Perchance To Sleep
A Short Story
It’s not that I’m completely exhausted by the four hour drive. I’m tired, but it’s nothing that a hearty stretch won’t cure. Neither is it the case that my fingers are still painfully cold from having to chain up and unchain coming through the mountain pass. My hands are cold, sure, but it isn’t that big a deal. What it comes down to is that I’m delaying the inevitable. That’s my real reason for stopping at the oh-so pretentiously named coffee shop Here’s Mug In Your Eye. Western Washington is famous for its overly caffeinated insanity, and shops like this that proliferate on every corner are a sure sign of said insanity.
No, my real reason for stopping two miles short of my destination is that I’m just not all that anxious to get there. I haven’t been back to the ol’ homestead, nor have I seen Pop in about six months. However, my sweetly interfering auntie said, “I just don’t know how to handle this episode. You’d better come.” So, I dropped my real life - yes, there is such a thing in Spokane - and came back here to a place that feels like a long lost mirage. Not an oasis, mind you. A mirage.
To an outsider, my youth would probably seem pretty damned average. I shot up to six feet tall my freshman year of high school, and didn’t stop until I hit 6’3” my sophomore year. Football was an easy and natural outlet for me, so I excelled at that. I got decent grades because I had one of those rare coaches who actually cared that his players hit the books as hard as the opposing team‘s players. In textbook fashion, I bedded the second girl I ever dated. Naturally, she was a cheerleader. She wore my class ring. We went to prom. Then as happens, the summer after we graduated we found reasons not to like each other. That way we could split up before heading to college. That’s what it looked like from the outside view of Bobby Logan‘s life. Just average. Nothing to make a movie about.
Inside, in the house where I was born and raised, it was a different story. It was stifling and dark and every family meal - a requirement every night at 6 pm in the Logan household - felt like wading through marshmallows. Mom tried too hard to be overly sweet; Pop tried too hard to be overly interested; and I tried too hard not to puke from the annoying burnt sugary smell of it all. I didn’t just feel stuck, I felt like it was all stuck to me. But that was then, this is now. I did manage to escape. I’m 48 years old, have my own, fairly successful life. These days I‘m known as Bob Logan. The only person who doesn’t get socked for calling me Bobby is my pop. My coffee is gone. Time to get on with it.
Like always, I use my old house key to let myself in. It occurs to me that I’ve had that key for about 35 years now. Except for the faint light coming from the range hood in the kitchen, the house is dark. “Pop?” No answer. I move through the living room and down the hallway toward the den. Again, “Pop?” Still no answer, but I can hear him making odd little weeping noises. I reach in and flip on the bathroom light and squint for a minute at how it floods the hallway. But it’s enough. I can at least see the outline of him where he’s sitting in the den.
I walk in to the den, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dim light. “Pop? It’s me. Bobby. Pop?” No answer, just the quiet sobbing noise. “Pop, I’m going to turn the lamp on over here. Watch your eyes.” And there he is, Mike Logan, wearing pajamas and a bathrobe that have both seen much better days. He’s clutching a teddy bear. No, not clutching, but kneading it like he’s getting clay ready for molding. I recognize it, the bear. It belonged to my sister. Pop has tears running down his cheeks and judging from how wet the collar of his bathrobe is, he’s been at it for hours.
I squat next to his chair and put a hand on his arm. Although he retired from the lumberjack trade a good ten years ago, I can still feel the knotty muscles in his forearm harden and relax as he kneads the bear. “Pop,” I begin again gently. “Pop. What’s wrong? What is it.” Pop blinks a couple of times at that and swallows hard. Finally he looks over at me, surprised to see me crouching there. He tries to say my name, but it comes out in a squeak. He clears his throat, that old familiar great rumbling noise that I’ve inherited from him and tries again.
“Bobby. When did you… what are…” He looks at the bear gripped in his massive hands, then looks back up at me. “This was your sister's.”
“I know, Pop. What…” I let the question hang.
“I miss your mother. I don’t just mean the last five years with her. I miss the woman I took to the sock hop in ‘58. She was so different from the woman you grew up with. I’m sorry you couldn't know who she was then.”
“Here, Pop. Looks like you could use this.”
Pop looks confused for a split second, then releases his left hand grip on the bear, takes the cloth from me, and wipes down his face.
“Thanks, Bobby. You’re a good son.”
I wave that statement away and try to start over again. “Pop, what’s going on? You know, Aunt Meg called and told me to come. She didn’t know what to do.”
