Reads: 166  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 1

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Being absolutely sure who is really, certifiably, dead is especially important when attending your class reunion.

Submitted: May 07, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: May 07, 2016




A Short Story in Two Chapters

Nicholas Cochran

Chapter One

“Whitty . . . goddammit man, I can hardly wait until our fortieth.

I realized I was shaking the poor bugger in a fit of sorrowful goodbyes.

His glasses were slipping even farther down his short nose, so that now they were tilting quite a bit more to the left, despite the piece of stark white tape on the hinge.

”Well . . . you can always come and see me.” he said simply, while shifting his weight to his other foot.

”Or you can come and see me,” said I, “get away from the snow . . . get a little sand in your shoes. Hey, California is your perfect tonic for the Toronto depression; in January or February . . .  or March, April or May; until the snow melts.”

We were slowly moving together toward the lobby of the Royal York Hotel, the venue for our thirtieth high school reunion.

Overstuffed chairs faced immense couches across deep patterned carpets; a weak May sun slanted through high windows, casting dappled shadows of tall potted palms all across the mauve marbled foyer.

Wafts of springtime and promise mingled with a beckoning bouquet of haute cuisine from a particularly fine restaurant.

“Out there?” Whitty stopped; as if any thought of going to California—or even leaving Ontario, for that matter—was a very bad idea. “well . . . it’s . . . well, it’s so far.”

“Aaah, nonsense; hey man, you barely have your seat belt on and a couple of brews down the hatch when voila! you’re on the approach to SFO,”

I paused and waited for some reaction.


“hey; after a few days we’ll go down to San Diego; and Pacific Beach . . .  and Mission Beach . . . we’ll watch the volleyball girls; suck up some  more beer, eh? C’mon man, whadaya say?”

By now, I, the tall blonde Jackson Mason of San Francisco and he, the short rusty haired Nolan Nelson Whitworth of Toronto, had reached the main entrance of the hotel, where both new and old guests were milling and circling in shifting routes of arrival and departure.

As I stopped to face him, Whitty again shoved his glasses up with an index finger and laughed.

“Well Jack, that could be a great idea. I’ll definitely check with headquarters . . . January or February eh?”

”Yeah; perfect; the water is so blue and so warm; the sand gets hot between your toes . . . but there’s always a nice breeze. I know you’ll love it; so will Sheila; I guarantee it.”  And I power pointed my proposal with a smart smack to Whitty’s left shoulder. Whitty thrust out his right hand and I pumped it furiously.

“Now remember, let’s not wait another ten years before we get together again,” with righteous sincerity, “this has been one hell of a thirtieth; but, what . . . every ten years? . . . c’mon . . .”

Laughing again in his deep-throated rumble, Whitty unlocked my hand and gently pushed me toward California.

* * *

Now, while once again holding the Fortieth reunion notice, I had a sudden sad sensation of gloom.

Whitty was dead.

My mental picture of taped glasses and an upper tooth hooking the lower lip when he smiled, vanished as quickly as the life had passed out of Whitty, seven years ago in a wrecked Pontiac.

I turned down the hall to grab a coat for my walk to the travel agency. 

As I reached for my Burberry, the hangers moved just enough to reveal the breast of my Red Feather Football jacket, a superb garment that had been provided to each of us—grudgingly—by our Head Master, W. B. McInnerny, when we won the Provincial  Football Championship in my senior year; grudgingly, because W.B. catalogued jackets in the same bracket of contempt in which he placed sweaters and other ‘ camp clothes’; grey flannels and blue blazers were his requisites . . . ‘for a neat appearance and thereby, a neat mind.’ 
Winning a Provincial Championship in anything other than matters scholastic, wrinkled the nose of this intrepid leader of Canada’s outstanding boys-only day school, even though, ironically, his University Major had been Physical Education.

Now, once again, appeared the grainy mental flickers of Whitty: smiling . . . even laughing; now in his football uniform; compact; with no helmet, no glasses, blind as Oedipus; acknowledging the slaps of joy about his back and shoulders. I wondered if he ever felt pain.

