The Shortest Story

The Shortest Story

by

David Rolland

         He’d never even seen a dead body. Yet there he was, dead.

Those were the last words Jacob Fielding wrote. As the years went by he’d noticed that his writing grew more and more succinct. Gratuitous details sickened him and this two sentence story seemed to be the fullest evolution of that philosophy. He read the story again. This time aloud.

He’d never even seen a dead body. Yet there he was, dead.”

Jacob argued with himself whether the word “even” was extraneous. But left it after deciding it served as a point of emphasis. He took a deep breath and realized with this story he’d reached the zenith of his craft and, hell, he might as well quit while he was on top. Throw away the pens, get rid of the computer, stop scheduling blocks of time to get lonesome with inspiration. Sure his poetry had seduced the occasional girl, but it had been years since that trick worked.

He considered going to a bar to celebrate his retirement, but that was something Jacob Fielding, the writer, would do, so instead he decided to walk a victory lap around the neighborhood. It would be strange, Jacob thought to no longer comment on the ironies of life. To no longer have an adventure and think how the experience would play out on his writing.

He was lost in thought as he passed the gas station. He didn’t hear the first time his name was called out. His last name had to be included for him to pay any mind. “Jacob! Jacob Fielding.”

Jacob turned to see a man in a suit feeding his car. He did not recognize the man until he did. “Tom.” The years had not been kind to his old college chum. Tom’s hairline receded and a layer of flesh coated a once athletic frame. But Jacob was able to see from the other side of the spectrum and imagined his own frayed clothes and four day old stubble did not speak well of him.

Tom greeted Jacob with half a hug, “How the hell have you been? Last time I saw you was with that Asian chick. You still with her?”

“No. She’s married.”

“You’re better off. How’s the writing?”

Before Jacob could answer a blonde woman in a black dress walked up to Tom and handed him a pack of cigarettes. “Tom, they’re out of Marlboro’s. I bought you Camels.” She had a slur to her step. But she remained attractive in a professional way. Jacob figured she and Tom worked together.

Tom introduced her. “Cindy, this is my old buddy, Jacob. We used to call him Hemingway. He used to tell anyone who would listen that he was the Hemingway of our time.”

She smiled so that Jacob could see the hint of lipstick on her teeth. She went to shake his hand and asked him, “What are you writing?”

Jacob was proud that his answer was, “Nothing. I gave up those dreams a long time ago.”

She smiled and a second later her phone rang from her purse. She excused herself as Jacob noticed she and Tom had matching rings on their fingers.

As she went in the car to take the call Jacob told Tom, “Your wife is lovely.”

“My wife?” Tom was confused until he understood. “You haven’t met my wife. She’s at home with the kids. Thursdays belong to Cindy.”

It had been a long time since Jacob had acquainted himself with the deadly sin of envy, but here he was short on every measuring stick. Not only did Tom have a career, a nice car, a wife, and kids, but he also had a mistress. For the rest of their conversation Jacob was hung up on this fact. Even after Tom and Cindy drove away he felt like a failure.

But after a moment of self-pity Jacob looked on the bright side. He still had time. Sure he pissed away his twenties on this writing lark, but he could make it into an amusing story the way others spoke about their summer bartending in Cancun. An oral story, mind you, not a written one. His next job would be a career, not a gig to pay the bills that allowed him free time to write. He’d ask Tom for a job at his ad agency. Sixty hour weeks and lunch in the office never sounded so tempting. Better to worry about your cholesterol level than how you’d fill up a page no one would ever read. He was so lost in thought about his imaginary future that Jacob failed to notice that the light had changed. The bus drove through him painlessly.

He’d never even seen a dead body. Yet there he was, dead.

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4 thoughts on “The Shortest Story

  1. You are the O’Henry of our time! I thought at the beginning that it might have been his body, but I forgot about that as the story unfolded.

  2. This story makes me reflect on all the hours I always fancied myself a writer. “Fancied” being the operative word because it was always just a fancy. I wrote a number of short stories many, many, years ago. People would say I should be a writer. I wondered what they meant. Didn’t they just read something I wrote? Wouldn’t that make me a writer. They never did say “Hey, you’re a writer”. Even if they did I would just feel I was being patronized. My mom would always tell me I was a wonderful artist, piano player, writer,or asthmatic. But, I was none of that. Except for being asthmatic, which by default makes me an asthmatic, I guess.

    I don’t know what my point is. All I know is that I feel envy and a sense of failure when I read a story by a good writer. A real writer.

    David, you’re a writer.

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