Till Death Do Us Part

By Alex Grehy

“The trouble these days is that we just live too damn long.”

The woman sitting in the rattan chair opposite nods her head then turns to look at the sun blazing over the tranquil ocean. She is quiet; they often are this close to the end.

“Tell me your story again,” she says.

“Don’t you want to tell me your story?” I reply, though I know all about her from her application. The people I allow to visit my exclusive resort must be ready for the treatment I offer, and be prepared to sign the non-disclosure agreement, of course. Her name is Natalia, aged 85, halfway through her life and weary beyond reckoning.

“No, I wish to listen,” she says. “It started with the great medical revolution of 2035, just before I retired from my first career in human resources. The deadliest cancers – curable; a few pills – heart disease reversed; dementia – a thing of the past. Within a few years, human life expectancy leapt from the mid-80s to the mid one hundred and eighties.”

“Lucky us!” Natalia snorts.

“Indeed. Death delayed was surely everyone’s dream. We gave the medics Nobel prizes. But the thing is, you don’t get more youth – puberty still plagues the teens, and the menopause still marches through your forties – what we gained was more old age.”

“I’ve already had my three score years and ten.” Natalia says, staring into the distance, “it’s enough, but your generation had to get greedy.”

I nod. “Greedy and selfish, they say now, though back then it was all parades and celebrations. Then the questions started: Who’s going to pay for all this extra life? The pension industry crashed overnight; they couldn’t afford to pay for 100+ years of retirement and for certain no-one could afford the premiums to allow them to. A government think-tank came up with an answer – old people could use their health and life to work for longer.”

“I didn’t want a second career, let alone a third. Whose bright idea was it to use a longer life for work?” says Natalia, her voice low and harsh.

“The old people were up in arms. They’d been robbed of their cosy retirements. No-one could believe that we gained all this life just in order to work for longer. Then the young people started up – how could they step into dead men’s shoes if no-one actually died?” 

“You’re right, we live too damn long these days.” Natalia replies.

Then there’s the whole ‘Til death do us part,” I continue, “who really wants to be with the same person for a hundred and more years?”

“But you’re single – it says so in your brochure. What happened to your husband?”

“It’s a long story.” I reply.

“Do I have enough time to hear it?” 

“You have all the time you need. You take the last cocktail when you’re ready. I see you’ve chosen lemon gin and elderflower champagne over ice. Excellent choice.”

“I was worried that it may be too refreshing, make me change my mind.” Natalia says.

“You are welcome to change your mind, right up until the first sip, after that it’s too late.”

Natalia drops her gaze to the wavelets running up the sand. “I won’t change my mind.” she says.

I nod. People who have come this far never change their minds.

“Tell me about your husband,” says Natalia.

“Okay. His name was Michael, and we were married in 1998. Would you like to see a photograph?”

I pull up my digitized wedding album on my touch-screen. There he is in a dove grey morning suit; I’m in a silk and lace confection, long sleeves, puffy shoulders – the height of fashion. We did the whole traditional thing – the church, the bouquet, ‘til death do us part. The photograph is captioned – Michael and Amy, Together Forever.  Wemeant it; we really did.

“I was twenty-five. I wasn’t thinking about just how long it might be before death did us part. To be honest, I wasn’t thinking at all. We were young and in love, running headlong into the future without a care.”

Natalia touches the image and the screen flicks to the next album “Welcome Baby Claire!” – my first daughter’s christening in 2000.

“That was before the Licensed Fertility Bill of 2055. People didn’t agree with it, but the government forced the legislation through. They argued that our way of life was unsustainable – people were not dying but young people kept breeding. Of course, that was before resorts like this became available.”

“How many children did you have?”

“We had three, all daughters, nicely spaced to fit round my first career. I was lucky to have enough time to become one of the few female CEOs of a global company.”

“So that would be before the Longevity and Productivity Act?”

“Yes. The act came in 2040, just as I was reaching the peak of my career. I had to start from scratch, in a creative or craft industry, as if the world didn’t already have enough scented candles and macrame pot-holders. That’s when I became a gin distiller and blender.”

“And this retreat is your third career?”

“You could call it that; though my skills as a distiller certainly come in useful here.”

“You’ve gotten off the point – I wanted to hear about Michael.”

“Ok, so we’ll go back to 2035 – we’d been married almost 40 years, ‘murderers get a shorter sentence’ he used to say – hilarious. I was thinking about divorce, but there was a terrible inertia that came with old age. But then life-expectancy increased by a hundred years and a few years later they introduced the new Marriage Contract Act. At least the government recognised how unreasonable it was for people to stay married for their whole lives. I liked the idea of the contract – 25 years is perfect – three years of madly in love, seven years of getting by, fifteen years of staying together for the kids then it’s renewal time. No blame, no arguments, assets divided 50-50 – move on to the rest of your life.”

“So what happened?”

“Michael died, but he was one hundred and five.”

“Young, by today’s standards.”

“Yes, tragic really,” I agree. “Look, I need to attend to a few details for your cocktail party, but if you’re really interested in what happened to Michael maybe you’d like to read the last, unpublished, chapter, of my memoir. I only share it with special clients.”

I hand her a loosely bound folder.

“Of course, it will pass the time.”

Life Is for Living: A Memoir: Chapter 28 (proof copy not for publication)

Michael and I ‘celebrated’ our seventy-fifth wedding anniversary in 2073, just after my hundredth birthday — our first opportunity to renew our contract under the Marriage Act.

He was desperate to renew. He was healthy and mentally sharp, but he had an old man’s attitude; especially the one that expects a wife to care for him as a mother cares for her son. I found him tedious beyond belief. But by then the punitive ‘Divorce Tax’ would have made it impossible to separate. Though if I’m honest, I may still have had some “old woman” attributes, like believing that I couldn’t manage by myself.

In all fairness, Michael made an effort in the six months before our renewal date. He made every grand gesture that money could buy, even held my hand in public. 

In hindsight, it’s no wonder he was so desperate to renew. A wife costs a lot less than a housekeeper. Though he wouldn’t have to worry about paying for more, shall we say, passionate company; he made it clear that this staged intimacy was just for the cameras and didn’t reach as far as the bedroom. 

Our daughters had a hand in it, even though they were in their fifties and neither intended to renew their own 25-year contracts. They’d started their second careers as ‘social influencers’, whatever that was. With the spin they put on Michael’s marriage renewal campaign, it certainly counted as a ‘creative industry.’ They got busy in the media, selling the idea that Michael and I were among the first to renew at seventy-five years. The story went viral. Everyone wanted the happy ending, to go aaaw over an old-fashioned, sentimental romance. 

They carefully orchestrated Michael’s campaign and I fell for it, flattered by his renewed attention. My armor of self-sufficiency weighed heavy after a lifetime of being the adult; the one who had to think ahead, who ordered the groceries, cooked every meal, worked out what the kids needed for school, how many shirts needed ironing, when the grand kids needed babysitting. Not that I minded all that, not as such. But those few months of being courted reminded me of what it was to be Amy rather than Mom or Darling, endearments that had quickly become job titles. Surely, I deserved to be treasured after so many years of being the family’s timekeeper, chauffeur, servant.

My daughters were delighted by the press coverage – so many posed images – Michael down on one knee, pretending to propose again; us outside the judge’s chamber holding our renewal certificate; Michael with a big grin on his face giving the cameras a thumbs up. For old time’s sake, he wore a dove grey morning coat, but I wore a magenta pant suit. Some of us like to move with the times.

I’d hoped for a second honeymoon or a few more months of pampering at least. But no sooner were we home he said “It’s been a big day. I’m going for a nap, wake me up for supper.” 

I heard him walk upstairs, his steps gradually becoming heavier. By the time he’d reached the landing, the sprightly new-ager who’d renewed his vows for the cameras was back to the tiresome old man I’d just promised to look after for another twenty-five years.

Michael wore his old age like a bathrobe and slippers, shuffling comfortably from one day to the next. His days revolved around his garden, napping, the pub quiz league, tinkering with robots and coaching the school’s robotic football team on the weekends. We don’t have contact sports anymore, but there’s a knack to controlling on-field robots. I was surprised how well Michael took to it, given that he was an old curmudgeon in every other way. 

We made a decent income from our second careers. Michael had his robotics and I had a craft gin distillery at home, with franchised manufacturers producing and selling my blends, all for a percentage, of course. My daughters said that we were amazing, but I knew that was part of the spin. If we weren’t ‘awesome’ or whatever superlative their generation used back then, they might have to take an interest, to care. Caring for others is one of the many skills we’ve lost since old people became healthy and could take care of themselves.  

I believed then that my accomplishments were just “make work” – something to keep me occupied while I waited to die after another lifetime of years.


It came to a head one evening in May, a month or so after our renewal, when Michael and his quiz team were practicing in our house.

It was a fine evening. Midsummer was just a few weeks away and the sun was still high in a powder blue sky. Yet there was a tinge of dusk in the light, as if the day, like us, was pretending to be young when all it wanted to do was fall into darkness. The four men were sitting on the porch, clustered around Michael’s data port, browsing quiz sites for tricky questions. 

“Name three varieties of the Solanum or Nightshade family that you might find in your kitchen,” a mechanical voice recited.

They shouted the answers in turn…



“Deadly Nightshade.” I added without thinking as I lay down a tray and poured the tea. No alcohol on quiz nights because they really couldn’t afford to dull their wits. 

Michael looked appalled.

“And that, gentlemen, is why Amy will never be a quizzer.” Michael addressed his chortling sycophants. “Amy doesn’t pay attention to details. The question said in your kitchen.” He turned away. “The third correct answer is aubergine.”

“Though,” one of his banal little friends chirped. “The question is badly worded. Solanum is a genus, the family is Solanaceae.”

“Or it’s very cleverly worded because the Cape Gooseberry…” Michael waved toward the garden. “…is of the Solanaceae but not of the genus Solanum.”

I left them to it. 

Back in the kitchen I wrung out a tea-towel until the tough, sustainable bamboo fabric ripped.  I remember seething at his arrogance and at my own stupidity in pledging another twenty-five years to him. It’s not even as if he knew what was in the kitchen. It was my domain and he was far too needy to come in there and actually fend for himself.


I brooded on it until early September, when Michael walked into my kitchen, an insufferable grin on his face. He placed a crate of vegetables onto the kitchen counter. 

“Home-grown potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines – Solanum tuberosum, Solanum lycopersicum, Solanum melongena!” he said triumphantly.

He never forgot those little humiliations. He was like the brambles growing in my wildlife garden. The big thorns were easy to deal with, but the little ones get right under your skin, smart like hell and are almost impossible to extract, even with a sharp needle.

He went off for a nap while I prepared the evening meal. 

Bless him, he was nothing if not predictable – I had seen him plant these vegetables after that quiz practice. I bet he’d been looking forward to presenting these nightshades to me for months. I’d been looking forward to that moment too.

I got on with preparing supper, carefully layering the potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines into individual dishes. I laid the table while it was baking and poured Michael an aperitif. He’d always been appreciative of my gin-making and was full of helpful ideas for what new flavours I could make. That night’s was a beautiful purple gin which I’d infused with blackberries, or, more accurately, black berries. 

When everything was perfect, I called him down to dinner.

“What’s the occasion?” he had asked.

“No occasion, just making the best of the lovely fresh produce you grew for me.”

He died a few hours later. 

They never really looked into his death. To be honest, death had become something of a relief to a society that had to support an ever-increasing population of old people. The average lifespan was just an average after all, and not everyone had the genes to make it to advanced old age. By the time the doctor arrived, Michael was lying peacefully in his bed, his closed eyes hiding his nightshade-dilated pupils. Fortunately, the doctor accepted that he had died quietly in his sleep. After all, we had just renewed our contract, it was inconceivable that I would murder my treasured husband.

There was a little flurry of sympathetic interest from the media. Journalists never let a harsh truth get in the way of a sentimental story. There were a few tragic features – photographs of us on our wedding day; our contract renewal day; then the last photograph. I was standing by Michael’s coffin, my expression hidden by the black silk veil that I’d chosen for the occasion.  How sad the caption said that Mrs Michael Lawton, always his name not mine, has been left alone when she’d hoped to spend her old age with the love of her life

A journalist spoke to me outside the crematorium.

“I speak for the nation, Mrs Lawton, when I wish you our deepest condolences. What will you do now?” 

“Well, my husband would never have wanted me to mope around grieving. His death has taught me that a long life is not guaranteed — I have to make the best of what time remains to me.”

I walked to my car, waving my daughters away in a show of overwhelming sorrow. I drove slowly along the crematorium’s landscaped drive, but once I was on the freeway, I opened the convertible’s roof and sped towards home, my widow’s veil fluttering merrily in the breeze. No blame, no arguments, 100% of the assets – time to move on.


Natalia is looking thoughtful when I return.

“You killed him!” she says.

“I did.” I reply calmly.

“Any regrets?”

“None whatsoever. He was a dreary old man who might well have ended up at a facility like this one. His death gave me a new purpose.”

“Running an end-of-life retreat?”

“Yes – offshore, legal and lucrative. I offer a valuable service – a beautiful death, not in some sterile hospital but in this luxurious resort. Can you think of anything better? To take time to relax, contemplate, then die peacefully in this tranquil place…” I gestured to the sun, sinking into the sea in a riot of pink and gold. “and at a time of your own choosing?”

“It’s perfect.” Natalia agrees and takes a deep breath. “I think it’s time.”

“Come into the bar – we’ll see you out in style.”

“It will be quick?”

“Yes, and painless.”

We walk across to the bar, which has the same spectacular view of the sunset. I nod to the bartender, who prepares two cocktails, lemon gin fizz with elderflower champagne. We aim to deliver exactly what the client has ordered – it is an important drink, after all.

“Harold, darling, it’s our last night here, I’ve asked the bar to prepare us something special.” Natalia waves to her husband, who grunts dismissively.

“Come on now, you’ve been drinking beer all day, have something a little special, just for me.”

Natalia holds out a glass to her husband, it’s garnished with a cherry; hers is garnished with a slice of pineapple – we have coached her on this vital difference.

She chinks his glass and says “Bottom’s up! I’ll race you! If you win, I’ll never ask you to drink a cocktail ever again!”

He gulps the drink greedily. I admire how skillfully she’s manipulated him.

Harold slumps, unconscious; he will die in a few minutes. My chemists and I have developed a range of perfect cocktails just for this purpose. My staff move in to certify the death and remove the body. Natalia has already completed the necessary paperwork.

The barman hands me a drink and I chink my glass with Natalia’s. There is an artful tear in her eye, but she brushes it away.

“So what’s next?” I ask her.

“This is a lovely place. I was thinking I might enroll in one of your retraining programmes.”

“You certainly have the credits.” I smile, and we chink our glasses again. “I’ll have a brochure delivered to your room in the morning.” 

These days some of us just live so damn long – isn’t that wonderful?

Bio: Alex Grehy’s (she/her) work has been published in a range of zines worldwide including Luna Station Quarterly, Aphotic Realm and The Sirens Call as well as anthologies published by Water Dragon Publishing and Red Penguin. Her essays on being a “Lady of Horror” have featured in the Horror Writers Association Newsletter and The Horror Tree blog. Her words are also available via a global network of prose & poetry dispensers run by French publisher Short Edition. . Her sweet life is filled with narrowboating, rescue greyhounds, singing and chocolate. She is recognised for her original view of the world, expressed in vivid prose and thought-provoking poetry. 

She can be found at her website. HERE

Read more Speculative Dystopian stories at The Yard: Crime Blog.

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Publishing Editor for The Yard: Crime Blog.

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