Suddenly, he was gone.
However, after a few moments from my front door, even more images of Whitty dangled and bobbled on the screen of my cranial cinema in a combination movie and slide show of “My Life and Times with Nolan Nelson Whitworth.” Crashing through tiny holes between huge linemen; losing his helmet, lowering his head and with russet strands of hair springing in all directions, butting defensive backs into the end zone. 
Now, a calmer Whitty, toying with a naïve unsuspecting substitute teacher from the adjacent College of Education; Whitty consoling me after a tough basketball loss to Vaughan Road. And now; again; gone.

All along Van Ness Avenue and for most of Post Street, the final falling blossoms from the cherry trees petalled my path like roses before a conquering Caesar.

Intermittently, recurring visions of Whitty amused and delighted my senses, while the March breezes pushed me closer to my destination. 
And, along with “The Whitty Show”, came all those thoughts about the Reunion; thoughts I had reviewed and re-reviewed, along with every change of heart and mind I had experienced since receiving the fortieth invitation the week before.

Barring a hostage situation or some biblical catastrophe, I was initially determined to attend the fortieth, but as the window narrowed for buying tickets and going to the cleaners, I could sense my resolve being eroded by phantasms of drunken jerks I had never liked; probably a Master or two who were even bigger jerks; Canadian food.

Then, last week, I was solidly slammed into reality by my birthday; I got back in touch with dates and events; and all those large and little sea marks that dot our paths to dusty death. That cheered me up enormously, as well.

 Now, pulling on the handle of the glass door to Worldwide Travel and hearing the sounds of the door sucking on the seals, the status of my situation flooded over me in a very ‘get serious buddy!’ manner. ‘Get a grip man! What are you doing?’ some smart-ass inner voice was hectoring. Helpless, I couldn’t prevent it from continuing: ‘You are a refugee from the dullest of all existences, man: a middle class professional’s life in Toronto; the capital of Dull; home of the Leaf and the Jay.
California, on the other hand, has provided you with every possible antidote to the deadly miasma of Canadian conformity; and that chilling precognition of where you would work and for how long; of where you would live and with whom; of where you would spend your summer cottage months; and, of course, where you would finally—and mercifully—die.
The Golden State has sprinkled its magic dust on every aspect of your life; and now you’re going to pay money to fly back into the face of paralyzing boredom; into chloroform on a transcontinental scale; to track the miserable little bastard of boredom into the belly of the beast?”

Suddenly I was leaning on the counter, and, according to her nametag, the Manager on Duty was Charlotte.
She beamed at me with straight, even, blistering-white teeth. She was just waiting to smile even wider and whiter when I asked my first question.

Now; this counter and my doubts had met before; and it was here where I had first booked—and later cancelled—my reunion junket.
And then, alternately, like a cycle of binges and AA meetings, I booked and un-booked—sometimes in the same day—and once with the same agent. Of course, by now I knew that any reputation for sanity that I had previously established within the airline industry had been smoked for good. But hell; this was serious. This is why I had come in person, rather than booking online. I really needed a whole lot of guidance. Should I just avoid Hell altogether, or dive in and mix it up?

While walking home, ticket in hand, and beset with very mixed emotions, I had another brief Whitty visitation which propelled my mind back to my ‘Dead List’.
I began to ruminate about a ‘Dead List’ shortly after beginning to read “Citizen Vince”.
I, like Vince, started to think about—and then began counting—the number of people I knew who were dead . . . well, at least I thought were dead.
And because it was my fortieth reunion coming up, I also began thinking about a list of people I wished were dead.

So then I began a list of ‘possible deads.’

This morbid activity, I ascribed solely to, and blamed entirely upon, the wretched truth of age crowding me toward the shorter and grimmer end of the life stick; a fact which I added to my list of ‘outrageous fortunes’, about which I had too often “troubled deaf heaven with my bootless cries.”

Now; trying to figure out who is really dead and who is just rumored to be dead, had become a frustrating challenge over the years.

Class historians and anonymous rumor mills spat out bulletins about not only my class members, but also members from other years.
All entries, apparently, had been issued tickets to the Styx.

Well, McGrew was definitely dead. Also Brugles . . . or was it Bright? . . . they both rode in from the Kingsway every day on the same street car and arrived at the huge front doors of the old school at the same time. Then they sat next to each other in class. They were also the same height; and they both had wide faces, lots of teeth and already-thinning sandy hair. Well, one of them was definitely dead.

Ray Ross was dead. Poor little bugger just pitched over in his forties after a life of being extremely talented and extremely short.

