Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I Need Your Help

As one might imagine, it's a tad difficult to title a story. To me, it's as difficult as naming a child. The wrong name will place the wrong emphasis, and that is something none of us want. For example, I have a cousin named Rowdy. Yep, he managed to fulfill that description. So, a couple of years ago I wrote the following story, but I've never been able to properly title it. My readers are some of the brightest around. Therefore, I've thought of a fun way to get everyone involved. Please read the story, and if you have any suggestions about a good title, please let me know. I'll throw in a free book, autograph and all, to whomever comes up with the best title, even if I decide not to use it. (Provided they want or need a book). At any rate, enjoy the story and contact me with your suggestions.

The fine China rattled as breakfast was being prepared in the kitchen. Beatrice carried a stack of plates into the dining room, where Joe sat sipping a cup of coffee. As was tradition, he never looked up while the places were set, but sat brooding over his newspaper.

Joe and Beatrice had been married for thirty years and their routine was almost a work of art. Joe was always the first to arise in the morning, as he was the product of too many years of reporting for work by 7:00 AM. While he stood in front of his shaving mirror, his whistling would stir Beatrice, who would make her way into the kitchen and plug in the old coffee pot. She would stir around the house while Joe dressed, then she would crack open eggs for their family meal.

Jackie was the hardest of their 4 children to wake up, but in recent months, she had ballet practice earlier than normal, which forced her to get out of bed with minimal fighting. Jimmy, her twin brother, was very much like his father. He would rise before the sun so he could share the paper with Poppa and brush over a chapter in his text book for a morning test. Joe immensely enjoyed sharing his morning paper with Jimmy. Every day, Little Jim would peek around the corner while prying his foot into an already tied shoe and say, “what’s in the Wall Street this morning, Poppa?” He would then sit down in front of the sports, which was neatly folded by his breakfast plate.

Things were quiet this morning—too quiet. Joe sat by himself as he read the best analyst’s predictions of a bull market. He placed his cup on the corner of the table, and in a few minutes, he could hear fresh coffee being poured. “Thanks, my Love.”

“Always a pleasure to serve.” She held the pot in one hand and reached over his shoulder with the other and rubbed his chest vigorously. He grunted at her and then tried to bite her hand, which she withdrew in a shriek and said, “Don’t make me pour this coffee down your neck. So help me, I’ll do it.” She then proudly waggled back into the kitchen while Joe watched and whistled as her shapely figure disappeared around the corner. “Now there goes a fine woman, Jimmy. You’ll do good to find such a woman for yourself.” After an awkward silence, Joe looked over his paper and saw the sports section lying by Jimmy’s plate—untouched.

Joe frowned at himself for his thoughtless routine and stared at the empty plate. Things were not the same around here. Their charming practice was about to change; in fact, it had already changed. This was their first weekday after the twins had gone to college. Joe had taken last week off work so he and Beatrice could drive to Michigan with the kids and help them settle into the dorms. Hillsdale College was an even stronger family tradition for the Langley family. Each of the men in the family had attended and graduated Hillsdale from the very first year it opened in 1844. None of the women in the family enrolled until Joe’s eldest daughter, Juliet, attended in the 80’s. In fact, Hillsdale was where Joe met Beatrice. They were in the same freshmen class, even though they rarely took the same courses…

Joe’s thoughts were suddenly closed as he realized that Beatrice was crying in the kitchen. The paper hardly hit the floor when he poked his head around the corner and saw her huddled over the stove holding a towel to her eyes.

“Bea?” He asked softly.

“Oh, I’ve ruined everything.” She folded the hand towel twice and pointed at the skillet. A large Spanish omelet sizzled in the pan, complete with sautéed onions, diced tomatoes, and small pieces of corn tortilla strips. There was enough food to feed 4 people.

