Writers and Readers Magazine – Argon

Greetings!!

Many thanks to editor Storm for including my periodic story “Argon” in the September/October edition of the Writers and Readers Magazine. I’m sharing it below if you are interested.

Argon

As far as retirement parties went, Kyle Johansson had to admit it wasn’t so bad. Eighteen people had shown up, which was respectable as far as he was concerned. The chicken breasts hadn’t been dry and the creamed corn at least had some flavor to it. Plus, the plaque they’d given him was pretty nice: Special thanks to Kyle Johansson from all of us at Northern Windows was what it said.

            After dinner he’d been asked to come to the front of the small dining room for the presentation. “Thank you very much,” Kyle told those gathered when Northern Windows owner Sig Norton gave him his award for fifty years of service. “I really appreciate it.”

            And he did, too. He’d loved his job selling windows to businesses and home owners in the upper Midwest because he believed in the product. The company’s energy efficient windows were made of three panes of glass filled with argon, an inert gas that was a top of the line insulator and made the expensive windows easy for him to sell.

            But that was all over now. He was tired. He was finished with driving one-thousand miles a week across monotonous landscapes, staring at mile after mile of never-ending blacktop. He was done hustling to make sure he made his weekly quota so he could earn a few extra bonus dollars in this paycheck. He was done eating greasy food in greasy spoon diners. Done, done and done. He was more than ready to pack it in, turn around and spend time with his wife, Dorothy, affectionately called Dot by him.

            An hour after the presentation, Kyle said to those near him, “Well, I need to get going. Hit the road, so to speak,” he added, and listened appreciatively to the scattered laughter at his little joke.

            Sig smiled and clapped a big arm around his shoulder, “Don’t be a stranger.”
            “Don’t worry,” Kyle said, and shook his bosses’ hand. “I won’t be.”

            “It’s been snowing. Be careful out there.”

            “You know, me, Sig,” Kyle said, smiling, “All these years and not one accident. Best driver in the upper Midwest.”

            Sig laughed, “Nevertheless, take care.”

            Kyle waved goodbye. “I will.”

            And that was that.

            Out in the parking lot Kyle took ten minutes to use his snow brush to clean off his car while snow flurries continued to fall. Then he got in, started the engine and let the old Ford warm up for five minutes before leaving the VFW and heading for home. Driving carefully, he patted the inside pocket of his sport coat feeling for the envelope. Thank goodness it was still there. He rubbed his hand appreciatively over wool and felt an immediate sense of calm. He knew he was doing the right thing.

The envelope held what he preferred to think of as a letter, but in actual fact was a suicide note. In it he said goodbye to his friends and co-workers. It was a simple farewell. He didn’t feel he needed to add that he was tired of being lonely and was ending his life so he could go and spend the rest of eternity with Dot. He wasn’t sure people would understand how horribly he missed her. It had been five years since he’d lost her to cancer and every day was worse than the preceding one. He was a quiet and mostly reserved man by nature, except when he was selling windows, and didn’t think anyone would understand the depth of his despair. No, the loss of the love of his life he would always keep to himself.

            It was ten miles of narrow highway from the VFW to his home, and he concentrated on driving. The snow was falling harder and he slowed to thirty-five miles per hours. His headlights cut through the night forming a tunnel of light through the blowing snow. While he drove, he reviewed his plan: Once in his garage, he’d shut the door and leave the car running. He’d attach the two-inch diameter flexible hose he’d purchased at the hardware story last week to the tail pipe with a clamp and run it into the back window. He’d roll up the window, stuff a towel around any part of the window that didn’t close, and he’d be all set. He’d get in the front seat and wait. He’d looked it up on line. The process of carbon monoxide poisoning wouldn’t take long. He’d go to sleep. He’d have a nice, peaceful rest, and when he woke up, he’d see Dot. He smiled. It was a good plan.

