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FREE SAMPLE STORY - Forgiven
Russell Huneke Copyright 2012 by Russell Huneke
She slid the card
over to him and he glanced at it.
“What’s that?” asked
Henry, sipping his coffee.
“It’s John and
Marie’s phone number. Remember them?”
filled with a sour taste that was not the coffee, and his tone turned acerbic
as he mused over the phone number that sat splayed out before him.
“I think I’m still
trying to forget them!” he said with a tinge of anger wagging off the end of
pressed over the card that had come out of the old rolodex she had pulled from
the drawer of the chest she was cleaning out. She had made up her mind today to
start eviscerating the old chest that had been lingering like a squalid eyesore
in the corner of the den for years, never replaced by anything new. It was a
fixture that seemed to stay year after year, but this morning her eye had
caught sight of its morose sulking façade once too often and she decided out it
should finally go. She hadn’t banked on finding anything like this. A sore
memory wedged in the back of her mind. Finding the card with the number was
like reopening a deep old wound. She winced with regret of it.
“Aren’t you going
to throw it away,” asked Henry, in an almost commanding tone as his coffee cup
hovered just inches below his lips. Joan looked at it for a moment, her mind
half woven in a web of reverie; she didn’t answer immediately.
“I guess I
should,” she said with a wan little smile that looked more like a frown bent forcibly
upwards. “After all, it’s been ten years since we’ve even seen them!”
said Henry, and slugged down another swallow of coffee with a scowl. “Throw it
away, Joan. We don’t need to hang on to them…for any reason!”
Joan nodded her
assent and looked up.
“Yeah, I guess
“I am,” said Henry
and turned away, moving into the living room toward the glow of the television
light that lit that room. Joan watched him walk away and pressed her lips
together. She looked at the card, more pensively now than she had before. Not
only was there the phone number on it, but the address of John and Marie’s
house in Heightstown. She thought briefly of their house, happy times
flittering through her head. Times her and Henry had spent with them. Times
Her hand moved
toward the wastepaper basket with the card dangling loosely from her fingers.
She parted her grip and dropped it in, the sole piece of debris in the basket.
Then she turned quickly away from it and tried to wipe her mind clean of
tangled thoughts that knotted in her brain. Henry was right! They were old
news. Yesterday’s news. And yesterday belongs to yesterday. So she thought!
She was on the
phone with Helen for at least an hour, catching up and filling in the empty
spaces of the afternoon with compressed chatter and the latest up to date news
of what was happening in each of their lives.
“I’ve been chewing
at your ear for over an hour now, Joan. I completely lost track of time. I
guess I should be letting you go now?”
“It’s ok, I can
chat a few more minutes. I’m not in any rush to take out the garbage.” And with
that comment Joan’s eyes swept down to peer into the den wastebasket she was
standing next to. The card she had thrown away earlier was still sitting lonely
in the basket, she had thrown most of the other stuff away in large black
plastic garbage bags, but the card with the phone number and address still lay
there in the bucket a solitary item. She reached down and grabbed at it. She
couldn’t seem to help it. It was like an impulse action, like yelling “ouch”
after you burn yourself or hit your thumb with the hammer. No thought was
involved in the action.
chortled Helen in a snort over the line. “How enjoyable!”
“Yes,” said Joan
in a slightly detached voice as she turned the card over and over in her hand
again, perusing the worn script writing. Her own handwriting, faded over the
years like a ghost. “I was cleaning out the den chest and you’ll never guess
what I found?”
asked Helen, curiosity peaking in her voice.
“John and Marie’s
old phone number. The address too! Can you believe it?”
“John and Marie?
Why you haven’t spoken to them in years, have you? Not since that big blow up
about…what was it about anyway, Joan?”
stuff. I can tell you it had to do with Matt, but I don’t want to get into any
more or we might be on this phone for another hour!”
“Sorry. I didn’t
mean to pry.”
Joan sighed. “You
didn’t. It’s old news anyway.”
“At the risk of
prying even more Joan, did you ever think about patching things up with them?”
For a moment there
was silence on the phone and Helen spoke again to make sure Joan was still
“Actually it had
crossed my mind, but you know how Henry can be once you’ve crossed him. Once
crossed…you’re crossed out! That’s just the way he is. You bring up their names
and he just shuts down and walks away.”
“So what are ya
“Not sure. I don’t
want to upset him but…” Her voice seemed to fade, and then came back in a wave.
“Helen can I call you tomorrow. It’s getting late and I want to get dinner
started before Henry gets home. You know how it is when a man reaches his
fifties. So set in his ways, he just has to have dinner at five o’clock sharp!”
“I know what you
mean. Frank’s the same way. Ok, girl. I’ll catch up with ya t’morra. Sleep
“You too, kiddo!”
The connection was
broken with a click. Joan found herself staring more and more at the card,
moving it over in her hands like a fragment of memory she couldn’t let go of.
Her gaze turned up and met the clock on the wall. 4:00pm. Another hour before
Henry would be home. She could have dinner ready in about thirty five minutes
if she was efficient, which she always was.
Joan put the card
down on the table top. It didn’t go back into the basket this time. She walked
over to the kitchen desk and rifled though some intermingled boxes and
bric-a-brac on the desktop until she came across the notepaper and envelopes.
Her hand paused a moment over these items and then something in her face
shifted and clicked as she made up her mind. She took a single piece of paper
and envelope and sat down at the table and moved the card closer to her. Her
script was edgy and awkwardly slanted. Her nervousness showed in the uneven
scrawl but she had decided in her mind to do it. And she was the type of woman
whom, once she had decided to do something, she rarely reversed her decision.
With a slightly trembling hand, she began:
Dear Marie and
I know it has been
some time since we have spoken or contacted each other in any manner. I know
that things ended badly with us, and I am not sure if I will even mail this
letter. For one thing you could have moved away long ago. I guess I wouldn’t
know since it has been so many years. I found your address and phone number on
a rolodex card while cleaning out the den. I remember how good things used to
be between us all…even Henry. But…oh, dear, you know how he can be sometimes. I
suppose I could have tried your number, but I feared once your voice came on
the line…well, I just wouldn’t have the guts to talk…and would hang up.
