I completely agree with the judge that this story epitomizes Hemingway’s style, and refined, succinct sentences. I’m very pleased to present this winning story on Life64. I hope you like it as much as I did. – ML
by Twana Biram
Dick surveyed the room. It wasn’t like most hospital rooms. Maps of Haiti papered one wall. A Pittsburgh Pirates pennant showed loyalty to baseball. A quilt covered the sheets of the railed bed. Still, no one could mistake the oxygen tanks. Even a blind person could identify the hospital smells of rubbing alcohol and disinfectant.
Dick smiled at the man in the easy chair next to the bed. “Hey, Reverend! Remember me?”
“Your dad was my best friend,” Jesse said in answer. His gaze fastened on Dick’s face.
“Yeah, Dad felt that, too.”
Jesse smiled. This unfamiliar smile, crooked because of a stroke, broke Dick’s heart. Dick remembered Jesse’s smiles from the past.
Dick recalled an afternoon of fun and smiles. A trout stream reflected the summer sky. His father and Jesse fished. A blanket covered the bank. Mom and Jesse’s wife, Laura, lounged watching children, guarding the picnic feast, talking of godly matters.
The water rushing past his knees took Dick’s breath. It was cold. He and his best friend, Jesse, Jr. waded and splashed.
Laura called, “Time to eat!”
The men put their gear down. The creel filled with trout promised an evening meal. The fishermen and children joined the women on the quilt. Fried chicken, potato salad, cole slaw, chunks of raspberry pie smelled so good. Jesse offered “blessing.” Dick remembered his impatience; his stomach growled. For all he loved the man, Dick wished his “blessings” were shorter.
Dick never forgot the day’s colors and scents. He recalled the evening’s campfire, fresh trout, and roasted potatoes. They ate in a twilight lit by fireflies.
Months later, his father took Dick to a Revival Meeting Jesse preached. Dick half listened to the sermon. His thoughts wandered to that summer’s day. He thought of it until Jesse gave the altar call. People rushed up to get “Saved”. Dick had, too.
Jesse gave hundreds of altar calls over the years. He preached to crowds in Haiti. Hundreds of people responded. Churches across the Valley held revivals; when Jesse preached, people got saved.
Now, Jesse slumped in a chair, left side paralyzed.
“I can’t stop seeing him,” Jesse said.
“The Jap sniper.”
Jesse had gone to war?
“No one else could see him high in that tree. He’d picked off dozens of us. My Lieutenant said, ‘Jesse, you’re our marksman. Can you get that Jap?’
“I found a spot. Seemed I kept still for hours. I got a uniform button in the crosshairs.
“Bang! Bet he didn’t know he was dead. He somersaulted down two, three times from that tall tree. Our column could move on.” Jesse stopped. Tears wet his cheeks.
Dick took Jesse’s hand.
“Next time you see that Jap, remember all the people who got saved because you preached.”
“I’m no hero,” Jesse murmured.
“You’re my hero. Since I was a kid you and Dad showed me how to live right.”
Jesse frowned. Then the care eased from his face.
“Is it lunchtime?”