The call came late afternoon.

“May I speak to Sean?” said the child’s voice.

Speaking, I said.

“Is this a bad time, Mister Sean?”

Not at all. And don’t call me “Mister,” it’s weird.

“What’re you doing right now, Mister Sean?”

Me? Right now? Actually, I was just trying to figure out what to write about.

“How’s it coming? The writing?”

It’s not.

“You mean you have writer’s block?”

No. I mean I am having an existential crisis, I’ve been staring at a blank screen for several hours, but nothing’s happening, so I’ve decided to move to coastal Canada, change my name, and take up professional lobster fishing.

“So you can’t find anything to write about?”

That is correct.

“Well, that’s kinda why I was calling, actually. My mom reads your stories to me every night before bed.”

I’m sorry to hear that. Please don’t blame me for your mother’s terrible taste in literature.

“No, I like your writing.”

In that case, please don’t blame me for YOUR bad taste in literature.

“Last night, my mom read me your latest story.”


“Yep. And I was like, ‘Mom, how can I meet Sean? I’ve got to meet him somehow.’ And she was like, ‘Well, let me see if I can’t get in touch with him.’ And so she did.”

So how did she find me? How’d she get this number I mean?

“My mom knows everyone. She is friends with your wife’s cousin’s pet-sitter’s daughter’s roommate’s boyfriend’s aunt’s dad.”

How about that.

“So anyway, I’m calling you from the hospital right now, so I’m sorry if there is a lot of background noise.”

The hospital?

“Yes. It’s busy here. The nurses come in and out of this room all the time. I never have a moment to myself. You pretty much learn to live with them.”

Which hospital are you in, if you don’t mind my asking?

“I am in Texas.”

May I ask why are you in the hospital?

“I have cancer.”


“Brain cancer.”

I’m sorry, I said.

“Yeah, it really sucks. It’s all over my brain and I’m probably going to die. There’s nothing they can do about it. They’re just making me comfortable while I, you know, die.”

More silence.

I’m so… so… I’m so sorry. Sweetheart, I just realized I don’t even know your name.

“My name is Rachel. Please don’t treat me weird now. I don’t mean to freak you out with the cancer thing. I hope I haven’t made you sad.”

You’re worried about making me sad?

“Cancer makes people sad, and I hate it when people get sad. Life is too short to be sad.”

Can I ask how old you are, darling?


I am honored to make your acquaintance, Rachel.

“Thank you. It’s a pleasure meeting you. I feel like I know you already from your writing.”

How long have you had cancer?

“Since February, last year. It’s been pretty hard. I still believe I can be healed, but I really don’t think that’s going to happen for me. I think I’m probably going to die. But I’m not scared.”

Long silence.

Rachel, how come you’re not scared?

“Well, one time, I had some complications, and I actually did die for a little bit. Then when I woke up, my mom was like, ‘What did you see while you were out,’ so I told her. I saw a huge white world with angels and lots of people who I didn’t know, and they were all so happy, and this beautiful woman told me it wasn’t my time yet. She said I had to go back, back to earth. I’ve been unafraid ever since.”

You mean you had a near-death experience?

“No, I mean I went to heaven.”

Long silence. I pinched the bridge of my nose and took in a deep, trembling breath. I sniffed my nose loudly.

“Are you going to be OK?” she asked.

Yes, I’m fine.

“Mister Sean?”


“If you can’t find anything to write about, do you think you could write about me?”

I certainly do, Rachel. I certainly do.