alongside. Together we’ve speculated many times that we’re both too cowardly to pull the trigger on ourselves. The strength of our mutual love is the only way to guarantee this final investment in a future that need never come to pass.

“A little.” I sigh as the insistent chords of the Wagner build to a crescendo. “I can’t help wondering what comes next.”

“For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come.”

“Ay, there’s the rub.”

You roll your eyes. “Ever the Lit teacher, ready with the next line.”

“Actually, that line comes first.” I give your thigh a gentle slap. “And count yourself lucky you didn’t get the whole soliloquy.”

You unpack the plastic, and I copy. You fold our packaging and arrange it neatly, ready for reuse. An interior designer, you were always so clever with old scraps, finding ways to recycle. Will whoever discovers us be so meticulous?

The stainless-steel cylinder is heavy and cold. The model matches the revolvers we trained with that day we travelled to Essex for an introduction to firearms, learning how to load a cartridge, how to fire a gun. You pulled faces and made me giggle like a schoolboy as they trawled through lengthy safety talks. The certificates arrived by post a few weeks later, and we toasted our achievement with that bottle of Veuve Clicquot that your sister, Moira, gifted me for my seventieth.

“Anyway, Hamlet’s talking nonsense,” you say. “It’s bang. Lights out. No more.” There’s a gleam in your eye, as if you’re telling me about the latest house you’re flipping, your plans to gut the interior and make it sparkling new.

“You really believe that?”

You reach forward and squeeze my foot. “Honestly, I don’t know. If I really thought that, why would I be sitting here crapping myself?”

I pull out a box of bullets and slip one into the chamber. You do the same.



We lean across the divide that separates us. The metal barrel of your gun rests on the side of my head, which pounds against the cool weight. 

My hand trembles as I hold my arm up to your temple. You blink once, twice, and close your eyes, never to open them again, never to see each other again. 

“I love you,” I say, shutting my eyes.

“Love you back. On the count of three.”

We chant in unison. One.  

Two. I drag the hammer back. 


The space rips in half. A split second, then I reel, head thrumming deafly, a sharp jolt zigzagging up my arm. Pain spikes through my elbow. A single gunshot rings off the walls.

I open my eyes. You slump, flopping to one side, blood gushing from your temple, billowing onto the sheets. I’m counting on you, you know. In the stunned vacuum, there’s no going forwards, no going back.  

The violins’ cadence folds back, as if to echo my thoughts, Please, don’t leave without me. Three long chords signal the resolution, the last drawing out. 

As the music warms and fades, an icy chill crashes over me like a wave. That trip to the Hebrides together, we went to the beach, stepping over frosty dunes, down to the sand where we defied the tides, racing in and out as breakers lapped at our bare feet. 

The current sucked my legs from beneath me. I reached out for your hand to steady me. 

You weren’t there, and I stumbled, falling into the surf. 

Laughing, you shouted at me across the wind, “I told you never to trust me!”