This was the big one, the one Chuck had dreamed of all these years – the great story after all the years of being kicked around by the brutal establishment magazines. It had it all – a lost dog, a lonely pony, an orphan, a dyslexic actor, and a ballerina with a bum foot all in one story. And all he had to do now was hit the Send button.
It was late afternoon now, and he’d worked all day. Now he had the attachment all set and he’d already addressed the cover letter to the major magazine, the major magazine, oh yeah, the major magazine that had rejected every story of his for thirty years and counting, but this was the one that would make the editors weep and apologize for not discovering his work earlier.
Not that he was bitter. Not now! He would savor the moment before hitting the Send button, so he went into his kitchen for another cup of coffee. He added the milk and sugar. He usually avoided sugar since his health problems had started, but sugar definitely was called for this time. He stirred in the sugar, finding a kind of beauty in the slow circular motion of his hand as he stirred. It was a fine hand. The hand of a writer, a little bruised around the knuckles, the flesh at the fingertips worn from beating the keyboard.
He sipped. Ah, he sighed. When he had been a college teacher, he’d had a little ritual. He’d stand before his desk and raise his cup to his lips and let out a mighty sigh: Ah. The students enjoyed the moment. They’d watch him. Ah, he’d sigh. They’d laugh and then class would get underway.
His wife, Julie, a nurse, had gone in early to the hospital and she would be home soon. He recalled now that he used to have his Ah moments with her, too. After finishing a story, he would get his coffee and look at her and pose with his cup and sip, and let out a big Ah. That was in the better days when she still cared about his stories, when she still cared about him. But there had been distance in recent years, distance as all the rejections and disappointments weighed upon her as well as him. For the last months, he hadn’t even let her read his stories, not after she’d described one of his stories as “gibberish.” Well, exactly! The story had been about a guy who is going mad and writing gibberish, so the fact that the story did in fact sound like gibberish was a sign that he had succeeded! But she had failed to appreciate the finer point.
Well, his relationship with Julie would soon be turned around. She would believe in him again! And if not, well, the women would be lining up in droves after the story appeared in the major magazine. Oh yeah, there would be plenty of women, don’t worry about that!
He went down the short hallway, triumph and joy rising in his chest like a wave, but halfway down the hallway, the rising joy in his chest turned to a surging heat wave and he collapsed to his knees and sprawled on the floor, the Ah cup of coffee spilling out before him. His heart exploding, he crawled toward the computer. Must hit the Send button. As he faded he was comforted in knowing Julie would know what to do. She would preserve his legacy. She would hit the Send button.
When she came home in the afternoon and found Chuck in the hallway, Julie did not panic. She went into her “cool safe” zone as a nurse. She could tell right away, but she checked his pulse anyway. Yup, sure enough, he was dead. No doubt about it. Totally dead. This was going to be a pain in the ass, notifying people, arranging the funeral. She was in no rush to deal with all that. She made herself a cup of coffee in the kitchen, sipped, let out a bit of an “Ah” and walked back down the hallway, stepped over Chuck’s body, avoided the spilled coffee – what a mess! – and went into the office to the computer.
She saw the cover letter to the editor, opened the attachment. Chuck had been talented once. She’d believed in him, but as the years had rolled by without much to show for it, they’d both grown disillusioned. She recalled one recent story that was absolute gibberish.
She started to read Chuck’s story and her eyes teared up. My God, this one was beautiful. The sad pony! The stumbling ballerina! The actor who mixed up his lines. Opening his other files now, skimming through them, she saw that there were really quite a few good unpublished stories there. Sending them out would keep her busy for some time and help her deal with the grief, which she knew might begin after she left her cool, safe zone. After all, there had been some good years together before the long bleak period settled in.
She saw that the story was aimed at the big one, the major magazine as Chuck would say, the grand cabana, the big cheese, the ring to rule them all. These were sensitive, beautiful stories, not really suited to an author named Chuck. Julie. Yes, that would be a good writer’s name going forward. She made the right change and hit the Send button.
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Robert McBrearty’s stories have been widely published, including in the Pushcart Prize, North American Review, Missouri Review, and New England Review. He’s the author of three short story collections and, most recently, a novella, The Western Lonesome Society.
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