“Hello Uncle Harry—
I covered his cold hand with my own.
The lawyer said Harry was dying. And it appeared the lawyer was right.
“Ah, Harry, you old sot,” I said. “It’s too soon!”
I stroked his stubbled cheek.
“I know you’ve been sober these last several years, but I bet right now …
“You’d throw a bum under a bus for his bottle of booze.”
I saw one eyelid flutter.
Then a wink.
I jerked back.
“Harry! You’re still in there?”
“Oh, yes!” A nurse entered the room. “He can’t speak since his last stroke, but he can hear just fine.”
She plumped his pillows.
“Are you Harry’s wife?”
My shoulders slumped, but I didn’t begrudge her the error. Hard life had erased the years between Harry and me.
“I’m his niece.”
“That’s nice.” She inspected Harry. “I’ll be right back.”
I followed her into the hall.
“Excuse me,” I said. “But I just got here and I thought …”
I searched for delicate words.
“You expected him to be less responsive?”
“Well, yes. How long do you think …”
“It’s a hospice,” she said. “Not an assembly line.”
She straightened. “I have to get him ready for dinner. Would you care to wait in the lounge? There’s a snack machine.”
My stomach growled.
But I had no coins to feed it.
In fact I had no money at all.
The lawyer said I was Harry’s heir—but if he wasn’t dying—
How was I going to live?
An orderly pushed by me with a cart of cold cuts and soda.
I frowned. “Is that for Harry MacDougal?”
“It’s for visitors. Help yourself.”
My stomach did a happy dance.
The nurse waved me back into the room.
“Are you staying overnight?” she asked.
I didn’t know it was an option, but it sounded as good as any. “Sure.” I said.
“I’ll bring a cot,” she offered.
I gazed lovingly at the retreating back of this miraculous woman.
“Guess what, Harry,” I said.
“Looks like Maggie’s moving in.”
When I’d eaten my fill, the cozy cot claimed me, and my snores matched the thrum of the room. When I woke in the morning my first thought was for leftovers, but I saw the cart was gone.
I wasn’t surprised. For me, bad luck was never unexpected.
But wonder of wonders, a new orderly walked in, pushing a cart with a carafe of coffee, a pitcher of juice, and an assortment of plastic-wrapped pastry.
I prepared to launch myself into the cornucopia when I saw something else came with the cart.
My two sisters, complete with fistfuls of flowers harvested from the hospice lawn.
“Looks like he’s still kicking,” announced Alice, the elder. “How long’s this going to take?”
“Shush!” I hissed. “He’s dying, not deaf.”
They turned to me in surprise.
“What are you doing here?” demanded Alice.
“I got a letter –”
“You got a letter?” snarled Constance. “Did you read it?”
In truth I’d only gotten as far as “named an heir” and “reimbursed for expenses” before I packed my bag.
“Then you know,” Constance went on, “for any of us to inherit we have to show we’ve been alcohol and substance free …”
She drew herself up to her short, squat height.
“… for at least one year before the death of Harold McDougal.”
Alice sneered. “So you may as well go home.”
“Actually,” I said, “I celebrated my first year of sobriety a couple months ago.”
Alice sniffed. “Of course you did!”
“Prove it!” said Constance.
“Easy,” I said. “Peeing in a cup is a condition of my parole.”