(Kid tosses and turns in his bed all night. A light flashes by the window. The next morning, Saturday, he wakes up and goes into the living room to watch cartoons on the television set. His father is talking softly on the telephone.)
Dad: All right…yes, that’s fine…thank you…bye.
Kid: When is Grandpa coming over, huh Dad? Huh? Huh? (He jumps up and down. He can’t help it. He is too excited.)
Dad (laughingly): When he comes over, son. Actually, about a half an hour. A lot of traffic, you know.
Kid (disappointed): That’s a million years!
Dad: You’re so funny.
Kid: The answer is George Washington, Dad..
(A half an hour later they hear a horn honking outside. Kid runs to the door and flings it open wide. His grandfather, Grandpa Jones, is just exiting his car.)
Grandpa: Hello, child, hello! I’ve missed you. (Grabs him in a great, big bear hug.)
Kid: I’ve missed you too, Grandpa. Where have you been?
(Grandpa laughs.) At home, of course! Now that I don’t work anymore, I don’t have much to do.
Kid: What do you do, Grandpa?
Grandpa: Play solitaire. It’s a helluva lot better than poker. And more respectable-like.
Dad: Grandpa, don’t talk about poker with the boy.
(Grandpa snorts.) Why, I was younger than him when I started playing. I should teach him right now.
Dad (in a warning tone.) No poker.
Grandpa: Fine, fine. I didn’t bring any cards, anyway. They’re at home. Hey, look what I got! (He pulls a quarter from behind Maverick’s ear.)
Dad: No giving my kid money, either. He has a big enough allowance as it is, anyway. Let’s go inside. We’re attracting the neighbors’ attention.
Kid: Okay, Dad!
(Later that evening, they are having dinner on the back porch. There is a pinkish light to the sky. A soft wind is blowing.)
Dad: It’s so peaceful out here…makes me think of Jillian.
Dad: I’m just saying-
Grandpa (severely): Not in front of the boy.
Dad: You’re right. I completely forgot. It’s still fresh in his mind, like a growing daisy. Kids don’t handle deaths very well. They don’t understand it. (He stumbles to his feet.) Let’s go to the carnival!
(Kid jumps up and down): Yay! Let me get my jacket.
(Grandpa, Dad, and the kid pile into the car and drive downtown to where the carnival is being held. The kid rides so many rides until he can’t ride anymore. Dad goes on a few rides, but Grandpa just watches. After riding the rides, Grandpa buys everyone ice cream, and they find a table and sit down.)
Kid: I love ice cream.
Grandpa: Me, too.
Dad (scolds): You shouldn’t be eating ice cream, Pops. It’s not healthy for you.
Grandpa: I say what’s healthy for me. And I put my foot down on that!
Kid: You go, Grandpa!
(The day ends. Everyone piles back into the car and they drive home. Grandpa leaves to go back to his own house. The house is now quiet.)
(Kid stands up abruptly.) I’m going to go watch tv.
Dad: Okay, sport.
(The next day.)
Teacher: That is correct, Maverick. You get a gold star for the day.
Kid: Isn’t that a little babyish?
Teacher: If it’s babyish, I don’t want to know about it. (He smiles at the kid and turns his attention back to the chalkboard. The kid sighs in relief.)
Kid: Maybe he should pay more attention to his school work rather than thinking about girls, he thinks. (The bell rings; it is time for lunch. The kid slowly walks to his locker and thrusts his books inside. Then, he grabs his math book and puts it in his backpack. It is very heavy. He has math class after lunch; he walks slowly down the hallway, grimacing at the weight of the book, and enters the lunch room. Everyone is talking and laughing. He gets in the lunch line and stands on tiptoe to see what they’re having for lunch-he groans. It is sloppy joe, again. He loves sloppy joes, but enough is enough. He grabs a sloppy joe and puts it on his plate, then he scans the room for any signs of his friends. He spots Joe and Aaron seated in a corner of the lunch room and hurries over to them. He sits down.)
Kid: Hi, guys! How’s it going?
Aaron: Don’t ask me that question. Just, don’t.
Kid: What’s the matter with you?
Joe: He’s in love.
Kid: Really? With who?
Joe: Sarah Shortt.
