A Phone Call
by Martin Green



The expected phone call came as Paul Lerner was finishing his lunch. It was from his cousin King’s wife Esther.  King had passed away overnight.  It was peaceful.  They talked for a few more minutes, Paul asked her to keep in touch and that was it. Paul had been having his lunch on the patio. He picked up his things and brought them back into the kitchen. He told his wife Sally about the call. She asked him if he was alright. He said he was fine.


The shock had been the day before when Paul had called King but instead of King answering it had been Esther. King was in the hospital. He’d had a bad fall and was not expected to last the night. Paul couldn’t believe it. King had had a stroke about a year ago but had been recovering. Paul wanted to know what kind of fall. How had it happened?    Esther was vague on the details; she’d always been vague. When they ended the call Paul was enraged. This couldn’t be happening. He was 85 years old. King was six months older. They were supposed to go tottering off into old age together.


Paul was a New Yorker, although he’d moved to California almost 55 years ago. He’d always been a New Yorker. He’d grown up in the Bronx. King and his family lived in Brooklyn. They had a house, the only one in the family who had. King’s father, Paul’s Uncle Ben, had been a lawyer. King was not only Paul’s cousin but his oldest friend. Paul had a snapshot of the two of them, about three years old, taken at Brighton Beach. King had been the only one left who knew Paul had been a pretty good handball player when they were kids. They’d been playing at a court in Brooklyn when Paul had dislocated his knee and so would never be a money player. 


King was the one that Paul could talk to about anything, even though King was a strictly observant Jew and Paul certainly wasn’t.. King was the only one who knew how Paul had felt when he’d lost his job. King was the only one who knew how troubled Paul was when one of Paul’s teenage sons had gotten into trouble. King was the only one who knew about Paul’s fears when Paul had his surgeries. King had been the only one who knew what growing old and then very old had been like. King had been the only one he’d talked about death with. And now King was gone. A part of himself was also gone.


Paul went back to the patio. It was appropriately enough a gloomy day, typical of winter weather in Northern California when it was either rainy or foggy. Paul had taken a book with him. It was one of the Rabbi Small series. It reminded Paul of how he and King had talked about King’s faith and Paul’s lack of faith. Paul read for intervals, looked out at the bleak winter scene at times and occasionally cried.



a line


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