The Sound of The Setting Sun

The old man took a deep breath of the evening air. The sun had not quite set but the woods were beginning to come alive with night sounds. He sat near a small fire and looked out over the lake. He had driven up here, to the trailhead, and then hiked in 7 miles to this spot that he knew so well. He also knew it would be deserted; late October was not high tourist season in the North Woods. Not even hunters would hike in this far.

He was exhausted from the hike, but content and the only thing missing was Sam…he would have liked to have his dog here with him…especially now, but in the end he decided it would be best to leave him with Patti, she loved the dog and would know what to do. He was lucky to have Patti come into his life, at 23 years old it was strange that they got on so well, but she had taken a liking to him after he’d come in to pay his rent and made a point of checking on him almost every day. Even when she wasn’t working she would text him a funny picture or video the way young people like to do.

What really cinched it was the time he talked her into taking him skiing. It wasn’t that he couldn’t drive himself, he certainly could, but he knew if something happened his daughters would swoop in and take away his skis, his car, his freedom. For some reason, they thought he was hard of hearing…a misapprehension he used to his advantage. So he knew he needed to watch his step. They meant well, but their attempts to “protect” him meant losing his independence. Even Sam was a risk…he’d overheard one daughter saying something about a “rescue”. So what he needed was a wingman and Patti was up for the job. It took some talking, but after assuring her that he would stay on the green hills and throwing in gas money, lunch and dinner, and setting her up with a private ski lesson she agreed.

Everything went fine although he’d fibbed about the green hills, but as he explained some people can ski well into their 70s and even 80s. Once they arrived and Patti saw the large number of seniors on skis, she relaxed and went off for her lesson leaving him to do what he liked best; enjoying the peace and quiet of the snow covered trails and the occassional rush of doing something a little risky. Patti had refused to take any of his money even though her ski rentals and lesson had cost her a pretty penny. They had taken his car and he’d let her drive down but on the way home he drove…he wanted her to see he was fine driving alone, and in any event his daughters had insisted he upgrade his car to the lastest safety features which didn’t hurt any. During that three hour drive he’d come to regard her almost as a daughter…she had shared a lot with him and he began to understand that she was a special type of person. He loved his daughters beyond all measure but he understood that they had thier lives to live and so he felt fortunate to have someone like Patti in his life.

“Daddy, I don’t think you should be living alone”. That was Gracie, his youngest and the one he called Princess. She more than anyone knew that he would never be able to stand losing his own place. He kissed her on the cheek and promised her he would think about it. They both knew he was lying and Gracie wouldn’t push the issue but her older sister was another story. She had been checking out “nice places” and kept sending him brochures which he promised her he would read. “Would I get to keep my car?” “Now daddy…”. It all came to a head the day he fell, both girls freaked out a little and both came to town to take him to his doctor. He had to give permission but they came into the exam room with him. Finally, to get out of there, he’d agreed that he must have gotten a little light headed. They went home and the girls had the opinion from his own doctor that he should probably “be around people”. He explained about Patti looking in on him, but they objected saying “and what happens when she gets a new job?”

The irony of the situation was that he had actually tripped over Sam; no spring chicken himself, Sam was half blind and had taken to being underfoot all the time. If he had admitted that though, they may have taken Sam away. His sister called him; she never called with happy news. All she had to say was “how do you think your daughters would feel if they found you laying on the floor dead?” Thanks Phyllis. He said she was absolutely right and he would do something about it straight away. “Thank God I was able to talk some sense into you” she said before announcing that she had to go watch her favorite TV show.

Something his daughters did not know about was the followup call he’d gotten from his doctor’s office. His steadliy declining kidney function was reaching a critical stage. Telling his daughters would mean he had seen his last day of skiing, his last walk in the woods alone, his last drive to the ocean to watch the waves crash on the shore while he sipped beers from his cooler. He HAD confided in Patti, told her he wanted one last trip to the North Country, and she had given him a tent that she never used. His daughters wouldn’t like it and they would feel betrayed, well maybe Gracie would understand after awhile…she was her father’s daughter. Patti wouldn’t like it either, but she would immediately understand and that is why she was watching Sam.

He took the three notes, one for each daughter and one for Patti, put them in plastic bags and pinned them to the tent wall. They would find the car first so there was a note in the car pointing out his camping site. He told all three girls he loved them and asked Patti to take care of Sam, although he already knew she would. And then he thought about his late wife for a few minutes…would she understand? Of course she would; she knew who she married.

