Music From Funeral Marches

Rows of ashen clouds rolled over Cape Cod like lines of soldiers marching from battle, the remains of a furious storm that pounded the shore long into the night.  Wind still bullied the trees, combing the long field grass in the yard before whistling through the cracks in the window caulking chilling the small bedroom.

Dennis opened his eyes to blurry images around the tiny bedroom.  It had been a fitful sleep, clouded with shadows and music from funeral marches.  Even unable to focus without his glasses he knew each of the furnishings and articles by heart.  In his mind they stood out clearly, etched deeply in his memory.  The faded black and white wedding picture atop the bureau had been in the same spot for fifty-one years.  In it he appeared stern, tie clamping his neck like a vise. He vividly recalled the pinching and chafing of his prominent Adam’s apple.  Thick, curly brown hair was matted like a hat about his long face.  Ellen said his eyes betrayed his fear.  He was certainly nervous but fear was not an emotion he felt on his wedding day.  On the contrary, it had been one of the happiest days of his life.  He couldn’t help it if his expressions weren’t always connected to his heart.  Though he had the appearance of a bookkeeper, his tall athletic body belied that notion.  True to form, his lips, thin as potato peels, held a hard line.  

Ellen turned her head on the pillow and gazed at him.  She’d been up for hours. Though she smiled, he recognized the anguish in her blue eyes as he slipped on his glasses.  Nodding slowly with a slight smile, he reached under the blankets and gave her limp arm a careful squeeze.  She had always been his strength, his energy.  It was even evident in the wedding photo, her stance, sure and steady, announcing to the world that the pairing was the right thing.  Though a foot shorter than he she seemed to support his lanky body.  Her broad face beamed with a bright smile and eyes shined with quiet, but obvious confidence.

He proposed to her on a scalding day on the New Jersey shore.  Windblown and sunburned he knelt over her trying to ignore the butterflies banging in his stomach.  Even after five years he wasn’t sure if she would accept, though both were thirty years old.   As the question limped over his tongue she watched the flight of a lone gull.  Children’s cries echoed off the calm water and bathers went about their business.  His question hung in the salty breeze and he blushed as he waited, irritated at himself because his timing seemed wrong. She was distracted by the bird, interested in its proud display of freedom and power. He should have recognized that but he became anxious, throat dry and tongue swollen, fearful he might back out if he didn’t jump on the chance.  After years of planning and practicing, he panicked.  Her inquisitive gaze, eyes darting after the flight of the gull, conveyed her independence, the strength he would never corral. His admiration for her strength was what drove his love for her.  

She heard his dull inflection and stiff delivery which lacked creativity and originality and hesitated for a moment, deciding she should make him pay for the pitiful performance.  After all those years she deserved better, she really did. But in the end it was the content that was most important, not the tone of the delivery.  What was she, a dog?  Still, right before she accepted she thought it would be hilarious to say, “I’m sorry.  What did you say?  I wasn’t paying attention,” but knew he might never gather the nerve again. They had been stuck in neutral for years and had to throw the vehicle into drive so they could get on with their lives.

When she finally said, “Yes,” he missed it.  He followed her gaze and caught up with the seagull in flight, admiring both of their quests for freedom and began manufacturing a mask to cover his devastation, a ruse that would allow him to walk away with his head held high – protect his pride.

This would be comical if it wasn’t so important and overdue, she thought as she watched his gaze – his light blue eyes, already bordered with crow’s feet, following the gull. She knew exactly what he was doing.  While she still had the chance, before he decided on his exit strategy and retreated for good, she shifted onto her knees, the sun-drenched blanket warm on her joints and reiterated, “I said yes, you know.”

He took a double take, digesting her words and was so relieved he forgot to smile, express his excitement; though he never, for one moment throughout all the years forgot the exhilaration of that moment.  Besides the birth of their children and the actual wedding, it ranked as the most important event in his life and whenever he felt deflated he drifted back to that hot day in the sand and could recreate the sounds, the smells and the sights that surrounded his euphoria.

“Morning,” she whispered faintly.

He leaned over her and kissed her lightly, their lips like sandpaper brushing across each other, then rearranged her thick curls on the pillow. Once jet-black, they were now heavily streaked with gray. He shifted onto his elbow, bones creaking as he leaned over her.  She had shrunk, her head hardly evident on the pillow, her body just a small crease under the comforter.  “It looks like the storm passed.”  The old house had shaken and quaked in the fierce wind.  Rain drove like nails against the window through much of the night.   The trees groaned as their branches yielded and sprung back, while small twigs were swiped off and thrown unmercifully against the house.  “You’d think I would get use to storms like that, let them follow their course without worrying,” he sighed, head bent down in surrender.

Her blue eyes twinkled like pools of water.  She responded by blinking.  The storms had the same effect on her.

Crawling to his side of the bed and sitting up, his feet smacked the cold wood floor. Feeling the tightness in his lower back, he stretched his right arm behind his head and leaned as hard as he could to the left, waiting for the tightness to subside and provide him full movement.  Then he did the same with his left arm. His knees cracked when he stood and walked around to the stainless pot that caught the flow from her catheter.  Stooping down, he gazed at the picture of the family posed before their small sailboat.  Even though the picture was black and white their tans and sun-bleached hair leapt from it.  After a passerby took the picture, he had taken his son Bobby out on the boat while Ellen remained ashore with their daughter Penny.

Bobby’s bony rib cage struck out with playful pride, ever the protector of his sister, while demure Penny leaned against him.  Their windswept hair signaled their lack of vanity, their youthful innocence.  It was the only picture he could remember in which he smiled broadly – a reflection of his own pride. Taken when Bobby was ten and Penny five, it was a constant reminder of the fickle temperament of the forces over which he had no control.

He lifted the pot, balancing it carefully so not to spill its contents.  The bleach-like odor was a result of the mixture of drugs she took four times a day.  Her bladder, because of the catheter, had grown weak and pretty much useless, just like the rest of her muscles, but at least it wasn’t causing her pain.  After emptying the pot in the toilet and washing it out, he asked, “Hungry?”

She shook her head in the pillow.  “Thirsty, though.  Need my meds too.”

He nodded and walked to the kitchen past the dining room.  The maple table held piles of newspapers and magazines – none of which he’d looked at – always promising himself he’d catch up on them but the layer of dust was evidence of his failure to do so.  The table had become a repository – a staging area for waste.

  

“You have to leave it be,” Ellen gasped, staring strongly across the table at him, slamming her fork on the table, tears welling in her eyes.  “It is over,” she insisted, glancing at Penny, then a teenager, who gazed blankly at her untouched dinner. “We are helpless to do anything about it now. We have to move on.”

Dennis knew better than to argue. He couldn’t recall ever winning one in their married life.  He shrugged, wiping his own tears.  He looked at the empty chair, then at his wife and daughter, his jaw quivering.  Despite his need to talk about it, he would respect her wishes.


She’d been bedridden for 8 months, suffering from crippling rheumatoid arthritis that had all but paralyzed her.  Only the painkillers made life bearable.  He winced as he recalled her energy and curiosity for life.  He rarely left her alone  – only when Penny came by to check in on them did he feel it all right to be out of hearing distance.        

The kitchen needed straightening. Actually it needed cleaning. He had never been very attentive to housekeeping chores. The only domestic talent on which he prided himself was baking apple pies, with apples picked from a small orchard at the end of the yard.  He hadn’t done that for years, not since the children were young. Even back then, he took grief for not cleaning up after himself.  Somehow he used his focus and energy on the creative process and was too tired afterwards to clean. Actually, he thought the pedestrian task of cleaning beneath him. Tall stacks of dirty dishes by the sink reminded him he hadn’t done them for days. He hadn’t swept the floor in over a week.  It didn’t really bother him. They hadn’t entertained friends in years.  Basically there was no one left to entertain.  All the friends of their youth had either left the area or died.  

Penny continued to berate him for his slovenliness, but he actually looked forward to it, because he had turned it into a game.  It was too quiet in the house.  When it pulsed with the overbearing and never ending noise of four people continually expressing opposing opinions, he never thought for a moment that he would rue the day when silence reigned. He never thought he would miss the arguments and miss them so much he started them whenever Penny arrived.  The only argument he hated was the one about them moving into a nursing home.  It had become Ellen’s favorite subject.  Penny also joined in, constantly harping on the subject, but she was his child, and he found ignoring her simple, though his silence usually threw her into a tirade about how he never listened to her, had never respected her.  A slight smile came to his thin lips when he thought about her diatribes.  

She always had a habit of making bad decisions, and though he wished it wasn’t the case, he never hesitated to remind her, and felt strongly that it was the only way to teach her the proper way to make a decision. If she couldn’t understand that after all these years, whose fault was it? Though he would only admit it to himself, these arguments were a defense mechanism in hopes of drawing his family’s attention away from their favorite subject – putting him in some damn nursing home.

Reaching for a clean glass in the cupboard he knocked a dirty one with his elbow, sending it careening off the counter across the floor where it shattered against the wall into a hundred tiny pieces.  He watched with a dazed smile as the shards of glass spun vibrantly like dancing drunks before wobbling to a halt.

“Dennis!” Ellen called.  “Are you all right?”

“Damn,” he whispered.  Then he called out, “I’m fine!  Stupid glass jumped right off the counter.  If Penny doesn’t get here soon to do the dishes….” She was due later that morning.  He smiled to himself, knowing full well how that would irritate Ellen.  He picked his moments of sarcasm with Ellen carefully, understanding her condition could only withstand so many and he didn’t want to wear her out.

“Did you clean it up?” she asked as he came back into the bedroom with a glass of water and her pills.

“Penny will get it when she gets here.”

“It’s not fair to expect her to have to take care of us,” Ellen argued.

“What’s wrong with her taking care of us?  She’s our child.”

“With plenty of responsibilities of her own and certainly not enough time to dote on us.  If you can’t sweep up a broken glass…” 

“Don’t you dare bring it up again!” he growled, anticipating her direction.  “I’m not doing it.  I’m perfectly capable of taking care of us.  Hell, if you hadn’t spoiled me all these years I’d be cleaning up in there, alleviating all the pitfalls. But because you were so insistent on taking care of me, I now lack the training.”  His eyes twinkled as he grinned mischievously, rubbing his hands together.

“Jesus,” she sighed, futilely trying to hide her amusement by turning her head from him.

“Didn’t think it would come to this, when you were washing all those dishes over the years, did you?”

She shut her eyes and shook her head.  “I didn’t think I’d end up chained to a damn bed, either.”  Her amusement vanished and she puckered her lips.

“But, that’s not your fault.”  Her tone smothered his impish joy and a cloud of seriousness washed across his face.

“No.  And neither are our old age and my need for the care that you can no longer provide.”  She stopped and looked directly at him, fully aware her words would hurt his pride.  

His features grew hard, cheeks flexing and chin sticking out defensively.  Feeling self pity, ignoring the accuracy of her statements, he fell silent while he gently slipped the pills into her mouth, lifting her head under his arm, tilting her chin, and holding the glass of water so she could sip, before dabbing her lips with a napkin.

“You know I didn’t mean it that way,” she sighed, familiar with his childish, self- centered behavior and how he loved to use it as a guilt provoking tool.  She was too weak to argue for long periods, even though she knew it inspired him in some strange way.

He looked away and mumbled, “I can handle the situation.  I always have.”  It had been his regular response over the past year.  It had become a signal to stop the discussion. When he first recited it, he had no doubt about its validity, but lately even he had begun questioning his abilities, the weakness in his legs, the shortness of breath and most of all, the forgetfulness.  The statement had taken on a dual purpose – the second a reminder to him to ignore his own weaknesses in hopes they would miraculously disappear and he would grow stronger. 

“What happens if something happens to you?  I can’t call Penny. I can’t even reach a phone.”

He scowled at her.  “I don’t want you talking like that.  Nothing is gonna happen to me.  I’m fit as hell.”  He avoided her gaze and looked out the window.

“We never know.  I was fit too.”

He shook his head and ran his hand through his thinning hair.  “I can’t, damn it!  We both know that once were in, it’s a death sentence, the last day of freedom. Might as well stick me in the ground.”

“But it’s a nice place.”

“According to Penny, but what does she know?  She’s not the one going to jail.”


Tall pines lined the road like sentries in front of her parent’s house.  When Penny was having a good day she took delight in their whimsical beauty; the way the branches swayed gracefully in the breeze.  It reminded her of her youth.  When she was struggling with her life she recognized their strength and tried to draw from it.  Ever since she was a child she had seen them as a symbol of her parents.

She was in the midst of a string of good days.  Her oldest daughter Sherry had called that morning just to bring her up to date on her own three daughters.  Of all her children, Sherry was most like Penny - a strong, nurturing individual who wasn’t afraid to tackle a problem.  Penny used to be that type of person.

