Excerpt: 'Why Is God Laughing'

Mickey pondered that and tried not to shiver. The smell of disinfectant made the room feel colder than it was. Minutes passed. Mickey pinched himself, trying not to think of another joke.

A Catholic, a Protestant, and a Jew die and go to Heaven. At the pearly gates St. Peter says—

Somebody coughed softly next to him. "Mr. Fellows? I'm Dr. Singh." The joke flew out of Mickey's mind. He turned to the Indian man in green hospital garb with a stethoscope around his neck.

"I didn't mean to intrude," the young doctor murmured.

He looked like he could be twenty, except for his bristly black beard.

Mickey felt a twinge of guilt. He thinks I was praying.

The doctor made a reassuring motion with his hand.

"You can come closer, if you want," he said. Neither of them spoke as the young doctor pulled the sheet back. It wasn't nearly as hard to look as Mickey had feared. His father could have been sleeping. Larry's color wasn't pale yet. Even at seventy he was a demon for keeping a good suntan all year.

"He looks peaceful."

Dr. Singh nodded. "Do you want to know exactly what happened? I wasn't on duty when he came in, but I've reviewed his chart. Sometimes family members want details."

"Just a few," Mickey said. He wondered if most sons would be reaching under the sheet to grab their father's hand. Larry's hands were folded over his chest. Would it be creepier if the flesh felt warm or cold?

"It was an acute myocardial infarction. A massive heart attack, at around two this afternoon. Paramedics showed up inside of five minutes. But your father was probably dead before he hit the floor."

Mickey said, "So it was quick."

"Very."

Maybe that accounted for the expression on Larry's face, which wasn't really peaceful, Mickey observed, but slightly surprised. If your heart was exploding and all you felt was excruciating pain, would you just look surprised?

Suddenly Mickey had a new idea that caught him off guard.

I'm not dead, you chump. I'm just fooling, and I went to a lot of trouble here. You get the joke, don't you? You, of all people.

Mickey had to fight his sudden impulse to kick over the table and knock his old man onto the floor.

That's not funny, you sick bastard, he'd shout. And Larry would explode into one of his big belly laughs as he got up and dusted himself off.

Then Mickey caught the doctor's expression out of the corner of his eye. Was that nervousness Mickey saw?

The young doctor might be green—maybe he hadn't seen that much death himself. Mickey couldn't tell. But one thing he knew for sure. The situation definitely wasn't a joke.

Three days later Mickey went to close up his father's apartment. It was a small one-bedroom, part of a retirement complex in Culver City. He paid off Lupe, the Guatemalan housekeeper. She was the one who had found Larry's body.

"There, señor," she said, pointing to Larry's favorite chair, a Barcalounger that Mickey remembered from when he was a boy. It had been through the wars, the dark blue leather arms worn and cracked

So that's where you bought it, Mickey thought.

After Lupe left, giggling with embarrassment—he had slipped her an extra hundred and hauled her battered vacuum cleaner out to her car—there was no reason to stick around. Mickey pulled the blinds, shutting out the last feeble rays of twilight. He turned the thermostat down and looked around.

Anything else?

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