Bryan Washington


Jackie got sick like the rest of us, back before we knew what to call it. True story. I hadn’t started coughing yet, but that didn’t mean I’d gotten off; a lot of people didn’t even sneeze. They just lived their lives until they woke up, wet. Stinking of rotten fruit. Our part of town looked like a garbage bin, with all the peaches and grapes and cherries dragging around. Seeping. Leaking from the cores.

So we weren’t optimistic. We’d had a good run. When his calves started bruising, and then his hands, eyebrows, cheeks, I took him to the hospital. We rode the bus.

Of course the doctors got us a room. They’d seen this before. A million times now. All the poofs were popping. And the last thing Jackie says, before they wheel him into nothing, is he wishes he could’ve done more. Seen the Rockies or something. That’s when the nurses take him away. They were beautiful, in a tired mama kind of way.

They give him a few days. Give or take. You turn blue, you turn black. You turn off. And I sleep in the lobby for one night, and then two, and then one of the nurses comes out, glowing.

She says Jackie’s better. No, they don’t know how. Can we please leave, they’ve got a waiting list.

We had a little money saved, so we rub it together and fly to the Rockies. Didn’t climb ‘em. But we got a good stare in. Plus, Denver; for the springs. Jackie coughs maybe once the whole trip, but then he smiles. A real girl scout.

We’re not back in Dallas a day before he’s blue again.

We take the bus. The mamas come out. They’re still beautiful.

I sit in the lobby, snoring. Before he goes in, Jackie’s stroking my hand. Saying he wishes his own ma could’ve seen him or something.

Days pass. Fruits go in. No one comes out. When the nurse finds me this time, she’s not smiling. She’s holding Jackie’s hand, shaking her head, like, Can you tell him to make up his mind already?

So he flies to see his ma. Doesn’t really want to, but we were not people on whom symbolism was lost; he’d told her he was sick. Reagan had given us something to call it.

He kissed my cheek before he boarded, bystanders wondering how anyone got so skinny.

I’m on my third dream when my landline rings, the next night, and it’s his ma. Of course. I’m bracing myself already, shutting the flood down, before she says that Jack’s snoring, loud, and also sleepwalking. Is this normal?

And he’s back Sunday morning. Smiling. Darker. Sick, but not obviously so. I mean, I looked sicker. We head back to the apartment, and I wonder if there’s anything else he needs to do, and he blinks at me, and he laughs, says not unless I can think of it.

Then he died. Few months later. This time for real. This time they let me sit at the bedside, expecting him to jump up any minute now, dancing.

He doesn’t though. He just dies.

But on the last night, he calls me over. He says, Honestly, we should’ve gone to Bighorn instead. That the Rockies were nice. But he’d have liked to share that with me.

And I said, Jack, shut the fuck up.

Bryan Washington is a senior at the University of Houston.