Adventures in Reading

“Jumper Down” by Don Shea
“Thus we may allow an entire page in a novel to be forgettable, but we approach a flash fiction as if all of it may be memorable.”

Short story is somewhat of a vague term that can be used to describe a great body of work. One area, for example, is flash fiction and my most recent short story reading was from Flash Fiction Forward edited by James Thomas and Robert Shapard. For this revised edition, the editor’s introduction goes about describing what a flash fiction is: “very short stories … most depended for their success not on their length but on their depth, clarity of vision, and human significance.”

However, an interesting question that the introduction to Flash Fiction Forward asks regards the length of a short story. Any work within the collection is 1/3 of a page to 750 words. Anything shorter was disregarded as “likely to be a mere summary, or perhaps a joke.” In a comment on flash fiction, Richard Bausch says “when a story is compressed so much, the matter of it tends to require more size: that is, in order order to make it work in so small a place its true subject must be proportionately larger.”

The first story in this collection left my mouth gaping. “Jumper Down” by Don Shea is the story of Henry a retiring paramedic whose specialty has always been talking “jumpers” out of suicide. “Jumper Down” extends a glimpse into Henry’s life, relationship with his co-workers, and his final call to duty that arrives at his retirement party.

Shea’s story takes an interesting perspective towards suicide and rather than focusing on the person attempting suicide or a close relation it’s from a complete stranger. Nonetheless, it can be part of this strangers job to talk you out of it or to clean up the mess. Threads of dark humor kept me amused as the first few paragraphs explore the notions of “jumper up” and “jumper down.” Half way through during the retirement party the call comes in. When I first read this all I could think was “how predictable, it’ll be a ‘jumper down’ scenario and Henry will reflect on his life.” In my head (you’d be amazed at what can flit through my head during a few sentences) I had decided the conclusion and written off “Jumper Down.”

“It looked like a circus act. No exaggeration. Two half gainers and a backflip, and every second of it caught in the spotlights. The guy hit the ground about thirty yards from where we were standing, and Henry and I were over there on the run, although it was obvious he was beyond help.

He was dead, but he hadn’t died.”

This is where my eyes popped. I’ve said it repeatedly but I’ll say it again, I love a short story with a good twist and I didn’t see this one coming. However, when Henry arrives at the dying man and yells into his ear “I just gotta tell ya, I wanted you to know, that jump was fucking magnificent.”

“Jumper Down” is a thrilling story and as Bausch said “when a story is compressed so much, the matter of it tends to require more size,” and this story was a perfect example. It’s an ordinary tree of a story that suddenly bursts into feathers.