He watched as the sky turned orange, then red, then purple. He watched as the stars appeared and found Polaris, Orion and Ursa Major. There was no moon and that made him a little sad but he was able to make out Venus and Mars. He had carried in a can of beer and left it to chill in a nearby stream. He got up and grabbed the beer…it was perfect. He sat back down just outside the tent entrance, pulled the bottle from his pocket and without hesitation swallowed it’s contents, washing it down with the ice cold beer. Then he sat back and breathed the pine air and he could smell the Balsam and he could smell the Tamarack and he could smell the Jack Pine. He could hear a fish striking at a mosquito and his daughters crying in their cribs and he heard his wife saying she was waiting for him.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

Not This Time

I had been upgraded to 1st Class on a business trip to Memphis.  It was one of those last flight of the night deals when everyone is in a mellow state; passengers, crew, gate agents.  The plane was full save the one seat beside me.  No way it’s going to stay open.  I had a book to read, but was in that half-reading,  half-alert state that you are in while you are waiting to see who your seatmate is.  Once they settle in, I would do my usual courtesy greeting and go back to my reading.

No one else was boarding, but the door was still open,  you could hear the whine of the APUs and some chatter on the jet bridge.  The flight attendant moved back a step and waved in the last passenger,  and then directed her to the seat beside me.

She was dressed the way people used to dress to fly when it was not so common or to board a first class long distance train.   Expensive coat,  nice dress, pearls,  patent leather heels.  And she was attractive.  Actually,  she was beautiful,  with wavy brunette hair that made her blue eyes stand out.  We did the customary greeting, she ordered a drink and we both settled in,  me with my book.

When the flight attendant appeared to take up the glasses before takeoff,  she said something funny.  I can’t remember what it was but all three of us were laughing.  That broke the ice, we exchanged names, and for the next 90 minutes, we talked without pause, other than to have drinks refilled.

The cabin lights were off other than the spillover from the galley and we spoke in that semi-darkness with the sound of the engines that seemed to magnify the intimacy.   She had man troubles.  She was reassessing her life,  and I was right there for part of it.  She had just been badly used and she admitted she was stuck in a pattern.  Her problem was not quantity,  but as is so often the case,  it was quality.  We spoke very little about myself, only that I had a family with a daughter.  The conversation continued along the same lines right up until the time we heard the screech of the tires touching down.

We both sighed,  we could have talked a lot longer.  She looked at me “so what are you doing now?”.  She’d opened a door.  I walked around it.  I have some work to do tonight.  It was a lie, but one I judged was worth telling.  “oh”.

She got up first,  and I watched her get her things together.  When I got up,  she was ready to head out the door, but she stopped and turned around.  She put her hand on my upper arm, and she stood there looking at it for a second,  her hand on my arm.  Then she looked me in the eyes and said “You were exactly what I needed tonight.  Thank you.”  And then she turned and walked off the plane.

The Big Whiff

I saw it coming before he did. It was just too obvious…too many beers, too much PBR apparel. I saw the blonde heading to the table between us and it was like the script was already written.

She seemed nice, at least she was patient you’d have to say.  His radar went off like a sailor in port on payday. He said something to her, admittedly it was kind of funny, I thought so and she did too, at least she laughed. A brief moment of triumph before the inevitable crash and burn.

That the PBR shirt and her Bogner apres ski clothes weren’t gonna mix well was apparent to everyone in the bar…well almost everyone.  He was in that beer fueled optimistic state that all guys experience. Unfortunately, there’s a delicate equilibrium of alcohol and stupidity and when one gets out of balance high comedy ensues. But for some reason she wasn’t shooting him down. That reason soon became apparent when three girlfriends arrived…she wanted to keep the quarry alive until the big guns showed up.

Now the women are giggling and taking potshots at the guy…he doubles down and orders another beer. I wanna tell the guy to stop, to preserve his dignity, but he’s beyond helping. I scope the women in the group, all of them attractive…the redhead especially so.

I lose interest and go back to my book. The bar was clearing out, you could feel it as the bodies left and the temperature dropped imperceptibly. The women were gone except the redhead, I could see her out of the corner of my eye. Then she got up to leave and I turned for a last look…and then I noticed her hand was trailing behind her, it was attached to another hand…that hand belonged to PBR guy.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved