A Short Story by Fabian Black
A random act of violence against a proud elderly man triggers family tragedy that resonates down the years.
Eoin decides it's time to bring closure once and for all when his partner Robert again succumbs to self-destructive guilt and grief.
The story is told as a series of ‘snapshots’ for reasons that will become apparent.
After straightening his tie in the mirror, Edward Brighton smoothed a little Brylcreem through his hair, which even with the advance of years was still abundant, albeit silver instead of brown.
Stepping back, he inspected himself in the glass: smart grey suit, white shirt, red and black regimental tie, black shoes polished to a gleaming shine, as were the campaign medals pinned to his jacket.
Yes, he gave a snappy little nod of satisfaction, he’d do. Heading briskly into the kitchen he set about stage two of his carefully planned day.
Opening a tin of best red salmon he mashed it into a ceramic bowl and put it down on the floor, smiling with affection as Bill, his companion of almost eighteen years set about it with purrs of relish.
“That’s my good boy.” Stooping down he ran a hand along the cat’s broad black back. “You enjoy, you deserve it, my loyal friend. I’m going to start work in the living room. You come when you’re ready.”
Walking down the narrow hall, Edward once again halted in front of the oblong wall mirror, letting his eyes rest on his face, studying the bruising he fancied still lingered around his eyes and cheekbones. Healing was a much slower process when you reached a certain age.
Standing a little straighter, he tried to remember the man he’d once been, a proud man who had survived long years of war, spending two of them in a POW camp. Duty as a soldier was followed by duty as a civil servant. He had served his country well in times of war and peace. As an exercise to reclaim pride it was a failure. All that memory returned was humiliation, the humiliation of being attacked by two teenagers as he left his place of work for the last time after his retirement party.
Quite a retirement, to be presented with a gold watch and having it stolen from him before he could even lay it on his dressing table to gather dust. Not that he really cared about the watch, after all, who wanted to hear the lonely, unfocussed years after retirement ticking them onto the grave, certainly not him. He’d resisted the process for as long as he could, retiring much later than most. The ubiquitous timepiece had caught up with him in the end though, until it was stolen.
Lying in a hospital bed after the savage attack, he dwelled on the fact that for the first time in his life he’d been unable to defend himself. He’d felt helpless and weak. The acrid, shameful smell of his own fear pervaded his nostrils and wouldn’t go away.
Turning away from the mirror he went into his small neat living room. Walking across to the low mantelpiece he carefully checked and arranged the contents. There was a framed photograph at one end of the mantelshelf and he picked it up, smiling with bittersweet remembrance, as he gazed on the faces of his wife and son forever frozen in time. His wife Lily had gone to her rest long before him, he still missed her. She was an echo that resonated in his mind and affections. He wished he had hope of meeting her again, but the ugly brutality of war had taken away all vestiges of faith he once had in a kind God and afterlife resurrection. Death was a final act, a fall of eternal darkness, and a long sleep beyond the frontiers of time.
Once Edward was sure everything was in good order, he sat down at the table and wrote out several notes and lists, before writing his weekly letter to his only son John. He glanced across at the photograph on the mantelpiece again. It showed John as a child with his mother. Of course the child was long grown, a successful businessman now. In the letter he expressed sad regret that John had been unable to make it down for his birthday or his retirement party, and to say of course he didn’t mind that he hadn’t been able to visit him when he was in hospital. He understood the pressures of work all too well. A man had to provide for his family.
He enquired after John’s second wife Maggie, sending her best wishes, and then asked for love to be conveyed to his only grandson, saying he must be quite changed from when he’d last seen him, almost a year ago. Children grew so fast. It seemed hardly a moment since John was a little boy.
He also thanked his son and daughter-in-law for their joint birthday-come-retirement present. It had arrived in the post the day before yesterday, a fortnight late for his birthday, but then the postal service wasn’t quite what it used to be, much like everything in life. It was a splendid gift.
After hesitating for a moment, Edward did something he’d never done before, he gave way to sentiment, signing the letter with the words: ‘with fond memories of silver trains and painted sailing boats, happy days, other times, my son, much love, your dad.’
Neatly folding the letter he slid it into an envelope, addressed it, stuck on a stamp and walked to the corner of the street to post it.
Home again, he paused on the doorstep, gazing around his garden, pleased with its smart appearance. The roses had been particularly fine this year. On impulse he plucked a small pale orange blossom from the climber around the porch, inhaled its sweet scent and then tucked it into his buttonhole. He wanted to look his best for the occasion he was about to attend.