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BACK TO NORBAL

FurnitureRandall Smithwithers was coming home. Finally. It had been a struggle reconciling his thought toward coming back to the family manse. So many memories which with Randall just couldn’t come to grips. But the place must be so neglected, he thought. Coming back to Norbal took some doing.

Father had a stranger sense of humor. He had called their home, Norbal. As a boy, Randall had once asked why father had been saying normal wrong. The elder always proclaimed the end of family vacations as “Returning to Norbal” It meant time to go home. It was a stranger quirk his father possessed.

The drive up the boulevard gave Randall the sense that something was wrong. Things had changed, he thought. Different in a strange way. The cab driver kept glancing back at his passenger.

“You okay, Pal?” the hack asked.

“I don’t know. Are you sure this is Caufield Boulevard?” Smithwithers inquired.

“Look Buddy, I’ve been driving this burg for 15 years. I know my way…” the cabbie started.

‘No, I mean… it’s just that I don’t remember…” Randall interrupted before tailing of into an inaudible mutter.

Silence filled the car. The driver continued to look back at his suspicious charge. Turning into the rather long driveway of the address Randall had given, the cabbie saw Randall face again, looking rather puzzled…again.

“Here we are, Fella!”

Randall stepped out and paid the man and watched as he navigated around the curve drive toward the street. Then he turned back to face the house. Taking each step tentatively, the returnee took in every sensation that overcame him. Slowly, he turned his key in the lock. He dreaded coming back to restore the place to livability.

As the door creaked open he noticed that the slip covers were all removed from the furniture. Not a speck of dust to eradicate. He heard soft music. Randall smelled a wondrous aroma. Roast Beef. Placing his bag on the floor, Smithwithers went to investigate.

The music he heard was coming from the drawing room. He recalled the years of his youth sitting here with his rock and roll records, driving his father crazy with its volume. The furniture was arranged as he had remembered, except that father’s chair had been replaced by an overstuffed recliner.

He walked through the alcove to the library. He noticed his books were missing. The shelves were empty, save for the brick-a-brack and knick knacks. His books! Stories of adventures. Collections of poetic works. Encyclopedias and such. Gone. All gone. This was upsetting Randall.

He heard noises from the kitchen. There was no longer a staff on duty to care for things. He had been gone far too long. Puzzled now. Puzzled and upset. Randall peered around the corner into the brightly lit room. A woman, standing near the counter with her back to the doorway in which Randall stood. She was busy in preparation of a meal. He could not process what was happening.

Softly, Randall cleared his throat. The woman turned dutifully, not startled or afraid. It was as if she was expecting “visitors”. Reaching back for her apron strings, she untied the bow and acknowledged the man.

“Randy! Oh my dear. It’s wonderful to have you back home. I’ve prepared your favorite…” she halted in mid-sentence and rushed to the confused Randall.

She thrust her arms around him in an exaggerated hug. Smithwithers had no clue. His lack of response made the woman pull back and her sad look gave Randall a start.

“You’ve been gone for so long… don’t you remember?” she said wiping a single tear.

He looked at her, studying her features. Something was familiar, but he didn’t know what it was. But he did know something was amiss.

She started to cry now, loud sobs that touched Randall deeply. He reached to console her, but he didn’t know why. Her perfume, a gentle scent, triggered something. He pulled away to look at her. Something… in her eyes, something.

“Pamela?” he asked, almost as a whisper.

Tears streamed harder now.

“You’re remembering, aren’t you?” she cried happily.

He embraced her again more for purpose than comfort.

“The doctor said it would take some time. I’ll be patient. You were in the coma for so long!” Pam reassured him. “The amnesia is expected, he said. But, I’m here. I’ve always been here.”

Randall took consolation in her words. It made some sense now. He wasn’t sure what to expect. But he just knew he was returning to Norbal at the right time!

GONE FISHING

Phil-bee woke up early. Before his mom. “Before the roosters”, like his grandpa used to tease. Actually, it was thoughts of his grandfather that enticed him to carry out this quest.

Philbin Barrett, Phil-bee for short, was grandpa’s pride and joy. Gramps was the only father Phil-bee knew, his own “a flash in the pan” as he heard his mother mention on the phone when she thought Philbin was out of the room. A mistake. A one-night stand, mom spoke in confession. Until then, Phil-bee had thought his father had died when the boy was three.

“The only redeeming quality of that man, was the little guy in the back bedroom” she was heard to interject.

So Phil-bee’s grandfather assumed the part as role model and teacher. A creature of habit was Jackson Barrett, and he taught his grandson the things Jack felt Phil-bee needed to learn in this life if he expected to go far.

