George sat at his desk battling his brain. He wished he could punch it. It was not the brain he once knew—always quick with the comeback and able to find the right words. Gradually it had changed, shedding words and abilities under the guise of supposedly normal aging, turning into the alien entity that had taken over his head.
There were tests and more tests, of course, followed by meetings and counseling to determine how much living assistance he would require, and more to the point, whether he had enough money left to afford it. And if he couldn’t, there was always the state run nursing home, where old men like him sit and stare while waiting for final release.
But he would not let this half-wit brain win. There was one more thing it must do.
George had weighed his options as carefully as his plaque-clogged cerebrum would permit. Everyone around him was full of encouraging advice about new treatments and therapies that can delay the worst symptoms for years. They told him to be brave and fight back. Never give up, they chirped. We know how difficult this must be for you.
Yeah, right. They can all go to hell. None of them can possibly know. I wish they would just leave me alone. Let me and my brain disintegrate in peace. But they won’t do that, of course, especially not my son-in-law, Frank, who thinks this is some kind of boxing match. Just because he was a middleweight in college, he considers himself an expert on boxing and life in general. “You have to visualize yourself in the ring with this thing. Give it a right jab, then a left. Give it everything you’ve got. You got to feel it, George. Everything depends on this match. Nobody can fight it but you.”
Of course, Frank never won any matches himself. His closest victory was a draw, after his opponent, suffering from the flu, fainted during the first round.
But as with so much of Frank’s bullshit, the boxing analogy was all wrong. What George had in mind was more of a writing contest—but one to the death that neither Frank nor George’s wife would understand. He thought about Anne, and the story she had told him about when she was five and couldn’t stop crying because her pet rabbit had to be put to sleep. For her ending the rabbit’s suffering was simply not enough to accept the monstrous decision to take its life. No, she would never accept it. And she would not forgive him for what he had planned.
George stared at the words he had written in his journal and frowned. Now what was it? Anxiously he flipped back the page and scanned his words looking for clues. Yes, there it was—the plan. Now he remembered why he had started writing everything down, even the most trivial things. It was his only defense against the alien. And soon, he knew, there would be no more words and their rich connections. There would be only vague thoughts and orphan memories. He must act while there was still time.
Each day the alien was gaining in strength, threatening to destroy what little order was left to him. Often when George looked back at what he had written, instead of the soaring prose he had imagined himself writing, he would find gibberish. There would be whole pages of inane words and phrases like “the hydrocephalous ensemble of vertiginous polymorphs,” or even completely made up words such as “tvzzyajjy” and “hyyyyaaapporree!” One of his chief failings as a writer had always been his lackadaisical editing. Ironically, in the past few years he had become a better editor, detecting and deleting all the crap his brain was now attempting to pass off as prose. His journal was more a patchwork of rational bits, interspersed with crossed out blocks of some madman’s ravings.
His goal was to write a perfect letter of his intentions—one that both Anne and others would at least understand, if not accept. It had to be a masterpiece.
So where to begin?
I, George L. Pettingill, being of sound mind…
No, that isn’t quite right. His mind isn’t sound. But starting with “being of unsound mind” would hardly inspire confidence in his readers. Besides, it’s no secret that his cognitive functions are in the toilet. Why dwell on the obvious? Cut to the chase.
When in the course of a human life it becomes necessary for a man to terminate the bonds which hold him to this earth and all that he holds dear, and to achieve a final state of dignity denied him by events beyond his control, a respectful consideration of the feelings and thoughts of others around him requires that he provide a full accounting of the causes that compel him to this separation…
Much better, he thought, but too much like Thomas Jefferson.
The tone needed to be just right—not too formal but not too casual either, lest his readers think he wasn’t taking this seriously. He thumbed through his Letter Writing Handbook. In the section devoted to formal letters were the following general guidelines: to write as clearly and simply as possible, to make the letter no longer than necessary, and to avoid informal language. Unlike casual letters that bounce all over the place with no set purpose or logic—much like his brain sometimes—formal letters got right to the point. There was a comforting structure to them. There was the salutation, followed by a pithy first paragraph stating the purpose. The middle paragraph, however, contained the real nuts and bolts, setting out all the relevant information behind the writing of the letter. Finally, the last paragraph delivered an ultimatum of sorts, stating what action you expect the recipient to take, which in his case would be to at least accept if not understand his final act.
