Phineas woke up knowing someone was going to die.
He didn’t know who, or when, but he knew it was going to happen.
He didn’t know how he knew, either. It was just one of those ‘eureka’ moments which are so clear and sudden you just know they’ve come direct from Fate.
He wondered about telling Grandma, but quickly dismissed the idea. Even if Grandma wasn’t still in bed, and as reluctant to be disturbed as she always was in the mornings, she’d probably just laugh at him. After all, everyone died. There were people dying all the time. And just as many people living against all odds.
Like Grandma. Phineas didn’t know what it was she’d contracted this time, but he knew it was some chest bug. Upper respiratory tract infection, the doctor had said. Nothing serious, for anyone like Phineas. But for a lady of nearly ninety, with numerous other medical conditions…
Phineas suddenly froze, halfway out of bed.
What if it was Grandma, the person who was going to die?
He pushed the thought away as hurriedly as it had come. Grandma wouldn’t die. She couldn’t. And he certainly wouldn’t insult her by suggesting it. She was fine in her mind, really—just a bit forgetful—but there was no way she’d appreciate this new notion.
Besides, what if he was wrong, and it wasn’t Grandma? It could be anyone…one of his teachers, or his classmates. Or what about his parents?
Phineas wrinkled his nose up. There wasn’t much point in wondering about it. He wasn’t going to find the answers in the same mind that had conjured up the question. He’d find out soon enough, he was sure.
He pattered down the stairs in his bare feet, taking care not to make a noise and ‘jar the foundations of the house’, and thereby ‘jar’ Grandma’s sleeping brain. His coming down the stairs like an elephant, she said, often gave her bad dreams.
As soon as he opened the kitchen cupboard, Phineas knew he’d have to go shopping later that week. He sighed at the cupboard’s emptiness, then ripped open the last packet of Shreddies. A waterfall of skimmed milk followed a portion of cereal into a bowl, and then Phineas turned back to the fridge.
The clock already showed forty-five minutes past seven, and he hadn’t packed his schoolbag yet, but every morning Phineas took Grandma her breakfast tray, and today was no exception.
He’d set out the tray the night before, but now he added to it a tall pot of soya yoghurt, a shallow bowl from the fridge of the plums he’d stewed yesterday, and the seed mix Grandma liked to sprinkle on top of everything she ate.
To the side of the yoghurt Phineas set a tiny glass dish, and into this he counted out Grandma’s pills: one blue for her arthritis, two yellow for her migraines, a white one for her kidneys, and another white one for her heart, a new bright pink antibiotic the doctor had given him for the chest infection, and three chrome-coloured painkillers that Grandma was allowed to take during the day while Phineas was at school. To conclude the set-up, he filled a tall glass with filtered tap water, and added it to the tray.
Once the tray was complete, he pushed it to the edge of the counter and bore it cautiously across the hallway to Grandma’s room. He didn’t knock, because Grandma didn’t like the knocking, but used his elbow to push down on the door handle.
And then he was struck by the possibility that perhaps he hadn’t been awoken by the conviction of impending death this morning at all, but, rather, his subconscious had perceived a death that had just passed!
He rushed into the room, carelessly letting the cutlery slide down the tray to clink against the glass dish, making the eight pills rattle together…and there in the bed was the lump that was Grandma, snoring even more heavily than she did when she didn’t have an upper respiratory tract infection.
She was fine.
He set the tray down on the beside table, careful not to let anything clatter, and padded back to the kitchen, where his cereal had gone all wet and soggy. He didn’t mind, though, and ate it at the counter, standing on one leg and looking out through the window while the boys from down the lane kicked a football across the road. Maybe someday he’d be able to join them.