man's feet dangling above a window outside a building

Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket

by Jack Finney

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What would the contents of Tom's pockets reveal about him if he were to die?

Quick answer:

Tom decides that the contents of his pockets, which constitute only the yellow piece of paper, would say absolutely nothing about him if he were to fall and die.

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Tom realizes, once he is out on the ledge, that he has made a mistake. He's afraid he can't make it back to his apartment safely by himself. Even though he is surrounded by hundreds of people, many of whom he can see through their windows inside their apartments, he is completely alone. He realizes that he has some matches and a few odd pieces of paper in his pockets, so he decides that he will set them on fire, hoping that the flames will attract someone's attention. When that fails, he starts dropping the few coins he has in his pockets down to the street below, hoping someone would look up and see him. Neither of these methods work; eventually, all Tom has left in his pockets is the yellow sheet of paper with his research, notations he describes as incomprehensible.

Tom knows that if he were to fall now, there is nothing on his person that would identify him in any way. He imagines the police report noting that the "contents of his pockets" contained only this yellow piece of paper. He begins to realize how foolish his obsession with this project to come up with a new grocery display has been and that he should have gone to the movies with his wife.

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