Flash fiction by Jeffrey Zable

“I just saw him two weeks ago, and he looked fine to me!” I said to my friend Cliff. “He was playing his conga drum with the other drummers at the Berkeley flea market. We had a short conversation, and then he went back to playing.”

Cliff then informs me that the memorial for Richard was yesterday, and he rattles off some of the names of people who attended, most of whom I know. He tells me that they found him lying on his bed fully clothed with an open newspaper across his chest.

“Best way to go!” Cliff declares. “He didn’t have to suffer from some long drawn out illness!”

When Cliff mentions that Richard was a heavy drinker and that this surely contributed to his demise, I admit that I had no knowledge of him being a heavy drinker; that most of the time when we were around each other he didn’t have a drink in his hand, but that I found certain things about him to be a bit odd. “He could flash you a beaming smile when he first encountered you, and then his face would take on a very serious expression immediately afterward, as if he remembered something that made him feel sad. He could also completely change the subject mid-sentence when he was talking to you.”

“I was aware of that also!” Cliff responded. “And, he seemed very touchy at times; would overreact to some of the things I said to him.”

“I liked the guy well enough,” I replied. “He never gave me any problems. By the way, did you know he had a brother who was a professor at some university in England? Richard mentioned that to me. That he visited him once a year or so, but that his brother’s wife didn’t like him at all.”

“Yeh, I knew about his brother also. In fact he sent a four page eulogy that Richard’s best friend read at the memorial.”

“How old was Richard when he died?” I asked, and when Cliff said he was seventy years old, I responded, “That’s way too young!”

“Yeh, but look at it this way. . . at least he didn’t suffer from some drawn out illness like a lot of people do. . .”

“I guess that’s one way to look at it!” I answered. And as a final thought, “Only seventy years old! That’s just four years older than what I am now…”