There were missives for every occasion, ranging from cover letters and letters of intent to birthday invitations and congratulatory notes. George smiled at the last one, recalling the letter of congratulations he had received last Christmas from the CEO of his company. This is to inform you that, based on your many years of exemplary service to Diversified American Family Insurance, the board has unanimously voted to grant you the Outstanding Achievement Award along with a bonus of $50,000. The amount took his breath away at first, but he was worth it, goddamit.
But when he tried to expand upon the memory, George found he couldn’t. He shook his head and scowled. Then he remembered. There had never been an award except in his head. Three years ago—or maybe ten—he had written the letter to himself, then posted it. Upon receiving it, he gave in completely to the fantasy, tearing open the letter and poring over its words as if he had never seen them before.
It was just one of the many tricks the alien played on him. But not this time. This letter had to be for real. He was the CEO of his life, and he was stepping down. And here were his reasons. He would write a letter of intent. But to whom should he write it?
To Whom It May Concern:
No, too wishy-washy, he thought. Whoever picked up the letter could read it as they saw fit, whether it concerned them or not. What did he care when he was gone? There was really only one person he still cared about—only one person to convince.
You of all people know what I have been going through, so I hope you’ll try to understand what I plan to do. “Till death do us part,” we promised, and I intend to keep my end of the bargain, sooner rather than later. By the time you read this, I’ll be gone from this world of confusion, or in other words, dead.
I know you have different views on this matter, so I won’t try to convince you. At least permit me to explain my reasons for self-termination (which sounds so much less harsh than “killing myself,” don’t you think?). As you know, Anne, I am a proud man. How often you have reminded me. It will be the death of me, you always said, if I don’t learn how to be more humble and accepting of things I cannot change. Well, I can’t accept this, and I don’t want you or anyone to see me become a zombie while this alien thing I once called a brain takes over. No, Anne, loving creature that you are, even you must not see me like that. I can just see you spoon feeding me, talking to me as if everything you said didn’t sound like pure babble. You would dab the drool from my face, and then cry softly when I stared back at you with an empty look. It is too much to bear. I need to go out while there’s still time. I won’t go into the details of my departure. Suffice it to say that I have researched all the usual methods, and have found one that is relatively painless and won’t mess up the kitchen. I will try to make it look like an accident, though please forgive me if I do not succeed. I have never been good at this sort of thing, and this will be my first and thankfully last time (I hope). And please tell Frank for me that he’s an asshole (OK, so you’re probably not going to do that).
In conclusion, I will not try to tell you here how many ways I have loved you, for you already know. Of course, you might think my action in leaving you proves otherwise. That is something you must work out for yourself. I can only hope that you will understand and someday forgive me.
Your loving husband, George
George read back what he had written and nodded. Then he painstakingly rewrote it in his best cursive on the linen stationery he had saved for the purpose. He folded the letter and stuffed it into one of the matching envelopes, and filed it away in his desk for later reading. There was still time for one last edit. It had to be perfect.
But the alien had other plans. Later that night, it took the letter out of the desk and addressed it to Anne. Then it took George out for a walk to the mailbox.
Two days later, while walking past the living room, George heard a guffaw. Was that Anne he heard?
Sure enough, there was his wife sitting on the couch, or rather rolling on the couch in convulsive laughter.
“Who’s it from, dear?” George couldn’t imagine what would make his wife laugh like that. She was more the gentle tittering type.
