An award-winning Writer's Digest Short Story by Stephen Woodfin
February 5, 2013
(Writer’s Digest included the story below in its Short Short Story Collection published in 2008. It was one of only twenty-five stories selected out of more than 7,000 entries. Part II will appear on this blog this coming Thursday, February 7. The story of Captain Woody formed the nucleus of my novel, The Warrior with Alzheimer’s: The Battle for Justice.–SW)
HE AIN’T LEAVING; HE’S GONE
Part I of II
Not counting Maggie, Woody loved taking a ride in a car better than anything. When he was driving, he felt like an escaped prisoner, unfettered not from jail house shackles, but from life’s certainties.
When they thought he was asleep, he heard his son and daughter arguing about the last time they came to visit.
“It’s time we took his keys away,” his son said. “He’s liable to have a wreck and kill somebody, or get off somewhere and not be able to find his way back.”
“We can’t do that to him,” his daughter said. “Since Momma died, driving around a little every day is what keeps him going.”
As far as he could tell, that’s where they had left it. But he feared they had hatched a plot to put him afoot.
I guess they’ve forgotten all those cars I bought them.
Even though he was approaching eighty, most of his body parts still worked. He could climb the four flights of stairs to his condo without getting out of breath. His vision was good enough so that he could enjoy sitting on his balcony and watching the sun setting into the Gulf of Mexico. He could eat a couple of pounds of steamed shrimp from Capt Zack’s without breaking a sweat.
But, he couldn’t remember.
When the doctor had asked him who was president of the United States, he had answered, “Didn’t vote for him and don’t give a damn.”
The doctor hadn’t even looked up. He wrote down a note or two and asked him to count backwards starting at a hundred.
“Never was much good with numbers,” he said.
The doctor took a few more notes.
“What were the three things I asked you to remember when we first met a few minutes ago?” the doc said.
“I wasn’t paying attention,” he lied.
That was the beginning of troubles.
He thought it would be hell planning a getaway with no memory.
Once they decide you’re crazy, there’s no going back.
The Wheelhouse Restaurant was close enough to the condo that most mornings he could walk down to meet the boys for coffee. Over the years, they had learned each other. Some time back, things had turned serious one morning when the word came of Dorman’s sudden death.
“Laura said he sat down on the bed to tie his shoes, and next thing she knew he was gone,” Whitey reported running his fingers through thinning, snow-white hair.
“That’s the way to go, though,” Woody said. “You never know what hits you. Happy one minute, gone the next.”
Marvin, the group’s unofficial moderator, shuffled the stack of 5X7 cards that served as the meeting’s agenda. “In loving tribute to Dorman, our fallen comrade, I move we establish a quietus protocol,” he said.
“What the hell?” Whitey asked.
“A watch word between us,” Marvin continued. “A way of informing the group that we sense the end drawing near.”
“I told my kids that if they see my memory fading, they are supposed to say to me, ‘Daddy, your memory is not quite what it used to be.’ That’s their sign to me,” Woody said.
“It may not work out that way when the time comes,” Marvin said. “Family is funny about stuff like that. That’s why we need a code word. We’re not prisoners of love, we’re friends, and that’s better when the final situation arises.”
“I second the motion,” Woody said.
The vote was unanimous.
“Marvin, do you mind writing that word down for me?” Woody asked.
“Sure, Woody,” Marvin said pulling a black Sharpie from his pocket.
“I guess it’s like one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence said, ‘If we don’t all hang together, we’ll all hang separately,’” Whitey said.
(He Ain’t Leaving; He’s Gone is featured in Stephen Woodfin’s The Promiscuity Defense and Other Short Stories. The tale of Captain Woody received a fuller treatment in The Warrior With Alzheimer’s: The Battle for Justice.)