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Fiction Friendship

As the horticulturist could predict the type of defective flower emanating from a diseased and desiccated seed, the life course of a man could be equally reckoned by observing his beginnings. Jim Tomlinson, a wreck of a man, had chosen the wrong parents, and thereby suffered the consequences. His father was a capricious and jealous old goat, prone to sudden explosions of violence and abuse, with alcohol often the accelerant. His mother was a broken woman, having long ago abandoned any thought of a normal, good life. Her greatest pleasures now were playing canasta and eating Mallomars. Given the choice of a good canasta game accompanied by a sleeve of Mallomars or reading her son a sweet bedtime story, she would go with the former every time.

With such a miserable upbringing, it was no surprise that Jim Tomlinson developed into a nasty, atrabilious young man, and, eventually, into a tired, defeated and depressed old geezer. He had known many women in his younger years, but every relationship ended similarly. As closeness and intimacy grew, Jim Tomlinson retreated and fled for the hills. Jim did have a few friends with whom he would banter about the world and life in general. But, regarding women, his mantra was, “What do I need a relationship for? It’s more trouble than it’s worth! In the end, all they want is your money.”

One cool evening, Jim and his friend Jeff decided to go down to the beach for an evening of philosophizing and erudition. They each brought a lounge chair, some cigarettes, and a six pack of beer on ice. Jim lived only a few blocks from the beach and often went down there to sit and think about things. Lately, feeling his age, he had been introspecting quite a bit more. Once the two men had settled in to their places, Jim took a deep swig of beer and opened the deliberation with an in-depth discussion on the best way to broil a steak. Jim firmly believed in an open flame, whereas Jeff was a strong advocate of the George Foreman grill with barbecue sauce. From there, a full discourse on the dangers of elastic in underwear ensued. Jim was of the opinion that the “boys” had to “breathe.” Jeff, on the other hand, felt a snug fit prevented undue swinging and buffeting of the jewels against the inner thighs. Following this, a dispute broke out when Jim stated his belief that there are 28 teeth in the normal human mouth, whereas Jeff was certain the number was 30. But after several other important subjects were hashed out, Jim became more serious.

“Hey, Jeff, do you ever think about whether your life was worth living?”

Jeff thought for a moment and said, “No, not really. I never thought of it. I just assumed it was worth it.”

Jim countered, “But why? What have you ever done that gave your life any meaning?”

Jeff pondered the question. “Well, I won the trifecta at the Hialeah track about eight years ago. A two-dollar bet got me 56 bucks. Man, just imagine if I had put down a C note!”

Jim looked at Jeff with amazement. “What kind of dope thinks a bet on a horse gives a life meaning?”

Jeff responded, “Well, what have you ever done?”

Jim looked out at the horizon over the ocean. Miles out at sea, the soft glow from a distant cargo ship shimmered like a diamond seen through a gossamer veil. A barely discernible band of zodiacal light rose from behind the horizon.

Jim’s voice now sounded slightly emotional. “Jeff, I was married once, about 35 years ago. We had a son. He was the sweetest little boy. I remember how he loved to watch me roll a ball to him. He looked just like I did at that age. But I couldn’t hang in there. I felt trapped. I had to get out of there. One night, I just got up, packed a bag, and walked out the door. And I never looked back. I’m 78 years old, and I lived an entire life without ever looking back. But now I can’t stop thinking about my wife and that little boy. What would have happened, how would my life be different now, if I had decided to stay and be a good husband and father?”

There was a long pause before his friend Jeff responded. “Jim, maybe it was better that you left. It’s possible you would have ruined the kid’s life. Let’s face it. You’re just not the fatherly type.”

Jim ruminated on that last comment. “Jeff, you may have a point. I admit it. I have been a real screw up in my life. Perhaps you’re right. It’s probably better that he never really knew me. I’m just really curious to see how he turned out. I hope he made something of himself.”

The two men sat quietly for a few more minutes, observing the quiet lapping of the waves at shore. Then, finally, Jim suggested calling it a night.

“Hey, Jim, would you like a ride home?”

“No, Jeff, after that talk, I think I’d rather just walk home. I live only a few blocks away. I didn’t bring my wallet but I did remember to put my house key in my pocket.”

With that, the two friends said goodnight and went their separate ways. Jim watched as Jeff jumped into his Chevy Impala and drove off. The air was cool and dry, and the walk home would take just 10 minutes.

After only one block, Jim began to experience chest tightness. Every time he walked a few steps, the pressure would worsen. He figured he would just quicken his pace and get home as soon as possible, take some Pepto Bismol and get into bed. But as he strode forward, the heaviness became crushing and suffocating, like an elephant had sat down on his chest. Moments later, Jim collapsed on the sidewalk unconscious and comatose. A neighbor out walking his dog witnessed the event and immediately called emergency personnel, and Jim was rushed by ambulance to the nearby hospital emergency room, brought in as a cardiac arrest.

As the gurney burst through the emergency room doors, the young ER doctor responded urgently. The ambulance workers provided their report. “Elderly man found lying face down on the sidewalk. No sign of head trauma. A witness observed the man collapse with no apparent antecedent or premonitory event. We don’t have any identification and we don’t know his past medical history. The only thing the man had on him was his house key.”

