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Coming of Age Contemporary Fiction

“We’re running out of time.”

Why did he say that out loud on the sidewalk? He wanted to read a book. Not a big deal, but he had not enjoyed a good book since university when he had taken an elective to go with his business administration courses. That was a time when he enjoyed talking about and reading Russian literature; when they had talked about and discussed Chekhov and Tolstoy. That was on the list, right? Some Dostoevsky, too… He had liked it. So, there was the bookstore… And he kept walking.

No girlfriend at 25? It must have made him a little crazy right then and there; all that cubicle work and not a bit of relief from it at all; just TV and the gym (sometimes). That did help a little bit. But here he was, at the bookstore he had passed by too many times, and that gym just worked against him, looking but not really responding to the changes in his body. Being at the gym was not helping at all. It was the one girl at the bookstore that did it. She came right up to the only male in the place on his extended lunch break and spoke to him. Was it hello? Forgot the name very quickly, but he said that her hair was like an endless sea (must have been reading then; where did that come from?). Did not even pick up a book, just a phone number she tapped out on his device and a half-remembered thought.

It did come back to him, though, right when he did not need it. I mean, it was his wedding reception, and they were listening to his father-in-law’s terrible jokes about how no daughter of his would ever… What was it? Anyway, he remembered his promise to himself. That new wife – still not recalling the name – noticed that turn in his face. She held his hand and then, with no one’s eyes looking below the table, slipped it under. His face was a groom’s face, taking on a father-in-law’s almost fake disapproval, while his bride captured a free hand. And that was the first dance, garter toss, more champagne and an uncle’s limo to the hotel airport, and he had a little tremor in his head as he passed a kiosk selling magazines and some truly heavy novels (strange in that locale; strange to notice them, too). Maybe after the honeymoon…?

Maybe after the kids…? Maybe after he finds the right schools, and all the clothes, toys and gear they need to get through their classes. Maybe after he bails one out of jail for a DUI and she still hates him, and his wife wants to just give up on a girl she once thought was the most special creature in the world, but is now both of legal age and able to be illegally behind the wheel of a car she was told not to touch. Maybe after his son gets into a good university and still cannot find a job at 25 (surprise, surprise) and lives in their basement for too long. Maybe when he finally passes by that same bookstore again and sees that they have a new edition of the book he wanted that first time, and he leaves it on the front seat and his wife wonders why he would want to read something like that. Maybe…

…And just maybe there is a little time now. Retirement! The great promise of life after work is here. His wife still does a few hours at an office, so the day is his (even his son has finally moved out). So, the book… But does he really have time for this now? The house is his, but there has been a lot of talk about selling it off now that he is not working. There is the daughter, the second son-in-law, and grandchildren who call or stop by whenever they want because, hey, he’s free, right? You can’t brush them off with his reading habits. And then there are the other retirees, people he only spends time with because he and they are all in the same boat. Amazing how little interest he has in their interests. Golf, trips to the casino or bingo halls, bus tours, early dinners… No thanks.

Well, he got the book. He also got a few other things. All those pills lined up like some sort of private pharmacy or “pill museum” (a nurse overheard him, and it stuck), and him with no control over when to take them. It was a nice home for him to settle in now. That’s what they said to him and his wife. She could not understand why things were changing so fast. And after her death, there was this other home. This one was for him. A little bigger; a little brighter; more money from the home (the first one) and some investments but, still, a scheduled routine, right down to the bedtime and colour of pill. And he likes this. It is almost like his old work routine, except he rests more often, exercises not at all, and has the book. The nurse on the afternoon shift is sympathetic when he finds that his reading glasses are not strong enough to understand the ink on the page. She reads with the sweetest accent he has ever heard. And he can tell that she is enjoying herself. He often nods off when she reads, and she does not notice. And this continues for some time, up to the last long chapter. This allows him to murmur the one thing that he never thought he would have to say:

“Enough time now.”

He falls into the deepest rest and she reads through his unheard thought. To do it this way, with this finally done, is perfect.

Too perfect… Yes, he did, just in time, too (the nurse had just finished the last chapter). She did not cry. She just called an orderly, who called a staff member, who found phone numbers, family, voices and tears. The funeral was tasteful, as they say. Nice reception, too. But the people who were outside of the family’s hearing could only talk about the book. As she finished the novel and checked her listener, she placed the novel in his hands. And when she returned, he had somehow managed to grasp the book. Such a damn grip, too, like a vice or someone clutching at anything that floats when they feel they are drowning. Even the undertaker admitted that he had never seen anything like it. They put the suit on around his hands, angering the family (even when it could barely be seen below the half-open casket). They also noticed one last thing, something that did charm them. Some were also terrified and irritated by this, but many realized that it was his last day with them and they were very impressed.

He was smiling.

July 16, 2022 00:34

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12 comments

Aeris Walker
11:50 Jul 16, 2022

Well, you kept your word and gave us a very short story! But it carries such a strong message, that life goes by so fast, and when we put off and put off the things that are important to us, eventually, we run out of time. I liked the line about him giving his not yet wife an overly poetic compliment about her hair, because he had probably been swept up in something he’d been reading. Clever and pretty realistic.

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Kendall Defoe
17:27 Jul 16, 2022

Thank you for this. I tried to add so much to this story that I wonder if anyone really can see all my tricks. ;)

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Avery Mossop
23:56 Jul 19, 2022

Great concept! He keeps waiting to have “more time”, and every stage of life there’s something standing in the way.

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Kendall Defoe
00:38 Jul 20, 2022

Life's too short to let other things get in the way.

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Michał Przywara
18:42 Jul 16, 2022

An enjoyable and relatable story! It's specifically about putting off reading a book, because life gets in the way, but really this could be applied to any dream or goal. So much of life is small-scale maintenance that it's easy to get swept away by it -- and it's addictive, isn't it? In the moment it *feels* like we're accomplishing things. But, like the first line says, "We’re running out of time." The second line though, "Why did he say out loud on the sidewalk?" seems like it's missing a word. Perhaps "why did he say that out loud"?

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Kendall Defoe
20:42 Jul 16, 2022

You got me. I always have at least one e mistake unseen...as do others. And you are right about time. You have to grab things as they happen.

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05:36 Jul 16, 2022

A great story, and a whole lifetime in a short story. I now feel we should all slow down and read a book. ‘All the little details really made this work.

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Kendall Defoe
05:51 Jul 16, 2022

I thank you. And I hope people understand the title's own irony.

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07:04 Jul 16, 2022

Yes and having a daughter I def relate to the irony of this line “ give up on a girl she once thought was the most special creature in the world, but is now both of legal age ..”

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Kendall Defoe
17:31 Jul 16, 2022

I have a neice and have not had to face any of this nonsense...yet.

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Nicole H.
20:49 Jul 21, 2022

Intriguing plot and relatable. A lot packed into a very short story. Good read!

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Kendall Defoe
01:06 Jul 22, 2022

Thank you. Sometimes, less is more? ;)

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