Fiction / Writers / Writing

Final Words by Michael C. Keith

They simply have the instinct for being unhappy
highly developed.

–– H.H. Munro

As was his custom, Gil Towers turned to the obituary section of his newspaper as soon as it arrived. The photographs of the newly deceased always aroused his interest and curiosity, but this time they also shocked him because they appeared to be moving. He drew the paper closer to confirm what he believed had just happened. Good cripes! They are moving . . . their lips, too. I’m going daffy for sure, thought Gil, abruptly moving the newspaper at arm’s length and then pulling it back for a second look. His eyes landed on a woman at the top of the page who seemed to be directing his attention to the statement just below her mug shot.

Donovan Mary K.
Of Leland, passed away peacefully on May
13, 2014 at age 87 following a long illness.
She was predeceased by her only son, Garret
Donovan, also of Leland. She is survived by
her loving husband, Gary Donovan. “Hold on.
He was as loving as a dead carp. Couldn’t
show affection if his life depended on
it. Only loved his damn stamp collection.
Spent hours every day fiddling with it.
Didn’t know I existed the last 15 years.
Don’t think he cared either. Probably
only misses the meals I cooked for him.
Well, the old bastard can cook for himself now!”

Gil couldn’t believe his eyes. Why would anybody body want something like that printed up? he wondered. When he peered back at the photo, it was no longer moving and now looked more severe than when he first noticed. Next his eyes were drawn to the obituary adjacent to Donnovan’s. Again, the eyes of the person appeared to point him toward its death notice.

Foley, Martin Q.
Of Westwood, died abruptly on May 14, 2014,
after being struck by a pizza delivery van while
jogging. He was 54. Mr. Foley leaves a wife, Karen,
of Conley and three grown children, Cybil, Foster,
and Burt, who no longer reside in the area. Mr. Foley
was CEO of Merit Industries. He and Mike L. Johnson
of Hyde Landing, co-founded the company. “Yes,
and that conniving SOB is going to try to screw my
wife and kids out of their share of the business. I
should have completed the paper work making
clear who got what. Mike won’t go out of his way
to do the right thing. I should have bought him
out years ago. Too damn late now. Why wasn’t I
paying attention to that damn pizza truck. Karen
told me I shouldn’t be running after dark. I had
reflectors on though. It’s just not fair. Nothing is
fair. And it’s for sure Mike won’t be.
If I ever come back, I’d straighten his ass out.”

Gil was stunned and nonplussed by what he was witnessing. Maybe this is some kind of parody edition. Can’t be though. The Sentinel doesn’t do that. It’s a serious newspaper. Least of all would it ever do such a thing with its paid obituary notices. But what’s going on? This is surreal.

Gil put the paper down and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he noticed that the photos belonging to the two obits he had just read were no longer animated. However, the rest of the dead on the page were. Wish Jane was home to show this to. Maybe she’d see the same thing . . . maybe not. Could be better that she’s not here if this is a just figment of my imagination. Gil didn’t believe that though and went to another obit halfway down the page.

Barnes, Martha D.
Of Highland, formerly of Cincinnati, succumbed
to an aneurism on May 14, 2014, while swimming at
the YMCA. Recently married to Peter Barnes of Leland,
she was employed as a buyer for K-Mart. In addition
to her husband, she is survived by her mother, Alice
Roberts of Boston, and two siblings, Jasmine Barnes
of Atlanta and Charlotte Sebring of Providence. “I was
finishing my novel and now I’ll only be remembered as
an employee of a discount store chain. My book was good,
too. It would have been a bestseller. I could have quit my
job and devoted myself to writing. If Peter had had
a better paying position, I could have stopped working
and finished my novel sooner. I was so close to realizing
my dream. My sisters would have been so impressed
after my book came out. They never really believed in
me. Thought I was just talking about writing and not
really doing it. But I did ‘cause 78 pages is a lot of
writing. They just didn’t want me to show them up.
Daddy always believed in me.
Why did he have to leave us when I was only twelve?

Gil exhaled deeply and squeezed his temples with his right hand. Holy Toledo, she’s crying. No, that’s ridiculous. Corpses don’t cry. He turned away and looked at the clock on the kitchen wall. Its second hand had stopped, but Gil didn’t notice––and thus couldn’t consider why. Instead, he returned his attention back to The Sentinel’s “page of the dead,” as he had always thought of it.

