It was 7:00 a.m. the next day, and yet Steve had only clocked two hours of sleep since the crew from King TV came. He wasn’t even able to recall what he had dreamt about, if anything, during those two hours. He turned to the heart-shaped box Rochelle had given him on his nightstand, and opened it. Steve picked out a breadfruit-flavored chocolate, and put it in his mouth. Then he chewed it with his eyes closed. Steve had figured out that when he closed his eyes he was able to enjoy food more. Now Steve wanted to savor every moment of the eating of his box of chocolates. He might not taste chocolate again.
Zoe pranced in, right on time. “Hi, Steve, how ya doing this morning?”
“I’m fine”, said Steve, but really he was not. Zoe knew from the look on his face that belied his “I’m fine” that Steve was pained.
“Can I get you anything for breakfast?”
“How about a strawberry-filled doughnut and some pomegranate juice?”
“Sure!”, Zoe said. She smiled as she spoke the word.
Soon Zoe was back with Steve’s breakfast. Steve took his doughnut, and made a small bite into the perimeter of it. He then sucked out some strawberry filling. Next, he lifted up the cup of pomegranate juice and took his first sip. The juice cooled Steve’s body. He ventured for another bite of the strawberry-filled doughnut, and then drank more pomegranate juice. Steve alternated like this through the course of his breakfast, until he was done.
Steve decided that he would like some vitamin D. He put his green-and-blue-striped polo on and asked the staff to wheel him to the courtyard. Andrew wheeled out a wheelchair for Steve, but when Steve tried to get into it, his left leg fell asleep. Finally, Steve was able to propel himself into the wheelchair through use of his arms.
Steve saw the beautiful hospital courtyard: alabaster walls and a black Spanish gate. A pair of juncos swallowed seeds in the bird feeder.
“Hi!”, said a voice that Steve heard.
Steve turned to see an elderly woman, also in her wheelchair. She had curly grey hair that she had rinsed a powdery light blue, and hazel eyes. Her face was wrinkled up and her head appeared unable to stand straight up. She wore a beige balmacaan over a white blouse and floral capris. She wore two pearl earrings and a pearl necklace.
“Hi”, Steve said.
“It’s beautiful air we’re having out here”, the woman said.
To breathe this outdoor air of Earth that Steve might never breathe again! “You’re right”, said Steve, “It is!”
“Have you ever seen a gate so pretty?”
Steve looked over at the Spanish gate again. This time Steve noticed its curvy form. Steve marveled at the woman’s spirit. This woman may have been sick and very old, but she knew how to appreciate the beauty of things around her.
“And if you look, you can even see those mountains in the distance”, said the woman.
“Hi, I’m Stephan Bruise”, said Steve.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Joyce Levine.”
“Do you like music?”, asked Steve, hoping the two could bond over music.
“Oh, yes! I like Elvis and Little Richard and Buddy Holly and Bill Haley and the Comets.”
“Then you must have grown up in the fifties!”
“Yes, I did. And you know, it was a different time back then. Boys didn’t date boys, drugs were illegal, people were regularly kicked out of stores for being too loud or just because of the color of their skin.”
“Well, I like music from today. I was listening to the Shrine Kneelers yesterday. Even got a Shrine Kneelers T-shirt.”
“Oh, you like that music like Bleach and Sulfur Pie!”
Steve’s face lightened up. This woman must be awfully hip to know who Bleach and Sulfur Pie were. “Actually, Sulfur Pie are more my friend Adrian’s band. My friend Richie likes Bleach.”
“Kids these days – they’re listening to grank. I don’t like that stuff myself.”
“Well, we also have kuro and rap and ethnic music and good old rock and pop.”
“You’re so young; you’re full of life”, observed Joyce. “How old are you?”
“Steve, let me tell you something. I’m 93 years old, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that you’ve got to keep living; strive through every moment. I may be ill, but I’m living it out every day. At the beginning of every morning, I tell myself, ‘OK, I’m going to live through this day, I’m going to make it out alive’. And then I do it.”
As Joyce spoke, Steve noticed something in her mouth. She had fillings. A lot of fillings. And they were all made out of a gold that coruscated like diamonds. It wasn’t often Steve really got to look at fillings. Whenever Steve got a cavity, he could just get an enamel shot and in a matter of months, his tooth would be as good as new. But this woman, her face – and her mouth – were a map of the world.
“Maybe I should try that”, said Steve. “I’ve got DZD.”
“What’s that stand for?”, asked Joyce.
“Oh, I haven’t heard of that.”
“It’s fatal. Everyone who’s gotten it has eventually . . . gone on.”
“Just tell yourself at the beginning of every morning that you’re going to survive the day. Say that to yourself, no matter how unwell you feel. And you’ll be able to make it!”
“Thanks, Joyce.” At first, Steve said that just to be polite, but then he thought of the gravitas of those words. Could willpower really outwit death? It was something for him to try out.
“I’ve got to live, because I’ve got a family”, said Joyce, punching her hand out to demonstrate that she was making a point. “My son David and my daughter Heather, I’ve got five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren! I saw my great-granddaughter Madison when she visited the other day, and she’s already growing up – she brought over a picture she made at school. With shell pasta.”
Some shell pasta would be delicious for Steve right now. For several days, he had been eating doughnuts and granola and danishes, accompanied by juice. How about a nice lasagna? He could close his eyes and really savor the lasagna as he ate it. But back to Joyce.
“My family worries about me”, said Joyce. “When Madison comes over, she talks like she knows she’s going to see me again, even though my grandson Jordan is concerned every trip could be the last one.”
Steve noticed how calm Joyce was when she spoke about Madison and Jordan. Her equanimity when speaking of her family impressed 16-year-old Steve so. “I’m sorry to hear your family’s worried.”
“Oh, they do worry. I had another surgery just two days ago. Good thing the nurse said I’m ready to go outdoors again today, since I love the outdoors – hearing all the birds sing. I have a favorite quote, from Henry van Dyke: ‘Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no bird sang except those that sang the best’.”
“What talents do you possess?”, asked Steve, his face exhibiting curiosity.
“I can do impressions of old celebrities”, said Joyce.
“Let’s hear some.”
“Here’s looking at you, kid!” Joyce made her voice sound just like (a female) Humphrey Bogart. “It doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
“Where’s that second quote from?”
“That’s Casablanca. You’ve never seen it?”
“Never”, Steve replied sadly.
“Well, you’ve got any talents?”
“Well, I can do an ollie”, Steve said, his arm reaching out and letting his hand flop down.
“It’s a skateboarding trick. You squat, you jump up, you pop the tail of the skateboard against the ground. Then you lift your front leg, and then you lift your back leg, without using your hands.”
Joyce smiled. “I was young too once . . . but now I’ve got a whole family . . . children, grandkids, great-grandkids, their wives and husbands and life partners, nieces and nephews . . . they’re counting on me to hold through, and my problems, well, my problems are stressing them out.”
Steve stared in thought. How could Joyce smile if her problems were torturing her family members? And why did she talk about her family’s fears and not her own fears? Or . . . did she have any fears?
“And I can beatbox . . . sort of”, said Steve.
“Let’s hear you”, said Joyce with an encouraging smile.
Steve beatboxed the intro to Purple Kohlrabi’s song “The Perfect Storm”.
“Now what song was that?”
“‘The Perfect Storm’. Purple Kohlrabi.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of them.”
“Great band. Give them a listen some time.”
“If you say so!”, said Joyce. She laughed in a good-natured way. “Steve, you keep on living.”
“I will, Joyce.”
Steve spent a little more time outside, enjoying nature, before saying good-bye to Joyce and being wheeled back inside.