Ripples Through Time
Calvin Greenwood is a family man in his eighties. He is alone for the first time in over sixty years: his wife, Emily, just passed away and he isn’t taking her loss well. He doesn’t remember how to be alone, and he isn’t sure if he can forgive himself for the mistakes he made while she was alive.
Edward White is a long time family friend who knows something is wrong with Calvin. He comes to check on him during his time of need and make sure he isn’t planning to do anything reckless. Edward understands just how dangerous things are for someone struggling the way Calvin is, and he hopes talking to him can settle things back down. He just hopes he isn’t too late to help.
Help, however, isn’t the easiest thing to give, and it can be even more difficult to accept...
Love, loss, and forgiveness weave through this human tale of friendship and hope.
The damned doorbell rings. I hate that sound, that tink, tink, tink it makes with high-pitched tones. I hate it because it’s obnoxious, but I hate it even more because Mellie loved it.
Another ring. Whoever it is, they aren’t patient.
I have been expecting her to send someone to check up on me. To be honest, I’m surprised that it took this long. Little Bethany always worries, especially where I’m concerned. Hell, ever since I turned seventy-nine, she seems to think I can’t do anything on my own.
And, in some cases, she’s right. Okay, maybe many cases. Most. Arthritic hands. Blurry eyes. The last time I tried to open a jar, I tore something.
However, some things I can still do for myself. Have to do for myself. This is one of them.
I shouldn’t have called. A mistake. Stupid. I rambled, thoughtless. What some psychiatrist might call “a plea for help.” Beth didn’t take my conversation seriously, I know, but even then, she couldn’t ignore that call. That would have been remiss. And Bethany is anything but remiss.
Yet another ring rips my silent world apart.
“Hold your horses,” I grumble, rocking forward. It takes me a minute to get out of my chair—ugly and red but comfortable as hell. My knees hurt and pop when I stand. My ankles hurt. In fact, everything hurts.
“Just a minute,” I say, shambling toward the door. I have to weave around the leather couches and a discarded brown blanket. Before, I would have picked it up, just to make sure there remained absolutely nothing that Mellie could trip on. But now …
Now, I’m not sure there’s a point.
I push the curtain aside and peer through the window.
Nope, not her. Mild relief flows through me, but a sprinkling of sadness tinges it. I’m her father. Can’t she spare a few minutes of her busy day to come check on me herself?
Selfish thoughts, and I don’t need them. Just proves she didn’t listen to a word I said. If she had, I’m sure she would have jumped into that tiny Honda of hers and sped right over.
Instead, she stayed at the office, filing paperwork with the Grants and Loans Division of the State. Desperate to meet a deadline, my Bethany. Desperate, and fiercely loyal. I can forgive her for being too busy at work to come see me herself.
Okay, maybe it hurts a little.
She’s a busy woman. I’m proud of her. But I knew, without a doubt, she wouldn’t take me seriously.
That’s probably why I called her, come to think of it. I didn’t want anyone to show up at my doorstep, and especially not Bethany or her husband Adam. I just wanted to give her a heads up. So she wouldn’t take it personally after. Let her know that I love her.
That kind of thing. I’m sure everyone does at times like these. Nothing special. Nothing dramatic. I had a weak moment, and by God, I’m entitled to those. At eighty-three, I’m damn well entitled to anything I want!
And what I wanted was to say goodbye. In my own way. Just a quick: “It’s been a good run, honey, but I’m off to see Mom.”
Jason’s a night owl, and not even awake at this hour, I’m sure. I didn’t want to bother him with something this trivial. I don’t blame him. I’d sleep too if I could get more than a few hours each night. And Rickie …
Well, I haven’t talked to Rickie in ages.
And so I dialed Bethany’s number. First, her home phone, before I remembered she’d be at work. But even expecting her to send someone, it surprises the hell out of me to see Edward White’s lean and scruffy face through the dirty glass window. Edward is a kid. Just turned fifty. Or fifty-five. Maybe fifty-three. Hard to keep straight.
Don’t get me wrong; I like the guy. His wife bakes bread at home in one of those mix-it-and-bake-it machines (that Mellie hated) and will drop off a loaf every couple of weeks. Sometimes, it’s still warm.
And the Whites were good to Mellie. Just plain-old good people. God fearing people. That sort is in short order these days. They came over often, and they never once said a thing about Mellie’s condition.