Now I don’t blame
you if you still are angry, but life is very short indeed. If by some chance
you should receive this note (if you are still even living at the address I
have here), I was wondering if you two might consider…would please consider,
maybe a meeting at “Monterey Jack’s” out on Highway 22? Remember how much we
used to love that place. It’s still there. I drove by just a few weeks ago,
only now it’s under new management.
Anyway, if you
would consider…you don’t even have to write me back. Just show up at…let’s say
8pm on Friday the 18th? I think maybe we were wrong about a lot of
things. When I saw the card with your names there was hurt…but there was also
loss. The loss of two dear friends. Don’t worry about Henry, I’ll get him to go
somehow. He may kick like a mule and be a bit irascible about it…but I have a
way with getting him to do things he doesn’t want to do! So what do you say?
Friday, November 18th at 8:00pm? If you decide not to come, I will
assume that you either moved, or are still too hurt to talk again. Either way…I
assure you I will understand. But it doesn’t hurt to try. K? Here’s to hoping
we see you…soon.
She had folded the
letter up and addressed it about fifteen minutes ago. No return address. She
typed their address on the outside of the envelope using her old green Olivetti
manual she kept stashed in the crawlspace behind one of their closets
downstairs, just in case they were to recognize her handwriting. She kind of
liked typing on a typewriter instead of a computer keyboard. There was
something about the hammers of the typewriter hitting the paper that made
everything seem so much more definite, more permanent…more real.
The letter sat on
the kitchen countertop for the full fifteen minutes before she found the nerve
to actually pick in up. She’d made sure she put extra postage on the letter, to
be sure it got there. She looked up toward the kitchen clock again. It was
4:15. Ten minutes to walk to the corner and back again would give her just a
little more than a half an hour to have Henry’s dinner for him when he got
home. And he was rarely ever late.
any further, she snatched up the letter and stuffed it into her purse as she
strode out the door of their second story apartment. By the time she reached
ground level and opened the door she felt the bitter snap of a late fall wind
as it side-swiped her skin and tussled her hair. She drew up the collar of her
windbreaker and pushed through the wind as it continued to lick at her in full,
The mailbox was
only about a hundred feet or so down the street. She preferred to mail it there
on the chance that Henry might see it in their own mailbox and notice the
address. She didn’t want to open up that can
of worms. She could just imagine what a tangled argument she would get into
over that one! No, she’d deal with him after it had been mailed. It was going
to take all of her art of persuasion to get him to go along for the meeting
anyhow. She supposed if worst came to worst she’d go alone, but she would
really rather have him with her. She didn’t relish trying to talk to him about
that, but she supposed that she would cross that bridge when she came to it.
She reached the
mailbox and fished the letter out of her purse and held it by its corners with
the thumb and index fingers of both her hands. The wind growled at it, making
it shake and ruffle in her hands. If she didn’t keep a good grip it could get
snapped up by the wind and she didn’t think she had the guts to write the
envelope close to her bosom with one hand, she tilted back the metal mouth of
the mail monster and forced the letter down its throat. Quickly she let the
metal door swing closed to avoid any possibility of the letter being sucked out
by the sighing lungs of the wind as it continued to swirl around her.
Cautiously she sneaked the mailbox door open again to peer down into the gullet
of the postal box. Yes, it had made it into the innards of the box. There was
no going back now. A little part of her wanted to reach into the mailbox mouth
and try to grab the letter back. But the urge was just a twinkle, and it died
off quickly, like a sparkler burning off into a smoky hiss.
What’s done is
done! she thought to herself, resolutely. Besides, she doubted that they would
even show up for the meeting. Still…it was possible. After all, they had all
been friends prior to the falling out for nearly twenty years. She supposed it
was all in God’s hands now. And God how she needed Him!
She had waited
until Henry had gotten home, ate dinner, and was properly satisfied and
drinking his after dinner coffee before she sprung it on him, or rather not so
much sprung as gradually slipped into the conversation by way of segue.
“How was the
steak, Henry?” asked Joan.
said, slapping the sides of his somewhat pendulous stomach with great
appeasement. His midriff had crept up as he’d encroached further into his
fifties, knocking back several belt notches in the process. Joan had exhorted
him about his growing beer-belly, and to some extent he had tried to keep it in
check. But still, Henry loved his food. “I know at least half the reason I
married you, Joanie was your cooking. That rib-eye was done just right! Not too
much fat or gristle. And the potatoes were to die for. It must be the
mayonnaise you put in that gives it the extra zing!”
“I’m glad you
“Would you like
your coffee now?”
“Indeed I would.
Dinner isn’t complete without that last cup of Joe.”
Henry was in
unusually bright spirits. Perhaps this was her lucky day. It was Friday, and
Henry, like most working people, was always in a better humor on Fridays. It
might not be as painful as she had dreaded…telling him about the whole John and
Marie thing. Well, she could hope, couldn’t she?
She poured the
coffee into Henry’s cup, giving him a beneficent little smile as she did so. He
mustered a shy little grin back at her and added his cream and sugar, stirring
after with the spoon making a strident “clink” against the cup's interior that
slightly unnerved Joan.
“What did you do
today?” asked Henry with an abruptness that seemed almost as though he were
not too much. Just continued cleaning out the den,” she paused and then added,
somewhat reluctantly, “and did some writing”.
eyes poked at her over the rim of his tilting coffee cup.
You mean your poetry again?”
“Nnnn-o. Not that kind of writing. More like…like
lowered his cup to connect with the saucer with another disquieting “clink” and
Joan felt herself tremor ever so slightly.
the valley of the shadow of death, Joanie! Don’t chicken out now!
Who do you have to write letters to? Most of our friends are local.”
eyes snuck away from Henry’s trenchant gaze and her shoulders drew up near her
cheeks, as if protecting herself. Her head turned slightly away as she fingered
the rim of her own teacup.
are people I haven’t talked to in a while and I just thought…”
wait just a damn minute here! Does this have anything to do with that number
you found earlier. About those two!"
and M-marie,’ she said, bracing herself for the worst that was to come.
know their names!” he scoffed, slapping the meaty palm of his large hand
down onto the tabletop; upsetting the coffee cup as it swished hot coffee over
the lip of the cup and into the saucer and across the table. “I’d just rather
not hearthem, if you please!”
don’t have to shout,” said Joan in a placid tone, trying to contain the verbal
gunfire. The walls of the two family home were thin, and the people downstairs
were liable to hear. “Please, keep it down. We have neighbors…remember?”
about them! They can mind their own business. I want to know what you think
rose from his seat abruptly, the chair scraping gutturally across the floor
with a blunt, wooden sound. He paced fitfully while wringing his hands together
in little manic spasms.
know how I feel about them, Joan! You know how I feel!”
