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One Lifetime Goal

I shuffle my feet awkwardly outside the hospital room, the fabric bag holding dinner weighing me down. Everyone has already left for various Christmas dinners and parties, and my sister, Annette, is about to leave. I have nowhere to be and will spend the night with Otto.

Nearby, the receptionist is glaring at me and sigh, turning to wait for Annette. I am surprised to see that the door is already open and Otto is smiling at me. I glance to my right to see Annette as the elevator doors close, obscuring her from view. I don't blame her for leaving without a word. I'm the last person who deserves one.

I go in, setting dinner I had cooked on the small table in front of the window and take a seat in the chair beside Otto's bed. Studying his face, I notice several changes. His cheekbones have become very prominent and his face is very pale, showing off the purple under his eyes. "Hello, Anya," Otto says with some sort of hidden strength.

"Otto," I reply stiffly. I haven't seen my family since I left for Ottawa. "I... brought dinner."

"I saw. It smells wonderful." He coughs and my stomach tightens. Otto has always been my favorite brother; he never teased me or stole my favorite sweater like the others.

With impulse, I grab my brother's hand. "Otto, don't die. Not now. You're too good."

There is a pause and his eyes stay trained on me as I say, "You must be terrified."

"I'm not," he says confidently like I'm the sick one. "I can't stop death, so I have to accept it. I began to think about why people die when you left home and it has become my lifetime goal to figure it out. I think I have the answer. You die when you learn to die and it takes your whole life to do so." To any others ears, his words would make sense. But the sound of the conviction in him is the only thing I hear.

"Your life isn't over yet!" I almost feel like I am arguing with death itself.

"It will be when I die." There is a silence between us.

"But you won't."

"I will. Now, can we please eat? I am starving for your famous meatballs. Have you sold any paintings recently?" he says, as if this was a regular visit and we weren't sitting in a hospital room. I set up our dinner, putting a bit of everything on our plates. Over the food, I tell him about visiting Paris, France and he tells me about life in town. I fall asleep with my head on his stomach, knowing that my visit had been the best present to Otto. And his voice was the best medicine for me.

A week later, I am with my friend, Katy, in the town center and my phone rings. Even before I answer it, I know what will be said. Katy watches me as I speak. When I hang up, she says, "Who was that?"

"The hospital. Otto's dead."

"Why are you smiling, then?"

"He achieved his lifetime goal."





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