Dubois, Ian F.
Age 20, of Carver, lost his long battle with leukemia
on May 13, 2014. Beloved son of Fred and Mildred
Dubois, he is also survived by his two brothers, Gary
and Phillip Dubois. Both siblings are currently enrolled
in college and play varsity sports. Ian was a graduate of
Shane Vocational High School. “Yeah, it was a long
battle all right. Lasted half of my life. I really got a
shitty hand from the big card dealer in the sky. Dead
before I had a chance to really live. What kind of deal
is that? How come it was me that got a losing hand?
Who made that decision? All I ever wanted to do was
go to college like my brothers, get married, and have
a couple of kids. It’s pretty much what most people
get, but no, not me. I got to spend most of my time being
poked and prodded with needles and filled with chemi-
cals that made me want to puke instead of eat. Maybe
I did something awful in a previous life, so I had to be
punished for it in this life. Well, if there’s a next life,
I’ll be at the front of the goodies line.

Man these people are real downers. Gil moved on to the obit against the right hand margin of the page hoping that the somewhat less somber face there would possess a more positive tone. It did not.

Paterna, Joseph B.
Of Deermont, born July 12, 1953, entered Heaven on
May 15, 2015. Husband of Anne Paterna of Leland, father
of Carrie Hellman of Bridgeport, Conn. Retired instructor
at North Park Community College. “This is it? Four measly
lines on the obit page after what I accomplished? How many
of these people traveled like I did? Hell, I was in seven foreign
countries and wrote two text books on fertilizer that were
praised by the National Farmer’s Council. Then there was
my volunteer work for Keep the Community Beautiful.
I put a ton of time in there. The guy on the next page gets
five paragraphs because he did some work on cellular mutation.
Jesus, that doesn’t seem fair. Who’s deciding on
this at The Sentinel. Whoever it is needs to open their eyes.

People sure have a lot of complaints, even dead ones, thought Gil, moving to yet another epitaph.

Stone, Virginia G.
63, died peacefully at her home in Rockland on May 14,
2014. Wife of Raymond F. Stone. Born in Westerly,
Rhode Island. She was the only child of the late Brenda
and Dennis Piedmont. Virginia was a graduate of the
Carson School of Secretarial Science and worked for
King Jewelers for 31 years. In addition to her husband,
she is survived by her two children, Allison Bickers and
Robbie Stone, who reside out of the area. “Out of the
area is right. You’d think they lived on the other side
of the universe for the number of times they visited us.
We’ve only seen our grandchildren twice, and they’re
almost in high school. I don’t understand why they
didn’t make an effort to come here more often, not that
it matters now that I’m dead. But Ray would surely
love to see them more since he’s all by himself now. Poor
man. Doubt they’ll go out of their way to visit him.
After all he did for our kids, too, and this is the thanks he gets?”

Poor woman. Kids can be a thankless proposition. I don’t regret not having any. A shame she died feeling so neglected by them. Maybe I’ll give her husband a call and invite him over. Gil moved on to the next citation. This one belonged to a middle-age man with thick gray hair and a mole on his right cheek. He gave Gil a pained expression.

Tyler, Arthur W.
Age 51 of Corndale, formerly of Howell, KS., died
May 12, 2014 in his home. Arthur was born in Hawaii,
the son of Colonel Jeffrey and Christine Tyler. He
attended engineering school at the University of
Missouri and raised a daughter with his wife Ann
Tyler, a former swimsuit model. “She still looks like a
model at 48. Men will be clamoring to be with her. That
idea upsets me. I know it shouldn’t, but just thinking
of her being with another man really gets to me. Even
my best friend, Marv, will be trying to get into her
knickers. Why’d I have to hit that damn elk? Came
out of nowhere. I know Ann won’t just jump into bed
with the first guy that comes along, but she’s vulnerable
now, and someone will try to take advantage of her. Too
bad she’s so good looking. Of course, I want her to be
happy, but I don’t want her to get hurt. Men can be so
insensitive when it comes to bedding a lovely woman.
The idea . . . oh, man! It makes me cringe.”

Gil shook his head, thinking how he’d feel if he were in the same position. The thought of men taking advantage of his wife if he died unsettled him. I hear you Arthur. “Men will exploit her, if they can. Hey, at least she won’t be alone. I guess that’s worth something.”

