The Dead Don’t Pay


By David Bassano,

Juan patiently listened to the doctor explain the next procedure Catalina required but did not ask about the deductible. The doctor then reviewed the various medications Juan and Catalina were taking and why and how he was changing them. Juan thanked the doctor very politely and helped Catalina back onto the bus. It took them an hour on two busses to return to their neighborhood. Then they walked very slowly arm-in-arm to the tienda down the street from their tiny apartment; Juan got a little cash from the machine, which showed his remaining balance at about eight dollars. He bought rice and milk and was quite tired when they got home.

Juan changed Catalina’s diapers and carefully sat her on the ragged sofa in front of the old television. She sat with her eyes closed. She used to occasionally ask, “Where are we going?” or “What are we doing?” but had stopped talking months ago and now usually kept her eyes closed when awake.

The refrigerator and cabinets were down to only condiments, except for what Juan had just purchased. He made a small batch of arroz con leche, Catalina’s favorite, which he hadn’t done in years.

He placed two folding metal trays in front of the sofa. After he saw Catalina wasn’t looking, he opened the end table drawer and checked that the old revolver had the two rounds in it.

Juan put his hand on her shoulder to bring her back, then fed her one slow spoonful at a time while some irrelevant news droned on.

“Good,” she said.

Juan looked at her.

“Good,” she said.

“Good,” said Juan, close to her ear.

When they finished, he took the empty bowls to the kitchen and Catalina sat with her eyes closed.

He put the bowls in the sink and looked out the window at the sparrows at the feeder. If Catalina could still enjoy arroz con leche, it wasn’t something he’d take from her.

He looked at the dirty pots and bowls as if they’d just appeared. Now you have to wash the dishes. And go to the doctor’s. And pay the bills. The dead don’t pay. How are you going to do it?

Then he could only lean on the sink and laugh. Life was so easy this morning. Now look at all the trouble you have.


David Bassano is a History professor at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey. He is also a human rights activist, an author of academic and literary works, and an avid hiker and cyclist. Trevelyan’s Wager, published by Harvard Square Editions, is his first novel. You may contact him via

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