Sitting in the driveway, she wondered how she had become a parent with whom her kids visited only periodically.  She was no longer a major part of their lives – hardly more than a footnote, or number three or maybe even six on their to-do lists.  The other two called every so often, more often than not when they needed something or needed to complain to someone.  As much as she missed having them living locally, she refused to harp on it and always put up a strong front while speaking to them.  Complaining about it would only drive them further away, both figuratively and physically.

She adjusted the rearview mirror and checked her makeup.  It had become a habit in high school when her father complained her makeup made her look like a whore.  “Looks like you’re wearing three coats of enamel,” he commented as she prepared for her first date with Paul, her future husband.  It was his way of telling her she was too young to date.  Her mother was her protector, a vicious defender who would drop everything to race to her side during the constant arguments with her father.

“Maybe I have to because I look more like you than Mom,” she screamed, severely hurt by his attack, but also just as angry because her tears meant she had to wash her face and apply the makeup all over again.  After the third cycle of attacks and face washing, Paul was at the door and she had to go out with a scrubbed, tear blotched face.  It was a wonder he showed up for a second date. 

After the divorce, Dennis gloated rather than offer support.  “You were too damn young for marriage.  Besides I never could see anything in him.”  He never explained his comments, just made them, fully expecting everyone to understand him, and accept whatever he said as gospel.  

She sat in the car building up her strength before going into see them. Turning up the volume on the radio, letting the easy jazz soothe her, she leaned her head back and closed her eyes, attempting to shut out the world, at least to delay the inevitable when she walked through the door. The small Cape Cod house, white with green shutters, was her childhood home.  She had the second bedroom on the first floor and Bobby slept in the attic.  He had an advantage, the rule of the roost; able to shut himself away when their father became angry, leaving her an unprotected target for his cruel verbal attacks.  The structure was too small and cramped and all too often her memories were of the screaming matches between father and Bobby, Bobby and herself, and Father and her echoing abrasively throughout the tiny rooms.  The only positive constant was Mother as the mediator, the protector.

The tension was still evident, even though the causes were different, and her visits rarely went smoothly.  Even if she felt good going in, some outburst from her father would ensue and she would leave feeling terribly sorry for her mother and even sorrier for herself.  She had become their parent, taking on the role of enforcer, though admittedly, not an entirely effective one.  

Her last visit had been a disaster.  She made it a habit to follow a set routine upon her arrival - give her mother a kiss, make sure she was as comfortable as she could be, considering her condition, grunt a greeting to her father, then march right into the kitchen and clean up the mess he always left.  He loved seeing her in the kitchen and never failed to watch her.

The routine usually went swimmingly and she was even able to ignore his irritating presence, but after washing the dishes during the last visit, while drying them, he whistled from the doorway.  “Kind of losing your speed, aren’t ya, kiddo?”

It was a playful barb.  She realized that, but he had the knack of stabbing at the wrong time, (or right time, depending upon his intention), and she flung the towel at him.  He straightened abruptly, shocked at the action, anger oozing from his cool blue eyes because he took it as a sign of disrespect.

“No, Dad!  It’s you who is getting slower.  Look at this mess,” she cried, feeling the tears well in her eyes as her throat closed.  She hated crying when she became angry, knowing he considered it a sign of weakness.  “What self-respecting adult would leave a crap house like this?”  Unlike his barb, there was no humor, not even sarcasm in her tone – only bitterness.  She was tired of being his verbal punching bag.  “What right do you have to constantly downgrade me?  All I’ve ever tried to do is help!”

That was the end of the conversation.  The look on his haggard face was a mixture of astonishment and agony, but he just bit his lip and limped away, leaving Penny alone in the kitchen, guilt ridden midst the echoes of her assault and dreading having to face her mother after such an attack.


“You can’t cut it off like this!  Not again!”  Ellen cried, tears welling. “I’m not giving in anymore.  Yesterday you dropped a plate on the way in here.  Today, you break a glass in the kitchen.  What the hell is going to happen tomorrow?  What if the house caught fire?  How could you get me out?”  She was grasping for any excuse, the more extreme the better, because she realized, even if he didn’t, each of these disasters could happen any time.  They were defenseless.

Trying to ignore her while pulling on a pair of gray flannels, he yanked the belt to the last hole, bunching the waistband into an accordion of folds.  He glanced in the mirror and saw a three-day stubble, but refused to worry about it as he once would have because no one was around to witness it.  Besides, it was much sparser than it used to be.  

“I’ll tell you one thing that isn’t happening today or tomorrow, and that’s us moving into a damn home!”  With a frustrated wave of his hand he stomped out of the room and on his way outside, slammed the door, making sure it resounded like the crack of a rifle shot.

“Dennis!  You get back here!”

“Who the hell does she think she is?” he muttered as he marched across the backyard.  Chest pounding, hands trembling, he tasted blood as he bit his lip in an attempt to control himself.    

White billowy clouds had replaced the storm clouds and they rode high on a warm breeze.  Blue jays chattered and chased each other through the bushes.  Their words replayed in his mind and he bounced between self-pity and anger. Her loss of confidence in him was plain to see, but what was more aggravating was the stark realization he might be losing his own.

“I see he’s been up to his old tricks again,” Penny remarked as she entered the tiny bedroom after cleaning the kitchen.

“You mean the glass in the kitchen?” Ellen sighed.

“Breaking it is one thing, but why does he always leave the mess for me to clean?”

  She sat on the edge of the bed by her mother’s feet.  It was a place she’d been occupying since she was a child.  She recalled the slippery coolness of the silk comforter on winter mornings when she crept in to wake them, the invigorating chill seeping through the window they kept open at night.

“Why does he do anything he does?  He’s so damn stubborn I could kill him.”

“Don’t.  Then there’d be a long trial, and transporting you back and forth to the courthouse would be just too much of a burden.”  Penny smiled and winked.  “Have you had your meds?”

“He gave them to me.”

“One thing he’s good for.”

“I don’t know if that’s enough to keep him around, though.  I guess the piss bowl would over flow without him.  If you add that to occasionally changing my diaper, the few times that’s needed, I still don’t know if it’s enough.”

“Tough morning, huh?”

“I was pretty tough on him.  His ego is a bit bruised.”

“Ah, the sweet smell of revenge.”

Ellen chuckled.

“I suppose it was the retirement home thing again.”

“We’ve been retired for years.  We’re in need of nursing now.”

“Not Dad.  He needs nothing.  Just ask him.  Never has needed anything from anyone.”

Ellen grew serious.  “Penny, he needs both of us and you know it.”

Penny frowned.  “He needed Bobby.  I’m not so sure he needs me.”

“Father and son.  It’s not unusual.”

Penny stood up and stretched.  She suddenly felt tired.  Repetition of the same argument wore her to the point of exhaustion.  She needed some breakthrough in her life.  “I’m just so damn sick of the attacks, the constant degradation.”

“Unfortunate as they are, it seems our burden to bear.”

“He would never treat Bobby the way he treats me.”

“He did.  You just refuse to remember.  That is his way.  I married him too damn late.  He was set in his ways and I couldn’t soften him.  He’s always been a strict, stubborn bastard who thinks his way is the only way.”

“Merciless is a better description. Whenever Bobby got in trouble, he’d escape upstairs after the screaming match and I would get the remaining brunt of his anger.  I never did anything, but was a convenient target just because I lived here.  I didn’t choose him as a father!”

“He loves you.  Strictness is just one way of showing it, one way of protecting you.”

“Strictness is one thing, but sarcastic and hurtful attacking is entirely different. What upsets me most is the fact I’m expected to accept him the way he is when he’s always trying to change me.”

“He never tried to change you.  He just expresses his opinions openly.  Never once did he stop you from doing what you wanted.  He just warned you.  He told you what he thought, but he never stopped you and never loved you less when you went ahead and did it.”

“And he’d be the first to remind me of his wisdom when it didn’t work out. Just loved to rub the salt into my deep wounds, and if they weren’t deep enough he’d dig them deeper.”

“Often times too tough, but just another expression of his opinion.”

“Of Paul?”

“He was your husband, not his.  Just because he may not have liked him didn’t mean you couldn’t.  He always felt it was his right as his father to let you know what was on his mind. Actually, he felt it was his responsibility to make sure you saw everything, understood everything.”

Tears welled in Penny’s eyes.  “Why the hell did he have to be so right all the time?”

Ellen chuckled.

Wiping her tears, Penny asked, “Where is the old coot, anyway?”

Ellen turned to the clock.  “God!  It’s been an hour since he stomped out of here.  You better go look for him.”


The back of the property was lined with a row of crooked apple trees crumpled like arthritic hands.  The bright red apples beckoned to him.  It had been years since he made an apple pie. 

Scurrying back to the garage, he grabbed a basket and hobbled to the brink of a deep ditch that separated him from the trees.  He wound up, grimacing as he tossed it across to the foot of the trees, bringing on tightness in his shoulder and a new ping in his lower back.  At one time he thought nothing of rearing back and leaping the width of the ditch, but suddenly, standing there peering into its rocky mouth, he found it difficult to believe he’d accomplished it so easily.  A coat of sweat engulfed him as he imagined the flight. His heartbeat quickened as he took a few steps back and started for the edge, knees cracking, calves tightening over cramping ankles. Two steps into the approach he was winded.  Airborne, arms flapping wildly, he knew he’d leapt too soon. It was as though he were weighted down. He braced himself for the worst as he lost momentum immediately and fell short.  Legs crumbling beneath him as he met the far side with a jarring force, he reeled back.  Twirling around him were glimpses of trees followed by flashes of thick white clouds as he tumbled dizzily backwards into the ditch.  The intensity with which he landed knocked the wind from him and shot a mesmerizing jolt of pain from his lower back up his spine into his head where an explosion of colors knocked him unconscious.


“Dad!  Where are you?”  Penny called as she wandered down the path, peering into bushes and around trees.  The panic brought a grating tightness in her stomach as she tried to dispel harrowing images of his corpse and the following pain and suffering they would have to endure.

“Over here.” The shrillness of his voice surprised both of them and embarrassed him.

“Oh my God!” she cried as she crouched down, peering into the ditch.  “Are you all right? Can you move?  What are you doing here?”  The sight of his crumpled body shocked her. 

“Don’t ask,” he groaned.  The ease with which she reached him, then held him, made him realize how old and out of control he'd become.  Her concern was that of a mother for a child.

“What hurts?”

He did a mental inventory.  Besides shortness of breath he seemed intact. “Nothing, it seems. I just kinda ran out of steam in mid-air.”

Effortlessly she had him on his feet.  He was brittle and paper thin. Wrapped in her arms, he laid his head against her breast.  When had she grown taller?  As she rocked him, he gulped a sob.

“Can you walk back?”

He pulled back and stared at her for a moment.  Her features were Ellen’s, especially the brightness of her eyes, the strength of her jaw.  “Would you help me to the beach?”

“To the beach?  Are you out of your mind?  Is that where you were headed when this happened?”  She held him steady, astonished by the malleability of his frame.  “What about Mom?”

He shook his head.  “She’ll be napping. Please. I need to go there.”

“You wait here and I’ll go tell her what we’re doing.”

The craggy sea grass glowed purple in the cloudy light.  She reached around and supported him as they struggled up the dune; the wet sand slippery and dangerous as he limped along, determined to reach the peak. The sea still raged from the storm.  Leaning on each other, they struggled to catch their breath at the top of the dune.  Against the wind, they gazed out at the whitecaps.  The air was wet with salt and he smiled as it coated his face.

“It’s the only thing I can count on to remain the same,” he murmured.  Surveying the horizon, he inhaled deeply.  “It’s so overwhelming.  So perfect.”  Even in its angry state, sand and water churning with frightening force, its beauty and energy were awe-inspiring.

The billowy clouds raced inland across wide swatches of blue sky.

He pointed to a large whitecap.  “That’s mine.  You pick one.”

“Over there!” she laughed.  It was a game they had played when she was a child.  Follow the whitecap to shore.  Bobby’s wave always won.

The excitement and anxiety brought a blush to her cheeks as she urged her wave on to victory.  She screamed and danced over the sand, waving her arms wildly.  “I finally won!”

He clapped.  The wild panorama was no different than forty years earlier when he scaled the dune with the telegram in hand.  The sea’s roar masked his anguished screams.  Bobby’s ship had gone down in a storm off the coast of Viet Nam.  He had left the table with Ellen holding Penny.  All were paralyzed with grief.

He slipped his arm around her waist.  “I shouldn’t have let him enlist,” he admitted solemnly.  “He still had another year before he had to go.”

