Amy Hempel

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story


The setting is the California coast (presumably in the Los Angeles area). The narrator recalls her one and only hospital visit to her best friend, who was dying. Why has it taken her so long to make this visit? Because she is afraid.

When she arrives, her friend is wearing a surgical mask, and so must she. They talk about inconsequential things, bantering, but then her friend says that there "is a real and present need here . . . like for someone to do it for you when you can’t do it yourself." The narrator tells her sick friend the story of a dog who "knows when to disobey."

The narrator remembers how she and her friend played a word-game to ward off earthquakes. Now, however, it is not a question of "if" but only of "when." When the narrator returns to her friend’s hospital room after taking a walk on the beach, there is a second bed there. The narrator knows it is meant for her, so that she can keep vigil. Both women take a nap, but on awakening, the narrator says, "I have to go home."

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