I DON’T don’t know if it was from sleeping outside or what, but the next day, when we got home and Mom had finished yelling at us, Ben’s liver stopped. I was playing Battleship with him when it happened. His eyes turned dull and yellow like a sick dog’s. I told Mom first before saying anything because I didn’t want to scare him. There was no way he would know unless he walked over to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, and I could keep him from doing that. As long as he couldn’t see, he wouldn’t know; and as long as he didn’t know, he couldn’t hurt.
A liver’s something you can’t grow. You have to get one from another body. I asked the nurse if I could give Ben mine, but she said I need it just as much as Ben does. "That’s why they call it a liver," she said. That made sense medically speaking but I doubted her. I read about this one kid in India who sits in trees all day. He doesn’t sleep, eat, or brush his teeth. All he does is sit around, and yet he’s still alive. I could be like that too if people let me.
The girl was younger than Ben and needed her heart and a lung replaced but couldn’t find anyone to donate them. When she stopped breathing, her parents said to give away her organs, as many as possible. She donated her liver, her kidneys, even her corneas. They just took them right out of her while they were still fresh and put them in other people’s bodies, including Ben’s. Sometimes I look at Ben and wonder if she’s floating around somewhere inside of him. I want to reach my hand down his throat and pull her out.
A few months after he got out of the hospital, near the beginning of winter, Ben was still sick every now and then, sometimes having to lie in bed all day watching "The Price Is Right," waiting for his doctor to come and go so he could earn his banana popsicle.
I jerked up one final time and thought for sure I’d hooked him good but my line snapped and I fell back, collapsing…
The creek changes in the winter. The cold turns the water into ice and lays down a blanket of snow, creating another layer between the dead boy’s world and ours. It wasn’t until the snow started to melt and the creek started to turn back into water that I thought about how cold the dead boy must be. I thought about how he probably freezes like a fish in the frozen creek, safe for a while, but then, as the ice melts and the wind skims the water and sends ripples across the surface, he must come close to dying a second death. With Ben sick, the only one who could save him, the only one who even knew about him, was me. I decided to take along one of the Derbez brothers just in case.
There were no leaves on the trees, only icicles. Hiking through the snow had made my pants wet and crunchy, and I could see my breath.
"Breath is spirits in our mouths," Joey Derbez said.
I hung my head back and stared at the cold blue sky. The sun shone into my eyes. When I closed them, colors filled my head. I wondered if Joey would call the colors spirits too but I didn’t bother to ask. I liked thinking of them as colors and nothing more.
"I heard people in Canada ice skate to work on the river," I said.
"Where’d you hear that?"
I thought fly-fishing would work best so I took my normal fishing rod out to the creek, baited it with a miniature Reese’s peanut butter cup, let out a bunch of line, and began casting back and forth, barely scratching the surface of the water, dipping the Reese’s in and out of his world.
"Where’d you learn to do that?" Joey asked.
"The Discovery Channel had a special on fly-fishing in Montana."
"Why can’t you just do like we do when we’re cat-fishing?"
"Catfish live on the bottom of the water. This boy lives at the very top." I tried to explain better but it was hard. "You know how you can see the reflection of the trees on the surface there?" I asked, pointing. "Well he lives right in there, in a world so thin you can’t even see it’s there."
Joey looked confused. "I don’t care where he lives, he’s never going to take that soggy chocolate." He was making fun of me but he was right. It wasn’t until I started using Bazooka Joe bubble gum that the dead boy took the bait.
My rod started to shake. "Got him!" I cried, yanking back to set the hook.
He pulled down hard and ran with it. Brilliant streaks of light shot across the surface. I choked up on the rod and dug my feet deep into the snow. He made the line zigzag back and forth like he was autographing the water. I jerked up one final time and thought for sure I’d hooked him good but my line snapped and I fell back, collapsing into the snow.
I wasn’t sure why he didn’t let me pull him out, why he insisted on staying in his creek, alone. Maybe he thought I was messing around with him. Either that or he figured he might as well fight for what he had, just in case that fishing line led someplace worse.
I brushed some snow off my face and looked out to where my line had been. A log bobbed up out of the water. Wrapped around the log was my line, and jammed into the log was my hook, along with a piece of Bazooka Joe bubble gum.
"Ha! That’s what you get!" cried Joey. "You go fishing for spirits in some creek and that’s what you get." He popped a Reese’s into his mouth and laughed an open-mouthed laugh. His tongue was coated in peanut butter and chocolate. "There he is!" Joey yelled, motioning towards the log. "Wave to your dead friend!"