In Sprite We All Can Breathe

We were sitting in the diner across the street from the hospital. Meand Julia. Kathy had hissed me out the door again before I could getJulia in her room. Thrown up her hands and made choking motions in theair, her fingers bone thin and brittle looking. Like claws.

"She's only three," she said through her teeth. "She's not going to see this."

We'd fought about this before. It was useless. It only makes you feellike a jackass if you yell at someone in a hospital gown. You thinkabout the people who hear you outside the room. "Why is that jackassbadgering his wife?" they must think. "Hasn't she got enough pain?"

So we went to the diner again, ordered pancakes and soda.

I let Julia put a nickel in the little old fashioned juke box on theside of our table, but she didn't want to pick out a song. Someoneelse would get a freebie. Good for them.

The waiter brought our drinks, and Julia covered her face until hewalked away. Then she knelt down in the booth and brought her eyeslevel with her Sprite. "Look at the bubbles," she said.

Her little, pale slice of moon face bent with the glass, curved,wrapped around like it was in a surrealist's painting. For a momentyou couldn't see how much she looked like Kathy.

I was struggling to pay attention. The sunlight coming in the windowwas stark and flat. It washed across my face like a slap that justhung there.

"Can I swim in there Daddy?" Julia asked me.

I wanted to tell her, yes. Of course. Dive in. You won't even have tohold your breath. In Sprite we all can breathe underwater. And you'llfloat too, bounce from bubble to bubble as you rise always toward thetop.

I knew I should have at least told her we could pretend to swim. Closeour eyes, and imagine what it might be like inside the glass. But Ididn't have the energy for make believe, so I didn't say anything.

She'd know the truth soon enough. Know that if you had a big enoughcontainer, you could swim in Sprite, but you wouldn't want to, and itwouldn't feel all that different from pool water. Probably it wouldjust be filled with drowned ants and bees after about five minutes.She held her face over the top of the cup and smiled only with herupper teeth as the bubble mist kissed her chin, and I thought aboutall the things she'd know someday. Algebra, how to lie, the names ofplanets, sex . . .

Someday she'd even know about this. Know that when you sat in a dinerand got to drink soda at eight in the morning it meant that your momwas dying. It meant that your dad was too chickenshit to tell your momshe was already dead and might as well say goodbye to her daughter nomatter how the chemo made her look.

I wanted to feel like crap about it but I couldn't. I was just sotired. It was what it was.

I looked down into my Coke and watched the bubbles float up to thetop. Each one after the other. Floating up and popping. It looked likeit would never stop.

About the author:

Matt Getty, the self-proclaimed world's best writer ever, isn't as obnoxious as he sounds. His fiction has appeared in a bunch of places, most recently Tatlin's Tower, Rainbow Curve, and Streetlight Magazine. He writes for a Washington, D.C., university and lives in Gaithersburg, Md., with his wife and two daughters. To decide whether or not you hate him, check out his web site at