“I rolled up my pants for nothing!” you say, stepping back as waves rush your thighs. I grab your hand; your fingers tighten as the earth slips under our feet. The horizon blends into space like we can walk right out to the stars. “I can never remember,” you say. “Do we live on the Pacific or the Atlantic?” Before I can laugh, you point at the pier and say,“It looks like an ocean liner.” It does, all lit up like that, angling away into the dark, neon Ferris Wheel turning on the prow. I can’t hear roller coaster or crowds or music. Just your voice and the waves…
The warmth of a hand wakes me. “All done.”
I open my eyes and see Nia’s abiding face. She’s as black as I’m white, as young as I’m old. She removes the IV, and that small pain brings me all the way back, from what I don’t know anymore—memory, dream, preview, time travel?
I look at the others: two men and an old Japanese woman, huddled in big chemo chairs like soldiers in foxholes. My beloved strangers. I try not to think of our son on his way to pick me up, or the lawyer’s office. You would have hated that steel and glass building.
“Snorin’ again,” Don says. His jaw goes slack and he fake-snores. With his bald head, he
looks like an enormous toddler out of a Far Side cartoon. He took it in the prostate at 47. When I broke down last week, tears leaking out of my stubborn eyes, Don started talking about himself, turning his life into a stand-up confession. By the time he got to his divorce, we were both laughing. Then I told him all about you, and how everyone expected me to go first. “Life,” he said, like a punchline.
Nia tapes a patch of gauze to my arm. I wait for her eyes to lift. Her eyes stop time. Being seen is the only immortality I know anymore. It’s not in any of the pamphlets or FAQs, but being seen less, turning invisible while you’re still here, that’s the hardest part. You used to see me every day. Death felt like such a long shot back then.
“Same time next week?” I say.
Nia presses my shoulder. “It’s a date.”
Midori points to a row of small paper bags. “Don’t forget your imagawayaki.” She must have stopped by Little Tokyo again. She knows I love the round bean cakes. To me, they’re as good as fat communion wafers. Her oncologist can’t prove it, but he’s convinced her cancer is second-generation Hiroshima finally catching up with her.
I stand to go. The new guy, too young to be here, taps a button on the sound machine and the ocean softens to a river. I nod So long. He nods See ya. I give Don the finger and take a bag of bean cakes. He laughs as the doors fold open.
It’s only a couple of hallways but feels like a long walk back to the world. Our son will be parked at the curb, ready to ferry me to the lawyer so I can sign the living trust. I know it’s necessary, but I’m not ready to make my disappearance legal. Since you passed, our son treats me like a client. He wrote “Dad” on a yellow sticky note and just moves it around in his planner, you believe that?
The doors slide apart. I step into soft rain. Layers of cloud curl over me like waves. As my eyes come down from the sky, I see our granddaughters running across the lot. Not our son. Not that ride. Water adorns their hair. They grin at the surprise on my face.
“We’re kidnapping you,” says one, stopping the clock.
“Where do you want to go?” says the other, taking my arm.
The parking lot is full. We walk to the back, not minding the rain. They’re the only ones I talk to anymore, as if love skips a generation. We duck down in our seats when a black BMV glides past, then we drive away.
Mountains meld into the sky, and just like that, I have all the time in the world.
Charles Duffie is a writer and designer working in the Los Angeles area. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Role Reboot, The Mas Tequila Review, Swimming with Elephants, Third Street Writers, Meat for Tea, and American Fiction by New Rivers Press.