by Michael C. Keith
The imagination of a boy is healthy, but there is a space of life between in which the soul is in ferment, the character undecided, the way of life uncertain.~ John Keats
When I was 11 years old, two things convinced me I was dying. The first was The Eddy Duchin Story, starring Tyrone Power as the famous bandleader and pianist. Looking back now, I can see where my lifelong hypochondria first reared its ugly head. For weeks after seeing that movie, I couldn’t get out of my head the scene in which Tyrone’s––Eddy’s––hands seize up during one of his performances. The grimace on his face made it clear that something terrible was happening to him. It was only the first of several similar scenes to follow.
Halfway through the film the audience learns that the popular musician has a fatal blood disease and will soon die from it. I wasn’t out of the theater more than five minutes before I experienced parallel sensations in my own fingers. From that moment on, I was convinced I would soon suffer the same tragic fate as Tyrone . . . Eddy.
The second incident that deepened my sense of impending doom had to do with the son of my favorite comedian, Red Skelton. As soon as I heard that Richard Skelton, Jr., had been diagnosed with leukemia and had little time remaining, I just knew I was also traveling down that same dark path. For the longest time, I kept my fatal malady to myself, and then I broke down. Suddenly I found myself gasping for breath and trembling as I stood in the middle of our living room while my dad read the newspaper. My gasps and whimpers finally caught his attention, and he set his paper aside and stared at me.
“What’s up, Mick? You sick or something?”
I couldn’t speak and must have looked awful, because my dad stood up and came over to me.
“Whoa, son, what’s going on?”
“I’m dying,” I said, finally finding my voice.
“What do you mean, Mick?”
“Like Eddy Duchin.”
“And Red Skelton’s son.”
“What are you talking about, kiddo?”
“I have the Leukemia like them. The same pains in my hands.”
It was at that point I began to cry convulsively.
“Mary, come in here, will you?” called my dad to my mom, who was in the kitchen making supper.
“What’s going on?’ she asked, entering the room and seeing me sobbing and my dad holding me.
“Mick says he’s dying,” answered my dad, looking rattled.
“Huh? What are you talking about? What’s the matter, Mick? Why are you crying?”
“Cause I have the disease Eddy Duchin had. And Red Skelton’s son,” I answered between gulps.
“Maybe we should take him to the doctor’s,” suggested my dad, still holding my shoulders.
“Do you hurt any place?” asked my mom.
“Sometimes my hands hurt real bad. Just like Eddy Duchin when he was playing the piano,” I answered, feeling some relief now that my secret was out.
“He’s all sweaty,” said my dad, wiping my brow with his handkerchief.
“You don’t have anything, honey. You’re just imagining things,” said my mom.
“No,” I replied. “My hands hurt just like Tyrone’s . . . I mean Eddy’s.”
“Is Red Skelton’s son dying, Martin?” asked my mom.
“Yeah, I read that he’s gone to see the Pope. Guess he’s close to the end.”
“So, you really have pains in your hands?” my mom inquired with a hint of concern.
“Yes,” I mumbled, my chest still heaving. At that very moment, I actually did feel pain in my index fingers and thumbs.
“Maybe you’re right about taking him to the doctor’s, Martin.”
My mom quickly made an appointment, and the next morning we were at the doctor’s office.
“So, what’s this I hear about you having aches in your fingers, young man?” asked Dr. Garvey, whom I’d seen only once before when I had tonsillitis. “Like Eddy Duchin in the movie, your mom tells me.”
“Yes,” I answered, holding out my hands for him to inspect. “Just like it.”
“Well, let’s check you out and see what this is all about.”
After a brief examination that involved weighing me, shining a bright light in my eyes, and pressing the sides of my neck, the doctor gave my mother a reassuring smile.
“I think Mick is okay, but maybe we should do the test,” he said, winking subtly at her.
“Test?” I uttered, my fear suddenly escalating.
