Introduction: Independent authors Brendan Swogger, Tony Healey, and I have been giving each other little short story prompts over the past several months. It started off as a fun way to keep our minds sharp, but quickly turned into a game where the three of us try to outdo one another.
It was Brendan’s turn to supply a new prompt, and this is what he came up with: “A man finds a penny on the ground. What happens next?”
I mulled this prompt over for far too long, fearing that Brendan had finally managed to stump me. Then an idea came to me that was a little abstract, but I thought maybe I could work with it. Below is the story that I came up with. I hope that you’ll like it. Also be sure to check out Brendan and Tony’s offerings on their respective websites as well.
By: David K. Hulegaard
Theresa’s phone call woke me up at 11:03 a.m. on Friday, April 8th, 1994. I remember because my first blurry-eyed reaction was to smack the SNOOZE button on my alarm clock, trying to get it to shut up. Once I had realized my mistake, I cleared my throat and then picked up the receiver, managing to produce a barely coherent, “Hello?” that sounded as though I had been gargling gravel.
With school being out, I had stayed up most of the previous night playing Super Nintendo, finally deciding on a bed time somewhere in the neighborhood of 5:00 a.m. The phone call had interrupted my plan of sleeping in past lunch time.
Theresa’s voice was bright and perky as always, which annoyed the shit out of me in my sleep deprived state, though, in fairness I had only myself to blame for forgetting to turn the phone’s ringer off. She also spoke in long stretches without a breath, spitting out more sentences per second than most people can generate within an entire conversation.
“Did I wake you up? Were you sleeping? I’m sorry. What are you doing? Do you need to eat? Do you need me to let you go? That sucks about Kurt Cobain,” she fired out in rapid succession. It was typical of our usual phone calls, only I lacked the patience to grin and bear it that morning.
As I was about to bring the conversation to an abrupt end and get some more shuteye, the sound of her voice saying “Kurt Cobain” lingered in my head, taking its sweet time to finally register.
“Wait… what?” I said.
“Yeah, you didn’t hear? They found Kurt Cobain’s body. He killed himself. So sad.”
I rubbed my eyes, still very groggy from the unceremonious wake-up call. I could hear her words, but I could not process them. I was alert enough to know that it was April, so I concluded that Theresa was attempting to play an April Fools’ joke on me, albeit a not very funny one. I could foster no reaction other than to lie there in stunned silence while I waited for her to spring the punch line on me, but it never came. Kurt was gone.
Like most other seventeen year olds at that time, I was devastated by Kurt’s death. I felt as though I had lost a close friend despite the fact that I had never met him. The thing about Kurt Cobain was that you didn’t need to meet him to know him. He was stitched into every composition he’d ever written, intricately layering his deepest, inner-most thoughts into every line, sometimes appearing as though he was speaking in code. Kurt wasted very little words, and even the most seemingly nonsensical lyrics were all a part of the world as he saw it. He didn’t care if you ‘got’ it or not, he just encouraged you to come along for the ride.
The day following Kurt’s reported death was a Saturday. I had not slept well and forced myself out of bed at a reasonable hour. My parents were already awake, eating breakfast together at the kitchen table, a two-seater that was little more than a glorified desk. Upon hearing the click of my bedroom door closing, my dad turned to look at me over his shoulder, almost tipping over the full glass of orange juice beside his left elbow. He scrambled to bury a section of newspaper underneath a pile of the morning edition.
As I staggered down the hallway into the kitchen, my eyes locked on the stack of newspapers.
“What are you trying to hide?” I asked my father.
My parents’ eyes met, followed by my dad letting out an over exaggerated sigh. He moved aside a collection of papers and uncovered the front page for me to see. Kurt Cobain’s angelic blue eyes stared back at me from beneath the headline, “Soaring Spirit, Fallen Star.” It was only then that I had shed my first tears over the news, as if somehow the reality had failed to sink in until that moment.
My mother got up from the table and put her arms around me.
“I’m so sorry, honey,” she said, kissing the top of my head.
“I don’t understand why you were trying to hide it, though,” I said, resting my head against my mother’s shoulder. “It happened yesterday. I already knew.”
My dad swished a sip of juice back and forth inside his mouth before swallowing and wiping his lips with a napkin.
“Well, son. Your mother and I just weren’t sure how you were going to react, so we just wanted to be cautious.”
“Cautious?” I pulled away from my mother’s touch. “As in you thought I might try to kill myself just because Kurt Cobain did?”
My mother moved over to my dad’s side and gently rubbed her hand on his back.
“We just know how much he meant to you, and we wanted to make sure you were okay first. We know he was your idol.”
I was livid. My “idol?” Like I was some mindless lemming that followed the herd over the cliff, incapable of independent thought? The glass had shattered, giving light to the truth about how my parents actually saw me, and that hurt even more than Kurt’s death. I stormed off back down the hallway and into my room, shutting the door behind me with enough force to let them know I was not to be disturbed.
The first Nirvana song I listened to after Kurt’s death was “All Apologies.” I didn’t know why at the time, but I just had to hear that song. Looking back now, it makes perfect sense. Subconsciously I knew that it would be the last Nirvana song to ever be recorded. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that my assumption would prove to be incorrect, but I would not receive that clarification for another eight years.
As I laid on my bed, staring up at the glow-in-the-dark sticker constellations on the ceiling, hands folded beneath my head, and listening to the music, I remembered something. It was the sight of my mom sobbing uncontrollably in front of the television when I was a child, no more than four years old at the time. I had never seen her cry before, which in turn, caused me to cry. My mother wrapped her arm around my waist and pulled me into her grasp as she wiped her eyes with a tissue in her other hand.
On the television were lots of police cars and flashing lights. People holding microphones and talking to the camera as lines of white text scrolled across the bottom of the screen. I could not follow what was going on, but I knew that whatever it was hurt my mother deeply.
Then it clicked: That was the day that John Lennon was shot and killed outside his apartment in Manhattan. I realized right then that while age may separate the different generations of people, the pain felt from losing an artist so near and dear to your heart was universal.
It has been over eighteen years since Kurt Cobain’s death, and the sun continues to rise and set as it always has, each day serving as another step forward from that tragic day. The pain has subsided with time, but the impact of his music has not tarnished by a single day.
I never fear that Kurt will become just a distant memory from a time gone by in my life. At no point during the past eighteen years have I heard a single piece of music that could move me like Kurt’s did, and something tells me that I never will again.
It’s funny to be thinking about all of this again. These thoughts are never far away from my mind, but never find their way passed my lips. Every so often, a random event or a conversation with a person can trigger these moments of reflection. One such event occurred today.
I walked out from the grocery story, plastic bags in each hand, and clumsily dropped the change from my purchase. I sat the bags down and stooped to gather up the coins. The lone penny in the bunch, its copper all shiny and clean, reflected the sun’s bright rays into my eyes and obscured my view.
When my vision returned, I noticed the date mark of 1994 stamped onto the coin’s face. I smiled and slid it into the breast pocket of my sky blue button-up. They say if you find a penny and pick it up, all that day you’ll have good luck. I don’t know about any of that, but at the very least, it provided me with a few moments of joy as I remembered my “idol,” and the twenty plus years of entertainment he left behind.