Almost a Man

by mdjb

A secret is a funny thing. Uncle Jack and Marti and I arrived with the children at the Bensons’ apartment at about three. It was going to be a surprise party for my little brother Raymond.
Uncle Jack always remembered birthdays just like Mom and Dad used to. On the way up the stairs, I remarked, “I wish someone would do this for me.”
Uncle Jack said, “You’re almost a man, Philip.” I was fourteen. “This one’s only four,” he added, trying, I guess, not to spoil the surprise for Raymond, who on hearing the word four seemed to know he was being talked about.
Nobody answered the door.
We walked in and the place seemed deserted. It was so quiet.
We soon found everyone sitting around the dining room table or lying on the floor. At first I thought they were all sleeping, which seemed a strange thing to do at a party. The children with colorful hats on sat slumped forward onto the table. I checked their pulses as I had been trained to do in my Phys. Ed. class. They were all right, just unconscious. The two women, Mrs. Benson and her grown daughter Marion also seemed to be comatose. Then I saw a pair of legs. Ernest Benson had no pulse. He lay in the corner against a smaller table, halfway behind the chair in which he usually sat. His eyes were wide open, but he wasn’t breathing.
Alison had tears welling, and Marti, with her hand over her mouth, backed out of the room; then ushered Raymond and Alison toward one of the back bedrooms, as there came a knock on the door. Uncle Jack went to see who was knocking and I picked up the telephone to call the police.
Uncle Jack opened the door, but there did not appear to be anyone on the other side. Suddenly, he clutched at his chest and fell to the floor. As the door slammed shut, I could see no one in the hall.
I didn’t know where Marti had gone with the children and I could not move. I tried to call out Uncle Jack’s name, but my throat was dry and produced no sound.
I stood rooted to the spot with the telephone receiver in my hand. Not sure what to do next, I stood there a long time.
Somewhere very far away I heard a voice saying, “There appears to be a receiver off the hook. Please hang up the telephone, then lift the receiver and dial your number…There appears to be a receiver off the hook…

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