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by Jon Sindell

There’s a raspberry seed in my wisdom tooth, which is why I can’t die — though god and my heirs maybe think that I should.

It’s been in the tooth since I was … what, forty-five? Which means she was … what, twenty-one? Twenty-three? Oh, my math mind is shot. Whenever it was, when I noticed, it was like Hemingway said, you go bankrupt two ways: gradually, then suddenly. You fall out of a building, and it’s nothing, then splat. And this thing happened gradually, then hit me, and splat. The words had gone from her, that sweet little phrase. And I quit smoking right off in case I might need to stay alive many years to hear it again. Quit cold turkey, like the tough little jarhead I was at eighteen, wading onto the beach at Tarawa Atoll, friends dying next to me in the surf. I’ve never touched a cigarette since. And jogged for so many years to keep my heart strong, till the knees gave out. Then biked and swam as long as I could. Then walked three miles a day, then two, then one, and I’m still walking now, ten laps around the living room, dragging R2 behind me, my loyal little oxygen tank.

She’s a good girl, good daughter. She made me cut out red meat years ago, and damn if that wasn’t the most loving thing. Not that she said it, but she obviously wanted me to live a long time. But I wouldn’t hold with her vegetarian ways. If god wanted man to live on vegetables, honey, he wouldn’t have invented barbeque.

Why the hell did it stop? I’ve tried so hard to keep my mind sharp to search for the answers, with puzzles, learning German, and mystery novels — though no way would I join a “brain gym” like she asked me to. LOL, I told her, as her own kids would say. And like when she was little and her love was so strong, she said, You don’t say “LOL,” Dad. And I’d grin that she still can’t tell when I’m teasing! Maybe that was my crime. Teasing. Don’t kid yourself, old man, it must have been worse. Mystery for the ages. Mystery for the aged. And the clues are fading along with my mind. What joke did I make? What careless remark? What loving remark? What loving remark about which irresponsible husband or boyfriend? That hippie peacenik who made her quit school? That Mexican boy? Christ, I had him over for dinner. I liked him. I told her. And I told her, correctly, that it was a dangerous situation. Things were different back then. Or maybe some poison her therapist fed her. Controlling. You mean caring. You mean loving. Like a good father should be.

She’s a trustworthy girl, and she’ll be here at three. She went through hard times but came out alright. And she loves me, I know it. Ten thousand times my wife told me she does. And she must, if she didn’t, she’d just let me die. But she’ll be here at three, and she’ll sit by the bed with the perfect posture I insisted on, for her sake, and ask me like a tough VA nurse if I’ve taken my meds, and scold me when I say I’m not sure. And I’ll reach for her hand, and her hand will twitch as if mine was an electric eel, but she won’t pull it back, she’ll leave it in mine, and I’ll peer through my cataracts and search for her eyes, which are not so young either, and I’ll gasp, I love you, honey, and she’ll nod kind of curt and turn her head, and I’ll take my meds and try again tomorrow.

Jon Sindell wrote the flash-fiction collection The Roadkill Collection (Big Table Publishing) and the long-story collection Family Happiness (2016). He is a humanities tutor who curates the San Francisco–based reading series Rolling Writers and formerly practiced law.