One More Book Before I Die, Oliver Bettington, a senior at a nursing home, believes he has a set number of books to read before he dies. He's coming up on the end of his list...and is saving the best for last.
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One More Book Before I Die
Nearly four thousand books lined the walls of the old man’s room. It made for cramped living at the nursing home, but as he had no other interests it suited Mr. Oliver Bettington, Sr. just fine. The television left the day it arrived, a rejected gift from his only son.
“Don’t need anything to occupy my time! I’ve got my books. Just bring me another Agatha Christie next week.”
That was almost ten years ago. The old man had eventually grown tired of mysteries and had moved on to histories, biographies, memoirs, and then back to fiction – science fiction of all things.
Mr. Oliver Bettington, Jr. entered his father’s room, frowning at the sight of all the books. “Dad, you need another hobby,” he said by way of greeting. “Something to occupy your…”
“Son, it’s no use. I’m not interested in anything but finishing these last five books. After that I’ll be done and it’ll be time to go.” Oliver, Sr. patted the stack next to him.
Junior looked at his father sitting in his raggedy, thirty year old recliner. “What are you talking about?”
“Well, I’ve done some figurin’,” Bettington said, settling back in his chair. “Always been interested in books – kept every one I’ve read.” The old man chuckled and smiled as if he remembered each title.
“You had to finish every one you started, too,” Junior said with disdain. It was no secret there were unresolved father-son issues at play. Oliver, Jr. resented his father’s book fetish, Oliver, Sr. resented his son’s resentment. That, and a few other mutual misunderstandings, was probably what got the old man hauled to the retirement center at eighty – and what had kept him there the past ten years.
“Well,” he repeated, “that’s what’s kept me alive so long. And now I’m almost done reading for good.” The elderly gentleman sighed and folded his hands.
“Again, dad, what are you talking about?” The middle-aged son took a perch on the edge of his father’s bed, there being no other place to sit in the undersized room.
“If you wouldn’t keep interruptin’ I’d tell ya! Like I said – always been interested in books and now I know why. I just read a story that says we all have a certain number of books we gotta read before we die…”
Junior glanced at the stack on his father’s nightstand. The top volume – an anthology of science fiction stories by authors he could care less about – was bookmarked half way through.
“…and that got me realizin’ that I’ve about reached my quota.”
“Dad, I swear, you’ve been reading too much fantasy.”
“Not fantasy, science fiction – based on fact and things that could happen. And don’t roll your eyes at me.” Junior stopped mid-roll and stared at some ambiguous spot over his father’s head.
“Okay, then, let’s hear it,” he said, bringing his gaze back down to his dad. “What makes you think you’ve…reached your quota?”
The old man’s face shone at the prospect of explaining the mystery he’d just unraveled. “I figure it starts on your tenth birthday. You’ve either got the bug by then or you don’t.”
“The reading bug and quit interruptin’.” Junior simply shook his head. “The next ten years determines the number of books you gotta read before you can die.”
“Wait,” Junior interrupted, despite the warning look he got in return. “You have to read a certain amount of books – like a school assignment? – or once you read all your books you…get to die?”
Oliver Senior thought about that a moment. “Well, doesn’t seem to make any difference, does it? Once you’re done you’re done.”
Oliver Junior thought about that a moment and determined his father was nuts. But he kept his opinion quiet. “Okay. So from age ten to twenty you set your quota. How does that happen?”
The old man sat up in his chair and rubbed his hands. “It’s based on the average number of books you read a year during your teens. I must have read a book a week all through junior and senior high school. I wish I would have kept track exactly. I didn’t start writing them down until I was twenty-one.”
Oliver Bettington’s nearly seventy-year-old list was as quirky an oddity to his family as his four thousand volumes. He’d catalogued every title, author, genre, number of pages, beginning date, and ending date of every book he’d read. Whenever he left his room he took his list, probably because he couldn’t take his library.
“So that means from age ten to nineteen I probably read five hundred books – fifty or so a year. Now you have to multiply that by seven…”
“Dad, you lost me. What does seven have to do with anything?”
“Don’t you read your Bible? ‘The days of our years are threescore and ten.’ Scientifically proven to be a biological fact, by the way. Seven’s a special number, the Bible says.”
Junior was about to point out that his father was almost fourscore and ten, but he let it go. And in fact, he had read his Bible, unlike his dad, and knew it did not contain some secret numerical code, but he let that go as well.
The older Bettington continued. “So you take the average number of books you read a year as a youngster, multiply it by seven, add that to the number you actually did read as a youngster and you’ve got your quota.”
“So you get to count what you’ve already read as a youth as part of your assignment?” The younger Bettington chuckled at the silliness of it all.
“Didn’t I just say that?” The old man was not laughing.
Junior could see so many holes in this bit of craziness he didn’t know where to start. But the old man wasn’t finished.
Bettington said, “Do you know how many books I’ve read?”
His son said, “Three thousand nine hundred and ninety-five.”
“Congratulations, you can pay attention. So yep, five more books and I’ll be done.” Oliver Senior sat back and smiled. “Now you see why I don’t need another hobby to pass the time? I only have time for just this stack.” He patted the books on his nightstand once again.
Exasperated, Oliver Junior blurted out, “Now that’s just silly, dad. If that were true you could stop reading right now and live forever. Or wait and finish your list when you’re a hundred and twenty or something.”
Oliver Senior just shook his head and muttered, “Dummy.” He said louder, “You never got the bug, did you?”
The old man’s son sighed and ran his fingers through his slightly graying hair. “No, dad, I never did.” He wasn’t sure where to steer the conversation from there so he said, resigned, “Whatever makes you happy, dad. I’ll be back on Sunday and take you to lunch. Send the girls up to see you tomorrow?” Junior got up from the bed and headed for the door, looking back at his father.
“Sure, sure,” Oliver replied already reaching for the anthology. “But tell them not to bring me any more books. I’m almost done.”