“Why, it’s from you, silly.” You’ve written a suicide note. Of all people, George. Oh, for goodness sake, you couldn’t kill a rabbit, much less yourself. Were you trying to be funny? You’ve always had a strange sense of humor. But some people might take you seriously. You shouldn’t be writing such stuff. Now go get changed. Don’t you remember? Frank and Lois asked us over for dinner. Now stop frowning, George. Hurry up, we’ll be late.” ©Gene Twaronite 2013
Originally published in the Fall 2013 print issue of Sheepshead Review, a creative writing and visual arts journal of the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay
Read the latest interview about my new book Dragon Daily News in 5enses Magazine. Thanks, Robert. http://www.5ensesmag.com/chasing-dragons-snickers/
I am now offering a free PDF version of my new Teacher’s Guide for Dragon Daily News. This 27-page teaching guide has been written to accompany the stories in my book Dragon Daily News: Stories of Imagination for Children of All Ages. Its chief aim is to provide background on the genesis of each story while stimulating ideas and discussion for the creation of students’ own stories. Each chapter applies elements of the Common Core Writing Standards, and includes a brief Author’s Notes, a Literary Nuts & Bolts discussion of how the story is put together, and Suggested Ideas for Stories to fire the imagination. Parents will also find this a useful enrichment tool as they share these stories with their children.
If you know any teachers or parents who might be interested in this, please share this post. Download your free PDF here: Teacher’s Guide for Dragon Daily News
Abigail couldn’t help herself. Every time she looked up from the television, there it was—the dreaded picture gallery on her apartment wall. Why couldn’t the staff have put up the pictures someplace else? That way she wouldn’t have to look at them every time a commercial came on. Lately it had become like a cemetery filled with the grave markers of strangers. She had begged the attendants to take down the portraits of people she no longer remembered. But they always insisted that the pictures should remain in hopes that they might trigger her memory. Fat chance. She had looked at them hundreds of times to no avail. They were just empty faces—and real dog-faces, some of them. How could any of her relatives or friends be that ugly?
But there was one picture that she did remember. It was a close up of a stout middle-aged woman surrounded by the multi-colored flowers of her garden. The woman’s face, though much darker than hers, reminded her of the image she saw each day in the mirror. From the wall her mother smiled back at Abigail across the years, reassuring her that at least some things are forever.
Sometimes Abigail would talk to her mom on the wall. There you are again, Ma—out in your garden. You do love your flowers. Would you pick a bouquet for me? Maybe some zinnias, delphiniums, and dahlias, and don’t forget the sweet williams. And she could imagine her mother’s reply. Well, get off your fat ass, child, and help me pick some!
Flowers were the one thing about her mother—that and her no nonsense attitude—that Abigail could still remember. But she wished that she remembered other things.
Like what made her mother tick? Abigail knew that her mother loved her, in her tough gentle way. But what did she believe? Was she a Democrat or a Republican, for instance? Abigail thought about that for a while. She couldn’t even remember which party she belonged to herself. It would be nice to know that much at least when all those annoying television ads came on, with their babbling heads telling her to vote for them. She didn’t give a rat’s patootie about any of them.
As another politician appeared on her TV screen, she pointed the remote at the man’s smiling face and made him disappear. Go away! she shouted. Flipping the channels till she was safely past him, she paused at a show she had often watched with fascination. Here was the same man again in a nice blue suit with a pink carnation in his lapel. He was always shouting about God or crying. This time, he was doing both. And as usual, he was asking for money. People in the audience were cheering and yelling, I believe! I believe! The show was on Sundays, because it was always announced with the words “Sunday Morning Worship with the Reverend Thomas B. Fairweather.” Was there something special about Sundays that made people believe? All days seemed the same to her.
Did her mother ever watch this show? she wondered. And did she believe in the same God? Abigail struggled to remember any time she had seen her mother watch it. Maybe her God was on a different channel.
Abigail thought about all the other things besides God that people believe in. She remembered a show she had watched yesterday—or was it last year?—on the History Channel. It was about the American Revolution. There were a bunch of white guys in funny wigs standing around a table. She didn’t remember much of the plot, but the words “all men are created equal” stuck in her head. She thought of her mother. Did she really believe that, she wondered—that black folks were just as good as white folks? And what about women? Abigail’s mind raced. She grew slightly dizzy as she always did when too many things popped into her heat at once. Did she believe all that stuff that scientists say about people being related to chimpanzees and how in that show on the Discovery Channel everything started with a Big Bang?
But she especially wanted to know if her mother believed in God. And if so, which God? She stared at her mother’s smiling face, looking for answers. I know you’re in there, Ma. Help me out.
