Back from the Dead
by Jack Swenson
Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. One of my elderly students died. I had been teaching the class at the senior center for more than a year, and until now, no casualties. Then the week before last an old gal wandered into the class in the middle of the session and broke the news that Jimmy had died. Her name was Daisy, she said. Jimmy was in the hospital, and she had gone to see him, and they told her that he had passed. He had heart trouble, you know, Daisy said.
Jimmy's classmates were upset by the news. We all liked Jimmy. He wrote memoirs, and they were a joy to read. He didn't know much about spelling and grammar, but he could tell a story. I called him our Mark Twain. He was a farm boy from Illinois who spent over twenty years in the U.S. Navy. I'll never forget his description of a Kamikaze attack on an aircraft carrier during WW II. His wife had died several years ago, and he missed her terribly. He had an eye for the ladies, though, and that's how Daisy fit into the picture, I suppose. Jimmy was eighty years old.
The class was abuzz at the news. And then the ideas started popping. One woman suggested that we dedicate our next anthology to Jimmy. Another suggested that we all write a story or a poem about him--what he was like, how we remembered him. I said to keep an eye out for an obituary in the local paper so we could find out about the services and where to send a memorial. I knew Jimmy had two granddaughters living in the area, but I didn't know how to get in touch with them.
I thought about Jimmy all week. I suppose the others did, too. The class was always delighted when I asked him to read one of his stories. He was at his best telling about the days when he was a kid living on the farm during the 1920s. He had a lively sense of humor and a great eye for detail. His memory was amazing.
The next week we were sitting around before class shooting the breeze, and in walked Jimmy. He sat down and opened his binder as if nothing at all were amiss. He handed me several sheets of paper, a story typed in all capital letters, which was the only way he could get up any speed when he typed, he said. He used the two finger method.
The reaction of the people in the class was something to behold. My mouth was open, I know. One woman gasped and put her hand to her chest. Another turned white and jumped about a foot into the air. Someone said, "Oh, my!"
When the shock wore off, we all cheered, to the surprise of the puzzled Jimmy. "We thought you were dead!" Minnie said, in a voice that may have carried into the next county.
Jimmy laughed. "I don't think so," he said. "Maybe I should check my blood pressure." Jimmy seemed as confused as the rest of us. He apologized for missing class the previous week. He had gone to Chicago to visit his sister, he said.
When I recovered my ability to speak, I told Jimmy about Daisy's visit to the class the week before. Jimmy nodded as if that explained everything. "Don't pay no attention to that woman," Jimmy said. "She's cuckoo." He pointed a finger at his ear and made a circular motion.
Later that week I got a call from Jimmy. He had an idea for a story, and he wanted to run it by me. It was about this guy who dies and goes to Heaven, and St. Peter sends him back. He has some unfinished business to take care of, St. Peter says. The guy asks him what he's supposed to do, and St. Peter says to go back and look around and see what needs to be done.
Jimmy laughed. "I got to thinking about what you told me Daisy said, and it occurred to me that maybe she was right. Maybe I died and went to Heaven and they fixed it so I wouldn't remember." Anyway, he thought it would make a good story, Jimmy said.
Jimmy said the rest of the story was going to be about what the guy did with his life when he got back. What he did was write a book. He decided he was going to tell people what it was like in the old days and what it was like now. He was going to talk about what we had lost and why it was important to get it back again. He was going to talk about neighborliness and hard work and good government and the Golden Rule. The book was going to be a best seller, Jimmy said.
I told Jimmy that I thought it was a great idea, and he said good because he was going to write the story and maybe the book, too, and he was going to need somebody to correct his grammar and spelling.
About the author:
Jack Swenson fell in love with the short short story form years ago when a friend introduced him to the brief tales of Isaac Babel and the poet William Carlos Williams. He taught English for years, and now he scribbles his own stories, teaches a writing class of senior citizens, walks for exercise, and herds cats.