“Yes…I know,” said Joan in as
tranquil a voice as she could muster. “But Henry it’s been ten years now. Don’t
you think this thing has gone one long enough between us and them?”
for my taste it hasn’t! Have you forgotten?”
I haven’t forgotten.”
felt he had blown off enough steam to sit down again and try and compose
himself. He took another slug of coffee and tried to regain his composure.
were our supposed best friends, Joan. Matt was the miracle child. You had him
late and the doctors had always told you you wouldn’t be able to have children
at all, and there he is. And completely healthy to boot! So we turn to our dear
friends and figure they’d be honored to be his Godparents! Our “friends” for
nearly twenty years and you’d think they’d be thrilled! What do they tell us
instead? No! Not “maybe”, not “we’ll think about it”, just flat out “NO”!
Oh…I’ll tell you it still grinds my gears to even think about them. And they
didn’t even give us a reason! Not one God-forsaken attempt at a reason!”
know, but maybe it was just too…too personal. Maybe they didn’t want to have
c’mon Joanie. The chances were nothing would happen to us! Real friends would
have been honored to be named! Couldn’t they at least give us some kind of an
excuse? Even if it was a half assed one? Something?”
remember. The more I asked Marie about it, the more agitated she got. We were
moving at the time to this house anyway, so I figured it best not to press.
Just to let it go…and we did. For ten long years Henry, we’ve let it go.
Doesn’t there seem something wrong with that to you?”
call it a stroke of luck. Happening to be moving at a time when we find out
what kind of friends we had may have just been a blessing in disguise, Joan. And
besides, they never bothered to call on us throughout this whole time. They can
stay in New York, and we can stay in Pennsylvania and that’s
just fine with me!”
Henry, you know we never gave them either our new address or number.”
give me that, Joan! It’s the modern age. Computers! They could have Googled us
probably had our address and phone number in five minutes!”
then the house address at least. No, Joanie, don’t shovel this back on me like
I’m the bad guy. They had just as much ability to make things right as we did.
Now that’ll be end of it. I don’t want to talk any more about it. I don’t want
to hear another word about John and Marie Wilson! Clear?”
heated up inside Joan’s guts, and for the first time in ages she found herself
genuinely angry with Henry.
you just listen to me, Henry Morrison. For ten years I've gone along with your
resentment, your refusal to budge on this matter. Often I felt it was against
my better judgment to do so. Are you going to take your grudge to the grave
with you? I think it's long overdue that we hear them out. If they will even
let us hear them out!"
I just don't think..."
reached across the table and grabbed his bolt-like bony hand in her own and squeezed
it. It was part intensity, part stifling, and part insistence...with love mixed
in there somewhere between the layers.
don'tthink, Henry! Just do!"
squeezed his hand a little tighter as if to punctuate the emphatic tone of her
don't know, Joanie," he said, the words tumbling off of his tongue like
wooden blocks. "I..just..."
I never ask you for very much. Just this once? Please. Just try?"
looked at her, the pleading in her eyes, like a wounded animal. His anger was
quelled by his sympathy. He just couldn't say no to Joan when she looked at him
like that. And he gathered, after giving it some thought, that no one could say
no to Joan...if she looked at them like that.
go with me, Henry. They probably won't even show up. I don't even know if they
still live at the same address. If we go and they're not there, at least we can
say we tried to reconcile, right?"
folded Joan's hand into his own. Their grip dissolved from firm to warm and
I guess I can at least meet them. And who knows, they might not even show up.
Probably won't. And we can both go to our graves with clear consciences!"
patted Henry's back hand and let her grip fall away.
you, Henry. I appreciate it," she said.
just nodded and sipped at his coffee as Joan collected the dishes for washing.
It was quiet the rest of that evening.
was the one who drove to Monterey Jack's, figuring Henry would be tense enough
without having to deal with late rush hour traffic. Besides, there was every
possibility that they would just be turning around and going back home.
is probably just a waste of time and gas," said Henry, offhandedly. His
face looked hard and crimped with sternness.
in the world am I supposed to say to them...if they even show, that is?"
premeditating things so much," she said as she reached over and rubbed his
knee, consolingly. "Just let things unfold naturally."
he said, turning to her with a cocked eyebrow and quirky look in his eyes. He
shook his head. "Gonna be damned awkward after all of these years,
know, but just do your best, kay?"
try," said Henry, gazing errantly out the window at the string of sequined
headlights that marched out ahead of them slowly, as if adding to the whole
drama of the situation.
time are we supposed to be there?" asked Henry.
nearly eight o’clock now. If this traffic doesn't break, we may miss them all
worry. It's just a couple more miles to the exit. We'll make it in plenty of
the hell happened up there anyway? It’s locked up tight as a drum”
craned her neck and peered up at the siren lights that smeared through the
night as several cop cars and then an ambulance stitched through the throng of
choked traffic toward some instance that could not be seen by them at this
like a pretty bad accident. There goes the ambulance,” said Joan with a
cringing in her voice. She hated seeing ambulances.
some damn fool wrapped himself around a telephone pole again! When will people
in this world learn how to drive. It makes me mad!”
too…and sad. But we should be getting off before we even reach the accident. It’s
undoubtedly rubbernecking causing most of the delay.”
are ghouls, I tell ya!”
back to cases, I'll tell you this much, Joanie. I'll wait fifteen minutes past
eight for them to show. Not one minute more!"
course. Like you said, they may not even show. But let's just see what happens.
