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  • A Bellyful of Sparrow
  • Terri Shrum Stoor (bio)

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[End Page 86]

The pain woke him. Sometimes it was a snake of misery, [End Page 87] twisting through Larson’s guts like it wanted to pop its head out of his chest and say howdy, and sometimes, like this morning, it was a color. Even with his eyes open, everything glowed shiny red and fierce.

He heard Steven on the porch and felt the trailer shake with his boot steps when he slammed the front door. Steven leaned over and squeezed his father’s shoulders in a rough hug.

“Hey, Daddy, how you doing this morning?”

The contact was excruciating, but the boy meant well. That is, if you could call a thirty-five-year-old man a boy. In this case you probably could.

“You hurting bad?”

Larson swore at him as hard as he could for asking such a question, but the bad lungs had his voice, and what came out sounded even to his own ears like nothing more than a grunt. Steven went to the cabinet and came back with three pills in his hand: one of the peach-colored morphine tablets and two Advil.

Larson was supposed to have two of the blessed morphine every four hours, but his son had put him on a painkiller diet. Instead of the dose he was supposed to have, during the hours that Steven was in charge of things, his meds had been cut in half, supplemented with the Advil. Steven sold the other half of the morphine pills down at Beebo’s bar for five dollars apiece. That money added up, and Larson could hardly blame him. Larson figured he was lucky. The boy could have cut him off completely.

He crushed the pills and offered them to his father on a spoon. “Here you go, Daddy.”

Larson opened his mouth with more effort than it should take, and the boy dumped them onto his tongue, offering him water from a cup with a flexi-straw.

The pain and the pills were part of the show. He supposed that if it ever got desperate, if the pain ever struck so deeply that it was unbearable, he could work up the gumption to pull away the oxygen feed and slowly end it all that way. Knowing he had at least a little say in how it might go was a comfort to him, though he couldn’t imagine ending it early. This was the lung cancer his doctor had been promising him for most of his life, and now that it was here, he was taking the full ride.

The damnedest thing about the cancer, other than the smothering pain, was that Larson still wanted to smoke. He knew he ought to curse the cigarettes that had taken his lungs, his breath and his voice, but he didn’t. Most days he just lay in the middle of the living room in his used [End Page 88] hospital bed, dozing off and on, imagining the bitter taste of a Marlboro, the feel of the filter between his lips and fingers like a dream of love with a soft-bellied woman.

Steven brought him strawberry Jell-O in a plastic cup and spooned it into his mouth. Larson figured he must look like a baby bird, his trap wide open, dentures missing, sucking up that Jell-O. Man, but it was good, cold and sweet. When it was gone—and it took a good twenty minutes for him to eat a cup of Jell-O, since swallowing was such a bastard these days—he was exhausted. The tag team of morphine and Advil took away the teeth of the pain, softened the red to a more bearable rose, and he slept again.

When he slept, he nearly always dreamed. Some of the dreams were sidewinders: pure devilish nonsense, like the one where Clement Lee, his best friend and neighbor, turned into a winged gray wolf that flew over his pasture in great, dizzying circles. Those were the morphine dreams, all sinuous shapes and mystery. But once in a while...


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