Healing through story

Month: March 2024

shortfiction24 – rare and aggressive

In story #7 of the Jack and Diane series, they face an unwanted diagnosis.

Another test of their relationship.

Enjoy the story. Previous six stories are here.

Rare and Aggressive

Bob Gillen

Jack Marin pulled his Ford F-150 into Diane Somers’s driveway, behind her Toyota Prius. He turned off the engine, sat in silence. How do I talk about this?

The clock on his dash read 6:30 p.m. An hour since he got his diagnosis. Since he lost something. Something as yet undefined.

Diane came to the door, her face grim. She stood, waiting, giving him space.

Jack slid out of his truck, walked toward her.

“It’s bad?” she said.

He nodded. “Yeah. Bad.”

“Come in.” She held the door for him.

Jack walked to her kitchen table, sat in his usual place, back to the living room. Diane came up next to him, stood there, her arm gently around his shoulder. “Want to talk about it?”

“Do you have coffee?”

Diane poured a cup from the French press. “Just made some.”

He sipped the coffee. “Better than the ‘Bucks, any day,” he said.

Diane sat opposite him.

“I had to wait for a bit. The patient ahead of me was late. Then his assistant ushered me to the doctor’s office. I was never there before. Usually an exam room. I knew…”

She reached across the table and touched his hand.

“He said the biopsy revealed carcinoma on my prostate. The spot he was concerned about after the MRI. He said it’s a rare and aggressive carcinoma.”

Jack sipped his coffee.

“Shit,” Diane said. “What now?”

Jack shrugged. “He wants to remove the whole prostate as soon as possible.”

“Will that get the carcinoma?”

“If I’m lucky.”

Diane frowned.

“If it doesn’t spread…”

“So…we hope for the best.”

“I guess.”

“Any after effects?”

“I’ll be incontinent…at least six to twelve months, maybe longer. I have to wear a paper diaper.”


“And I will have ED.”

Diane’s eyes widened. “Really?”


Jack raised his coffee mug to his lips. 

Diane said, “I ordered pizza. Should be here soon. Are you hungry?”

Jack shook his head. “Don’t think so. Maybe.”

He shrugged. “I knew right away it was bad.”

“We’ll get through it,” she said.

“Your boyfriend, the one with big boy pants and a non-working dick.”

“My boyfriend…stop there. The rest is not important.”

Jack looked up from his coffee mug. “I won’t have much to offer.”

“You’ll be here. That’s what counts.”

The doorbell rang. “Pizza’s here.” She got up to answer the bell.

“Will you feel bad if I eat?” she asked. “I skipped lunch today.”

“Sure, go ahead.”

Diane pulled a slice out of the box and grabbed a napkin.

“I feel so bitter,” Jack said.

Diane peered at him over her slice.

“Bitter. My first reaction. Not fear or even anger. Bitter.”

Jack grabbed a napkin and a slice. “Maybe I am hungry.”

“Why bitter?”

“Did I ever tell you this? I pray every night for health. Years ago I listened to the audio tapes of a couple of Pema Chödrön books. You know her? The Buddhist nun?”

“I’ve heard of her. Don’t know her work.”

“She teaches you how to pray, in an expanding kind of way. Pray for yourself first. Then open your prayer to those close to you. If you are comfortable, move your prayer out further to those you may not know. And if you are able to, if you feel the generosity, even pray for your enemies, for those who do you and the world harm.”

Diane nodded.

“It helped me when I lost my wife…Anyway, especially the last few months I have prayed for health. For freedom from illness and malignancy. I have prayed to the spirits of love, to the healing power of the universe. I believe in that. And here I am…a rare and aggressive carcinoma. Not just a malignant cell. Rare.”

Jack set his slice down on the napkin. He lowered his head in his hands. Shook his head. “I’m not ready. I have too much to do yet. It’s not my time.”

Diane said, “Okay then, it’s not your time. Believe that. Hold on to that thought as you go forward.”

Jack looked up, nodded. “Can I stay here tonight? Nothing intimate. Just be with you. I need you.”

Diane’s eyes filled with tears. She got up and came to Jack’s side. “Stay here, of course.”

