The sad story of a successful man.
by Harry Buschman
He heard his mother coming downstairs. He heard her slippered feet scuff slowly across the foyer, then the dining room. Suddenly, there she was in front of him, twisting her fingers together, as though she were wringing out a wet rag.
“Isn’t there a football game this afternoon, Errol?”
“Yes, a home game with Baldwin.”
“I can’t believe you’re missing it. First home game of the season, isn’t it? … When I was your age … “
“It was different then, Mom.”
“You really should get out more, Errol. It isn’t fair to you, staying here alone with me.”
“It’s okay Mom, really. There’s a test in logic Monday … I’ve got to bone up on that.”
She got up and walked to the window and pulled the drape to one side. As she looked out, she said quietly,
“No you don’t.”She knew there was no test Monday.
He heard his mother crying last night and he knew she’d be alone again this weekend. He looked up at her standing at the window and thought … “What an asshole he is––the least he could do is be home for the weekend.”
He noticed her arms were folded, her hands clenching and unclenching into fists.
“Mom, you’re making me nervous. Why don’t you get away from the window, you know he’s not coming.”
“I think I’ll make a pot of tea. Are you hungry, Errol? You didn’t have much for lunch.” She let the drape fall back into place slowly, like the closing of a stage curtain, then she turned and walked to Errol sitting at the little Winthrop desk in the corner. She reached out and cupped his narrow shoulders in her hands. “What will we do, Errol? Whatever will we do?”
Errol glanced up from his papers, his mother was still looking back across the room at the window. “I’m not hungry, Mom,” was all he could think of to say.
These moments were more frequent now that his father had been assigned to UN Headquarters in New York. He used to call In the beginning and explain why he couldn’t get home when he was in Washington but his reasons grew tired and automatic. It was rare to see him around the house on weekends now, and even when he did come home there was a heavy silence. The slightest noise could be heard––the closing of a door, the clearing of a throat and the almost incessant sound of his voice on the telephone. When he talked to his mother, he called her “Dear,” it was a word Errol learned to hate.
“Do you think we could have less starch in the collars, Dear?”
“I’ll speak to Mady, Dear. If it’s a problem I’ll let you know.”
It was “Dear” this and “Dear” that. They had been “Dears” to each other so long, Errol was sure they had forgotten each other’s name.
Errol listened to them and heard the silence, echoing in the canyon that separated them. He wondered how long they would stay together. Who would get him? His mother? His father? Or was he, like a family heirloom begotten in better times, destined to be shared by both of them? It wasn’t his choice. Not really. It would surely be his mother, she was the only one who knew him. His father was little more than a stick figure he saw occasionally, a man who had no time for him. Whenever Errol thought of his father, he had a mental image of an extra man at a party, someone invited to even the balance of male and female.
… but his mother wasn’t well. He knew that, and he dreaded the day something would have to be done about it. She would have good days when the energy flowed from her the way it used to. She would make plans for tomorrow. But when tomorrow came the plans would be forgotten and she would be sick again. He was seventeen now and old enough to do something about it …
“There’s something wrong, Doctor. It’s as though something slips and all of a sudden she can’t remember––like amnesia.”
“Are you alone with her now, Errol?”
“Yes, Doctor … she’s sleeping.”
“Where’s your father?”
“I don’t know.”
“Errol, I’m not a neurologist––neither are you. Amnesia’s not a joking matter, you know.”
“I know it isn’t, Doctor.”
“There’s retrograde, anterograde, hysterical … it takes a specialist to know. Why don’t you have your father call me?”
“It doesn’t matter to him, Doctor.”
It was a very troubling call to Doctor Waltzer. He thought the real problem might be Errol, and he checked his records––childhood diseases, that was all. The worst had been a severely sprained ankle at the age of fourteen. He decided to call Errol’s father, but after two futile attempts to reach him at the embassy––he forgot about it.
He remembered it again when the hospital called him.
She was in ER; Uterine hemorrhage––Errol was with her, not her husband––Errol.
Doctor Waltzer called the police, who eventually found Errol’s father en route from UN Headquarters to Washington, DC a day later. He was shocked, and had “no idea,” she was ill. He was a day late and a dollar short.
The funeral was a political affair. Errol sat in the family room watching people he had never met come and go.
Some of them stopped to remind him how fortunate he was to have such a distinguished father.
“He is very close to you, Errol, I know you’ll do all you can to make things easier for him.”
“He is the backbone of the Delegation, Errol – a true patriot.”
None of these people, not one, had ever met his mother. It was odd, he thought, his father was as much a stranger to him as his mother was to these people. He stood and walked to the casket to get away from them––to see her pale face once more. Seeing her there, he tried to think if they had ever been a family. Except for today, this day––the day of her funeral, had they ever done anything together? Had they ever been happy in each other’s company? He couldn’t remember a time when his father wasn’t waiting for a call.
One year later…
His father was well dressed, he wore a dark three piece suit, black shoes and a dark gray fedora. He looked vaguely ambassadorial as he stood at the ticket counter watching people come through the arrival gate.
He was waiting for Errol.
He saw him walking with his head down, a young carelessly dressed boy wearing a backpack and a dark red sweater with a large “C” crocheted into its front.
There was little resemblance between him and his son.
“Errol,” he called. “Errol, this way.” They looked at each other without expression. The boy looked down again.
“Good flight?” his father asked.
“Your luggage will be at carrousel 4, I heard the announcement.”
Errol continued walking. “I don’t have any luggage.”