Mellie would perk up whenever I told her the Whites were at the door, and even though it exhausted her, she would sit up and talk to them for a few minutes. On her good days.
On the bad ones, I led them outside to the patio. And they understood. She needed her rest, my Mellie. The Whites understood a lot, and if—in a pinch—I had to call someone a friend who wasn’t already six feet under, it’d be Edward.
But, right now, I don’t want to talk to him. I don’t want to listen to him either.
I’m not worried that he’ll talk me out of it. No one can at this point. (I said my piece, and as far as I am concerned, it’s done and over with.) But that doesn’t mean I want to sit by and listen to him preach about how God would want me to act as if the Holy Father had taken a personal interest in me.
I can’t stand any damn sermons.
Nevertheless, I open the door to let in Edward. It’s the Christian thing to do and, last I checked, this is still a Christian country.
“Hi, Calvin,” Edward says while he shuffles awkwardly. He wears a polo shirt and tan shorts. Looks like a golfer. Slap some suntan lotion on his nose, and a flat cap to cover his brown hair, and the image would be complete. Funny thing is, I don’t think he’s ever golfed in his life.
His hands in his pockets, he looks at the wall behind me. I remember that look from when he was a little kid growing up in the house down the road. He’s worried. About me.
I snort. Beth must have passed along the gist of my message.
So much for bluffing. It’s like I can’t take care of my damn self. I’m sick of all of these people deciding things for me.
“How are you?” He stares at me.
“Come in,” I say as gruffly as possible. I want him to know not to push his luck. I eye him for a long moment, and then step out of his way.
Edward hesitates. Of course, he does. Until a few days ago, I would probably have guided him out to the patio, shushing him. At this time of day, Mellie would have been napping. She needed a lot of rest, and the pain … almost unbearable at the best of times.
But not today. Today is different.
I gesture again, but Edward still looks reluctant. Times like these, he reminds me of a guilty dog who knows he’s in trouble for pissing on the carpet.
Oh well, outside it is. Old habits die hard, it seems. I should know. I still putter around. Cleaning. Staying quiet as possible. Preparing those same little meals of toast and honey or pickles and eggs that she always liked before remembering that Mellie …
“Outside, then.” I nod, stepping out into the sunlight and allowing the door to swing closed behind me.
My eyes adjust to the bright glare of the mid-afternoon sun. With a grunt, I stretch out my back. It won’t relax like it used to, and I haven’t heard a good pop in months.
When I look into the mirror, I see a hunchbacked old monster, not the vibrant man I imagine myself to be. It doesn’t even faze me.
Familiarity makes a cruel mistress.
Edward drags two patio chairs from the lawn and sets them next to the table. He sits in one, and I plop down on the other. Time passes while we settle in, and then I turn my attention to him. His eyes search my face. I cross my hands over my belly and stare back.
If he wants me to speak first, he’s in for a surprise. I can play the waiting game, and I can sure as hell outwait him. Once, I went days without talking while Mellie had her episodes and couldn’t communicate. I know what it’s like to live in silence.
Edward doesn’t talk, though. At least, not right away. He sits and stares at me, his eyes full of …
What does he have to feel hurt about? I get that Bethany got upset. What daughter wouldn’t? However, Edward shouldn’t be. He isn’t taking this personally, is he? It’s not like this is because of him.
No, I decide, I will not be the first to talk.
“Bethany called, didn’t she?” I rub my chin. The question just slips out.
“Yep,” Edward says.
“She’s worried about me.”
“And she sent you here to watch me. Make sure I don’t do anything.”
“No,” Edward says.
My eyebrows pop up. But he might be lying. Why wouldn’t Beth send him over? Isn’t she worried about me?
“Then, why are you here?”
“I wanted to see how you were doing.”
“I’m fine. Dandy. Jipper. What do you expect?”
Honesty? No, he doesn’t want honesty. He wants assurance. He wants validation. To know that he’s doing the right thing. He wants an apology.
I am not about to apologize. To him or Bethany. I said what I said when I said it, and I meant what I said.
“How are you, Calvin?” Edward leans forward.
I grunt. It comes out a lot weaker than intended, but that makes sense. I’m eighty-four years old. The old voice box doesn’t work as it should.