There’s nothing in a person’s face, Abigail thought, that tells whether a person believes in God, or even if they’re a Democrat or a Republican. For all she knew, her mother could have believed in a God like that Hindu elephant deity she had seen on some travel channel—Ganesha or something like that. It was supposed to ride on a mouse and was considered to be the Lord of success. She looked at the dirty old dress her mother wore in the picture. Her mother didn’t look very successful, but maybe it was because she didn’t pray enough to her elephant God. How exactly are you supposed to pray to an elephant? she wondered. And that poor mouse.
Abigail turned off the TV and stared at the blank screen, trying to recall anything that her mother had ever said or done that had to do with God. But nothing came. She sat back in her rocking chair and gazed at the ceiling. Yes, now she remembered something. It was some kind of solemn occasion. There were flowers everywhere, and her mother was sitting right next to her. This time, she wasn’t smiling. There were also a lot of other people all dressed up in black outfits sitting in a dim room. They were looking at a body lying in a long wooden box on a bed of white cushions. Caked with makeup, the dead man’s face was as unfamiliar as all the other faces on her wall. Yet there was something about it. Now she remembered. It was the face in the picture next to her mother’s. The people in the room were all staring at him, as if waiting for something. They all looked sad and hungry. Then the scene shifted. She was in the kitchen of some house, and the same people were now drinking red wine and eating things from a big table as they made jokes to each other. She saw her mother putting slabs of pink stuff from the table onto her plate and eating them. And for some reason words she had once heard popped into her head: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood. She shuddered at the thoughts that crowded her mind. What happened to the dead man? Exactly what were they eating? And was that really wine in their glasses or something else? Could her mother have believed in eating people when they died? She shook her head and rocked violently in her chair, moaning softly.
Another scene flashed in her head. This time, she was inside a big white building filled with pews. Pews! Now we’re getting somewhere, she thought. What kind of building besides a church has pews? Every row was packed with people dressed up in their Sunday best. Up in front was the silver-haired minister, who was holding a microphone and singing along with a five-man blues band and three women backup singers. Everyone was singing joyously, while some even danced in the aisles. And there was her own mother, dancing up a storm like some witchy woman. Go, Ma, go! Abigail shouted. Hallelujah! Then she got up from her chair and danced and shouted till she collapsed on the floor, laughing so hard she peed in her pants.
Abigail cleaned herself off—at least there’s one thing she could still manage—and went back to her chair. Still out of breath and laughing, she clutched her heart. Oh my, Abigail. You’re not a young girl anymore. And she recalled a time long ago when she was ten, or maybe eleven, marching with her mother in some kind of parade. Only it wasn’t the kind of parade where people clap and cheer. Those marching were carrying signs and banners, though she couldn’t read or remember what they said. She clung tightly to her mother’s hand and to the small sign she carried. People were shouting things—mean, awful things—and there were police holding back vicious dogs. Her mother squeezed her hand, trying to reassure her. There was a grim look on her face, like she was marching into battle with Satan himself. Abigail could see the fear in her eyes. She trembled as she heard once again the sound of the dogs barking and people screaming.
It was a while before Abigail stopped shaking. It was a memory she wished she could erase. She saw her mother, her head bleeding, lying still in the street. Ma, get up! Please, Ma, don’t leave me! When her mother opened her eyes and slowly rose to her feet, Abigail couldn’t stop crying. It’s OK, child, she said, wiping her dress off and putting her hat back on. We did it!
Exactly what she and her mother did that day she could not remember. But Abigail knew it was important—important enough to die for—which had to mean her mother believed in something. But what if her mother didn’t believe in God? Just because she danced in Church doesn’t prove anything. And if she didn’t believe, would that make her a bad person?
Abigail muttered the word softly to herself—God God God God God God—gradually increasing the speed of her mantra. Then she shouted it as loud as she could: God! God! God! She waited for an echo inside her. She knew what the word meant, and the fact that she was now thinking about God must mean something, but for her it had no connection. Did that mean she didn’t believe in God herself, or had she just forgotten how to believe?