Joe reached and pulled her to him as she buried her head into his chest and wept. She missed the kids. This was the first time in their marriage, save the first ten months, that they had no children underfoot. Joe felt the same longing in his heart, but it wasn’t his way to cry. He became quiet and still, and reached over to turn off the burner on the stove top. After a long minute, Beatrice sniffled and retreated to her omelet. “Oh, look at that. I’ve ruined breakfast.”
“Nonsense. I like it like that. Now let’s eat before it gets cold.”

She nodded meekly and gently sliced the omelet into 4 parts, dishing 2 pieces into their plates. She placed a bowl of salsa next to Joe’s coffee cup and began to butter her toast.

“Sit down, my Love. Eat breakfast with me.” Joe reached for her hand and she settled into her chair, placing her toast on the edge of her plate.

“You need more coffee,” she blurted out and bolted to her feet.

“No, I’m fine. Sit back down and relax for a moment.”

“I can’t let you eat breakfast without coffee.”

“I’ve endured worse in life. Now sit down.”

“But I need to start the dishes.”

“We haven’t even started to eat yet.”

“I can’t enjoy my meal if there’s a mess in the kitchen.”

“Dear, please sit with me…” His voice failed and he stared at his plate.

“Oh.” She touched her lips as concern flooded over her. “What’s wrong?”

For a moment he was silent and he drew a deep breath. “It’s just that, well…It’s too quiet. Look what a fool I am. I went and folded the sports section and placed it there for Jimmy to read.”

“Yes, right next to the plate I placed there for him.” She slowly settled into her chair. “I just miss the kids, I guess.”

“I never realized that I was so comfortable around them until they were gone.” He sipped his cold coffee. “I wasted all those years.”

“Wasted? What are you talking about?”

“All those breakfasts we ate, all those mornings we sat in silence, I could have been telling the kids how much I loved them and how proud I was of them.”

She frowned. “Oh, Poppa, you did tell them those things.”

He stared into the depths of his black coffee. “Not nearly enough.”

“Nonsense. You sat quietly each morning because the kids were comfortable in the fact that you loved them and that you were proud of them. They were content just being with you. You were there for them in every way.” She stood to her feet. “They enjoyed the quiet mornings as much as you did. I think it was like a sanctuary for them, like the calm before the storm.” She walked into the kitchen and emerged with a fresh cup of coffee. “There. Now drink your coffee and be happy.”

“Thank you, my Love.”

She frowned. “At least you still have your work to go to today,” she said shortly.

He looked at her. “What does that mean?”


“Oh, come on! I’m not going to bear my weakness and let you slide by without a thought.”

She sat on the very corner of her chair. “I’m just glad you have a good job that helps sustain our family.”

Joe sat silently and waited on Beatrice, as he learned to do so many years before. It was her way to prime the well, if you will. She would give part of her thought, which would be complete at first glance, but she really wanted Joe to investigate her, to make an effort to hear what she wanted to say. “I do have a good job,” he finally offered.

“Oh,” she started. “I do know it’s a good job…”

He placed his hand over hers. “But?”

“But what am I supposed to do?”

“What are you supposed to do? What does that mean?” He frowned as he realized his voice had more edge to it than he intended. Her statement was so unexpected that he reacted rather than acted. He was expecting her to be after him to retire, just as they had always talked. After the kids were gone to college, Joe would retire and they would travel the country, becoming camping nomads. Now he could tell by her sunken shoulders that she was starting to close her emotions to him. “I’m sorry. You just surprised me, that’s all. What do you mean?” He picked up the hand he was covering and gently rubbed her knuckles.

“You have a place in life. You’ve had the same job for thirty some odd years. Every morning it’s the same for you. You get up, eat breakfast, go to work, come home, and spend time with the family. That hasn’t changed much. You will still do all of those things that you have done for so long. But…” she sniffled. “What am I supposed to do?”

Joe rose to his feet and walked across the room to a Kleenex box on a corner table. He handed her a tissue and returned to his seat in silence. Beatrice dabbed tears from her eyes and began to twist the tissue into a long, thin snake. “Every day, I got up and fixed breakfast for you and the kids. Then I helped prepare homework, drive someone someplace, repair a torn skirt, fix someone’s hair, bake cupcakes for a fundraiser, go to a ballgame, chase down a prom dress, cry over a lost boyfriend, rehearse play lines…” She shrank into her chair and wept again, frail and vulnerable. “What am I supposed to do now—now that those days are gone?”

