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Breath & Shadow

Winter 2016 - Vol. 13, Issue 1

"Time Well Spent"

written by

Emily Dorffer

Alan pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and dabbed at the blood at the corner of Amanda’s mouth. She whispered an apology before lapsing into another coughing fit. Only the black clock in the otherwise completely white hospital room watched them. Seconds marched past, each tick ringing in Alan’s ears like a funeral toll.


His gaze rested on to the life counter on Amanda’s wrist. 25 years, 4 months, and 15 minutes. She was supposed to have more than two decades ahead of her still. A few more years weren’t out of the question either, especially if she got another promotion. At least, that was how most people’s lives worked these days. They lived out the time they earned, typically around 70 years, before the counter signaled the brain to shut down.


Amanda wiped at the blood and tears on Alan’s face. She gave his hand a squeeze.


“I’m not dead yet, you know. It’s going to take a little more than smoke to do me in. Imagine that, death by fumes. If those Marlboros do end up killing me, feel free to write ‘lost a fight to gas’ on my tombstone.”


Laughter rattled out of her, shaking her so hard that she trembled like a spider web in the wind.


Shaking his head, Alan walked over to the curtains.


“If we’re going to lighten the mood, we might as well let Mother Nature do her share of the work.”


Alan opened the curtains. Golden rays of afternoon light flooded the room, pouring over the wires, tubes, and beeping monitors surrounding Amanda. She closed her eyes as sunlight washed over her face. Alan returned to her side, allowing himself to smile.


“I haven’t felt sunlight this warm since we went to Hawaii.”


Amanda nodded. Neither of them had travelled out of Illinois in years.


“Hope was just starting college that year wasn’t she?”


Her eyes clouded over as her hands gripped the blankets. She tightened her grasp into fists until blue streaks threatened to pop out.


“That trip cost each of us a year and a half. But it was worth it.”


She relaxed her hands, releasing the crumbled sheets. She sniffed.


“She was probably right: she was too good for us. At least, she was more than I deserved. I just wish I could see her again.”


They embraced in silence. Amanda’s eyes drooped before she yawned. Alan helped her ease back onto her pillow and kissed on her forehead.


“I’ll be back tomorrow, honey.”


He took a package out of his backpack and placed it next to Amanda’s bed. Amanda raised her eyebrows as the box’s contents slid around audibly.


“No peeking until I come back. I want to be here when you open it.”


She pouted, sticking out her lip.


“We can’t open it now? It’ll only take a minute.”


She inched a hand towards the box. Alan guided it back to her side. He waved a finger at her.


“Don’t even think about it. I want you to be fully rested for this.”


He pushed the box until it was just out of her reach.


“Besides, that will make a good reward after all of the testing the doctors have lined up. I’ll be here at 5:30 on the dot, the same as usual. We’ll open it together then. Okay?”


She blew out a puff of air.


“Oh, okay. I guess I can wait. One day isn’t that long.” She stifled a yawn.


“See you tomorrow, Alan,” she said as she drifted off.


She was snoring within seconds. Alan slipped out of the room after closing the curtains, shrouding the room in darkness.


Amanda’s doctor met him at the end of a hallway covered wall to wall with pastel paintings of smiling people, clutching a clipboard to his chest. His eyes lingered on Alan’s wrist.


“Have you considered your alternatives, Mr. Grayson? We’re beginning to run out of treatment options.”


Alan sighed and rubbed his temples. He squeezed his eyes shut to block out the bright colors assaulting him from every angle.


“I have. How much did you say the radiation therapy would cost again?”


The doctor took a step back, pressing himself against the image of a happy couple strolling along a shoreline.


“That’s going to be very expensive, Mr. Grayson. Are you sure you’re willing to pay for something that might not work?”


A series of hacking coughs echoed down the hallway. How could they not know his answer?


“I would do anything to save my wife, Doctor. Now tell me, how much time will this cost?”


Alan’s foot tapped away on the linoleum floor, the only sound in the hallway once the coughing ceased. He had wasted enough time on their other ideas already. This was his last chance, his family’s last chance.


The doctor gulped. He fingered his own life counter. 40 years. Wealthy son of a bitch.


“Well, we can give her up to 40 treatments. If that doesn’t cure her, nothing can. Each of those will cost 6 months.”


He squirmed under Alan’s glare.


“Like I said, it’s pricey. If you’d like, you could split the cost between people. Surely Mrs. Grayson has other loved ones who could help you cover it.”


“No, I’m covering all of it. Bring me a pen. We’ve got some paperwork to fill.”


The doctor stuttered, babbling about the insanity of lowering the life counter so much.


“Pen. Now.”


He bolted, nearly colliding with a nurse wheeling a dinner cart. Alan rolled his eyes. Doctors. That package would make everything worth it though. Hopefully he could earn enough time to buy both him and Amanda tickets to California before Hope changed her mind. He might not have much time left after that trip, but every second spent with his daughter would be priceless.

Emily Dorffer is a poet and fiction writer who has cerebral palsy. She is currently a sophomore at Johns Hopkins University. When not at Hopkins, Emily lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her parents and her cat, Reyna.

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