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Life in a Word
Mr. Layton Anson DeGrey stepped into the hospital room. The walls were painted a bright white, as if it helped cheer the patients up. As if it mattered. He knew better- it looked more like the skin of the dead than a joyous place. He walked over to the lonely cot and pulled the plastic curtain back. There lay his mother, her dark hair loose and wild, her skin a stony pale, her eyes glassy. All the doctors had bothered to give her was a faded blue paper gown.
“Hi, Ma,” Layton said. She looked worse from the last time he visited. Layton wasn’t sure what to say to her.
“Son,” Mrs. Nadine Grisel DeGrey gasped. She turned her limp head on the thin pillow and spoke quietly to him, “Layton, I’m so glad you visited. I was sure you hated me after I began smoking. But I’m finished with that. I won’t turn out like your father.” Layton ran his hand nervously through his dirty blonde hair. His father, Denis Claude DeGrey, was an alcoholic and died the day before Layton’s sixteenth birthday.
“Ma, everything will be alright. I know you’ll become one of those cancer survivors we hear about all the time.”
Layton’s mother smiled weakly. “I hope I will.” She turned her head back and fell asleep. Layton stood by her for a few moments, watching her rhythmic breathing and sighed. He walked slowly out, looking back every minute to see if his mother called for him again. Layton held the door open for a woman with shadow black hair just walking in. He felt the sunlight on his skin, so warm and happy. He got into his red Corvette and drove off to his house. Clouds began to roll in, covering the sun. Just as Layton reached the corner of Fatmir Drive and Chiwa Street he heard a loud bang. He pulled over and parked the car, suspecting a popped tire. Sure enough the front tire was cut into by a nail of some sort, leaving a huge gash. He ran his hand through his hair again, unsure of what to do. He began to pace around the car. By his third lap, he glanced down and saw a red envelope. Layton looked around and, seeing no one else in the setting sun, picked it up. He saw his name written on the back. Inside, he found three gold coins, a photograph of a middle-aged woman and a note. Silently he read it-
Dear Mr. DeGrey,
Here is a small package that holds all you could desire. Each
of these coins grants you one wish- simply state what you want aloud,
and release it into the air. You will have what you desire instantly.
However there are three rules you must abide by:
You cannot wish someone back from the dead, nor
can you wish and alive person will die.
You must only wish for things that exist.
You cannot wish for more coins. You are allowed to
have these three and these tree only.
Aside from these rules you have the power to get near anything. (Why
three wishes you ask? We’ve found the human brain prefers when
wishes come in threes.) When you have spent all the coins, the woman
in this photo will die. She is an orphan who will never have any
importance to this world. You do not know her. You have a period
of one year to spend these coins before they disappear. We hope you
will do so wisely. Good luck and goodbye for now.
Layton flipped the page over, expecting more writing. Nothing else was to be found. Turning back to his red car, he spoke to himself, “Well, let’s see if this really works!” in a half-joking manner. He tossed the first of the three coins in the air and yelled, “I wish my tire wasn’t popped!” He watched the gold coin fly up. It glinted in the streetlamp light and fell back down. At least Layton thought it did. He looked and nothing was on the street. Instinctively he checked his popped tire. The rip was gone. Well, he thought to himself, this is certainly a worthwhile find! He slipped into the car and glanced at the photo again. Of course there is the matter of taking her life… but she’s an orphan. She won’t miss it much anyway, and it’s not like she’s done anything important, Layton tried to convince himself. I don’t even know her.
Lost in thought he found he had reached his home on Ashira Drive. Layton only noticed it by the brilliant white moonflowers that blossomed in the front. He walked up the path to the black door and reached for his keys only to find it already unlocked. Layton shoved the door open and yelled, “Alright, who’s here? I’ve got a gun!” while sliding his second coin out of his pocket.
A woman’s voice came from behind him. “Layton, honey, it’s only me.” Layton whipped around and saw his girlfriend, Blanche Rufin, with a wineglass in her hand. She wore her flaming red hair down with her hot pink lipstick and a burgundy cocktail dress. “Now, what’s that shiny thing you got there?” She asked, reaching for the coin in what seemed like a trance.
