“People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, and redeemed.” ~ Audrey Hepburn
Ch 13 ~ Once Again…and Again
Dryst stopped. He angled his broad shoulders and squared off his frame to face Spence. He had arrived at a decision, one that had announced itself first in his body; second in his mind; third in his voice.
After a long pause that refused to be dismissed or underestimated by anyone, he said as clearly, as smoothly, and as definitively as humanly possible:
“Don’t ever put me in a position where I am forced to stop you.”
He waited, breathing evenly; eyes locked onto Spence’s face, communicating on an entirely different plane but unmistakably relaying exactly the same message.
“Because if it comes to that,” he said in a low monotone, “I will stop you.”
Spence stared but not literally. His eyes were closed, but not without sight.
He lay in the bed, breathing steadily. In fact, he wasn’t simply breathing. He was slightly snoring, despite the miracle claims of the Anti-Snore pillow that his wife had bought off of some wacky infomercial. She was addicted to them, those infomercials, he thought with some amused annoyance. But not a serious annoyance…more of a rolling of the eyes (even when they were closed while he slept). Infomercials were the one thing – well one of a few because everyone seemed to have an assortment of varying degrees – that grated a bit on his nerves when it came to his wife Candy’s habits. But if that was the worst of it, well, he couldn’t complain. And, lord knows, he had his own assortment, as evidenced by a long pattern of sleeplessness on her part. He knew that she lay awake on and off many a night even if he wasn’t awake to witness it, because he knew that he snored and rather severely. So, as a last resort one night in her sleeplessness, Candy had clicked on buttons (online ordering) and had selected a size (king) and had identified quantity (two in case of need of a backup) and had selected Massively Super Express Delivery (licketedy-split arrival within two days) and had ordered the Anti-Snore pillow for Spence’s birthday. He shrugged in his mind. Rather appropriate, he thought, since breathing sustains life. Why not a pillow that unobstructs the throat? Good idea, he thought. Besides that, if there wasn’t some kind of middle ground with this soon, he half thought she might kill him. Sleep-deprived people tended to be that way (and he suddenly realized why Candy watched so many infomercials since they were the only entertainment that was broadcasted in the wee hours of the night). Maybe even he would be that way but he didn’t know about this, because he always slept well, and he always slept deeply. Trouble was, the Anti-Snore pillow proved to be less the ‘miracle in a box’ that Candy had hoped for or that the manufacturer had claimed it would be or that the customer service department could remedy if there were to be a problem. And there was a problem. Spence still snored up a storm, sometimes even hearing himself as he slept. (Not that bad, he thought, as he sawed through another log.)
…sometimes vaguely hearing the edges of Candy’s desperate inquires to customer service for the Massively Super Deluxe version. (When will it be released? Not anytime soon? Is yesterday soon enough? Is 40 years ago soon enough?)
…sometimes experiencing unsettled dreams.
His mouth and lips tasted of smoke, but he hadn’t smoked in 30 years. He wondered why he would taste the sooty, woody wash of it inside the walls of his cheeks, along the back of his teeth, across the length of his tongue, and even at the top of his throat. He marvelled that he felt his chest tightening, and for a moment, he considered rolling off of the flat of his back – maybe that would alleviate the constriction, he wondered – but frankly, he was too tired to move, and he wasn’t panicking. Spence realized long ago that he was in the middle of a dream and snoring to beat it all to heck, and he supposed the routine of it all (his particular cocktail of snoring, sleeping, thinking about rolling over and deciding against it) comforted him somehow. But, still, he found it mildly strange…he was in body and out of body at the same time, and all the while, he marvelled (marvelling probably in both places, in and out of body, as far as he could tell) at the ability of his fibers to remember the taste and feel and wash of smoke in his being.
But the weight of it was different. It was somehow thicker. It was somehow heavier. It was somehow drapier. And the smell of it was different. It was more like a national park than a forest preserve. It was more like a torching fireplace than a flaming matchstick. It was more like a cigar than a cigarette.
“Cigar? Cigarette?” Halted little wheezings for four beats. “Cigar? Cigarette?”
“Cigar,” his father said, smiling out of both sides of his mouth just out of courtesy and nothing more as he tipped the perky Cigarette Girl. His father wasn’t born in an age with Cigarette Girls, but it was a dream and it was Spence’s dream so logic didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was it was Spence’s father who bought the cigar and lit it up, because that was something his father would have done in reality. And as he lit the nubby end of the rolled tobacco, his father was careful to push away any smoke or any cast-away embers from his clothing or that of his lady. He was dressed well, Spence’s father…a daper man, not at all slick but cleanly put together. Tailored. It was a time when men and women both wore their Sunday best at all times. It was a time when Sunday best meant something more than sweatpants that were sloppily hanging onto the ground or baggy jeans that were belted around the upper thighs instead of the waist.