In addition, another short guy, Shoulders Shandlee: he was definitely dead . . . in flagrante delicto . . . assisted by smokes and booze . . . and a much younger woman.

Then there’s Forcette and Byers, Nails Nailer and, of course, the weird tale of Willy White.

One of the major pains in the butt about keeping up with those who have shared your life for any significant period of time (often as short as a one-night stand), is trying to find a reliable historian.
You really need someone you can thoroughly trust.

For instance; you really must know, for sure, whether someone is divorced, as opposed to separated and awaiting a final decree. (here is where you have to be absolutely sure because bigamy is still a punishable faux pas in most civilized countries.)

You really want to know who just had a boy or a girl; who’s really gay—and not just someone who loves to don the wife’s clothes and underwear, along with a large hat, and pose for photos on his fiftieth birthday;  who’s really having a tough time of life and which fortunate detestables have made millions and are thinking of buying their own islands next to Richard Branson.

And; most importantly of all, who is really, actually, truly, certifiably, deadYou get this one wrong and all sorts of wild crap can ensue.

After hitting strategically placed fans, the winds of misfortune can scatter the consequences far beyond even the wildest imagination of the idiot who disseminated the false information; which he got from . . . where? 
Now doesn’t that just exasperate the hell out of you; someone tells you good old Jimmy took the last train for the Coast, and it turns out that Jimmy didn’t even go near the goddamned station for chrissakes: there he is in his whites, playing tennis at Moore Park with the resident pro, and then giving lessons to all the better looking young girls around sunset.

Whatever the wattage of his lurking perv genes may be, he sure as hell isn’t dead; and now your iPhone is vibrating and ringing; your retro land line is jumping; your iPad is glowing; and everyone wants to know what the bloody hell you’re doing spreading all this horse shit about Jimmy.
Wires and earpieces are going in and out of you (and devices) while you try to contain this crap.

You begin to wonder about those guys who clean up the trauma scenes—I love to see their trucks go by with the huge signs on the doors telling you they’ll clean up every conceivable venue where death occurs: car wreck; fire; suicide; murder; frat party—yeah, I wonder what they could do in the ‘information clean-up’ business.

But, of course, that, like all the other absurd— maybe even demented—ideas to quickly corral the latest ‘faux death’ news, simply comes down to . . . well . . .  nothing.

You just have to make a list and answer all those calls until that blessed silence and darkness falls all over and around every one of your links to the outside world; and all over and around you. 
Reliable? Well; seems so little of anything is reliable these days, and the ‘credible-death’ reportage is no exception.

And what really grinds you and continuously scrapes your temperament, is the infuriating fact that there is never just one numb-nuts out there who’s willing to announce (based on some crack cocaine vision he had) that, in fact, Bimble really is dead; oh no, now it gets really hairy; because if there are two numb-nuts out there, then there could be more; how many more?

At times there appears to be legions of these sorry sacks spreading their scat so that we almost have to call the fornicating coroner’s office every day after brushing our teeth, just to check the list against our graduation year book. 
Which also then raises the specter of another approaching crap storm; false death reports of guys in years other than yours, both before and behind; so now you have a couple of thousand guys to worry and wonder about and just who will really be among the quick, and who will be among the definitely dead, once January first pops up.

I actually know one of these toxic mouthpieces; one of my best friends.  
I haven’t really asked him yet if he has some sort of preternatural ‘gift’ for dishing up all his misinformation, or if he just really makes up all this bogus bull. 
On the three, count them—three, occasions when he has been (sorry) dead wrong, I received only the vaguest of replies to my questions about his sources. 
Then again, he boxed a lot in high school; and quite obviously, too much in college. 
Nevertheless, that didn’t prevent him from passing the Bar, or marrying . . .  and becoming a father . . .  Lord help us.

 Well, before I arrived home, I added John Malcolm Chamblis, (smokes and booze) as a definite, and also Noel Nelson,(bad genes), as another definite. I briefly mulled over the case of Ron Renfrew—hunting ‘accident’?—not really a definite, especially considering the source, a weedy rat-faced business guy who didn’t play ball after school.

 After Miranda opened the door for me and hugged me as I told her of my decision, I asked her why we do that . . . count dead people. She kissed me and said simply.

“It just means you have one less person to one up.”

End of Chapter One

© Copyright 2019 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:


More Literary Fiction Short Stories