“Why have you got a wineglass?” Layton shot back, shoving the coin into his pocket, afraid she might take it. Blanche looked at him, wide-eyed.
“Why, honey, you know I drink when I’m upset. Now, let me see that lovely coin.”
Layton sighed and replied, “I’d rather just tell you what it is.” He learned a long while ago not to get too far into Blanche’s business while she was drinking, and he had too much on his own mind to worry about her troubles. She nodded for him to go on. “Well, I was driving home from the hospital when my tire hit something and popped. I got out and found a package with three of these very coins, a note and-” Layton paused, deciding it would be best not to mention the photo. “And… naturally, I read the note. Each time I toss a coin in the air I get one wish.”
With each word Blanche’s eyes got wider. “Why, honey, that’s fantastic! There are so many things I would positively love to call my own… A new car, a house, diamonds…” she began, her voice dripping with desire.
“Blanche, dear,” Layton interrupted. “It’s not that simple. There are rules, and I only get three wishes.” A quick pause. “Oh wait, I used my first wish to fix my tire.”
“Oh.” Blanche’s thin eyebrows crossed. “Well, I just thought that maybe you could give me a token of your love…”
Layton bit his lip. “Um… maybe I will… I mean, most likely…” The truth was, Layton wanted all the wishes to himself. He hated to just give things to people, especially something as valuable as a wish. “I’ll wish you up something nice real soon, how about that?”
“Well, fine.” Blanche smiled. She rushed into the kitchen. Probably going to pour herself some more of that red wine, Layton thought and shivered. Alcohol never went well with him. He slithered to his room upstairs and locked the door, then sat at his desk and pulled out his papers from the bottom drawer. He flipped to one of the last ones where he had written all of his dreams as a child. Become a millionaire, be famous, play baseball… he wanted those dreams so badly; they seemed so familiar and yet so foreign. Sighing, he picked up a coin from the table and juggled it between his hands.
“I wish a million dollars would just appear in my bank account tomorrow, and no one would question a thing,” he whispered to himself almost unconsciously. At that same moment Layton tossed the coin up and he didn’t hear it come back down. Unaware of what had happened, Layton peeked under the piles of junk that had accumulated on his desk. And then he realized. His hand dove into his pocket.
There was only one coin.
Layton moaned and put his head in his sweaty hands. He let it fall to the desk.
“Oh, what have I done?” he muttered. “Only one coin left… one wish… that’s all I get for the rest of my life…” Wait, he thought. This isn’t so bad. I just wished for money, right? Now I’m rich! He pulled out his final coin and examined it closely. It glittered so magically, beckoning him to use it fast. “My last wish,” he said lovingly. “Becoming famous is just a word away…” And then his mother came into mind. Is being famous really worth a death? Layton did not know what to do. Anything he chose, someone was to die. He went downstairs to pace and found Blanche was still there.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” Blanche mused. “You look troubled. Sit.” Blanche shifted over on the rusty red couch she was sitting on and patted the next seat over. She always knew when something was wrong. Layton silently sat down.
“Blanche, dear,” he finally started. “I… I can’t decide. I have one wish left and-”
“One? I thought you had two.”
“I did, but I wished for some money to be added to my savings account. With you in mind, of course, you’ll be able to have some too and buy whatever you want.” He added quickly.
“How much money?” Blanche asked suspiciously.
“One million dollars.”
“A million-! Well, what is it that’s troubling you?” A voice so innocent, so sickly sweet.
“I can’t decide. Should I wish myself a famous baseball player, and fulfill all the dreams I’ve ever had, or cure my mother from her sickness?”After speaking Layton realized how greedy and terrible that sounded. He loved his mother, but he also loved baseball, and money, and fame. “I mean, if I’m famous, I might be able to afford the necessary procedures to cure Ma’s cancer, and I’ll have even more money…”
Blanche put her finger to her hot pink lips. “I’d like to say for you to be famous. Then I’d be able to brag to everyone at the office, and you could buy me expensive presents…” She looked off into the distance. “But,” Blanche refocused. “If you want my honest opinion, or what I would probably want if I were you,” she pointed a finger with every word. “Cure you mother. I know how much you love her, and how much you need her. Those cancer cures don’t always work.” She laughed. “And I don’t think I could put up with you crying without crying a little myself.” With that, Blanch stood up, blew a kiss and left.