Joe sipped his coffee and handed another Kleenex across the table. Several seconds of unawkward silence passed. “Do you remember the summer I had to work in Alaska for 3 months?” He leaned back in his chair.

Her face brightened at the memory. “Oh, do I! That was the best year ever. I hated to leave.” She examined his face. “Do you think we might go back?”

“I imagine we will return to Alaska many more times, but do you remember how much the kids hated Alaska when we first arrived?”

She smiled. “They were miserable.”

“They were horribly miserable. They sat around and moped for days. They kept whining about how they missed their friends, and how they wanted to go to the movies or do something that was fun.”

“But we were miles and miles from any theater.”

“Or malls.”

She giggled. “Or malls. They thought they had died and their lives were over.” She sat upright. “They couldn’t just drive back to town, either. We had to fly in and land on a lake. I thought Juliet was going bananas with boredom.”

“Well, that’s exactly what they did. They just sat around and cried because everything was changed. They didn’t know anyone. They didn’t have anywhere to go. They didn’t have any of the things they were used to having. But, what they failed to notice, was that they were in Alaska, the most beautiful place on Earth.”

“Oh, it was so pretty. We must return this summer.”

“I’d love to go back. Well, if you remember, I sat down with Little Jimmy and explained how he was doing everything wrong. He was waiting for the world to come to him, rather than going out and finding the world. I told him about gold mines to be discovered and caves to be explored. I gave him a copy of Jack London’s Call of the Wild, which he inhaled, and his whole perspective changed. He went out the next morning and found a beaver dam; he was so excited about finding that silly old dam, but he caught the vision. Suddenly, the great outdoors swung wide open, and he was alive. The next day he was piddling down at the creek and found a little, bitty, flake of gold, which he brought home as if it was the Heisman Trophy. That day, the girls caught the vision and I got them some gold panning equipment and they started an enterprise. They hardly found anything but dust, but they were finally happy. When that played out, Jimmy discovered fly fishing and off they go!”

Beatrice laughed. “We actually had to make them stop bringing home all those fish. We had trout for breakfast and dinner.” She stared up at the ceiling. “What I would give to eat some of that trout again.”

“But it all started when they caught the vision of something out there that was bigger than they were. Suddenly, being miles away from home and in completely unfamiliar territory was a challenge instead of a curse. They went out and found the world instead of waiting for something to happen to them.” He folded his newspaper and pushed back his chair. “It’s about time for me to get going.” She leaned forward and kissed him; it was a long kiss. “Woman, you make a man wish he didn’t have to work everyday.”

“But if you don’t, then we will never get back to Alaska, so get out of my house.”

He grinned at her and walked out the front door. Beatrice sat and stirred her coffee absentmindedly. For thirty minutes, she sat in silence and then stood and walked into the kitchen and picked up the phone. “Blanche? This is Bea. Good morning to you, too. Well, we had a good trip, but it was hard to leave the kids. They didn’t want us to leave, either. Yes, it is quiet here at the house, but I was thinking. Do you remember in the church bulletin about how they were looking for volunteers to help at the Senior Center? Well, I wondered if you and I might…”


Alison said...

Hey, I know a title. Call it, "I Should've Come to Choir Because I Could've Had Spaghetti to Take Home with Me." Or something like that.

I don't like naming things, either. I think of cheesy titles like, "Dreams Revisited."

I'll have to chew on this one for a while. Good story, though.

Travis said...

So far your suggestion is the best one. Sigh, if only I got home before 6:00. Thanks for not bothering me at home. It helps a lot.

Alison said...

"Breakfast for Two"

Travis said...

Congratulations, you still have the best recommendation.

Sarah said...

You know how bad I am at naming things so I won't even try but it's a good story. Love you. S