His father, Danny, wore his hat slightly off to the side and his wool coat buttoned closed. It was winter. It was cold. He carried a gloved hand in the bend of his arm. He softly lay his hand over the cream-colored gloved fingers and tenderly stroked them. She, Eleanor, Spence’s mother, smiled. Then Danny took his hand to the cigar and pulled it away from his lips, moving it down to the side of his body, careful to point its fat burning edge away from him and Eleanor. He exhaled. He tenderly said, “Come on, babe.” And Danny and Eleanor strolled down the boulevard that stretched out before them in the bustling downtown of the metropolis.
Now a crisp fall day. Trees cast their leaves randomly, tossing them about about. Winds swirl the reds and golds, the yellows and burntout browns into rustling miniature updrafts then release them to tumble down here and there. They are in the yard. A big yard. They are playing catch. Spence’s dad hauls back effortlessly to gather some velocity then deliberately releases the baseball without too much sting to it. He smiles while clenching the stub of a cigar between his teeth. Had fooled the son, for a moment, he thinks, into believing the throw would be more of a rocket, less of an airball. Spence watches his father grinning through his teeth, cigar smoke whisping around his jaw to the back of his neck. The father is a tall man, quiet, relaxed, and amused by his son’s sudden tension. Spence thinks he doesn’t look prepared to be on the receiving end of a freight train. So Spence hauls his high school arm back, a little gangly but muscled and struggling to master its own strength. And he lunges forward, whipping his arm around the side of his body until his arm is fully outstretched a few feet in front of where he had been standing before the windup, and he pushes the baseball off of his fingers, sending it flying back to his father like a freight train. And even though Spence is sure that his old man doesn’t suspect the sheer force of what’s coming, his old man grins. Because maybe he senses it was coming afterall. And he catches it.
Spence always thought the hospital would be the last place he would ever want to visit. And then it turns out that maybe that last place is the nursing home. He wonders why they never seem to paint the walls the right color in these buildings, why they never seem to be cheerful. But maybe, he realizes, it’s all just fine and it’s all just Spence not liking the fact, and it is now fact, that he finds himself coming here. His father has been here (transferred from the hospital after a bad spill and then moved from the hospital to the nursing home) for closing in on a month, now, but Danny has been gone for nearly five years. Here but gone. Gone from Spence. Gone from everything he ever was.
Spence raises his eyebrows with some fatigue. He does a mental calculation and figures that his father has been gone probably closer to 10 years, for all they really know. Alzheimer’s, the long goodbye, is called such for a reason, Spence shakes his head. Because the person you love sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly and sometimes erratically slips away. And then, Spence whispers in his mind…and then…sometimes they return. If only for a moment. He stands and listens in memory, hearing his father say in such quiet desparation, such primal knowing: “I’m not the man I use to be…”
And Spence aches in that moment of his father’s return. Spence lowers his head to conceal his wet eyes. Such a hard thing to know, he hushes to himself in his mind. Such a hard knowing. But then he finds himself just as quickly moved to a place of some relief – something he never imagined he could say – when his father Danny reverts back even that much deeper into a different personality, when the grips of the disease fully claims him back to its mystery and darkness until it fully takes Danny away. Maybe he sensed it was coming, afterall, Spence wonders. Maybe deep down his father knew. But no matter, Spence thinks, and he begins to collect his father’s things that lay scattered on the little nightstand and that hung in the little closet that had held his life – or the life of whatever personality had possessed him – during these last days. Spence is glad that his mother had passed on a few years ago and quickly, too. Mom was always that way, Spence smiles, tidy, organized, loving in her quietness. “Dad,” Spence muttered. “Dear Dad…” It had hit him like a freight train. It had run over him for 5 years…probably closer to 10 years, for all Spence really knows. He lowers his head again, casting his eyes randomly – What does it matter? It is done – and his eyes land upon a cigar. Untouched. Undone. Spence smiles and begins to sob.
In his mind, Spence lay on his back breathing. In this place, Spence stood upright thinking. Dryst was playing for keeps; he could see it in his eyes. Even through the building dampness and the purple-grey mist that suffocated the forest and that pushed streams of breath from Spence’s nostrils. What would he have given to have had the power to save his father, he wondered. It wasn’t that long ago…only one year ago. He had lost his way and everything that he had as a result. And so had his father, but with much more finality. What would Spence have given to have the power to help his father to simply be…in all of the fullness that he was.
He nearly laughed Dryst’s demeanor away, but he knew that the kid would take it the wrong way. He was of a single mind and he wouldn’t understand. (Or maybe he would…)
And he marvelled at how very easy it was to take for granted what seemed to be a very simple thing: Being.
National Novel Writing Month: Chapter 13 total wordcount: 2040 (not including this notation). Total total count: 21,390.