Jeffty is Five by Harlan Ellison – Selection #26 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: ♥5♥ Five of Hearts (image from playingcardcollector.net) Honestly, it was not intentional that I assigned this story to a “5” card, just a happy coincidence.

The Suit: For my version of Deal Me IN, this year, Hearts is the domain of Atropos, one of the “Fates” from Classical Greek Mythology who “sang of things that are yet to be” i.e., things in the future – the setting for this story. Atropos is also frequently represented as holding a pair of scissors with which she snips the thread of life which is spun by her two sisters, Clotho and Lachesis.

The Selection: “Jeffry is Five” – First published in 1977 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction thus not surprisingly included my copy of The Very Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction volume 2.

The Author: Harlan Ellison – Born in Ohio in 1927 (on my birthday, I just discovered!) I was a little surprised to find that I had never blogged about one of his stories before. If you’re a Star Trek fan, you are familiar with some of his work. He wrote the screenplay for one of the most acclaimed (& rightly so in this blogger’s opinion) episodes of the original series: “City on the Edge of Forever” which featured a young Joan Collins as a guest star. His 1957 short story, “Soldier of Tomorrow” was adapted for the television series Outer Limits’ episode, “Soldier.”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Jeffty is Five

“It’s a good world, all things considered. It’s much better than it used to be, in a lot of ways. People don’t die from the old diseases any more. They die from new ones, but that’s Progress, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Tell me. Somebody please tell me.”

I’ve always had a fondness for stories that play around with time. (I’m actually reading one right now – Jack Finney’s Time and Again). Vonnegut’s most famous protagonist – Billy Pilgrim if I have to tell you! – is just that because he becomes “Unstuck in Time.” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Benjamin Button puts a different spin on time, aging “backwards” after having been born an old man. There are other stories of those whose time is accelerated somehow, but what of Jeffty in this story? What’s his temporal oddity? What can we learn from a five year old about time? Pretty much, it turns out, because not only is Jeffty five. He’s always five.

We learn this from our narrator, Donny, who, though he has now grown up, was once five together with Jeffty, enjoying all that the magic of the world and the friendship of that age has to offer. Of all the characters in the story – even Jeffty’s parents – Donny is the one person who remains close to Jeffty, somehow appreciating him in spite of his oddity.

How does Jeffty remain always five? It seems this is partly achieved by his somehow being able to tune in to “live” radio shows that are no longer in production. At one point in the story Donny finds, for example, that Jeffty has a brand new decoder badge from the Captain Midnight radio program. That program has been off the air for twenty years, so how did Jeffty get this new “merch?” He simply “sent away for it,” apparently.

Alas, Donny is also a busy and successful businessman, and a stop by his television and appliance store with Jeffty on the way to the movies might spell doom…

“Nowhere… is there recognition of the ferocity the Present always brings to bear on the Past. Nowhere is there a detailed statement of how the Present lies in wait for What-Was, waiting for it to become Now-This-Moment so it can shred it with its merciless jaws.”

Have you read anything by Harlan Ellison? What other stories or works by him would you recommend? (below: from Ellison’s famous episode of ST:TOS)

“He knows, Doctor. He knows.”

♫♫ Personal notes: I became aware of this story a little more than two years ago when a “short story book club” I formed at my office was collecting story suggestions from our readers. This was one that never got picked and, perhaps not coincidentally, the member that proposed it only came to our first meeting. It has remained on my radar though, largely because on the intriguing title. In the intro to the story in my anthology, it is revealed that Ellison once “mis-heard” someone at a dinner party talking about their little boy, Jeff, saying “Oh, Jeff is fine. He’s always fine.” (I love hearing these origin stories about literary works!)

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