Clearing my head I began looking around. Three pawns and a rook lay near me on our bedchamber floor.
Palms to my eyes only made it worse. I tried to command consciousness to return.
I remembered four nights ago meeting Amelia. Actually Chadwick had seen her first. She was gorgeous. Instantly she became the object of our affections; another rivalry.
For the last 19 years we had been both striving to acquire the same things. Mother had tried to stop the competition; but Father had said what didn’t kill us would make us stronger.
A normal competition: best two out of three. The one worthy to escort Amelia to the King’s Ball would have to show financial stability- Double Attack Black Jack, athletic prowess- Around the World: Darts, and intellectual acuity- Chess.
A tie score: the chess showdown.
“Chadwick! Delwyn! Amelia is here!” Father was downstairs.
Puzzled, I looked at my stained hands. “What was I doing with this dagger?”
Written for Flash! Friday (My first entry) 160 words
Nursing this Kilbeggan double-shot had not changed a thing. My only son, Breandan, was in Massachusetts General Hospital with a 103+ fever and not an answer to be found. Surrounded by icepacks, I couldn’t hold him. I could only touch his hand. Actually, I couldn’t even do that through the powdered latex gloves. It had been seven days since I had held him. We had been here at Massachusetts General for the last three days and I just couldn’t take any more. I left.
So here I am… 101 Brewski Street: Inside the bar at the hotel, getting ready to end three years of battling the demon.
He’s still so little. I clearly remember his first words: Mama, Da, and Coown. The last one was why I had left Ailene, my beautiful wife of six years, at the hospital. Breandan had had a restless night. For the last three hours he was murmuring in his feverish dreams: “Coown…. Coown…. Coown.”
He wanted that stupid, precious, mustard-yellow and burnt-orange clown that Maimeó Catherine, Ailene’s mother, had years earlier given him to entice him to take his first steps toward her. Once he had grasped that small, stuffed clown, it had not been out of his hands. We had to wash ‘coown’ while he was asleep so that the emotions did not overflow from his heart at being separated from this precious treasure.
“AA, huh?” a burly gentleman suddenly appeared beside of me on the next barstool. I must have looked puzzled because he said, “The best Irish whiskey in the house, but you are just caressing the glass. Can I ask?”
I suddenly was as Breandan without his ‘coown’. All of my emotions came gushing out. The years pursuing Ailene with her resisting because of my demons. Being free of the demon for four years. Withstanding every temptation because of my need to see the trust in Ailene’s eyes. Finally explaining that my son lay at Massachusetts General wanting his clown, and there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t find his clown.
The man listened. At least I think he did. He sat there with an calm understanding radiating from his eyes that only another AA could fathom. Then he said. “You should go back. You need Ailene and Breadeen more than you need that drink.” He was gone. I looked around through hazed eyes and he was nowhere to be found.
Three years was not something I wanted to throw away. Neither was the trust I cherished to see daily in Breadeen’s eyes and Aileenes’. I slide my untouched double shot back to the bartender and with reddened eyes walked out onto the street. To any passerby, I probably was just another over-achieving imbibeler, staggering and red-eyed, and probably a tad ripe. But I knew they were wrong. I had faced the demon once again and side-stepped his challenge.
I hailed a cab and gave the address. Drunk from exhaustion I stumbled into the foyer of the hospital and headed straight for the elevator. There were two other strangely dressed men waiting at the left ahead of me. The door opened and we entered together.
“What floor?” they asked.
“Five, Pediatrics,” I replied.
As the elevator rose, so did my spirits. I had overcome the demon once again. I was on my way to see Aileene. I was on my way to see my son.
The elevator door opened. I was slightly surprised that the three of us all exited onto the same floor. The hallway was packed. There must have been twenty people all standing around excitedly whispering back and forth. But that was not the strangest thing. Only three were in hospital dress. The rest were all attired as clowns?
I shook my head in wonderment. Maybe I had not just nursed my Kilbeggan?
Side by side. Each in his own world. Two poles – one Granger spincast, one Ugly Stick open face- purposefully pointed toward the ripples of the backwoods’ pond. Pond… too proud a word- a small, spring-fed watering hole restocked for decades with young sunfish.
A sharp tug. Another. And it’s gone.
One- a run-away at fifteen who has returned home wondering if relationship is still possible. The other- a fragile, ninety-year-old… lost in macular degeneration. Together, but separated by forty years and fifteen feet.
One- blinded by memories of a past never encountered. Working for survival… Sneaking a look at his son before work. Careful not to awaken him. Coming home after bedtime. Taking one last peep before turning in himself… exhausted.
The other- blinded by memories of a future never birthed. Seeing joy in a face never experienced as a boy.
