Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket Summary - Short story by Jack Finney

Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket Summary

Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket is a short story by Jack Finney about a man named Tom Benecke who is single-mindedly working on a research paper in order to earn a promotion at work and in the process neglects his wife and other aspects of his life.  Everything seems to be working just fine and his dream is almost on the verge of materializing, when the research paper, which is supposed to change his life for the good, flies out the window and he finds himself standing on the window ledge. But things get really bad real fast, the window closes after him and he is locked outside the window, with no way of helping himself. He is forced to drop things out of his pocket in order to attract someone's attention and get help. In the end all he is left with is the research paper itself and this near-death experience brings him to some life altering realizations. 

The short story was first published in Good Housekeeping and Collier’s in 1956. The story explores the theme of time and how one struggles with it, tries their hardest to escape it but still looses. 

The story starts with our protagonist, Tom Benecke, at home but still engrossed in work, while his wife Clare is getting ready for a movie. When she asks him to accompany her to the show, he says that he has spent a month working on the paper and he still need time to finish it and lets her leave on her own. She exclaims that he works too hard & hates him for not going as he too wanted to see the movie. He walks her to the door, helps her with the coat and kisses her goodbye. He watches her walk down the hallway and just as he closes the door & a gust of breeze enters the living room and hits the paper lying on his desk.  The yellow sheet of paper, on on which his future depended, flies out the window in front of his very eyes. 

It was getting darker by the minute but he could see the paper to his left lying on the ornamental ledge three feet below the window. He is determined to get it back and tries to get it back by leaning out of the window, but the paper is still out of his reach. It is a windy day and suddenly a gust of air takes the paper further away and is plastered against a wall. Now that the paper was at least 5 yards away, Tom is still set on getting the paper back. He tries to think of ways to get it back and looks for things in the apartment (like broom or fireplace poker) that he may use to get hold of the paper. When he fails to find a feasible solution, his anger flares as all the opportunities the paper might have landed him (and the countless hours of hard work spent on its preparation)seems to be slipping away. 

Though the paper is way out of reach, after minutes of considering his options, he decides to climb out the window of his 11-storey apartment and onto the ledge. Before stepping onto the ledge (which is as wide as the length of his shoe) through the window sill and the frame, he puts on an old tweed jacket. Too unnerved to look down, he keeps his head up and slowly slides towards hos right. Within a few minutes, he gets to the place where the paper is plastered, squats and reaches down and grabs the paper by its corners. 

In the process to going down his knees and retrieving the paper, he looks down and the terror seeps in. Eyes shut, his body reacts; he begins to shudder with terror and he invests all his energy on remaining conscious. He takes deep breaths and tries to reassure himself that everything is okay and he will not faint, but his body won't stop shaking and his eyes won't open.

With each passing moment, the panic intensifies. He can feel his balance slipping away and is certain that he will not be able to make his way back to his apartment's window. So he waits till the traffic noise comes down and whenever there is a pause in the noise, he calls for help but eventually figures out that no one in New York downtown is going to give a second thought to where the cries are coming from. 

After minutes, he is sure that he is not going to get help from anyone else and he must find a way to reach the window on his own. Calling on whatever courage and concentration he had, he slowly makes his way to his right & constantly thinks of safety of his apartment to boost his body to move. Finally, he is able to focus his mind, the terror retreats a bit and he is able to open his eyes. 

When he reaches the window of his apartment, he looses his balance again when he is caught off guard when his left hand is not able to feel anything below. The emptiness encountered by his left hand, makes him stumble and he grabs the windowsill instinctively and kneels on the ledge. Things take a bad turn when the frame falls on his wrists and involuntarily he pulls his hands back; however, that gives the window frame the freedom to go all the way down. In the end, he finds himself just outside his apartment window ledge, with a locked window and still unable to go inside. He rises up using the window's wooden edges and looks into the apartment forlornly. 

His reflection stares back at him and he realizes that he is holding the yellow paper in his teeth. He puts the paper in his jacket pocket and thinks. The window frame has fallen down and it was clear he will not be able to open it from outside. He tries to break the glass with his hand but all efforts go in vain. Then he realizes how safe his apartment feels, he dreams of rolling around on the floor of his living room if he ever gets inside. 

Instead of waiting for help to arrive, he decides to use various objects to break the glass. He uses the coin, then his shoes, but luck eludes him. It dawns on him that he will have to wait for Clare, but soon even that hope is dashed when he remembers that she went to see the second feature of the show. He looks at his watch, according to which she left mere eight minutes ago, and it will be almost 4 hours till she comes back.  He is alive but for how long he is not sure especially when he knows that he will not be able to keep his balance for so long.

He looks around, he could see a few people in the windows of the nearby apartment buildings but no one has yet taken notice of him. He decided to attract some attention; he recovers the the match box from his pocket and lights it, but it is not enough to catch someone's attention. He tries it again, put two more old letters on fire that he was carrying in his picket but no one notices. When that fails, he throws coins onto the sidewalk below, again no success. 

Standing there, helpless, he is sure that he will fall to his death that night and the fact that he has left his wallet on the dresser makes him grimmer. All he has now is the yellow sheet which will not even be enough to help identify his body. It was of no use; he wishes he was with Clare watching the show and regrets the time he has spent on the not-at-all-important research, outright neglecting his beloved wife.

Not willing to give up without a final try, he decides to punch the glass. There were two outcomes in his mind - one, if he is in luck, he will be able to break the glass and finally be able to open the window and the other - if his fist doesn't go through the glass he will loose his balance because of the rebound and he will fall to his death. He was ready to take the chance for he was sure it was the his last chance to save himself. 

He prepares himself for a few minutes and finally yells his wife's name and strikes the glass. The glass breaks, he crawls into his apartment, puts the paper on his desk, puts on his hat & topcoat and leaves the apartment to join his wife. The breeze again blows away the paper from his desk and this time laughing at the situation, he choose his wife and leaves.