Spring 2012

Table of Contents - Vol. VIII, No. 1


Poetry    Translations     Fiction    Essays    Reviews   

Adelaide B. Shaw



“I don’t want anything to do with him,” Paula slammed her coffee mug on the table. She was a woman in her mid-sixties with a rounded figure. She ran the fingers of her free hand through her short gray hair, a tendency she had when agitated.
“He’s a sick man.” Jack reached across the table and took her hand.
“So what? Did he care when I was in the hospital five years ago? He knew about it. Or when Bobby broke his arm? Where was Lenny then? Sent toys to Bobby, but couldn’t come 100 miles to see his son. And not even a card for me when I was sick. Lenny walked out on me leaving me with two babies and no money and no job. I owe him nothing.”
Jack sighed. Paula had been refusing for three days to see Lenny or let the boys even know he was in the hospital.
“Paula, it’s 20 years since the divorce. He may be dying and wants to make amends.”
“Too late for that.” She got up, scraping the chair across the floor before shoving it back with a bang.
How could Lenny make amends? The last time he came to see Bobby and Dave was seven years ago. The boys don’t care anymore. That meeting was awkward. They were sullen when they came home from the baseball game. That their team lost was not the real reason for the long faces.
“So when do the boys have the pleasure of your company again?” Paula had asked Lenny before he left.
“Ummmm...I dunno. Hard to say when I’ll be down this way again. I’ve got a new territory further north now. Hard to say, but I’ll keep in touch.”
Keeping in touch meant a few postcards, the irregular support payments for the boys, Christmas gifts of money and promises to come to town. What does he expect now? A loving family around him to ease his way into the next life? A life in Hell is what he deserved.
“Paula, it’s the Christmas season.” Jack went after her, his tall, lanky form taking the steps quickly.
“Christmas was over two weeks ago.”
“So? Doesn’t your good will extend past Christmas?”
For an answer, Paula ran up the stairs and slammed the bedroom door. She lay herself on the bed, playing over in her mind all of Jack’s arguments. “Lenny is their father. They should have the right to decide for themselves. They're 22 and 23 now, no longer children.”
Right, right. All those years Lenny missed. The childhood years. The teenage years. The college years. That they had any life at all was thanks to Jack who had been more a father than Lenny had ever been.
Thinking of the past exhausted her. Taking several deep breaths she began to relax and slept. When she awoke it was dusk. Jack had left a note on the dresser. “Gone to the hospital.”
Oh Lord! What could Jack do? What would he do? Jack and Lenny had met a few times on Lenny’s rare visits. Jack, always polite and cordial, made casual conversation with Lenny, trying to put him at ease. Jack had a gift for doing that. And a kind heart.
O.K. O.K.... She would tell her sons. They could do what they wanted.

* * * *

“The boys already knew,” Jack said when he returned. “Lenny got the hospital to contact them. They were there. He named Bobby as his health care proxy.”
“And Bobby agreed?” Paula moved from counter to stove as she prepared dinner. The normal everyday activity would help to keep her calm.
“Yeah, he agreed. Lenny’s drawn a will leaving everything to the boys, which are only his personal things and a small insurance policy. The doctor and I were witnesses. And, the boys gave blood. So did I.”
Paula sat down. All this news was coming too fast, hitting her in the face like a desert sand storm. It took her breath away.
Jack went over to the cabinet where the liquor was kept and poured out a shot of brandy for Paula. “Here. You look about to faint.”
“Isn’t it any wonder?” She swallowed the brandy in one gulp, feeling the fire in her throat and stomach. “What’s this about giving blood? Is Lenny dying?”
“Noooo...not so soon, anyway. He’s got a blood condition, not Leukemia, but something else---a cancer of the blood. He’s had three transfusions. I’m not a match, but it goes into the blood bank as a credit for Lenny.”
Paula heard the words, but understood none of them. Bobby and Dave. Health care proxy. Transfusions. Named in Lenny’s will. She felt like she had come into the middle of a movie. The plot made no sense.
Jack stood behind Paula and began to rub her shoulders. “He’s a sick man. Very weak. And, he’s alone.”
Paula was afraid of what was coming next. This should not be happening. It was against all odds. A deserting husband, a womanizer, a bad father...welcomed back by his sons and her husband. “Why did Lenny come back here? He was living upstate, wasn’t he?”
“To make amends, like I said before. He retired two years ago, and now he gave up his furnished apartment and moved down here four months ago with the intention of getting in touch with you and the boys. But…he began feeling sick right after he moved and didn’t want to contact you while he was not feeling well. He didn’t want to cry for sympathy.”
“Sympathy. He doesn’t deserve any.” She moved away from Jack and went to the stove. After some banging around with the pots and a spoon, she sat down again.
Jack sat opposite her and reached across to take her hand.”He wanted to take the boys to some football games last fall, get in some golf, but...well...he got sick.”
Paula waited for Jack to say more, to ask for something on Lenny’s behalf. Jack was like that, always more aware of people’s needs than she was. “Anything else,” she asked.
“No. That’s the whole of the visit, except that he’ll probably be in the hospital another week.”
So, for now, nothing more. It will come. Paula sensed it in the air, like an approaching storm in summer–the thick, heavy atmosphere threatening thunder and lightning.

