Allen “Al” Druthers

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They say smell triggers memory.

On that morning, as with every morning since he’d begun waking up alone, the first scent to grace his senses is that of cinnamon and some other spicy herb he’d never learned the name of. It’s the smell of home. Of Emma.

He often sees her young and vibrant, laughing in a summer dress and throwing acorns at his head because, as she jokingly tells him, he has “nuts for brains.” The dress is purple, her favorite color, because, as she puts it, it has the potential to be an incredibly warm color or a soothingly cool one. She takes his hand gently, just as she has for decades, calls him an “old duffer,” and he can feel the slight weight of her hand wasting away, see the thinning of her hair, sees her when she has none.

On that morning, he turns to see her empty pillow beside him and wonders how long he’s got of remembering a lifetime in the stillness of their house. He wonders why it is that even when two people find the one they’re meant to be with for the rest of their lives, one of them still has to die alone.

It’s nine a.m. and his show has already started, so he shuffles out of bed and opens a window to air out the smell of cinnamon and something else. Sometimes he finds comfort in the memories, but right now, they’re keeping him from starting his day.

He takes the steps slowly, one at a time, turning his body slightly to the side, conjuring images of his daughter’s early days of descending the stairs and holding onto the railing for dear life, each step a misstep away from possible death on her impossibly small feet. He’s not helpless. He’s proud of being able to live alone at his age. But there are times he wonders if it wouldn’t have been smart to move the bedroom downstairs like his daughter wanted. It would be safer, she’d said.

Little Gracie had inherited her mother’s generosity and her father’s forthrightness. No one knew where she had inherited her pragmatism. As far as the Druthers and Ratchetts were concerned, it certainly didn’t come from any of their sides of the family, what with not a lick of sense between the lot. The Druthers and Ratchetts were notorious dreamers and Al and Em were afflicted the worst.

Prone to romantic gestures, they sometimes embarrassed their families, who were considered silly enough by the community. Al’s father had been a master puppeteer who had wooed his mother by breaking the fourth wall and having Sir Charmsalot – a stalwart knight puppet – produce a bouquet of rice paper flowers to the beautiful young lady in the front row.

It should have been in Gracie’s blood to be swept away by daydreams and fancy. Instead, she was always level-headed and dripping with practicality. He often wonders if they hadn’t had her so late in life, if perhaps younger parents would have been able to coax the dreamer out of her.

He turns on the radio and gingerly pulls out the items he needs to fry a few eggs and slap them on toast. Everything is slower these days. His joints, his back, his once-nimble hands that had crafted cabinets and the occasional wooden puppet.

He’s caught up in his thoughts, as usual, so it is a long while before he notices something is not right.

The voice he listens to most mornings with his breakfast isn’t spewing forth amusing anecdotes of a bygone era. It isn’t a story at all.

“…sorry, folks. It’s just very strange. My producer and sound editor failed to come into work today and I guess several other people in the studio are gone, too…I just…it’s so unprofessional, I don’t know what to say…I’ll continue with ‘Dirks’ Fussy Ford Part 4′ after the commercial break…if I can figure out the switchboard…”

Allen Druthers finds this unsettling. After all, the radio has never failed him before. Like the TV, it could be relied on for a steady drone of sound. What was the world coming to that people working on a live broadcast would decide to play hookey without even leaving behind a political statement the walk-out is a demonstration of?

At the risk of sounding old – which, yes, he acknowledges that he is – it’s all the younger generation’s fault. They’re eager to be political, but they’re lousy at it. They stand for everything, but no one knows exactly what they want to accomplish for all their stances. He, too, dreams of a beautiful world and he chooses to pursue it by making beautiful things.

His show completed somewhat haltingly, and his breakfast finished with the dishes washed and drying on the rack, he shuffles into the living room and turns on the TV. It’s odd. Some channels are playing yesterday’s reruns, others are in a state of disarray, one is indefinitely running the emergency broadcast screen of death.

He is waiting for the phone call he gets every afternoon. She’s late. He tries not to worry and busies himself with an old episode of Murphy Brown, but by the time Golden Girls comes on, he decides to call her himself.

He tries her home number first, but gets the answering machine. Her cell phone goes straight to voice mail. He tries her husband. He tries her daughter’s cell. When he hears the foreboding sound of the automated voice mail, he’s afraid for Gracie. She is punctual and always lets him know her plans for the day in case something happens to either one of them. His first instinct is to call the police and immediately feels foolish for wanting to waste public resources in such a way.

He could handle this himself.

He takes his own cellular phone with him and pads out onto the sidewalk, down to the end of the block and waits for a bus that takes more time than he feels it should take for one to arrive. His mind is filled with scenarios of horror. He de-boards at the appropriate stop and shuffles as fast as he can to Gracie’s yellow three-bedroom home. The car is parked in the driveway still.

He’s too old for this. When his baby grew up and got married, he thought he’d shifted responsibility of her well-being to her kindly and gentle husband, but a father never stops worrying. Even at the ripe age of eighty-seven.

He knocks and rings the doorbell and knocks again and finally just uses the spare key he’s always had since they bought the house. He checks the rooms one by one, calling out for somebody, anybody…but no one answers him.

It’s only when he’s sitting, lost, at the kitchen table, fighting panic tears that he sees a folded piece of paper on the refrigerator held in place by a magnet that says “THINK POSITIVE.” On the outside, written in his little girl’s script is “For Daddy.”

Jumping to his feet and snatching the note from its ominous perch, he unfolds it and feels his world shrivel into nothingness with every word. It simply says:

“I’m sorry, Daddy. I had to. I had no choice. I’ll think of you and Mom everyday and how much you both have given me. Thank you so much for everything. I’ve hired a nurse to check on you daily and help you with groceries once a week. Please know I love you so much and wish I had been able to take you with us. I hope you’ll come to understand and forgive me when we meet again…with all the love in the world, your Gracie.”

He stares at it, not able to understand what she is trying to tell him, only that he knows he is truly alone now. He is clutching the note to his chest, weeping, wondering why, and so terribly afraid of his future. He can’t stay here. He finds himself outside, the sunshine warm on his back, trying desperately to stop the trembling in his body and the low wail slipping out from deep within his chest.

A breeze blows and he clutches the letter tighter in his hand. It is his last link to family. He can’t let it be taken from him.

Something flutters at his feet and with some effort—and perhaps a wish to focus on something besides the loneliness—stoops to pick it up. It’s a pamphlet of some kind. He reads it and stands there stupidly for some time.

How could he have done everything right in his life and still end up abandoned at the end?


Author: CS Kay

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: harmonics 1 and several other things « tales of the activated
  2. EK
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 04:40:00

    AWwwwwwwwwwww. Poor grampa. Awwwwwww.

    Reply

  3. Trackback: Update, A Square Paradise « creativewenches
  4. Chance Carroll
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 12:29:21

    😦

    Reply

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