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Alexsis Johnson

New Tricks

I shift my weight to the balls of my feet and get up off of the couch. His eye follows me. Just the good one on the right. The other stays sleepy and hooded and I consider him as I make my way to the fridge. How many days does he have left? I start to punish myself for the thought, a stern grown-up voice pushing my worry down, but then, because it can be denied no longer, both voices accept that the first was on to something.

At this point he doesn’t fear death. It’s clear from the new weightlessness in his slow shuffling steps, the way he chews more slowly, breathes one huffy breath as if to say “I’m ready,” before he drifts off to sleep. There’s no conversation around it. The rest of the family avoids long looks and any kind of physical contact with each other, but the tells are there. Pursed lips when he sighs, raised eyebrows on more energetic days. They don’t fear his death—they welcome it, in place of long bills and complicated procedures. I am the only one afraid. I think they see it in my chin, the way I clench my jaw at the sight of his skin—sagging, stretching only where the tumor pulls it taught. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, so maybe the way he reads me is something he’s always done. But when I reenter the living room, a glass of flat Coca-cola in my hand, his good eye rolls toward me again and I know he knows I am afraid of his death. And I know he knows that it’s not him I fear for.


Alexsis Johnson was born and raised in the Midwest, but is a recent transplant to New York City. She recently graduated from Yale University with a BA in English. Her work has previously been published in Sleet Magazine and The Science Creative Quarterly.