Last Respects

Patrick grimaced as his mother wiped his face with a washcloth in the bathroom. At four years old, a washcloth wasn’t one of Patrick’s favorite things. She wiped his hands too, and wet down his hair before combing it.

Patrick didn’t understand why he was being subjected to this torture. Being washed and dressed in his best clothes weren’t his idea of a fun day. Although the term “best clothes” was wishful thinking when it came to Patrick. Pretty much all Patrick’s clothes were either stained or torn the first time they were worn.

Patrick’s mother held his shoulders and made him look her in the eyes before they went into the bedroom, where he knew they would find his great-grandmother enthroned in her giant four-poster bed. His mother explained to him, once again, that Granny Hall was 93 years old and didn’t see or hear well. He should stand close to the bed, so she could see him. He’d need to speak loudly for her to hear. Granny might ask him questions, and he should answer politely. She might want to hold his hand, and that would also be polite. This would probably be the last time he would see Granny Hall.

After that, Patrick’s mother hugged him tightly for a long time. She held his hand when they went into Granny Hall’s room. Patrick could see tears on his mother’s face. That made him want to cry, too, but he held it back.

Patrick stood next to Granny Hall’s giant bed. He spoke to her loudly. He did his best to answer her questions. He let Granny hold his hand and even squeezed it back. Then his mother led him out into the hallway and asked Patrick to wait there for her. She went back into the bedroom and closed the door.

Patrick’s mother sat on the edge of the bed and looked into Granny Hall’s nearly sightless eyes.

“How much more time does he have?” Granny Hall asked quietly.

“Only a few months, according to the last tests the doctors did.” Patrick’s mother cried, and Granny Hall held her hand.

PC: Michael D. Beckwith on Unsplash

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Four

Reggie was four. He knew he was a big boy, and big boys shouldn’t cry. But Reggie felt like crying. There was something scary about the lady. And she smelled funny.

The lady kept talking to him, asking him where his mommy was. Mommy was at home, of course. Where she usually was. It was daddy who was missing. Reggie had been standing right next to daddy a few minutes back. But there’d been a bug on the floor, and Reggie couldn’t resist following it. Then, when the bug finally scurried into a crack, daddy was gone. Or rather, daddy was probably in the same spot he’d been when Reggie spotted the bug, but Reggie didn’t know where that was.

The scary lady took Reggie’s hand. He tried to pull it away, but she held it tightly. So tightly her bony fingers were hurting him. Reggie couldn’t hold back the tears, as hard as he tried. Sometimes even big boys cried. Reggie knew that because he’d seen daddy crying, just last night. And daddy was a very big boy. Somehow, remembering daddy crying made Reggie STOP crying, while he thought about it.

Reggie hadn’t understood exactly why daddy was crying last night. It was something mommy said. Something about moving to a place with a very long name, with Vicente. Ree-oh-day something or other – Reggie remembered because it sounded a little like “rodeo”, and he’d been to the rodeo with daddy just a few weeks ago. The rodeo had horses and cowboys, and was fun.

Vicente was mommy’s boyfriend. Some mommies had boyfriends and other mommies had daddies, like Reggie’s friend, Alec. Alec’s mommy had Alec’s daddy, instead of a boyfriend. Reggie didn’t understand how that worked. Reggie’s mommy had Vicente, and only Reggie had Reggie’s daddy. But only sometimes. Mostly, he just had mommy and Vicente. And when Reggie had mommy and Vicente, daddy was alone. It made Reggie sad, thinking about daddy being alone.

When Reggie’s daddy had stopped crying last night, daddy talked to mommy some more in a low voice, so Reggie wouldn’t hear. But Reggie COULD hear. Reggie was lying on a blanket on the floor, watching a movie, but he had very good ears.   He could listen to his movie and the low talking at the same time. Mommy and daddy probably didn’t think he could, but they were wrong.

In his low voice, daddy told mommy that Ree-oh-day was too far away. That she had no right. He would fight it. There was no way. Mommy just said she DID have a right. He could fight it if he wanted, but he’d lose. Reggie knew fighting wasn’t good. He and Alec fought once, and Reggie’d had to sit in time out for a long time, and then go to bed early. Reggie wondered if mommy and daddy would need to go to time out if they fought. Probably they would.

The scary lady pulled Reggie by the arm toward the front of the store. Then, Reggie saw daddy standing by the counter, holding a bag. Daddy looked worried at first, but then when he saw Reggie he smiled a big happy smile. Reggie was so relieved he burst out crying again, tore his hand away from the lady and ran to daddy. Daddy scooped him up and hugged him.

Reggie felt glad to be back with daddy. But when that lady asked him about where his mommy was, it made Reggie miss mommy. Daddy had told him it might be a long time before Reggie could see mommy again. Reggie and daddy were going to go away together for a while, to a secret place. Until things could get sorted out, daddy said. But it needed to be a secret, just between Reggie and daddy. Mommy couldn’t know. Vicente couldn’t know. Alec couldn’t know. No one else could know. Not even the scary lady couldn’t know. Reggie had promised daddy.