Chevy Malibu pulled up outside of Monterey Jack’s restaurant and Joan killed
the engine. They both sat idle in the car, observing the awninged windows and
the parade of lights that marched down the railing of the iron banisters that
crawled up the ramp to the front door. Monterey
was one of those restaurants that had a sparse adornment of small, white lights
all year around, keeping an errant flavor of Christmas pervading its atmosphere…even
when it wasn’t anywhere near Christmas.
it happened this was mid November, near Thanksgiving. Joan and Henry exited the
car and stared at the façade of the restaurant for a moment with a palpable
pause. Both felt a slight quiver in their stomach, but neither told the other.
time is it now?” asked Henry, his voice feeling flat and apathetic to her ears.
five of eight,” she said, twisting her watch quickly into view. “Guess we
should go in and wait…if they aren’t there already.”
you’re the eternal optimist!”
turned and looked at him, pursing her lips. It was not quite a smile. There was
something uneasy in her lips. Perhaps it was trepidation…or may uncertainty. In
truth she was as unsure about what she had committed to as he was. But she felt
she had to follow through with it. She’d never be able to sleep well at night
again if she didn’t get this thing resolved-one way or another.
began to walk, and Henry snatched at her wrist firmly, but not painfully-forcing
her to stop in her tracks.
are you sure you want to do this?” he
asked, his gaze was pointed and somber; a dark jasper gleam in his deep brown
scared, Henry. I’m more scared than I’ve been in a while. But I think I…I think
we have to do it. It’s the only way
eyes banked to and fro, scanning over her face with a movement like pinballs.
She was quite serious about this whole thing. He had to admit he was somewhat
curious as to what-if anything-would transpire tonight. And he also felt the
fluttering queasiness of unease writhing in his guts. But let it be done with,
what do we say to them? If they do
show, I mean?”
pursed lips blossomed a little, like flower petals, and she gripped his hand
not sure.” She paused a moment. “C’mon, let’s
squeezed her hand slightly and smiled dimly, his eyes softening as he looked at
her as a small grin lit on his cheeks.
walked up the ramp and into the restaurant.
the time they waited in line and reached the hostess for seating it was eight
o’clock on the nose.
for four, please,” said Joan.
hostess looked slightly askance at her and Joan added: “Two of our party hasn’t
said the pretty brunette girl with the large twinkling eyes as she stood behind
her podium. “Your name please?”
name is Morrison.”
a fifteen minute wait, is that okay?”
fine,” said Joan.
call your name when your table is ready. Please have a seat”
you very much,” said Henry, chiming in. His eyes glanced errantly at the young
brunette with the kind of distant appreciation of young beauty that a man of
his age felt willing to allow himself. He loved Joan, yet still he was taken by
the appeal of the girl, if only in a displaced kind of way.
hostess scribbled their name down, flashed another full lipped smile, and
clutched some menus to her breast as the previous party followed her into the
and Henry took a seat on the leather benches that surrounded the waiting area
and sat quietly. It was an uncommonly placid atmosphere for a Friday night.
Joan though more people would be coming out to eat on the weekend, but perhaps
it was the economy keeping them home with a bowl of popcorn and an on-demand
movie over Netflix or a DVD. Whatever the case, the sturdy silence only
heightened their sense of disquiet, yet neither would stir the other. For a
while they only sat quietly and waited as bodies streamed in and out of view.
Joan kept craning and looking for Marie’s familiar shape, or maybe even a coat
of hers she might recognize. Unless of course they had really changed a lot in
the ten years since they had seen them. There were so many unknown variables.
She was beginning to wish she had never found that card with their number on
it. Maybe Henry was right? Maybe it really was all in the past and should stay
that way. Still-she couldn’t help but want to speak with them again. Even if
they never spoke again. Even if their differences were irreconcilable. If that
were the case in the end, no one would be able to say that she, Joan Morrison,
hadn’t given it the old college try!
slipped away as the minutes ticked away-sometimes feeling quick, at other times
agonizingly slow. And all of the time their eyes kept moving over the people as
they came in the door. Every face was checked for familiarity, ears were tuned
for a familiar voice floating ethereally in the air. Thus far nothing
twisted and snatched glances at watches. First ten after eight, then fifteen.
face it, Joanie. They probably aren’t coming. They’re either still too mad,
or…or never even got the letter. Maybe not even in this state anymore. We’re
wasting our time. But we gave it a shot.”
now hold on Henry…they could still show. Besides the hostess said at least
fifteen minutes for the table. And anyway, what’s to say that we can’t still
have dinner even if they don’t show?”
both you and I know good and well that neither of us is going to be in the mood
to eat after this! You know how punctual they always were! If they aren’t here
five more minutes, Henry…please?”
face looked haggard, desperate, and pleading; a mix of emotions coalescing into
one confused expression on her face.
right, Joan. Five more minutes…and that’s all.”
head tilted back against the wall and her eyes closed. She could feel the warm
moisture of tears beginning to well up in her ducts. She wanted to break out
balling, but that kind of thing wouldn’t do in public. She would have to be
brave. And she would also have to accept the cold reality that maybe friends
once had were gone for good from their lives. And maybe she would just have to
learn to live with it-all over again.
chipper little brunette’s voice chirped in the air and at first Joan hadn’t been
coherent enough to hear it. She had dozed slightly with her head there against
the wall, and Henry shook her arm with some urgency to rouse her.
and Mrs. Morrison, your table is ready, if you will come with me.”
crawled up out of slumber, her eyes banking around. Still no sign of them.
you see, it doesn’t look like our other party has arrived, so we might have to
cancel on the table…”
eyes darted toward Henry with a stifling look.
was the name of your other party, perhaps they called and I can check that if
that won’t be…”
Could you check on that please?” snapped Joan, obliterating the rest of Henry’s
sentence and leaving him looking at her with grim disapproval in his fiery
last name is Wilson.
