Doing Good, Kiddo?

Jacob Andris – Fragile.

Reading Time: ~10 Minutes

Jacob Andris at 8 years old. Content Warning: Ailing family member

“Jacob, baby, you can come in the room if you want. He’s awake and we can all talk for a while.” Jacob looked up from his waiting room seat to see his mother’s tired face peeking out of the thick hospital door. The bags under her eyes had become a constant feature of her face, and her curls were always untucked from her hasty ponytails lately.

Jacob always pretended he didn’t notice. He had made the mistake of asking her once why she was so tired, wasn’t she sleeping? She had broken down into tears and apologized to him over and over, setting him up with some crayons and paper while she went to lie down.

He stood from his chair and drifted towards the door. The visits were always tense, lately. The nurses at the desk all knew his name, knew his face. They always had their friendly smiles for him, just a kid barely eight years old. Sometimes they’d sneak him a dollar for the vending machines, and in return he’d share his fruit snacks with them.

Once he went into the familiar room with its sterile floors and walls and familiar medicine and sickness smell, his mother wandered to the opposite side of the bed to take her usual chair. She had a “usual” chair that no one ever questioned. She would sit by her husband’s side.

Jacob clambered up so he was on a chair on the opposite side. He sat on his knees to make sure he would be tall enough, and he grinned at his papa as wide as he could. Just like his mother, he tried to ignore the state his father was in.

Every time he came into that room, every single visiting day, Jacob thought to himself that he’d never seen Nicholas Andris so fragile.

The man once stood at a proud, straight-backed six feet and five inches. His shoulders were broad and his chest and arms were muscled from years of hard work in various factory jobs and farm work. When he’d still lived in Greece, the locals joked that he was meant to be a hero like the old Greek legends.

Jacob would hear those stories from before his papa came to the United States for work, and he always loved them. To him, his papa was heroic no matter that he didn’t carry a sword and shield or fight lions and dragons. He could pick Jacob up under his arms and lift him high in the air, and he could carry him over a shoulder, laughing all the way. Growing up, Jacob’s young voice had piped up in laughter to contrast with his father’s deep, rumbling chuckles.

Now, his father was barely 120 pounds. This body had shrunk around his bones, days and days and weeks and weeks of lying in bed wasting away his muscles and his energy. He could hardly eat without the treatments making him sick. His once thick, wavy brown hair was wispy and almost gone, and his eyes were sunken and so tired.

He was always tired now. Too tired to lift Jacob up or carry him around. Too tired to work for a company that had quietly laid him off months ago anyway. Too tired to laugh for long.

Jacob put a small hand in his papa’s big, callused one, and was glad that he wasn’t too tired to close it over his small fingers. Wasn’t too tired to smile wide and weary and say, “Hey, Jacob. You doing good, kiddo?”

Jacob nodded and smiled back. He could see in his father’s eyes as well as his father no doubt could see in his, that there was uncertainty screaming in their heads. No one in that room knew what the future held, but there was something before them that they couldn’t ignore. Jacob was still young, but he knew what that uncertainty meant.

So, to avoid them all sinking into it like they’d done countless times before, he stroked the back of his papa’s hand with his free one and smiled again. “I played four square at recess today,” he announced.

“Oh, you did? Did you win?”

“No, but it was fun. Raymond almost threw a ball over the fence and the teacher was watching close to make sure he didn’t try to do it on purpose.”

His papa chuckled weakly, and across from Jacob, his mama did, too. With a sense of duty suddenly settling on his shoulders, Jacob delved into more stories about his escapades at school.

So long as he kept them listening, they couldn’t think of other things. He couldn’t think of other things.

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