She squared his shoulders, turning him to her and peered into his tired eyes. His age screamed in the layers of wrinkles around them, and she finally recognized the toll life had taken on him.  “You can’t blame yourself.”

“It was the only time in my life I held back.  Didn’t express my feelings.”

“He wouldn’t have listened, Dad.”

He shook his head and wiped a tear. “I suppose not.  No one around here ever has.  But I could’ve withheld my signature on the papers.”

“He would have forged it and run away.”

He smiled sadly as he gazed at the horizon.  “Seems stubbornness is a family trait.”

“Not a particularly good one, but at least it is something we all have in common.”


Dusk’s shadows crept slowly across the bedroom.  Taking Ellen’s hand in his, he smiled down at her. She gazed at him, her blue eyes, though nestled in webs of wrinkles, showed the vibrancy of a young woman.

“You’re right.  It’s time for us to move,” he whispered.  There was no reason to go into all the details.  

She knew better than to ask why he had changed his mind after all this time, but she could finally stop worrying about him, knowing he would be in a safe place, knowing Penny wouldn’t be burdened by him.

Smiling and shutting her eyes, she was back on the beach by the boat where Bobby took her hand.

 

About the Author: After receiving his B.A. in English from Colorado State University, C.W. Bigelow lived in nine northern states, both east and west, before moving south to the Charlotte NC area. His short stories and poems have appeared in Full of Crow, Potluck, Dirty Chai, The Flexible Persona, Literally Stories, Compass Magazine, FishFood Magazine, Five2One, Yellow Chair Review, Shoe Music Press, Crack the Spine, Sick Lit Magazine, Brief Wilderness, Poydras Review, Anthology: River Tales by Zimbell House Publishing, Foliate Oak Literary Journal,Midway Journal, Scarlet Leaf Review and Temptation Press Anthology - Private Lessons.

The Brennans

by C.W. Bigelow

     During breakfast at the Red Circle Inn Ben paged to the obituaries, a custom of his when he traveled close to the town in which he was raised.  Morbid as it was, he convinced himself it was just one way to keep abreast with the neighbors and friends he left behind so many years before.  Though business brought him to the vicinity on a regular basis, he had not been back to Helmsdale for five years and that had been to attend his mother’s funeral.  

     “More coffee?” the waitress asked, pouring his cup full without waiting for his response.

     Her interruption caused him to divert attention from the newspaper and notice the unusually bright morning.  He had a 10:00 AM appointment across town and had been deep in thought about his process for the call when he paged to the obituaries

     “Beautiful morning isn’t it?” the waitress sighed as she lifted the pot away from his cup.  

     He smiled politely, trying not to show her how offended he was by her interruption.  He preferred to be left alone.  “Yes,” he sighed absentmindedly.  “I guess it is.”

     “I’ve noticed you in here before,” she continued as she lifted his plate.

     He sighed obviously, but nodded.  “Every month or so I stay here.”

     “Salesman?”

     “Printing supplies.”

     “Travel a lot?”

     He nodded, bored with the conversation and wished she’d move on to other customers.  

     “Your family must love that,” she smiled sarcastically.

     “No family.”

     “Must get lonely.  I don’t know what I’d do without my kids.”

     He nodded, glancing back down at the paper as he took a sip of coffee, hoping she would take the hint.

     “I look at the obituaries too,” she said gleefully, delighted to find a common bond.

     “I only pay attention to them when I’m around here.  I grew up in Helmsdale.  Seems to be the way I keep up with the people I used to know.”

     “Don’t you visit?”

     “My parents are dead.  There’s no one left.”

     Another patron finally called her away, giving him a chance to return to the paper. He spotted it with a mouthful of coffee and almost gagged.

BRENNAN

June 8, 1994, Caitlin M. Brennan, devoted mother of Tommy, deceased.  Her funeral services will be held at twelve, noon Wednesday, June 10, at Grace Church, 13 Union Rd. in Helmsdale.

     Coughing, he smoothed the page and reread it with watering eyes.  The services were that day.

     “Are you okay?” the waitress asked as she leaned over him with a napkin.

     He gazed down at the name until his eyes burned and the letters blurred.

     “Someone you know?”

     He folded the paper neatly and stood up slowly, sticking it under his arm.  He took his check and gazed outside.  “Someone I knew a long time ago.”

 

     The sun burned through the haze in the October sky.  Birds chattered as the two boys crouched beneath the Lumen’s back porch.  They heard the cars speeding by the For Sale sign in the front yard on Garfield Street.

     Tommy’s excitement connected his freckles, igniting a pink blush.  Blue eyes darting like water bugs under his shock of fiery red hair, he struggled to swallow over the dryness in his throat.  Mischief always brought on the same tightness in his stomach, the same expression on his face, which happened to be an open window to his heart.  His thin, wiry body stood no chance against this devilry. The awesome high was contrary to the burdensome low he experienced after the frivolity passed.  As of yet, though, the payback had not been enough to deter his antics.

     Ben, on the other hand, was an even mixture of excitement and fear, with the latter often tugging down the first emotion.  He repeatedly weighed the risk versus the gain hoping the equation would come out in his favor. 

     Ben experienced guilt upfront. Tommy wrestled with it after the fact.  

     Gazing helplessly around the yard, he watched Tommy scale the porch.  He had seconds to escape.  He could be sitting at home completely innocent, but then he would have to incur Tommy’s ribbing.  Sitting on the fence was a painful posture.

     The basement door squeaked open and Tommy appeared flashing a wide grin.  Ben couldn’t resist and they were soon standing in the dank basement, curiously surveying its contents.  Storm windows stacked beneath wooden stairs and cans of paint in a pile next to a coil of thick rope were visible in the morning sun that seeped through the small ground level windows.  A sour scent of mildew filled the room. 

     The echoes of their footsteps on the stairs resounded like gunshots through the empty house before they opened the kitchen door.

     Neither had been in a vacated house and wandered in amazement through room after room of empty space.  The hardwood floors met their steps with groans. The boys smoked cigarettes. The barrenness was eerily exciting.  

     “This place is perfect,” Tommy sighed before he jettisoned a string of smoke rings into the air.

     “For smoking and hiding out,” Ben said as he sat on the stairs and gazed out onto the traffic on Garfield Street.  The anonymous spying gave him a thrill.  He took a drag and sighed, “No parents looking over our shoulders checking on every move.”

     “Except for one thing.”

     Ben cringed.  He recognized the edge in Tommy’s tone.  “We can stretch this for a while.  We’ve never had such a large hideout.”

     “All you ever want is to hideout.  The potential is endless.”

     Ben blushed.  The contention of whether to risk or not gave him a headache.

     “The first possibility is Mary Bender.”  He didn’t bother to look at Ben. He knew what was coming.

     Coughing on his smoke, he followed Tommy into the kitchen where they extinguished their cigarettes under the faucet in the sink.  “Seriously

     “I’ve been talking to her in class and think the time is ripe.”  Tommy held out his arms and twirled around once.  “It’s a perfect place.”

     “No bed.”

     “From what I understand, a bed isn’t necessary.”

 

     Catie Brennan tapped her fingers on the kitchen table in cadence with the grandfather clock.  Her attention was on the phone, growing more irritated with each passing moment.  She finally looked at the loaf of bread atop bologna in white deli paper on the counter. Tommy was due.  He’d want lunch. 

     The emptiness of the house was like a blanket.  Difficult to ignore, she sat in the chair, exhausted for no reason as she waited for her son.  Without a vehicle she was chained to the house. 

     “Hey, Mom!” Tommy greeted as he and Ben burst through the door.  

     “Hey you two!” Catie forced a tone of excitement.  His presence had become one of her few joys, but each day she found it more difficult to respond positively.  Energy sapped, she struggled to stand and lope to the counter.  “Hungry?”

     “Always!” Tommy cried as he grabbed a bag of cookies from the cupboard.  “Grab the milk Ben,” he instructed as he pulled out a chair and sat at the table.

     “How about a sandwich first.”

     It was obvious she was Tommy’s mother, though her curly hair was lighter and the freckles across her nose were more subtle than her son’s.  They served to highlight her blue eyes.  

     Her youthful energy always amazed Ben.  Her appearance was always fresh, dressed in tight jeans and slight blouses.  As much as he loved being around her, he felt self-conscious. He feared Tommy would ostracize him if he discovered his feelings for Mrs. Brennan... 

     He’d recently noticed a change.  He couldn’t pinpoint it.  Her looks weren’t really any different, but her aura was flat.  Her energy was missing.   

     “Dad call?” 

     When Tommy asked his mother a question Ben could take full advantage and aim all his attention on her beautiful face without any embarrassment.  It would have been disrespectful not to give his full consideration to anything she might say.  Tommy, on the other hand, kept his attention on his glass of milk and missed the empty expression that crossed her face like a shadow.  

     “Not today.”  Her tone was lifeless.

     “Isn’t he supposed to get home tonight?”

     She shrugged.  Lately, she never knew when to expect him.  He traveled all over the region and took his business very seriously.  “I think he said today.”

                          

     His father’s voice drilled into his dream, barely evident at first, but growing like a banging drum until he woke in a sweat midst the echoes of the baritone growl.  Once a soothing instrument, sure to bring a sense of safety, it had become an irritant – a sound to be feared, always accompanied by an impatient edge.

     Tommy rolled over and buried his head beneath his pillow in a futile attempt to block the sound.  Then his mother’s soprano cries cut through and he realized it wasn’t going to cease.

     “What the hell do you care, Jack?  You’re never here!” she cried, arms wrapped like a protective vest around her blue bathrobe.  She couldn’t recall the last time she spoke to him in a normal tone.

     Jack shook his head, his wiry red hair piercing the air. Clenched fists at his sides, he looked like a prizefighter assuming a defensive position.  “I drove all damn night to get home!”

     Catie threw her head back and snorted.  “To leave at what?”  She checked her watch.  “Six thirty.  Christ, the sun’s hardly up and you’re off again.  Where do I come in?  Where does your son enter into the picture?”  Her face was beet red and her heart pounded like a jackhammer, but she was right.  This was no marriage.  She was a housekeeper and a mother of a child who no longer needed her.  She felt no love from either of them when she got right down to it.  She couldn’t remember if there ever had been love from Jack.

     “I do this so you can live here!”

     “Alone….”

     “To feed you both…”

     “Well I’m not in the mood lately to eat much.  It’s not much fun eating alone night after night.”

     “Great!” he screamed.  His own blood pressure pounding in his ears, he was tempted to race across the room and shut her up.  He didn’t need this.  She had no idea of the pressure he’d faced this week, that if he’d lost the business at his largest account, Draegers Hardware, he may be home full time.  Unemployment might suit her but he’d be damned if he’d face into that dark tunnel.  “Why don’t you go to the garage, get a damn shovel and bury me in guilt!”

     She wrenched her mouth in mock astonishment and held her arms out in a sarcastic pose.  “I said nothing about guilt.  Must be some reason you feel guilty, Jack!  I can’t imagine what that might be.”

     “What the hell are you babbling about?  I don’t understand you anymore,” he growled.  

     “Maybe you’d understand me better if you were around more.”

     “Dad!” Tommy’s voice was firm, but it wasn’t a scream.  It arrived at the correct moment, with just the right inflection of pain filling the break in the action.  His face was flushed, eyes swollen from tears, lip quivering, yet he didn’t appear defenseless.  If he had to he would rush to his mother’s defense.  Unsure why his father had to be on the road as much as he was and didn’t pretend to understand the babble he was fed whenever he asked the question. He knew it wasn’t good for the family and didn’t understand why his father refused to recognize or address it.

     Catie, who was coiled and ready to dash from danger, suddenly let down her guard.  Tommy’s presence was enough to protect her.  Jack wasn’t that stupid.  “Say hello and goodbye to your father.  He arrived in the middle of the night and just announced he must be on his way again.  What’s new?  How long is this trip, Jack?  Five more days?”

     Tommy drew a deep breath and sniffled.  “Can’t you stay for a day or two?”  Another thing he couldn’t understand was his father’s refusal to find a job that would keep him at home.  He shared his mother’s loneliness and frustration.

     Aware of the damage he might cause and what havoc he could create if he continued to rant and rave, he grabbed his suitcase and stomped out the backdoor, making sure it slammed with a brazen clap in the quiet morning.

     His stride was heavy and slow, evidence of the confusion. Sorrow and guilt replaced the sharp anger on his way to the garage. Suddenly his world had become more complicated than he wanted and he felt out of place with little making any sense to him.  His own father had been on the road as a salesman all his life and never once did he hear his mother complain.  He’d never asked him to find another job so he could be home every night.  He understood his responsibility as a son and took it seriously, accepting the surrogate role and doing it with pride.  Lifting the garage door with an angry jolt he turned slowly and gazed back at the house.  His parents would be envious of such a house.  Had they still been alive, they would have been proud of his accomplishments.  Travel was in his blood.  Selling was what he did best, and it provided his family with what they needed.  At least that’s what he thought.

