On our way out of the ICU, having said our goodbyes to our unresponsive friend, he speaks. It’s a short sentence, scarcely more than a murmur. Standing just behind him, I bend down to hear. Brush my hair, he says to me. I convey his request to his aunt, who hands me the hairbrush they’ve brought from home. Its silver handle is ornate, its white bristles are soft. It’s the kind of hairbrush that might’ve rested on an actress’s vanity in the Forties. For all I know, it did just that: Our dying friend’s partner, a stylist for the big housewares catalogs, had an eye for such things. He left us six months ago. Our friend’s hair is soft, fine and glossy. It has not suffered as the rest of him has. I brush slowly, gently, lightly, scarcely letting the bristles touch his scalp, channeling the tenderness I feel into every stroke. He tilts his head back, allows his shoulders to slump. His closed eyes, hollow sockets, sunken cheeks, sallow skin, an enigma for days, relax in evident pleasure. After I stop, the doctor will wait for us to leave and then discreetly increase the morphine drip. Officially, of course, this never happens. In the realm of the unspoken, it always does. In the realm of the unspoken, this hospital, alone of all the hospitals in the city, traffics in mercy. In the hallways and lobbies, the waiting rooms and nurses’ stations, everywhere, everywhere, the presence of flowers.