Searching for Immortality

Submitted into Contest #194 in response to: Write a story inspired by the phrase “The short end of the stick.”... view prompt

27 comments

American Adventure Middle School

“I hate you! You’re nothing but a liar. I’m glad you’re dying.”


“But J3, I never meant—”


“I don’t care,” the boy screamed, reaching for his mother with one hand while wiping away tears with the other.


“He doesn’t mean it, Dad,” John Jr. assured his father. 


“He does mean it, and he’s right,” Jonathan replied, turning back towards the window so his son wouldn’t see him cry. 


Jonathan Farmer never intended to lie to his grandson, but then again, he never expected to move in with his son. He was an unremarkable man who had lived an unremarkable life. A lowly factory worker just like his own father, Jonathan had few accomplishments to his name. He wasn’t sure how he had convinced his beloved Susan to marry him or why God had blessed him with a son with whom he was immensely proud. He just knew his grandson deserved a better grandfather.


So he lied.


“How old are you, Grandpa?”


The question was benign. Jonathan was fifty-nine years old. That’s what he should have said, but he didn’t.


“I’ll be 237 next month.” 


His grandson, Jonathan Farmer III, or J3 to Jonathan, was five years old. Like most five-year-old boys, he took his grandfather at his word. 


“237! Wow, you’re the oldest person in the world.”


“Yep,” Jonathan answered, matching the smile on his grandson’s face.


“But you don’t have any wrinkles,” the boy commented, rubbing his hands over Jonathan's cheeks. “I thought old people were wrinkly.”


“Wrinkles are for mortals,” Jonathan responded, tucking the blankets around the boy and kissing him on the forehead.


“What’s a mortal?”


“It’s someone who’ll die one day.”


“Are you mortal, Grandpa?”


“Of course not. I’m immortal.


“Immortal? Does that mean you will live forever?”


“It does.”


As the words came out of Jonathan’s mouth, he instantly regretted them. This was a lie that would one day become demonstrably untrue. There will be time to set the record straight, he thought to himself before turning his attention to his favorite little man.


“Now go to bed before your mother comes in and you get us both in trouble.”


Jonathan loved his grandson more than his own life, and it pained him to see the bad hand the boy had been dealt. He didn’t want to deceive J3—he just wanted to bring magic into his grandson’s life. As a result, one lie became two, two became four, and four became more.


“I’ve walked on every continent on earth,” Jonathan often bragged before tucking J3 into bed at night.


“How many are there?”


“Seven.”


“What are they like, Grandpa? Which one was your favorite?”

“I don’t know. I never really thought about it. South America, I guess.”


“South America!”


“That’s right. You wouldn’t believe it. In the tropics, everything grows bigger. The blueberries are like apples and the apples are like pumpkins and the little boys…”


“What about the little boys?”


“They are like giants. If you were to go to South America, you would grow ten feet tall.”


“Will you take me there one day, Grandpa?”


“Of course I will.”


“Grandpa, can I ask you a question?”


“Sure. What is it?”


“What does a pumpkin look like?”


The question hit Jonathan like a punch in the gut. How do you describe a pumpkin to a boy born without sight?


“It’s mostly round, like your noggin, but much bigger,” Jonathan answered, rubbing his hands all over J3’s head. “And they have a stem and are bright orange.”


“What does orange look like?” J3 asked.


“Wait right here and I’ll show you.”


Jonathan jumped to his feet and headed to the kitchen, returning less than a minute later before sitting back down next to his grandson’s bed.


“Take this from me,” Jonathan said, placing something in his grandson’s hands.


“What do you feel?”


“It’s small and round and a little rough.”


“Now smell it. What do you smell?”


“It’s an orange. It smells like an orange because it is an orange.”


“That’s what orange looks like to you, J3.”


“It’s beautiful, Grandpa.”


“It sure is,” Jonathan responded, peeling the orange and sharing the fruit with his grandson.