She grew tired of thinking about God. She tried thinking about her mother some more. Come on, Abigail, think. Don’t give up. Troll your soul. She laughed at the rhyme she had made. She still knew what a soul was, or at least thought she did. It is something inside you that isn’t really part of your body, and it has to do with God and heaven and hell. But what did it mean to troll? Wasn’t a troll some kind of scary creature? She remembered reading as a child a story that had big hairy trolls in it. What did trolls have to do with anything?
She searched her room, looking for clues. The man in the blue suit was always clutching his Bible and quoting verses from it. Yet there were no Bibles anywhere. There were no books at all, in fact, for she had stopped reading years ago. Once, she had opened a book down in the lobby while waiting for breakfast. It was some novel that everyone was talking about. All she could see were lines of little black marks running across the pages. Disgusted, she slammed the book shut. But there was a time when she did have books. It was in that other place where she had lived. It was a big yellow house, not this little room. There were books there—all kinds of books—stacked everywhere, even in the garage. But then they all got wet, she remembered, and someone—who was it?—had thrown them all away just because they had gotten all musty. But isn’t that the way books are supposed to smell? The memory made her angry. While she couldn’t recall any books she had read, she had always felt better having them around. She used to stroke their spines on the shelves, promising herself to read them someday. And then that same person—it was a woman, she now remembered—had bought her a big screen TV, as if that somehow made up for throwing out her books.
Someone knocked at the door. Grumbling, she got up to answer.
Hi, Mom. Are you having a good day? It was that same woman again—the one who’s always calling her Mom and trying to hug her. Oh no, she’s going to do it again—ugh!
OK, Mom, be that way. The middle-aged woman seemed offended, though why Abigail couldn’t imagine. That’s what you get what when you go around hugging strange women. I’m not her Mom. Why can’t she accept that? I’m here to count out your pills. Then I have to run. I’ve got a big meeting downtown.
Yes, she always had big meetings. Abigail stared at her quietly as the woman counted the pills. You sure do have a lot of pills, Mom. Looks like you’ve got some new ones here. I may have to start charging you overtime. She laughed nervously.
Why did the woman always have to make small talk? Just get on with it. Abigail fidgeted her fingers, waiting for her to finish and get out. Then she remembered who the woman was. It was the same woman who had thrown out her books! How dare she come back here?
Get out! cried Abigail. Leave me alone!
Oh, Mom, not again. I thought you remembered. Then the woman began to sob.
Abigail began to cry, too. She put her arms around the woman. There, there, dear—it’s all right, I forgive you. And maybe someday you’ll find your real mother. And don’t forget to close the door on your way out.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Abigail trudged back to her chair and turned the TV back on. Maybe she should look there instead of in her mind. She stared blankly at a commercial which showed a big green lizard walking in the desert when suddenly a piano fell out of the sky behind him. Is there some meaning in this? she thought. Who is this lizard and what does he want? She shook her head. This is all so complicated. There must be some truth here.
She thought back to all the programs and commercials she had seen on TV, at least those she still could recall. Then she remembered a man’s face—a very wise face—and some words that always made her feel good. And that’s the way it is. The way he said it just sounded so right. That’s what her mother always said whenever he came on. Now there’s a man you can trust, Abigail—a man you can believe in. But where was the man now? Abigail couldn’t remember seeing him lately. She wished he would come on right now and say it again. And that’s the way it is.
Abigail turned off the TV and sat back in her chair, smiling. She didn’t want anything to interrupt the memory of that face or voice. It was something to believe in. ©Gene Twaronite 2013
Originally published in Wilderness House Literary Review, Summer 2013 http://www.whlreview.com/no-8.2/fiction/GeneTwaronite.pdf
Upon hearing my story, “How to Stuff a Rhino,” during a story time event at Peregrine Book Company in Prescott last Saturday, a young artist in the audience was inspired to draw this wonderful illustration. Thanks, Tommy! The story can be found in my new book Dragon Daily News. Stories of Imagination for Children of All Ages.
