S.G. Browne

The Things They Left Behind

I’m reading Stephen King’s Just After Sunset, his first collection of short stories since his Everything’s Eventual in 2002.  Maybe it’s just time talking, slowly removing pieces of my memory, or maybe it’s because I didn’t find any of them particularly memorable, but I can’t recall any of the stories from his last collection.  Yet I can still remember “The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet” and “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut,” among others, from Skeleton Crew, so I’m guessing it’s more of the latter.

And as usual, I sit down to write something and end up straying off topic.  How I’ve manged to finish writing several novels, I have no idea.

I just finished reading one of King’s stories in Just After Sunset, this one titled “The Things They Left Behind.”  Like many of the stories I’ve read so far in this collection, it’s layered with a good depth of human emotion that affects you on a personal level rather than on one of fear.  It’s Stephen King at his storytelling best, managing to make you examine your own life and the things that matter.

KingThis particular story deals with a would-have-been victim of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and personal keepsakes of co-workers who weren’t as fortunate that keep showing up in his apartment.  The keepsakes, not the victims.  I won’t go into the details of the story, because they’re not what prompted me to write this.  At least not until the end, when the main character meets the widow of one of his co-workers and she relates the last thing she said to her husband before he went off to work:

“I wish I’d said something better than ‘Bring home a pint of half-and-half.’  But we’d been married a long time and it seemed like business as usual that day, and…we don’t know, do we?”

No, we don’t.  We don’t know what our last words to someone might be.  To a friend.  A parent.  A lover.  We never know what might happen when someone we cares about walks out the door or heads off to work or gets on a plane.

It’s easy to forget this, to get caught up in the comfortable rhythms of life, to expect everything to go as planned, to put your faith in the business as usual. And really, there’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s what allows us to enjoy the present.

But I’d like to think I could make an effort to end the conversations with my friends and loved ones with something personal.  Something that matters.  Something that resonates with the understanding that these connections I have with the people who share my life are precious and I don’t want to take them for granted.

Something other than “Bring home a pint of half-and-half.”

Or, in my case, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

When you’re a writer, you get to go back and edit what you’ve done.  The words your characters have spoken.  The actions they’ve taken. You get the chance to go back and make the words count.

Unless you have a time machine, you don’t get to edit your life.  You’re stuck with your words and your actions.  Sometimes you can atone for them, make things right, but other times, life doesn’t give you that option.

So make the words count.

Filed under: Just Blogging — Tags: — S.G. Browne @ 8:52 pm


  1. Well said, sir. Very well said.

    Comment by Evan Czerwinski — January 11, 2010 @ 9:31 pm

  2. And that’s why I always tell you I love you.

    I do.

    Comment by Tani — January 11, 2010 @ 11:46 pm

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