The grunt is a mix between a laugh and a cough. Not really a word, but it conveys what I want to say more effectively than any string of English syllables could.
I don’t feel completely sure Edward understands. It sure annoys Bethany when I do that. It used to annoy Mellie too, years ago, but after a while, she understood. Sometimes, I just don’t know the right damned words.
Never was good with them. Why talk when you’ve nothing that you need to say?
No, I take that back. Put half a bottle of whiskey in my hand and some sour mix, and I’m the king of expression.
But I stopped that a long time ago. Funny thing is, I miss it almost as much as smoking. Sometimes, my hand shakes.
I don’t know, though. Maybe I’m just old.
Damn, mind wandering again …
The point is, Mellie got it. She understood me and never pressured me to talk when I didn’t have anything to say. Edward will just have to understand too. I’m eighty-one-damn-years old; broken, scared, and alone for the first time in nearly sixty years. What the hell kind of question is “how are you?” What damnable words are supposed to answer that?
I sigh and rub a hand across my face, feeling the rough stubble on my wrinkly skin.
A bird chirps from up by the tree, almost like music. I try to remember if I ever finished building that bird feeder that Mellie asked me to put together a few years back. Probably not.
A delivery truck slides past us down the road, heading to Mrs. Polisheck’s house with a package. She gets one, at least, every week. Her daughter likes ordering on that inter-web thing. Makes no damned sense.
“Bethany called me and said—”
“I know what she said because I told her,” I focus back on Edward. “And I don’t want to talk about it.”
Edward opens his mouth again, but then closes it without a word. Good. To tell the truth, I don’t want to talk about it. I shouldn’t have called Beth in the first place, and I don’t want people worrying about me.
It’s my life, not theirs, and they shouldn’t get involved anyhow. I’ve made up my mind, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ve nothing else to talk about.
For certain, I have nothing for which to apologize.
“I’m sorry,” I say. It just slips out. “I didn’t mean to make you worry.”
We sit in silence for a few minutes. The hummingbird drifts away, singing to itself as it goes. Cars hum in the distance, but few are close enough to see. Instead, the engines add to the scenery, as does the wind.
Our neighborhood is quiet. Condos, mostly, and old fogies like me, who hardly leave home. I never planned for this life. And I promised I’d never get old.
Look how that turned out. Joke’s on me, I guess.
Before this condo, we owned a house. A big one with brick siding and two floors. That’s where we raised our kids for most of their lives. The first and only house we ever owned. On Bradford Avenue—two floors with a creaking staircase and leaky pipes.
I always promised Mellie I would fix those pipes, plumb the damn house if I had to, but I never did. Another thing left unfinished.
Another forgotten promise.
After we had sold the house, they tore it down. Put up a Walmart, or something just like it. Out with the old. In with the new.
Progress, they call it.
Sometimes, it pleases me that I’ve grown old.
This condo, though—small as it is—always felt comfortable for us. I’ve lived here with Mellie for the last ten years. Never once did I regret it.
“Chrissie got her promotion,” Edward says, kindly changing the subject. “She was really excited about it when she called her sister. And the wedding is sneaking up on us too. My tux is going to cost a fortune.”
I wrack my brain, but it won’t come to me. Which one is Chrissie? The blonde or the chubby brunette? Definitely one of his wife’s sisters. Or maybe a cousin. That much I do know.
In fairness, I’m an equal-opportunity forgetter. I can’t even remember the names of all my grandchildren. Sally, Susie, and I think there’s a Molly. Then there is Kevin, Mike—or Mack; I can never remember—and Peter. And Lucas.
I knew a Lucas growing up. A strong man, good to his family, smoked like a chimney.
I don’t know the new Lucas.
I’m sure there are more. Even a few great-grandchildren. They all look alike. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that all children pop out exactly the same.
Mellie could have remembered them all. She always knew the names, even when she had one of her bad days. She was the smart one, and I never felt complete when she wasn’t around …
I clear my throat. “Do you know my first thought when I woke up?”
Edward just stares at me.
Although speaking out loud, I don’t think I’m talking to him.
I don’t think I’m talking to myself, either. I am just … talking. Saying something. Anything to keep from thinking.
“No,” Edward says when I don’t continue. He doesn’t have an answer. Of course, he doesn’t; how could he?
