David Ralph Johnson
Twelve steps take me up to the landing. Then a left and another twelve put me at Floor 2.
Hospital stairway. Cold steel railing. Coffee stained bare cement rectangles rise, enclosed in coarse grey block walls. A bare-bones respite from shining sterile hallways of smooth recovery or death prolonged. Away from doctors’ promises.
I repeat the ascent twice more and dead end at Floor 4.
NO SMOKING | NO FUMAR | NO EXIT
My legs burn as I turn around to descend. My pulse is pounding in my neck. Sedentary waiting room caregiver no more, I remember running an impossible number of steps after 9th grade basketball practice every day, and after a month of that, breaking free and leading the pack in quarter sprints with my coach looking on big eyed.
I reach the ground floor near the room where my dad is climbing an impossible number of steps. Stage 4 cancer treatment. I join him. Making him laugh used to be a joy we shared. Round-the-clock morphine has him befuddled now. I squeeze his hand gently, hoping he finds some joy in that.
Time is short say the doctors. We know.
Soon he will break free. On his own accord. And he will lead the pack one final time. Showing us how it’s done. And we will follow with our hearts.
He squeezes my hand back. Today’s quarter sprint has begun.
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