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March 26, 2038, 3:55 p.m.
13 Years, 253 Days Ago
Paul didn’t exactly know what to expect, but it wasn’t a recliner. They were in an enormous room full of identical cubicles. Each of those had a recliner, bookshelf, and television, which was mounted on the wall and positioned perfectly in front of whoever was seated on the recliner.
For some reason, the IV pole felt like the center of everything. No amount of buttons or books or TV background noise was enough to erase the presence of that slender metal stand positioned on the white tile floor next to the recliner, where his mother sat.
She offered him a mischievous grin. “This might be the nicest chair I’ve ever sat in.”
Paul offered a smile that didn’t have any humor in it. “Want me to buy you one?”
She shook her head, but her smile remained. “It’s not your job to buy me things.”
“Why not?” Paul wanted to keep things light, so he let his sarcasm loose. “I could remodel the living room just like this.”
She looked over at the IV pole.
“I’ll leave that part out,” Paul whispered.
That earned him a melodious laugh that caused a few people in other areas to glare over at them. Paul didn’t care; it was the first laugh he’d heard in three weeks.
Paul actually liked this specific cubical. While it was identical to every other section of the treatment room, it was tucked in the middle, making them unable to see either entrance at the front and rear of the room. Almost they could believe that they were in the strangest movie theatre ever. If only that stupid pole weren’t standing in the middle of it all. It felt like a pole, awaiting the rising of its flag to declare that this was not a comfortable lounge area. It was a treatment room, where, at any moment, someone would come by and hang that poison-filled flag up and let it flow into his mother. At least medical terms didn’t dress it up the way hospital rooms did. They called this a treatment center. But the term chemotherapy was quite clear. They were going to flood his mother’s body with chemicals in the hope that it would shrink the brain tumor down.
His mother pulled up her PID and activated her reading app. There was no need for him to try and figure out what she was reading. While she’d read a lot in her life, she’d lost interest in any other book.
“Did you want to watch something?” She pointed at the TV.
Paul shook his head. “I’m just here to be with you.”
She gave him a warm smile and set her hand on his arm. “You’ve been wonderful. I’m grateful for all the people who’ve helped.”
That much was a relief. Paul had worried he’d have to do everything, but if someone from her church didn’t stop by once a day to see if she needed anything at all, they showed up every other day. And they always brought food. Paul wasn’t the worst cook in the world, but he’d hardly needed to operate a microwave with all the stuff people delivered or just left on the porch.
“It’s pretty great how people are helping you,” Paul admitted.
She smiled at him again, avoiding an obvious opportunity to talk about God. Paul appreciated that, and she probably knew it.
They didn’t make her change into a hospital gown. That was another small kindness. She wore a blue sun dress that ran from the middle of her calves to a pair of straps that wrapped around her shoulders like a necklace.
Paul wore a simple T-shirt and jeans. He pulled a note-pad and pencil of of his back pocket and started scribbling. He’d had time to think, and he’d come up with a few ideas to present to his boss, who said he could work from there so long as he delivered.
The pencil and paper were antiquated systems, but Paul liked having the ability to just jot down ideas. If anything of note really caught his imagination, he’d transfer the notes to his PID for further review. For the moment, he was just trying to find anything to focus on instead of that stupid pole.
The word caused both Paul and his mother to jump. A young man who didn’t look old enough to drive, let alone operate medical equipment, stood at the entrance to the cube. The boy, there was no way he was 21, wore a lab coat, and it looked like he was just dressed for Halloween.
“How old are you?” Paul asked.
His mom lightly swatted his arm. “Paul!”
The boy laughed. “I’m actually 32.” He shrugged. “I think the fact that I’m short and skinny fools people.”
“32.” Paul couldn’t hide his skepticism.
The kid offered another shrug. “You wouldn’t be the first person I’ve had to show my driver’s license to.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Paul’s mother said. “We’re ready.”
The man, Paul really did want to see that ID, got started setting up the bags. “My name’s Derek.” He hung up one bag. “I’m a physician’s assistant. I’ll be helping you out while you’re here.”
“You’re assigned to my mom?” Paul asked.
Derek nodded. “I’m on the team, and you can expect me to run this part for you guys.” He had hung another three bags by the time he’d finished speaking. “There’s not much to it, honestly. We deliver the treatment intravenously,” he looked at Paul’s mother and smiled. “So all you have to do is sit back and relax.”
Paul felt a strange relief. It wasn’t that Derek did anything special with the bags or even the IV he inserted into Mary’s arm. But the way Paul’s mother smiled at Derek made Paul feel better for some reason. It was like she saw some young man she’d just decided to adopt right there.
As he watched the man set up the treatment, he codlin’t blame his mother. The guy’s shaggy brown hair and thin facial features just made it hard to see anything but a boy.