Kid: He is? Man, she’s pretty. (Kid sighs and shakes his head then slowly consumes his sloppy joe. Come to think of it, he loves sloppy joes! They’re the best!)
(Kid shoulders his backpack. The end of another school day. The bells are ringing in the hallway and kids are zooming every which way, trying to get out of Berrymill Elementary School as fast as their legs can carry them. The kid slowly drags his feet. He didn’t want to go home, to see his sick, bed-ridden mother. It was too scary, too real. He shoulders his backpack again, sighs, and hurries out the double doors of the school.)
(Kid starts to walk home. It is a pleasant day outside; the birds are singing; the sun is high in the sky. He goes past Rite Aid, and walks two more blocks before finally reaching home. He takes a deep breath, and opens the door. He steps inside, his heart beating a mile a minute-will his mother be better, or worse? His heart sinks. He’s still laying in bed. Kid walks over to him and kisses his cheek. Then, he rearranges his blankets so they’re tucked under his chin.) Hi, Dad.
Dad: Hello, sweetie, how was school?
Kid (a bit sharply): Fine.
Dad: Do you have homework?
(Kid bobs his head): Lots.
Dad: I have an errand for you. I need you to go to the store and help me get the groceries. We’re almost out of everything.
Kid: You can’t go to the store in your condition. I’ll get Grandpa-
Dad: No, no. I’ll do it. Doctor says I have to get up and about anyway. Good, your coat is still on. (She throws the covers off of him and drags herself off the couch. He goes to the coat closet and puts on a blue jacket.) Let’s go, honey.
Kid (sighs): All right, Dad, if this is what you want.
Dad (sharply): You’re starting to sound a lot like your Grandpa. He always tells me to relax.
Kid: Takes one to know one! (He hops into the car and his father slides behind the wheel in the driver’s seat.)
(Soon, they reach the grocery store. His father pulls the car into a parking spot-close to the door-and turns around to face her son.) Fill it up as much as you can. Here’s two hundred dollars.
(Kid takes the money): All right, Dad, if you say so.
Dad: I say so.
(Kid hurries out of the car and into the store. It is bustling with activity. He grabs a cart and starts going down the aisles. Halfway down the flour aisle, a man approaches him.)
Man: What are you doing in here, kid?
Kid: I’m shopping for my mother.
Man: I’m sorry I asked.
(Kid takes the cart and hurries down another aisle.)
(Kid makes his purchases and takes the groceries out to the car. His mother gets out of the front seat and helps put the groceries in the trunk. Then, he hops into the car again and they head home.)
Dad: Thanks for helping me today, son. It was a big help. I haven’t been feeling myself lately.
Kid: It was no problem. Except this guy asked me what I was doing in the grocery store by myself.
Dad: Just tell him the truth, son. That’s all you can do.
Kid: I guess so.
Dad: Have you done your homework yet?
Kid: No, not yet. It’s not a lot, really.
Dad: Get to it, son. We want you to be a learned person, not illiterate like some folk.
Kid: Okay, Dad, I’ll do my homework. (Grumbling to himself, he goes upstairs, his right hand on the railing. It takes him awhile to finish his homework; then he is called downstairs to dinner.) What are we having, Mom? (He is in the kitchen, trying to peer into the pots boiling on the stove.)
Dad: We’re having spaghetti and meatballs, son.
Kid: Oh, goodie! You know how I love spaghetti and meatballs.
(The kid’s father makes dinner. They eat quietly. It is so quiet, you can hear the clock ticking in the kitchen. They eat all their meals at the kitchen table. Suddenly, his father groans and slides to the floor. The kid jumps up from his seat, alarmed.) Dad!
Dad: Call an ambulance, son. I think I’m having a heart attack.
Kid: Okay, Dad. Relax. I’ll get you a pillow from the living room. (He races into the living room and comes back, carrying a couch pillow. He puts it under the man’s head.)
Dad: Thank you, son. Now go call the ambulance.
(The kid rushes to the phone and picks it up. He dials 911.) Hello…yes…come right away. My father passed out on the floor. Yes, he’s talking. (He hangs up and turns to his father.) They’re coming right away.
Dad: Thank you, son. You just may have saved my life.