“We’ll just draw some blood from each of your fingers and look at it under the microscope to make sure everything is fine. What do you think about that, Mick?”
Horrified, I quickly concealed my hands behind my back.
“No, no . . . I’m sure I’m fine. I don’t need the test. Please, I don’t want the test. The pains in my hands aren’t bad. I think they’re gone now.”
“Yeah, I think you probably don’t need the test. I doubt if these particular pains will ever come back, Mick,” said Dr. Garvey.
And they never did. There were others, however.
Bio: Michael C. Keith teaches college and writes fiction. www.michaelckeith.com
ONE SPECIAL GIFT
by Linda Thornton Peterson
Walking past the store windows as it snowed lightly and Christmas music filled the air, Holly finally caught the Christmas spirit. She hadn’t given the holiday a thought; everyday life got in the way. But now, she slowed and stopped by one store window filled with Christmas decorations. A large assortment of snow globes interested her. There were small ones with spruce trees or skiers or snowmen, but the one she liked best was one about the size of a cantaloupe with a miniature forest of aspen and spruce. Fifty years ago, her husband had given her a snow globe for her special Christmas gift.
Holly went inside the store, reached into the display, picked up the globe and turned it upside down creating a beautiful flurry of snow. She shook it several times; then bought it.
Unlocking her front door, she became aware that hers was the only undecorated door on the block. Even the Greenberg’s door had a spray of winter branches with a red bow.
She took her package into the living room, put on some Christmas music and made a fire. After fixing a cup of hot chocolate topped with three marshmallows, she sat on a cushion by the fire and unpacked the globe. She hadn’t had it gift wrapped. It was a gift to herself, a very special gift for this time in her life—a time when, if she wanted one special Christmas gift, she had to get it for herself. That had its advantages—she always got what she wanted. Ole Santa never failed her—the surprise was gone—but, no disappointments, no wrong sizes or color or style . She could count on a very merry Christmas . . . well, as far as a special present was concerned.
Holly sipped the chocolate and licked her lip when the marshmallow stuck to it. The snow blurred the trees as she shook the globe; but not so much that she couldn’t see between the aspen and a large spruce. Looking closely into the globe, she was startled to see herself there among the trees. She blinked, looked again, and shook it. It filled. Yet, she could clearly see herself in the scene. It was she all right, wearing her boots, brown leather to mid-calf and her red coat with a white fox collar that she had worn when first married.
Turning the globe in several directions did not cause her to disappear, even when turned upside down.
After adjusting her bifocals, she looked and this time saw someone else in there with her among the spruce. It was Richard, her husband, with his skis over his shoulder. Her eyes lit up as she remembered the way he had carried his skis. She shook the globe, stirred up a heavy storm, and when it settled he was gone. To be sure, she shook it again, let the snow settle and—yes, Richard was gone. She was still there, alone with her boots and red coat. But, Instead of the white fox collar, she was wearing a purple scarf and hat; her white hair stuck out from under the brim of her hat.
Perplexed, Holly slowly tilted the globe. It slipped from her hand and fell onto the plush white carpet causing quite a blizzard. The fire blazed and the CD softly played, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
The doorbell chimed, interrupting her reverie. Holly felt like ignoring it. After hesitating a few seconds, she walked around the globe, went and opened the door.
Surprised, she smiled and stepped out. The falling snow swirled all around as she was handed a large bouquet of spruce . . . sprinkled with the falling snow.
Bio: Linda Thornton Peterson, a Louisiana native, retired from Northern Illinois University as a psychotherapist and teacher. Seven of her short stories and four poems have appeared in The Greensilk Journal. Poetry publications include: The Hanging Moss Journal, the Western State Colorado University Journal and a Northern Illinois University Journal. She won an NIU faculty poetry award and is a founding member of two DeKalb writers’ groups. She has been a stringer photographer with the Associated Press and an art teacher who continues to exhibit her art and write.