The corrupting disease of passing time had finally caught up with Old Man Jack. An unsettling, lethargic BEEP. BEEP. echoed across the silent room as Jack breathed in and out. Each beep was a whisper from death: “I’m coming closer… closer… closer…”
A nurse stepped into the room, breaking death’s whispering spell. “Your family is here to see you, Old Man Jack” she sang out.
Fidgety children and solemn faced adults slowly seeped in. They’re already practicing for the funeral procession, he thought dimly to himself. Each person took a turn saying, rather awkwardly and chokingly, everything except goodbye. The last was his youngest grandson, who was only four years old. He advanced, trailing his stuffed bear behind him. The boy climbed up on the white hospital bed and wrapped his short arms around the frail body. The child’s body was warm and he still clutched the bear, resting it on Old Man Jack’s chest. Its empty eyes stared into his. Jack’s face twitched in recognition. He closed his eyes and drifted off.
“Jackson! Jackson! Your father is home! Jackson!”
The small boy threw down his toy, raced down the carpeted stairs, and shouted in exaltation when he discovered that his father had come home. Jackson jumped into his arms, swinging round and round. The man stepped aside, revealing the gift he had brought home for him. “This is Arthur, a new friend for you to play with.”
Jackson surveyed the visitor, carefully scrutinizing and deciding if he deserved a place in his home. He was shorter than Jackson, and his eyes seemed to be full of nothing. His ears were huge and his short brown hair was glossy and smooth. Hello, my friend, Arthur grinned at Jackson. And from that smile, Jackson quickly determined that they would be best friends. And that night—and for countless nights thereafter—Jackson stayed up whispering all his secrets into Arthur’s big, attentive ears.
Old Man Jack stirred. Death had momentarily subsided, leaving him with a moment of easy breath. His eyes became slits, and then slowly stretched farther open. His room was empty once more, filled to the ceiling with a silence which was only broken by that irritating BEEP. His rusty tendons and bones creaked as he lifted his wrinkled body to survey the room. A brown lump of fur and fabric stretched across his bedside dresser. The boy must have left it. Old Man Jack reached across the bed and shakily grasped the bear, admiring the bear’s sleek brown fur and glass eyes. His hands traced the lining, its threads shooting memories of the past into his fingertips. He was tired again.
The sun was screaming outside and puffy clouds dusted the sky. Jackson pulled Arthur down the wooded path. He skipped rocks down the path and leapt into mud puddles as Arthur followed along beside him. The glistening creek came into view, water flowing down from the mountain, fresh and alive. Jackson crashed in, taking the cool water into every pore. Arthur stayed out, high and dry on a rock, he never liked water.
“Come on!” Jackson cried.
I don’t like that musky feeling, Arthur replied. Jackson climbed out of the creek and the two began to play on the creek side. They were army men, searching for the enemy. They were wrestlers, and Jackson made sure he defeated Arthur every time. They were the companions of youth, a boy and his friend.
BEEP. BEEP. It was still there. Death was coming on. It was swooping in from the quiet, stretching through his veins, gripping his heart, compelling his soul to depart from the frame that could hold him no longer. His hands tightened on the bear, hoping to grasp at the last strands of the youth he had lost.
“Have you seen Arthur? He seems to be lost…” Jackson asked
“Your father and I decided it was time for Arthur to go away for awhile; it’s time to grow up.”
Time commanded that the age of playing and pretending was past. Besides, school was starting soon and there would be new friends. Jackson went upstairs and snapped the TV on with a hushed beep.
BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. Old Man Jack vaguely noticed the longer and longer intervals between each beep. I’m dying. He felt the familiar fur and fabric still under his fingertips. “Arthur, my friend” he whispered into the bear’s huge cone ears. I’ve missed you. His hands slid to his sides. The bear fell to the ground. The monitor sang the monotone note of death.