Mr. and Mrs. John and Marie Wilson.”
moment, please,” said the brunette as she turned to a pad on the podium to
check for a notation of any kind. She leafed through a few sheets before the
expression on her face changed. As if she recognized something. Then she walked
back toward Joan and Henry and said, “If you will follow me please?”
of their throats felt clenched. They both wanted to say something, but it was
as if their vocal chords were frozen and they found themselves helpless to do
anything more than follow the directions of the small brunette girl as she
stitched through the dining room crowd to the back corner of the room. As the
murky lighting grew clearer on the sconces at the back booth, two faces came
into view and both Joan and Henry felt themselves stiffen in surprise.
sorry for the mix up. We forgot to note your names when the Wilson’s arrived. I hope you can forgive us,”
said the girl, laying out the menus onto the table as Joan and Henry’s eyes
connected with the eyes of the couple in the dimly lit booth who were John and
Marie Wilson. They were smiling pleasantly at them and only after the hostess
made her departing comment did they begin to realize just what had happened.
waiter will be with you shortly. Again, please accept our apologies and enjoy
bubbly brunette strode away as Joan and Henry’s knees began to break into a
sitting position in the booth. Joan sitting next to Marie, and likewise Henry
next to John.
is a bit much to process at first, isn’t it Joanie,” said Marie, breaking the
fragile silence between them and thus eliminating the gap that had separated
them like an abyss for ten long years. Her voice was gentle and smooth, with a
calmness to it that connoted tranquility. “We’ve been waiting. You know how we
always come early to everything.”
long time, Joan,” said John, both his voice and his face emerging from the
darkened booth like cool air emitting from a darkened cave.
it has,” said Henry.
don’t even know where to start.”
think of it as starting, Joanie,” said Marie reaching over and touching her
hand gingerly. “Let’s…let’s just call it picking up where we left off, ok?”
looked at Marie’s hand as it cupped over her own. It was a little more vein
stripped and aged spotted with the passing of the years, but she could feel the
compassion in her touch. Joan put her own hand over Marie’s in an equally warm
manner and returned a smile.
voice pulled the conversation toward Henry as he said, “And what about you,
Henry old man. How’s the hardware business been treating you?”
voice was more rigid and less jovial than John’s, the injury of the years past
bubbling up again, but he did the best he could to make conversation.
too bad,” said Henry, fondling at his knife and fork errantly and, unlike
Marie, quite unwilling to make solid eye contact with his counterpart. “It’s a
bit rough these days being an independent in this economy. It’s all about the
giants no matter what. You know the big guys like Home Depot and Lowes and
such. It’s a struggle…”
kept his eyes on Henry and smiled attentively as he listened. Henry continued:
“…but you know me, John. I can be a very stubborn sort.” Henry’s tongue seemed
to underscore the word "stubborn" as his eyes met John’s for the
first time in less of a look and more of a glare.
dare say you are, Henry. I must admit you have always been a very tenacious
sort indeed,” said John in his polished English accent.
voice fluttered a little in a humored little chuckle as he watched Henry’s
glare bloom into a glower. John took it all in stride, though. Not so much as a
furrowing of brow or a gnashing of teeth as he looked at Henry, who was
obviously uptight and determined to reignite the angry flames of the past and
fan them into the present…but not just yet.
Henry near derailing the good nature of the moment, Joan steered the
conversation in another direction.
still live in Heightstown? Well…that’s a silly question, isn’t it? You must, I
mean…you got my letter, obviously.”
we moved over a year ago,” said Marie, “but somehow the forwarding was still
active and it was quite a shock to get it. I never thought to hear from you
again after what happened. But, I was touched by your words, Joan. I really
was. I guess you could call it something of a minor miracle that we received
your letter at all. One of the few times the post office has fowled up for the
better I suppose.”
they were her words, not mine!” chided Henry as his voice morphed into
an angry snarl.
blurted Joan aghast.
all right, Joanie,” said John. “A man has a right to say what’s on his mind.
Let’s have it then.”
how rude! What is your problem?” said Joan. “These are our friends!”
were our friends, Joan! So why don’t we drop the whole charade of pretending
that nothing went wrong between us. We all know that’s a load of crap!”
must apologize for him, Marie…John. He wasn’t up for this meeting and I forced
him into it. I guess it’s really my fault.”
there’s fault to be placed here Joanie, it isn’t on you and I know exactly what
I’m talking about.”
penetrating gaze grew fiery as he scowled at Marie, and then more so at John.
right for the throat, aye, old boy?”
bet your sweet life, old boy!”
The sarcasm in Henry’s voice dripped heavily from his lips like viscous tree
sap. Round one had begun. After a ten year sabbatical, it was on again. The
great Morrison/Wilson feud…part two!
sorry, John…Marie. Perhaps this was a bad idea. Perhaps we should go!”
reached out toward Joan’s wrist and grasped it with enough strength to stop
her, but delicate enough to let her know she felt no animosity.
Joanie. Please don’t go. Let Henry say what he feels he needs to say. Let’s
clear the air once and for all.” Marie’s eyes slid toward Henry, her gaze easy
and light and without acrimony. “Please Henry, do continue.”
face beaded with sweat and he withdrew a hanky from his rear pocket and mopped
at his forehead aggressively.
were supposed to be our friends. Of all the people in the world we wanted to be
Godparents to our only son, it was you two. And you refused to have any part of
it. I would have thought you would have been honored to be asked. And we would
want no other two people on Earth to take care of Matt in the event that
we…weren’t around. Yet time after time…without reason…you refused. Didn’t you
care? Didn’t you know how much that hurt…to have your own friends reject you
have to admit, Marie…John, it was a slap in the face to us…that you didn’t care
enough to even…”
that what you thought? That we didn’t care!” said Marie, her voice a mixture of
hurt and, for the first time, incipient sternness. There was hurt on both sides
of the table and it was just beginning to leak into the tone of Marie’s voice…
in the way of sorrow and despair.
else were we to think?” insisted Henry.
got it all wrong, old man. I assure you,” said John.
what was it?” demanded Henry.
suppose we shall have to tell them, John,” said Marie looking at her husband,
leaky eyed and her face taking on an ashen tinge.
suppose we shall, my dear.”
and Henry pinned their attention to Marie as she sunk into a deep sigh.
long have you two known us…these last ten silent years included.”
in all, about thirty years I’d say.”
see, before we met you…”
when I was a roaring young buck of twenty-five,” added John with a slight laugh
meant to ease the moment.
back then. Well…we had a son. His name was Jeremy.”
slid closer to his wife and wove his fingers into her left hand and slung his
arm around her shoulder to bolster her strength and display his compassion. It
wasn’t an easy story to tell.
fine young lad with all the charm of his mother,” said John.
