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The International Writers Magazine
: Dying Young


"Your not going to die on me, are you Gramps?"
I tried not to sound worried; that wouldn’t do.

Brodie Parker

"Of course I’m going to die boy, I’m a hundred and seventeen years old. I can’t hold on forever, and I don’t want to anyway." He let out a string of weak coughs and wheezes. His wrinkled hand touched a white cloth to his lips. It came away smeared with bright red blood spots. "This body’s been good to me, but I’ve got about all the use out of it that I’m going to get. It wore out before my brain did; I’ll have to file a complaint with the home office." He was right about that. The old fart was still as sharp as ever. That just made it harder for me to see him go.
"It should be raining." I said. "The weather isn’t right."
It was midday, and there were no clouds.
"Yeah, you’re right. I always thought it would be raining when I died. Close the blinds please. Thank you. Now sit down over here, and stop looking so damn sad. I’ve had one hundred seventeen years, and a lot of them weren’t too bad. That’s more than enough for anyone, besides I’m tired of looking at you; you look too much like your mother."
"I don’t look anything like Ma, Gramps."
"Don’t contradict me boy, I’m dying here. Now listen close, because I’ve lived a long time, longer than most people live these days, and I need it to count for something. Do you know what today is?"
I thought for a while, but couldn’t come up with anything.
"Today is the one hundred year anniversary of the first time I made love to a woman. I tell you now, the only regret I have is that I didn’t start sooner. There is nothing in this life more valuable than the love of a good woman. Remember I said that boy; there are a lot of things I could tell you, but that’s the first, because it’s the most important. Don’t spend any more time alone than you absolutely need to."
"Ok. I’ll remember Gramps." Gramps had outlived three wives, each younger than the last. I hoped that his stamina was genetic.
"When I was the age you are now," he continued after a short fit of coughing "the world was a very different place. I’ve seen two world wars, and damn near three. I saw people shot into space after years of hearing how impossible the idea was. I lived to see an animal cloned, and human genetic research developed at an impossible rate. Understand, boy, that there are things that exist now that were known to be impossible when I was born. Even as we speak, there are remotely controlled machines creeping across the surface of Mars. Mars, for the love of God!" He was too excited. He coughed for a long time, and I rushed to get him some water.
"Take it easy Gramps. I think I get the picture."
"Yes. I suppose you do. You’ve been listening to it for long enough. That’s all right; you’ll only have to hear it once more. I’m running out of time, so I’ll get to the point. All the things you see, you can know about; someone, somewhere has written it all down. All you have to do is look it up, and looking up information gets easier every day. You can have my books. They’re in storage downtown, and the nurse has an envelope with the key and some other things for you. Take care of them and they’ll take care of you."

He coughed some more and took a moment to catch his breath. "Thanks Gramps. I’ll take care of them."
He nodded and wiped the cloth across his mouth again. "I haven’t left much of a mark on this world, except for you. You’re all that’s left to remind the world that I passed through. I’ve tried to teach you all that you need to know, and I know you’re a smart kid. All that I ask is that you set yourself apart from all the unthinking fools that surround us. All the hapless sheep who would rather be lead than be responsible for themselves will only slow you down or hate and kill you. You know how to think, that’s the biggest advantage you have over them. You may find one in five thousand or so who can relate to you, but the rest will despise you for telling them things they don’t want to hear, and showing them things they don’t want to see.
" You can’t hate them back, because we are them. We just had someone to teach us how to think, but we can’t make them think, and there are only so many who can even be taught to think. Far too many of them will believe anything that they’re told as long they don’t have to try too hard to understand it. That’s one of the reasons religion is such big business, even today. We live in an age of miracles boy; we are surrounded by them. It’s oh so easy to take them on faith, but I tried to teach you better than that. Their secrets can be your secrets, if you want them. There are only two sins that I have known of in all my days. The first is the unnecessary harm of another. The second, is to take the miracles for granted."
He was getting weaker. His breath was more shallow and labored.
"Ok Gramps. Ok, I understand." I took the cloth from him and wiped the droplets of blood from his lips.
"One last thing boy." The words came slowly, and I had to lean close to hear them. "Measure…your days in love…because…at then end…of your days…that’s all that counts."
His eyes were already closed, and his breath stopped. One final exhalation of life, and he was somewhere else. Someplace where he didn’t need his body anymore. I covered him with a sheet, and closed the door behind me.

After the nurse gave me the things he left for me, I set out to make my life worth something that could be measured in love.

© Brodie Parker April 2004

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