At that there’s a slight smile on Pop’s face. “Ah, Meddlin’ Meg. What would we do without her?” I sit down in Mom’s old rocker, but I don’t say anything. I know this is where I stay silent and let Pop get it all out. I mentioned that I’m tall, but Pop towers over me and outweighs me by a good forty pounds. Back when he was working, he was in amazing shape - muscles everywhere and those huge grizzled hands. Years of working in an industry where you easily end up losing a limb if you screw around had given him that long, hard stare look in his eyes. You know the one; Scott Glen and Sam Eliot often copy it in movies. All that is to let you in on what I learned early on: when Pop is ready to talk, shut the hell up and listen.
“I loved your mother. Through all the years and all the… the stuff. I loved her. She was beautiful and she had such amazing spunk back then. Just full of life. I couldn’t wait to come home from work every day just to be able to see that light in her eyes. When we married, I promised to take her to Scotland. It was her dream to go there and walk the hills that our ancestors had walked.
I never got the chance to take her. By the time I could afford it… well, as the young hippie once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Your sister came along, we bought this house, you came along, then… life. You didn’t get to know that version of your mother, the woman who lived in her body before the one that gave up on all her unfulfilled dreams.
You were barely more than a toddler when it changed, when that drunken asshole killed your sister. She was such a pretty little thing and she loved you. She used to drag you around like you were her favorite doll, and I guess you were. Where your mother was concerned, the sun rose and set on that girl. They were so much alike that sometimes I’d wonder if I’d contributed anything at all to the gene pool. So, when she was killed, when she was so unthinkably dead at just seven years old, I think your mother just let a big part of herself follow. Because all the life seemed to get sucked out of Mary in one fell swoop.
What you ended up knowing of your mother was that version of Mary. The lifeless version, the version that smiled and tried hard to please, but without there being any real feeling behind any of it. I still loved your mother, yes, but I couldn’t handle that version of her. It was like I had lost two beautiful girls when that drunken asshole swerved around the corner and into our lives. I just couldn’t handle it. The only time my head was quiet was when I was working, when the chainsaws were buzzing so loud that it was impossible to hear yourself think. I’d push my chainsaw through the wood until my muscles were on fire. Anything to diminish the worst pain on earth. So, I took on every logging job I could find in an attempt to stay away.
After you left for college, Bobby, it got even worse. The silence in this house was nearly deafening. That’s when I started joining the guys for a beer or two after work. It seemed to be a routine that your mother actually welcomed. I’d come home and there’d be some kind of dinner in the fridge; she’d already be in bed. I’d eat whatever was on the plate in the fridge and crawl into bed myself, too dog-tired to care about anything. There was a lot more room for us to skirt around the elephant in the living room if we did it individually.
Five years ago when the doctor told us that the hard gas she thought she was experiencing was actually pancreatic cancer, I was almost relieved. I knew it was going to take her fast and that she wouldn’t have to linger long and suffer more. I knew she was headed to a better place.
I’ve thought about a lot of things since she passed. Wondered if I could have done differently, wondered if I could have changed things for her. I don’t know. Maybe I should have forced her on a plane and made her stand on the edge of some bluff overlooking the North Sea. I don’t know. I wish a lot of things. I wish I could have given you a better setting to grow up in. Mostly I’m just tired. Weary. I wish I could go to sleep one last time and have it done. Maybe that’s selfish, but it’s my wish.”
Here Pop stops talking, whatever wind was in his sails is gone. I know it’s okay for me to speak now. “Pop, let me make you some cocoa.” It sounds stupid, but it’s all I can think to do. Evidently it’s the right choice because Pop nods. So, I go out to the kitchen, poor some milk in a mug, put it in the microwave and hit the button that says, “hot beverages.” How easy do we need to make it for ourselves, I ask you. I’m lost in thought until the microwave beeps. I mix in the cocoa and a bottle of morphine pills that I have left from knee surgery last year. Don’t judge me. It’s what he wants. He no longer has the chainsaws to drown out the noise.
I take the cup in to Pops. He sets the teddy bear on the floor and takes the mug from me. We sit in relative silence while he drinks it down. When he’s done, I help him to bed. I smile a little at the way his feet hang off the end of the bed. I pull the sheets up and get him tucked in like he’s a little kid. I sit on the edge of the bed.
“I’ll just wait here a minute until you start to drift.”
I can see the morphine start to work, making his eyelids too heavy for him to hold them up. I take his hand and squeeze it.
“I love you, Pop.”
One last thing. I go into the den and get the teddy bear. I bring it back to the bedroom and tuck it under Pop’s arm. He barely responds to the movement. I bend over and kiss his forehead, something I don’t think I’ve ever done. I can’t remember kissing my pop ever, at all.
“’Night, Pop. Sleep well.”
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Brad MacDonald challenged me with "A teddy bear, a chainsaw and a dream unfulfilled." and I challenged Jester Queen with "Describe a color, any color, to a blind person."