His job in life, accomplished as a child with the asking of a single question, was to reconcile a mother with her daughter. Do you want to die angry at her? he had asked, oblivious to the consequences. That done, he lived on not pointlessly but superfluously through nearly two hundred additional seasons, rose from his bed thousands of times with nothing left in the world to do but process air and gaze without understanding on the loveliness of the earth. He enjoyed flavors and taught himself from books to produce them at the stove. He warmed his side of the bed. He nurtured his friends but was not essential to them. While his landscaping matured, his children merely aged. A business he had not founded but which he distractedly ran, prospered without his guidance, foundered despite his perspicacity, rebounded along with the economy, and was absorbed by another, more merciless, without his cooperation or consent. He collected dividends. He stacked up honors. He retold jokes in mixed company with mixed results and died without retrieving a penny of his pension. His loves were many and his passions deep but the good earth never took to him. He left behind a house and property and a widow who was mostly annoyed. In the decades that followed the asking of his question he could have lived anywhere, succeeded or failed at anything he chose, or chosen not to choose, followed any impulse, so long as he did not die before his appointed hour and day. By several years he had outlived the woman and her daughter, who accomplished their job by dying together in a lifeboat, or just outside a lifeboat, fulfilling their contracts not by reconciling, but by reminding him on his deathbed of all that he had accomplished.

Copyright ©1999-2006 David Hodges

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