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by Charlie Daly

Eddie fell asleep in the back seat on the way to the hospital. It was a long drive, one that he and his father had to make four or five times every week. Eddie's juice bottle rested on his chest. The father moved it to a cup holder so it wouldn't spill. When they reached a straightaway the father took his hands off the wheel to cover his son in a blanket. Snow drifts were piled on either side of the freeway and a number of exits were closed due to icy conditions. The father tuned in to a talk show on public radio.

"Today on our program I'm speaking with a panel of experts about the impending end of the world," the host said. "All three of my guests agree that the end is near, though they disagree about how exactly we will meet our collective fate."

An esteemed scientist spoke first. "There is no doubt within the scientific community that global warming will bring about our downfall. There are many problems facing the world today but global warming is the one most urgently in need of remedy. We're close to losing the polar ice caps, if that happens half the planet's dry land will be underwater."

A liberal congressman spoke next. "While global warming is a serious problem, we must also consider the threats posed by unemployment and poverty. Unless we resolve these pressing issues we will face a world not worth living in."

The father wondered if any of this could be true. It was a cold winter that took a toll on Eddie's health. His medicine gave him cramps and joint aches.

"Soon polar bears will be extinct," the scientist Said. "We are noticing a decline in the great white shark population as sea temperatures rise."

Was this such a bad thing? The father asked himself. Couldn't the world do without man-eating sharks? Two years ago, when Eddie first got sick, his father took the family to Miami. He wanted to take Eddie swimming. But when they got to the beach Eddie was too afraid of sharks to set foot in the water. He was too sick for swimming now.

A sign on the roadside read: Boston, 38 miles. The Father's Business, landscape design, slowed in the winter. The Father cherished these long drives, though Eddie usually slept through them.

On the radio, a conservative pundit entered the debate. "Global warming is a marketing scheme devised by the Japanese auto makers to sell tiny death-traps on wheels. The two biggest threats to America are Al-Queda and illegal immigration."

They pulled into the hospital. Eddie woke up. His father turned off the radio. Eddie didn't need to hear a bunch of old men arguing over how the world would end. The two walked into the hospital in silence. They sat in the waiting room. Eddie watched a boy, no older than seven, breath from an oxygen tank on wheels. The nurse summoned that boy first.

Then a nurse called them in. "Blom. Blom?"

"That's us," the father said.

The nurse led them into the exam room. Eddie took a seat in the big recliner. He put his feet up. The nurse punched a needle in his arm and hooked him up to an octopus of tubes, hoses and wires attached to the machine. "The doctor will be in soon," she said.

Eddie settled in for five or six hours of dialysis followed by radiation. He rested his Sox cap on his chest. He didn't care if the doctor could see his head. In the summer and fall he'd watch baseball games during his treatment but today he played with his Game-Boy. He listened to headphones, as he preferred not to hear to the machine do its work.

When the Game-Boy's batteries ran out, Eddie read a copy of National Geographic his father brought. There was an article about the veterinarians at the San Diego Zoo. Eddie looked at a photo of a tiger who was also hooked up to tubes and wires. He studied the picture for a long time.

The father read too. He looked up at Eddie every few minutes. "Can I get you anything after we see the doctor?" Eddie's father said.

"I want a sundae."

"Ice-cream? In February?"

"I never get ice-cream in the wintertime."

"That's because it's too cold for ice-cram. I wouldn't even know where to get it this time of year. How about hot choco?"

"I want ice-cream."

"You get a little nauseous after the treatment. Why not wait for a warm day?" "If you start eating ice-cream now you'll be sick of it by summertime, and then what? Chocolate and gingerbread in July?"

"Dad, I heard you talking to the doctor last time." The boy looked down at the shiny floor.

"There's a Ben And Jerry's on Mass Ave they might be open."

"I overheard parts of what he said. Late stage... Kidney failure... What if I'm not here in the summer."

"Don't talk like that. These doctors do amazing things, you'll be good as new this summer. I'll take some time off, want to go back to Miami? Go swimming?"

"There's still sharks there. Big ones."

"No way. Someone told me they're swimming away, water's too warm."

"Really?" Eddie smiled and went back to his magazine. When the doctor came in Eddie was asleep.

"We have your son's blood-work and his most recent P.E.T scan," the doctor said.

"He slept the whole ride over here."

"And the muscle pains?"

"It's worst after he takes his medicine."

The father picked up Eddie's baseball cap and put it with his things on a nearby chair.

The doctor continued, "His cell count is..."

"Can we talk about this in your office? And please, send the nurse for some ice-cream? I want to surprise him when he wakes up."

Charlie grew up in Boston MA, and now lives in San Diego, CA. He loves the ocean and he loves words. He has work in Writers Bloc (Rutgers), Shoots And Vines, and an upcoming anthology of San Diego writers. He wrote this story to reflect on the disparity between talking about death in hypothetical terms and confronting it in one's own life.