Layton listened to the sound of her convertible leave his driveway. He felt half relieved and yet half disappointed. But it did feel like the right thing to do. Maybe he wouldn’t know then but it would probably be better in the long run. He wanted to see the look on his mother’s face when she found out she was going to be a cancer survivor. After all, he though, isn’t seeing the happiness on one’s face up close and hearing them say they love you better than listening to a whole lot of nameless people tell you the same? The more he thought, the happier he became. Layton glanced at his watch. Eight o’clock, an hour until visiting time is over. He grabbed his keys and bolted to the car, stumbling once along the way.
The time felt as though something were chasing it- it kept going faster, and faster, and faster. Layton began to grow nervous. When he had left the house, he knew he would get to the hospital on time, and now? It was already eight-thirty and he was only halfway. At last he mounted Anala-Helmi Highway but his relief was short-lived. Cars were inching forwards. There was an accident ahead- a red Lexus sports car had rammed into a black Honda minivan, leaving both vehicles utterly destroyed. Bystanders were rubbernecking. Layton had nothing to do but think. He began to panic. What if he didn’t make it? Or worse- what if he forgot the coin? His hand jammed into his pocket and fished out a cool metal circle. He sighed and looked at it as though it was the key to life. Car horns snapped him from the trance. His head snapped to his watch- eight forty five and he barely moved a foot. Tears welled in his eyes. He shut them tight.
“Why did this have to happen now?” he yelled, throwing his hands up in the air with open palms. “I wish I was just at the hospital already!”
Layton opened his eyes and stared at the white walls, listened to the silence.
“Layton…?” came a weak voice. “Layton, is that you?” Layton turned around and saw his mother.
“Ma!” he shouted happily. “I’ve got wonderful news. I’m going to save your life Ma! You’ll be a survivor! I found these magic coins that grant wishes. You’re going to be cured-” He stopped abruptly. His hand was in an empty pocket. Where had the coin gone? Then he realized- how was he at the hospital? Did he really say the words, “I wish” with open palms?
“Layton, my God, I’m so glad you’re here,” his mother cried as if she heard nothing. “The doctors tell me I’m going to die tonight. I’m not going to lie- I was frightened. But now you’re here, and I can be brave. Hold my hand,” she slid her arm to the side of the bed, shaking. Layton, in shock, moved over and took it in both his sweaty hands. “You’re here now Layton, and that’s all that really matters. I’m ready to die with you holding my hand, right here, right now. I love you Layton, more than anything God has given me.” She turned her head and closed her eyes, squeezing one tear out. Her breathing went slower and slower until it finally stopped.
She was dead.
“No, Ma,” Layton choked, still half in shock. He began to weep. “Ma, don’t do this to me. Don’t leave me. I’m still you’re little boy, Ma, and I still need you.” He ran his hand through her tangled hair. Tears poured down his face. He kissed her on the cheek and said silently to the wonderful God who had given him to her, “I love you.” There was nothing left to do but leave. Layton looked back only once, when he saw the doctors and nurses rush into the room, and he filled with hatred. A lot of good that will do her now, he thought, now that she’s dead. He saw a newspaper on the waiting room table with the headline “WOMAN KILLED IN CAR CRASH” and a photo of a familiar looking highway. There was no time to think of that now. He shoved the double doors open and let the cool night air flood his senses. He saw his car immediately- luckily, the final wish had brought it along with him. He slumped down on the leather seat, banging his head on the steering wheel, sobbing. He did glance up once and saw a woman in a uniform with gloomy dark hair dart by. Wiping his tears away with his sleeve he put the key into the ignition, and ran his hand through his hair one last time.
It did so happen that this woman was late for her night shift at the hospital. Her boyfriend had just broken up with her and she had taken the news rather hard. She ran past the white moonflowers but the headlights from a passing red car reflected off of something. Curious, she picked it up. It was a red envelope. He name was scribbled on the back- Lucinda Ray Afua.
It was unsealed, so she opened it. Inside she found a note, three gold coins and a photograph of a rather sad looking man running his hand through his dirty blonde hair.