The only problem with her life, Mary thought, was that she didn't have one. Sam had been gone for two years, but she was still playing by his rules. The weight of the charade was too much. She would take the pills.
The nurse and the sheriff had accounted for every prescription medication the day Sam died. They'd taken the Oxycontin and hundreds of dollars worth of other pharmaceuticals off to be destroyed. Except for the sleeping pills. The hospice nurse had trusted Mary with those. Had even urged her to make use of them until she could see her own doctor. Had she looked in the bottle, the nurse would have had second thoughts. Mary had been collecting pills for a long time. She knew enough about computers to Ask Jeeves and follow a few links until she was convinced, even taking into account reduced potency, that she had enough to do the trick painlessly.
She hadn't expected her hand to tremble so when she opened the bottle. She hadn't expected to spill the water from the glass on her bedside table. As the water trickled across the tabletop and dripped onto the sculptured carpet below, Mary pondered the realization that, while she wanted to think she was the kind of person St. Peter would be glad to see in line at the pearly gates, when it came right down to it, she had no real assurance as to what might be on the other side of what Sam had irreverently called "the dirt nap." She put the lid back on the bottle of pills, tucked it under the bank of pillows propped up against the headboard, and leaned back. Staring up at the ceiling she scolded herself. Mary Elisabeth McKibbin Davis, you're fifty years old. You have no life of your own, no future plans, and no guts to do anything about it. No wonder Sam spelled Elizabeth with a z instead of an s. No wonder he named your daughter after his mother. Elizabeth Davis had a spine. Mary Elisabeth McKibbin has none. Elizabeth Davis went to market.... Mary Elisabeth McKibbin stayed home. She fell asleep repeating her bittersweet version of the old nursery rhyme.
By the next evening, Mary was grateful she had put the pills away. Earlier that afternoon, she had wandered into a store and found a cheap little piece of junk with a motto that offered hope. She couldn't get it out of her mind. And then there was that magazine cover, featuring the Sea Cloud slicing through the water, her sails unfurled against a brilliant blue sky. Reading the article, Mary had learned that the ship's home port was a small town in Southern France called Arcachon. Her heart pounded as she reread the article, searching for the captain's name.
Instead of taking the pills... she wrote a letter.