LIFELINE • by Nathan Trader

It’s not until the sharp pain seizes his heart that he realizes that there’s still so much left to do. A pinched nerve throbs in the back of his head and sends a series of numbing jolts through his skull. The oxygen in the room escapes out the windows as the attack takes him over, knocking him to the floor next to a confused calico. He concentrates on his breathing, on his heartbeat, fighting the attack with everything he has. He’s not ready for this; in fact, he hasn’t even begun living his life as planned.
His focus is clouded by a frenzy of thoughts as he struggles to get back on his feet. He hasn’t begun working out yet, or quitting smoking, or eating right. The house is still dirty, and the cats need to be fed. He has yet to find his true love, and as he reflects on this, he realizes that all his life he wished to be a straight man. A married man, a father, with problem children and a grandson on the way. A normal man leaving behind a legacy and his memory in a family of his own creation, in children that looked like him. Thought like him. Hated him, but would remember him dearly after he was  gone.

But he has done none of this, and now what would be left of him? Hungry cats and a bin full of dirty laundry? A car payment and credit card debts?

He wonders, as he scrambles for his cell phone (where the hell did he put it?), who will find him? Worried work fellows, or the landlord? Who will take the cats, and what will be done with his hardcover collection? The cell is in the living room, he remembers now, but such a long distance for him to walk in this state. He will never make it in time to make an emergency phone call. What is that number you dial in a situation like this? The three digit one?

He tries anyway, short of breath and weak in the knees. He almost makes it to the coffee table before falling to the floor. He can barely see the phone through heavy eye lids betraying him. He struggles just to reach it. It falls to the floor after his second flailing attempt, still beyond reach. “For Christ’s sake!” he gasps, and wonders if this would have been so difficult had he signed up for that gym membership a year ago. With one huge effort, he pushes himself forward on one arm. His hand falls heavily on the number pad, and he hits the call button twice. The last logged number begins dialing, but he hasn’t the strength left to bring the phone to his ear, let alone speak. He silently prays that whoever picks up will suspect that something’s wrong, then regrets ever turning his back on God. Real or not, the comfort of prayer would be something he could use right now.

Exhausted, he rolls onto his back and stares at the ceiling fan, noticing for the first time how filthy the blades are. He can feel his heart slowing, and he can’t help but consider sleeping this pain away in hopes of waking up in a hospital bed with one more chance to do things right. The notion is too comforting to resist. He closes his eyes and focuses on matching his breathing to the call tone near his head. The sound is surprisingly soothing, and with the third ring he feels certain that he’ll make it out of this to see another day. He can already see his friends a week from now, teasing him over his dramatic phone call. The thought makes him smile, and he lets out a peaceful sigh just before letting go to sleep away his wait.

As he fades away, the last thought that goes through his mind is that he spent the entire day playing The Sims.

Nathan Trader, currently a nobody from Colorado, is best known for being the creepy hermit that lives in a dark home full of cats.

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Every Day Fiction