     Ben appeared from behind the garage to meet Tommy so they could walk to school.  Jack backed the car out of the garage.  Normally he would stop and talk to Ben.  He’d relate an antidote about his recent travels which lit up the boy’s eyes.

     “Hey, Mr. Brennan!” Ben cried, waving and smiling as he stepped up his pace in hopes of talking with him.

     Jack never noticed Ben as he pulled out of the driveway and sped off. 

     Ben stood with his hands in mid air. Confused by the rejection, he shook his head in wonder.  Jack was the exact opposite of his own father – who walked to the train station each morning to travel into Chicago where he worked in a bank.  He then returned home at the same time each evening on the train with the evening Daily News folded under his arm.  Ben’s parents were older than the Brennans.  He’d heard his mother refer to him as a pleasant surprise, which as he grew older became a slight – realizing he hadn’t been wanted at all.  The Brennans were young, vibrant, someone he could relate to and look up to.  Whenever he had the chance, he hung out with his best friend Tommy – vicariously becoming a member of their family.

     Mimicking his father, Tommy slammed the door. Pale as he huffed past Ben to close the garage door, his irritation seeped from every pore.  His angst was so obvious an aura of gray hovered around him. The fact Tommy was taking some of Jack’s responsibilities, willing to cover for him, impressed Ben.

     Tommy recognized Ben’s naïveté, which, already in a foul mood, irritated him more.  A little brother could be a pain, and at times like this he wished he wasn’t such a leech.  But he knew he had to take the good with the bad.  He had learned that observing his parents.

     “You okay?” Ben asked.

     “Not really,” he grunted as he walked up the driveway.

     “I see your Dad’s off on another trip.” Ben was gleeful as he stepped up his pace to catch up.  Jack’s travels filled his imagination – the excitement of new scenes – different people each and every day.

     Tommy stopped suddenly and turned to him, his patience with the whole situation totally spent.  Chin raised, eyes slanted with anger.  “What of it?”

     He was taken aback.  “I wish my Dad had that kind of a job.”

     “Well, I wish my Dad had a job like your Dad.  What do you think about that?”

 

     “Hello, Benjamin Blake,” greeted Mary Bender as he entered the kitchen of the Lumen house the next afternoon.

     Seeing her atop the counter was like a stop sign and he could walk no further.  Catching his breath, wishing he could hide his excitement and not seem so obvious, he forced a slanted smile.  Her black skirt was hiked high on her thigh, revealing territory he’d only dreamed of, and her white blouse was opened to the waist exposing her white bra.  Tipping her head back while she dragged deeply on a cigarette, her blonde hair cascaded across her shoulders. She said, “I was very happy to hear you were joining us.”

     He focused on the very.

     He could only gulp and nod.  Watching with fascination, as Tommy’s hand disappeared into the large white cup; he fought to control his breathing and adjusted his pants.

     Though Mary was their age, she hovered on the periphery of their class, floating in a world of her own. More physically and mentally advanced than the rest of her class, she focused on high school students to feed her curiosity and appetite. So mysteriously transcendent was she that her existence had become legendary. Tommy and Ben had known her since kindergarten and Tommy had developed a relationship that up until then had been fed on flirtatious innuendo only. It had never been acted upon, relegated to hushed whispers in the school hallways.

     She continued to ignore Tommy’s rough, inexperienced assault on her breast while focusing on Ben.  Never averting her gaze, she leaned to the right and hiked her skirt high enough to reveal her white panties.  “Hey!” she finally complained, wincing with pain as she slapped Tommy’s hand away beforejumping to the floor, her long, muscular legs spread at shoulder width.  Towering over the boys by at least four inches, she shook her head, patiently amused with her role, and sighed.  “I guess I’ll have to be the instructor here.”

 

     Deeply enveloped in thoughts on their way to school the next morning, they missed the resonant garbles of robins greeting the morning, missed the constant flow of traffic.  Their experience was the same, their reactions unique because their levels of investment were different.  

     The draftsman of the plan over many months; Tommy encountered levels of euphoria before diving to deep depression, struggling with a wrenching guilt, having committed a sin and tried to justify it by convincing himself that the act was one of revenge to get back at his father for the pain he was causing the family - an act to defend his mother.  But he tossed and turned throughout the night, recalling Father John’s Sunday sermons, panicked by what his mother’s reaction would be if she were to discover his actions.  In the end he could come up with no defense.  It was simply evil and to make matters worse as he leaned over the toilet puking until he could no longer puke, the images of Mary caused a raging erection.

     Ben, on the other hand, went home in a state of ecstasy.  As had become the rule, his guilt and hesitation preceded the mischievous act and once he hurdled that fence he immersed himself wholeheartedly – never believing heaven existed – and felt any punishment that may result if caught would be well worth it and certainly not at the hand of God.  

     A concerned frown creased his brow.  “I couldn’t look Mom in the eye last night.  I kept thinking of church and her and Dad.”

     “Hey, come on.  It’s not like we’re the first to do this,” Ben argued.  He surprised himself in this new role, the little brother offering up advice and reason. But it was the first time Tommy had reacted with that much guilt.  

     He spun about; glared at Ben, eyes squinting, and mouth in a scowl.  “We aren’t supposed to do this at all until we’re married.  Course you wouldn’t know that, since you don’t go to church, you don’t read the Bible.”

     “Sex is good!” Ben said dreamily, still recalling the excitement, already yearning to repeat the experience.

     “Out of wedlock, it’s a sin.”

     “Oh, Christ!  Why didn’t you think of this before you invited her?  You’ve been building up to this for months. Why didn’t you think about this result?”  He couldn’t believe he was expressing anger aimed at Tommy.  “You really know how to put a damper on a good thing!”

     “You’re right.  I should have.  Now, since I didn’t, I’m going to have to confess it in hopes of relieving this guilt.  I can’t stand it.  My stomach is in knots.  If I’m not puking, I have diarrhea. My parents, even my Dad, don’t deserve this.  If they found out it would kill them.”

     Ben whined, “Nawww!  Let’s not get into that.  I’ll get caught again.”

     “Priests can’t rat on you.”

     Ben stopped in his tracks.  “Then what the hell are you worried about?”

     “The way the priest looks at you when he sees you after the confession. The way my mother and father are getting along right now, the reason I think I did it to begin with.”  He stopped and looked at Ben seriously.  “Should I continue?”

     Ben waved his hand at him.  “I’ve had enough.  Next time figure this shit out before we go so far, okay?  That way I’m not living in your guilt trip. I was happy to smoke cigarettes and watch the traffic fly by on Garfield Street.”

     Tommy nodded, but said nothing.  He never reached so deeply for redemption. His previous bouts with guilt quickly dispersed, enabling him to move onto other adventures, but never before had the sin been one actually stated in the Bible. And never before had he been immersed in such an ill, angry environment, where feelings were icy and pleas for help and attention were ignored.  

 

     They were in the kitchen of the Lumen house for the first time since that night with Mary so Tommy could face his evil deed.  Only moments passed before a car door slammed.  Racing to the window, careful not be seen, they observed a man climb from a large black sedan parked in the driveway.

     “Shit!” Tommy spurted.

     “Who is it?”

     “That’s Mr. Gray.  Real Estate agent and a deacon in the church.  Let’s get the hell outta here.”

     It was the first time someone had arrived to show the property while they were there.  Giggling uncontrollably, they flew down the basement stairs and raced into the backyard unnoticed.

 

     Another week passed and the subject of Mary Bender continued to be off limits.  Tommy attended confession, refusing to share anything that went on behind the curtain, but Ben could tell that it lightened his shame because Tommy’s constant frown had lifted, and though not quite replaced by a smile, at least the features no longer were as dark.  He couldn’t help being impressed with the obvious healing power.  Maybe the Catholic Church knew what it was doing.  Do wrong, confess and feel good.  Didn’t seem like a huge price to pay for wrongdoing.

     They stayed away from the house. Ben figured it was best, since Tommy’s recovery was still tenuous, fraught with fluctuations of mood and outbursts of anger and regret.  Also, the fewer times they entered the house the less chance of getting caught by Mr. Gray.  He had even begun hoping it was history – a memory that one-day would provide comical relief.

     Then on the way home from school, Tommy announced, “Hitting the house today.”  It came out of the blue. “If I spend some time there, I can get a picture of it in my mind without Mary.  That whole episode still haunts me and we didn’t get a chance to spend time that day before Mr. Gray showed up.”

     His father had been gone since the morning of the fight and Tommy blamed his tryst with Mary. God was punishing him and, in turn, his mother.  He had been to church every morning before school and prayed for forgiveness.  Ben waited faithfully outside.

     Just as they entered the basement, a car door slammed.  They stopped cold.  Ben immediately turned to exit, but Tommy grabbed his arm and held him there.  The gleam in his eye was that familiar mischievous expression and Ben knew better than to try and resist. Tommy was back.  The risk was worth it, if he was healed from the wounds Mary had inflicted.  

     The front door squeaked and then slammed shut.  Footsteps marked their way across the entryway into the kitchen. Small puffs of dust drifted from wooden joists below the kitchen floor into the gloomy basement air. Soon the person was pacing impatiently, back and forth from the sink to the basement door.  The faucet ran for a moment, and then shut off with a bang in the pipes.  They softly giggled.

     Tommy put a finger to his lips and tried to frown seriously, in an attempt to stop their snickering, which only caused Ben to break into a pained grimace, biting his lip to keep from guffawing.  Tommy, in turn, when he saw his contorted scowl, had to race up the stairs to keep from bursting into raucous laughter.  Halfway up, he stopped and signaled for Ben to stop laughing, motioning with a finger across his throat.  Ben moved to the bottom landing and crouched, waiting for Tommy’s next move.  

     Driving him was the subconscious need for discovery, as if discovery for trespassing might be accepted as a replacement penalty by God in lieu of the deserved punishment for the more severe crime he had committed and gotten away with.  

     Ben had no guilt from the act, still a splendid memory; but was mostly conflicted because he was experiencing the Tommy’s heavy culpability.  Realizing what was happening; he tried to survey the basement for a good hiding place if they were prevented from escaping.

     The back door to the kitchen squeaked as it opened then shut. Both wondered if the visitor had left, until they heard two sets of footsteps marching toward each other.  Curiosity danced on their faces as they imagined the scene above.  No voices, or any greetings of any sort, which meant it wasn’t a real estate deal.  Within moments, there was rustling, and then low amorous groans.  

     Wide eyes met in the darkness on the stairs, before Tommy slowly began his ascent.  Ben motioned for him to stop, before the familiar tightness he’d experienced with Mary returned, and he couldn’t keep himself from trying to watch.  

     Turning and whispering, “Mary and her senior, I bet.  She’s using our hideaway,” Tommy smiled.  Being a voyeur was far less incriminating than actually participating in the sinful act.

   Ben nodded and chuckled silently.  The excitement was overwhelming.  The urgent, gut-wrenching pressure he felt quickly erased any worry of being caught.

     Tommy turned the door handle quietly, especially muted against the growing echoes of the couple’s passion, which was escalating toward a zenith.  Tommy carefully stuck his head around the door jam. Ben followed at a higher level to gain a view of his own.  Both had to muffle their laughter at the sight of Mary’s legs locked around the naked buttocks of the senior, from her prone position on the island counter.

     “God!” she screamed.

     The word echoed, attacking the boys’ sensibilities. The familiar voice, sounding alien in these surroundings, stunned both of them.  Tommy turned to stone. Ben tried desperately to catch a closer glimpse, knowing full well he shouldn’t.  Tommy slithered underneath him and disappeared silently into the darkness of the basement.  Ben didn’t move.  He couldn’t swallow.  

     Drawn like a magnet to the window on the porch outside the kitchen, Tommy stood, mouth agape, tears flowing steadily, his hands crawling up the glass, as though there was something he could do to stop the coupling of his mother and Mr. Gray.  Then he was gone.

     Outside, Ben spun in a circle, surveying the yard; he didn’t dare call out for Tommy for fear of giving away their presence and ended up marching home in a daze.  Shocked as he wandered through fields haunted by the vision of what he’d just witnessed.

 

     Silent through dinner, he escaped to his room immediately afterwards.  Unable to sit still, he paced past midnight.  He finally understood the angst that Tommy had been wrestling with the previous weeks.  After all it was his family too.  He passed out on the bed, still in his clothes.

     Dreams of Mrs. Brennan making love to Mr. Gray dominated his sleep. In the other corner, Tommy was crouched in a ball, alternately screaming for them to stop and calling for his father, pleading for forgiveness.