In the morning Jack woke to the smell of coffee. He rolled out of bed right away, got dressed, headed for the kitchen.

“Good morning.” A cheery greeting from Diane.


Jack hugged Diane. Hard. Close. “Thank you.”

Diane smiled. “We got this. Don’t know how yet, but we got this.”

Jack sat and sipped his coffee. “Any leftover pizza?”

“In the fridge,” she said.

He got up, put two slices on a paper plate in the microwave.

“I don’t know yet when surgery will be. The doc said within six weeks.”

“Okay.” Diane stirred oatmeal on a small pot, added raisins.

“How long have we known each other?” he asked. “Three months or so?”

“Three months, two weeks, four days.”


The microwave beeped.

“And we have both been playing this very cautiously. Friendship, with a touch of affection. An occasional PDA.”

Diane nodded. “It’s what we both needed to do.”

“Right. So…six weeks or so and I will never be able to be intimate with you…no matter how slow we want to go.”


“I don’t know if I want to be intimate now…before the surgery.”

Diane poured the hot oatmeal into a bowl. “We don’t need to decide that today.”

“No. I mean, if we were intimate now, it would be wonderful, but then we would never be able to do that again.”

“What exactly are we talking about here? You will not be able to have an erection? No orgasm?”

“I think so. The doc was not too specific.”

“But my parts would still work.”

He smiled. “A one way street.”

“One orgasm, two intimate partners.”

Jack waved his hand. “Enough on this. How about we hit the beach later today?”

“I could do that, if you go home to shower and change first. You may be sick, but you’re not throwing in the towel.”

He smiled. “Any more pizza in the fridge?”

Later, on the beach at Point Dume, they walked back and forth along the water’s edge. 

“I like you, Jack Marin.”

“Back atcha, Diane Somers.”

She reached out to hold his hand. “I feel like I might be moving towards loving you. Not sure yet.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

They stood still and listened to the surf crash on the sand.


shortfiction24 – tag, you’re it

Matthew’s spirit passes the baton before he leaves this world for the next. Baby Ethan will grow into his mission.

Enjoy the short story.

Tag, You’re It

Bob Gillen

Matthew lay in his hospital bed, the cancer claiming his life a breath at a time. His wife and two daughters lingered, knowing his last moment was imminent. IV tubes fed Matthew with pain killers, leaving him unconscious. A white beanie sat on his head. He had complained of being cold. His wife thought he was also self-conscious of his sudden and total hair loss.

At nine p.m. on Christmas Eve Matthew flatlined. His family sobbed, hugged one another, and said goodbye. The oncology nurse began removing the IV tubes. His hospital gown slipped off his shoulder, revealing a tattoo of a heart. She touched the tattoo gently, covered his body and left the room.

Matthew’s spirit lingered in the room. Not quite ready to pass over. He had one more task to perform. His spirit drifted off the Oncology unit and through the halls. Sadly quiet on a Christmas Eve. He moved until he found the Maternity unit. The room he was looking for was at the end of the hall. A few hours passed. At one a.m. on Christmas morning little Ethan burst onto the scene. His mother lay back exhausted. The nurse soothed the baby’s squawks, washed him, then laid his naked body on his mother’s bare chest. Skin to skin. Warmth to warmth. Bonding at the start of life.

Matthew hovered unseen in the background. “Hey, little buddy. Welcome.” Ethan blinked.

Ethan’s dad hurried into the room. “I go down for coffee and you have the baby!”

He rushed to see Ethan. A tear wound its way down his cheek. 

“He surprised us,” his mom said.

The dad sat at bedside, holding his wife’s hand. 

The nurse pointed to Ethan’s shoulder. “He has a tiny birthmark. Almost in the shape of a heart. It will probably fade as he gets older.”

The nurse slipped a white knitted cap on Ethan’s head. A precious gift from his grandma. “They lose some of their body heat through the top of their heads,” the nurse said.

Matthew’s spirit spoke to Ethan. “Little man, I know you can’t communicate yet. That will take time. I’m here to tell you, I’ve got your back. I’m leaving now. Turning it over to you. I’ve done what I needed to do. It’s your turn now.”