Each night like clockwork, Jonathan sat next to J3’s bed and told stories of places Jonathan had never really been. He tried to find words for the boy to understand sandy beaches—“It’s like walking on hot, powdery snow”—and blue oceans—“It’s cool and wet like dew on a crisp fall morning”—and he told J3 the Egyptian pyramids were like big mounds of cookie dough. He wasn’t sure about that one, but it made both man and boy hungry. Jonathan, a man who had never ventured more than a hundred miles from the town in which he was born, used his imagination and his tall tales to sing his grandson to sleep.


Then in a cruel twist, cancer came for Jonathan like a thief in the night. He’d never smoked a single cigarette, but just like his father before him, the disease ravaged his lungs and sealed his fate.


Lying in bed, struggling for breath, it was finally time to tell his grandson the truth.


“J3, I need to tell you a secret. It might be hard to believe.”


“I’ll believe you, Grandpa.”


“I’m really sick.”


“I don’t understand. You can’t be sick. Only mortals get sick.”


“I know, but it seems I’m mortal after all.”


“But mortals die.”


“I know but…”


“But you promised to take me to South America.”


“I’m so sorry, J3.”


“I hate you! You’re nothing but a liar. I’m glad you’re dying.”


After the boy angrily left the room with his mother, John Jr. knelt by his father's bed and prayed for a miracle both men knew would never come.


“I need you to promise me something,” Jonathan said, taking hold of his son’s hand. 


“Anything, Dad.”


“I need you to make sure J3 gets my eyes.”


“Your eyes? Is that even possible?”


“These days almost anything is possible.”


”I don’t know what to say.”


”Don’t say anything yet because I need one more favor. J3 thinks I’m a liar. He trusted me and I let him down. I need you to keep my promise. I need you to take him to South America.”


”Dad, I don’t know.”


”I know it’s a big ask but, I need you to promise me. Take him there, let him walk on the beaches and swim in the ocean. I know I lied but I just wanted to help him see. It’s all I’ve wanted to do since the day he was born. Will you do that for me?”


“I will, Dad, but you didn’t lie to him. You gave him the world with your stories, and now he’ll see it with your eyes. If that’s not immortality, I don’t know what is.”


April 16, 2023 18:14

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27 comments

Susan Catucci
13:54 Apr 17, 2023

Beautiful story, Robert. It's heartbreaking but also lovely how the blind child is given "sight" by his grandfather, who loves him so much, he takes a risk, one that is sure to backfire - so human and relatable. To a certain degree all grandparents do this, give their grandchildren a view of the world they would never have had otherwise and founded in pure love. My only critique would be to want more. The power behind this story is so big, to me it ended too soon. Every facet works and not a word is wasted. I want to hear more abo...

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Robert Lee
14:57 Apr 17, 2023

Susan, I'm not sure if there is a greater compliment than, "I want more." I think you are right, there is more story to tell. We are introduced to Jonathan's father and wife and son but mostly just in passing. There is more life to this family, of this I am sure. As for the donation question, I did some basic research and found that, although most doctors who do corneal transplants try to match donor and recipient by age, it's not an absolute. I can think of no better reason to stretch the guidelines than to give your grandson sight.

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Susan Catucci
16:26 Apr 17, 2023

That is interesting - about the corneal transplants, and of course you did your research. I learned something. And, yes, I think you came right down to it - I like this family and I do want to know more about them. And that's a compliment! :)

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Rita Kimak
09:13 Apr 17, 2023

What a beautiful story… it’s too short. I want more!!! Great writing!!!

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Robert Lee
12:55 Apr 17, 2023

Rita, you are too kind. I do see so much more to this story. More about Jonathan and Susan or J3's trip to South America. I want more too. :-)

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Jody S
00:17 Apr 17, 2023

Beautifully crafted! An interesting take on the prompt. The twist at the end is poignant.

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Robert Lee
12:57 Apr 17, 2023

It's a funny thing about the prompt. I wasn't sure exactly how it was going to end when I started it. It fit the prompt better at the beginning than the end but I'm glad where the story took me.

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Jody S
23:21 Apr 17, 2023

Prompt writing is new to me! I am fascinated how it gets a writer's mind going! Here's to lots of positive writing experiences!

