How Lil’ Jimmie Beat the Big C


The morning Jimmie was running late, he held a finger up to the guard who came to collect him. Just a sec, the finger said.

The finger of a man shriveled down to the bone.

A few months back, the guards would have whipped his ass for doing such a thing. These days those bastards evinced a kind of sad-eyed leniency in the presence of Lil’ Jimmie. God himself was speaking through those around him: Take all the time you need, Lil’ Jimmie. Heaven knows time is one thing you ain’t got.

Jimmie turned back to the phone.

Can’t be, the voice on the other line said, you was always loyal to me.

Most the time I was, Lil’ Jimmie said. Just not when it come to her. Sometimes she slipped when we was getting hot and heavy. Called out your name. Your nickname. Oh! Oh! Porky-Worky! Shit like that. Funny to hear.

You motherfucker! the voice said.

Jimmie hung up and let the guard haul him off to get suited up for his appointment. Fresh civvie sneaks with the Nike swoosh. Freshly laundered DOC sweats. Puffy, down DOC jacket. Polyester cap in DOC orange. Twelve years in this Carolina shithole, and his recent Monday outings earned him the newest set of clothes he’d ever worn.

The guards loaded him into the van in his body-belt, cuffs, and leg-irons. A quick hop in the January cold to that sweet facility out by the highway. The inside of the oncology practice looked like an airplane hangar, complete with a snack bar and gift shop. Tons of civilians, young and old, waiting in chairs for their names to be called. Everyone looking thin, shuffling along like bald-assed zombies.

Downstairs, the guards shackled Jimmie to the drip chair and left. They had a TV hanging over Jimmie’s head, but he could never bring himself to watch. The sessions wigged him out. He didn’t see the point of it all. Three times a month; the drips, the scans, all at taxpayer expense. What did a thing like that cost? And all for a man most civilians would agree didn’t deserve shit.

He thought about all those assholes he put in the ground for Billy May. God rest them all. At least he’d done them quick. Two in the head, easy. Wasn’t a better way to go than doing the cancer zombie shuffle?

Now, Jimmie hated to look at himself in the mirror. Losing the hair didn’t bother him. He was losing it anyway. But the empty flesh? The sickness? The muscle melting off him? Shit, nothing used to scare him. But this, this right here, this scared him. Fuck—he didn’t even know what all a pancreas did.

Out the door of the chemo room, down the carpeted hall, Jimmie caught a glimpse of the two guards, bored off their asses. One watching the CNN program, the other tapping the glass of the tropical fish aquarium.

When the plastic teats ran dry, Jimmie trembled as he watched how gently the nurse extracted the needle from the port under the flesh of his chest.

You believe this? he thought. I’m surrounded by kindness.

He clung to that feeling as the guards led him up and out to the carport. The younger guard stayed with him. The other fetched the van.

The young guard was gabbing about something he’d seen on the tube, and didn’t notice the black car roll into the parking lot. Didn’t see the two guys leaning out. Didn’t see Billy May—ol’ Porky-Worky himself—sitting in back.

The guard took one to the thigh, dropped, and tried to return fire.

Jimmie stood the whole time, drinking in the hail and thinking of kindness, of deliverance, of mercy.

By the time the older guard came running, the black car had rocketed away. Shattered glass on the sidewalk. People screaming inside.

The guard clapped a hand to his partner and bellowed for help.

Couldn’t do nothing for Lil’ Jimmie. Poor bastard was

lying in a puddle of his own gemcitabine-tainted blood.

And smiling.

~ fin ~

Joseph D’Agnese’s nonfiction appeared in Best American Science Writing (HarperCollins) two years in a row. His crime fiction has appeared in Shotgun HoneyPlots With GunsBeat to a PulpAlfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and the annual anthology, Best American Mystery Stories 2015. He won the 2015 Derringer Award for flash fiction for a piece (“How Lil’ Jimmie Beat the Big C") that first appeared here at Shotgun Honey. He’s the author of three popular history titles, a children’s picture book on the Fibonacci Sequence, and some novels. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.