Faith Hope & Fiction

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Never Alone

Original Fiction by

Mark F. Geatches

I t was Tuesday, June 6th. Jim awoke to the unkind buzz of his alarm clock. Though he no longer worked, the watchful sentinel continued to jar him awake five days a week. When he rolled over to silence the alarm, his head jerked away from the cold, wet pillow. He flipped it over and lay in bed, listening to the hypnotizing drone of the city. Jim imagined the discord as a new age symphony with God as composer, man as conductor and musician.

So many rhythms. So many dissonances, he thought, pushing himself from the repressing mattress. He stretched and his mood brightened instantly. Today will be different.

Jim had recently recast his lifestyle at his parents’ insistence. Their return to New York City after a twelve-week absence was sudden and though they remained self-sufficient they were greedy for his attention. Their wealth made it possible for Jim to retire early and devote himself more or less to their whims. Jim feared this would prove both liberating and confining.

As he went about his morning ritual Jim became emotional for reasons he couldn’t fathom. He loved his parents more than anything in the world and considered himself blessed to once again have them near. But somehow feelings of solitude remained, a looming sense of loss he couldn’t pin down.

He pushed those thoughts away as he focused on applying toilet paper to two razor nicks. As he left the bathroom, he picked up his phone and dialed his mother’s cell number. The phone rang two times before a familiar voice answered.

“Good morning, Mother. How are you this morning?” He listened for a moment before continuing, “Yes, yes I’m fine. Is Father awake yet?” He squinted and grasped the phone tighter before adding, “Well, you tell him to get out of bed. I expect to play golf today with or without him.” After another pause he went on, “Okay Mom. I’ll have my phone with me. Just have him give me a call when he’s ready.” Jim held his breath before closing, “I love you too, Mother.”

Jim’s phone and his heart broke into a thousand pieces. Falling to the cold floor he screamed, “What’s happening to me?”

Tears sprinkled the tile as he attempted to pick up the pieces of the phone he couldn’t remember shattering. “Get control of yourself, man,” he whispered as he buried the useless electronics in the garbage.

The remainder of the morning dragged on like a boring sermon before Jim sat for an early lunch at an outdoor café. An hour before, his father had confirmed their golf outing for early that afternoon. Filled with unfamiliar trepidation over their meeting, Jim pushed away from the table leaving much of his lunch uneaten.

Jim hailed a taxi and sat quietly in the back seat, dreading the reunion with his father. By the time the Crown Victoria pulled into the parking lot of the country club, Jim’s face was flush and beads of sweat had formed on his upper lip. His palms were so wet with perspiration he had trouble lifting the heavy golf bag from the trunk. Maybe I’m getting ill. He wiped his forehead on his shirt sleeve.

The valet greeted him with a broad smile. “Hello, Jim. It’s so nice to see you again.”

Jim’s troubled expression stopped the valet short of further interaction. He ordered a small bucket of balls to hit at the range while he awaited his father’s arrival. The uniform balls transformed into transparent white orbs filled with moments in time. Each new ball he placed on the tee flooded his senses with a poignant detail of one of the many rounds of golf he and his father enjoyed. Every angry swing brought forth a particular word of advice, a comment on work or politics, a shared laugh.

The taxi was nearing his apartment when Jim realized he had stood his father up, leaving the country club before he arrived. When Jim got home he tossed his clubs in the closet and dropped onto the couch exhausted.

He texted his father: Sorry Dad. Don’t know what got into me today. I may have picked up a bug. I promise I’ll make it for dinner tonight. Can’t wait to see you and Mother. J

Jim decided to walk to his parents’ Upper West Side apartment. He reasoned the half hour walk would do him good, helping him shake off these nagging feelings of sadness. He admonished himself repeatedly, that today should be a joyous day, as he made his way under a canopy of concrete, glass, and blue sky. Then a sinister thought occurred. Maybe this foreboding is a premonition of some sort. Though Jim wasn’t superstitious, he quickened his pace realizing that seeing his parents in the flesh was the only thing that would release him from these inexplicably dark thoughts.

Traveling up Central Park West, Jim was able to pick out Jennings, the familiar doorman. He was thinner, but undeniably the man Jim had known for many years. Jim began to feel ill. His stomach turned when Jennings recognized him from a distance. A bitter taste filled his mouth.

“Jim. My goodness, it’s good to see you,” Jennings called over a passing couple. “I’m so sorr─”

“Hello. Good to see, too. I hope you’ve been well. I’ve come to dine with my parents.”

Jennings’ kind expression froze in place before he stuttered, “I . . . I’m not sure I understand.”

“Please, don’t joke with me. It’s been a trying day. Just get the door please.”

“Jim, you know I can’t do that. Only ─”

“What are you trying to say? You’re stopping me? Maybe you’ve been off work for a time and haven’t been properly versed. My parents moved back this week and they’re expecting me for supper. Please kindly admit me.”

Jennings shuffled in place. “I don’t know what to say, Jim. Are you feeling well? Can I hail you a taxi?”

“You certainly may not. Shall I admit myself?” Jim said stepping toward the ornately framed glass door.