Matthew lingered for a few minutes. Christmas Day. New life. The baton passing to another. It was time for Matthew to leave. Matthew’s spirit brushed Ethan’s birthmark. “Tag, you’re it.”


shortfiction24 – a broken leg, a broken heart

Sister Grace has prepared her class for this moment for the past year. Their First Communion. The Gospel reading of the Good Shepherd. An old man turns it all upside down.

Enjoy the story.

And see more of my stories on my blog.

A Broken Leg, A Broken Heart

Bob Gillen

Sister Grace radiated with joy on this April Saturday morning. She beamed looking at her second-grade class lined up at the rear of the church. First Communion day for the children at St. Maurice School. The girls looked like little angels in their white dresses and gauzy veils. The boys – well, maybe not angels so much as fish out of water. Uncomfortable in navy blue suits, ties to match, hair slicked and combed.

From above them, in the choir loft, voices chanted the glory of the moment. Sister Grace nodded to the altar servers, who began the procession down the aisle. From the pews parents and relatives craned to get pictures of the children. Sister Grace had chosen the time for the ceremony with great care. Mid morning. As the children walked down to their pews in the front, the sun burst through the stained glass window behind the altar, spraying the aisle with color. Reds, blues, yellows, golds dappled the white dresses of the girls as they passed. A breathtaking display.

Sister Grace simply bubbled with pride as the children took their places. They would now know the joy she feels being close to her Lord.

Bringing up the rear of the procession came Father Francis. A shock of white hair, bushy white eyebrows, hands gnarled with age, a network of creases webbed on his face. He reached the altar, greeted the children and their families, and began the ceremony. Several well-rehearsed children read selected passages from the Bible. 

Father Francis climbed the steps to the pulpit for the Gospel reading. The story of the Good Shepherd. A favorite of Christians everywhere. Sister Grace had learned a week ago that  Father Francis would be performing the ceremony today. She had sent him a note explaining what she had taught the children about the Good Shepherd. How he persisted out of love to search for and retrieve the lost sheep. How he had cradled it in his arms and returned it to the safety of the flock. How he reflected the love Jesus has for the lost, for all of us. Her first note had been typed, but she thought better of that and sent a penned note instead. More personal, she felt.

Father Francis finished the Gospel reading and directed all to sit. He smiled at the children, welcomed their families once again, and opened his sermon. The raspy lilt of an Irish brogue hung on his words. 

“I want to welcome all of you to this wonderful occasion.” He gestured to the children in front of him. “These beautiful spirits will, in just a few moments, join with our Savior in a most wonderful way as they are united with Jesus himself. A spiritual union, a source of nourishment, that begins today and will continue with them for the rest of their lives.”

Father Francis directed his next comments to the children. “I know you are familiar with the story of the Good Shepherd. How he searched diligently until he found the lost sheep. But do you know what the Good Shepherd did when he brought that sheep back to the herd?”

There was a dramatic pause. Father Francis stared down at the children. A few of them shook their heads, no. 

He pointed at them. “Let me tell you. There is a lesson here for you…indeed for all of us. Straying from the flock brings with it a consequence, an accountability.”

Sister Grace felt coldness blooming inside her.

Father Francis spread his arms wide. “When the shepherd reunited the stray sheep with the flock,” he made a snapping gesture with both hands, “he broke one of its legs to prevent it from wandering away again.”

The children’s eyes popped wide open. There were audible groans from many of the parents and relatives.

“Yes, the lost sheep needed to be disciplined for wandering away, for its sinful behavior. And limping about, it now stood out among the other sheep as a sign of what happens when you stray from the flock. From the community.”

Sister Grace felt tears running down her face. One of the boys sitting in front of her turned and said to her, “Is that true?”

She patted his shoulder.

Father Francis concluded, “Let us not grow weary of being united in the fold of Jesus.”

Sister Grace’s tears continued to flow as the ceremony continued. She told herself, I think I am allowed a crude thought. One whole year’s worth of teaching, now gone down the toilet. All because of a couple of words from this clueless old man.

At the altar Father Francis intoned, “Let all God’s people say Amen.”


© 2024 Bob Gillen

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