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by Jason Hallows 2 years ago in literature
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A Short Story

Photo by Rhodi Lopez on Unsplash

After you die, you get one phone call. You can call anyone you want and ask for whatever you want. At least, that’s what my best friend told me over the phone about an hour after I attended his funeral.

“Hello,” I said, answering the phone in the middle of my third drink. It was still early in the day. I had my suit on and my tie loosened around my neck.

“Danny, it’s me — ”

I dropped my cocktail. A vague sickness washed over me as I recognized the voice. The glass shattered.

“Are you there?” Tommy asked, but I couldn’t speak. “Danny?”

“Tommy?” My voice wavered.

“Jesus, I didn’t think this phone was working.”

It sounded just like him. But it couldn’t’ have been.

“What phone — ? Where are you?”

“You wouldn’t believe me — ”

“You know what? I don’t know who this is, but you’re not funny. I’m hanging up. Don’t call here again!”

“Danny, no! It’s me. It’s me, man. You have to listen. Please don’t hang up.”

The familiar voice on the phone kept talking. Meanwhile, I pulled a small photo of Tommy out of my wallet. I had been carrying it around since he died. It was from an old photo booth in a bar. He posed like it was a school picture, chin up and confused with a practiced smile.

“Don’t hang up man,” he said again.

“Tell me something that only you and I would know.”

I stared at the photo.

“I know that Royce Gibbons peed on you in the P.E. showers in junior high.”

“Come on! I’ve told that story a million times to a million people. Goodbye, asshole.”

“Wait, wait! I know that when you and Lena were dating — ” He cleared his throat. “She got pregnant, and she lost it.”

“Who is this?” It was hard to hide the anger in my voice.

“It’s me, man. It’s Tommy. It’s me. Don’t I sound like me?”

Whether it was him or not, I sure wanted it to be. I collapsed on the couch as if someone had just let my air out.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“When you die you get one phone call before moving on. Or I guess you can appear to someone.”

“You can appear?”

“Supposedly. I don’t know how it works. They told me the phone was better — appearing just scares the shit out of people.”

“You should have appeared.”

“How’s Francis?”

“How do you think? You know, she’s holding up considering… wait, can you see me?” I waved up at the ceiling as if heaven or whatever was just beyond.

When your best friend calls you from the afterlife needing a favor, you do what he asks. Since I was drunk, and still a little shaken up from talking to a person that I just watched get buried, I immediately called Tammy the cabbie. She’s got an unlicensed gypsy cab and charges a flat fee. Tammy used to drive Tommy and me all over town during our party days.

“Where to?” she asked. She was wearing giant sunglasses and a torn-up Sonic Youth t-shirt. Her right wrist was wrapped in about a hundred bracelets that jingled and clanked with every move. The local jazz station was playing in the background.

“Tommy’s house,” I said. Tammy looked at me through the rearview. She lifted her dark glasses.

“I heard about Tommy. I’m sorry for your loss and — ”

I waited for her to finish her sentence, but she didn’t.

“And what?”

“They having a wake over there or something?” She grabbed a Big Gulp from the cup holder and began to chew on the straw.

“No, actually. Actually Tommy called me a bit ago. He asked me to get a shoebox that’s hidden under his bed. He doesn’t want Francis to find it — or know about it.” I examined the reflection of her eyes in the mirror as they shifted from the road to me and back again. I waited for her to say something, or do something to show that she was skeptical, but she didn’t.

“Does that sound weird to you?” I asked.

Tammy shook her head, still chewing the straw. I could hear the icy drink sloshing around inside the waxy cardboard cup.

“My Aunt Rose got a call from my uncle a few hours after he was cremated. He told her that he had bought a frozen turkey that was still in the trunk of his Lincoln. He said it was probably almost thawed, and he didn’t want it to stink the car up.”


“That’s what she said.”

“But was it there?”

“Turkey dinner that night.” She smiled and remembered. “Mashed potatoes and everything.”


“Wow’s right.” She pointed at something up ahead. “Will you look at this guy right here?”

I sat up straight and followed her eye line. She pushed her sunglasses back over her eyes and pulled to the right of the road. Up ahead I could see a guy in all black standing with another dude who had a shaved head. They were laughing and drinking out of a paper bag.

Tammy slammed on the breaks right in front of them. She jumped out and made her way around the front of the old Town Car. She walked right up to the guy in black and pushed him. “What the hell! You just take off like that? Is that how you treat people? Huh?” She pushed him again, this time harder.

“Hey,” he protested.

“I said, is that how you treat people?”

