Short Stories by Rick Jankowski

Speculative and Sensitive Fiction


The Deception is the story of a dying Cubs fan and his son, who will do anything to help him.  It was written over a decade before the Cubs won the World Series.

The Deception was nominated for a 2004 Pushcart Award by Storyteller Magazine and it also won a First Place Fiction People's Choice Award from the Storyteller's readers. 

This story is dedicated to my dad, a life long Cubs fan, who never got to see them win a World Series. 

They finally did it, Dad!


 







The Deception


 

      “The Cubs won again,” I said.  Sports page hidden, I placed the newspaper on a chair next to Dad’s hospital chart.  I leaned close and gently kissed his forehead.  His skin felt dry and paper thin against my lips.  His eyes brightened at the news.

     “Seven in a row,” he said, his voice a dusty whisper.

     I glanced at the critical care monitors beeping above his head.  Vital signs weak, but steady. 

     “Winning in September,” I said.  “Maybe this is the year.”

     “Better be,” he answered.  “Ain’t gonna be no next year.”

     Sliding my chair close, I was careful to conceal the headline,  “Cubs Fall Again - Out of Contention!” 

     Dad pushed against his mattress, struggling to sit up.  A cough rattled deep in his chest.  He hesitated, then sank under thin white sheets.

     “No TV, no radio,” he said.  “And my glasses disappeared a week ago.  How am I supposed to follow the team?”  He closed his eyes and folded his arms across his chest.

     That was my cue, had been since I hid his glasses.  I picked up the paper and read the article aloud,   “Cubs Win Again – Fall into Contention.” 

     I improvised freely.

     Dad’s vital signs improved.

#

     That night, I sat at my computer and keyed notes for the next Cubs win.  My eyes drooped and closed.  I was ten years old again.  Moonlight streamed through my blinds casting horizontal shadows upon the wall.  Dad whispered to Momma.

     “His fevers broke.  Get some sleep.  I’ll watch over him.“

     He clicked the radio on low.  The Cubs game crackled from the West Coast.      The Dodgers.  Losing again.  Dad lit a cigarette and silently puffed in a rickety, corner chair.  Smoke rings circled through moonbeams.

     “Dad,” I said.  “What did you wanna be when you grew up?  When you were a kid, I mean.”

     “Shortstop for the Cubs.”  

     “I wanna play second,” I said.  “My arm’s not too good.”

     He coughed.  There was no rattle.

     “How’d you end up in a steel mill, Dad?”  I asked.

     Another puff.  A ring curled toward the ceiling.

     “Life’s just funny that way.”

     “If I can’t be a second baseman,” I said.  “I think I wanna tell stories, be a writer.”

     “I can’t write too good,” he said.  “Don’t read too good either.  Thought I was gonna play ball forever.”

     The radio crackled.  The Cubs second baseman grounded into a double play.  Game over.  Cubs lose.

     Dad clicked off the radio.  He kissed me on the forehead.  He smelled of metal and fire.

     “You seem better,” he said.  He puffed again.  “Don’t know much about writing, but it seems like a better dream than playin for the Cubs.”  A smoke ring hit the blinds and burst into a thousand tiny tendrils. 

     I opened my eyes and finished my notes.   

#

     The next evening, the waiting room clock ticked toward seven.  I looked at the sports page and then at my notes.  How long could I keep this up?  I sighed, stood up and plunked quarters into a tilted, rusty coffee machine.  The coins clinked and rattled through the bowels of the machine.  Nothing happened.  I slammed the metal frame, stinging my palm.  The machine gurgled and spewed boiling coffee, followed by an empty cup.  Someone giggled behind me.       Starched white, friendly face, intelligent eyes.  Dad’s nurse.

     “Allow me,” she said.

     She gently tapped the coin slot three times.  The machine purred, an empty cup glided into place, followed by dark, steaming coffee.

     “Just needs the right touch,” she said.  “Like your dad.  You’re the only one who ever  visits him.  He’s so much better this week.  Don’t know what you’re doing, but keep it up”

     I sipped my coffee.  Hot and strong.  I picked up my paper and notes and hurried to Dad’s room.  Cubs win!  Cubs win!

#

     The car radio blared, “That’s thirteen in a row,” the announcer said,  “they’re sinking out of sight.”

      I snapped off the radio and leaned on the horn.  “C’mon, C’mon,” I said.      Visiting hours were almost over and traffic was snarled.  I glanced into the rearview mirror.  The shoulder was clear.  Cutting my tires sharply to the right, I was on my way.  Past the traffic, one exit to go, the blue light came on.  I pleaded with the officer, “I’ve got to get to the hospital, they might tell him they lost.”

     “What?”

     “My dad.  If they tell him the Cubs lost, it might kill him.”

     The cop leaned in and handed me a ticket.  “Anyone rooting for the Cubs oughta be dead,” he said.  “Tell it to the judge.”

     When I got to the hospital, visiting hours were over, but the nurse let me peek in.  Dad was sleeping.  He looked small and frail. 

     “I don’t understand it,” the nurse said.  “His vitals are down.  He was doing so well.”

      I was never late again.  I made sure the Cubs never lost again.

#

      “That’s a great story,” Dad said.  “Read it again.”  He smiled and for a moment twenty years peeled away.  Behind him, the monitors hummed.  I looked at my notes hidden in the paper.

      “Extra inning heroics send Cubs to Fall Classic,” I read.  “In Chicago, the World Series comes along once in a hundred years.  One came along yesterday…”

      When I finished, Dad said, “That felt good.  Last time I felt like this was when me and Momma went to your poetry reading.  Didn’t understand all of it, but what I did get was good.  Real good.”

     “You miss Momma?” I asked

     “Every day.”

     Dad closed his eyes and was still.  His monitors sputtered.  I stood and clasped his hand.  He opened his eyes.  They were far away. 

     “Do you think the Cubs can do it?”  I asked.

     He focused and his eyes smiled.  “Just happy to get this far,” he said.

     I tightened my grip on his hand.  “Me too,” I said.  “Me too.”

 

     Dad died that night.

#

     The next morning I went through his effects.  There was a letter to me.

 

     Rick,

     I’m feeling kinda poor, so the nurse helped me with this.

     Haven’t felt right in a long time.  Only thing kept me going

     was seeing you – and listening to you read.

     Wish those Cubs could play as good as you tell a tale.

     Momma’s callin.  Thanks for watching over me.

     I love you.

     Dad 




If you liked this story, you can find more of them in my short story collection, The Sound of Midnight Fire, available on Amazon.com.