“But it’s spring break, you have two weeks, Errol.” He hesitated, then hurried to catch up with him. They walked past the carrousel and out the revolving doors to the curb. Against all regulations prohibiting parking curbside in front of the terminal, there was a diplomatic limo waiting for them. The driver flipped open the trunk and came around to open the rear passenger door. Errol and his father climbed into the back seat. The driver took Errol’s backpack, put it in the trunk and closed the lid. He waved a brief thank you to the policeman on duty, got in and drove off.
“Why don’t you have luggage, Errol?”
“I’m going back to school tomorrow morning.”
“But it’s closed, isn’t it?”
“No. Doctor Schroeder is working on a math project. He invited me to work with him. It’s a great opportunity.”
“Why did you come home at all then?”
“I wanted to see the old house before you sold it.”
His father turned and looked out the window of the limousine. “I’ll drive out with you after lunch.”
Errol shrugged. “You don’t have to. Aren’t you busy? You’re always busy.”
“I work for the government, Errol. It’s not my fault I’m busy. It’s not so bad at the moment, there’s a new administration.” He turned to look out the window again.
“Besides. I’ve changed the locks on the house.”
“Why’d you do that?”
“I’m putting it up for sale, the agent said it was a good idea to change the locks.”
“Everything still there?”
“Until Saturday. Then everything’s going into storage.”
“Well almost everything. The furniture, silver, the glassware. It will all be yours some day.”
“I wanted to go through the photo albums.”
“I think they packed them with the books. There’s a lot of books––she read a lot … “
“There was nothing else to do, she was alone all the time.”
They rode in silence for a time with the full width of the seat between them. Errol’s father seemed desperate for something to say … “You … you like math don’t you?”
“It’s pure. It’s something you can depend on.”
“Right or wrong, you mean.”
The limo pulled into the V.I.P. parking garage at the UN, it paused a moment at security then the driver parked in the US Delegate’s section on the first level. His father snapped to his professional bearing when he and Errol got out …
“We’ll be two hours or so William. Then we’ll be taking off for Connecticut. Why don’t you get something to eat while we have lunch.”
The dining room was quiet and nearly empty when he and Errol sat at a table for two by the window overlooking the river. Errol ignored the view and stared at his father …
“Are you going to re-marry?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t given it much thought.” They sat without speaking. His father leaned forward, “ … the man with the goatee. See him?”
“Yes, I see him.”
“He’s the delegate from Belgium.
“Is that why you eat here? All these important people?”
“A lot of work gets done at lunch.”
“It must have been pretty boring coming home to Mom and me.”
“Oh, no––you learn to leave all this here when you start for home––how’s your salad?”
“Not bad. Tastes like the food in the school cafeteria.”
“What did you mean when you asked me if I was going to re-marry?”
“I thought you would, that’s all. It’s almost a year now.”
Errol pushed his plate away and sat back. “Maybe marriage is not for you …. maybe it never was.”
“Now careful, Errol. I’m your father. You’ve got no right … you don’t know the half …”
“It was the only half I saw.”
“There’s another half. My half. You never heard my half, did you Errol?”
They stared at each other for a second or two. Each of them blind to the feelings of the other. Finally, his father stood and reached into his side pocket. “Here’s a set of keys to the house. I’ll get William to drive you to Connecticut. You can spend the night there if you want. What time is your plane tomorrow?”
“11 in the morning.”
“He’ll pick you up at 8:30 … how are you fixed for money? … do you need anything?”
“I’m all right.”
“I’m glad you’re doing well in school, Errol.” He looked down at Errol and drummed his fingers on the table, He smiled weakly––such a strange boy, he thought. A lot of his mother in him. “I have to go, Errol. I have a meeting later this afternoon. You can find your way to the garage by yourself, can’t you? William should be back from lunch by now.”
“Don’t worry about me. You’d better go, you’ll be late for your meeting.”
“You’re going to be all right, aren’t you?”
“I’ll be fine. I just want to pick up the photo album, I want to have the pictures with me. I’ll spend the night there and go back to school in the morning.”
His father looked at his watch and shook his head. He put his napkin on the table and stood up. “It didn’t have to be like this, you know.”
“That’s right, it could have been a lot different.”
Wow, you never cease to amaze me Harry, or disappoint. I thought this was a brilliantly described story of a life we are all familiar with. TV shows are littered with such lives, never better described than this.
Thanks for continuing to post.
Very glad you liked it Mike. There’s a lot unsaid, and I’ve learned through the years that the loudest voices are the ones we can’t hear
Rather sad, isn’t it? The generational gap. The chasm between father and son. The going on their separate ways. For some reason, the lyrics of Harry Chapin’s song, ‘Cat’s In The Cradle’ came to mind: My child arrived just the other day He came to the world in the usual way But there were planes to catch and bills to pay He learned to walk while I was away… But these are just the obvious results of a non-relationship. Your title causes me to think you are speaking of a deeper divide, something more profoundly wrong. Or missing. That this… Read more »
Superb writing as always. Another well-deserved nomination. I also love your comment to Mike, that the the loudest voices are the ones we can’t hear. That sums up what the art of short story writing is all about – at least for me. You have become one of the main reasons that I visit this site.
Thank you all. It hurt to write it, especially with election day right around the corner. I’ll try to be optimistic next time.
So it is meant as a reflection on our culture. Our politics. What we value.
Very powerful, Harry.
Harry, I’m going to swim against the stream for this one. The writing talent is there, but you belabour your point here. There is no movement in the characters. They are the same at the end as they were at the beginning and nothing happens that we can’t foresee. Also, the section from Dr Waltzer’s POV was an intrusion. If you do any more work on this story, find a way to stick with your characters POV. Errol can phone the police. Sorry, but I guess we can’t win ’em all.