     “Benjamin!”

     The voice smashed his dream.  For a quick moment he caught a glimpse of his mother standing in the entryway to the kitchen in the Lumen house.  She, too, was stark naked and he buried his face in his hands to avoid the vision.

     “Wake up, Benjamin!”

     Prying his eyes open, he focused slowly on her hovering over him.  She clenched her pink housecoat together at the waist.  “Mrs. Brennan is on the phone.”

     He stiffened.

     “Tommy isn’t in his bed.  Do you know where he is?”

     “What time is it?”

     “Six A.M.  Do you know where he is?”  She frowned when she realized he was still in his clothes.  “Did you leave this house last night?”

     “Not in his bed?”  He was groggy.  Rubbing his eyes, he tried desperately to focus visually and mentally.  His mother was visibly shaken.

     “Did he sleep there at all?”

     “How do I know if he slept there?  What do you know?”  

     Pushing past her, he paused at the door to get his bearings.  “I don’t know a thing.”  For a moment it felt good to tell the truth, but the worry took over quickly.

     “What’re you doing?  Where are you going?”

     “To look for him.”

     “Where?”

     “I don’t know.”  He shot her an angry look.  She suddenly appeared so helpless, so naive.  After what he’d experienced in the previous couple of weeks he had grown past her.

     “Was he upset the last time you saw him?” she called as he rushed down the stairs and out the front door.

     What could he say?  Upset hardly described the emotion that exploded in Tommy the previous afternoon.  The embarrassment was almost too much for Ben to handle.  How must Tommy have dealt with it?  Fear gripped him as he dashed through dew-drenched cattails in the field.  He should have tried to find him right away, but he wouldn’t have been able to face him.  Wouldn’t have known what to say to him.

 

     He spotted the basement door ajar when he stepped into the Lumen yard.  He remembered closing it tight the night before, so Tommy might be inside.  Maybe it had blown open.  

     Ben couldn’t imagine Tommy’s state of mind. If fooling around with Mary had bought the reaction it had, what demons would yesterday’s action bring forth.  He slipped inside the damp basement and made sure the door stayed shut.  The morning shadows were light gray as he walked to the stairs and paused.  Maybe it wasn’t Tommy who had used the door.  Someone else might be upstairs.  He could always say he found the door open and wanted to make sure someone locked it.  “Hello?” he called tentatively as he took the stairs slowly.  Carefully shoving the door open he found an empty kitchen.  He half-expected Tommy to be leaning against the counter smoking a cigarette.  The island grabbed his attention like a magnet and held it for a moment.  He replayed the scene, heard the cries.  

     “Hey!” he called out.  It echoed three times in the empty house.  “Your Mom’s worried.  Let’s go see her.”  He was surprised at how simply the words had emerged.  He could deal with the truth.  He could help Tommy get over it.  “At least give me a smoke,” he cried as he stepped into the foyer.  Streaming sunlight through the tall ceiling to floor windows was so bright it blinded him and he paused to rub his eyes dry.  He felt Tommy’s presence but couldn’t see him, couldn’t find him. 

 

     The coolness of dusk rocked him as he lay in the field behind the Lumen house.  Earlier as Ben dashed by he almost called out, but knew he couldn’t face him. In fact he wonderedif he could ever face him again.

     Stomach churning and mind flipping between images of his father driving out of the driveway and his mother with Mr. Gray, he stopped and clenched his eyes as tight as he could, but could not stop replaying the scene.  

     Darkness finally descended over the field and he walked onto Garfield Avenue.  He barely heard the cars driving by as if they were part of a fog that had dropped over his life.

     With no destination in mind – he knew he had to get as far away from his house and his mother as he could.  He kept snapping his head, as if he were ducking a left hook, each time he recalled her cry.

     As he turned down Walnut Street he stopped just outside of the circle of light cascading to the ground from the street lamp.  Across the street a tall angular boy stood at Mary’s front door.  She was on her toes hugging and kissing him.  Tommy glided across the street and crouched at the end of the drive behind a red pickup.  

     “You had better behave when you’re down there,” Mary chuckled.  “How long will it take you to get there?”

     “Since I’m missing the traffic by leaving now, about six hours.”

     She mentioned to Tommy her senior was visiting the campus of Illinois and in that moment he thought about his father talking about making sales calls in Champaign.  His destination suddenly became obvious.  He could sneak a ride in the back of the pickup.  By dawn he’d be down there and would figure out how to get in touch with his father.  He knew his mother would worry when he didn’t come home, but that was what she deserved.  He knew he couldn’t deal with her now.

     “I love you, Bud,” she purred as he walked noisily down the steps toward the truck.  

     He grunted as he heaved something heavy into the back of the pickup landing right next to Tommy.

 

     “Benjy, you have to know what he was doing! Why he didn’t come home!” she pleaded the day after, kneeling in front of him in his living room.

     His mother sobbed in the chair across the room.  He couldn’t bear to look at either of them.  His own torment ripped violently through him and he missed Tommy too much to delve into reasons at that point.

     He just shook his head.  Tears rolled continually. His shirt was wet.  He didn’t know where he was though he knew why he was missing.

 

     Catie Brennan’s coffin was made of pine, hardly what he would’ve expected from the vibrant woman he knew as a boy, but appropriate for the maiden who had spent the last half of her life mourning her son.

     The church was almost empty.  The hollow echoes of his footsteps accompanied him to one of the pews near the back.  A group of elderly ladies sat in the first pew, church members who didn’t know Catie, but found it shameful to let a fellow parishioner be buried alone.

     She remained alone. Only Ben understood her grief and confusion, but she never had the wherewithal to even recognize the pain he experienced that afternoon at his house. The loss of a friend as a youngster might be overcome, the anguish lessening as time invokes its Novocain, but the loss of a big brother, the loss of a revered father, and most of all the betrayal of a mother stops one in his tracks and prevents growth and change from that point forward.

     He glanced wistfully from one stained glass window to another, each depicting figures in the throes of painful sacrifice. The sunrays cascading through those tormented figures engulfed the barren church in a red hue. 

     As he exited the church he decided to drive down Garfield Avenue, past the Brennan house, past the Lumen home.  He had been successful avoiding these two structures since Tommy’s disappearance. Getting to school was a matter of going one block north and using Washington Avenue.  He also made it clear to his parents that they were never to drive by those houses when he was in the car.

     Sweat beaded across his brow as he drove slowly over the tracks his father had taken into the city daily for over thirty five years.  

     His destination sat atop the hill one long block above the tracks. The driver of the car behind him tailgated because Ben was barely moving as he struggled to figure an escape route in case he changed his mind.

     Irritated by the car, he went past the Brennan’s corner, spending more time staring in his rear view mirror than looking at the houses. Angry and confused, he drove up to Walnut Street and turned at a traffic signal in front of Mary’s bungalow. He held his breath as he turned around in a driveway and crept up to the traffic signal which was green and while turning left onto Garfield.

     Halfway up the block an ornate sign read Windsor Apartments in front of a stretch of red brick buildings that extended all the way to the corner. Lights from window after window seeped into the darkness and he felt people staring down on him just as he and Tommy watched the traffic while smoking a cigarette on their first afternoon in the Lumen house. Evidence of the past had been demolished and replaced by these apartments that offered new beginnings. The honk of another vehicle behind him urged him to speed up and move on.

 

 

 

About the Author: After receiving his B.A. in English from Colorado State University, C.W. Bigelow lived in nine northern states, both east and west, before moving south to the Charlotte NC area, . His short stories and poems have most recently appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Potluck, Dirty Chai,The Flexible Persona, Literally Stories and Compass Magazine, FishFood Magazine, Poydras Review, Five2One, Yellow Chair Review, Shoe Music Press, Crack the Spine, Sick Lit Magazine and Brief Wilderness.

Different Packages by C.W. Bigelow

     A week before mother died, William pounded frantically on my apartment door just after midnight. Like a jackhammer beating through cement it jolted me from a deep sleep and I vaulted across my tiny apartment – startled and driven by its urgency. Always a string of a figure, he appeared even more emaciated – the sweatshirt, paint speckled and ripped in the right shoulder, hung like a tarpaulin on his skeletal frame. His jeans, unrestrained and baggy, allowed his knife sharp knees to peek from ragged holes. Chocolate brown eyes, normally round and attention grabbing had grown to target size spheres in his gaunt, pasty white face and under them, deep black circles tugged at them like anchors.

     “Mother is going to die!” he blurted, breathless. Always dramatic; his deep voice was surf washing over gravel on the shoreline.

     Grasping the doorknob for support as my knees grew weak and shadows swirled in the room. Words gathered, but caught in my parched throat, afraid to escape.

     The thought of her succumbing like a mere mortal seemed preposterous. One fear was her exiting without attaining some kind of treaty – a final acceptance of me as her son, a final connection– without which my life seemed doomed to continue its useless, wayward path.

     A statuesque, mystical beauty that exuded controlled creativity and communicated in an addictive, trance-inducing manner; she was a hero to both of us, but she was William’s friend. The idea of her abruptly vanishing from this world nauseated me.

     Swallowing, my throat gritty, I garbled, “Did Dad call?”

     William gazed past me, his attention drawn to the windows, undraped and providing a clear view of the city’s lights sparkling off the snow. “He doesn’t know yet.” Pushing by me, he landed on the couch; his long body draping it like a throw blanket. Gasping for breath, gazing at the ceiling, he sighed. “I ran all the way over.”

     Shutting the door in a haze, I wandered across the room, the news fusing an out of body experience, allowing me to witness the travesty from another level of consciousness. Wearing the stunned expression of a prizefighter after fielding a fierce punch to the jaw, heart pounding, limbs shaking, I grabbed the arm of a chair to calm myself. Our world was crumbling, yet my brother lay with his arm draped over his forehead like a limp rope. His own lack of panic was alarming.

     “When did she tell you?” The thought of her confiding in William hurt, yet it came as no surprise. They were kindred spirits. I existed outside their circle, and as painful as it was I had no choice but to accept it. We were fraternal twins with no fraternity.

     William scoffed as he swung his rope-like legs off the couch – boots hitting the floor with a thud. “Do you really think she’d tell me or you, for that matter, before she confided in Dad?”

     “Then, explain – how did you find out?”

     He rubbed his eyes with bony knuckles. “I was working on a painting when a chill grabbed me. The colors of the paints began swirling and I envisioned the whole scene.” Shaking his head, covering his face with his hands, fingers stretched like long wires. “One moment speaking about the day’s events and in the blink of an eye she faints – gone. There was a sublime peace on her face if that’s any consolation.”

     All the tension drained, the need for urgent action disappeared as I sunk in the chair. Relief before anger and I wrestled with both emotions. “I could have had a heart attack!” A vision, for God’s sakes!

     William stood, stretching and yawning, before wandering to the window and gazing out into the cold night. “I felt it. Saw it.”

     “Who made you God?”

     He shrugged.

     “Whatever… Just don’t tell her. She’s liable to believe you and drop dead to make your damn prognostication come true.”


     I was afflicted with nausea and aches for two days following her death. Doctors said the undetected aneurysm couldn’t have been removed. It exploded like a bomb in a small vein at the base of her neck. Unable to eat for days, I sat fixated on the front door where William had made his prediction.

     I haven’t seen William since. Knowing him as I do, he accepts its special meaning and knows there is no worldly explanation. He accepts it, but knows I can never rationalize it. There is no guilt for deciding against acting on the premonition. He has always been a strong believer in letting things run naturally.

     A believer in numbers and numbers only, an accountant for God’s sakes, I find the guilt unpalatable. My suggestion not to communicate the vision keeps replaying as though the universe is laughing at me because I’ve lost my last chance to gain her acceptance.

     The wake was heavily attended. Her three men, robbed of the person who bonded and nurtured them, stood in the receiving line, somberly accepting condolences. I had to be introduced to many of the mourners, because most were William’s friends and admirers. Watching the lines pass to pay their last respects I grew more and more disconnected, alone in this throng of people because the lady they had come to say farewell to, had deserted me again and this time for good.

     It isn’t unusual to go weeks without hearing from William. During intense periods of painting he often turns his phone off and won’t respond to anyone. His studio is only five blocks from the apartment, but I rarely find him home. Father used to comment, “Two brothers as different as their parents. William means no harm. While he struggles with his thoughts and plans, he doesn’t realize we are around. It’s not his fault. He has no control over it. Just like his mother. Their connection is a gift, their vision far from our mundane, workman-like sight.” Still I struggle with it, even more so now there is no hope to change it. It’s not that I mind being like father, a businessman, so unlike Mother and William, who hovered in some parallel universe, but to be ostracized was unfair. Gesticulating, Father explained, “Your mother is magic. Having just a fraction of her attention is well worth it. Love comes in different packages, Sanders.”


