By on Apr 2, 2023 in Fiction

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Massachusetts state house with aid and journalist

Eventually, I snapped back to real time, wiped my eyes with the cuff of my topcoat, fixed my stare on the icy pavement below, and slogged aimlessly down the sidewalk. Cold moisture collected on the back of my neck, and when I stared into the sky, I noticed that the snow had turned to rain.


A year passed after our chance meeting. I thought about our talk in the back of the limo, analyzed it, and tried to let it go; but it stayed with me. And then, on a late December night in New York, I awoke from a strange dream with a lasting impression of Jessie, her eyes filled with tears.

There was nothing unusual about me fighting insomnia. Still, this time seemed different. Wide awake at three in the morning, I lay in bed in the darkened hotel room, alone as always, with her vision planted in my mind. I stared beyond the window at the street and for a moment became one of the flakes of snow falling gracefully to the pavement below. Finally, I gave up on sleep and pulled on a pair of wool slacks, a sweater, and my overcoat, then headed downstairs. The winter air was cutting as I walked the path that I’d taken a thousand times before.

The sidewalks were still filled with people. I stuffed my hands in my pockets, made my way beneath the haloes of streetlights and traffic signals and on down a cobbled alley, letting my mind wander. I thought about the characters who inhabited my books. They lived because of the words I wrote, but all I ever received in return was silence. They were nothing but stick figures like the crude lines I’d sketched as a child. Yet they were my only true companions—anonymous partners who now appeared as a cancer that had metastasized. I took to my little office each day, shielded myself from the real world, and lived within the sentences and paragraphs I composed. I touched the world through my characters, endowing them with pent-up emotions from somewhere deep within; but none of them touched me in return. So I risked nothing.

The story of my real life was far different than that of my characters. While I could manipulate the course of events in my novels and short stories, I had no ability to change the ending of my own experience. Therefore, I suffered.

At a traffic light I stared at the neon signs up and down the block. The incessant flashings formed the message of prophets: the silence dominating my life was of my own making. No one else could be blamed.

I walked for another hour, looking for an answer to what my dream of Jessie might have meant before I finally surrendered to fatigue and headed back to the hotel room. Miraculously, I fell asleep with her image still fresh in my mind.

Hours later I ordered lunch, prepared for an afternoon meeting with my editor, and opened my computer to check emails. Most were unwanted solicitations, but one was from Lucas, my old friend.

“Call me,” the message read, “I have some interesting news.”

Normally I might have ignored it—I had become isolated, and my communications with old friends were limited—but there was something intriguing about his message, so I dialed his number.

He was upbeat, said he had read my latest book, and offered congratulations. We talked about other friends—who had done what, that type of thing. Then he got to the point. “I heard about an old friend of ours,” he said. “You remember Jessica Boyd?” There was no reason for me to provide the answer he already knew. “I see that she’s gone and done it again.” He stifled a laugh. “Gotten another divorce. Just read about it in The Washington Post.”

I didn’t hear another word he said.

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James W. Fried graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a political science degree and a love of writing. He currently has four novel manuscripts (in various stages of completion) and over fifty short stories ready for submission to agents and short story publishers. His latest two stories ("Playing Handball Off a Curb" and "Along Michigan Avenue") are scheduled for publication in the coming weeks. His works of fiction are drawn from his forty-five years of experience as a banker, legislator, and lobbyist. He previously co-authored The Winning Edge (with Jack Fried), a nonfiction sports book that chronicles a college football team’s season-long journey to a national championship.