A writing prompt, suggested by the organizer of the writers group I recently joined: “Your protagonist turns 70. He has three weeks to live. What is the one thing he needs to do before he dies?”
Here’s what I did with it.
Lester and Buster
Buster woke him up as usual at 5:00 a.m., barking happily and trying to jump onto the bed. The little pug never gave up, even though he barely could jump as high as the box springs. And, as usual, Lester leaned over, grimacing a little, and lifted Buster up. All the while, Buster yipped happily and slobbered all over Lester’s fingers.
Lester really really wished his son would take Buster in three weeks time. Or however much longer he had. But no, Ricky couldn’t be bothered. Just like he couldn’t be bothered to call or visit his dear old dad, even though he was dying.
Fuck that doctor. Fuck this cancer. Fuck Ricky.
Grimacing again, causing his face to wrinkle even more deeply than his 70 years had etched on that fleshly roadmap, Lester struggled to his feet and nearly lost his balance stepping into his houseshoes. He put out a hand to the wall opposite the bed, near the window. Buster was cradled close to his body with his other arm.
Once balanced, Lester looked briefly out the window, gauging the day’s activities by what he saw. No snow had fallen, despite the gleeful forecast on last night’s 10:00 news. The predawn sky held very few clouds, white scatterings on a violet canvas. If this held up, the sun would warm the day up nicely, maybe even hit 45 degrees if he was lucky. That was by no means a record, but it was warm enough for Lester to get a few things done.
First of all, feed Buster. Thankfully, the bag was at this point only half full, so he no longer had to scoop the dry feed out. He lifted and tipped the bag over the bowl, while Buster waited patiently. And while Buster thrashed around in the food bowl, Lester refilled his water bowl, then set it down beside the oh-so-ravenous pug.
Three weeks was not a lot of time to accomplish much. Lester mentally crossed several things off his list as he fed Buster then attended to his morning toiletry. He nearly screamed at the pain from moving his bowels. At least he wouldn’t have to put up with that much longer.
Have to see the lawyer this morning. Louise should have all of the appropriate documents drawn up, most importantly the will. Won’t Ricky be surprised. Too bad he couldn’t just fake his death so he could somehow get a look at his son’s face while the will was read.
The morning shower got a little scary when Lester stood up from the shower chair to finish washing. He steadied himself by grabbing the bar he had installed last year, the same time he put in the shower chair and lowered the bathtub’s side. Concessions to age, he thought, as he examined the roadmap in the mirror, attempting to shave around the interstate interchanges without nicking himself. Investing in a magnifying mirror would have helped immensely, but Lester was only willing to concede so far.
No incidents getting dressed. He pulled on an old, worn pair of jeans and a cheap beige cardigan that had seen better days. He methodically packed a pair of bags for the trip, including toiletries, enough underwear for two weeks, and an envelope that rustled familiarly as he shoved it under a couple of shirts.
Ten thousand should last him just fine. He wrapped the revolver in an old T-shirt and placed it next to the money.
What are you doing, old man? What the hell do you think you’re doing? Lester scratched behind his right ear, as though he could rid himself of the voice.
I’m doing what I need to do, he answered silently. It’s the only thing left for me to do.
He padded through the house, locking windows, checking doors, turning off the water, turning off lights, flipping off the circuit breakers, turning off the gas to the stove, a couple dozen little tasks in preparation for his departure. Buster followed him, yapping happily, apparently sensing the trip to come. Again, Lester wished that Ricky would have accepted Buster into his home. It would have made the next two weeks a little easier. The pug didn’t travel well on long trips.
Lester sat down at the secretary desk tucked into a corner of the living room. He wrote a short note, pausing occasionally to keep his hand from cramping up. He folded it in half, wrote “RICKY” in block letters, and then placed the note on the end table next to his favorite chair. He walked back to the desk and closed the writing surface, running his hand along the edge. Real wood, a light pine, stained dark. He’d studied algebra and English at this desk. He piloted it through the solar system and beyond. He read many a Sherlock Holmes story with his feet propped up on this desk. It was a little weathered, a little battered, a little aged, just like him. But it had been repaired and refinished several times during its span of years, so it was still handsome, still sturdy, and still useful. Lester sighed and turned toward the coat closet near the front door.
He donned his winter coat, a surprisingly new black cloth outercoat padded against the elements. It still felt stiff on him, but at least it was warm. He put on his black fedora and his leather gloves. He went out to preheat the car, again cursing that he’d turned down the remote start when he bought the thing.
While the car heated, Lester slowly carried his bags to the trunk, one by one, shooing Buster away from the door each time. He moved slowly, the pain keeping him from doing too much at once. It took half an hour to load the car, and Lester made another face, this time over the wasted fuel. He made another trip to load up Buster’s things, then one last trip to load up Buster himself.
Then it was off to the lawyer’s office, a side trip to the last journey he would ever make. The most important journey of his entire life.