Room 403

(Based on a song I wrote in 2000 called Plastic Smiles).

I hadn’t planned to get shot. I’m sure that if I could respond right now, the police would love to know why I taunted the gunman the way I did. I’m certain that my family has already told them that I am generally a peaceful man; I own no guns, and I avoid conflict in most situations. By and large, I am a coward with a crippling fear of death.

Truth be told, I don’t even know why I dared the gunman to shoot me. I didn’t even know the guy. From what I remember in this current state, some random psychopath started waving a gun at a crowd of people, and decided to single me out. Who he was and why I drew the lucky lottery number is lost to me now.

If I had to guess why I challenged the guy, I would have to say that bravado was all I had at my disposal. I certainly did not want to be shot, and I have no desire to die, but when a random crazy person starts shouting gibberish while pointing a gun at my face, all I could think to do was to defy him in the hopes of disarming him somehow.

“You want to shoot someone? Do it! Do it now! I have nothing left to take, and if it is so fucking important to you to shoot someone, then go ahead and shoot me!”

That’s all I remember.

Except now, I believe that I am in a hospital room. I hear beeps and a whooshing, pumping noise. I also hear a quiet, steady murmur of random voices; some I vaguely recognize as family members, and others that I am not familiar with. I do not know if my eyes are even open, but I can sense certain family members around me. Maybe even a friend or two. Probably not. Whatever hospital room I am in, I doubt that it has enough space for so many people, yet I can sense them all.

Perhaps they are coming in waves. I am certain that I have no sense of time, at least not in this temporal plane. Whatever day or night this is, I have no clue. My eyes may not be open, but I can see every one of them. My mother and father, my sister, my ex-wife, my daughter.

Sara. Oh poor Sara. She will never understand why this happened. Even if I live to speak to her again, she will never understand how her daddy could end up in a coma after being shot by a mad man.

And she is such a good girl. Really, the only reason I bother to wake up in the morning. An amazing child who has only served to validate my existence. I hope her mother can put this into perspective for her. Sara is mature beyond her years, but still too young to lose her daddy.

I can even sense my friends. Perhaps I feel their concern for me traveling along some cosmic wave across the country. Randy and Allan are probably here at the hospital. Neal is probably raising a glass to my memory. Jackie is clear across the country wondering if he can make it out in time. I feel them all as if they were by my side. I can see them.

If there is a God in Heaven somewhere watching over this scene, I cannot wait to ask Him why it had to be this way. I worked so hard to do well in this life only to fail in every endeavor. And now this pathetic life is being ripped away from me. I am still holding on, but how and for what reason, I will never know. No. I take that back. I am holding on for Sara.

I can feel their plastic smiles looking down on me. They dare not show any grief, not yet. They are hopelessly optimistic; probably for Sara’s sake, but also because they believe that to cry now is to admit that it is over. Save the tears for the final act, I can feel them thinking. They seem hopelessly optimistic, but I know that it is all an act.

I can see them all looking down on me, just as I can see all the different acts in my life’s play. So much bad karma that I must atone for. Is this why I am here now, like this? I know now that all the lying, cheating, and stealing was for nothing. Hell, I learned that decades ago, but I guess I am paying every debt now. A failed life coming to an ignominious end. I suppose I deserve this, but I am not happy about it.

And I am not ready to let go. Not for my sake, and certainly not for Sara’s.

I see my first kiss, my first guitar, my first band, my first cigarette, my first drink, my first concert. I see the time my friends and I hid from the police in the basement of our old house after one of our parties got out of hand. I’m sure that happened several times.

I see my first real girlfriend, and my first attempt at making love. I see my wedding day and the honeymoon on the beach. I see Sara’s first moments of life, and every time I sang her to sleep.

If there is a God in Heaven, I am going to kick his fucking ass for this! My life was supposed to be so much more than it ever was. I had big dreams, and I worked hard for those dreams, but I guess you can call me living proof that dreams never come true!

But then, better men than I have died at much younger ages. I am nothing special, not in the grand scheme of things. Only in the eyes of a few family members and my daughter have I ever been special. In God’s great plan for us all, I am only another meaningless cog in the machinery.

I only wish I were awake, at least awake enough to tell them all that I love them. My family and friends, and especially Sara.

I can feel their sorrow, their worry. I can feel that they are letting go, and so, I must let go. I have no power to control anything further. I trust my family to embrace Sara with as much love and compassion as they have. I trust Sara to continue to be the same amazing kid that she was with me, forever. Trust her to never change or give up on her own life.

If I could bargain my soul for twenty seconds of consciousness, I would tell them all that I love them. I love them all. If only…

Plastic Smiles

© 8/11/2000, joel c. marckx


My friends come by and flash their plastic smiles

But their eyes don’t smile the same

Nurse #552 says it’s time to shut the lights

That’s all the time we have today

I wish I’d kept the face I had when I was a child

When I greeted everyone with a smile

Now there’s a daily fight to get to nowhere first

And I never stopped to find out why


But I’d like to say I’m sorry to those I have done wrong

It never should have taken this long

And every day and night that I won’t soon forget

‘Coz I love everyone that I have ever met

I love everyone…


My mother taught me how to read a smile

“It’s all in the eyes”, she said

I’d like to tell my friends that it’s okay to smile

There is no reason to pretend

There was no reason to lie and cheat and steal

Those dreams were never meant to be real

And with what time is left, you can call me living proof

That dreams never come true

Dreams never come true…


And I’m not ready to let go of this life

Not ready to miss what’s yet to be

Not ready to say goodbye to those that I love best

And I’m not ready to face what happens next

I’m not ready…


So I’d like to say I’m sorry to those I have done wrong

I never should have waited so long

All those days and nights that I know I’ll never forget

‘Coz I love everyone that I have ever met

I love everyone…


(Here is a video of the song so you can put a melody to the lyrics. Mind you, this is the “short” version of the song)
Plastic Smiles

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1 Comment

Filed under Flash Fiction, Lyrics

One response to “Room 403

  1. Pingback: The Saddest Songs I Know | It's a Blog About Nothing

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