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Annie Robinson

Gray clouds, their edges glowing neon yellow, crawl before the sun, pushing against them, bursting forth. Clint glances away from the window, looks back at his brother lying on the hospital bed. Fluorescent lights are harsh against the darkening day. The brother's hair is matted to his forehead, even though the air conditioner is on high, and the room cool. Clint shivers as he wipes sweat from his brother's forehead and then runs an ice cube over his face. The brother moans, as a tear slides from the corner of his eye. Clint smiles. The sweet scent of apple pie wafts into the room.

"John, the sun's trying to come out, though it's really time for the moon," says Clint. "Your dinner should be here soon."

"I can't eat tonight," says John. "I'm starving, but I know I'll just throw it up."

"You know, you really have gotta eat," says Clint.

"Look at you, you're so thin and gaunt." Clint rubs his own stomach hanging over his jeans, and picks at his brunette and gray sideburns, a nervous habit he acquired as a teenager. His blue eyes become tinted with pink as tears struggle for release. He wishes he could kill the disease eating his brother's body.

The tray girl comes in and briskly sets John's dinner before him. "Enjoy," she says.

"How?" John asks, though she is already gone. "Rush, rush, rush, that's all anyone does around here. Why? They have many tomorrows! Why can't they slow down around us who don't? Why?" Clint's smile is hard and broken. "Life is quick," he says.

"You're telling me. And why is death so slow when it hurts so bad, when it is so inevitable?"

"Want to see what's on TV?" asks Clint. TV? TV? Talk to me, Clint. I'm scared. I'm scared of what lies ahead, after the end."

Keri is graduating from high school tomorrow. I'll come see you in the early evening, after her party."

"My little niece grew up so fast."

"And you know our cousin, Donna, is getting married next week."

"No, I didn't know. I never got an invitation. I guess she figured I couldn't make it," John snorts.
Clint clears his throat. "Her baby is due in two weeks, June 17th to be exact. I guess it would have been preferable to get married before giving birth, but often timing isn't what you want it to be."

"They give me till mid-June," John says.

"Hell, they don't know crap. Want me to bring you anything tomorrow?"

"Could you buy Keri a graduation gift from me, and something for the baby? Borrow it from your inheritance. Never mind about a wedding gift."

"Sure. Maybe you can give them their gifts themselves."

"How? They never come to see me. How come no one but you ever comes to see me? I guess I should have gotten married and had children so I wouldn't be so alone when I die."

"Want to see what's on TV?" Clint repeats.

"Yesterday I saw a psychic on a talk show," says John. "She talked about life after death. She says the soul is immortal."

"Keri's naming the baby, George. They already know it's a boy," says Clint. "Imagine knowing what something is before it's even born."

"That's a nice name. The psychic says the afterlife is beautiful. She hasn't been there yet, but her poweres, her gift, allows her to talk to those who have passed on. What do think happens?"

Clint snuffs hard and wipes his corned palms across his eyes and around his lips.

"Keri's going away to college in Vermont in September, That's 200 miles away. I'll miss her something awful. But at least she'll be home for holidays and summers."

"It's nice you'll still see her. I won't be back, you know, Clint."

"She's scared but excited too," says Clint. "Her childhood is over, but she's excited about what lies ahead."
"Clint! For Lord's sake, listen to me!"

"I am."

"No, no you're not. You never listen. Listen!"


John falls silent, watching Clint for several moments.

"What, what do you want to say? Just say it," says Clint, waving his arms.

"I just did," says John. Clint shakes his head. "I don't get you. You didn't say anything."

"That's what's about to become of me, Clint. You need to absorb this deep into your psyche. I will soon be gone, silenced and stilled, forever."

"I know. Stop talking like that."

"You say you know, but do you, really?"

"No denial here. I know. Look, I have to get home. Keri's graduating tomorrow and I need to get home and finish up a few yard things for the party."

John gathers his strength and reaches for Clint's shirt cuff. He tugs him lightly toward him. He coughs hard several times. Clint moves toward him, looking away.

"Look at me, Clint." Clint glances at him, then quickly looks down. His eyes are moist and red. He plays with his belt buckle.

"Give the new baby my blessings. I hope he has a long, healthy life. Thank God, what I have that's cutting my life so short is not hereditary. Look at me, Clint."

"What?" Clint looks at his brother, the sunken eyes, the pallor, the raspy breath. A living skeleton. He momentarily visualizes running from his brother's funeral to the hospital for the birth of his cousin's son. He leans over his brother and buries his face into his chest. He feels John's bones and hears his struggling breath. Clint feels his own sobs as he rubs his brother's back.

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