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Viga Boland
00:14 Apr 17, 2023

Ok. Pass me the tissue box please. This is so touching Robert. It’s also so well written. Some stories are do full of verbiage it’s tiring. You prove how so much can be said in so few words. I love your style of writing. Keep it up. More please 🙏🙏

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Robert Lee
12:58 Apr 17, 2023

Thanks so much. I'm not sure I consider myself a writer, I'm more of a story teller and I guess story tellers use less words. :-)

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Viga Boland
13:58 Apr 17, 2023

In that case, I’ll take story tellers over writers any day. It means I’m more a story teller too i.e. let the characters tell the story through the dialogue instead of having a narrator narrate the story.

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Robert Lee
14:17 Apr 17, 2023

100% agreed.

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Philippa Hibberd
22:48 Apr 16, 2023

Awww! Even in death, Jonathan will be able to keep teaching his grandson about the world. Beautifully written!

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Robert Lee
13:00 Apr 17, 2023

Thanks so much. That's exactly what I was thinking.

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Mary Bendickson
22:47 Apr 16, 2023

J3 may have gotten the short end of the stick in his lack of site but carried a big stick thanks to his Granddad. Charming relationship. Now they both can see South America. Thanks for liking y 'Best Basset'.

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Robert Lee
13:01 Apr 17, 2023

What a perfect way to look at it. Thanks so much, and keep writing. I enjoy your stories.

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Mary Bendickson
13:56 Apr 17, 2023

Thank you!

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18:21 Apr 16, 2023

Impossible to stop reading from the very first line. This story is as delicious and as heartfelt as a pyramid of chocolate chip cookie dough. What a homage! What a beautiful tapestry of a life well lived -- a wellspring of love from father to son, spanning generations. In a world where truth and beauty can be easily overlooked, miracles happen when an orange is unpeeled and shared. Simply beautiful prose.

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Robert Lee
13:03 Apr 17, 2023

Ahhh cookie dough pyramids. That was my favorite part. Truth be told it was a suggestion from a much better writer than myself. I hope she knows how much she helps this writer to be improve his craft.

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12:52 Apr 27, 2023

Oh my goodness, Robert, this is such a beautiful story - heart-wrenching without being sappy, Excuse the pun, but I didn't see the ending coming. And as a grandmother, I would have done the same. Lovely story xo

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Anita M Shaw
02:25 Apr 27, 2023

Well, now I want to go to South America with them!

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E. B. Bullet
02:01 Apr 27, 2023

A y o, when you dropped the detail that the grandson was blind, it REALLY got me!! ITS HARD TO GET ME! Amazing job working that in!! This is such a bittersweet tale, I love the solemn but wondrous voice you've woven throughout the whole thing. I feel the ending came a bit fast, but that's not awful given it's a short story, but I still think the pacing could have used a bit more wiggle room. Wonderful job nonetheless!!

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Michael Reyneke
16:36 Apr 25, 2023

Robert Lee, Thank you for this story. Many touching comments are said for your story. It leaves me with little to add. Well done.

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Chloe Madison
14:00 Apr 25, 2023

It's a touching story! I really enjoyed the turn of events! Cancer took me by surprise and it really is a beautiful way to use the prompt! I share the same opinion as others, I wanted more! But I think it's fluid, organic and I loved it!

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Kate Winchester
23:01 Apr 23, 2023

This story is heartbreakingly beautiful. Great job!

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Mary Ann Ford
13:21 Apr 20, 2023

I'm crying! Thank you, Robert. It was a great story and there was no swearing!!!

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Mike Panasitti
16:25 Apr 17, 2023

I really enjoyed this. Perhaps taking full advantage of the genre tag option and selecting two other genres to go along with "American" would garner you more readers. I would've also liked to read about the first things J3 perceives after he receives his ocular transplants - that would've been a fascinating and touching way to conclude the story and merited the use of the "speculative" genre tag. Take care, and thanks for reading my "Atlas Rises."

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