Joseph knew deep down in his heart that Uncle Lou was dying.
No one had actually told him, and it took him a while to figure it out for himself. In fact, it was the lack of information that first caused Joseph to think harder about things.
Every other time Uncle Lou had come to visit, he had stayed a few days or maybe a week. Mom had been very clear about when he was coming and when he would leave. Given the size of their apartment and the single bathroom they all shared, these were details that Joseph appreciated almost as much as his sister Eleanor did. Eleanor won on that score because she was the one who had to give up her bedroom when Uncle Lou appeared.
Eleanor was six years older than Joseph and had since been taken into their mother’s confidence. The gap of years between them had always left Joseph feeling like his sister was more of a youthful aunt, and that feeling was magnified now that Eleanor was in on the family secrets and Joseph was not.
Nevertheless, the facts were these:
- As soon as it was announced that Uncle Lou was coming to visit, Eleanor went to stay with her best friend, Trudy. Mom didn’t say how long he’d be staying or when he’d be going home.
- Lou, who was by nature an outgoing and gregarious man, did not say hello to Joseph when he arrived. He simply shuffled from the front door to Eleanor’s bedroom and didn’t come out again. This included taking his meals in his room.
- When Joseph did try to visit him, he was either asleep or staring vacantly at the tiny black and white TV set that only seemed to get noir films where people constantly told each other, “You’ll take the fall for this.”
- On the few occasions that Uncle Lou was lucid enough to have a conversation with his nephew, he looked at Joseph with the red-rimmed eyes of a man who cried himself to sleep every night.
All of this is what caused Joseph to conclude that Uncle Lou was dying. What he was dying of, exactly, was still an open question.
Uncle Lou was Mom’s only brother and her only remaining family since everyone else – parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, even Joseph’s own father – had been consumed by the flu.
It wasn’t just any old flu, mind you. It was the mother of all flus – the kind that killed you if you caught it. The weird thing was, not everyone caught it. Certain people seemed to be immune. There was no need to quarantine the ill because you either got it or you didn’t. And about 70% of the people in the world did. And then they died.
But that was seven years ago. Joseph hadn’t heard a word about the flu since. It was like all grownups everywhere had conspired to blink it out of existence by never, ever talking about it.
Joseph didn’t know if what Lou had was the flu that wiped out the majority of humans in less than three months. He was small then, and he didn’t remember much about what it was like. That’s why he had to know the truth.
“Mom,” he said, “tell me the truth about Uncle Lou.”
“What do you mean, darling?” his mother replied.
“He’s dying, isn’t he?”
At that, Joseph’s mother burst into tears. She didn’t want to talk any more, but she had to because Joseph needed to know.
“Mom, is it the flu? Is it coming back?”
Mom stopped crying as suddenly as she started. “Oh baby,” she said, and ran to him, wrapping her thin white arms all the way around his body, so tight that it seemed like she was all arms and they kept wrapping and wrapping around him until he could barely breathe.
“Uncle Lou is dying,” she said. “But not from the flu. From something else entirely.”
“What mom? What’s he dying from?”
“From a broken heart,” his mother replied.
About Prompt-A-Day: The rules are simple. Every day, I generate a prompt using Story Shack’s awesome writing prompt generator. Then I set a timer for one hour. At the end of the hour, I post what I’ve got. Sometimes it’s decent. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes I fail at the prompt. Sometimes I do okay. I do not edit, unless I find a typo, because I can’t help fixing those. Feel free to join in and post a link to your writing in the comments.