"How are you today, Mr. Cohen?"
Mr. Cohen looks up, a single snow-white eyebrow raised. The basic answer is the same as it's always been these last several months: Mr. Cohen is dying, slowly and somewhat painfully.
A sigh comes from Mr. Cohen's companion. "All right. Stupid question. I'm sorry."
"No, no, not stupid." Mark coughs and snuggles down under the blankets on his bed. "I feel cold, mostly."
"You need more blankets? I can get you more blankets." Benjamin Coffin the IV moves to do so, but Mark gently grips his wrist. "No blankets, huh?"
Mark shakes his head. "If it's all right, I'd prefer to just have some company."
Ben laughs nervously and runs a hand over his close-shaven scalp. "Sure! Sure. You can tell me about the good old days. Y'know, your wild times with dad and Collins and everyone."
"I can do even better." Mark smiles. "I can show you the good old days."
So Mark talks Ben through setting up the old projector in the private room of the swanky nursing home that Ben pays for. When Ben immediately proclaims the projector "ancient" in a good-humored sort of way, Mark decides that maybe he likes this kid, even if he is Benny's son. Even if the kid does have an annoying habit of checking up on him all the time.
Mark doesn't watch the films. He knows these films. He made these films. Instead he watches Ben. Ben watches with a slight smile on his painfully young face. Mark is touched at how the other man's smile widens just a bit whenever Benny appears on-screen. Ben must miss him a lot. Perhaps that's why he's so diligent about looking after Mark—Mark is the last link to Benny, to the past.
When Roger appears on-screen, with the longer hair he wore after heroin and April and HIV, Mark frowns. Thinking of Roger always makes Mark think of the one real fight they ever had: You pretend to create and observe, but really you detach from feeling alive. Which was true enough. But Mark never did it to protect himself from getting hurt. He did it so he could protect them. He still wishes he could have found a way to explain all that to Roger, before Roger … Well. Too late now. No day but today.
Ben's light brown hand lightly touches the stark white hospital gown covering Mark's shoulder. Mark glances up, confusion further wrinkling an already wrinkled brow. He can't make out Ben's face. His vision is all blurry. Why?
"Are you all right, Mr. Cohen?"
Oh. He's crying. That's why. It feels good. When he was young he never used to cry much, but right now it feels good to let the heat of the tears warm his sallow cheeks. Hesitant, Ben puts his arms around Mark's shoulders, and Mark allows it. Ben smells like coffee. It's nice.
"I'm sorry the films got you upset," the younger man says, gentle, soothing. Mark wonders where Ben learned his gentleness. From Benny? Maybe. But probably not.
"It's all right." Mark sniffles a little. "I'm just an old man, that's all. We get sentimental."
Ben laughs. He checks his watch, still keeping his arms around the older man. "You know, I don't have to get back to the office this afternoon. Things are pretty slow right now. Would you like me to stay for a while?"
Mark opens his mouth to say no. To say that he's fine. Quite all right. Doesn't want to be a burden. Instead he finds himself inexplicably responding, "If you wouldn't mind. Yes. I'd like that."
"Okay," Ben says, nodding, grinning. And the grin Ben definitely learned from his father, Mark finds himself thinking, as he falls asleep with warm arms around him.
Author's Notes: So all things must pass, even Mark Cohen. I do hope this chapter is more "full circle" than "anticlimactic," but perhaps not. Regardless, thanks to those who have read and reviewed! I also hope you've enjoyed the story—well, that you've enjoyed it as much as anyone can enjoy a story where the author cruelly kills off all the characters.