“Harry, you really need to relax,” said Greg. “Stressing like this, missing sleep…it’s not good for anybody, let alone someone who’s…not well.”

Harry was ensconced in a hospital-style bed, surrounded by crumpled pieces of looseleaf paper, open composition notebooks, and three laptops (his current model and the two previous ones) on the tray that was supposed to hold his food. “You need to call a spade a spade, Greg,” he said without looking up. “End-stage pancreatic cancer isn’t ‘not well.’ It’s ‘dying.'”

“You know, they say that a positive mental attitude helps,” Greg said. He shuffled through a few of his old friends’ papers, which seemed to date all the way back to their high school days. Reams of faded pencil told of the stories Harry was always scribbling in class when he should have been paying attention.

“They don’t say anything about a realistic attitude, though,” Harry replied, his eye still riveted to his computer screen. “This is a hospice, Greg, not a hospital. The most positive mental attitude in the world isn’t going to change six to eight weeks left into anything but six to eight weeks and seventeen seconds left.”

Greg sighed. The nurses had told him that Harry had been at his computers and in his notebooks constantly since he had them shipped in the day after he had arrived. He’d barely slept, ate only enough to keep from starving, and refused to partake in any of the activities or painkillers that had been proffered.

“Marilyn says her prayers are with you,” Greg said. “I ran into her in the supermarket the other day. Perhaps she’ll come to visit.”

“Well, that’s more than most people get from their ex-wife, so be sure to thank her for me.” Harry’s fingers were flying over his keyboard. “Maybe if she’d managed to crank our a kid or two with me, instead of McPherson, there’d be a better reason for a visit.”

Greg pulled up a chair. “Is this really how you want it to end, Harry? Cut off from everybody, with me as your only visitor? I’ve seen the logbook.”

“Everybody was cut off from me long ago,” said Harry. “My own doing, so caught up in that goddamn firm that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I made my bed, and now I’m quite literally sleeping in it. Wailing and gnashing my teeth aren’t going to help.”

Greg glanced at the computer screen; it looked like Harry was writing prose fiction with a separate window open for an outline. “Well, at least one thing hasn’t changed,” he said, trying to force a smile. “Still writing your stories.”

“After a fashion, yes.” Harry hadn’t shifted his gaze from the monitor since Greg had come in, the glow making his wan features, ravaged by disease, seem even more drawn and angular.

“Goddamn it, Harry, will you stop that?” Greg cried, fed up with being all but ignored.

“Don’t you see that I can’t, Greg?” Harry shouted back. He met his friend’s gaze for the first time, and Greg could see that his eyes were teary.

“Why not?”

“Every day for fifty years I wrote a little of this and a little of that,” Harry said miserably, indicating the accumulated papers and laptops with a sweep of his hand. “Hardly finished anything, never published anything, because I told myself that there would be time later on. The firm or Marilyn or some other little bit of life always came first.”

“It’s natural to think that, looking back with 20/20 hindsight,” said Greg. “That doesn’t mean that you have to bear yourself up over it now.”

“No,” Harry said. “No, no, no, no. I have to finish them, Greg. I have to finish them all: every novel I ever abandoned, every story I left half-finished, every poem that needed the right rhyme, every play that could use a better ending! I have to finish them all, and there’s not much time!”

“Why? Why do you need to finish them so badly?” Greg said. “Why is it more important than living what’s left of your life, Harry?”

“Because when I die, every piece of information that’s up here,” Harry tapped the crown of his head, “dies with me. All the endings, all the plots, all the characters, dead as a doornail. Unfinished forever. It’s like burning a library full of books that have never been written, and it’s my own damn fault for putting it off for so long.”

“So what?” Greg continued. “People leave unfinished stuff all the time.”

“You don’t understand,” Harry said desperately, plaintively. “The life I led, the choices I made…these stories are all that will be left of me after I die, Greg. They’re the only thing I have left to give the world, and the only part of me that has any chance of living on. I can’t let it end with them all unfinished. I just can’t.”

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