Monthly Archives: November 2013

Short Stories

Checking Out

Checking Out


“How much longer now?” she asked.

I looked down at my watch, “Not much, I think.”

“Do you ever find it sad? The Fall, I mean?”

“I do,” I admitted.

“The fecundity?” she inquired. “Wait, no. I hate this misremembering; the opposite of fecundity. Falls always make me feel sad. Too many things waning at once.”

“I guess that’s it,” I agreed. I put my hand on the park bench between us. She lay her right hand in my left and grasped it, her half-gloves allowing me to touch only her cold finger tips.

She looked around at the thinning canopy above us, leaves abandoning their high perches to continue their existence among the rest of the fallen. It was colder than usual for mid-October and she had bundled up. The gloves matched her beret and over-sized muffler which was wrapped twice around her neck and stuffed into her coat. A gift I had purchased four winters ago.

A cold wind was howling up forty-second street from the Hudson, through the glass and steel and concrete canyons, spinning off into dervishes wherever it found an opening. This morning, we were seated in one such opening, facing the hawk wind. She had wanted to come to this park, her favorite, on this gloriously drab morning. Bryant park is where she had learned her life. Reading, listening, smelling; watching the people all around her. During the first year she’d been allowed to come here alone, her fourteen year old self was absorbed into the soil of Tara right here on one of these benches. She’d sweated under the same summer sun with Paul on Arrakis and been frightened in the gloaming of Salem’s Lot.

We met here when she was making her rounds with Breakfast of Champions. I chose a bench across from her and paid more attention to her than the copy of Hot Water Music I’d checked out until working up my nerve, offering to buy her a hot cocoa at the cafe. Hot cocoa in the summer. I smile now at how suave I was.

“What are you doing later?” she asked, her wane smile curling up just enough to reveal those famous dimples.

I considered the question for a moment, gripped her hand, “I think I’m going to be bogged down in bureaucratic paperwork and making phone calls.”

Her eyes were glassy and I couldn’t tell if it was from the cold wind. “You really need to find something better to do with your free time.” Her words came as whimsy on a breeze. “If I were you, I’d check out that new book by Olen Steinhauer. Lindsey said it was very well written.”

“She didn’t qualify it?” I said with a wry grin.

A low laugh escaped her. “No. She didn’t add, ‘for a spy novel’.”

“You think she’s lightening up?” I asked hopefully. We’d often wondered from where she’d gotten her pretentiousness.

“Getting older changes people in certain respects,” she said. “Maybe she’s unpuckered her butt enough to admit that good writing is just good writing, no matter the genre.”

“That would be a change for the better,” I agreed.

Her tone changing to serious for a moment, she said,“You’ll need to be nicer to her, at least in the short term.” Lightening up again, she finished, “She’ll need you, whether she likes it or not.”

I asked, “And what about me? Will I need her?”

She released my hand and gave my knee a push, “Her? No. You’ll be fine here,” she said hooking her thumb over her shoulder at the public library. “You’re adjusted enough. ‘For everything there is a season,’ and so on. You know how this dance goes.” She smiled wanly again.

A chill ran up the back of my neck and my body tightened in defense against the cold wind. Flipping the collar of my tweed jacket up in hopeful defense, I asked her, “Would you like a hot cocoa or maybe we can take a walk around the park one last time?”

She stomped her shoes on the cobble stones beneath her. “I can’t feel my feet,” she said looking down. “How about some cocoa, like when we met?”

A word caught in my throat as she looked at me. She saw my look but did not turn away. She held my gaze a long moment and then said, “What did you check out that first day we met?”

“Bukowski,” I said almost automatically, “Hot Water Music.”

“That one really defined him,” she said.

I nodded in agreement. “He was an exquisite mess.”

To this, she nodded in reply, then, “For some people, when it takes them longer to find their voice, its stronger. For him, it was unshakeable. The pain of looking for it seemed to infuse his voice with such clarity and originality.” Her voice had taken on a dreamy quality now. “What was I reading that first day?”

“Vonnegut,” I said. “Breakfast of Champions.”

As if this were a surprise to her, she exclaimed, “Awwww… Poor old Dwayne Hoover, can’t tell fact from fiction. I love that novel.” Then she sat up straighter, “And here we are, ‘on a planet which is dying fast.” Then she added, “I can’t feel my feet,” as if for the first time, “can you get me a hot cocoa like when we first met?”

I tried smiling but it and my chin began to quiver so I gave up on the attempt and instead inhaled deeply as I stood, widening my eyes to prevent the tears from coming. “Of course,” I replied. “With a splash of milk and marshmallows?”

“Of course,” she repeated in a mock baritone. Then she held out her hand. Upon my grasping hers with mine, she said, “You were always my favorite, know that.” Her green eyes twinkled in a promise of mischief as the hint of a smile graced her face again, “I love you.”

I gave her hand a squeeze and managed, “I’ll be right back,” and, “I love you,” before turning toward the cafe.

The line was short and I was on my way back to the bench within minutes. Approaching her from behind, I could tell. Her head lolled to the right, as if I was still seated next to her and she’d decided to nap on my shoulder. I felt the paper cup in my hand lose its structural integrity before I noticed the grip I had on it. As I slackened my grip on the cup, my knees followed suit and I barely made it back to the bench before collapsing next to her. My weight shook the bench causing her head to roll forward onto her chin.

As I raised her head, I noticed that her clear green eyes that a moment ago held the flicker of mischief were already glazing over with a milky whiteness. The pain squatting on my heart rose and knotted painfully below my Adam’s apple. Silver slivers stabbed the inside of my forehead as I held back the tears and my nose began to run. Placing my arm around her, I lay her head on my shoulder and reached in my pocket for my cell phone and dialed 911.

Suicide is a crime and the police would be dispatched. Her note, outlining her intentions and motivations, was in her purse as was the bottle of pills she’d used. Lindsey was my next call after hanging up on the 911 operator. She would not approve, pretensions be damned, of her mother choosing an aristocrat’s death. But she was. An aristocrat.