Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work. (Thomas A Edison)
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The Test Results. By Martin Green.


Paul Lerner had lived, with his wife Sally, in a Northern Californian retirement community, for the last ten years. When you’ve been a retiree for that length of time you develop certain routines. Paul’s last action before going to bed was always, unless, as sometimes happened, he forgot, to check his computer for any late e-mails, then close it down for the night. In his retirement, Paul had become a kind of writer, doing a monthly column for a senior newspaper and writing short stories for a number of online magazines, whose editors did sometimes send him e-mails that arrived late at night.

On this night, after going through his usual routine (there were no e-mails), Paul looked at the letter on his computer desk. It was from his health plan and, he was sure, contained the results of some tests he’d recently taken. Normally, he’d have opened the envelope as soon as it arrived and looked at the results. Why hadn’t he done so this time? He supposed it was because he’d had such a good day and didn’t want to take a chance on spoiling it. The test results could wait another day; they wouldn’t change.

Paul considered that if he was writing this as a short story (called, say, “The Test Results”), starting it before just before going to bed would be unusual. It was common for authors to start a story when the main character first awakened. This allowed the author to set the stage for the action to come. Sam turned the alarm clock off and buried his head beneath the pillows. He didn’t really want to get up and face going to work that day. Or: Suzie leapt out of bed. He was coming home today, after two years in Iraq; but would he remember her? It also gave the author a chance to describe his character as he or she looked into the bathroom mirror. Sam saw an anxious face with bloodshot eyes and a stubble of beard. Suzie saw a teenager with blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes. How would he describe himself in the mirror? An elderly gentleman with sparse hair, age spots, and many lines from … from what? A lifetime of care? No, not really.

After getting into bed, Paul kissed Sally and told her that he loved her, another customary routine. Then, as usual, he went over in his mind the events of the day. It had begun when he turned on his computer, as he always did first thing in the morning, and found an e-mail from one of his editors saying that Paul’s story would be featured in the next issue of his online magazine. Paul had been fond of that story, and the editor had turned down the two previous stories he’d sent, so that was good news indeed.

After breakfast, he’d done the day’s crossword puzzle, not easy on a Saturday, sometimes harder than the Sunday one. At his weekly pool game that morning, after losing the first two games and seemingly on his way to defeat in the third, he’d made a miraculous two-cushion shot, then had sunk the eight ball with another difficult shot. At his weekly bridge game that afternoon, he’d held good cards in almost every game and had ended with the most points after three rubbers. Very satisfying.

It was satisfying also that he and Sally had enough money to live comfortably in retirement. And they’d both been fairly healthy, even though he’d had a surgery last year. One of the drawbacks of living in a retirement community was that as everyone became older, friends and acquaintances began to get sick or pass away. When you were in your seventies, approaching 80, Paul had found that it was difficult to avoid thinking of your own mortality, thoughts that usually came just about this time, before falling asleep. He repeatedly told himself to just take life one day at a time, a cliché but not that easy to do. Well, this day was over and he’d look at those test results tomorrow.

Paul slept until almost nine the next morning. After breakfast, he tackled the Sunday crossword puzzle (good for the aging mind, the experts said) and, with the help of his computer (you could Google nearly everything nowadays) finished it. Then he opened the envelope containing his test results. If he was writing this as a story, he thought, he could end it right here and leave the reader in suspense. The creator of the TV show, “The Sopranos,” had recently done something like that, ending with a scene that went black, and the critics had thought this was a stroke of genius. This was the way life was, they’d said, no neat endings; it just went on.

But he didn’t think this would be fair. You couldn’t string your reader along and then leave your story up in the air. He looked at the test results. Damn! They were inconclusive. His doctor had scrawled a note on them; he wanted Paul to take the tests again in three months. Well, at his age three months was a considerable time. He’d try to take the three months one day at a time. He went to tell Sally the news.

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