Good Friday – April 20, 1962
A crowd of sparrows flies up, peppering the California sky overhead. His heart constricts, and Michael Gannon thinks: Today is the day I am going to die.
“Look at that cloud,” Luke says, lowering his paintbrush. “It’s going to rain.”
“It’s not going to rain,” he tells his middle son, struggling to catch his breath. “Don’t give up in the home stretch, Luke. Another hour, and the house will be done.”
His heart squeezes; his fingers and jaw stiffen. You’ll be all right, corpsman, the doctor at Letterman told him, signing his release sixteen years ago. There were more than seventy thousand of them moving through Letterman Army Hospital in Frisco that year. If you could make it through the Bataan march and three years in the hands of the Japs, you can make it now. You’ll be all right.
But heart failure can be a sneaky enemy, quietly waiting to strike the fatal blow. He had plenty of opportunities to see its tricks, barely out of medical school, trying to keep his fellow prisoners alive in the Pacific. People say it’s the brain that keeps you alive— Give up, and you are done for —but who is to say that the will doesn’t have its home in the heart? And if that heart just won’t function?
He climbs carefully down the ladder and leans his back against a panel that has dried. All he and the boys have left is a bit of trim around four windows and under an eave, and the paint should be good for another ten years. Last December, he finished paying off the mortgage.
At least, this.
But no. Death no longer flits overhead, waiting to brush his neck with its frigid fingers, to breathe its mortal fog into his mouth. He left death behind on an island in the Pacific and then on a cot in Letterman hospital. He is strong now. Tomorrow, with the painting done, the kids will dye the eggs for Easter. He’ll put the crib back up for the new baby. Barbara will bake a coconut cake to have ready for Easter dinner. Life will continue, as it should do.
The pain is becoming heavier, pressing down against his throat and clavicle. If this is the real thing, the sooner he can get help the better his chances.
Give in, though, and it’s as good as giving up.
“Dad,” Mike Jr. says, peering sideways at him from atop the stepladder, paintbrush poised in midair. “Are you okay? You look a little funny.”
He slides down against the side of the building into a crouch. No. He has lived through so much. Nothing can beat him. He won’t let it. He—