     Twelve inches of new snow, icing on the four-foot mounds that line the streets. A bellowing wind cuts through the drifts, sculpting sharp lines and swooping curves, make venturing out risky at best. I gagged with the thought of walking into it. Cars parked along the boulevard are submerged beneath snowdrifts. The forecast is calling for wind chill of 40 degrees below zero.



     Her death weakened an already strained relationship. During a recent visit, William continued his silence about the event, to protect me, I can only assume. But it didn’t sit right and I couldn’t help attacking in numerous, unrelated ways, which made obvious my own discomfort, guilt and regret. My relentless anger was growing more unbearable each day, welling to the point of explosion, which for me was a new state of existence – ruled by emotion rather than logic.

     “Don’t you ever eat? Look at you! A strong wind would blow you off the ground. It’s not healthy. If you can’t afford food, you should get a real job.” The outburst astonished me, but was a relief. It was as though someone had loosened my sphincter and every bitch I felt about him came running out in a diarrhea-like jet spray.

     William chuckled, draped across the couch, at first ignoring the barb, totally understanding the motivation, and realizing counterattacking wouldn’t be productive. Proving me wrong was the furthest thing from his mind and educating me on the sad reality of his own situation held no interest for him.

     An impregnable, disturbing silence cloaked the room midst memories of her. William knew I hadn’t even begun to approach closure. In fact, at this point, I was afraid her permanent absence would etch a chip so deep in my shoulder I would never recover. As much as he empathized, William refused to feel remorse over the relationship he enjoyed with her. He cherished it and drew strength from it. In an attempt to burst the overbearing emotion in the room he decided to take the defensive role in the duel, in hopes it would snap my funk.

     “I do eat, not that it’s any of your damn business. Each day I wander out of my apartment and go to Dandridge’s for lunch.” His tone reeked of unplanned sarcasm.

     “What kind of food do you get?”

     William chuckled. “Are you my new guardian?”

     “Someone has to take care of you!”

     I’m afraid my expression was so haughty and serious William jumped up and bolted to the door. “I’m outta here!” His role of good guy and healer had reached its tensile.


     The air is brittle as crystal. Every breath freezes into ice. A few flakes drift to the ground, scant remains of the storm. Snow muffles the city. Few vehicles wander.

     Three weeks has passed since his last visit and I can no longer ignore his absence. Worry seems my inheritance. This newfound emotion is confusing, because Mother never seemed to worry about William. As the packed snow squeaks under my lumbering steps, I curse him beneath my steamy breath. Sleep has been staggered since her death, filled with visions of her sitting mutely with a stone expression while I plea with her not to leave, to give me another chance. The fact Father told me, before he escaped to Florida for the winter, “She loved you son. She really did,” only intensified my feeling of exile.

     William’s studio is in a 19th century Victorian house that has been converted into six flats. The building is always cold and silent, though all the flats are occupied. Lightly stepping over the icy cement steps between the snow-covered Pfitzers, reaching over the stoop like cupped hands, until I reach the glass inlaid oak door.

     The clammy dark hallway is covered by a balding carpet showing strands of pale wool like bones through skin. Trudging to the third floor – the wide wooden staircase groaning under my weight – tormented by visions of William frozen to death in his bed. I can’t shrug it.

     “William!” I cry as I enter his apartment. It slashes the silence like a sheet ripping in two. Smacked with the scent of paint, pungent like decaying apples in an orchard. To the right is a galley kitchen. Hoping to find coffee, though it is a long shot, because William never cooks at home. The tiny counter space is cluttered with coffee cans holding paintbrushes instead of coffee – sticks upon sticks, their bodies standing out of turpentine and water, their submerged heads drowning. The smell is so acrid I swoon with the first whiff and hold my breath from that point on as I do a cursory search for coffee.
Even the sink is filled with paintbrushes wading in containers of foul smelling cleaning solutions. Tubes of paint lay on old newspapers, their bottoms rolled up in various degrees of usage. He does conserve when it comes to supplies.

     Tucked into a corner of the high-ceiling room is an unmade mattress, a lone pillow wadded into a ball. The rest of the large room is stacked full of stretched canvases, some covered with tarps, some resting in easels, some others leaning on each other like cards ready to fall. Sunlight spills warmly through the towering front windows.

     “A damn warehouse.”

     The clutter in the cavernous room reminds me of William’s bedroom in our childhood house. This was just a larger mess. No one ever seemed to mind. Father simply shut the door. They ignored his mess. They ignored my neatness.

     The only evidence of William’s recent presence is a damp oil painting in progress.

     I’m rarely drawn to art, but the unfinished painting attracts me like a magnet. A wide canvas on a heavy easel. Two figures occupy part of the canvas – blue, white and bald, their developed muscle structure skinless, giving them a naked appearance. The first figure peered at me from a sitting position on a bench – knees crossed, leaning forward, arms draped over the knees. The second figure stands next to the first, backside facing me, gazing out what appears to be an understated window in the background. One knee rests on the bench with one hand propped on the seated individual’s shoulder. Its other arm is unfinished. From the curve and fullness of the buttocks, the standing figure strikes me as female.

     Dandridge’s is a coffee shop on Brady Street on the north side within walking distance. The cramped, tiny room’s only relief is its windowed front. Dandridge has a reputation of being patron saint to the city’s artists, so the walls are crowded with paintings – an assault of colors, shapes and sizes, contemporary next to traditional, geometric patterns overwhelming illustrations. Exhausted wood tables, precariously balancing on thin pedestals, crowd the floor.

     Uneasy about entering the room, anxious on my way to a window table. The mass of art attacks, and my dizziness knocks me off balance. Almost landing on my butt I grab a wobbly chair that drifts drastically and am able to keep from falling only by reaching out frantically and clutching the table. Embarrassed by my clumsiness, sweating, heart pounding, I quickly escape to the street, avoiding eye contact with other patrons. Outside, gasping, flogging myself for leaving my apartment in the first place, I give up the search, deciding to retreat back home. On the restaurant window is an announcement: William Pierce – ‘Studies of a Mother’ at the Wilson Gallery – January 25 - March 16.


     William and Mother’s futile attempts to break me out of my shell became fodder for Sunday night dinner conversation. Though I envied my brother’s gregarious nature, it drove me to fear outside contact. Over time, I accepted the oddities and always successfully fought any rare cravings to change, despite many small attempts by the family to break my shyness. The dinner banter, though uncomfortable, was palatable because, at least, it represented some kind of connection with Mother.

     “It was Mother’s idea to get you out and about. Don’t blame me. What did she always say, ‘He’s bound to petrify if we don’t help him develop some relationships.’ Of course, until Danly’s party, I always went along with her schemes because I thought they seemed like pretty good ideas – harmless little exercises to introduce you to the outside world.”

     The power of the “Danly Punch”, as it came to be known, represents their last attempt.

     And it was Mother’s idea, and only because of her, did I agree to go – so wrapped up in my own existence and angrily denying culpability for my oddness, I felt it was a huge sacrifice – one I was making for Mother – rather than realizing it was actually William’s sacrifice – one he was making Mother to help me.

     “I’m saddened by your long face every weekend, while William goes out and enjoys friends and acquaintances. It breaks my heart, Sanders. Doesn’t it bother you? Doesn’t it make you sad?”
Before I could respond, she answered, “Of course it does.”

     Of course it made me unhappy that she was sad and because she was so obviously sad and disappointed I took the challenge, took the gamble against my better judgment in hopes of alleviating her depression. Had I accepted the challenge in the spirit in which it was intended I might have gained and grown. But the reasons for our ongoing dedication didn’t even occur to me – a coming out party in which I was exposed, in a positive way, hopefully, to society.

     From our arrival and the excited greeting heaped upon William followed by a genuine look of shock by the hostess, Pat Danly when she saw me, I was forced into a defensive position.

     “Did you see the way she looked at me?” I whispered frantically as William hung our coats. Glancing nervously into the living room I pleaded, “Please get me out of here. I feel no better than some trash you’ve brought in.” The heat under my collar was stifling and I wiped my brow as my heart pounded like a hammer in my chest.

     William threw me a crooked smile and shrugged. “I just forgot to tell her you were coming. She was just surprised is all.” He wrapped his long arm around my shoulders and whispered with a chuckle, “I mean you can’t blame her for being surprised. It’s not as though you are a regular at events like this. Just follow my lead and stick by my side. Relax. You’ll enjoy this.”

     As we descended the narrow staircase into the basement, sweat engulfed my back. Perspiration wrapped me like a tight blanket and I was thankful for my heavy sweater to camouflage it.

     The basement was packed with familiar faces. Familiar only because I, from afar at school, always watched them – often as spotting William conversing with them from across the cafeteria or down the hallway.

     The astonished looks continued at each little gathering though William was able to soften them with his friendly banter and did his best to involve me in the conversations. Unable to find a comfort zone, I could only nod mutely and continue to sweat. I was finally separated when the music started and the partygoers coupled off. William began dancing with an array of girls, slipping from one to another, always welcome and able to engage them in conversation, spiced with laughter. I watched for a while from a corner chair, unable to keep from worrying that some of the laughter was directed at me.

     “They could’ve let me be,” I complained, welling up again with the fierce humiliation I experienced when a frustrated William told Mother of the incident the next day.

     “Falling asleep midst all the dancing, hugging, kissing, laughing was bad enough, but when your snoring rivaled the music… Just don’t ever ask me to take him out again!”

     She shook her head, shrugged, and said nothing. Her blank expression exemplified her total surrender, punctuated by a disappointed sigh that rang annoyingly in my ears. She simply walked out of the room, finally accepting the inevitable, leaving me forever abandoned. No more attempts were ever made. No longer did the dinner conversations include me and a relationship with Mother became the Holy Grail.


     The streets remained lined with white mounds. Vehicles wore red extension flags on their antennas to signal their whereabouts in hopes others would see them above the snow. The plowed walls had become so tall they began leaning in, forming tunnels congested with the chemical scent of exhaust. Snowflakes lazily drifted to the ground.

     The considerable crowd in Wilson’s Gallery milled from painting to painting. At first it reminded me of the crowd in Danly’s basement, but because I went unnoticed I felt more comfortable. I watched with a sudden pride as their heads nodded and interesting, energetic conversations took place in front of each of William’s paintings, which lined each long wall.


     Father slapped William on the back so forcefully I feared he’d choked on a piece of food when I entered the house. Ready to spring into action to help save my brother’s life, I cried, “What did he swallow?”

     Father looked at me strangely until he caught on. “No. No. We are celebrating. I’ll get you a glass of champagne.”

     “Your home early,” Mother said coolly, hardly throwing me a glance.

     “Sit down and join the celebration,” Father offered.

     “It won! I’m so proud of you!” she cried as she bounced from window to chair, unable to contain her glee.

     Still confused, I asked, “What?”

     “William’s painting won the Grand Prize in the Scholastic Art Contest! Beat every other painting,” Father exclaimed upon his return. He handed me a glass and raised his in a toast. “May this be the first in a long line of successes!”

     “It is just some street scene,” William shrugged, unaffected by the hoopla.

     “And it won a national competition!” Mother laughed proudly.


     Drifting past the paintings, amazed at the amount of work William had produced, I entered a small room full of viewers. The buzz was energetic and constant – positive in nature – as the crowd gyrated in methodical waves flowing toward the painting.

     Wedging into the back line, I waited. The progress was slow, but steady.

     “What is it?” asked a tall, lanky woman, rising on her toes to gain a better view.

     “I don’t know,” answered her companion, a stocky middle-aged man who stood his ground – guarding his space next to me.

     An elderly man on his way out of the room overheard their conversation and leaned toward them. “His newest painting. Just finished I’m told. Called The Connection.” He moved on without further explanation.

     “I’m glad he didn’t say anything else,” the middle-aged man said. “I hate it when some snob spews all this shit about what he read or what he thinks. It’s for me to decide, don’t you think?”

     I suddenly realized the man was addressing me and gulped, a hot blush creeping across my cheeks, feeling pressure to respond intelligently – but just nodded.

     The man tugged on his companion’s arm. “See Ann, this gentleman agrees with me. We have to figure it out for ourselves.”

     The Connection was the painting I’d seen in William’s apartment. Another figure had been added. An obvious likeness to the original sitting figure, though more squat of stature and I felt an immediate connection, a familiarity. I gulped hard and wiped a band of sweat from my brow.

     Still a distance from the duo, the new figure was clearly approaching them. Gasping quietly, I recognized the woman in the middle was motioning the figure toward them. A glowing comfort swept over me, and my smile broadened as I reached out to the painting. He heard the lanky lady comment, “Look at him. I think he gets the meaning of the painting.”

