Chuck Wendig Challenge: Non-Fiction Short Story

This was due two days ago, but here it is. It’s loosely based on my grandmother’s passing this summer and I hope you guys enjoy it!

——

Funerals

            The morning was oddly chilly even though the sky was cloudless and the Sun was bright. Walking across the parking lot and across the lobby, my Dad and I went into the elevator. There was a wall of silence between us that I was sure I could feel if I waved my hands in the air. We had received news from my mother the day before that my grandmother had been in pain throughout all of the night. I wished that suffering upon no one, except the cancer itself. One of her lungs had collapsed and she was receiving chemotherapy even through all of her pain. It was a sorry sight, her frail body with needles sticking out of her arms.

We had reached the hallway towards her room and I could see my little cousin sitting at the end in front of her room. My heart ached at the thought of Al. He had lost his father about six months before, and now he had to face this. He was such a good kid, a boy of 14 with the heart of a generous 9 year old. And yet, life backhanded him so mercilessly.

“Hey…” Al said as he stood up to greet us. We stood there in silence.

“How is she?” my Dad asked.

“Not that good, Aunt Illian said she was moaning all through the night,” Al said, Illian is my Mom, “She’s having trouble breathing, too.”

My Dad and I went into the room with Al following behind. My Mom was over my grandmother as she looked up. She smiled at us and went to hug us.

“Hi, Mom… Any news?” I asked.

“No… She’s the same as yesterday. They talked about resuming the chemo, but giving her chemo now would be killing her.”

I agreed and still agree. Chemo is very expensive poison, basically, and if I had to choose between living my last few days dehydrating in a futon or dehydrating in a futon with hair loss and poison in my veins that costs about a hundred thousand dollars, I’d like to choose the one with least financial repercussions.

“What are they giving her?” Dad asked pointing at the IV bag hanging next to my grandmother’s bed.

“It’s to nourish her… Her pulse is slow, but it’s because of the anesthesia.” My mom’s mouth started to quiver and I knew she was about to cry.

I looked down at my Grandma. Frail, weak and thin… Yes, this is what life eventually leads up to. Before I asked myself the question, I already knew the answer. I knew and I know it still. We all know it. Maybe life after death isn’t certain, but death after life is one of the surest things in this fucked up world. My dad put his arms around my mom and put her head on his shoulders as she cried silently.

I walked outside and Al joined me. We sat down next to the room’s door. After a long moment of silence, he spoke.

“Granny can’t die, you know?” Al said in a shaky voice without looking at me, “She’s… She’s been taking care of me ever since I can remember. If she goes…” He gave a nervous chuckle and shook his head. I am not good with words and I am not good dealing with emotions, so to avoid any stupid thing to say, I thought about my elaborate response.

“Yeah… I don’t want her to go, either.”  It was all I could manage. My thoughts were a million, but my words were too few. If I spoke everything I was thinking at the time, I would’ve been called a blasphemer and a heartless asshole, but they were my thoughts. I cleared my throat.

“Remember when we used to fill up the pool in Grandma’s garage?” I asked Al. He smiled, still not looking at me.

“Yeah…” He knew where I was going.

“And remember when we used to dare each other to see who could run farthest from the pool in our underwear?” I continued, “And one time Grandma’s neighbor came up…”

“Yeah, and you almost ran into her,” He was laughing now, “She screamed and got us in trouble!”

We were laughing too loud, nervous laughter that was built up inside of us. I hadn’t cracked a smile since I had woken up that morning and it felt great. I don’t know why I remembered those specific memories then, but I feel like our minds always find happiness in the weirdest things. It was odd that right in the room next to us our Grandma was dying and there we were, laughing at our half-naked past selves. A nurse walked up towards the door and greeted us. Then she went into Grandma’s room. Our laugh was wavering.

“Oh, man… Those summers were the best.” I said. Al nodded, still smiling. A long silence again. “She used to buy us any junk food we wanted…”

“Then she got mad because we wouldn’t eat any of it… Remember when—”

The nurse walked out the door in what seemed like a hurry. We looked after her going down the hallway and then my Dad was over us. His face was grim.

“Dad, what—” I started.

“Grandma… She’s… gone.”

I didn’t see it, but immediately I could feel Al’s reaction coming. It felt hot against my cheek, as if his impending burst of tears sent a heat wave my way. It was weird; I felt this hot pain against my chest and throat, but I also felt relieved. I felt guilty feeling relieved, but what’s the point of living your last moments on this crappy Earth with hot radiation pulsing through your veins? I couldn’t even imagine going through it myself. I could hear my mom crying from the room.

“What…” I began to ask.

“She was… gone hours ago, but your mom thought it was the anesthesia slowing her pulse…” He frowned and sat down next to a crying Al, his arm around him.

And in the next few days, I knew what would come. Sweet words of comfort about how she was in the arms of Jesus and God and how much happier and younger she was up there in Heaven. They’re words of comfort, sure… But where’s the comfort in something that you can’t quite see? If the magic goes away when we stop believing in Santa Claus, why do people expect the magic to stay still in every other aspect of your life? Or maybe the magic doesn’t go away, but we just choose to stop acknowledging it. I can’t explain well what’s on my mind, just as I can’t explain why we were even born on this Earth or why we die… Things clear away and eventually we realize someday we’re gonna bite the dust. I can’t change that. History repeats itself, and death is history.

But… Why had I laughed a few moments ago, then? If in the back of my mind, in my heart of hearts, I know everything ends, why do I smile? Maybe it’s that curiosity of why I even laugh in such a crazy place like Earth in the first place that’s keeping me sane. I may be choking back tears now, but I know that I’ll be laughing at some stupid thing the next morning, or hell, that same afternoon. Happy that I can feel the cool bed sheets in the morning… Happy that I can talk to Al about being in our underwear.

So I started to cry… Not because Grandma was gone, but because I got to be happy with her. I couldn’t tell you if I was crying from joy or sadness or both… But I could tell you I was crying. My heart floated in my body, and as I cried I couldn’t help but laugh, too. I looked like a goddamn lunatic, sitting curled up in a hospital hallway like a mental patient. I cried and cried and it felt great. If Grandma’s up there in Heaven, I hope she remembers those summers, too.

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