Either the fear of death is cumulative or I am braver than I thought. And though I had not even made it home before I got the good news, it was enough time to pick out two favorite hymns, a short list of eloquent speakers, and a charity in lieu of flowers. And I only came close to tears when I realized I would not survive to a time my service wouldn’t be on Zoom. Me, or a picture of me, stuck in the middle with everyone else not knowing where or how to look. Like Alice in a Brady Bunch wake.
But I was going to beat this thing. Smash it in the teeth. Punch it in the gut. Kick it in the butt. The comeback kid. The familiar sight on Main Street—that guy walking that dog, they would say—constant, steady. Regardless. Part of the army of early risers. The bread truck, street sweeper, paper guy with no muffler. Third-shift nurses from Regional stumbling like zombies into Leon’s for coffee and the morning special.
But I would walk on by—my refrigerator full of health. Vegetables. Fresh fruit, protein, nuts and whole grains. Things that take shape in a blender. (Do I have one of those? I think it’s in the same place as the air fryer.) And I would wear out every machine in the gym and gain eight pounds of muscle so that my “after” pictures would always amaze and my recipes for kiwi turmeric smoothies would spread like wildfire on Facebook.
But there’s that “spread” word. Which I’m sure it has. Or will. Which I accept. Knowingly. Gracefully. It’s the ten thousand things, I say cryptically. There doesn’t appear to be a significant Taoist community in Surry County, but I do have a meditation app with a 30-day course on “Managing the Pain of Terminal Illness,” which I complete bravely. With ease. With a smile, even. (Make a note she will need to cancel auto-renewal.)
Friends and relatives shave their heads in solidarity. We laugh at the way it grows back. Straight, black, curly, grey. Not at all in the case of Aunt Janet. I feel bad about that and ask her to be first on the starting line at the 5K fundraiser. A few people walk. Two girls cheat but still donate back the prize money. For the “Human Fund,” I laugh, then hear how they say I kept my sense of humor to the very end. Perspective.
Never been sure about the gravestone, though—it’s such a small space. How to be concise? Succinct. So permanent. Like a tweet. Maybe best to avoid the whole trips-to-the cemetery thing. There are ways. A few ashes here, some there. A way to be nowhere and everywhere at the same time. That’s what I want. To be spread.
That word again.
So that I sound truly grateful on the phone. I understand. Thank you. And yes, I will complete the survey.
Flash judge Tara Campbell writes: The sardonic humor is what gives this story its edge, complete with well-placed callbacks and a last line that stings.