2nd Place – Flash 405, April 2017: Trinie Dalton’s “Shangri-La”
I visited my friend Evan at the V.A., found him in bed, smiling, wearing baggy flannels. Asked how he was doing.
“Oh, fine,” he said, like it was last year, or five years ago, or fifteen or twenty.
I poured him a glass of water, noticed his left hand was gone. We played checkers until he started yawning. I promised to return.
The next day he was still in flannels, but these were blue and red checked, soft and comfy—just like smilin’ Ev, his big brown eyes even bigger behind thick glasses he now wore. His feet were gone, kept it to myself.
We played checkers, talked baseball. Would the Giants repeat as champs, this being an odd year? Superstitious like any old player, Ev shrugged, grinned his Cheshire grin and drifted off.
I couldn’t get to the V.A. for three days. When I entered his room Evan smiled, gone from the chest down now, covers pulled up around his neck. We skipped checkers and baseball, he asked about the kids—typical Evan. He was doing this his way.
Didn’t stop me from crying.
“Don’t be sad, Kenny. You’re seeing the best of me. There’s no time to complain about Lincecum’s curveball, or worry about who owes who money,” which made me wonder whether I’d repaid him that five spot when we went to see On Any Sunday in eighth grade.
We talked motorcycles.
I reminded him how he’d had his helmet and gloves before he had his first bike.
Evan chuckled. “Always wanted to be ready.”
Saturday evening his nurse Shangri-La nodded gently and showed me to his room. I stared at rumpled covers, saw his smile on the pillow below those glasses. His lips moved. I edged closer, wondering if he was confessing his love for Shangri-La or admitting that he’d finished my stool in wood shop, helping me graduate on time, or perhaps he was imparting a universal secret, being the most agile spiritual explorer I ever knew… and I think he whispered, “Love’s the current upon which we ride.”
His smile faded. Evan vanished. And his essence filled the room.
The monitor flashed. Shangri-La threw back the curtains. Outside the wind blew. Slender palms bent back and forth as if waving goodbye. A shooting star arced a silver trail against the satin sky. Somewhere, a baby beckoned.
Pals visiting at a hospital, missing limbs no matter. “You’re seeing the best of me.” The spirit of friendship is ineffable but then again, totally concrete in this piece. Guys cry, play checkers, chat sports, observe the disabled body coming into the forefront, move on. We’re more than our arms and legs. Has a monotone that feels important, level headed and direct. A crush on a nurse mixed in, because love is always a subplot.
Guy Biederman teaches low fat fiction and lives with his wife, daughter, and two salty cats on a houseboat near San Francisco. His collection of short work, House Samurai, was published by Iota Press. Recently, his stories have appeared, or are forthcoming in Carve, Third Wednesday, daCunha, and Gathering Storm. Guy grew up on a stingray in Ventura, learned to write in the Peace Corps during a war in Guatemala, and later received his M.A from San Francisco State, where his teaching career began.