     The middle-aged man was exiting when she called after him, “Let’s ask him what it means.”

About the Author C.W. Bigelow: After receiving his B.A. in English from Colorado State University, C.W. Bigelow has lived in nine states before currently living in the Charlotte NC area. His short stories and poems have most recently appeared in The Scrambler,The View From Here,The Shine Journal, The Gloom Cupboard, Indigo Rising, Litsnack,Sister Ignition, Full of Crow, FeatherLit, Curbside Splendor, Literary Juice,The Dying Goose, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Five2One, Poydras Review,Potluck, Dirty Chai and has short stories forthcoming in The Flexible Persona, Literally Stories and Compass Magazine.

Embarking on Love

It was where fish
first curiously crawled
from the sea –
unaware that each step
meant no
turning back
and as I stood atop
the hard clay deposits
flowing from
Carmel’s cliffs onto
the beach like a
gigantic lizard –
serenaded by the
cries of the fornicating couple
in the ravine below –
I had no idea I was
about to fall in love
outside the toilets
at Disneyland
and my world
from that point
would always include you.
Above the People’s tent,
where the only per diem
was a bra strap or a shredded
pair of underwear,
passion and love
winked teasingly
from the charged clouds
over the ocean –
a brewing storm of mass
energy and zeal
that has electrified me
for decades.
This journey of mystery
was somehow predicted
at the juncture of sand, rock and sea
where creatures gathered temporarily on
their way to more permanent surroundings.




About the Author: After receiving his B.A. in English from Colorado State University, C.W. Bigelow has lived in nine states before currently living in the Charlotte NC area. His short stories and poems have most recently appeared in The Scrambler,The View From Here,The Shine Journal, The Gloom Cupboard, Indigo Rising, Litsnack, Sister Ignition, Full of Crow, FeatherLit, Curbside Splendor, Literary Juice,The Dying Goose, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Five2One, Poydras Review and Potluck.

 

Diseases Discovered by C.W. Bigelow

     The dew on the wide St. Augustine grass blades gleam in the morning sun like tears.

     “You wanna come in?”

     He doesn’t turn to me. The beads of sweat glisten on his luminous scalp, the veins winding like blue highways on a map. While huffing in rough spurts from his open mouth, his cloudy blue eyes dart back and forth warily.

     The bottom of the windshield fogs as the air conditioning struggles to keep us cool.

     “Dad, you sure you don’t want to grab any clothes?”

     He shakes his head in stuttered jerks.

     The fact this is his last visit to his house is an unspoken truth.

     “How are you holding up?” I asked my mother.

     We sat by the hotel pool.

     Taking a sip of her bloody mary, she avoided my inquiring stare. Her deeply tanned face, profoundly wrinkled from all the years on golf courses in Florida, scrunched into folds for a moment. The question must have dug deeper than I’d intended. I meant it to be innocent with no real expectation of a substantive answer. Two months before, my father received the diagnosis of lung cancer and was scheduled to have the tumor removed during the upcoming week.

     Because of her stubborn nature, I fully expected she would keep her feelings close and not admit to having any concerns. She ignored doctors, unless the pain was too much to withstand – an appendectomy the only example of which I was aware.

     So mine was a simple gesture to make sure she knew she could count on me for support. It’s what a son should do.

     “I feel sorry for Frank,” she sighed, though her slow, smoke-scarred tone belied the words.

     I waited, recognizing her intonation and her subsequent shrug, expecting more to come, though the declaration was to blow past anything I expected. She twisted uncomfortably in her chair and gazed about, as though someone might be listening. Frank was, at that moment, with my kids, his grandkids, at a nearby bumper car track. The pool deck was empty, the water in the pool still.

     “But, I don’t love him.” Another pause. “Haven’t for years.” The statement was bland, matter-of-fact, though she continued avoiding my gaze.

     I wasn’t blind. The majority of their communications had become rolling eyes and derogatory utterances whenever the other pontificated about some inane subject. I figured it the normal path of a forty-five year marriage. The boredom and irritation of hearing the same absurd responses day in day out wear on most couples, but I assumed, buried beneath the surface, there was a second-level emotion into which their affection had evolved. So her statement caught me by surprise.

     Wincing quietly as the shocking reality sunk in, feeling a slow burn in the form of flushed cheeks; my first reaction was to leap to his defense. How could she deny him love when he was in such a state, but as I replayed her inflection, I recognized its lack of aggression? In fact it seemed more of a revelation, the admittance of something she felt but had, until that moment, yet to face.

     Taking a quick gulp of beer I gathered my senses enough to sputter, “And why not?” I then backed off allowing the space she needed.

     I spent my life sparring with him, though recently the contentiousness had relaxed and our conversations were actually uneventful, even enjoyable. Our breakthrough was pre-diagnosis, though not too pre which did make me a bit suspicious. I chose to be thankful for this newfound respect, not quite overt love, granted, but a huge leap forward.

     This unforeseen development might threaten our new relationship.

     She shook her graying head, alarmingly vulnerable. Her fatigue was obvious. My protector, my strength and support throughout my life revealed a side with which I was unfamiliar. This was a woman who, during my sophomore year in high school, berated some woman at a party because her daughter had the gall to break up with me. She was a lioness in every sense of the word. Hand trembling, she reached for a cigarette pack and her dull gaze seem to focus inward.

     The seriousness of the whole situation kept growing with each silent second. I rocked back and forth as she lit another cigarette.

     “I promised him I’d never tell you kids.”

     “You can’t open this up and leave me hanging.” Despite an urge to rant and rave, much as I did when a boy when I wanted something, I remained quiet, if not calm.


     In the midst of Garner’s Sporting Goods Store on Main Street in Hillsdale, when I was nine, the junior set of 5 golf clubs perched in a red plaid bag called out to me so strongly, I was overcome with lust. Like most overpowering urges, I found it hard to fight, and became enraged when she said, “You don’t need them. You’ve just begun to play. Keep practicing with my clubs.

     The tears. The sniffles. The overt screams all meant to melt her defenses, were unrelenting until everyone in the store looked not at me, but at her – as if my behavior was her fault. I was remorseful as I wiped my tears, carrying that bag out of the store under the mortified expressions of the other shoppers, ultimately triumphant, but at her expense.

     My need for this answer equaled my need for those clubs. But as those feelings of regret came rushing back, along with the obvious embarrassment she must have felt along with the internal strength she mustered as she walked out of that place with her head held high, her little asshole in tow with a brand new set of golf clubs, I bit my tongue. What she put up with from me over the years made me shift uncomfortably in my chair. But the fact remained…

     She glared with a terse expression, taking one more cautionary glance around the pool area. “You can’t tell him.”


     “And she’s right,” my wife Mary whispered that same night in our double bed at the motel. Our son snored in the double bed next to us. Our two younger daughters shared an adjoining room. We were all there to witness our oldest daughter’s graduation from college the next day.

     “Can you believe it?”

     Nothing about my family surprised her after watching our kids inch toward adulthood, often displaying the same negative traits – tempers, laziness, too much drinking, and too much smoking.

     I glared at the motley ceiling, awash with the iridescent green glow from the alarm clock, wrestling with the shock and confusion.


     “Don’t you realize every time you screw up like this it puts a black smear on our family. Don’t you care what others think about us?” he lectured as he sipped his martini after I’d been caught vandalizing a neighbor’s house when I was in fifth grade.

     All those self-righteous lectures had seeped into my psyche and formed the initial layer of bricks in the foundation of my personality. And this new revelation was cracking the footings and what made matters worse – I couldn’t attack him without betraying my mother.


     I spent my life with a very concrete image of Frank, good, bad or indifferent; it was one with which I was comfortable, actually could joke about it with him – respected, might have even loved this image.

     “We have to find a home for him. I can’t take care of him here.” It was nine months after the removal of his lung. “Can you come down and move him from the hospital.” The exhaustion in my mother’s voice equaled the annoyance.

     The humid air was a licking tongue as I emerged from a rental car. Even the air conditioning hadn’t helped. I expelled a deep breath as I pulled the shirt fabric away from my back like lifting flypaper off a countertop.

     Lee Lake Regional Hospital glared down from the sign atop the building like a neon advertisement. “God’s Waiting Room” is filled with those who are wobbling on their last legs, whose major topic of conversation is always health-related – the best oncologist, the best urologist, which funeral home gives the best service.

     I will avoid living here at all costs.


     “If it’s gone to the bones, it’s all she wrote, buddy,” he barked over the phone. It was a statement of anger more than acceptance. “Life is too short for sentimentality,” he had once spewed at Uncle Dave’s funeral. On a break to sneak a smoke, I asked him how he was handling Dave’s death. “Christ, the man was 90 years old.” Then came the sentimentality kicker. I expected no less from him. Of course, it was easy to be tough when it was the other guy. “I was grabbing the damn walker as I squatted to shit, and crashed into the toilet, wham – almost broke my ass, and why, cause my collarbone snapped like a twig.”


     Cancer has followed the expected road map. Lung, brain, bone until it owns his body, wreaking havoc, spreading pain and suffering while we stand by helplessly. The disease revels in the misery, like some bully who never knows when to quit.


     Straight to the hospital from the airport, I was aware of the precarious challenge and found myself running on automatic pilot as I walked briskly across the parking lot – refusing to stop and think too deeply about what was ahead. Numb avoidance is bliss.

     My armor had to be strong enough to keep the emotions locked inside. Frank had explored all the cure options and sampled the most promising of them in hopes of beating the tremendous odds. It kept him focused, even gave him occasion to be hopeful, as the disease marched on, pummeling his body with creative resistant-to-cure weapons. I knew as soon as the lung was removed the chances for recovery were slim and all attempts would likely be futile.

After the discussion with Mom the previous year by the pool, it was obvious Frank probably wasn’t in line for a miracle. We reap what we sow, correct? But I couldn’t help but be torn – wondering if my reaction would be the same had she kept her mouth shut.

     But she hadn’t kept her mouth shut. And her information shattered his image to bits like a thermo-pane window and I wandered with a chunk of my history laying on its side, never to be fully verified because of my promise not to rat on her. But, it is the least I can do for her.


     The caustic, yet pure scent of cleaning supplies met me on my way through the revolving doors. The brightly wallpapered hallway gave a cheery impression and the glowing tile floor was blinding as the full sunshine cascaded through the tall, wide windows.

     A middle-aged woman sat at the circular reception station. Hair stacked high on her head like a helmet gave her a military aura – one of distinct efficiency. She barely looked up when I nodded silently. It was visitor’s hours and she was only there to answer questions and give directions. Frank waited in Room 322.

     Marching down the long hall, past groups of folks leaving their loved ones, their expressions betraying the hopelessness with which they wrestled as they faced their future without those integral parts. I wondered if I wore the same mask. I couldn’t feel their sadness, but wasn’t sure if it was because I hadn’t allowed myself the luxury of giving in to the emotions, or the fact I really didn’t care.

     Nurse Sanchez was a combination of humor and efficiency. Mom mentioned she couldn’t imagine anyone doing a better job. Probably in her late forties, she swept in and out of rooms like a breeze, unobtrusive, yet bright and cheery, delivering momentary false hope to these terminally ill patients who lay there with their optimism shrinking at the same pace as the disease ate their bodies. Her plump figure, poured into her tight fitting whites, flew through the halls on cushy soled white nurse shoes. Jet-black hair, stuffed under the white cardboard hat, showed no signs of gray and I felt jealous when glimpses of my thinning, gray hair stared back at me in the reflections from the window overlooking the courtyard.

     “Nurse Sanchez. I’m Ben, Frank James’ son.”

     She held out her hand. “It’s nice to finally meet you. He’s drugged and in good spirits, Ben.” It was one way to cut quickly to the heart of the matter. Pleasant demeanor aside, there was little time for small talk. She surveyed the chart, and then looked up with a sigh, her eyes rimmed with dark circles, giving away the true state of her exhaustion. “You’ve got to get him outta here within twenty four hours.”

     “That’s why I’m here. Just keep him drugged. It’s the only way he’s gonna accept the destination.”

     She paused and glanced down the hall toward his room. “He’ll have another injection of morphine before he leaves.”

     I nodded.

     “He’s quite a flirt, ya know.”

     I chuckled because she expected me too, but felt no pride, or even appreciation of the humor. Forcing a smile and a wink, “Pinched ya yet?”

     “If he did, probably missed it. He’s pretty weak. I’ll check my cheeks tonight and let you know tomorrow,” she winked before scurrying off to another room.


