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Part 10: Why the Willow Weeps
by Jonathan Shute

The flashing trauma lights in the corridor of the hospital always reminded Janice of the blue light specials at K-mart. "Attention K-mart shoppers, there will be a vacant bed on aisle 4 in just a few minutes." She triggered the alert herself, as she had done for a dozen other dying patients, but this case was considerably more difficult. Janice didn't know why she loved the old man but she loved him and though she'd always known that he wasn't long for this world, she was not prepared for his passing.

The alarm on Fred's oxygen tent disrupted Janice's sleep at 4:30 a.m. and he died a few moments later. There wasn't any time for last minute heroics by the code blue team or a long tearful goodbye for his favorite nurse. He came out of the opiate haze just as the squawking respirator was signaling his last irregular breaths and spoke to his devoted attendant in a hoarse, dying man's rasp.

"Jason says hello."

"Who's Jason you old nut? Lie still until we stop all the sirens."

Janice wrestled with the thatch of tubes that connected the respirator to the oxygen tent through an onslaught of tears and hit the code blue button with a wild swing of her elbow.  She was angry that she had allowed herself to love a dying man and she was angry with him for not dying a year ago when he was supposed to.

"Your brother Jason, silly girl."

She grew faint at the mention of her brother's name. The bundle of tubes fell from her hand as she grabbed the bed railing to steady herself. Fred's last whispers in this world were so breathy and hoarse that Janice had to lean over him and position her ear an inch or two from his mouth in order to hear them; her tears cascading onto the dying man's cheek.

"He told me why the willow weeps."

Janice never told Fred that she had a brother, much less mention his name. The old man couldn't have known about the willow tree in their front yard that loomed over her brother's broken body more than twenty-five years before. The day Jason fell from that tree, the last day of his life, he whispered to Janice about the willow tree just as Fred was doing now. As her brother lay dying in the yard that day she was too grief stricken to pay attention to what he was trying to tell her. This time she didn't miss a syllable.

"It has to keep a happy secret, so it weeps."

"What's the secret, Fred? What did Jason tell you?"

The life support mechanism next to the bed sprang to life with flashing red lights and warning buzzers. The commotion of the machine would have obscured Fred's final utterance completely had Janice's ear been more than an inch or two from his mouth. He exhaled his last breath in the form of a barely audible sentence, which fell on her ear as a warm breeze before death's cold calm.

"The willow knows the cure for cancer."

To be continued in March...  

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