Sunday, January 31, 2010

Paying his Respects

A short story by: Roger A Wilbanks

The day was painfully bright and cheerful. It was the worst part associated with this anniversary, that it so often occurred on such a splendid day. Frank stopped the buzzing alarm and got up from bed. The automatic coffeepot had already brewed his coffee for the morning, much to his doctor’s chagrin.
“It will only make you die faster, Frank.” He told him.
Frank reminded his doctor that he was 70 years old. Mother Nature was doing her damndest to make him die faster so he saw no point to denying himself the few things in life that made him feel good. Just because he was getting older, there was no need to punish himself.
He poured himself his first cup and walked to his closet. He wanted to pick out a special suit for the day. It was the 50th anniversary and he wanted everything to be perfect. The black herringbone was nice but it was too warm outside and would make him miserable. The brown tweed just looked too festive for the day. He settled on the navy blue cotton one. It was lightweight and somber enough. After all, it wasn’t a funeral he was going to. That happened half a century ago.

He dressed quietly and returned to the kitchen where he made himself breakfast and enjoyed a second cup of coffee. It was already starting to make his insides rumble but he wasn’t alarmed. There was plenty of time for that later. He was more pleased with the other side effects the coffee was having on him. He was more alert and felt a genuine buzz about himself and his day’s activities. He had a schedule planned for today that he had kept since that awful night. It had become a tradition but that didn’t hold him chained to it. Each act he performed today served its own purpose. He left no thought or movement wasted. His mind was as sound as it was the day she walked into his life 53 years ago. When he closed his eyes real tight, he could see her just as she was then. She was wearing a low-cut dress, the kind that was fashionable with the edgier crowd back then. She wore a lot of make-up too, but she had a quick and kind smile. It was a very practiced one too, and when she aimed it at Frank, he melted immediately. She worked in a bar near the bad part of town and it attracted a wide assortment of patrons from the upwardly mobile to those on the fast downward spiral. She served them all the same. In here, the color of your skin didn’t mean shit. It was only the color of your money that mattered. Frank was one of those on the downward spiral and it was the girl that saved him. They saw quite a lot of each other back then and their romance grew at an alarming rate. He found himself spending more and more time in her bar. He ignored the flirtatious manner in which she worked but still felt that gnawing in his chest from an unnamed beast whenever she leaned too close to a patron. Days flew into months and he found himself wed to the woman. Frank began to doubt her sincerity almost as soon as the couple moved into their new house.

He drained the last of his second cup and finished his breakfast. He looked once more on the framed picture he kept on his bed table. It was his wedding picture. It was the happiest day of his life. He paused and thought to himself for a moment. Had his entire life led to that one moment and halted? Was every moment after that day wasted? He couldn’t fight the feeling that from that day on, he had lived on borrowed time. He shrugged and walked out the door. These days were better spent enjoying the few simple pleasures life was willing to share with him than rehashing existential horseshit. He wasn’t about to spend his Golden Years delving too deeply into his 25 year old self. He had more important things to do with his life, especially today.

He walked to the bus stop on the corner but didn’t have long to wait. After 50 years of practice, he had his schedule committed to memory. He showed his monthly pass to the driver and took his place on the crowded bus. A lot people were going a lot of places here but each was locked into their own petty existence, just as Frank was. No one made any attempt at connection here. No one dared even so much as an unwarranted smile or accidental eye contact. Frank frowned on this aspect of today’s society. He was a genuinely kind and good-natured person who enjoyed the company of others. Though, he had to admit that after her…he wasn’t nearly as trusting as he once was.

He remembered each and every one of those late night returns she made.
“Had to work late tonite, baby…sorry.”
“The bar had to stay open later than normal. Big wig in town.”
The excuses were always fresh and imaginative, just like her. A bump on the road bounced Frank back into the present and nearly onto the lap of another commuter. After a brief apology, Frank saw his stop drawing near. He left the bus and walked the two blocks to the flower shop. The day was painful in its beauty. It was picture perfect. It was a complete opposite to the pain and anguish that flowed through his own heart. He opened the door to the florist, tinkling the tiny bells above him as he did so and walked in.
“Frank! Is it that time again already? Guess so. Orchids right? I’ll go and get them for you.” He stopped and looked over his shoulder at Frank. “The usual card?”
Frank nodded and withdrew the money for the flowers. When the florist returned, Frank reviewed the card. “Lovely day, isn’t it?” he asked. Frank nodded in acceptance of both the card and the statement.

He took his package in his arm and walked back outside. The cemetery was only four blocks away. 50 years ago this part of town was all but deserted. It was calm and peaceful. Time had not been kind to it, however. Urban rejuvenation had caused the downtown area to swell and expand, forcing the poor and the disenfranchised to seek other housing in less expensive areas like land surrounding a cemetery. Frank made the four block walk through half-hearted threats from junkies and fully explained propositions from whores. Even though he was 70, Frank looked virile and healthy. He was always a big man. She knew that back then, he thought. She always respected that aspect of his character even as she tread upon the others. He often wondered if she used the threat of his intervention to keep control of her bar. That would make sense. Frank was always bigger than everyone else and though he was blessed with a kind nature, he was able to turn feral is given the appropriate provocation. Perhaps she gambled too often using him as a chip and found someone willing to call her bluff. He would never know. The only thing he knew for certain was what the police had told him when they arrived at his door to inform him of his wife’s murder. The criminal was caught and justice would be served. “Oh, by the way…did you know her bar doubled as a brothel? Apparently she was the main attraction. Have a nice day.” Funny way to greet a grieving widower, he thought.

The gate squeaked as he opened it. He would have to bring a can of oil with him next year. The caretakers of this cemetery were nothing of the sort. Her grave was clear of weeds and tangle only thanks to his annual visitation. The rest of the area was unkempt and desolate. Her plot was an island…an oasis in a desert of neglect. He arrived at the foot of her grave and stared. All was as he had left it last year. He carefully cleared the small weeds that had begun to take root and made the plot presentable. Then he spoke.
“My sweet, though our time together was a lie crafted in the disguise of love, it was the happiest time of my life. When I heard what you’d done and learned of the full scope of your deceit, I asked God for just one thing. I promised to lead a good life and do everything right in exchange for a long life. By all accounts I’ve done that. I’ve been kind to everyone I met and done my best to be a good person so that I can return here to you every year and speak to you. I miss you more and more each year that passes.”

Frank lay the orchids down on top of the grass that covered his wife and said, “These were your favorites.” He wiped a tear from his face before it had a chance to fall upon this sanctified ground. He looked around to see if anyone was watching his moment of weakness and assured himself he was all alone. His insides rumbled again. The coffee was doing its dirty work. He thought again of the hearty breakfast he enjoyed hours ago. His digestion these days was more like an express train than anything. He glanced around again and undid his belt. He squat down over the area of earth directly over where his dead wife’s face was and shit. He emptied his bowels and his heart with one of the more spectacular defecations of his life as he performed the act of vengeance upon the one woman who had wounded him the worst. He finished his work and took the card from the orchids. He placed the card on top of the pile he had created and cleaned himself. He made himself presentable once more and said, “You deserve no less. You deserve no more. I only regret that I was not there the night the man I sent to kill you did the deed. The sight of your bulging eyes as he choked the life from you would have been a pleasant diversion for me over these last 50 years. Goodbye my love.” He said as he walked away.
“See you next year.”

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