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Easter

    I scribbled in one of my notebooks until I saw my brother's car pull up. It had been raining all morning, yet now, for a moment anyway, the skies cleared, the rain going into temporary remission. I thought of everything in terms of cancer that year.
    I toked on what was left of a joint until my brother knocked on the front door of my apartment. He dressed neater since his recent religious conversion, still casual in T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, only now the T-shirt was pressed, the pants didn't have any holes in the crotch, and the tennis shoes he wore were a pair of Nikes.
    I passed him the joint, asked, "Do you still...?"
    "Sure." Pat took two quick puffs, then threw what was left in a shoebox I kept for my pot. "Dad's awake," he said. "Let's hurry and get going. Sara and Margie are in the car."
    "He is? Really?" I'd seen my father the day before. If I got to within a foot of his face and yelled loud enough, his eyes would open, he would smile as he recognized me, and sometimes he would even manage a feeble, "Hi Dan," before falling asleep again.
    Pat and his wife owned a red Datsun. Margie sat in the driver's seat, her stomach swollen with their second child. On her face was Margie's terminal expression of quiet distaste. Three-year-old Sara sat strapped in the back. She had an Easter basket on her lap filled with carob bunnies and dried peach slices. She slapped the seat next to hers. "Sit here, Dan."
    "Where'd you get that basket, Sara?" I asked as I climbed into the car.
    "Mommy and Daddy."
    "Uh, we decided there was no sense in teaching Sara there's an Easter Bunny, then turning around and telling her one doesn't exist after all," Pat said from the front seat. "We told her we're the ones who hid the eggs, and Easter means just as much to her either way."
    "Pagan," Margie added, then turned up the tape deck, a youthful chorus belting out a soft rock version of PUT YOUR HAND IN THE HAND OF THE MAN OF THE HAND'S MAN'S HAND ETC. ETC.
    She let us off at the Veteran's Hospital. "You coming in?" I asked her.
    "I'm sure. This pregnant, and I'm going to go into a place where germs are most likely to be."
    "Happy Easter, Sara."
    "Happy Easter, Uncle Dan!" Sara yelled at the top of her lungs, which was something she loved to do. The Datsun rolled away out of the parking lot, leaving Pat and me at the entrance of the hospital. I looked up to see egg-white cement and hundreds of shiny windows.
    "Do you remember what room he's in?" I asked. The endless corridors, painted gray on top, yellow on the bottom, were a maze to me.
    "This way."
    My sister, Shannon, and my step-mother, Kaye, were both there. They were dressed in what I called The First Lady Look, frilly blouses, dresses in solid colors with jackets to match. There were cards taped to the wall, as well as drawings and messages scrawled in crayon by grandchildren. CHEER UP! I LOVE YOU GRANPA! HOW ARE YOU? GET WELL SOON! LOVE! LOVE!
    "Dan and Pat are here!" Kaye declared, as if announcing the first day of spring.
    "We were here nine hours yesterday," Shannon said. "Looks like we'll be here for another nine hours today." She changed the rag on my father's forehead. "I don't care, as long as it lets his mind rest a little easier."
    I slapped Dad on the shoulder, his strongest side, and yelled so he could hear me. "How's it going, Dad?"
    He shrugged his shoulders, then looked at me with an expression that seemed to say, "Well, here's another fine mess I've gotten myself into."
    Shannon and Kaye both answered verbally for him. "He's doing great!"
    "We took him out for a little fresh air today," Kaye continued, "and he had a little lunch, ate it all up. We've been worried about him the last few days, but he's fine now, just fine."
    "Are you feeling any pain?" I asked. "Is your head aching at all?"
    "No. I don't know." Yet, even as he said it, his forehead clenched. He rested like a beetle on his back, his body bloated as it had been all his life, his arms and legs shriveled. "Gotta' go," he said suddenly.
    My other sister, Maureen, picked that moment to whirl into the room, her invisible hurricane following along behind her, Maureen herself being the hurricane's eye. "They just dropped me off at my house fifteen minutes ago. How's my favorite father?" She leaned over the hospital bed to kiss Dad and give him a bear bug.