As he rested safely curled in the crook of my arm, I reclined under the canary-green canopy in a vain attempt to relax on the grass. Any neighborhood passerby would have thought I was mesmerized by the signs of the tightly-bound buds on the branches of the majestic ancient maple. The morning sun shimmered shafts of diffused lightning toward the ground creating a fairy-like playland mist through the newly formed leaves. Strewn across the lightly dewed lawn were small tawny brown helicopters; they had been force-landed…grounded because of last night’s spring shower. It was the kind of morning, the kind of place, in which we would have usually taken great pleasure: romping and playing; nipping and tussling; racing and retrieving.
But not today.
This was our favorite place to rest after a rough game of fetch. But this morning we had not played.
I could feel his heart palpitations – two to every one of mine. His coal black fur rhythmically would rise and fall with each labored breath. I wondered if he knew the time was soon. I think he did.
I wondered if he could sense that this was our last goodbye.
A slight breeze brought a new scent into the air. You could see his small, greyish black nose twitch in a remembered pastime: Attila, the neighborhood tabby bobcat expecting a good chase; Jeff, the eager jogger who was often up for a Frisbee toss or two- sometimes even three; or Emily, the five-year-old sweet-heart who always tasted of Aunt Jemima pancake syrup.
I was not in fear he was going to dash off after some unknown assailant. He had not been able to dash for several months.
This morning I had carried him- cradled in my arms- to rest with me one last time under our haven.
This morning had been another morning when walking had not been an option. Before coming out to begin our early morning routine, I had already gently cleaned the offending messes from behind him. I believe he could sense that he was not as clean as he would have liked. You could tell he had earlier tried to care for himself. The matted fur on his lower back, inches from his incessantly wagging tail, was heavily tangled. No matter the conditions in which I found him, each morning there was an anxious shudder of excitement and anticipated revelry running through his body expectant of our morning greetings; as if the single night had been months in the makings. Perked ears, a lazily lapping tongue, and prancing paws were always ready to be lifted to my chest for our morning kiss. This was the only time he was permitted to lick my face.
For the last two months (since we had become aware of the news) we had been traveling to the groomers; every two weeks like clockwork for a bath. Traveling, now, was completely different than any of our previously fun-filled freedom forays. There was no more polka-dancing at the windows to see the fascinating farming sights flash by before being overcome by the next exhilarating, ever-changing possibility . No more translucent stains of nostril-sized, sponge-potato prints on the passenger windows to be forgotten about until noticed by another, on another day, and then to be embarrassingly explained away. Now, once placed on the passenger seat, he stayed.
The groomers’ assistance with cleanliness was not only welcomed by me, but also by him. I knew from the looks in his eyes that the embarrassment caused by his “mistakes” … cleanliness, to him, was an important necessity. Some mornings his eyes betrayed such hopelessness and despair at his never-mentioned “accident” being noticed; we both felt like crying.
The groomer never asked the reason for our calendar-driven changes in grooming behavior. No comment was ever made about ‘proper hygiene’. Welcoming hands caressingly corrected the mishap, lovingly re-formed the “do’ from behind. And we were both good for another two weeks.
Did he sense that the reason he no longer had control of his hind legs was because of that small bump next to his spine. It looked as if he had been personally trying to address the cursed spot and remove it, Of course, he couldn’t. In the last several weeks that spot had threatened his world. That spot had in fact invaded and decimated his world- the world that we used to share.
His ears perked. I knew he wanted me to scratch them. Reluctantly I did. His ember eyes immediately found me; the spear-like ice blue flecks engulfed inside the ember pierced my heart. I knew the reason we were resting here this morning. This was my last time to build the memories of a goodbye. We had had so many great times here.
Here, in this place, our treasured recluse from the world, I was going to begin the last chapter of our life together. I had already placed the call. They … they were waiting on us.
He gingerly licked my arm. Struggling, he repositioned his body so that he could butterfly kiss my chin. He knew it was time, I knew it was time. The canopy above seemed suddenly to turn a misty grey. I gently adjusted him on my chest placing ChuuChuu, his tattered purple hippopotamus, near his muddled moist goatee. Quickly he resumed suckling and settled in for one more heart-to-heart.
We had often lay here to solve the ever-increasingly-difficult problems of the world. We were here to do it again… one more time…our last face-to-face conversation.
(Written for the Shenandoah Valley Writer’s Institute: 2013 at Bridgewater College, VA)
New beginnings are always a great time! I am constantly in awe of the resoluteness one needs for the closing of the door behind to walk slowly but assuredly away from one’s comfort. And then how soon it can be followed by the exhilaration and anticipation of new worlds to be found in the opening of the doors ahead.
This is where I find myself. Wanting… Maybe even needing… to enter a new unexplored world. Yet I still enjoy and find fulfillment and rest in the world in which I presently reside.
Living simultaneously in two worlds… It can’t last forever… But while it does, I will enjoy the ride.