Read what author Jesse Kimmel Freeman says about Dragon Daily News: “I have a 5 year old and a 20 month old. When I read this book to them, they loved it. I also totally did too. Gene has a way with words that makes you laugh when necessary and enjoy the ride as you go.” Read more http://www.jessekimmelfreeman.com/1/post/2013/05/review-dragon-daily-news.html
My new children’s book Dragon Daily News is now available in paperback. To order a copy, go to: https://www.createspace.com/4134875
It is also available as an e-book. To order your Kindle copy, go to: http://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Stories-Imagination-Children-ebook/dp/B00B78QUIK
Read more about the book at my website: http://www.dragondailynews.net
Dragon Daily News now available in Kindle! http://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Stories-Imagination-Children-ebook/dp/B00B78QUIK
“Odd encounters, chance meetings, what ifs, what nexts…those are the words that spring to mind while reading Gene Twaronite’s Dragon Daily News. From books that leak their words to a fig tree that really pulls up roots and walks away, Twaronite’s stories are sprinkled with the wacky and the weird—while generally being totally believable. Inspired in many instances by traditional tales or fables, the stories sparkle with unexpected twists—you’ve heard about going hunting for tofu beasts, right? Then there are those idiosyncratic characters. From Stretch (a rubber boa who has grand adventures while stretched) to Snoop and Snort (dragon cub reporters in search of the truth about those creatures called people), the characters drive the stories forward, begging the reader to ponder what they might do next. If I were still a classroom teacher, this is just the sort of book I’d share with my students to trigger their own imaginations. Instead, I’ll settle for sharing it with my grandkids as we wonder if tofu beasts might still be found somewhere—besides in a grocery store….”
Suzanne Barchers, former Managing Editor at Weekly Reader (Suzanne, who holds a doctorate in curriculum and design, is also a consultant and the author of 175 published books. Visit her website at: http://www.suzannebarchers.com/
Read more about the book at my website: http://www.dragondailynews.net Print and Nook formats coming soon. Stay tuned.
Who is she? the old man muttered, peeking through the window. And why is she making a sandwich in my kitchen?
The old man continued to stare as if he had never seen a person make a sandwich before. He watched her delicate hands caressing and alternating the provolone, Swiss, salami, turkey, and deli loaf, and tingled at the thought of being one of the slices. But who is she?
The old man forgot all about the newspaper he had gone to retrieve from behind the hedge. Shivering, he pulled his bathrobe around him. It was just not right. Strange women don’t suddenly appear, at least not in his house. Maybe he should call the police and ask them if a missing person had been reported. He felt a headache coming on. Why do these things always happen to me?
The old woman tried to concentrate on her sandwich, but she did not like being stared at. Who is he? Maybe he’s the gardener. But why was he wearing only slippers and a bathrobe?
She picked up the phone and dialed 9-1-1. Please help me. There’s a man standing outside my window in his bathrobe watching me make a sandwich. What does he look like? Well, he looks kind of sad … and hungry, too. And he’s got really nice gray hair.
Then the old woman gave the dispatcher an address, which was the only one she could remember. It was the house in Brooklyn where she was born.
Now she’s using my phone. The old man was furious. Who knows, she’s probably calling some secret lover in Australia or Japan. He peeked at her again and at the way the late morning sun illuminated the gray speckles in her curly hair. Yes, she would be just the type to have many secret lovers. The thought filled him with sadness. Yet he was also happy for her. A beautiful woman like that deserves to have many lovers.
Still, this did not change anything. There was a strange woman in his kitchen and his feet were getting cold. What should he do?
Maybe he should just go inside and find out. It was not his first choice. All his life the old man had tried to avoid direct confrontations. There was usually a safe way around any problem. No sense asking for trouble. Still, it was his house and his food. There was only one thing to do.
The old woman looked out the window but the gardener was gone. She decided to call him that after remembering who he reminded her of. It was the handsome, gray-haired gardener who tended the botanical garden that she had visited with her father when she was eight years old. One day, the gardener tipped his hat and bowed, handing her a gardenia. It was the most romantic thing she had ever experienced. Often she would think about him, wishing she could hurry and grow up so she could meet him again.
She sat down at the kitchen table and stared at the sandwich on her plate. She was not hungry now. Eating alone was no fun. Had it always been this way? It didn’t seem so long ago that … what? She struggled to regain some clue to her recent past, but it was no use. Yet she felt there was something or someone important that she should remember. She hated herself. What kind of person would forget such a thing? But why did something she couldn’t remember cause her such pain?
