Story: A Damn Good Day

By: Michael C. Keith

Fear is faith that it won’t work out.
–– Anonymous


Maxwell Booth sits in his doctor’s lobby awaiting the results of his x-ray. A cough that started months earlier has worsened to the point that he has overcome his formidable resistance to having it checked out. Doctors are trained to look for trouble, he believes, and he’s convinced his father’s chain-smoking has caused him to develop lung cancer at the age of 57. He has never smoked, but he knows that exposure to secondhand smoke can be deadly. My bloody luck, he broods, clenching his sweaty palms.

For his entire childhood, Maxwell and his divorced father lived in a tiny apartment with only a single window––inches from the wall of another building––for ventilation. Tobacco clouds hung like an impending storm above the worn furniture that crowded their two rooms. When he was a young boy, he used to try to sculpt the effluence into animals and castles.

Maxwell tries to calculate how many cigarettes he has smoked without actually having smoked as the consequence of living in such close proximity to a three-pack-a-day habit. Thousands, he figures, and that horrible realization brings on a phlegmy spasm. I’m dead, he thinks, and then the receptionist says that the doctor is ready to see him. Oh, Lord . . . oh, Lord! Damn you, Pop! Look what you’ve done to your child!

Maxwell steps into his doctor’s office and realizes right away that the news will be bad . . . very bad.

Sit down Mr. Carlyle. So then . . . the x-rays have revealed what the problem is,” he says, solemnly

Just say it, doc, thinks Maxwell. I know it’s over.

Why’d you wait so long to come in?” asks the doctor.

Maxwell is too terrified to answer, and he begins to hyperventilate, which activates his cough reflex.

You should have had this treated before it got to this point.”

Maxwell feels on the verge of passing out as the doctor continues to speak.

Severe bronchitis is not something you want to ignore.”


The word echoes through Maxwell’s head, and he is quickly brought back from the edge. He cannot hold back his tears.

Relax, Mr. Carlyle. It is treatable.”



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