General Fiction posted November 5, 2017

This work has reached the exceptional level
A man gets a strange call st 5am

The call

by oliver818

In the end, it probably wasn't just the knowledge that he would die soon that made him call. After all, he later claimed it wasn't even his choice, someone else knew the truth as well. The fact is, though, that James Kleinburg called me at five in the morning and after I hung up, I didn't sleep again.

I met James at a book reading for the blind. There was an odour of apple pie and coffee, and the dripping of rain off a high awning. I stood for a moment, breathing in the atmosphere until a warm hand helped me to a seat. As I sat, a deep, smokey voice from the other side said, "Thanks for coming, especially on a wet afternoon like this one."

I told him I wouldn't miss it for the world, James Kleinburg is a hero of mine.

"Always nice to meet a fan," he said, and for a moment his fingers curled over my shoulder, squeezing down to the bone.

"Wait, you're him?" I said, but there was no reply.

"He's a great man, isn't he?"

"Who are you, sorry?" I asked.

"I'm Lillian."

We exchanged pleasantries. Her perfume was subtle yet fine, like a perfectly aged wine, and I imagined a long, crimson dress running down her curves, a sprawl of diamonds around her neck.

The smokey voice came again, and the reading began.

"If you want to meet him again after the reading, he's a close personal friend of mine," Lillian whispered to me.

"That would be amazing," I said.

The reading was from his best book, a collection of stories that described a blind childhood. I lost my vision later in life and so I had memories of light and shadow, places and faces. But I felt like he had given me back my sight when he drew images with his words, pouring colour into empty space. The first time I came across the book I wept, and even as I listened in that room, my throat tightened.

Meeting him after had been a dream come true. Lillian had booked a table at a local Italian restaurant, and she invited me along. His conversation was witty, his mind fast and subtle.

At the end of the evening, James took my phone number, and promised to call. Two days later, he invited me to his house for a party the following evening. "Lillian has agreed to pick you up and drop you off."

Lillian arrived at five. Her perfume filled the car and she talked for the whole drive about how much she loved working with the blind. When we arrived, James' warm hands welcomed me, and I was seated in a soft, deep chair.The food was succulent, the conversation ironic and political.

After dinner, James took me aside into what I assumed was his private study. Wood polish and whiskey seemed to dominate the air. His fingers thrust a fat cigar between my lips and before I could refuse, a blast of thick smoke poured into me. A burning around my left knee had me jumping up, slapping away hot ash.

"What's the matter?" he asked, his fingers finding my arm.

"I dropped the cigar on my knee. I don't usually smoke, you see."

"Don't worry, my mistake. I should have asked. They're Cuban, you see, the finest money can buy. And I thought all policemen smoked."

"Ah, well I'm an ex-cop. I gave up years ago."

He apologized for scaring me, and pushed a large glass of scotch into my fingers.

"You're a good man, Lucas. I hope we can become friends."

Over the years, James invited me to many parties. Lillian, James and I spent hours drinking and talking.

- - - - - - - - -

At five am on Wednesday the sixth of April, the edge of the bedside table left a deep bruise on my wrist as my hand searched for the ringing phone.

"Lucas? It's James. I need to tell you something."

"James? What time is it?"

"That's not important. Lucas, I'm a bad person. I have been lying for years."

"What are you talking about, James?"

"I'm not blind, okay?"

His words twisted through my tired mind like a knife. Not blind?

"I'm sorry, Lucas. I'm so sorry."

"Are you drunk? Listen to yourself. How can you not be blind?"

"I'm not drunk, I'm a liar. I can see perfectly well."

"Why are you telling me this now?"

Soft breathing flowed into the receiver.

"I'm dying, Lucas. I have cancer. Ironically, one of the side-affects is that now I'm actually losing my sight. You probably won't ever want to see me again. I can understand that."

"Why, James? Why would you lie about that? You're an extremely talented writer, blind or not blind."

A window rattled in the morning breeze.

"I remember the attention I got as a kid, when I first went blind. My parents coddled me, and my teacher and classmates hovered around me. I could do no wrong. When my eyesight returned suddenly a few months later, I didn't want to lose all that. So I kept on pretending, and in the end I forgot how not to."

"I'm not sure what to say. You were my hero, James."

"I'm so sorry. And I have to go now. Thanks for listening, Lucas."

The beeping of the cut line echoed in my ear long after I hung up, and heavy rain began to tinkle against the window.

Confession Flash Fiction Contest writing prompt entry
Writing Prompt
It's time for your characters to unload their burdens. Write a story, no more than a thousand words, in which your main character confesses to a crime. It doesn't matter to whom they confess and you choose what happens afterwards.

This is loosely based on a story I hear about a Spanish person who pretended she was blind for 50 years and suddenly decided to tell people she could actually see just fine.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by booklotto at

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