The old man decided to walk around the block first before confronting the woman. There was nothing in the world, he believed, that couldn’t be walked out. He pulled his bathrobe tighter. Maybe he should have changed first. But it was a short block and he was already at the corner of Mayflower Street … The old man stopped and gaped at the street sign. He knew every corner of this neighborhood and there was no Mayflower Street. How could a new street just appear?
Maybe he had somehow gone past the street where he was supposed to turn. The old man spun around and retraced his steps. When in doubt, start from the beginning, he muttered. But the street he had lived on for thirty-six years was nowhere in sight. All the houses seemed out of place. He ran back to the corner to read the sign again – Mayflower and … Hope. That’s not my street, he thought. But then, what exactly was it? He tried every memory trick he could think of. But the name had vanished.
He wandered up and down one street after another, searching for some clue that might lead him home. But none of the street names sounded right. With mounting panic, he swept the landscape for some familiar feature, but the harder he looked the more alien it appeared. Nothing made any sense.
The old man started to run, anywhere that might take him away from this nightmare. He was about to give up and ring the nearest doorbell for help when he noticed the house. He was sure he had seen it before. Was he was going in circles? Not a good sign, old boy. Yet there was something more. Perhaps it was the way one of its windows was framed by the evergreen hedges. Or maybe it was the silhouette of a woman eating a sandwich by the window. He knew that woman, but from where? He crept in for a closer look.
The old woman ate her sandwich in an unwelcome silence. She strained to hear some comforting sound from the house, something that would tell her things were all right. But all she could hear was her own nasal breathing. She put down her teacup and it made an awful crash on its saucer. It’s all wrong.
She began thinking of the gardener again. And she imagined him sitting across from her at the table. He was still wearing his khaki uniform, all worn and green-stained, though his hat was on the rack by the door. She was all grown up now, but he was still the same age as he would always be. He looked into her eyes and planted a gardenia in her hand. The old woman lifted it to her nose and closed her eyes, inhaling deeply. All these years, she had wanted to say so much to him, to tell him all her dreams and private thoughts. But now, she couldn’t think of anything to say. And when she opened her eyes, the gardener was gone.
The old man slipped quietly through the backdoor and into the hallway. Everything suddenly seemed familiar. Off the hallway to the right he knew was the kitchen. Somehow he had found his way home. He was about to drop to his knees and kiss the floor when he remembered the strange woman in the kitchen. A bead of sweat trickled down his nose as he began to shake. Who is she? Steady, old boy. He gripped the sides of his father’s old desk and stared into the hallway mirror.
Then he remembered. It was something he had hidden. Now which drawer was it? Quietly, he pulled open one drawer after another. Each was filled with hundreds of boxes and bottles. He opened several of the containers, only to find smaller and smaller empty containers, apparent decoys for whatever treasures lay concealed there. Where did all these come from? Could someone else be hiding things here? None of the containers seemed familiar. Frustrated, he sat down at the desk. Where was it? Instinctively, he felt behind the black plastic trays inside the desk. Then he found it—a thin cigar box wedged tightly behind the trays. He opened it and gazed upon the objects of his memories: a fossil Trilobite, three packages of colored rubber bands, a golf score card, a headless British tin soldier, two cancelled movie tickets, and a ripped out page from a department store catalog. He held the page reverently. There she was, still as beautiful as ever. Modeling a sleek gown, she was all that a teenage boy could wish for in a woman: beautiful, mature and understanding, someone who would not laugh and who would gladly share his life with him forever. He had been especially taken with the model’s pearl necklace and gray-speckled hair and the way she primly crossed her legs in the ad. Suddenly he knew who the strange woman in the kitchen was. He closed the box and placed it back in its hiding place. Then he headed for the kitchen, but not before plucking one gardenia from the garden.
Startled, the strange woman turned around as the old man entered. When she saw him standing there framed by the kitchen archway, she smiled as she had not smiled in years. Her gardener was back. He bowed and handed her the gardenia. Stroking her pearl necklace, the woman primly crossed her legs and pulled out a chair.
Would you like a sandwich? © Gene Twaronite 2012 Originally published in Avatar Review, Issue 13, 2011