Awakening, slowly extricating myself from my sleep’s grasp, I heard the door bell. Someone insisted on getting me out of bed even on this holiday, a rare day off for me, now that I am a third year resident at St. Peter’s. Throwing blankets away always helped me to shake off last remnants of dreams and nightmares. On my way to the door I noticed how Lily’s hair laced a pillow, no door bell could wake my Lily, not even a fire alarm or an ambulance siren.
I opened the door without checking who was on the other side.
“ Hi, Mr. Fine? I’m from Golub, Krants, and Golub, a Princeton law firm. Please, sign here.” He produced a brown wrapped package and a clipboard.
“What is this? Am I in trouble? Is someone suing me? Do I need a lawyer?” Scary thoughts crowded my tired brain. He held the clipboard and waited for me to sign.
“No, no, Mr. Fine. This is for you. Your name turned up in Dr. First’s will. I am here to deliver this package into your hands.”
“Dr. First? He’s dead? I haven’t heard anything.” With my crazy schedule I must’ve missed the obituary. It was hard to believe Dr. First was gone.
I liked him from the opening sentence of his first biology lecture “You can free yourself from aging by reinterpreting your body and by grasping the link between belief and biology.” Later, working in his lab I learned the phrase belonged to Deepak Chopra, but the feeling of First’s magnificent importance never left me. He became a second father to me even before I started graduate school, and his being my advisor did not make it easy for me to defend my thesis. When I chose medical school after all that hard work, his obvious disappointment hurt me. I loved biology and genetics, but always felt the need to follow in my dad’s footsteps. So, at least one of my fathers was happy with my choices.
“Happy New Year, Mr. Fine.” The messenger closed the door quietly.
Tearing the brown paper I walked to the kitchen and spilled the contents on the table. A smaller unsealed envelope, a thick file folder and a tiny box landed next to yesterday’s empty wine glasses, stale crackers, and half a mango.
“Dear Michael,” I read recognizing at once First’s handwriting.
“If you are reading this letter, it means I am dead. I tried several times to call you to apologize for my dim-witted behavior, but never mastered the courage. Now that I’ve been ill for three years with no good prospects in sight, I feel I know why you chose to be a doctor. Knowing of your nature and dedication, I wish you were mine.
Michael, I have a gift for you, but it comes with an obligation. Please, take care of the enclosed file which records my work of the last five years. I know I can trust you to use it in good faith and for the good of mankind. Yes, such big words, but you will know what I mean.
Now about the box. As you know, my wife and I had no children, and being the only family member to survive the War, I have no living relatives. I have bequeathed all my possessions to the university. I was lucky to have you as a student for six years and came to think of you as my son. And to you, my son, I want to give the result of my life’s work.
Please, be assured I am of sound mind when I write this. The pill in the box is designed only for you. I used your DNA leftover from the tests you created for your thesis, so it will only work for you. If you take it, and I know you will, your life span will extend to eight hundred years. I leave it to you to work out all the details and logistics. You’ll most likely want to know why I didn’t make a pill for myself. I can almost hear your questions. Well, you’ll know the answer soon enough, once you’ve had time to think clearly.
Michael, I wish you a long and happy life (as long as you want it to be).
I reread the letter and touched the box, a plain cardboard box. In it a small plastic bag held a green pill. Rubbing the tiny pill between my fingers, I moved to the sink and filled a wine glass with water.
“Who was that, honey?” Lily’s sudden voice startled me. I dropped the glass. It broke in the sink. I watched the pill swept by the water down the drain.