The doctor quickly assessed the patient and began CPR. Orders were rapidly given.

“Patient does not have a pulse. Nurse, begin compressions. Steve, give the patient one amp of IV-Epinephrine. Do we have a pulse with compressions? Get me the defibrillator. Robert, start a large bore antecubital IV for fluids. Start normal saline at 250 cc per hour. Let me see the monitor! I think we have a rhythm. It looks like regular sinus rhythm. Good! Andrea, give the patient a bolus of Lidocaine 75 mg IV. Prepare an Amiodarone drip. Check for a pulse. OK, we have a pulse. What’s his blood pressure? OK, pressure good. I think we got him back. Tell the cardiology attending we have a patient for him in the coronary care unit. The patient will probably need to go to the cardiac cath lab in the morning for a stent.”

CPR was successful, and Jim was stabilized and transferred to the CCU for further care. With that, the young ER doctor sat down to write his report.

“Elderly man, age approximately 80 years old, presents in full cardiac arrest. Identification unknown at this time. Social services investigating. Full code blue initiated. The patient had CPR in the ER for approximately 10-15 minutes. Cardiac rhythm restored. IV-Amiodarone drip started. Patient hemodynamically stable upon transfer to the CCU. Appears neurologically intact. Further treatment as per cardiology fellow and attending. Will follow up in the AM to observe his progress.”

Signed, Dr. James Tomlinson Jr. 

November 11, 2022 17:52

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12 comments

Graham Kinross
06:17 Nov 23, 2023

“his mantra was, “What do I need a relationship for? It’s more trouble than it’s worth! In the end, all they want is your money.” I’ve seen statements like this all over the internet from bitter guys probably damaged by their parents relationship and not realising it doesn’t have to be like that. It’s sad that there are some kids who are literally better off without one or more of the parents. The kids would always wonder anyway. That sense of something missing might just be less damaging than the influence of some people but I wish those i...

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Anna Cogbill
05:59 Nov 25, 2022

Wow!! This is really terrific - your word choice is spectacular and paints a really stunning picture, I absolutely love your narrative voice. My only critique would be in the dialogue - it's a bit unnatural for people to use each other's names so fréquently when speaking, even if it is helpful for knowing who's speaking. Maybe dialogue tags? Otherwise I thought it was swell!

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BRUCE MARTIN
22:19 Dec 01, 2022

Hi, Anna, Thanks so much for your comments. I will definitely take your advice regarding the dialogue and watch for that problem in future stories.

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Lily Finch
23:16 Nov 23, 2022

As the horticulturist could predict the type of defective flower emanating from a diseased and desiccated seed, the life course of a man could be equally reckoned by observing his beginnings. - is it defective from its roots or environment? I enjoyed the flow of this story. I preferred the latter half of the story when you wrote more simply. Shorter sentences. It works better in short stories. Your POV works well too. The conversations were great and seemed realistic. Some medical jargon was lost on me, but I thought the ending was so goo...

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Eileen Turner
01:47 Nov 23, 2022

I don't know which is worse, choosing the wrong parents or the wrong spouse. Both can be downright devastating and virtually impossible to recover from. Your story shows good insight into how we become us.

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BRUCE MARTIN
18:06 Nov 23, 2022

How true. A bad spouse can be a real nightmare. That would be a good prompt for a short story.

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Eileen Turner
01:20 Nov 26, 2022

How about a novella with alternate endings depending on which unknown pathway the reader chooses?

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Laurie Roy
23:15 Nov 19, 2022

I agree with Jack, that is a great line. Although I knew the Doc would be his son, I still liked it. The banter between old men being boys resonated with me, I am a woman in a sea of men and have learned to converse on all matter of trivial things including but not limited to the family jewels...p.s. some of my boys say commando is the way to go.

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BRUCE MARTIN
21:35 Nov 20, 2022

Hi, Laurie, Thanks for your comments. I have found that it is very difficult to come up with a "twist" at the end that really surprises the reader. But I love that technique, and I usually try to do it. I suppose that's why O. Henry is one of my favorite short story authors. His stories usually have that type of surprise twist, but written on an extremely high level. He is one of my writing role models, along with Edgar Allen Poe and Sholem Aleichem. Regarding O. Henry, if you want to read a truly wonderful short story, read "The La...

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Laurie Roy
07:22 Nov 21, 2022

I'll check it out now, thanks.

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Jack Bell
11:40 Nov 17, 2022

Is the flower defective due to genes or environment? A "diseased and desiccated seed", it seems to me, could swing either way. And this ambiguity is delightfully exacerbated by Jim having "chosen the wrong parents." Although the twist in the tale complicates things so much, I'm not sure it matters! Really liked it. Jim did the right thing by his son by deserting?! One can't say that for certain, one doesn't like to think it, but it insists on consideration. There are plenty of kids who would seem better served if one or t'other or both pare...

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BRUCE MARTIN
18:07 Nov 17, 2022

Hi, Jack, Thank you so much for your comments. I really like your suggestion about rearranging the sentences. I'm going to do it. It does read and sound better. All the best, Bruce

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