and Henry’s eyes widened at this dark secret and they exchanged quick,
mean, you two had a child?” asked Henry.
boy only lived four years…there was an…an accident you see,” added John.
and Marie didn’t need to ask what happened as the answer came to them before
they could form the words.
loved animals. Small wildlife, birds, butterflies, squirrels, what have you.”
sucked another breath and tried to gain her composure, John gripped her hand
more tightly. She continued: “One day we went out marketing. North
Main was very busy that day. One of those streets you dread
crossing at rush hour. I had Jeremy by the hand. I thought I had a secure hold
on him when he caught sight of a squirrel and wanted to run to it and pet it I
broke down and began to cry profusely. Picking up where she left off, John
continued with the story: “You see the boy pulled away from his mother and ran
out into the street. A car caught him head on and…well. Medics did all they
could. Jeremy died the next day after a long struggle on the ventilator. He’d
sustained a massive head injury from the impact. He was our only son.”
eyes turned moist, the rage that had previously encompassed him evaporated
under the grief of the story. Joan gripped his hand as if the loss were her
own, her other hand clasping at her mouth, stifling her own anguished sighs.
you see,” said Marie, taking the handkerchief that Henry had offered to her.
“We never had any more children after that. We couldn’t bear the idea that it
could happen again. And we couldn’t bear the memory of Jeremy that such a child
would bring back to us. I suppose we didn’t trust ourselves to be in care of
any child. The pain was too great!”
didn’t you tell us?” asked Joan in a strangled, pleading voice.
were too ashamed,” said Marie. “So when you brought up the guardianship of
Matt, it brought back all the memories of Jeremy. I suppose we should have
fessed up, but somehow…we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. Even in the
face of losing our closest friends, we couldn’t tell you. Pain like that has
roots deep in your heart, dear friends. I’m sorry we didn’t have the courage.”
our fault too,” said Henry, seeming to take the reigns of consolation and burying
his animosity under a newly sprouted compassion. “We shouldn’t have pushed so
hard. We should have known there was some very good reason why you had refused
you ever forgive us,” entreated Joan.
is forgiven…it was long ago. Let this be forgiven…and forgotten. You are our
friends, and always shall be,” insisted Marie.
to that,” said John.
understand if you don’t feel much like eating now. We had no idea about…”
waved her off with her hand, still holding the handkerchief that she had been
blotting her eyes with.
my dear. Let’s enjoy ourselves. A good cry always makes me hungry anyway.”
Marie mustered a small giggle.
right,” said John, hoisting a water class up as Joan, Marie, and Henry followed
suit. “Let’s have some merriment here. ‘Fraid this will have to do in the
absence of wine.”
clinked together and smiles exchanged. Around that time conversation began to
flow freely and a waiter finally arrived to collect orders and recite specials.
The night went well, as did the dinner. Closure had finally seemed to come to
all stood in entranceway of the restaurant after a very satisfying meal and a
very liberating conversation. They had caught up on so many things. Laughed at
a lot of old things, as well as many new things. Even Henry was in good humor
and willing to admit he was wrong about his opposition to the meeting. They
gathered under the sparkle of a crystal chandelier with mirrors reflecting around
them, seeming to expound their happiness.
it is so good to have seen you again. We must never let anything like this come
between us again,” said Joan.
and Marie smiled beneficently back at her and nodded. They were smiling, but
somehow Joan detected a note of sadness in their eyes…as if their emotions were
torn; like something bittersweet.
believe we have all learned a lesson from this, Joan,” said Marie. “Life is
much too short to quarrel like this. You can’t buy back years. But we can start
anew…and make up for a lot of lost time.”
agree, totally,” said Joan. “Don’t we, Henry.”
must admit,” said Henry, rocking almost jovially on his heals. “I’ve never been
more in agreement!”
and John shot back passive smiles, again somewhat subdued; somewhat melancholy.
chirped Joan. “We must get your number. You do have a new number, or a cell phone
where we can reach you?”
afraid we’re rather old fashioned, Joan. We don’t have a cell phone. I know it
sounds odd in this day and age. But that’s just us.”
much interruption and jangling about those mobiles are,” said John.
then we must get your home phone.”
and John’s eyes shifted, catching each other out of the corners of their eye.
my dear, I’m afraid we’ve been having some frightful trouble with our home
phone. The phone company can’t seem to figure it out. It would be useless for
us to give you that number right now. They might even have to change it.”
modern conveniences,” added John with a plucky laugh.
I see,” said Joan, deflated.
and John exchanged looks as they could see the sadness brewing in Joan’s eyes
like an overcast just before a storm.
let me give you our new address. Do you have a pen, Joan?”
mood suddenly lifted and a shimmering smile graced her face.
yes of course!” she said, brightly and fished through her purse. She waded
through the snarl of junk she had never found time to clean up until finally
she found a ballpoint and an old business card from the bank she went to. She
handed Marie the pen and card.
smiled, took the pen and card and scrawled out their address.
you are, love.”
you,” said Joan, adding: “Will we see you soon?”
we have some personal business to attend to so we may be away for a little bit.
But leave me your number and we’ll ring you up as soon as we can”
looked a little nonplussed at the comment, as did Henry, but she withdrew
another errant scrap of paper from her purse and scrawled down their number and
handed it back to Marie.
do call as soon as you can.”
course, dear,” said Marie and turned to John.
dear friends, I’m afraid we must be off now. Henry…” said John, gripping
Henry’s hand in a warm grip while pumping his arm. “It has been bloody well
wonderful to see you again, old man.”
here,” said Henry, “we must meet for a game of golf soon. You remember? It’s
been a long time since I beat the pants off you, John!”
yes, the links. Yes it has been quite a time, hasn’t it.”
all walked toward the coat check booth and Marie handed the attendant her
ticket and claimed her coat. John did the same.
embraced Marie after helping her on with her rabbit coat. The fur was so soft
and smelled so nice.
just love your coat,” said Joan, not quite looking at Marie. Not wanting to say
goodbye. She looked up and met Marie’s eyes. She thought she saw tears forming
near the ridges of Marie’s eyes. They had become glassy. John’s looked almost
the same way, and even a little bloodshot.
