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It had been three years since Fred saw his old friend.

It was a chance encounter one Saturday morning in winter, both men working to clean the fence row where their properties butted up against each other. They stopped and talked a few minutes, traded old stories, updated family dramas.

They needed to get together more often, they agreed. Vowed to do better.

It had been three in the morning when the phone rang in the Thompsons’ bedroom. Martha answered, but Fred could hear Sara Boswell’s voice on the other end, scratching out of the darkness.

Something was wrong with Mark, Sara was saying. She had called an ambulance, but could Fred come and try to help?

It took three minutes for Fred to throw on some overalls, hop in his truck, and drive around the bend to Mark and Sara’s house.

The place was dark except for a dim porch light and an orange glow in a back window.

“He’s in the bedroom,” Sara greeted Fred on the porch, motioning toward the rear of the house.

Guilt washed over Fred as he clomped through the darkness and stepped into the room where Mark lay motionless on an oval braided rug. He wore a pair of tattered pajamas

Why had Fred waited so long to visit?

It took three days for Sara to make the arrangements.

That put the funeral on Wednesday morning. Fred didn’t want to go … there was work to do, after all.

Still, there he stood, looking into his friend’s pallid face.

“I told him to slow down,” Sara said, standing beside her neighbor. “He had been having chest pains for awhile. The farm is too much for an old man.”

Fred nodded. He knew those pains well.

He had to do better.

Published inFlash Fiction

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