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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Outstanding (04/21/11)

TITLE: Man of the Hour
By Patricia Turner


Traffic seemed edgy this afternoon. Or maybe it was just himself.

And why not Jack smiled, feeling the wave of self-satisfaction swelling his chest.

“Jack, you're the best. Man of the hour!” He basked in the praise of his superiors in the agency.

“Superlative perfection”, he thought, on his way home.

Just a faint twinge threatened his self-congratulatory state at the half-truth he'd told to get the business. Only a tiny sacrifice of character; what was character anyway these days? Nothing more than an ancient and somewhat inconvenient anachronism of his father's. One had to do what was necessary.

His cell phone rang. His Dad. He blanched a little as he answered.

“Hey Dad, what's...”

“Get a hold of yourself son. Your mother has lapsed into a coma. We're on the way to the hospital now.”

“Mom? I just talked to her yesterday.” His voice trailed off, his thoughts racing. The car went on autopilot.

A quick call to his secretary to let her know he'd be out of town for a bit, and another to the airline.

Angie knew already. “Your dad called here first, Jack.” She'd thrown some things into an overnight bag for him. “I'll come...later.”

All the way to the airport, his thoughts raged and turned on themselves. “Why today? Because I told a small lie?”

“That's ridiculous. There's no God, no one to take vengeance on me. Why even notice me?” He squirmed, turning toward the window of the cab, seeking comfort.

The two hour flight in the direction of the setting sun lasted forever. Over the horizon hung the celestial ball of flame, its magnificent manifestation of power lost on Jack in the smallness of his own thoughts.

Walking into the ICU he spotted his father, alone in the waiting room, sitting with his head bowed.

A memory presented itself.

An indiscretion on his part, something he didn't even remember. What he did remember: his father, circling the old cottonwood tree out front: circling and circling until he found just the right switch, while Jack watched. That was the real discipline.

His father looked up at his step. He smiled, standing.

“Jack, it's good to see you.” His handclasp was warm, firm.

“Mom, how is she?”

“Holding her own, they say. Flare up of her diabetes most likely. She's been a little forgetful of her insulin and a bit careless of her diet lately.” He raked his hands through his hair. “Both enough to take her over a cliff. How's Angie?”

“Hardly know, I guess. I've been putting in so many hours on this proposal.” He heard himself yammering on, not liking himself what he heard himself saying.

“Watch out for the little foxes, son.” His Dad's eyes were serious, and Jack realized he looked tired.

“Dad, what does that mean anyway?”

“Just that marriage takes work, and it's more important than any job, any sale, son. Otherwise, what's it all for?”

“But all the late nights you put in over the years...” An old feeling of resentment crept into the words and Jack regretted saying them.

“Yeah, son. That's exactly what I mean. I thought that's where my value was, but I was wrong. Your Mom finally got me to see that, her and God.”

“God...” Jack let it trail off and remained silent, staring at the floor.

“Something you want to talk about Jack?”

“I...I don't know Dad. I mean, work's been good, but I may have let some things seem more important than they really were. I did something today. I realize it was pretty stupid.”

“The thing is to realize it and not let yourself keep sliding downhill.” His Dad pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his brow.

A nurse approached. “Mr. Abbott, your wife is stable. She's awake if you'd like to see her.”

The men rose and followed the nurse to the bed in the ICU.

“Jack.” His mom smiled weakly.

He took her hand, returning the smile.

“Henry, you look tired.”

The words hung in the air as Henry clasped his shoulder and collapsed.

“Dad!” The room started spinning for Jack.

Hours later, Jack called his wife. “Dad's gone.”

After he hung up, he whispered, “Dad, things are going to change. Well done, good and faithful servant, would you say Lord? True man of the hour!”

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Member Comments
Member Date
Noel Mitaxa 04/30/11
Loved the title, and how you switched it (for me) onto Jack's Dad. The emerging self-doubt, and how Dad's values confirmed them helped me to this view.
I love your subtle sketches of the emotions in this piece. However I'm left wondering about Jack's mother's ongoing need; and think maybe a more immediate shorter-term crisis could have opened Jack up just as well.
Sunny Loomis 05/04/11
Interesting story. We have to decide on our priorities. Thank you.