Still, I don’t continue right away. Instead, I hold my next words, weighing them in my head. I haven’t vocalized anything like this yet. Not out loud, where anyone could hear. Sure, I told Bethany some of it, but not all. And I knew she wouldn’t listen. Edward, though; he’s deeper. He’ll hear me. Really hear me.
That scares the hell out of me.
No, I won’t tell him. I’ll just make something up to fill the gap. I try to think of something else to say. Some story I can blab that he’ll believe.
But it’s no use. The words come like a fountain now, in my head, threatening to bubble over. They want to be spoken. They want to be heard.
I find myself staring at the maple tree we planted when we first moved in. It’s still small, but beautiful. It was barely a sapling when I stole it from some national park or other. Stole a few of them, right next to the sign that says stealing trees from a park is a federal crime. Heh.
Edward rubs his hands on his jeans the way a politician does before he shakes your hand. Sweaty hands; not working hands. Barely a blemish on them. Edward knows computers, but the boy barely knows anything about a hard day’s work.
Not his fault. Just the world. Everything changes.
I adjust the potted plant on the table.
Edward runs a hand through his fading hair, graying at the sides and retreating from his forehead.
I fight the words for almost a minute, hoping that Edward will speak. But he doesn’t say anything.
Then my mouth opens, “What I thought was, ‘why am I still here?’”
“It’s a beautiful day, Calvin. I’m sure God has you here for—”
“No. If God has a reason for me to be here, it’s ‘cos he forgot about me.” I fumble in my pocket for a cigarette, and then remember I don’t have any. I haven’t had any for four years. Ever since Mellie got sick.
Old habits die hard.
“Truth is, that’s not the first time I thought it, either. I’ve wondered for years now. I can’t do anything except putter around. This is the first time, though, that I meant it.”
“Beth told me what you said,” Edward says in a soft voice. “But she didn’t know what you meant.” His voice is so low that I can barely hear him. Clearly, this isn’t something he wants to talk about either. I wave my hand at his concern.
“My daughter was just talking.”
“She doesn’t know your plans.”
I pause, and then ask, “Do you?”
Edward only stares at me, his expression strained. I look down at the table, and then at the glass front door of our squat gray condo. Our condo.
For a second, only a second, I can see her face. There, in the glass, her eyes wistful and tragic.
My mind drifts: One of those nights when Mellie felt well enough to get out of bed. She would look out of that glass window to the houses beyond, as though it showed the whole world. I suppose it did, after all this time. The only world we had left.
I never knew what she stared at.
I never knew what her world looked like.
“She said the window was dirty. She said—” My voice cracks. “—she said, ‘Calvin, this window’s all dirty, and I can’t see nothing. You should clean it.’”
I barely push the last few words out. It hurts, but not with the intensity of youth. This is a dull ache. Emptiness. Loneliness. Though tinged with relief. I hated seeing her in pain more than I hated losing her.
“That was a few weeks ago,” I hear myself say. “And I cleaned the window. It took me forever. Spent almost an hour scrubbing it so that she could look out. But she never did.”
“I’m sorry,” Edward says.
“I’m not.” I stare at my lap. “She’s not in pain now. No more crying. No more sleeping. No more waking up in agony. It’s over for her, and she can rest. She’s with God now, and God knows she deserves it. And now I wonder, why am I still here?”
“You were a saint,” Edward says. “Taking care of her for all those years.”
I grunt to show what I think of that. Definitely, no words to describe that statement. “I was something.”
“You were there when she needed you.”
Not enough. Not after everything. It could never be enough.
“Edward,” I say, finally. Suddenly unable to look him in the eye, I turn away. “I’ll walk there if I have to. It’s only a few miles. I can make it that far.”
“You can’t do this.”
“I won’t hear none of that now,” I say, finding energy in a surge of anger. “Don’t you dare tell me what I can and can’t do. I said I’ll walk if I have to. I don’t want to, though. It should be easier than this.” I pause. Tears well, but I refuse to blink. “Why isn’t it easier? I shouldn’t have to beg.”
“You don’t have to—”
“I’ll walk if I have to,” I say. “I would appreciate it, though, if you drove me to the cemetery. To her grave. Will you do it?”
Edward stays silent for a long moment, but I can’t tell if he considers the request seriously or not. Finally, he lets out a long sigh and says, “Calvin, Emily is gone. I won’t drive you to her grave so that you can kill yourself.”