All that changed as grandfather’s memory started to fade. Mom blamed some guy, an Al Shimer, for that. Ever since this Al showed up, grandpa just wasn’t the same. It was hard for Philbin to watch the only man who mattered in his life slowly become someone else. As Jack deteriorated, Phil-bee had to rely on the lessons learned from this good man. He tried to remember that man more than the person who did not recognize him any longer. Mom called it a “blessing” when Jackson Barrett had passed away.

“Gramps isn’t suffering any longer” she tried to explain to a tearful Phil-bee.

Phil-bee knew that along with being his grandfather and his teacher, Papa Jack was his friend. Phil-bee lost his BEST friend. If there was anything good in that revelation, it was that grandpa would live in his memory as long as Phil-bee kept him there.

The young boy’s mind was elsewhere as he stood next to his mom at Jack’s graveside. Philbin stared at the pile of dirt behind the square hole, watching the worms peek out and scurry back into the soil. The crowd of people that came to pay their respects was small. A few cousins, a couple of Jack’s friends from the service, Mrs. Burgess from their old apartment and the undertaker were Papa Jack’s only mourners.

Phil-bee remembered the talks he had with Jack as they sat at lakeside with their fishing line in the mossy green water. This was their classroom; where they had their best talks. Philbin needed to talk to Jack. But Jack was no longer there.

worms

“he reached into the tin can that held the wiggly worms”
(Photobucket)

Phil-bee dressed quietly, slipping his blue jeans over his spindly legs. He zipped his jacket right up to his chin and grabbed his ball cap. He gave the doorknob a soft turn and stepped out onto the back deck. Reaching down behind the deck chair, Philbin took the dented tin can that he had placed there last night.

The sun was coming up over the treetops as Phil-bee settled on the shore at their favorite fishing spot. The boy nestled into the moist grass as he reached into the tin can that held the wiggly worms that were distracting him at Grandpa’s funeral. With a shaky finger, Phil-bee hooked a fat worm. As he baited his hook (just like grandpa had taught him) Philbin started to talk out loud.

“Hey Grandpa Jack. It’s a good morning for fishing. I saved your spot…” Phil-bee started his long monologue.

In the early morning mist, a boy and his grandfather shared another moment discussing life and the future. Well, Phil-bee talked, and he was sure grandpa was listening. He had cast his line into the water a few times, but wasn’t having any luck. But it didn’t matter. Jack always said a bad day of fishing was better that anything he could think of.

Phil-be had talked himself out. He had told Grandpa Jack all he needed to say. He thanked Jack for being his Gramps and for teaching him stuff; for not being “a flash in the pan”. Phil-bee was honored to have been given time to be with Jack Barrett. He found peace there. Phil-bee forgave Al for taking Jack so soon.

“I love you, Grandpa!” Phil-bee tearfully whispered.

Philbin felt the tug on his line. He knew his grandfather loved him too.

TO THE HEIGHTS, AND DEPTHS AND BREATH

J.P.’s father had given up the ghost. Or at least his body did. His heart carried on the struggle.

John Panella, Sr. had battled liver cancer for the last four months, relinquishing fourteen of the months he had been allotted. But he had lapsed in and out of consciousness, flirting with coma for the past three days.

Here lay a man who had been the pinnacle of who J.P. wanted to be. He wondered how a man of such lofty stature could fall so far, so quickly. Sedated now, morphine became his extreme solution in heavy doses.

“To make him comfortable” the nurse offered.

“To render him unreachable” John Jr. thought.

As so he sat at his father’s right side; his sister on the left. They took turns talking to the man who had given them every bit of life he could.

“I love you, Daddy!” his sister Louise whispered to her un-hearing father.

John smiled at the sentiment. But the reality hit him sharply. He couldn’t remember the last time he and his father had exchanged such words. It just wasn’t the way the men in his family handled things, he thought. He surely knows, J.P. thought.

Hours spent clamped to their father’s bony hands, black with necrosis and faintly gripping back. Breathing was a chore he had no energy to undertake, but it kept insinuating itself into his routine. The elder John gagged and gurgled. His children thought it was his last gasp. They held their own breath as well. But his chest fell and rose again. Still erratic, but still expelled.

John Panella, Sr.’s face was ashen and his eyes occupied deep depressions in his skull. His lips were turning blue and his hands were cold and still. His eyes flashed momentarily and a slight smile graced his face. His chest rose one last time ending in a long drawn-out exhalation. His last breath.

J.P. noticed that death felt the same as life did mere moments ago. His father’s battle was over. He needed not fight any longer. Now John Jr. and his sister could breathe easier.

The young man leaned close to his father’s right ear to whisper what had always remained unsaid.

 

Copyright © Walter J. Wojtanik – 2012