Marie, take care of yourself! John, you too. Goodbye…for now.”
well, friends. Be well,” said John.
dear friends,” said Marie, giving Joan and Henry both a kiss on the cheek
before swooping her arm into John’s bent elbow. “Be well and stay safe!” said
Marie as she and John began for the door, their thin veiled smiles seeming to
try and hide a deeper, more somber mood as they waved goodbye. Joan wasn’t sure
what it was about their manner that was strange. Perhaps they were just
overcome with emotion…as she was. Far too quickly they were gone from them.
turned to Henry.
aren’t you glad you came?”
Joan, my dear. You were right again…as always.”
me, ma’am, is this yours?” asked the coat check girl, holding a small black
purse in front of Joan. Joan took it and inspected it.
mine. I have mine-“
Marie’s purse,” said Henry. “I remember her carrying it when we came over to
the coat check kiosk. See? It has her initials on the front in gold letters.”
dear,” said Joan, holding the purse to her breast. “She must have left it on
the counter when she claimed her coat and forgot to pick it up. She’s going to
be frantic without it.”
I can catch her!”
Joan, they’re probably gone by now!”
you never know…I’m going to dash out and see if they’re still here!”
only shook his head as Joan hurried toward the parking lot and stood at the
entrance steps, scanning the lot for them. She ran down a little further with
the purse clenched in her hand and called out:
pause to listen, but no answer came back.
only saw the faint jewel twinkling of red tail lights as a car pulled out of
the lot. But it could have been any car, as she didn’t know what type of
automobile they drove. Finally the lights oozed out of sight and she mounted
the steps and returned to the inside of the restaurant. She swung around the
corner to the coat check kiosk and was met by Henry’s half humored, insinuating
told you, you weren’t going to be able to catch them.”
mind, smarty,” said Joan as Henry helped her on with her own coat; him already
wearing his own fleeced leather jacket.
Joan stiffened and she perked up.
This turns out even better!”
mean now we have the perfect excuse to drop in on them and see them again! To
face had bloomed ecstatic as her small hands gripped the leather bag. She
hopped up and down several times and Henry looked away, slightly embarrassed.
the very best part is that we can go out and see them…tomorrow!”
Oh Joanie I don’t know about-“
we have to, Henry. Don’t you remember? They said they’d be going away
for a while, so the only time we could see them again before they leave would
we have no idea when they are leaving, Joan?”
we’ll just have to get there very early in the morning. I’m sure they won’t
mind, under the circumstances. She must be going crazy without it anyway!”
sighed deep, socked his hands deep into his pockets and tilted his head back.
make it pretty early so we don’t miss them. Figure…six am.”
am!” blurted Henry, his voice coming out louder than even he imagined. He
looked at her with a little furrow in his brow. She returned a sheepish smile.
He smiled reluctantly back at her.
goes my Saturday!”
“Twenty-Four White Eagle Lane.
That’s what she has written here. Twenty-Four
White Eagle Lane, Nanuet New York.”
probably could have found it myself in half the time it takes this damn GPS
Henry, we both know you couldn’t find your way out of a paper bag without it!”
so!” said Henry, eying the street signs for White Eagle. “Technology…bah!….a
lot of bloody rubbish it all is, may-tah!”
turned to him and crimped her forehead a little saying, “That has to be the
most God-awful English accent I’ve ever heard!”
well I try…”
car oozed on, slipping down side roads as the mechanical feminine GPS voice
droned out instructions.
Up ahead! Doesn’t that say White Eagle?”
your right. Look. LOOK!”
SHE hasn’t said anything about it yet,” barked Henry, jabbing a finger toward
the dashboard mounted contraption.
point four miles make a right turn onto…White Eagle Lane.
you go,” yelped Joan. “She agrees. Make a right…quick!”
they turned and cruised down the road, a large white bi-level with a roofed
porch and small rounded front steps and a circular driveway came into view. The
mailbox had the number 24 inscribed on it in ornate script numbers.
must be it.”
said Henry. “Looks like ol' Johnny must have moved up in the world since we
last saw them. This is a far cry from that small cape cod he used to have! They
must be rich now!”
certainly looks like it. I should have guessed by the fancy rabbit coat that
Marie was wearing. Before she used to wear imitation fur.”
got the bucks, that’s for sure!”
in front of the large, contemporary house and parked in the street.
but Joanie, look. No cars in the driveway.”
must have them in the garage,” said Joan, getting out of the car and slamming
door. Henry followed suit. The aging Malibu
doors sounded weary as they creaked on their metal hinges. “You know rich
people don’t leave their cars outside to oxidize!”
yes. With all my millions I forgot!”
ring the bell.”
if we wake them up?”
what…we buried the hatchet, remember. They’ll be only too happy to see us!”
hope we’re not pushing our luck here, Joanie,” said Henry as they moved up the
driveway and up the front porch steps. “That hatchet was only just buried!”
said Joan, and rang the doorbell.
you look at this spread,” said Henry, unable to get over the lavish atmosphere
of the house and grounds.
bit his tongue and they both stood silent, listening.
you hear anything?”
a thing. I tell you Joanie, they must still be asleep. Maybe this wasn’t a good
I ring again?”
I help you folks?” came a striking voice from behind them as an elder man in
work overalls and a cap strode up the front lawn. He looked like a landscaper,
or a yard-worker of sorts.
are you?” asked Joan.
Miss, I could very well ask the same question of you. I’m the groundskeeper
here, Wimfred’s the name.”
work for the Wilson’s?”
worked for them for over five years or so, I reckon.”
I see,” said Joan, feeling somewhat awkward. “Well we just came by to return
something to them. We’re old friends. We rang the bell here but-“
no one gonna answer that bell there, Miss.”
don’t understand,” said Joan, looking at Henry who’s expression was equally
afraid you’re a day late and a dollar short to be callin on the Wilson’s”
asked Joan, something creepy beginning to shiver her bones. “What do you mean?”
to be the one to break this to ya, Miss, but the Wilson’s ain’t with us no
Dead. Died just last night, matter-o-fact. Ugly accident out there on Route 22.
Some crazy drunken kids slammed into em. I heard about it late last night.
