Please enjoy this short story, written sometime in the early 2000s. So long ago…
The End of Stephen Patient
By Kristen Bobst
And so it began in the typical way that any other day would have and continued in that general manner. It was no unusual day in the least—that is of course with the somewhat disconcerting exception that this happened to be day that Stephen Patient would die. He seemed–and in fact was–totally unaware of this seemingly important fact as he walked to work that morning. Thus not at all surprising was the typical way in which he smoked his first–but not quite last–cigarette of the day. (There would be time for three more).
Also, it is worth mentioning that smoking would have nothing at all to do with the death of this seemingly healthy, moderately successful, and generally–as some might have been overheard saying–“plucky” young individual. Actually Stephen Patient had never really evidenced much active interest in smoking. He merely picked up the habit when he’d begun writing his novel a few years ago. His suspicion was that the “process” of smoking would help with the “problem” of inspiration. With that in mind, it is not hard to imagine that Stephen Patient wasn’t actually a very good writer at all. However, he wasn’t a fool. So as a credit to his humility, he’d abruptly ended his cliché, predictable novel halfway through the second chapter, but had only quit smoking when his own life met an abrupt and unpredictable end.
Cliché? Not at all. In fact Stephen’s untimely end was a surprise to everyone. No one saw it coming–surely, not the receptionist who gave a look of playful disproval when Stephen Patient walked into the office lobby smoking his second cigarette. He, as was routine, extinguished it the ceramic dish provided solely for him on her desk next to a dish of assorted and stale candies. And while the receptionist’s affections for him were constant and apparent, Stephen remained oblivious. When he offered her a “good morning, Elaine” and a careless smile as he deposited the illicit cigarette, the receptionist became immediately overjoyed and giddy for the next several hours–Until of course Stephen Patient died.
His boss didn’t notice anything different about Stephen Patient either. He especially didn’t notice that in approximately three hours from the moment Stephen Patient walked into the office at 9 am, his best employee would be deceased even easier and more rapidly than the ill fated cigarette that still lied warm in the dish on Elaine’s desk. Stephen was startled and jumped slightly as the door to his office opened. He knew it was his boss soliciting volunteers for an upcoming project. He offered a casual “Yes, sir” not particularly minding the extra work but worried that it would never pay off. It wouldn’t. For obvious reasons.
There was a coffee dispenser located in the reception area of Stephen Patient’s office. At 11:00, Stephen wandered aimlessly towards it more eager to get outside to smoke his third and penultimate cigarette. There was also a television in the reception area though no one ever watched it except for Elaine who also harbored a crush on the CNN correspondent who came on around lunchtime. As Stephen filled the Styrofoam cup with black stale coffee he half listened to the broadcast, paying more attention to Elaine’s endearing attentiveness to world events and considered asking her out for a drink after work. It might have been the best first date of her life.
He overheard the annoyingly brash young journalist discussing the world situation. It was the usual doom and gloom. Stephen laughed drolly inwardly at how dire the human situation was and thought about possibly coming up with something clever to remark to Elaine on his way back to the office. Something or other about the end of the world being upon us and maybe even the mess in the Whitehouse. He timidly decided against it and figured he’d save his wit for that after dinner drink. He wandered outside with his cup of coffee and the flint in his vintage Colibri lighter sparked for nearly the last time.
Elaine accepted his invitation for a casual round of after work drinks at approximately 11:15, just a mere three quarters of an hour before Stephen would be rendered late (kindly pardon the pun) for his date. One might imagine how disappointing this would be to Elaine but she remarked inwardly to herself for the next forty-five minutes how great life is and maybe all is right with the world after all. She might have revised this thinking had she had any insight into what would transpire at noon that day.
Stephen didn’t get too much work done before lunch. He made four phone calls, responded to three emails (one from an ex-girlfriend, one from his mother in New Hamphshire, and one renewing his subscription to pornography website- he was only human after all) and checked the weather in Tenerife about three times. He had won a vacation cruise for two in the raffle at the office Christmas party and had scheduled the trip for 1 month later, long enough he thought to secure a date. It might be noted that prior to this Stephen had never won anything in his life and he thought this might be a permanent change in his luck. Wrong.
Time passed in its usual manner as it has a tendency to do and Stephen waited for his boss to leave for lunch at 11:55 before getting ready to do so himself. The was a delicatessen that ran a special on grilled ruben sandwiches ($3.75 plus a free Fanta) on Thursday and thus Thursdays had very quickly become Stephen’s favorite day of the week. Elaine noticed the smile on Stephen’s face as he walked by her desk on his way in the direction of the deli and thought it was due to his impending date. It might be better that she was not understanding of the reality that Stephen was giddier over grilled corned beef than anything at the moment. (He had skipped breakfast which he knew was unhealthy but luckily enough for him his metabolism would have nothing to do with his ultimate demise).
Stephens’s final thoughts included what flavor of Fanta would best compliment both his mood and his sandwich. He was debating between orange and lemon when he lit up his final cigarette and it was at the precise moment he turned the corner for the deli when the flash of light blinded him. He was dead quicker than immediately as the success rate of surviving a nuclear explosion is staggeringly low. That was it, the end for Stephen Patient, the end for the world.