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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A former player tries to thank a former coach, but time has chilled the memory and chipped away youth, leaving only regret.

Submitted: March 24, 2016

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Submitted: March 24, 2016




A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran


Jack Benson could see Chansky’s face looming; grimacing; threatening; taunting. 

Benson had his eyes compressed to a point where he thought he might squeeze the blood right out of them the second he lifted his lids. 

Through all the pain of the heel-pull’s movement, there was Chansky’s face projected into a full-size mega-pixel image on his cranial screen.


“I’m going to call him”

“Really? What for? I thought you hated him.”

“Oh hell no . . . well, maybe at the time; but he’s getting me through again; with these,” dropping his two index fingers toward the knees, “he’s doing it again. I have to let him know; I have to thank him.”


Sixty-one years ago and he could make out every hair in Chansky’s crew cut; every crease in his bloated-with-emotion face; the straining ropes of chords in his neck, making him look eighty; all of his bared teeth; and, more than anything, those eyes. Chansky had the most coruscating sapphire blue eyes that Benson had ever seen, before or since.

They were the  eyes of a frenzied pre-med student being supplied free dinners for assisting in the coaching of the Boston College football team; or more correctly; helping the coaching staff eliminate those guys who couldn’t cut it.

Chansky was their ‘eliminator’ and he gave the impression that he enjoyed eliminating all manner of things.


Jack knew there could only be one brain surgeon named Chansky and found his address and number within a few minutes. 

He hadn’t really rehearsed anything; all of Chansky’s revisitations had been steeped in ferocious sincerity; Chansky never eased up on anything or anyone; and Jack doubted that Gerry had mellowed over the years; at least in his core.

“Hi, is Doctor Chansky in?” Jack had called a number in a medium-sized town outside Boston. He had, very foolishly, thought—well, hadn’t really thought at all—that Gerry would still be at his office; or an office, doctoring away.

“Who’s this,” young female voice; twenties maybe.

“Hi; my name is Jack Benson and Doctor Chansky was a coach on a football team at Boston College. I was on the team. I wanted to thank the Doctor for all the advice and assistance he gave me.”


“Hello?” Jack, tentatively.

“Ah . . . yeah . . . well; hang on a sec.” and a very old style landline phone smacked the wooden top of something, “ Granpa! Telephone!”


“Hello?” Jack spoke again.

Female; Granddaughter; yelling,” Says he knew you about football at BC.”


“Okay . . . he says he’ll pick up in a sec.” and the same phone-smack rumbled through the wire.


“Hello? Who’s this.” Jack immediately sat in surprise at the sound of the ancient wheeze in his ear.


Benson released the handle of the heel-pull that he had been using to tug  his right heel closer to his right butt; the primary ‘exercise’ that Susan Choi had prescribed as his Physical Therapist, for the rehabilitation of his right knee; his new right knee; the total replacement of his right knee (and earlier, his left) with an iTotal ConforMIS two-piece Steve Austin special. Jack was now—knee-wise, at least—one hundred percent bionic.

Ms. Wong had been no less than a Drill Sergeant and the ‘Boot Camp’ followed him home from Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital like some unshakable millstone.


“Hi, doctor; Gerry . . .you were a coach on the football team in 1955 while you were in pre-meds.”

Slowly, warily, “Yeeaah . . .  what’s this all about?”

Now there was some of the Chansky Growl, as Jack had come to label it; the dismissive gruffness of sincerity. 


Everywhere he faced in their bedroom to complete his ‘list from hell’ exercises; there was Susan, only five feet of her, but a born taskmaster, who lingered even in your relaxed vision while you read or labored over a computer.

But even before Susan came into Jack’s life, there had been Chansky; GerryChansky; the mad Czech with ‘the eyes.’

Gerry landed jets on carriers during the summers; coached and ‘eliminated’ during football season and got As in pre-med school the rest of the year.


“Well, Gerry, I just had two total knee replacements; and while I’ve been gritting my teeth doing the rehab exercises, I see your face; very largely; your entire face and the cords of your neck yelling at me and, well, egging me on; no that’s not right; urging me on; and  I’m using your energy from back then to push me through the pain of the PT exercises.”



“Where’d you have them done?”

“Well, in Redwood City; but I live here; in Santa Barbara.”

“Why’d you do that for?”

“Well, because I live here,” sensing that this was not going well, “I wanted to thank you for all the advice and encouragement you gave me back then. It really helped me make the team; and now it’s helping me again; to push through the rehab pain.”


Jack could still feel the chill of the barely-suppressed dread whenever he brought to mind this particular version of ‘the remembrance of things past’:

One on One.


Trimble, the punter, kicks the ball high in the air and you are to catch it and avoid Trimble as well as the two biggest guys on the team.

They are coming to kill you with something they call a tackle.

Jack saw the scuffed dull brown of the ball against the Blue Angels’ blue sky and he felt and heard the pounding of six killers’ feet.

He couldn’t help bracing his back up even higher in an arch, while his memory expected the simultaneous crunch of three crashing football giants breaking him in two. And then up popped Chansky’s face .

“No!” Jack cried.