     “Are you still not smoking?” Frank bellowed over the phone. I knew it was his way of showing concern. Recently I had gained the new level of respect from him. During high school we might have had five civil conversations. Even the arguments weren’t that frequent – as though it would have taken too much energy and why waste energy on a lost cause. As my demeanor grew less surly, the angst between us shrunk. Maybe it was marriage and fatherhood. Maybe it was the fact we were growing mellow and migrating toward the middle from opposite ends of the spectrum. In the years before the cancer it seemed I got along better with him than I did with my mother.

     “Still off,” I bragged from the kitchen table, sitting across from my wife and my son Ryan.

     “Good, cause I’ve just been diagnosed with lung cancer.” He announced it angrily, with no fear and surrender. “I was coughing up blood. Your mother said the same thing happened to Ann Warner. Course, you know she died of lung cancer.”

     There had always been an heir of invincibility in Frank, basically due to the longevity of our ancestors from as long back as they could be traced. Hell, my grandfather, Frank’s father lived until he was 97. When diagnosed, Frank was only 74. He was my comparison scale. He drank too much. He could never quit smoking. The relatives on his side were all clean-livers. Untouched by outside negatives, they could be counted on to live into their mid-to late 80 years on average. Frank had decided to challenge the formula. Would the same genes that kept these folks living way past the norm succumb to the scurrilous power of cigarettes and booze? As an example he used his father, Frank Sr., a fairly clean liver, who had mysteriously contracted breast cancer and had the breast removed. Unusual for a man, but life threatening nevertheless when he was 77 years old. That jagged scar across the right side of his chest was a source of curiosity during our visits to the beach in Cape Cod. Outside of the pink color, it kind of blended in with the other set of wrinkles in his loose fitting skin. But the point is he lived another 20 years. Invincible to what others normally succumbed. That was his hope. That is my hope.

     “You’ll beat it Dad,” was my immediate response. Frank was so objective I felt I could respond with the same lack of emotion – hopefully instilling strength and courage in both of us. “What is the next step?”

     “Meet with an oncologist and go over alternatives. I’m not sure I want chemo though, cause I’m reading there is a lot in that cure worse than the disease in folks my age…”

     “Listen to the doctors, Dad.” Frank had been a borderline hypochondriac all his life, running to doctors at the first appearance of a sniffle. I felt certain he would follow orders.

     “Yeah. We’ll see what they say.”

     I looked at Mary – totally emotionless, as though it was something that could be overcome and said “Dad has lung cancer.”

     Mary had never been a fan, but her nose crinkled and tears welled up in her blue eyes. “And?” she choked.

     I was confident. “We’ll see.”

     That aura of invincibility helped me to remain worry free. I could sleep and not think too much about what turned out to be inevitable, because Dad was a James, and we all lived forever. But, just in case, I used it as a tool to keep me from going back to smoking and I immediately began to watch my drinking. The benchmark had abruptly inched closer to mortal, and I could only hope I hadn’t waited too long to jump back onto the wagon with those clean living James’.


     The television hummed mundanely from its perch high on the wall in front of Frank’s bed. It had to have been the staff, because the only thing he ever watched was the 10 o’clock news and golf tournaments on the weekends.

     My last visit had been two months before. He was preparing to take a trip up to Shane’s Hospital for laser treatment on the brain tumor that had metastasized from the lung cancer – it’s first side trip. Discovering the procedure in a magazine, which claimed success for a few, it raised his hopes. They drilled his shaven skull then fastened a halo with shallow screws to use as a guide for the laser. His college roommate Grady drove him and they roomed together in a nearby hotel. The treatment was done on an outpatient basis. Guilty because I couldn’t take the time away from work, but it seemed to work out all right. “Not great. Certainly not like old times,” Grady admitted, “but it was okay.”

     Frank sent me a Polaroid of him wearing the halo around his shaved head – his expression, death – hollow, deep-set eyes staring in such a way they followed me no matter where I held the photo. For some this might have been an attempt at a joke, some noble show of strength in the face of ultimate disaster, but each day revealed more cracks in his armor and though his reaction to impending death may have been normal, I somehow expected more. It could’ve been some maudlin reminder to stay off the bad things and live a healthy life, or it could have just been a plea for mercy, a cloaked attempt to instill guilt and make me drop everything in my life to come take care of him.


     Four months after that futile attempt.

     “Hi Dad.”

     “Ben. Good of you to come.” The tone clearly an arrow of malfeasance with hopes of drawing guilt.

     He was the image of that Polaroid. The skin on his head was almost sheer with webs of veins stretching like tattoos. His eyebrows, never very thick, had disappeared, making his eyes rise like runny egg yolks. The disease had kept its promise, ravaging the body in stereotypical fashion, leaving Frank a miniscule heap of bones propped on large pillows.

     “How are you feeling?”

     “Pretty good. No pain. Throughout this whole thing, no pain.”

     The statement strikes me as a mean joke on us. No pain for him.

     “That’s good. You know you have to leave?” Quick, unfeeling, but I felt I had to get it on the table. Segue was definitely lacking but so was any feeling outside of anger and a strong sensation of betrayal.

     Frank looks at me quizzically, which I interpreted as confusion and I began explaining the circumstances.

     “Stop.” Frank chuckles. “I know. I know.”

     “Well then, you understand Mom can no longer take care of you?”

     Frank frowns, took a deep, wet breath that rattled in his throat. “You mean she doesn’t want to.”

     Can you blame her? I keep quiet. She certainly doesn’t owe him anything, but even as disgusting as the truth of the matter was, Frank did deserve decent care until his death.

     “I gotta favor to ask of you,” Frank announced. “I want you to call this number when I die. It’s Viv, a friend of mine. She’ll want to know I’m dead. She’s had it tough for awhile.”


     “Your father asked me for a divorce about 10 years ago,” she finally revealed, stopping to catch her breath, as though admitting it made her nauseous, not only because she was reneging on her promise, but was actually admitting the fact out loud, which drove home the powerful, painful truth like a punch to the gut.

     The statement swirled around me with such velocity, dizziness attacked as the image of this man, not always a kind one, but one that I had always respected, quickly crumbled into ash. I couldn’t speak. It was my turn for the gut-punch.

     She nodded, staring off across the pool as she dragged hard on her cigarette. “It came as a total shock. I would have thought I was more astute,” she paused to exhale, and chuckled with such anguish it gripped my heart. “Obviously I wasn’t.”

     Throat parched, I licked my dry lips before taking another gulp of beer.

     “Why didn’t you grant him a divorce…More importantly, why did he even want a damn divorce?”

     “I wanted nothing to do with a divorce. My parents were divorced…”

     All my life I’d heard about that divorce and how it stained her as a child.

     “Divorce wasn’t like it is today – so commonplace, so accepted,” she continued. “I had no friends who had divorced parents.”

     “But why did he want a divorce?”

     Her left eye twitched and she took a deep breath. “Another woman.”

     “So did he stop seeing her when you said you wouldn’t divorce him?”

     Her chin was so taut; aiming it like a weapon and I realized it was her defense, because in order to stave off divorce she had surrendered. She shook her head in rapid jerks. “No!”

     And because she had promised to never tell me, my hands were tied. I couldn’t ask him why without implicating her. I had to allow this man to die with his lie – which is obviously what he wanted.


     He studied me with milky eyes, as though he was seeing me for the first time, and then leaned his bald head forward with a wince and asked, “You happy?” His tone was one of doubt, as though, since maybe he’d never been happy how in the hell could his son?

     “Yeh, I am.”

     He frowned and grunted, “Hmm.”

     “Why do you ask?”

     “Don’t know. Guess that’s what counts, right? I mean I never quite understood how you spent so much time coaching your kids instead of working harder at your job.”

     It was my turn to grunt, because I spent so much time doing so in some ill attempt to make up for Frank’s absence during my own childhood. And I am happy with the balance, and might have lashed out at him had he not been drugged up, had he not been dying. Strike two, though. First cheating, then this…

     “I’ll be back tomorrow and we’ll get you out of here.” I had to leave at that point because nothing good was going to happen if I stayed.

     Frank stared with heavy eyes, “Good that you’re happy. Remember to call her, okay.” He handed me the ripped corner of a newspaper. “Here’s the number.”

     Back outside under the ferocious sun, the humidity bathed me. The blacktop of the parking lot bubbled in the heat. Mom ended up compromising with him. No divorce meant he spent three nights a week with the other woman. Viv, was it? She’d been his part time live in lover for the prior ten years. Where was she now that it was coming to an end? Course, where was Mom?


     He finally dozes off, his head bobbing as I wind through the scalding fields in central Florida, but not before he embarks on a stare down contest with the road ahead, his eyes piercing the pavement as if he is trying to open it and dive right into hell. His mind is churning so hard I can hear it.

     Two hulking attendants dressed in faded white uniforms meet us as I pull up to the entryway of Glanders Nursing Home. They lift him effortlessly like a doll and place him gently into a wheelchair.

     “Frank James,” I announce. It is just another delivery and their job is to get it from the vehicle to the front desk.

     A middle aged, thickset woman in a dark grey business suit greets me. The air is pungent with the distinct scent of urine.

     “Just a few signatures, Mr. James and your father will be free to go to his room.”

     I snicker at the use of free, but decide not to comment, and after signing seven pages, I am accompanying another attendant, Joe, as he rolls Frank into an elevator and pushes number three.

     Frank stares at the floor, hardly blinking and if I had any interest at this point, or care I might ask him his thoughts, but I can’t muster any empathy and am not in the mood for conversation.

     Joe whistles at a large woman dressed in a gray uniform down the hall as he pauses outside a door. He waves her towards him then wheels Frank into his new room, his last room – a sterile white box with splashes of green specs on the tile floor. At least the urine scent is masked with bleach. The grey lady waddles in, huffing like Frank, whizzing past me to help Joe lift Frank out of the chair into his bed.

     The size of a small child with the same shocked frightened expression.

     “I’ll be back soon Mr. James. I’m Wanda, the day nurse.”

     She turns and whispers, “Hospice is coming this afternoon.”

     I take a seat in a molded plastic chair by his bed and struggle to say something of importance, of feeling, anything to lighten the mood, and finally ask, “Do you want to make a phone call?” I don’t expect him to take me up on the offer.

     But he nods and holds out his shaking, gnarled hand.

     “Hey Joe, do you have to dial 9 to get an outside line?” I call.

     Looking over his shoulder, he just nods as he pushes the chair out the door.

     “Got a number?”

     It isn’t a local number, so I’m curious as I dial and hand him the receiver.

     “Gary,” he chokes. “It’s Frank.”

     He listens, mouth hanging open and breathing like a fan.

     “Frank James. Yeah. No, not good. I’ve got cancer…everywhere. Oh, thanks…Yeh, but the reason I’m calling – remember when we were kids at the Cape and we became blood brothers…” he pauses to cough, a fitful, wet explosion that spews blood all over the sheets.

     I quickly wipe the red drool from his chin. His head falls back into the pillow as if someone severed it at the neck. The muscles in his neck turn to rock hard chords as he lifts his head off the pillow. His creamy blue eyes are hallucinatory with hope. His delusions are all he has left.

     “Well, we made that promise, you remember? You know, don’t you remember? To take care of each other if we got sick… Remember? Yeh. Well, you gotta come and get me. Promised you know. Gary…Gary..?” The receiver lands on his chest and he gazes at me with a horrendously anguished expression – as though he is witnessing blasphemy, godlessness and torture all at once.

     This sad plea is his last.

     The Hospice folks show up with a white paper cup. One large lady, or maybe just large in comparison to Frank shrinking frame, grips his bald head with a meaty mitt, and lifts his head off the pillow. “Hello Mr. James. I’m Mary. We are from Hospice and here to help you feel better.”

     An angular male nurse with thick black-framed glasses wipes his drool with a napkin in one hand before shoving a pill between his gray lips and pours water from a glass into his mouth while Mary pulls his head back. Not even a choke or gurgle. These folks know their business. Frank would be impressed, and maybe he is, but his eyes are now shut for good. His last days will be spent in a painless stupor.

     Heat wavers in scrawling lines as I meander onto the black top parking lot. I pull out the crumpled slip of newspaper from my pocket. It is a local phone number scrawled so shakily I can barely make it out. Peering up at his window on the third floor, reflecting like a mirror in the scorching sun, I slowly crumble it up and pitch it into a garbage can on my way to the car.





About the Author: C.W. Bigelow
After receiving his B.A. in English from Colorado State University, C.W. Bigelow has lived in nine states before currently living in the Charlotte NC area. His short stories and poems have most recently appeared in The Scrambler,The View From Here,The Shine Journal, The Gloom Cupboard, Indigo Rising, Litsnack,Sister Ignition, Full of Crow, FeatherLit, Curbside Splendor, Literary Juice,The Dying Goose and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine.