From the author: From the vault! Originally published in 2016, this story won 4th place in the flash fiction contest of the now-departed 404words.com.
“Hey, Jeff.” Saint Catherine’s hospice in Louisiana. He lies withered and liver-spotted, wheezing and balding. Thin wisps of hair knot together and hang loosely from his scalp. Laura squeezes my hand. “How’re you feeling?”
“Fantastic, all things considered.” His chest rattles as he breathes in. “You two are looking good.”
“Thanks. We’re thinking of doing a marathon this year.” I play it off as a joke but it’s true. We’ve started jogging every day for hours, our energy ramping up the fitter we get. We even bought a juicer. He smiles and closes his eyes for a bit. Moments pass and I clear my throat.
“I’m still here, you old man.” He smiles and opens his eyes again. “I wish we could go to a movie and get lunch and ice cream like old times.”
“I guess I’m not in as great a shape as I had hoped. You know a couple weeks ago I tried to get up and go somewhere.”
“Yeah. I got out in the hallway and snap!” Another rattling breath. “There went my hip. You know it didn’t really hurt as much as I thought it would.”
“Oh my god, Jeff!” He laughs and coughs up some phlegm. Laura wipes it up with a tissue from her purse.
“You have to be more careful, Jeff,” she says.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m just sick of this room.” He turns and stares out the open doorway. A nurse walks by and waves. “So what’s it been like back home?”
“Great,” says Laura. “We’ve got someone to look after the dogs. Moving away from the city was the best decision we’ve made in a while. They love the big fenced yard and we love the peace and quiet.”
“What do you do for groceries out there?”
“It’s not much different,” I say. “Safeway will even deliver all the way out to our place if we’re feeling lazy.”
“Grocery delivery. Back in my day getting groceries was a family affair.” He turns back to us and smiles at Laura. “Remember when I chugged all that lemonade on the way home from the store and then barfed it up?”
Laura laughs. “It was so hot that summer! You made the car smell like hell on wheels!” He wheezes out another laugh and slumps back down, eyes closed.
“Jeff, are you?” Silence. Then he nods.
“I’m ready, dad.”
This story originally appeared in 404words.