    Gotta' go," Dad repeated, then tried to get out of bed. Pat and I held him down.
    "Honey, if you've got to go, go ahead and go," Kaye told him. "You're hooked up at a catheter, dear."
    "But I've got to go."
    "Go ahead and go," all five of us in the room told him at once.
    "You're hooked up to a catheter, Dad."
    "Are you sure?" Dad asked, looking as if he didn't understand a word anyone said.
    We almost shouted at him. "Yes! Go ahead and go!"
    Dad shrugged his shoulders, said, "Okay," then proceeded to piss the bed. We had to call a nurse to come in and change the sheets. Obviously, he'd somehow kicked the catheter loose. There was nothing left for the rest of us in the room to do but laugh.
    "Sorry Dad. You were right all along. We should have listened to you in the first place."
    Dad laughed too. "I telled...tried to...her."
    As we chatted on, I watched my father's face from my vantage point near the foot of the bed. The cancer was in his brain, causing no physical disfigurement. Walking in cold, it would be hard to tell what his ailment was, or that he was ill at all. I knew, from that moment on, that I'd never be able to look in a mirror again without seeing my father's face.
    "Dad, I can't stay," Maureen said. "I came here straight from the retreat. I've got to pick up the boys from great-grandpa's, then get them home and ready for school tomorrow, okay?"
    "Okay, Honey. I love you."
    "I know for a fact I love you."
    "I'm going too, Dad," I said. "I'll get a ride with Maureen, if that's..." I'd had enough.
    "Sure. Fine," Maureen replied.
    "I've got to go to work tomorrow," I said.
    "All right, son."
    "I'll see you as soon as I can, okay?"
    It felt good to be outside again, in spite of the rain. The air smelled fresh and clean. I ran ahead of Maureen to her Ford Van.
    "So how was the retreat?" I asked as we entered traffic.
    "Fantastic. Had a wonderful time. Met a lot of nice people."
    "How was the weather?"
    "As bad as here. We spent most of the time smoking and watching the rain come down."
    "That's what you call a wonderful time?"
    "What's wonderful was what we weren't doing. We weren't drinking. So what do you think about all of this, Dan?"
    "About Dad, you mean?"
    She nodded.
    "I wish he wasn't dying. I hope he goes quick."
    "It was that damned repressive environment that finally did it, Kaye and all that Mormon garbage. Kaye wants him dead. She's wanted to kill him all along."
    I wanted to keep as much poison out of the situation as possible, so I replied, "It doesn't matter now."
    "Sure, uh-huh, okay, but my group therapy session's going to hear about this tonight."
    We pulled up in front of my apartment house. "Want to hear something that will make you want to throw up?" I asked.
    "Shoot."
    "Papa Clark told me he knew a guy who had a brain tumor. The doctor took the top of the guy's head off, and the tumor popped out like a clown from a jack-in-the-box."
    Maureen made a sound from deep in her throat that made me wish I hadn't told her the story. To make up for it, I said, "You know, I went to grab something to eat last night and walked over to Ernie Steele's. The place was packed, and I knew I couldn't take a crowd right then, so I went to cross the street to Fred Meyers, and just then the light turned red, and that was just too much. I just stood there and cried like an idiot on Broadway Avenue." We hugged then, my sister and I. It had been a long time since I'd hugged somebody and did not want to let go.
    My apartment, as usual, looked like Tokyo after a Godzilla attack. I pissed and ate two aspirin. I turned the radio to KJZZ and rolled a joint. I went to the refrigerator, pulled out a 16oz bottle of Diet Coke, and took a long first swallow.
    In that apartment, I wrote on a fireplace mantle over a fireplace my landlady didn't like me burning things in. I picked up a yellow, hexagonal no. 2 pencil, already sharpened. I gleaned cold comfort, I prayed, I released the wounded, panicked animal, the lonely, frightened child within me in the only way I knew how. I wrote.

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