THE MORNING OF MY EIGHTH name day, I know things will never be the same again.
I heard them talk the other night in hushed voices. The fire in lamp was dancing and was casting grotesque shadows across my room’s floor and despite the pain inside of me, I heard them well. I heard the men in white with weird hoses with a metal at both ends speaking . . . in hushed voices, and yet I heard them well. I heard them say that whatever it is inside of me has progressed. I heard them say “barely a month.” I heard my mom cried. I heard my dad sighed. I heard the door open followed by silent footfalls that seemed the sound of a death march.
The morning of my eighth name day came and mom and dad was brimming down at me with smiles on their faces.
“Happy birthday, sweetheart.” My mom said as I opened my eyes and adjusted to the brightness.
“Brought you some presents, champ.” Dad said as he lowered some wrapped boxes on the chair next to me bed. “Four, to be exact.”
“One from me and dad,” mom assisted me as I sit myself up. “The others are from Marge, Ben and Grandma Kelly.” She said as she finish arranging the pillow at my back.
“Marge? Marge is here?” I asked. Marge is my sister. She works at some hospital in Enfield. Ben, on the other hand is my eldest brother. He works at a bank in here in London.
Dad responded, “She was. She came yesterday when you were still resting. She didn’t bother waking you up…”
“Where is she?” I interrupted. Grumpy.
“Honey, she had to leave. She has work.” Mom said as dad started with his cigar. Mom eyed him and dad put it out.
Sometimes I wonder what my name is. They call me differently every time.
“Anyway, happy birthday Stephen.” Mom kissed me on my cheek. Dad smiled and winked. I smiled.
When I’m not sleeping. I lay awake and read. I read a lot. I like reading. I like it when the pages in book take me to places I can’t be at. I like meeting people by reading their stories. I share their joy during Christmas Eve, I join them during Thanksgiving dinner, I play with them on the snow, I watch fireworks and wish them happy New Year; and I share their pains when someone dies.
But will they mourn when it’s my time to die, as well? Will these pages cry when I’m no longer around to read them?
Victoria will. She said she will.
She’s Frau Elena’s daughter. She’s the same age as I am. She brings me my meal at 9 o’clock. Then plays with me until half past nine then leaves to help Frau Elena in the kitchen.
“I will cry.” She once said. “But you will not die, so I will not cry.”
“All men must die.” I told her. Then she’s silent.
The following morning, the birds were singing on the branch of a tree near my window. And there’s a letter on my bedside table. I know it’s mine. My name’s written on it.
I read it once, then I read twice. Then I smiled.
I dreamed last night. In my dream, we were playing around the old oak tree at the garden where the swing hangs. You were chasing me, you were a wolf. I was red riding hood. But then we got tired. Then you said you want to be Peter Pan. I asked who is Peter Pan. Then you said the kid that never grows old. Then I said you should be Peter Pan because if you will not grow old, you will not die like my uncle Ben. From now on, I will call you Peter Pan.
I stowed the letter inside the drawer of my bedside table. I feel happy. I feel okay.
Victoria came later that day to bring my meal. She brought her book as well. She’s reading “How to Kill a Mocking Bird” for the third time.
“Don’t you get tired of that book?” I asked.
“Nope. Besides, it’s the only book I own.” She said. Grumpy.
“You can borrow from my shelf, if you like.” I offered, shyly. I don’t know why but I do.
“Perhaps tomorrow. I want to finish this first.”
“But you’re done with that already.”
“But I started again. That’s like reading it for the first time. So I need to finish it.” She said. Then she’s silent.
I’m reading The Little Prince, by the way.
She went out of the room half past nine like always. I glanced at her but the door was already closed. I went back to reading.
Frau Elena came in later that night with my medicine. I hated the taste of it. It has the color of strawberries but taste like goblin piss. Mom came in a little later just as when I started to refuse opening my mouth to drink the medicine.
Mom said I have to so that I’d be better. But it’s making me feel worst.
The following morning, another letter.
I heard you cry the other night. Your mom went rushing to your room to check you. You were ice cold and bathed in beads of sweat. I prayed to God to make you feel better. I was outside your door. Your dad saw me praying and he said thank you. I saw him bring something and made you drink it. I guess God answered my prayers.
Get well soon.
One afternoon, I asked Victoria why she sends me letters.
“Because I want you to remember that you have people wanting to make you happy every day and the best you can do is stay happy for them and live for them.” She said.
I smiled and continued reading my book. I want to live. For mom, dad, Marge and Ben. For Victoria. If I get better, we will play outside again around the old oak tree where the swing hangs.
Victoria continued to send letters and I continued to fight and live and smile.
One morning I dropped the glass of water. That morning I felt my lungs forgot how to breathe. Victoria rushed outside to get help. I kicked the sheets of my bed, grasping for air that never came. My vision was swimming in constant blur. Figures entered my room and I felt hands pressing my chest. I heard a man asking me to breathe. But I am starting to fall. Oblivion was coming.
I saw happy moments of my short childhood flashing right before me. Is this what it feels like to die? I feel happy seeing these. I closed my eyes. I did not resurface.