Reggie and daddy walked out to the car together, a different car than the one daddy usually drove. Daddy got in front behind the steering wheel, and Reggie got in his booster seat in back. Daddy started the car and drove away. They were going to the secret place. No one else could know. Reggie felt like crying again.

But Reggie knew he was a big boy and big boys shouldn’t cry.

PC: David Clarke

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White Shoes

The old fashioned white baby shoes had originally belonged to Milo’s Aunt Cristina, who had no children of her own and wanted to pass them down to Milo’s baby daughter, Zoe. They were presented at a family party given for Milo and his wife, Liza, a few months before Zoe’s birth. The shoes were symbolic, really – babies didn’t need shoes, at least until they could walk, and by that time the shoes would likely be too small. And there were so many more practical options these days, anyway. Soft, comfortable shoes with padded insoles and Velcro instead of laces.

But Aunt Cristina was old fashioned and had wanted Milo’s firstborn to have these shoes, to be worn for formal photos, passed on to siblings, and eventually bequeathed to the next generation, or bronzed and made into keepsakes. Milo loved Aunt Cristina dearly and her gift made him smile when Liza opened it, both at his aunt’s sentiment and at his wife’s confusion. He kissed them both on the cheek, thanking Aunt Cristina and giggling playfully into Liza’s ear in turn, as he did so.

The pregnancy had seemingly gone well, but there were complications during Zoe’s birth. Liza’s labor was long, and Zoe’s legs had been severely damaged somehow during the birth, although she was otherwise healthy. The prognosis from the doctors was that Zoe would probably never walk.

Milo spent the evening after Zoe’s birth alone at their cold, empty apartment. He left his jacket on rather than bothering to adjust the thermostat. The cold seemed a fitting companion to his sad mood. The white baby shoes, which Liza had placed high on a shelf in the kitchen, stared upon him from above as he sat at the table drinking beer after beer. Finally, Milo couldn’t bear to look at them anymore, and took the shoes down and stuffed them in his jacket pocket.

In the middle of the night, after drinking the last of the beer from his refrigerator, Milo left the apartment to wander the deserted streets rather than going to bed. After an hour or so, he ended up at a park on the hill above his neighborhood, staring at the full moon. The bright moonlight silhouetted a line of perhaps fifteen pairs of shoes that hung from a power line at the edge of the park. Most were worn out athletic shoes, probably thrown there in fun by teenagers without malice of any kind.

But the shoes mocked Milo as they swayed gently in the cold night breeze. Athletic shoes worn out and thrown away by people who undoubtedly took for granted their ability to walk and run and wear out shoes. Things that Milo’s baby daughter would never be able to do.

Milo’s hands had been in his jacket pockets for warmth most of the night, and he’d been grasping the white baby shoes in his right hand when he’d noticed the line of shoes on the power line.   The beer and sadness and frustration and rage finally overcame Milo. He screamed and threw the white shoes at the power line with all his strength.

Rather than sailing past the line and down the hill on the other side, or hitting another pair of shoes and bouncing off as Milo had expected, the laces tying the shoes together caught the line perfectly. The old-fashioned, white baby shoes then dangled elegantly from the line in a gap between two pairs of ancient Adidas. Milo burst into tears and trudged home, defeated.

Aunt Cristina’s white baby shoes dangled from that power line in the park for a long time, before their laces finally gave out and the shoes dropped to the ground. For many years, they were something of a local attraction in the neighborhood. Mothers and fathers in the habit of bringing their children to the park in the evenings and on weekends to stroll and play would often point out the small shoes to their young ones, who were always fascinated by that one tiny pair of shoes hanging amid a line of much larger ones.

Milo and Liza, too, often brought Zoe to the park to see the baby shoes when she got old enough to begin walking and later running, in spite of the doctors’ earlier predictions. And Zoe always loved hearing Milo’s story about those white shoes and how they got there.

PC: Wes Hicks on Unsplash

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Road Kill

“Daddy, there’s a bird in the road,” my son says from the passenger seat.

It’s a special treat for him to ride in the front. At six years of age he’s normally relegated to the back. But today the back seat is full. Full of boxes, clothes, tools, books and other things. A shoe slips off the top of the pile and hits me on the head as I drive. I grab it over my shoulder and pitch it further back in the car.

These are my worldly possessions. All I still own in the world. My son’s mother has decided things will be better if I take these worldly possessions, and myself, to a new home. Away from her. Away from my son. I disagree things will be better, but have agreed to leave anyway, if only to shelter this small, sensitive boy from further distress.

My son is right. His keen young eyes have seen it long before I did. There’s a bird in the road up ahead, feasting on the carcass of some unlucky animal that lost its battle with a rubber tire.

“Don’t run over it, Daddy.”

“I won’t,” I say. “It’ll fly away before we get to it.”

I slow the car slightly, and the bird does indeed fly away. But I fail to notice a second bird a short distance from the first. The second bird doesn’t fly away. There is a small thumping noise and the second bird meets the same fate as the unlucky animal it had been enjoying for dinner a few seconds before.

My son misses nothing. A slow, fat tear trails down his cheek.

“Will the birdie’s family be sad when he doesn’t come home anymore?” he asks in a tiny voice.

My heart breaks.

 

PC: Lily lvnatikk on Unsplash

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