“The Five Stages” A Short Story by Stephen Kaplan

In my creative writing class that I’m taking we had an assignment where we had to write a 1200 word story. But there were a few rules we had to follow.

1) It had to be 1200 words (obviously, I just typed that)

2) It had to be written in 6 days at 200 words per day

3) Each day’s set of 200 words had to be a different scene (though it could involve the same characters if you want)

4) The first line of the first scene had to be “The phone rang at six with the news”

5) The last line of the last scene had to be “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not now.”

Other than those rules, we were free to write anything we wanted. So here’s what I wrote. It’s called The Five Stages:

The phone rang at six with the news. I had been dreading this moment for a long time. In actuality it was about a week or so, but it felt like an eternity. I stared at the phone, knowing who was on the other end and hesitantly pressed the “Accept” button.

“Hello?” I asked. I don’t know why I sounded so unsure when I said “hello”; I knew it was the doctor.

“We got the results of the test back,” the doctor said. I could detect a hint of regret in his voice and I knew it wasn’t going to be good. “The results came back positive, I’m afraid to say.”

I nearly dropped my phone. I didn’t even know what to say. This was the moment I had been fearing since I started coughing uncontrollably a few weeks ago.

“How long do I have left?” I asked, not really sure if I wanted to find out.

“I’m afraid we were a little bit on the late side in detecting this and it looks like you have about a month left.”

“A month?” I asked, more surprised than angry or saddened.

“I’m terribly, terribly sorry.”

I didn’t say another word.


“So how is everything?” My wife asked nonchalantly while we were eating supper. “You seem a little…distracted.”

“Everything’s great,” I said. “These are the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had.”

“Oh,” my wife said, unsure of how to respond. “Thanks.”

I didn’t want to tell her. In fact, I didn’t believe it myself. As far as I was concerned I was healthy and was going to live forever. This cough was just that…a cough. There was no need to worry her with unnecessary details that were only given to me over the phone. For all I knew, the doctor wasn’t even qualified. In fact, come to think of it I don’t even remember seeing any medical degrees on his walls when I had gone to see him about my cough.

“We should plan a vacation,” I said out of nowhere. “Like, a real good one. A second honeymoon. Wouldn’t you like that?”

“Honey,” my wife said in the sweetest what the hell are you talking about? voice she could muster. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing!” I said quickly. “I just think it’d be nice to go to Aruba or something.”

“What about our kids?”

“Oh yeah,” I said, “the kids.”


“Son of a bitch!” I shouted at no one in particular but secretly hoped the doctor could hear me.

“A month?” My wife asked. She was still in shock from the news, I was well past shock.

“It’s that stupid doctor’s fault!”

I knew it wasn’t actually, but it made me feel slightly better to place blame on him. It was my own fault for not going to see the doctor sooner. But who wants to blame themselves when they only have a month left to live?

“I just…I can’t believe it.” She started crying, which didn’t help my temper unfortunately.

“Stop crying!” I screamed, lashing out at her. “I’m fucking dying and crying isn’t going to make it better!”

“I’m sorry,” she sobbed, “I can’t help it.”

“Mommy, why is daddy so mad?” My four-year-old son asked.

She couldn’t answer him, she was crying too much and the last thing I wanted to do was scream at my son.

“Lyle,” I said to him, trying to calm myself down, “I need you to promise me something.”

“What is it, daddy?”

“When I’m no longer around, I…” I chocked. “I need you to be the man of the house.”


My anger didn’t last long after one moment when I got so mad that I punched a hole in the wall, began coughing and passed out. When I had woken up I no longer lashed out; I instead kept all of my anger bottled up.

Two weeks had gone by and each day I could feel myself getting weaker and weaker. It had been too late to operate on and I decided there was no point in taking chemotherapy since the doctor told me that with chemotherapy I might be able to extend my life by an extra week. What good is an extra week if it’s spent in the hospital instead of with my family?

I was never a religious man, at most I was agnostic. But this night I knelt down at the side of my bed and began to pray. I prayed harder than I ever had before.

“God,” I started, “I don’t know if you exist but, if you do, I could really use your help right now. If you let me live I promise that I will be a better person. Heck, I’ll even go to church. Please, God. I don’t want to die.”


For the next week all that was going through my mind was that I should’ve spent more time with my wife and kids. I had spent so much time at work I wasn’t a very good father or husband. To try to make up for it I spent every single remaining day trying to do something nice for my family, when I had the energy.

I tried playing catch with my son. I took my nine-year-old daughter to her dance classes. We, my kids, wife and I, all went out to restaurants a couple nights, too. However, the more stuff I did with my family, the sadder I became. The reality of mortality started to kick in.

“I should’ve been there for you,” I said to my wife, “all of you.”

“What are you talking about?” My wife questioned.

“I shouldn’t have waited until I was dying to actually be a father.”

“You were a great father and a great husband,” she said, reassuringly, “don’t ever tell yourself otherwise.”

I kissed her passionately and then said, “I’m sorry.”

I started coughing uncontrollably and hacked up some blood. Looking at the blood, I started to cry. She held me tight.


In my last couple days I was so weak I couldn’t even get out of bed. The few times I tried to make it to the bathroom by myself I ended up collapsing from exhaustion. It wasn’t a pleasant time at all.

But as I laid there in bed, dying, I saw the faces of my wife and kids. They had phony smiles to try to make me feel better but I could see the sadness in their eyes. When they thought I was sleeping I could hear them crying. I wanted to console them, but I could barely lift my arms or hold onto their hands.

“It’ll be all right,” I said slowly, having to pause in between words to take a breath.

“How will it be all right?” My daughter screamed at me, though I knew she wasn’t really mad at me, just at the situation.

“Believe me,” I said. “Even now as I’m dying, I still loved every minute of this life. You’ve all made me very happy.” I could see Lyle crying, though I couldn’t tell for sure if he really knew what was going on. “And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not now.”

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