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After learning he has only a few days left live, a man looks back on his life

Theodore Colin looked out from his too-small chair in his roach-ridden room. The majestic cherry tree stood outside, greeting him as always. It was the only color in his life; his retirement home was as grey as his soul.

He recalled, as if it was seared into his brain, what his doctor had told him yesterday: he would have only a few days to live. As he’d dragged his feet back to his room, he could hear his nurse weeping, and when he’d told his friends yesterday, a few tears trickled down their faces. As he’d delivered the news to his sister, his only living relative, he could remember the silence that had followed. It was ironically loud. When he had gotten back to his prison, he sat down at his chessboard, randomly moving pieces about. He pushed it away in disgust.

But even though the news saddened those close to him, he himself did not grieve. That night, his eyes were sore from staring into space. He could feel the chronic illness eating through him like a mold. It had gnawed at him unflinchingly for so many years, consuming the very thing that was keeping him alive. He rubbed his head and looked up. Again, the flowering cherry tree that stood outside his window was there to smile at him. Even though it was painfully pink, the same color as the cancer that was killing him, its long branches swayed like grass, waving to him, inviting him to relive the memories of his glorious younger days. Suddenly, he was hit with a snowball of nostalgia as he was brought back into his memories.

*          *          *

It was a bright shining day as he skipped home from school, spirits high. He could remember the distinct smell of the cherry blossoms that bloomed in the spring, always there to provide him with delicious fruit.

And as the petals of that first cherry tree floated off, turning from a brilliant pink to a muddy orange, he could remember the Christmas Eve of his nightmares. He was stuck at home with a fever choking him, a cup of cod-liver oil by his bedside. Jealousy plagued him, hearing the joyous cries of his friends as they threw snowballs at each other and built snowmen while he wiped snot off his face with his sleeve.

But those hours of suffering had been only a wisp in his memory as he entered his golden years. So many things had happened in his twenties. It was the bliss of his life—booming business, new inventions. It was like the beautiful cherry tree.

Then one rusty nail had ruined his happy daze: his friend’s doom. The Pearl Harbor attacks sealed William Smith’s fate. Theodore could recall the day he went to visit him. The hospital was white, too white. As he walked into his room and saw his friend on crutches and a deep scar on his face, there was a feeling of helplessness that ate at him the same way his cancer was doing now.

They conversed on matters of little importance. But it was the shrill, shrill shriek from the neighboring room, followed by uncontrollable sobbing, that popped the bubble shielding Theodore. The feeling that there was a killer in white, blending in with the surroundings, being deceptively unalarming, still haunted him today. He could remember the cloud slowly devouring his friend, just like the illness he now had. He could see his future, the future of their friendship, being swallowed by this shadow. The Angel of Death was looming over him, ready to pounce when he was weakest.

He’d backed out of the room, not bothering to answer or even say goodbye as his friend called after him, his face a mirror of confusion. He could remember the suffocating feeling he felt as he realized that Death would not let his friend live. At the beginning of their encounter, William had promised him that he would be fine. But Theodore realized that the promise was only a mirage, an illusion. All promises were just illusions.

After he’d recovered from the terrible blow from the double-edged sword of friendship, he married Mae Tate. He was happy, business was exploding, and he was finally about to settle down with a family in Miami. But he smiled with remorse at the naïveté of his early days. How the tables would turn with time.

He remembered how small arguments and tight smiles exchanged at breakfast turned into screaming matches that pounded on his ears and morale. After two years of spat insults and hostile glares, Mae left. At the time, he didn’t understand why. He knew, deep in his heart, that they were both good people. But they were bishops of two different colors. Bishops . . .

Chess. Oh, how he loved that game! In the days before his time was stolen by painful headaches, he enjoyed a particular fascination with it. He would watch in wonder as great chess players rose to the occasion, setting new records and breaking the glass ceiling that constrained the game. He reviewed the brilliant games they created from nothing, how their seemingly simple moves crushed their opponents’ defenses as if they were made of sand. Who knew something so amazing could rise out of a simple touch of the hand to wooden pieces.

But he also recalled the terror he felt when each of his champions was struck down and replaced with a more cautious player. There were no more resonating queen sacrifices that broke down the defense. There were no more aggressive and bold tactics. It was a new era. Chess had been his comfort, and now, seeing chess transform from a romantic and elegant game into something calculated and robotic shattered his heart. He hadn’t felt this broken since seeing his friend’s doom.

Thinking back on all this, in his too-small chair and roach-ridden room, he wondered, “Why did it matter?”

He sighed and turned his eyes to the cherry tree. It was beginning to blossom. To him, it seemed like the only thing in the world immune to the tortures of time.

Renee Wang
Renee Wang, 13
Champaign, IL

Sabrina Lu, 13
Ashburn, VA