He had tattoos that snaked down both arms, and Tammy was about half his size. Dark sunglasses hid whatever expression was on his long, stubbled face.

“I thought that last night — ”

“You thought what? You thought what?” he said, his voice growing increasingly irritated. “Give me a break. Don’t roll up on me like you give a shit.”

She took her glasses off and stared at him.

“You got what you wanted.” He spat on the ground. “And I got what I wanted. That’s how this shit works.”

“What?” she shrieked.

“What?” He took a cool swig out of whatever was in the paper bag. His buddy looked on, only half-interested in the drama. Tammy knocked the bag out of Tattoo Guy’s hand. The bottle inside shattered on the sidewalk.

“Jesus! Come on!”

“Why are you acting like this?” Tammy asked.

He looked away, down the street. “Just get out of here, will ya? Last night was fun and all — ”

She cut him off, “Stop talking!” He looked back at her. “Lose my number, ok, I’m not your booty call.” Tammy turned and walked back to the car. I thought it was over.

“You were last night,” he said, more to his buddy than anyone else.

She stopped in her tracks and stood there for a moment, her back to him. She glanced at me and then down at the road. Under her breath, “Give me my heart back.”

She turned around and walked back to him.

“What was that?”

“Give me my heart back!” She thrust out her hand, and her bracelets clanked.


“Just give it to me.”

“It’s mine,” he said, pulling a small, red heart out of the front pocket of his black jeans. It looked like a keychain or something. Maybe a toy. He held it up for her to see. “I’m going to make a necklace out of it.”

I unrolled my window, and he glared over at me, “You looking at something?”

I always carry my Boy Scout knife. I mean, always. It’s been in my pocket since I was a kid. And at that moment, the motto echoed in my head: On my honor, I will do my best. To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law. To help other people at all times and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

I pulled the little knife out of my pocket and opened its small blade for him to see. The still-sharp edge glinted in the sun.

His face turned from anger to confusion just long enough for Tammy to swipe her little heart from his hand.

“Yo! Hey!” he shouted at Tammy as she jumped back in the car. She slammed the door, locking it. I rolled my window up.

“Can you believe this shit?” I heard him say to his friend.

Tammy placed the little red heart on the dashboard. It stuck as if it was sticky. She popped the old Lincoln into drive and gunned it. The massive motor grunted as the tires laid rubber tracks on the road. I looked out the back window and flipped the bird at the two thugs as we drove away. The one in black ran into the road. He was yelling something, but we were too far to hear.

When I turned around, Tammy was looking at me through the mirror again.

“Sorry about that,” she said. Her focus shifted from me, and her eyes went somewhere else, but just for a moment. If I weren’t looking right at her, I wouldn’t have even noticed. She shook her head, “Whatever.”

She looked back at the road and turned the radio up. Django Rheinhart was strumming Minor Swing.

Francis opened the door. She was wearing her bathrobe. Her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes were wet and tired.

“Daniel. Hi.”

“Hey, Francis,” I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed for just a second.

Soft music was playing, and there were tissues all over the living room floor. We sat on the couch and stared at one another for a long time before either of us spoke.

“Want a drink?”

There was an empty martini glass on the coffee table next to a bottle of Belvedere. A humidor that I bought Tommy for his 30th was sitting there too.

“How you holding up?”

She looked down at her hands and rubbed them together like she didn’t know what to say.”

“Wanna smoke some pot?”

“You have pot?”

“It’s Tommy’s. It was his.”

“Yeah, sure.”

Francis poured two fingers of vodka and downed it. Then she picked up the humidor and placed it on her lap.

“He kept pot in the humidor I gave him?”

She squinted at me, “Like you didn’t know.” She opened the lid and packed a small glass pipe with marijuana from a prescription bottle. We passed the pipe back and forth a few times and somewhere around her third hit, she started laughing. It was small and to herself and didn’t last long.

“I didn’t know you smoked pot.”

She shrugged and squinted at me again. “He kept it hidden from me.” She looked down at her lap. “I found this in the garage. I didn’t even know he had a prescription,” she trailed off for a few seconds. “He probably thought that I’d be mad at him.”

“Would you have?”

She smiled, “Yeah.” Then she sank back into the couch and started to cry.

“It was a beautiful service, Fran.”

She rubbed her eyes and looked away and nodded. “His mom planned it. It wasn’t even what he wanted. You know what he told me? He said he wanted to be set free. That’s the last thing he said. He never wanted to be in the ground, and I failed him.”

I grabbed her hand, “He’s at rest.”

She looked back at me. Her tears stopped momentarily. “I don’t want him to rest — I want him here!” She looked back at the humidor. “I wanna smoke pot with him, I wanna…” She trailed off, lost in memories she wasn’t going to be able to have.

