Um, yeah, okay, I finally came up with something. 1,100 words. Several decades ago, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed the Grief Cycle to describe the stages people often go through when diagnosed with a terminal illness.
The Coral in Belize Is Dying
Artie couldn’t believe he was nearing the end of his life after only thirty-four years. The doctor had given him three weeks, and his announcement only two days ago —his diagnosis of a cancerous growth—was still a fresh echo.
He had stumbled while he was leaving the doctor’s office, and they sat him down to recover. The nurse called it shock. Artie had made up his mind right there, that afternoon, to leave his business affairs, his apartment, his car, his collection of worldly possessions, and go to paradise.
In three weeks there would be no Artie Devlin and no one to mourn him. No wife or lover, no children, no one who could be counted on as a friend. He remembered his mother telling everyone what a good-looking child he had been, and what a talented teenager. She had died of cancer, too, he thought. Now, with his parents long buried, it would be as if he had never existed.
He wondered whether there could have been a mistake somewhere. A technician who was too young or inexperienced for this kind of diagnosis, a mixup in the X-rays or paperwork. Wasn’t there at least an outside chance that the doctor was wrong? Artie didn’t feel sick, didn’t faint anymore or have pain. No one ever really died on those TV medical dramas, so why did real life have to be such a bummer?
He felt good today—good enough to get up off his hotel bed in Belize City, check for his wallet and room key, and then leave. He needed a drink to forget the conversation with the doctor. He would act like a tourist and forget there ever was a doctor. It was like the kids said, “If you don’t look at the cars when you jaywalk, they won’t hit you.”
The bar was far enough off the main drag that there were no white faces among the four or five patrons. It was just after lunch and it wasn’t smart to drink scotch on an empty stomach, but he didn’t give a sh!#.
“Buy me drink, mister?”
The woman was short and had a flat face. Mestizo or Mayan blood, probably, or else she’d kissed the grille of a truck going forty miles an hour. Sure, he could buy her a damn drink. Two or three even, and they could get shit-faced together and he could curse out the doctor who had probably prepped on re-runs of ER.
He only had to buy her two drinks and offer her twenty bucks American to get her back to his hotel room. He didn’t care what she looked like lying under him. Her breasts were like hard tennis balls and her hands were calloused. There was no justice that she should live and he should die.
Now she was asking for another sawbuck. Thirty bucks for a lay with a dwarf Indian. Where did she get off thinking she was worth thirty bucks? But he gave it to her. Hell, maybe if he had paid the doctor another hundred or two the quack would have touched up the X-rays and given him a clean bill. Money makes the world go around. Basically, he knew, money was invented to grease the skids and see that things went your way. It was a bargaining chip.
Life’s a poker game. That’s what Big Man Fu had said back in Cleveland. Fu’s thirty thousand dollars in his closet at the hotel was a bargaining chip if Fu’s goons ever caught up with him.
The sun was sinking over the mountains behind him, leaving the ocean a dark blue pool touched with white breakers. Offshore, he could see the coral reef. A guy on the dock said the reef was dying, and the rosy pinnacles that rose almost to the surface of the sea were turning white. The world was going through a heat wave, but it would pass in a thousand years or so. Meantime, the coral was dying. He was dying.
He laughed dryly, thinking of the paper bag with thirty thou of Fu’s money. Leave it to that gangster to figure out where the money had gone, or where Artie had gone. He’d be dead by the time they’d sorted out the pieces. At one bottle of scotch per day he would have a trail of twenty-one empties for Fu’s henchmen to figure out. The paper bag would go in the ocean to feed the fishes and coral.
Was there no way out, he wondered the next morning? He had moved from the bed to the terrace after the whore left, and the sun in his eyes woke him up in the lounge chair. Perhaps there was another doctor with a second opinion. This made him wonder if he had been too hasty taking Fu’s money and flying to Belize. Belize must have doctors. It had two TV stations, one or two radio stations. That meant civilization, which meant there were doctors. He could double check his condition. If bad came to worse he could return and give Fu back the money, or say to hell with it and stay in Belize until something happened.
He went inside to fetch the almost-empty bottle of whiskey and said out loud, “That’s the ticket. I’ll find a doctor and see if he finds a tumor.”
The sun was shining very brightly, blindingly so. Maybe the coral reef wasn’t so bad either. Some scientist could probably fix it.
The doctor was no help. Artie had been seen right away, and was X-rayed, weighed, probed and tested. The doctor smiled a lot and shrugged a lot and asked for five dollars. “You are okay,” was all he said. Did that mean Artie was not going to die or that the doctor was grateful for the fiver? Maybe he was just saying Artie seemed like a nice guy.
That did it. He would live each day until—well, until he didn’t live. Maybe a few bucks in the right pocket would keep the coral reef from dying too.
He returned to the bar and was surprised to find the whore spoke English passably well. Neither was she as bad looking as he had thought earlier. He learned her name was Marita.
“Did you know the coral is dying?” he asked.
She smiled. “Everything dies. Can we go to your room now?”
“Sure, we can go. It’s time to start living. And when it’s over—if it’s over—I have a present from Big Man Fu I’ll give you.”