Kid (savagely): Don’t talk like that. You’ll be fine.
Dad: I suppose you’re right.
(Fifteen minutes later a knock sounds on the door. The kid rushes to open it. The police rushes in as well as the paramedics.)
Police officer: Where is he?
(The kid points): In the kitchen, on the floor.
Police officer: You did the right thing, son.
Kid: Is he going to be all right?
(The police officers glance at each other.)
Police officer #1: He’ll be just fine, thanks to you.
Kid: Aw, I have to help my paw.
Dad: Can my son come to the hospital with me? There’s no one here to watch him.
Paramedic #1: Most certainly. Get your jacket, son. It’s pretty cold out there.
(Two more paramedics enter the house with a stretcher. The kid’s father climbs on slowly and lays his head down on the pillow. The kid follows them outside to the ambulance and he shuts the front door. It’s as if he’s shutting the door on something final as the wind and the grass growing far and wide. The drive to the hospital doesn’t take long. The paramedics unload the stretcher and wheel it inside the hospital. People are rushing around, both staff and patients and visitors. Suddenly, Dad starts to vomit, and his body jumps up and down.)
Paramedic: Code blue, code blue!
(Dad gives a weak smile): I’ll be fine, son. Don’t worry.
Kid: Maybe I should call Grandpa.
(A doctor comes rushing up to the stretcher.) Here’s a throw up bucket. (Dad takes the throw up bucket and starts retching up blood.)
Kid (gasps): Dad!
Doctor (severely): He shouldn’t be seeing this. Take the kid somewhere else.
Kid: No, I’m fine. I want to stay.
Doctor: Okay, you can stay. We have to figure out what’s wrong with your father, first of all.
Kid: Okay. Is there anything I can do?
Doctor: Can you get me a cup of coffee? (He pats the kid on the back.) Sorry, just a little joke. I don’t drink coffee, myself.
Kid: Me, either.
(A nurse hurries over and starts pushing the stretcher into ICU. The kid follows behind, looking dazed and confused.)
Doctor: Sir, we’re going to put an IV in your arm. Throwing up causes you to lose body fluids. Is that all right?
Dad (gasps): It’s all right with me.
(A needle is inserted into his right arm.)
Dad: Where’s my son?
Doctor: A nurse is watching him for you. We’re calling your father to see if he can pick him up and take him home. He shouldn’t be in a hospital.
Dad: You’re right.
(Doctor takes off his stethoscope off and puts it on again. He listens to Dad’s back and heart.)
Doctor: We’re going to run some tests and find out what’s wrong with you. You’ve stopped shaking, that’s good news. I wonder what caused it in the first place.
Nurse #3: Do you know what Hector Prenelli has yet? He keeps throwing up blood and I’m worried he might not last another week. Or another night.
Doctor: No, I do not, and if you keep bugging me, I’ll have you suspended for misconduct.
Nurse #3 (meekly): Sorry, Doctor. I was just-
Doctor: I know what you were “just.” Don’t do it again.
(Two weeks passed. The doctor ran test after test, and everything came back negative. Finally, the hospital tried running tests on rare diseases. One came up positive. Dad was in poor condition. His face was a pale color and he had spots all over his back. His breathing wasn’t very good.)
Doctor: It’s a rare form of cancer, called ASERS. It comes from Egypt. This guy has never been to Egypt, so I don’t understand how he could contract it…
Nurse #3: Maybe he has something in his house from Egypt.
Doctor: That could be it. I’m going to call his house and talk to Mike to see if his son has anything in his house from Egypt. (He hurries out of the ICU and down the hallway to the telephones. He dials the phone and someone picks it up on the first ring.) Hello, Mike, this is Doctor Ponder. I have some good news and bad news.
Grandpa: What’s the good news?
Doctor: The good news is, we found out what disease your son has.
Doctor: The bad news is it is very rare and has no cure. It is called ASERS and anyone who contracts it dies within six months.
Grandpa: You can’t be serious. My son is only 39-years-old. His wife died early, too, but that’s besides the point. What are you going to do to help my son?
Doctor: We’ll do anything we can.
Grandpa: I should hope so.
Doctor: Does he have anything in his house from Egypt?
Grandpa: N-no, not that I know of. Why?
