By Holden Arquilevich
A drooping bouquet of lilies, a get-well-soon card, and a little bible. That’s what was on her bedside table. The bible had a yellow Post-it Note on it.
“Where did that come from?” I asked.
She looked up from her crossword, peering at it from over her wire glasses as if it were some curio in an antique shop.
“Oh, those nice Jehovah’s Witness ladies stopped by. You know, the ones I used to talk to when you were little? I haven’t invited them in to chat for many years, but they left it for me when they heard I was in the hospital.”
She turned back to her crossword. My mother was raised Catholic and had dabbled in various faiths and practices. She wouldn’t claim any religion anymore, but she remained spiritually and intellectually vigorous.
“That’s very sweet of them,” I said.
“It is,” she said without looking up.
We were quiet for a while. Me looking at my phone, wondering how many days off my work would grant me before they decided I wasn’t worth it anymore, and her, trying to think of a three-letter word for the grain they use to make pumpernickel.
“You know, I’m probably not going to kick the bucket today,” she said. “Why don’t you go get some rest? Have some fun or something.”
She wasn’t wrong, but I also knew we were running out of time. She patted my knee.
“I’ll be here for you to sulk over tomorrow. Go take care of yourself. Live a little.”
She was grinning. Gaunt and grinning. The disease made her look so much older.
I hugged her and kissed her on top of the head and headed for the door.
I came back the next morning. I wish I could say I was refreshed, but that wasn’t true. I brought a fresh bouquet. I couldn’t stand the thought of dead flowers hanging over her while she slept. God knows I was the only one available to change them—I was likely to see my siblings only when they could claim bereavement leave. I never understood them. The choice between work and family had always seemed obvious to me.
When I walked into her room, she was sitting up in her bed. There was always the unspeakable part of my mind that hoped I would come in one day, and she would be better. She was still sick, of course. But something was different. She was smiling, and not the pained, sarcastic smiles she had been dishing out the past couple weeks. It was content. The smile of someone relaxing on a warm day, despite the chill of the hospital. She was reading a little book.
Her mood was contagious, and I smiled as I replaced the wilting lilies from the vase.
“If there was any time to find God, now would be it,” I joked, glancing at the book.
She didn’t respond. At first, I was worried I had gone too far, but as I finished with the flowers, I noticed that the little bible from yesterday was still on the table. The book she was reading was not a bible. It was a hardback, bound in soft, pine green cloth. There was nothing written on the spine, and no author listed on the outside. There was only the title, written in yellow letters:
A Guide for the Terminally Ill
“Where the hell did that come from?” I said. “Title’s a bit grim.”
Still no answer. She kept reading with a serene expression.
Finally, she looked up.
“What? Oh, sorry, honey. It’s just this book! It’s incredible.”
“Clearly. Where did you get it?”
“I’m not sure. It was just there when I woke up.”
That was strange. I hadn’t heard anyone was coming to visit besides me. And visiting hours didn’t start that early.
“I’ll ask the staff if they saw anyone.”
She shrugged. Where it came from clearly didn’t bother her as much as it bothered me.
“So what’s it about anyway? Is it some kind of philosophy book?”
“I suppose that’s a good way to describe it.” She closed and lifted it, admiring it like a sculptor admires their craft. “But it’s so much more than that, too. It’s exactly what I needed to hear. What they wrote and how they wrote it. It’s more than coping. I’m still scared. Terrified, actually. But this has helped me come the closest to peace I’ve ever been.”
The way she looked at it, I was almost envious of her. Shame followed immediately.
“Wow,” I said, reaching for the book. “Did you see an author anywhere? Maybe we can look up—”
She gasped and pulled it away from me. She held it close to her like I was going to break it.
“Whoa…Sorry, Mom,” I said.
She seemed to come back to herself, embarrassed.
“Oh, honey I didn’t mean to—it’s just this book. You’re not ready for it. I don’t think it would be productive for you to read it.”
“Well, I doubt I’d completely understand, but I’d still like to know what’s in the mystery book someone left on my dying mother’s nightstand!”
She gave me the saddest look and rubbed the soft binding of the book with her thumbs.
“It’s more than that, honey. There are things in here that are just for me. It’s more than just some kind of self-help book. It knows things about me. It’s helping me find peace.”
I stared at the book. I stared at her.
“Mom, I don’t understand.”
“I know you don’t sweety,” she took my hand, gaunt and grinning. “You don’t need to right now. One day, I’m sure someone will leave a book just like it for you, too.”
A couple weeks later, the book was gone. And so was she.
Intriguing and emotional. The perfect balance of both, highly enjoyed this read!
Choppy and lacks a voice. Also, way too much exposition. Flash fiction is about capturing a moment or scene. This is telling me how too much and ends in a fast forward. Writer should read more
When I read this I realized the what you call “choppy writing” is a way of dis connecting a character from it, SO that the reader can connect and see themselves as the character. I thought this was an exceptional piece of writing and I’m great full I read it.
That is your subjective opinion. Flash fiction is very short. This story is very short.
A good story well-written. I enjoyed this one!
I really enjoyed this story. I got that “emotional” connection. It hit the right note for me.
Good title. Well chosen.
A depth of maturity going along with fantastic dialogue.
Provocative. You seem to doubt that the green book is a bible. As an atheist, I would agree. So what is it? Maybe I would like one for myself.
Very carefully done.