Sanctuary Ridge Stories #5

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A New Season (Spring 2019)

“Thanks for your honesty,  Doc,” he said. “I guess running and lifting only goes so far.” David Peterson was a fit-looking and muscular man, six-four, and handsome even as he approached eighty. He’d been bald for decades, but he sported a mostly white mustache with a touch of light brown remaining.   

 “Those things were not a waste,” Doctor Thaden replied. “Let’s talk in a couple of days.”

David walked quickly out of the sterile white brick building. It was a sunny and breezy spring day. He looked down at the sidewalk to avoid eye contact with the people going in. He stepped up into his shiny black Chevy pickup and drove down the hill to Bob’s Liquors. 

Once inside, he found a bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon and approached the counter. “Morning, Bob, he said and looked away. “I’d like a pack of Camels.”

Reaching behind him for the cigs, Bob said,”I didn’t know you smoked, David.”

“I didn’t either. I’ll take one of those Zippo lighters, too.”

After leaving Bob’s, David drove past Cole’s tavern, then the Altman Farm, and pulled into the abandoned and decaying Smoke Valley High School. He parked the truck and walked up to what remained of the collapsed bleachers where he’d played so many football games.

David went back to the Chevy and drove past what remained of the Tuller apple orchards. Most were lost to the wave of development over the last ten years. Slowing down as he saw Our Lady of Peace Cemetery, he turned left and parked again. He stepped out of the pickup and walked through the forest of tombstones. So many memories.

He opened the pack of Camels and lit one. He marveled at his shiny new Zippo and took in the smell when he struck the flame,  reminding him of his father. He tried to inhale carefully but coughed. Then he laughed at himself and walked up a sloping path lined with oak trees, occasionally stopping, seeming to greet some of the dead. He approached a large and decorated marble marker. He touched the headstone where it was engraved, then crouched.

“I know, it’s been a while. I hope you don’t mind if I smoke. I just started today.”

He took another draw on the cigarette and looked up at the blue sky.

Still looking up, he said, “I’ll be joining you soon, my love. I just found out.”

He looked back at the headstone again as if waiting for an answer.

“When I get there, I hope you can show me around. Will we still be married there?”

He put out the cigarette, held the butt in his cupped hand, and sat on the ground for a few minutes. He wiped his eyes and stood up. I’ll be back soon, my love.”

On the way back to his truck, he paused at the graves of Walter and Minnie. He knelt and made the sign of the cross. Next to their monuments was his brother’s. Vince, who everyone called “Vinny,” died in the Korean War in 1951. Only eighteen years old. David would never forget the day the soldiers came to their home with the news. His mother let out a sustained wail like he’d never heard and would never again hear. She was beside herself. Her vulnerability was too much to bear for a twelve-year-old. He was spared when his mother went into her bedroom. The plan was that Vinny would come back after the war and live at Sanctuary Ridge for a while.

As David was getting in his truck, an old (maybe ’66) white Buick Special pulled up. A man in black with a white priest’s collar got out and walked toward him, smiling. He had on an old trench coat like Lieutenant Columbo from the Mystery Movie series. “David, it’s been a long time.”

David extended his hand. “Yes, Father Enders, it has.”

The priest was about David’s age, his hair curly and wild. He was thin, except for his belly. “How are you, David?”

“Good. Just visiting Naomi.”

Father Enders nodded. “Good to see you.”

“Likewise.”

David opened the door of his truck and stepped into the seat. He was about to shut the door, then leaned back out. “Father, can I ask you a question?”

“Sure. What is it?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. Have a nice day.”

“You too, David. Feel free to stop by anytime.”

**

David pulled into the driveway at Sanctuary Ridge, stopping to check the mailbox.  He opened the letter from his investment broker. Another check for twenty-thousand dollars.  He drove slowly up the winding gravel road. 

At the bend, he stopped and put the truck in park. He lit another cigarette. Looking left, he saw the sun reflecting on his neighbor’s lake. Then he glanced up and noticed a hawk soaring over the sprawling house that was brilliantly inserted into the slope of a steep ridge.

The home, designed and built by his father in the early 1950s, was the anchor of the wooded acreage. The dining room thrust out from the rest of the house at an unconventional but pleasing angle. He recalled how the lake below would reflect the evening sun and throw ribbons of light up the slope, through the dogwood tree, and onto the face of Naomi smiling at him and their two teenagers, Scarlett and Jacob.