“I want to take him to our special place and hold hands, and feel his pokey chin, and smell his hair. I want to be so mad at him when he comes in late with you, And I want…” She squeezed her eyes closed to stop the tears from coming. “I can’t stop seeing his face in that damn casket. Once he’s in, he’s in.” She looked at me. “That was the last time I’m ever going to get to see him.” Tears began to streak down her face. “That pale face… it didn’t even — ”

She buried her face in her hands and cried. I pulled the picture of Tommy from my wallet and looked at it.

“Francis.” I held the photo out to her so she could see Tommy. “This is the last time you saw him today — this is Tommy.”

She uncovered her eyes and looked at the picture. She wiped her tears and stared at it like it was him. I handed it to her. She pressed the little picture to her chest as if she were hugging him. She closed her eyes.

“I’ll get you some tissues,” I said, standing up and walking into the hallway. I glanced back at her, but she wasn’t watching.

Their bedroom was clean. The bed looked like it hadn’t been slept in. I kneeled next to it and felt around, but nothing. Then I reached up under it and there it was, a box tucked up and into the box spring. There was writing on the lid that read KEEP OUT. It was Tommy’s writing, for sure. I put the box under my jacket and headed for the bathroom.

I closed the door and looked at the box. I wanted to open it, at first. But the more I looked at it, the less I wanted to. I guess I didn’t really want to know what he didn’t want me to know, what he didn’t want Francis to know. I could feel myself crying and checked in the mirror.

I sneaked out of the bathroom and quietly through the back door. I dashed along the side of the house and down the driveway to Tammy’s waiting cab. I put the box on the passenger seat.

“I’ll be right back,” I said. Back along aside of the house, back through the door and down the hall. When I got into the living room, Francis was lying on her side, gazing at the picture. She looked up at me, her tears dry.

“Francis, I have an idea.”

A few minutes later we were both in the back of the cab. Maybe it was the weed, maybe it was the company, but I felt warm and happy for the first time in a while. Francis was still in her robe, a large pair of Ray-Bans hiding her eyes. She was hugging the humidor tightly. The jazz was down low, and the sound of the road seemed loud and enveloping.

“What’s in the humidor?” Tammy asked, her voice softer than usual.

“It has marijuana in it,” Francis said before looking over at me. “Is she coming to our memorial?”

“Ask her.”

Francis looked at Tammy, “Are you coming to our memorial?”

The beach was empty. It took us almost an hour to get there. The sun was setting, and the sky was orange. We made our way down to the water. I had Tommy’s box under my arm, and Francis was carrying my picture. Tammy watched the waves with her hands in her pockets while I gathered some driftwood. I stacked the pieces into a pyramid and then lit the little pile on fire. The three of us just stared as the flames grew. Then I picked up the box.

“Is that Tommy’s handwriting?” Francis asked, looking at it for the first time.

I nodded.

“What’s in it?”

“I don’t know,” I said, handing it to her. She passed me the photo of Tommy when she took the box. She ran her hand across the lid, tracing the writing. I wondered if she was going to open it, but she didn’t. She just placed the box into the fire. It crackled and burned and she leaned against me, her head on my shoulder. I put one arm around her and held out Tommy’s photo with the other. We all looked at it.

“You were the best friend a guy could ever have,” I said to Tommy, just before dropping him in the flames. A wisp of colored smoke shot up as the picture melted. A gust of cold wind blew, and I looked over at Tammy. She had the little heart in her hand.

She looked at it for a long time before holding it out over the flames. But she didn’t drop it in. Tammy rested her head on my other shoulder and sighed. She put the plastic heart back into her pocket, and I put my arm around her, too. The three of us stood there like that until the fire died and the sun had set.

It was dark and windy on our walk back to the taxi.

“It’s a new moon,” Francis said. We walked along the short stretch of sand for what felt like a long time, like slow motion.

We drove home in silence.

Still to this day, when my phone rings, a small part of me hopes it will be Tommy on the other end. But it never is. The inevitable disappointment would make me sad, sometimes for a while, reminding me of my huge loss. But another part of me, a growing part, is glad. Glad for Tommy that he’s at rest, glad that he’s free.

— Jason Hallows is a writer, filmmaker, and post-production master. He writes fiction regularly and has just completed his third novel. His work has also appeared on Sesame Street, The National Geographic Channel.


About the author

Jason Hallows

Jason Hallows is a guy that enjoys writing, reading and making films of all kinds. He hopes that you enjoy the stories that he posts to Vocal.

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