“Spoiler Alert” is a serialized short story, coming in 13 parts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. “The Past” is part four. It’s best if you know the end first, so go to part one if you haven’t read it yet.
I suppose my answer was the same. I mean, someone tells you where you’ll be decades into the future, why should you believe them?
For David, though, things were not that simple. When he was 11 years old, his dad was dying of some lung disease. Maybe cancer. I’m not sure.
He went to the hospital every day after school. And since his mom couldn’t get there until she got off work at 5:00, David was alone with his father for several hours each afternoon. I don’t know how long this went on for, but one day, he showed up at his dad’s room and there was this old guy sitting next to the hospital bed.
David assumed he was some acquaintance of his father’s, but being a shy boy and not wanting to wake his dad, he kept quiet.
The three of them remained in that odd, silent configuration for a long time. Maybe half an hour. David on one side of the bed, the unfamiliar old guy on the other, and David’s sleeping father in between them.
Finally, though, the stranger spoke up. “David,” he said, startling the boy, “you know how old your father is?”
Of course he knew how old his father was. “Fifty-two.”
“Fifty-two,” the man repeated, shaking his head. “That’s too young to die.” Not something you say in a hospital room to a fifth-grader whose father is dying, you know? “You think you’ll live to be 52?” he asked.
By this time, David was becoming annoyed. And he started doubting that the strange man was acquainted with his dad at all. He willed him to leave. But the guy continued. “You won’t live that long.”
Little David still didn’t respond. As he explained to me, “My top priority at that moment was not to wake Dad. And besides, I was a better man back then. Much more willing to put up with bullshit.”
Except it wasn’t bullshit, as David would eventually find out.