Returning to the present, he drove the rest of the way and parked the truck.  He walked up the brick steps past the white lamppost and through the massive carved front door. He turned to his right past the empty gun cabinet to the end of the hall, where the door to a large bedroom was open.

A man with shoulder-length hair wearing large headphones was sitting at a desk in front of an old reel-to-reel Heathkit with his back to David. The sound coming through the headphones was of a rhythmic speech like poetry. The cabinet above the man held round tins containing tapes of playwrights like Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. To his right was a shelf full of vintage dictionaries—English, Greek, and Hebrew.

Not wishing to startle his guest, David walked beside him, hoping to ease into his peripheral vision. When he saw he’d been seen, and the headphones came off, David placed his left land on his shoulder. “Hi, Homer. Getting hungry?”

Homer Bardly had been living at Sanctuary Ridge for the past year. David was now accustomed to Homer’s habit of suddenly adopting a persona and quoting plays and poems. And his fascination with names—the meaning of people’s names and place names. Homer knew all about the evolution of the township from Hebel to Smoke Valley. His own name was due to his father’s love for the Greek epic poet Homer, The Odyssey in particular. “Everyone’s on a journey home—even if they are home,” he would say. Homer’s daughter Ruth’s name meant “friend.” His wife Delores chose it, having been so taken by the biblical story of the Ruth who showed loyalty to her grief-stricken mother-in-law Naomi. As Homer put it, “Naomi means ‘pleasant,’ but for a time she called herself Mara—Hebrew for ‘bitter.'”

***

Homer came into the dining room, his reading glasses on his head. David was seated, sipping his glass of Zin.

Homer set down a worn copy of The Complete Stories of Flannery Connor and remained standing. As usual, he wore one of his old gray work uniforms with grease stains—like a mechanic. His silver beard had grown so long it almost fit in the collar of his shirt.

“I found the book in Naomi’s office. You said I could take a peek in there.”

“Of course. She’d be glad you are reading Flannery. She’s too dark for me. Have a seat.”

Homer sat and held up the book. “There’s one in there that took my breath away. It’s called ‘Revelation.’ Sure, it has a dark aspect, but there’s more to it.”

“Let’s eat,” David said.

 “Steaks. Thank you.”

After they finished, David cleared the table and took the dishes into the kitchen. He handwashed them, and  Homer dried them with a towel. Looking out the window above the sink at the orange in the sky, David told Homer about his talk with Doctor Thaden. “It’s pancreatic cancer. Advanced. You know how that goes.”

Homer nodded and wept. Turning David toward him, he embraced him and held on for a time.

After returning from a walk, David opened the Buffalo Trace he bought earlier. He took the bottle and two shot glasses out to the screened-in porch where Homer was reading. He lit a cigarette. Homer was surprised but didn’t say anything He pulled out a partially smoked cigar.

“Homer, please ask Ruth to tell my daughter about my situation. Maybe Scarlett knows where Jacob is.”

Once likely to succeed David at Peterson Tools, Scarlett had not taken his calls for the last three years. And Jacob, well, he did everything by email.  

“I will, my friend.”

“Thanks,” David said and poured another shot.

Homer leaned forward. “How are you feeling?”

“I don’t know. I keep thinking of the kid, and about practical details. I haven’t processed the feelings.”

 “I won’t preach,” Homer said, “but let me recite from John Donne. He closed his eyes and looked up:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet can thou kill me.

Homer opened his eyes wide and looked at David. “I can’t remember the rest, except for the end:

One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

“Thanks, Homer. It’s hard for me to follow the King Jamesy sound, but I think I catch the main drift.”

“Just think about it. Maybe it’ll steel your nerves.”

After Homer went to bed, David locked up and emptied the ashtray. He saw that Homer had left the O’Connor book on the porch table. He picked it up. The back cover had a picture of the author leaning on her crutches talking to a peacock. “I don’t know,” he whispered to himself. Even so, he took the book with him to his bedroom.

Homer read odd stuff, but so did Naomi, so his talk sometimes brought her back into David’s mind. David usually read more inspirational books about how God grants success.

He closed his bedroom door and set the book on his nightstand. After changing into his basketball pants and Pittsburg Steelers tank top, he knelt and closed his eyes for a silent prayer.

Once in bed, he started to read the O’Connor story Homer mentioned, “Revelation.” It was a strange tale about a woman who, through a dramatic encounter with a raging young girl, realized she had to repent of her righteousness.

***

Episode #6

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