Here we have a short tale about Alma, a cancer patient, Seamus her spouse of many years and the physician who remains unnamed throughout, but who has cared for Alma for a while. Told in close third, from the doctor’s viewpoint, this is a tale of misunderstanding, resolution, cultural differences and a gentle passing. It appears the good doctor has been ‘waiting on Alma’ to die for a long time. Seamus knows his spouse is about to die. When she does, he takes over her passing, becoming the physician. “We give her time to leave. That’s why the window is open.” The doctor uses none of his acquired skills to assist Alma’s passing. Indeed, the patient is deceased when he arrives. His role here is to honor her by putting aside traditional medical protocols and allow Seamus’ mystical ways to intervene. The doctor’s misunderstanding vanishes, his impatience dissipates over hot tea and he waits with Seamus while Alma leaves. More information and conflict in the doctor’s mind would have taken this heartwarming story from four to five stars. Indeed, given the current crisis in western medicine, and its clash with non-traditional, complementary and integrative therapies, this could be expanded to novella length. It’s a good read in any case, a tender tale of one man’s determination to wait for his wife to cross the chasm no physician, or anyone else can ever understand.
Here we have a short story of war, which, if it turned out to be true may well be the ultimate wonderful if improbable fantasy this war weary world needs to read and believe in. One of our protagonists, Nelson, is an American GI in Afghanistan. Trapped, cynical, deeply judgmental and prejudiced against ‘the ragheads’ he confronts in the interminable Afghan conflict, Nelson finds himself at an impasse with his enemy, ‘Behnam,’ (not Omar). Nelson can’t move and neither can the Afghani. Both men are stuck where they are, with no relief in sight from units or comrades. One false move and one or the other of them will die.
A short review for a short story impels me to say that this is a marvelous if impossible tale of two men facing each other across more than a dusty alley in a remote part of the remotest land in the world. Reminiscent of the great Saki short story, The Interlopers, (but with a different ending), Fifty Fifty resolves itself in a series of feints and false moves: Nelson trying to justify his anger and racism, yearning to return to Red Hook Brooklyn and stop the crazy obligation to make up for his cousin’s death; Behnam surrendering his automatic hatred, following Nelson’s lead, and… Well, you’ll have to read it.
The story does require a willing suspension of disbelief. With very rare exceptions, military units don’t leave individual troops behind. The resolution arrives pretty quickly, but it does satisfy. And there isn’t enough bravado and jabber from the Afghani across the alley in response.
All in all a satisfying tale that can be read in a few minutes, almost like a long-ish Haiku of war and its insane purposes.
Byron Edgington, author of The Sky Behind Me: A Memoir of Flying & Life
Thank you for reading. See you back, I hope, for the blog tour interview on February 10, Monday, about my work-in-progress, Johnny Don't March. Starting with the interview on February 10 my short story Fifty Fifty will be FREE at Amazon Kindle for 5 days. (adult language)