* * * *

After Lenny was back in his small apartment Bobby and Dave made regular visits a few times a week, bringing food and driving him to do his shopping when he felt too tired to drive himself. Jack was another frequent visitor.
On a snowy morning in late February Jack was getting ready to go out.
“Where?” Paula asked.
“I called Lenny earlier. He’s got a doctor’s appointment and was going to drive himself there, but he sounded tired. I said I would drive him. He may need another transfusion. It’s been two months since he had some fresh blood. The doctor said he may need it every couple of months.”
“He’s going to bleed you dry,” Paula said. “No pun intended, but he’s pulling you into his life.”
“I don’t mind, Paula. Anyway, he’s family.”
“He’s not your family. I don’t understand you and the boys. How can they forgive and forget so easily?”
“They haven’t forgotten. As for forgiving…I don’t know. They seem to be taking things from now, going forward, not back. When was the last time you saw them or even talked to them? At Dave’s birthday dinner, wasn’t it? It was eat and run with you.”
“I didn’t want to talk about Lenny. You said they should do what they wanted. So, I’m letting them. I don’t have to like it.”
Jack looked as if he would speak, but only shrugged instead and gave Paula a quick kiss before leaving.
After lunch the snow had stopped, and the sun broke through the heavy clouds. The sun was warm, and already the snow was beginning to melt. Maybe this would be the last snow of the season. There was the smell of spring coming, a lightness to the breeze and a freshness in the air. When Paula left the house she kept her coat unbuttoned and her knit cap and gloves in her pockets. She drove to the village center where Bobby worked in an accountant’s office.
While she waited for him to finish with a client she looked around the office with its tasteful blue tweed upholstered chairs and maple tables. Bobby was studying for his MA degree at night, and in a few years he hoped to become a partner in the firm. He was doing all right. So was Dave, a computer whiz with his own repair shop. They had grown up to be fine young men, thanks to Jack whom she had married two years after her divorce. Lenny had nothing to do with their success. It was all Jack’s and her doing. Lenny deserved nothing from them, yet they were doting on him as if he had been the perfect father.
“Hi, Mom. This is a surprise. Come in.” Stocky and broad shouldered, Bobby looked like a linebacker, which he had been in college. He gave Paula a hug and a kiss and got her a cup of coffee from the small kitchen in the back. “What brings you here?” he asked, sitting himself behind his desk.
“Your father. No, he didn’t send me.” She told him about Jack taking Lenny to the doctor. “Jack thinks I’m being too hard on you and Dave because you’re helping your father.”
“Well...we know you’re still angry with him, but why are you angry with us? You don’t call and when we call you, you cut the conversation short.”
“How can you forgive and forget the past so easily? I owe all my love and allegiance to Jack. If he hadn’t come along when he did I don’t know how we would have survived. Your father was in and out of jobs. There were no regular support or alimony payments. Of course, I’m angry. He was irresponsible and remained so.”
Paula sipped her coffee. She really didn’t want it, but it helped in her effort to remain calm and reasonable. She would listen to Bobby’s explanations without emotion.
“I know the payments weren’t regular, but he tried when he was working.”
“He could have visited. Years went by without you and Dave seeing him.”
“When we were little Dave and I made up fantasies about Dad being on secret missions. His sales jobs were just a cover. He couldn’t contact us because if his enemies found out we would be in danger.”
“Good heavens!” Paula had to smile. The ingenuity and imagination of children were amazing. “So, because of this fantasy you didn’t come to hate him?”
“We never hated him. We had plenty of love from you and Jack, so we never felt deprived of love. We...” Bobby put his elbows on the desk and rested his chin on his hands. Paula waited for him to begin again. “We felt a distance from him like he wasn’t a real person, but more like a character in a movie. In our minds he was this daring secret service agent. Remember when he sent postcards from Berlin and Hong Kong and Moscow? He wrote that he was a tractor rep, but Dave and I were certain then he was a CIA agent.”
“Surely, you must have given up that fantasy years ago?”
“Yeah, when he came to visit the last time. We realized he was just what he said he was. A sales rep for whatever company that would hire him.”
“And that’s why you were so glum when you got home, wasn’t it?”
“It was mostly because the Mets lost. That day we told Dad about what we thought he had been doing, and he almost laughed himself sick. That made us mad, his laughing, but then he apologized and said the story was great. That we were great kids to imagine we had such a brave father, that he was pleased and proud of us. It was a strange day. I guess when he left we were a little disappointed, but never enough to hate him.”
“Did he say why he didn’t visit more often?”
“Sometimes it was lack of money or the distance was too far. Sometimes he was depressed about life and his choices and he felt guilty and would talk himself out of coming because he thought we would be better off not seeing him.”
What a lot of excuses, Paula thought.
“Dave and I believe him, Mom.” Bobby said it softly and with sincerity.
Paula sighed, knowing she would have to make a move. She pushed her half drunk coffee away and got ready to leave. “I’m sorry I was angry with you and Dave. I have no right to be, and I’m not anymore.” It was a relief not to be angry with her sons.
Bobby went with her to the outside door of the office. More people were about in the village, taking in the unexpected warmth of the day. The morning’s snow was nearly melted. It only remained in the shade and where it had been plowed into piles.
“Feels like spring,” Bobby said.
“Perhaps a false spring,” Paula said looking up at the blue sky. “It’s early yet.”
“What will you do?” Bobby asked. “About Dad?”
Paula paused before answering. Lenny would most likely get sicker. Need more help with living and with expenses. He would need more company, more support, more blood, more compassion, all of which the boys and Jack were willing to give freely.
“I don’t know,” she said, “but for now, I’ll go to his apartment and visit. Jack may still be there. As for later...well...we’ll have to see.”
As she went to her car and felt the warmth of the sun on her face she thought that maybe there would be an early spring.


© Adelaide B. Shaw



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