All the World’s a Stage, Pt. 2

There was no post on Sunday, as you may have noticed. My apologies. For the rest of the year, the schedule should update normally on Tuesdays and Saturdays. This story should be complete before the year ends. Anyway, enjoy part two!

I have a favor to ask you,” I told him. “A big one.” Jacob laughed, tried to play it cool, but he hesitated. There was a moment spent imagining what the favor could be before he said yes. I wasn’t the kind of person to ask for favors very often, and if I said it was big, it was big. Still, he agreed, and we met up at a coffee shop to discuss things. He was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans since it was his day off, and I was in a suit, having just come from the office. “I’ll treat,” he said, and I just nodded and sat at our table. He came back with two mugs, set one before me, sat down, said, “Alright, what’s going on?”

“My mom’s dying.”

Jacob frowned. This was nothing he didn’t already know. “Has she gotten worse?”

“Some. She doesn’t remember me now. Not even as a baby.”

“Jesus. I’m sorry, man.”

I shook my head, stopped myself. “Thank you. It’s hard, but once she forgot me as an adult, I came to terms with it. But she’s been acting like she’s only got one thing left she wants to do, and then she’s going to let go.” I took a sip of my coffee. I might not have had the flair for theatrics that Jacob did, but years upon years of friendship with the man had instilled in me a reasonably decent sense of pacing and the dramatic. “She’s been asking about my dad.”

He arched an eyebrow. “What have you been telling her?”

I shrugged. “It wouldn’t do any good to tell her that he’s dead. She wouldn’t remember from one day to the next, and it’d just traumatize her. In her mind, it’d be her handsome, strong, twenty-something husband that died, not a seventy year old man with cancer. So I don’t tell her anything. I just say, ‘Oh, he stepped out for a bit. Don’t worry, he’ll be back as soon as he can,’ and she just says, ‘Oh, okay. Thank you, Doctor.’”

Jacob frowned at that, reaches out across the table, pats my hand. I shrugged again. “I’m really sorry to hear all of this, man. What’s the favor? What can I do for you? Anything, you name it.”

“I have a role I want you to play.”

It took a moment for the meaning of my words to sink in. Jacob’s eyes went wide. “Dude, no. What? No.”

I just nodded. Jacob frowned. “I don’t know, man. This doesn’t seem right. I don’t know if I can do this.”

I sipped my coffee. “You can do this. You can absolutely do this. Whether or not you’re willing to is a different matter, but I have no doubt you can do this.” I reached into my pocket, pulled out my wallet, set an photo of my dad on the table before Jacob. “You look like him, don’t you think?”

Jacob picked up the picture, looked it over, shrugged. “Maybe a little.”

“I think you do. Enough so that with some make up and some practice, you’ll become him. Isn’t that what you always said acting was about? Becoming someone else?”

Jacob frowned. “This is weird. How’d you come up with this idea anyway?”

I didn’t say anything. I looked down into my mug of coffee, the heated porcelain sides warming my hands. They were cold. I wasn’t sure why my hands were cold. “You haven’t seen her, man. It’s hard. She’s so… It’s like nothing makes her happy. But I think this will. I think she deserves to be happy one last time before she passes on.”

“She’s had a long life. A happy life. I know she has. I got to see it.”

“Well, then I think this will help put her at peace.” I paused. My mouth felt suddenly dry. I took a sip of the coffee. “I’ll pay you.”

“Man, I don’t need your chari–”

“This isn’t charity. I’m asking you to do this as a professional. I want you to research and build your character. I want you to have costumes, props. I want your best work, and people deserve to get compensated for their best work.”

Jacob opened his mouth as if he was about to say something, but then shut it, as if he’d thought better of it. “I’m not making any promises,” he said. “I’m not saying yes.”

I sniffed. I hadn’t expected him to put up this much resistance. It was an unusual request, I knew, but still. He was an actor, and I was asking him to act. Beyond that, he was my friend, and I was asking him for a favor. We’d been friends for years and years. I figured that he owed me that much, at least. “Well, what are you saying?”

He was silent. His hands were folded together on the table, his face angled down, his eyes locked onto something far away that only he could see. He sighed, a deep breath, his shoulders rising and falling. “I’m saying, let’s go see your mom, I guess.”

* * *

It was only a short drive to the nursing home my mom lived at. That was part of why I’d picked the coffee shop that we met at. We got there quickly, the staff greeting me as we walked past them. We got in the elevator, took it to the second floor. The smell of age greeted us when the doors opened, anti-septic and excrement in equal measure. The sounds of people talking echoed down the hallways, soft voices punctuated by the occasional cough, laugh, moan.

We stepped out of the elevator. Jacob hesitated. As he stepped into second floor lobby, he recoiled ever so slightly as if he’d been struck. He closed his eyes, and I could tell that he was taking everything in, steeling himself. I stood there waiting for him, and when he opened his eyes again, I gestured with a nod of my head for him to follow me. We walked through the winding hallways, past doors and doors, and finally we came before room 217. I turned to Jacob.

“Are you ready?”

“Yeah. Yeah, of course. Let’s do this.”

I opened the door. He went inside first, and I followed. She was asleep, thankfully. That was probably for the best.

Jacob turned to me, whispered, “Can we talk?”

“We can talk. We probably won’t wake her up, and even if we do, it won’t be a problem.”

Jacob moved around the room, looking at the personal effects she had on the nightstand, the dresser. Flowers. Stuffed animals. Photographs in frames, some new and some old. A thought occurred to me. She no longer remembered the people in the newer photographs. The frames might as well have been filled with the stock photos that they had come with for all that it meant to her.

I frowned, shook my head. There was nothing productive in such thoughts.

At last, Jacob came to stand by her bedside. She was sleeping peacefully, and I tried not to think about how thin she was underneath her blankets. If Jacob noticed, he gave no sign of it. Instead, he picked up the picture frame that rested there, a photo of my mom and my dad together when they were both young, and he just stared it. “Tell me what you have,” he said without looking at me.

“Notebooks. Diaries. Letters. Old home movies. Some clothes, even, but nothing from when he was our age.” I was silent. The room was silent, save for my mom’s gentle, rhythmic breathing. “Can you do it?”

“Yeah.”

“Will you?”

He looked up at me, his face solemn. “Yeah. I will.”

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