Doctor: His illness comes from Egypt. His is the first case in the US. I checked.
Grandpa: I had no idea it was that serious.
Doctor: Are you going to come down and see him? He’s still been throwing up a lot, but he can still communicate.
Grandpa: Yes, I planned on coming to see him today. I’ll bring the boy.
(Grandpa hangs up the phone. He goes down the hallway and enters the boy’s bedroom. He is laying down on his bed, staring at the ceiling.)
Grandpa: We’re going to go see your father today. Get ready.
Kid: Oh, goodie! Can we get him a card and balloons? I love balloons.
Grandpa (chuckles): I know you do, son. Yes, we can get him those things, it wouldn’t be proper not to.
Kid: I’m going to hurry up and get ready!
Grandpa: I should say so.
(Grandpa and the kid pile into the car. The kid is wearing his windbreaker and a hat is pulled low over his ears. They drive into town and stop at Rite Aid. The kid goes down aisle after aisle until he finds the cards’ aisle. He bends down to look at them. He finds the one he wants, and goes towards the balloons. He picks out two. They go to the cash register and Grandpa pays for the items. Then, they get in the car again and drives to General Hospital, where the kid’s father is staying.)
Kid: Did they find out what he has yet?
Grandpa: Yes, it’s called ASERS.
Kid: ASERS? What the heck is that?
Grandpa: It’s a disease from Egypt.
Kid: We learned about Egypt in school. It’s in Africa.
Grandpa: Very good, son. Very good. Let’s go inside the hospital now.
(Grandpa and the kid enter the hospital. It’s bustling with activity. Grandpa hurries to the front desk and asks the unit clerk where Hector Prenilli is.
Unit clerk: He finally got his own room. It was a little cramped in the ICU since there were so many people. He’s on the third floor and his room number is 32.
Grandpa: Thank you.
Unit clerk: You’re welcome.
(Grandpa takes the kid’s hand and goes to the elevators. It takes them to the third floor. They find room #32 after a few minutes of searching. Grandpa can hear the sound of retching all the way outside the door. He enters it with a smile on his face-or at least, trying to smile.)
Grandpa: Son! How have you been?
Dad: Not feeling too great. I’ve been throwing up blood for the past two weeks. And the doctor just told me I have a rare disease. All in all, I’m feeling pretty good.
Grandpa: We got you some balloons and a card, son.
Kid: Yeah! They’re great, too! (He hands over the card and the balloons to his father.)
Dad: Thank you, son. They’re wonderful. I’ve been getting stuff from everybody. I even got a teddy bear-it’s yours, son, if you want it. I’m too tough for teddy bears.
Kid: Yeah, I want it!
Dad: Good, you can have it.
Grandpa: I’m sorry you’ve been suffering.
Dad: Aw, I can handle it. (He starts retching again.)
Grandpa: Here, let me hold your head. (He hurries over to his son’s bed side and holds his head while he throws up in the throw up bucket. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and smiles a sugary smile.)
Dad: It’s not all bad. I get to eat hospital food.
(The doctor enters the room.)
Doctor: How’s my favorite patient doing?
Dad: Not too bad…I threw up again, which is good news.
(The doctor laughs): I shouldn’t be laughing.
Dad: No, no, it’s all right. I’m getting tired of being in this hospital day after day, though. When can I go home?
Doctor: We have to figure out where you got ASERS from. Then, we can find a cure.
Dad: I thought you had a cure.
Doctor: No, we do not have one yet. We have medication for similar diseases, like cancer, but ASERS is much worse.
Doctor: Don’t fret. We’ll find a cure.
Kid: We sure will, Dad. I’ll help.
Doctor (laughs): I wish you could help. You don’t have a doctor’s or a nurse’s degree, kiddo.
Kid: I can get one.
(Everyone bursts into laughter. The kid sulks.)
Kid: I was just trying to help.
(The doctor ruffles his hair.
Doctor: I know. You’re doing a good job just being there for your father.
Kid: Will he be all right?
Doctor: We sure hope so. I have to go, but a nurse will be in here shortly to give him his medication.
Dad: Thank you, Doctor. (weakly): I thought it was just a heart attack.
Doctor: You were close.