Shameful thing it is. Damn shame!”
felt faint, but forced herself to push for more information.
they die immediately?”
what I hear from my sources, through the grapevine of course, they lived for a
spell. Paramedics worked on em. Tried to save em. But all too much busted up.
Weren’t nuthin more the could do!”
Henry,…it must have been right after they left us. It must’ve been late last
night…right after we said goodbye. I…I never thought it would be goodbye for
collapsed into Henry’s arm, snuffling and sobbing and him petting her and
trying to get her under control. He turned toward Wimfred, his eyes looking
foggy like smoked glass and said, “Mr. Wimfred, you don’t know what time it
happened, do you. I assume it was late…maybe around twelve midnight. We left
them around 11:00pm.”
not that late, son. From what I understand from my friends at the paramedics it
was closer to 8:00pm, earlier in the evening.”
not possible,” said Henry, his eyes shimmering with uncertainty as Joan pealed
her face from his shoulder.
it is possible. You folks must have yer times mixed up. Crash was around 8:00
pm, give or take a little.”
and Henry exchanged incredulous looks.
your friends…the paramedics…did they tell you anything else about the
to think of it they did bring up something that was rather peculiar. They said
all the way to the hospital in the amb-u-lance and even into the ER, they both
were muttering to themselves. They was barely conscious. It was almost as
though they was talking to someone. Like…like they was havin a conversation
with someone. Odd kind of thing to happen. For them both to be doin the same
kinda thing, doncha think?”
it is odd,” said Henry.
they both passed near midnight. Poor souls. And they was good people. They got
all this from investing smart…that is before the crash you see. Still, all in
all they were very cautious in how they invested their money and it paid off.
But they ain’t got no kids or heir to their estate, so I guess the state gets
it. Now ain’t that a bitch! Don’t even know if they even had a will…whole thing
could be intestate for all I know.”
you very much for the information, Mr. Wimfred. Please excuse us. It’s
just…just such a shock. They were good friend’s of ours. It still doesn’t seem
real. I still can’t believe it.”
know how you feel, son. The circle of life is a crazy thing. You don’t know
when yer comin, and ya don’t know when yas goin. And they was mighty fine
to a fault. Never forget me and the missus every Christmas. Shoot now I’m
fixing to gush up! I sure will miss em.”
will miss them too,” said Henry in a voice that sounded like it was crumbling.
I guess I done enough damage for now. I’m sorry to be the bearer of such bad
news.” Wimfred reached over and patted Joan on the should as her mascara
streaked down her cheeks in tarry runnels. “Be strong, miss.”
try,” croaked Joan with a rasp that scraped up her throat like sandpaper.
be seein ya.”
watched the old man shamble off, the tattered bottoms of his overall pants
brushing over the grass as he walked around the corner of the house, and then
out of sight. As quick as he seemed to appear he was soon gone. And for a while
there was only silence between them.
just take it easy Joan. Don’t go on and on!” said Henry as he and Joan sat in
the front seat of the Malibu,
her head resting on his shoulder, drawing comfort. Henry slung his arm around
her and stroked her hair slowly, not knowing quite what to say…or what to do.
Henry, how can it be?”
don’t know Joanie.”
were with us just last night. Just last night…and they were fine. And now they’re dead and gone! It
one said life is fair, Joanie. More than not…it isn’t.”
that man. He says they were in the crash at around 8:00 pm, and they couldn’t
have been! They were with us around that time. I know what I saw. I saw them
clear as day. I felt them, touched them,
and heardthem! You did too!”
know it. They were as there as there can be.”
what is that funny old man talking about? Maybe he’s the one with his times
mixed up?” She peered out the window a second toward the house. “He must’ve
slipped a few gears in his old age. Nice old gent…but really!”
head slunk down and she looked at the purse she still held gripped in her
tight, small hands. The purse that was Marie’s.
I still have her purse.”
looked into the purse and waded around in it a little, feeling guilty doing so.
she has money in here, maybe we can donate it to some charity or worthy
organization in her name. I think she’d like that.”
think so too.”
what’s this,” said Joan.
reached into the purse and pulled out an envelope. An envelope that looked
faintly familiar judging by the typewritten address with several characters
dropped lower than the others. She knew in and instant what it was. She opened
the envelope and unfurled it.
is my letter!”
letter, the one I wrote to Marie asking her to meet us. The one I almost didn’t
mail to her!”
she kept the letter? So what?”
wait a minute. She has something scrawled down here at the bottom. It says…it
looks like, ‘urgent’ and then after it- it says…’must make this appointment!’…with
several exclamation points next to it.”
guess she didn’t want to forget it?”
eyes went fixed and far away, her stare looked vacuous, but her mind was
if that old man was right?”
mean,” she said turning to him with alacrity in her voice and her eyes wide
like saucers. “What if they really did have that accident at the time he said…sometime
Joanie, you’re talking crazy talk. How could they be in an accident and on the
edge of death in one place, and still be with us at the restaurant at the same
time. It…it doesn’t make any logical sense!”
isn’t about logic, Henry!”
are you talking about?”
heard of it, Henry. It’s when people are present in two places at the same
time. They had a story about it on the Discovery Channel. Many reports of it.
That when something was urgent enough…if the need was critical enough…a person
could somehow some…way, be in two physical locations at the same time!”
go on Joanie!” said Henry half laughing, and a little creeped-out by the idea.
probably right about what you said before, Joan. The old man just had his facts
wrong and the accident took place later rather than earlier. That sounds more
then what about the accident on Route 22 at nearly 8:00pm? The traffic we were
stuck in…the ambulance? And how about the fact that we never actually sawthem come into the restaurant…and when
I ran after them for the purse…they seemed to have just disappeared as well too?
And the fact that they wouldn’t give us a phone number, and seemed to want to
hurry off? And the purse! Henry, maybe it wasn’t an accident that she left it
there? Maybe she wanted us to find this letter…and the notation she made at the
bottom! See? ‘MUST make this appointment!’ Must, Henry. MUST! How do you
explain all of that?”
“I…I don’t know Joanie. I can’t
I guess. But do you really think?-“
don’t know for sure either, Henry. But maybe…just maybe…for however short of
time, they came back to us…”
turned to Henry, their eyes twitching and studying one another.
the sake of forgiveness, Henry. They came back to us…one last time.”