Another sad eyed individual on the obit page caught his attention.

Cummings, Naomi P.
Of Leland, died May 13, 2014. Born and raised
in East Adams. Beloved wife of the late Howard
S. Cummings. Childless, Naomi was a dedicated RN
and worked at Leland General Hospital until she
was in her eighties. Her life came to a peaceful end
after unsuccessful treatment for breast cancer. “What
will become of my dear little cats? They’re old and
infirm. No one will want them. I should have left
instructions about their care. They’ll probably be
put down, and maybe that’s the best thing for them.
They’ll miss me terribly, and no one would give
them the love and attention I did. It makes me feel
so badly to think of them alone and dying in a totally
strange place. At least I could have comforted them
in their last moments. Oh, poor babies.
Mommy loves you.”

The man next to her had a major scowl on his rigid face. “C’mon, my deceased friend. Was it that bad?”

Harper, Felix N.
Of Highland, formerly of Bainesville, passed away
on May 14, 2014 of unknown causes. He was 74. Born
in Wales, Felix lived in Highland for 40 years. Mr. Harper
worked for the accounting firm of Cantry, White, and
Newman. He was a noted Civil War re-enactor and bridge
player. He is survived by his wife Clara Harper and a son,
Martin Harper. “Just as well I’m out of here. The world is
falling apart. Climate change is raising the seas. Coastal
places will be flooded. Hell, Florida will be gone soon.
All the gun violence everywhere makes it unsafe to go
to the frigging grocery store. You can get shot just
driving to work. There are wars everywhere, too. Only a
matter of time before terrorists hit us again. And what
about those thousands of unseen asteroids flying toward
us. One is bound to strike the planet, and then what?
Add to all that, there’s Ebola all over the place. People
dropping like flies. Yeah, good to get away from all of that.”

“Aren’t you a world-class cynic, Mr. Harper. Heaven’s sake! Now here’s a fellow who looks a bit more pleased with things,” said Gil, pointing at the image of an elderly man sporting a broad content smile.

Polanski, Herman E.
Of Berwick, passed on May 14, 2014 at the age of
82. Beloved husband of Joan M. Polanski. Devoted
father of Eric Polanski of Canton, Ohio, and Debbie
Roland of Henderson, Nevada. He is also survived
by six grandchildren. Herman was a graduate of State
College and was a retired insurance executive. He was
an avid model ship builder and a member of the First
Methodist Church choir for 27 years. He loved boating,
and he and his wife spent winters in Florida. “I’ll miss
it all. Life was just so wonderful. I can’t tell you how
I adored my family. People are just good at heart. I had
so many close friends. There was just so much to be
thankful for. I couldn’t have had a better wife. She just
made everyday a blessed experience. We had such a
tremendous time at our timeshare in Ft. Myers. Our
investments made so much possible. It was so grati-
fying being able to help the kids with down payments
on their houses. It’s something you hope you’ll be
able to do, and we could. They appreciated everything
we did for them and gave us incredible grandchildren.
They’re so smart and loving. We all had good health
and were graced at every turn in the road.
Happiness filled all of my moments . .”

Suddenly everyone depicted in the obituary photographs begin to exhibit profound displeasure to the extent that the newspaper actually seemed to shake from their sheer rancor. And then all of the type beneath their respective headshots changed to one compelling statement:



Michael C. Keith is the author of more than 20 books on electronic media, among them Talking Radio, Voices in the Purple Haze, Radio Cultures, Signals in the Air, and the classic textbook The Radio Station (now Keith’s Radio Station). The recipient of numerous awards in the academic field, he is also the author of dozens of articles and short stories and has served in a variety of editorial positions. In addition, he is the author of an acclaimed memoir––The Next Better Place (screenplay co-written with Cetywa Powell), a young adult novel––Life is Falling Sideways, and eight story collections––Of Night and Light, Everything is Epic, Sad Boy, And Through the Trembling Air, Hoag’s Object, The Collector of Tears, If Things Were Made To Last Forever, Caricatures, and The Near Enough. He has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and a PEN/O.Henry Award and was a finalist for the National Indie Excellence Award for short fiction anthology and a finalist for the 2013 International Book Award in the “Fiction Visionary” category.


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