2014-2015, Short Story

Hot Chocolate

Featured in 2015 Spring Issue of Rambunctious

By Zev Anbar, ’16

Jack stared longingly out the window at the white snow piling outside on the hospital’s parking lot. Shaking his head, he looked away from the ground, instead focusing on the grey sky. I imagine him looking for wondrous shapes among them, but I know what he’s thinking about when he looks at the sky. Bracing myself, I grip the cup of cocoa in my hand and enter the brightly lit green and blue room, looking away from the other children staring longingly out the window. Setting the chocolate on his bedside table, I grind my hand on Jack’s hairless head. I’m still not used to it, it just doesn’t look right. My brother is supposed to have dark hair down to his shoulders, not a bare light-skinned head.

“Hey, bro.” I force myself to sound happy, but my shaking fists give me away. Jack doesn’t notice, he just continues to stare out of that infernal window.

“Sup, Luke?” Jack turns and smiles, his deep set eyes regaining some of their old spark just for me. Careful not to twist up any of his IVs, Jack slides the table between us and leans on it, staring me in the eye.

“I’ve been stuck in here for three hours seventeen minutes and five seconds, and only now that the therapy is almost over do you come in and spend time with me? I’ve seen your job, there is not that much for you to do.” Sheepishly I look away, only my brother could make me this embarrassed and infuriated at the same time.

“You don’t know anything about my job. And at least I brought you hot cocoa, I didn’t have to do that.” I push the bright red thermos toward him, my hands no longer shaking. Smiling, he takes the thermos in his hands and undoes the top. Breathing deeply, he inhales the aroma and looks at me shrewdly.

“Mom’s?”

“Mom’s recipe, I made it. Now drink up.”

“It’s not poisoned or anything, is it? Because I already have enough of that coursing through my veins as it is.”  I shoot Jack a look at the mention of poison but he isn’t paying attention. With his eyes closed, Jack slowly takes a sip of the chocolate, a smile spreading across his face. Unsure of what to do, I sit down in the wooden chair by the table and look around the room, casually throwing out the statement, “She’s leaving.”

“The one-armed girl? I know.”

“How do you know?” I ask casting a suspicious look at him.

“I didn’t do anything I’m not supposed to, I swear,” Jack took another sip of the cocoa, still smiling at the taste. “I was just taking a walk earlier and overheard Dr. Christopher telling a nurse or something.”

Glaring at him, I look out the window and stare at the clouds, looking for anything but the bland uniformity of the white sky, white air, and white ground.

“What were you thinking about earlier, when you were looking at the clouds?” I turn back to my brother, who opens his mouth to answer, but instead lets out a loud cough, stomach heaving.  Instincts kicking in, I run over to a cart in the middle of the room and grab a bedpan before racing back to Jack, holding it beneath his mouth as vomit trickles from between his lips. After wiping his mouth clean, Jack looks back out the window, not even acknowledging my help.

“I was thinking about what it will feel like to fly in the clouds when I die. Fun, I would think.” Eyes bugging, I grab him by the shoulders and turn him towards me, but he spoke before I could.

“I know what you’re going to say Luke, so save your breath.” His voice is terse, angry even. “I’m dying, Luke, everyone knows it. If the cancer doesn’t kill me, the amount of radiation in my body will surely shorten my lifespan by a good ten years. I’m okay with it and I’m not scared; it’s time you came to terms with it yourself.”

Wrenching away from me, he looks at the clock on the wall and sighs.

“I’m done now; Dr. Christopher will be here in a minute to take the tube out. I’ll meet you in the lobby.”

Taking the dismissal, I stand up and head towards the door, calling over my shoulder.

“See you in a sec.”

“Love you,” Jack whispers, just loud enough for me to hear. Walking out into the hallway, I head towards the elevators, promptly running into Dr. Christopher, who was heading undoubtedly to let Jack out. There was something off about him today, he looked harried.

“Oh, Lucas. It is a good thing I ran into you. Could you call your parents while I retrieve Jack and head to my office? I’m afraid it’s rather urgent news.”

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