            He squinted his eyes and focused on his driving. The snow was coming down heavier now, making it harder to see. He turned on his windshield wipers, but the snow continued to compact on the window in spite of the motion of the blades. He turned the defroster blower for the heater on high. Some of the snow started to melt and was scrapped away by the wipers. It only helped a little.

He knew some curves were coming up so he slowed down to twenty-five miles per hours but it didn’t help. He felt his car loose traction as it slipped and start to slide. Instinctively, he fought the wheel to stay on the road while having the simultaneous thought of letting himself go, a deadly crash being just like what he was planning at home.

Then, out of nowhere, a strange feeling of calm came over him, and he aware of shift in the motion of the car, like it began to have a mind of its own. Suddenly, incredibly, out of the swirling snow, Dot, his beloved wife, appeared. She was a little ahead of him and off near the side of the road, but for sure it was her. She dressed all in white, her gray hair flowing around her face, whipped by the wind, and she was looking straight at him, meeting him eye to eye.

He blinked once. Twice. What was going on? She smiled a calming smile and began waving to making visual contact, almost like she was imploring him to wait and rethink about what he’d been planning to do. Don’t come to me now, she seemed to be saying. There’s more to life. Take some time to live it.

            Just then, his car hit a patch of ice and spun wildly out of control, around and around and around, before slamming to a stop in a snowbank, half on and half off the road. Kyle gripped the wheel with both hands, white knuckles showing, even though the car had come to rest. His heart was pounding. Other than that, though, he was all right. And, he was alive.

            Kyle sat for a moment thinking about Dot. She was physically gone from him, but that because she’d had no choice. The cancer that took her was relentless.

He, on the other hand did have a choice. She had come to him tonight and told him to keep living. He smiled, thinking, If that what she wants, then that’s what I’ll do. The choice was as easy as that. Oh, he loved her so much. Besides, somewhere deep inside he had a feeling he’d see her soon enough.

He took out his phone placed a call. “Sig, I slid off the road out by my place. Can you help me?” He listened. “Okay, thanks. I’ll wait.”

            Then he took out his envelope and ripped it up. Off to the side of the road, Dot was there, too, keeping him company. She smiled and waved to him. Kyle grinned and waved back. He started the car, turned the heat up on high and waited for help to arrive. In the meantime, he waved at Dot once more. He had a feeling from now on, she’d never be far from his side. He hoped so, anyway. The thought filled him with joy.

Published by jim bates

I live in Long Lake, Minnesota. I enjoy walking, gardening, bird watching, reading, writing, bicycle riding and playing with my fantastic grand kids. I have two wonderful boys who I see as often as I can. I'm retired after working many years as a sales and technical development and training instructor. I have also worked in a family owned garden center and most recently was part owner of a small gift shop near to where I live. I collect old marbles, vintage dinky toy race cars, YA books from the 1900's and vintage radios from the 30's and 40's. I am a passionate yo-yo player. I am a fortunate man - life is very good. My stories and poems have appeared in over two-hundred online and print publications including online in CafeLit, The Writers' Cafe Magazine, Cabinet of Heed, Paragraph Planet, Nailpolish Stories, Ariel Chart, Potato Soup Journal, Literary Yard, Spillwords (Dec, 2019, Author of the Month), The Drabble, The Academy of the Heart and Mind, World of Myth Magazine, The Horror Tree, The Terror House, Fox Hollow Stories and Bindweed Press. In print publications: A Million Ways, Mused Literary Journal, Gleam Flash Fiction Anthology #2, the Portal Anthology and the Glamour Anthology by Clarendon House Publishing, The Best of CafeLit 8 by Chapeltown Publishing, the Nativity Anthology by Bridge House Publishing, Forgotten One's Drabble Anthology by Eerie River Publishing, Gold Dust Magazine, Down In the Dirt Magazine and the Oceans Anthology and the 20/20 Anthology by Black Hare Press. I was nominated for the 2021 Pushcart Prize by The Zodiac Review for my 'flash fiction story, “Aliens.”

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