With a tattered copy of Ripley's Believe it or Not clutched in his hand, he stares up at the ceiling of his bedroom, but it's not the white plaster he sees but the stars, high above him and glowing like ethereal balls of light. They're close, so close that it almost blinds him, and a part of him knows that it's only a hallucination, something that's been happening more and more often of late. But the sun's right there, a flaming sphere of hope and retribution, and he knows that if he can just reach a little further he could touch it, feel its wondrous gassy surface searing his bones. He remembers the feeling, and associates it with being alive.
Somewhere he can hear a door being opened, but he's far away from that place and doesn't feel as his niece gently prods him with her hands, urging him to sit up and eat. He doesn't see her tears when he fails to respond, nor does he register when she gently takes the comic book from his hands and tucks the blankets underneath his chin. She knows his time is coming, coming sooner than perhaps even the doctors predict, but she's not ready to give up on him, even if he's given up on himself. He's floating, far, far away from her and everyone else. He's outlived his wife, his children, his brothers, sisters, and parents. He's ready to go home, but she's not ready to let go.
He's always found it unfair that he's been forced to live out the years, slowly losing his mind, sometimes in small shards, other times in large clumps. Parents aren't supposed to have to bury their children, but he's buried three: two strong sons and a beautiful, radiant daughter. He remembers the way his wife Miriam had cried after the first two, and he remembers how their little girl had clutched his hand, begging to know where her mommy had gone and when she would be back. He never had the heart to tell her what had really happened, and little Susie died a year later from chronic pneumonia after waiting out in the rain for daddy to come pick her up from school. He never forgave himself.
The sun moves closer, and suddenly he remembers that story about Icarus and his wax wings, the foolish boy who flew too close to the sun. He remembers how hard he fought to let his children go, and remembers to what great lengths he fought to bring them back. Foolish dabbling in the occult and mystical had only led him further into denial and despair, but that is lost to him now as he soars past planets and asteroids and debris that chip at his spirit like bullets through tissue paper. His niece sobs more loudly, calling out his name, checking his neck and wrists frantically for a pulse, and is no more relieved to find one that is sputtering out like a candle, beating slowly. He sees himself as a white dwarf, his light fading before his eyes, his body becoming colder by the second. Soon he will be a black dwarf, but he is not afraid, for he understands what his niece does not. His time is up, and he is ready to be swallowed into the endless nebula of the universe.
Closer. He does not hear as his niece picks up the phone and hurriedly dialing 911. He's so close now that the sun blinds him, taking away his eyes so that he can no longer see. It's a strange kind of blindness, because he doesn't feel like he's blind. It's not dark, as he expects, but a scalding, pure white that's hard for him to comprehend at first. He becomes used to it, though, and begins to wander. There is nothing and he knows that, but he feels as if there should be and so he looks. He looks like his life depends on it; looks like he isn't blind.
Closer. He hears the sirens in the background as the ambulance pulls into his driveway. His niece doesn't want to leave his bedside, but she has to go unlock the door for the paramedics. He doesn't realize she's gone, because he's so close to what he's looking for that he can taste it. It tastes like the peppermint flavored tea Miriam used to drink every night before bed and the double-chocolate-have-a-heart-attack-and-choke sundaes that his eldest son Jacob had for breakfast every birthday before he died. It tastes like the half smoked ashes of Tommy's old cigarettes, and of the sweet little rainbow lollipops that he used to buy Susie from the drugstore a few blocks away from their house. It tastes like comfort and love and home, and his last ounce of resistance flees him. He lets the sun consume him completely, purifying him in the most holiest of pyres, and when the paramedics finally reach him, the old man's niece trailing their heels, it's already too late.
The men don't look at her as they gently pull the sheets of the man's graying hairs and his wrinkled, grandfatherly features, but to the old man now passed away it feels like an embrace. A deep hole somewhere within his spirit, long since infected and rotted by the passage of the years, is finally filled, and he smiles as he embraces little Susie once more, glad to be home.