Jennings moved quickly to cover the entrance and held his arms out non-threateningly. “I’m sorry, Jim. I can’t admit you. You understand, don’t you? Please don’t make a scene.”

Jim stood rigid, his face red with anger and his eyes glossy. “Wait till I tell my parents what happened here today. They’ll have your job.” He reached up and slapped Jennings in the face, then dashed back the way he came. He heard Jennings’ continuing, apologetic pleadings until they were a distant memory.

The next morning Jim’s hands shook as he reached for a twelve-week-old New York Times newspaper on the coffee table. It was folded open to the Celebrities & Social section. The bold headline read, Philanthropist Couple Die in Car Accident. The accompanying photo had been taken three years earlier, his parents smiling side-by-side at a fundraiser for a local teen’s cancer treatment. Nicole was unknown to Jim’s parents prior to the event, but they all but adopted the girl after meeting her.

Jim fondly remembered the occasion; his mother had organized it as a miniature carnival with games for children and a variety of food concessions. The result of the fundraiser, in no small part due to his parent’s generosity, left Nicole’s parents free to concentrate on their daughter’s wellbeing, not their wherewithal.

Jim’s mouth formed a frown when he continued reading the obituary. He was careful not to allow his tears to sodden the fragile paper as he struggled to view the smearing words. It was the first time he completed the entire tribute. He carefully folded the newspaper, placed it back on the table, and began to quake. When his sobbing subsided he wiped his face dry and sat quietly for a time.

When he stood up he straightened his shirt and spoke aloud, “I wonder what Mom’s making for dinner tonight. I hope it’s lasagna. I love how she uses sliced meatballs instead of ground sirloin.”

Over the next several months Jim found a way to manage his relationship with his family. He could maintain his new lifestyle with few moments of sorrow as long as he refrained from engaging in activities tied to specific memories. Jim and his father, Carl, no longer played golf; they took up bowling instead.

Frankie, the Manager at Pete’s Pin Parlor, quickly realized Jim’s situation and fell into character accordingly.

“Jimmy. Carl. How ya doing? The usual grilled cheese sandwiches and chips?”

“Thanks, Frankie. That’ll be great.”

“I’ll let you know when they’re ready.”

The exchange never wavered, and few people notice that Jim ate both meals.

Jim and his mother didn’t meet midweek for dinner at A Voce; they preferred to bring bagged lunches to the park. Only twice did a stranger sit on his mother’s lap without realizing she was there. Though Jim reacted severely his mother calmed him with her quick wit.

“My diet must really be working,” she laughed on one occasion.

As time progressed Jim was able to venture into public with his entire family in tow. The first occurrence, however, was a disaster. When the restaurant hostess asked how many people were in his party Jim answered three. The young vivacious girl led Jim to the bar where a single seat remained available. She set a menu down and told him the bartender would be glad to take his order.

Jim replied, “What are you talking about? I told you we’re a party of three.”

Turning red the hostess hurriedly picked up the menu and said, “I’m so sorry. I thought you were kidding when I saw you were alone.”

“I’m not alone. Do you need glasses?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” she replied with her eyes flitting past Jim to visualize her mistake. “I’ll take you to a booth.”

“That will be fine. I’m sorry I barked at you.” Jim followed closely on her heels.

When Jim took his seat the hostess looked behind her then timidly asked if she could take his name so that she could send his party in the right direction when they arrived.

“Here we go again,” Jim snarled. Waving his hand around the booth he scolded, “They’ve already arrived thank you. If you’d take your job more seriously and open your eyes maybe you could do a proper headcount. Now could you please get us two more menus?”

The hostess slithered away without further comment.

Over time these accidents subsided, and an impulsive decision to move out of his apartment added to Jim’s tranquility. Years passed and Jim became increasingly accustomed to his new life. Days that once felt like years now progressed all too swiftly. His family was always with him. Jim was never alone. Often they crowded around him, stifling his movement. Other times there was solitude, though he knew they were near. They tirelessly checked in on him, asking about his well-being, on occasion providing something to satisfy a painful appetite. His family was generous with money when he was in need and endlessly offered advice. The occasional insult never hurt him no matter how severe, because he understood that even outbursts of unexpected physicality were to be expected in a close family.

Jim never noticed the looks of pity around him, the inspecting eyes, the slant of disgust. He never heard the sentiments of compassion, the expressions of fear, the vial and hateful threats. He never questioned the ripped and stained clothing he wore, nor did he notice the foul odor that was his constant companion. Jim never felt the blaze of summer or the biting chill of winter as he wandered the streets. He never realized that, when he talked to his parents, he spoke only to himself.

He never understood that his mother and father were dead.

One morning, as the sun danced on the windows of the highest city towers, Jim slumped to the sidewalk. At that moment he realized these things, these Godawful things. All at once, ten years after the devastating loss of his parents, Jim knew all of these things and infinitely more.

Jim died there, on the familiar streets of New York City that were his home. He died while his family looked on, though they showed little concern.

 

Mark Geatches has a master’s degree in trumpet performance from Florida State University and loves music of all kinds. After performing for several years, including a three-year stint in Germany, he entered the business world. He built two small businesses before beginning a new chapter in his life, writing fiction..

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