Bradley woke up in the middle of the night. The clock showed a quarter to three. His wife was asleep beside him.
Careful not to disturb her, he lay motionless on his back and reviewed another day at work. There was something important he was supposed to remember, to do tomorrow, but he’d forgotten.
His mind wandered. For a moment he wondered about the car–if he should have the oil changed that weekend. He thought about making reservations for the vacation in Hawaii. He thought about an appointment with the doctor. In the darkness, he looked along the length of his body under the sheet. Suddenly he realized that under the sheet lay a skeleton.
His mind quickly turned.
Another pressing thought came to him that he must buy groceries after work–he must ask his wife what she needed. He would try to remember. And then he fell back to sleep.
And ten years passed in the blink of his astonished eyes.
Another late night, after brushing his teeth to ward off decay, blinking at his face in the bathroom mirror. I’m starting to get old, Bradley thought. What a strange face.
He lay in bed beside his wife, feeling the aching years, unable to sleep.
He couldn’t stop thinking. Next week he would have to see the doctor again. And then do his taxes. And then plan for that critically important conference in Seattle. And then remember his anniversary. How long? Thirty years? And then the lawn needed mowing again. And the leaking faucet. And his daughter needed more money. And he had to write a reply to his older brother, Kenneth. He didn’t want to write words to Kenneth. Kenneth was a big-mouthed jerk. Kenneth was probably the one thing Bradley hated most. There had been no words for most of a lifetime. There was too much anger, bitterness and pain. There was a feud that would never end. He could barely remember why.
He lay in bed, mind rolling, staring up at a dark ceiling, when an unbidden thought returned. He lowered his eyes and gazed at a draped figure.
Under his sheet stretched a skeleton.
His own skeleton.
Then suddenly Bradley was six years older. And his happy younger brother, Ben, who lived halfway across the country, died of a heart attack.
The entire family flew to the funeral. Older brother Kenneth sat near the opposite wall. Everyone faced the open casket.
Bradley sat near the back, behind a strange family of bent people clothed in black.
And then he understood the truth.
With time–too soon–all of the somber clothing, the tears, the bowed heads, the pain, the hidden thoughts, the beating hearts, muscle and blood would fall away.
After the short service he rose, walked bravely up to Kenneth and hugged him.