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Part 8: Why the Willow Weeps
by Jonathan Shute

Fred remained happily sedated throughout the painful ordeal of the full body X-ray procedure. He awoke twelve hours later to a torrent of pain that was grand even 
by his own high standards. As he reached for the magic red morphine button that had been attached to the bed rail near his right hand he discovered it absent. The 
effort elicited a tidal wave of agony and he managed to summon a weak scream before falling again into merciful unconsciousness.

Janice had just arrived at the nurse's station when she heard the little scream from 208. She ran down the corridor to Fred's room and found him sleeping like a baby
with his dislocated right arm pulled from its sling and a pathetic expression frozen on his face. She gently replaced the elastic support around his shoulder and he 
stirred awake as she did so.

"The button's gone, Janie! The button's gone!"

"Calm down Fred, we've moved the button near your left arm since you've all but ruined the right one. I hit it twice just now so go easy on it."

She guided his left hand to the device and he clicked it three times in rapid succession.

"You call that goin' easy, old man? You keep clicking that thing like Dorothy clicks her heels and you're gonna wake up on the other side of the rainbow"

"You promise, Janie?"

The warm comfort flowed through his veins like hot chocolate and the magic button calmed his mind immediately. This nurse was kind and he had taken a shine to her right off.  He misread her nametag upon their first introduction and called her "Janie." When she corrected him and said that her name was Janice he told her that he liked Janie better if it was just the same to her. She laughed and told him that she'd been called worse. Fred called her Janie from that day forward.

Fred had trouble holding a book and turning the pages by himself so Janie started reading to him. Most of the time he'd drift off to sleep after a page or two and  
awake some time later to find her still sitting in that ridiculous wheelchair, reading aloud to nobody. She would alter her inflection and tone for the different voices in
the story in such an animated performance that he felt a little guilty for nodding off. Janie reminded him of the kid in the willow tree who never seemed in a hurry to
go anywhere, content to keep his company alone. If Fred didn't know better he'd have sworn that sweet young thing had a crush on him.

"You've gotta find a fella your own age, Janie, I'm no good for you."

"Aw, Fred, you know you're the only man in my life. It breaks my heart that you'd climb out a second story window to be rid of me."

Fred would have been heartbroken had he known just how close to the truth it was. Janie was smart and attractive by any measure. By all rights she should have
spent her evenings breaking handsome doctor's hearts, not mollycoddling an old man with one foot in the grave. The morphine was taking him away from her now and he spoke to her across the foggy expanse.

"I wasn't going to climb out the window, Janie..."

And then he spoke from somewhere between his two worlds.

"I was tossing the stick for that hound and the window broke...and...and..."

As he drifted off, his face took on a pleasant expression that provoked one of Janice's rare smiles and a tear drifted down her cheek.

Janice spent the rest of her shift at Fred's bedside, watching him sleep and thinking about cancer and death. Fred hadn't broken any of his fragile bones in the fall but 
the doctors in radiology agreed that he wasn't long for this world. The ravaged cells ran rampant throughout his body now, nearly every bone and each internal organ 
showed evidence of the malignancy. When the orderlies brought him back to his room on the gurney, one of them pulled Janice aside and said that he'd been told Fred would be lucky to last the night. 


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