His Little Son

Contributor: Chris Sharp

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Ten years ago, they had each been on the high school state championship wrestling team. The three of them agreed to have a lunch a month before their momentous tenth high school anniversary. It was Anthony who said that the lunch would serve as an elixir of youth for them, since even though they were each only 28 years old, they were already missing some of the irresponsibility that went with their high school years.

They settled on the Islands restaurant in Old Town Pasadena for their meeting. It was the one restaurant to assure Anthony that the waiters and waitresses would wear shorts and talk to them like they were the place’s party hosts. As expected, Anthony was the first to be at the scene. He was also the first one to secure the alumni directory to get the right phone numbers

Anthony had been the only one among the party to reach the semi-finals of his weight division in the state wrestling championship. His friend Chuck had reached the quarter-finals, and that had been no surprise. The big surprise was Jeff reaching the quarter-finals. No one on the team had predicted this, not even the generally optimistic coach. And yet with the greatest wrestling match of his life, Jeff had piled up enough points for his high school to win the state trophy.

After Jeff arrived last to the table, they all ordered the same hamburgers and fries. Then Anthony picked on Chuck’s left ring finger and said, “Oh a ring of despair, caught in the marital lair.” Chuck pointed to Anthony’s ring as well. “You must be talking about marriage for everyone else,” Chuck said.

They both had to look at Jeff’s ring finger next, with its suddenly glaring lack of a wedding ring. “But Jeff’s holding out on us,” said Anthony.

Jeff laughed as if that were a way of saying something back.

After that moment, Jeff believed he had somehow conjured up a fence between him and his companions. Inside that fence, the lunch was taking place, but then nothing was happening around Jeff. He sat there, alone.

Anthony was talking about his new job as an instructor of biology at a state university. Then Chuck spoke of his recent days as an associate district attorney in the county.

“So where are you these days, Jeff?” Anthony said, looking at Jeff abruptly.

From the beginning, Jeff was aware that this issue would come up sooner or later, and he was happy that it came this early.

“To tell you the truth, I’ve been in and out of mental wards,” he said.

“What?” said Chuck?

“You have become a psychologist?” said Anthony.

“No. I’ve become a certified psychotic.”

Then the other faces froze, but there was coolness in the freezing. There were dimples on the other men’s faces that stayed on hold for the rest of the presumed joke.

Jeff decided to get out the reality of his issue with a few sobering details.

“When I was a freshman at UCLA, I took on a coveted campus job right in the middle of the administration building. Then I signed on for too many classes my very first semester. I should have seen what was happening when I couldn’t sleep at night, but I chose denial. When I heard voices in my head in the middle of a class I told myself it was just being half-asleep with rapid-eye-movement dreaming. That was the beginning of my first nervous breakdown.”

Anthony visibly lost some of his coolness to replace it with clear irritation over what was happening to the lunch. “That isn’t like the Jeff I knew,” he said at last.

“No, Anthony, that isn’t the Jeff you knew. You only knew my little boy.”

“What’s this now? You have a little son now?’

“I had a little boy, the one you knew in high school and you’re confusing me with him. He did things I could never do myself. But on the other hand we had some key things in common.”

“Wait, wait, wait. You’re seeing the Jeff you were ten years ago as your little son or your little boy now. Is that part of your psychosis? Or is that word ‘psychosis’ really the one you want to use, Jeff, in order to tell us that guy who won that state championship for us wasn’t you.”

“Of course it wasn’t me. All I can do these days is go in and out of psychotic episodes.”

Jeff was starting to feel badly now, not only for himself but because he was clearly slowing down everyone else’s celebration. Then Anthony and Chuck changed the subject, bringing up others they had gone to school with a decade ago. Jeff decided to hide himself behind his food and drink until the lunch was over.

“Goodbye,” he said to Anthony and Chuck.

He went back to the same house where the little Jeff had lived when he had become a local wrestling star. On a table in the boy’s bedroom the old high school yearbook sat in the place of prominence. Immediately Jeff turned to the pages about the wrestling season where the little Jeff by consensus of the team held up the state trophy.

“Just because I’m so proud of you, Jeff,” he said, purposefully aloud, “it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of me.”

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Chris Sharp has numbers of flash-fiction short stories in Linguistic Erosion, Yesteryear Fiction, Weirdyear, and Daily Love as well as longer fiction listed by Google under “Short stories by Chris Sharp.” His book “Dangerous Learning” is being distributed by Barnes & Noble.
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