Amanda rapped on the door; “are you okay?”

“Yeah; sorry honey; just acting out; sort of.”

He could hear her pausing and deciding whether to interrupt his session, but she went away.

Chansky and Trimble, and then Porter and Ellis had gone away with her. For now.


“Who did the surgery?”

“ Ah, Dr. Jamison.”

“What hospital?”

“Sequoia . . . do you know him; have you heard of him?”

“Where’s that hospital, eh?”

“In Redwood City . . . California.”



Of course Chansky had first appeared out of the past during Jack’s first rehab, with the left knee, some four months ago. But somehow—maybe through repetition or the compounding of pain upon pain—somewhere along the ‘road to dusty death’, Chansky’s face had burst into Jack’s vision in such a jarring fashion that for a nanosecond Jack thought Chansky and his face crammed with vitriolic provocation was immediately in front of him.

It was a hell of a shock, as you can imagine, and the afterimage lingered for hours.

From that day until now, every time Jack hit the real tough exercises, there wasChansky; it wasn’t enough to have Susan yelling at him, he had a hydra head of Choi and Chansky, partners in torture, to deal with.


Jack was now being besieged by many doubts; the first one being whether he should have made the call at all; others were close behind that one.

“Gerry, do you remember me by chance? Jack Benson? You used to give me more one-on-ones with Trimble, Ellis and Porter than any of the other guys trying out,” rushing, before he lost Gerry, "but, because of those, well, things, I made all the cuts; the team.”


“Well, Gerry, I guess you’re retired now; talked briefly with your granddaughter; how are you?”


The total knee replacements became necessary after thousands of miles run over forty-five years through the canyons of upper Santa Barbara, along the beaches as far as they stretched both east and west. Runs and races grew to Marathons and fifty-milers.

Then his knees said to hell with this and demanded a substitution; time out. Granted.

Perfect surgeon; former doctor and surgeon for all the St. Louis professional teams,; perfect Hospital; Sequoia. One hundred percent MERS-free and one the fifty best hospitals in the country; then Susan and Cottage Hospital Physical Therapy.

And here he was. Both done; one well on the way and the last one unrelenting in its reminders that: “no exercise means no running.”

 By now Jack’s knees were almost ‘fine’ but when the word running had popped up in a conversation with Susan way back on knee number one, she stood to her tallest, hands on hip;  “You can’t run! You’re out of shape; but don’t worry, we’ll get you back out there.”

It was after that session that Jack had brought back pages of killer exercises and routines that Susan promised would deliver him back to the trails—probably not the track or even the asphalt—certainly not the concrete—where he could meander for a mile or so through the enchanted woodlands and certainly along the huge greens and beaches bordering the Pacific.


“Who did them?”

Jack now felt foolish. He felt he was pestering and confusing a fading retired doctor about something out of a dimming past.

“Ah, Gerry; it’s been good talking with you; and again, thanks for all your help and advice back then. I’ve appreciated it all these years, but never more so than right now when I ‘m doing a number of the same exercises that you had us do during workouts for the team.”

“Why’d you go to California to have them done? Anybody around here can do hips; or are you saying you live there?”

“Yes; that’s exactly right. I moved here in the early sixties.”

“Why’d you do that; they could do your hips here; pretty much anyone could.

“I did brains.”


Jack had somehow managed to make all the cuts and play for the College; and Gerry had been accepted for the full Medical School program.

Jack never had a moment’s hesitation in predicting that Chansky would not only crush Medical School but that he would become a surgeon; brain, probably; because of his eyes. The timeless, almost ethereal eyes of Chansky were his ticket to the surgeon’s Hall of Fame.

Jack became an architect. Gerry practiced in Boston.

Jack had a partnership in Santa Barbara.

Jack was now seventy-seven and Gerry was eighty.


Jack still maintained a thread of hope that a salvage of both the situation and the conversation was possible.

“Yes, I know Gerry; I always knew you’d be a brain surgeon; just like you, eh? Carrier pilot with better than perfect vision. Perfect eyes.”

“I thought you said your hips were done; was it your eyes?” his voice had lost every vestige of the Chansky Growl.

The wheeze of a confused old warrior put the punctuation on his remarks.

Jack thought he might cry.

Through the telephone, wire he could see the present Gerry, sitting beside the Gerry of football days, trying to communicate with each other and make some sense of this perplexing voice on the phone.

“Hi; sorry; but Granpa’s really confused now; he’s really upset . . . what did you say to him? Who are you? Why didn’t you talk to me; I’m his oldest Granddaughter. I look after him. He’s not well. You shouldn’t have done this; you really shouldn’t have; what did you say to him to upset him so?

“I thought you said you were a friend of his; some friend.” and the phone silently slammed into the ether.


Jack leaned forward on his elbows.

After a long thoughtful pause, while still holding the phone in his left hand, he drew his

daily list of assignments to him with his right hand, picked up his red Sharpie, and crossed


1. Call Gerry and thank him.

After a deep sigh, he lowered his right hand, where it landed on his new right knee.

It was almost as red as the Sharpie, but ten times as wide.

© Copyright 2018 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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