Friday, February 8, 2013

Remittance Man

 (February 17, 2013 Author's note: This is essentially version 2.5 of this story. Any comments would be appreciated.)

Dressed in a long trench coat and wearing a fedora Michael Cook appeared out of the morning mist as if he was some sad ghost forever trapped in the earthly realm. The early morning rush of people heading off to work had long ended leaving the restaurants and small cafes he passed nearly devoid of customers. He ignored the warm and cozy empty tables he saw through the windows and settled on a Starbucks coffee house taking a seat among the old wrought iron tables on its deserted patio.

For Michael, a man of prestige and power, waiting was a strange sensation. He was use to having people either quickly fawn over him wanting to meet his every whim or cringe in fear over the possibility of his disapproval. Twenty minutes passed before the small Starbuck’s staff inside noticed him sitting on the patio and another ten went by before a server decided to go outside to see if he was okay.

“Sir,” she said bending over slightly to catch his attention, “this time of the year the patio is closed, please feel free to come inside, if you want.”

“I’m fine right here.” He declared, barely acknowledging the young woman’s presence. “Large coffee, black and no sugar,” he added in spite of what he had just been told instinctively knowing his order will be filled with the same certainty someone knows the sun will always rise in the morning.

For reasons she could not really explain the server walks back inside and fills the eccentric man’s order telling her coworkers about the strange encounter. The consensus that quickly emerged was that he was some sort of visiting professor at the nearby College of William and Mary, they were generally a surly and introspective lot and this guy fit that description. By mutual agreement, they decided that if he wanted anything else he could come inside.

The server returns a few minutes later with Michael’s coffee, not wanting to disturb the old man sensing he might he might be far more trouble than he was worth she silently places the insulated container on the table. He in turn hands her a fifty-dollar bill without looking at her. “Keep the change,” he says absently.

As the young woman walks away happy with the large tip, Michael carefully picked up the steamy container concentrating very hard to stop his hands from shaking. When his control returns he takes a small sip feeling pride in momentarily overcoming the disease that was not so slowly robbing him of his dignity and the ability to control his environment. Turning slightly in his chair he watched the server walk back inside realizing she was quite the attractive woman. His observation had nothing to do with any possible sexual interest in her. She was far too young and he was too old for that. It was the unemotional observation of a man who had long out lived any ability or desire to woo or seduce a beautiful woman despite many memories of doing just that, a habit that ultimately cost far more than it was worth.

As she disappeared behind the closing ornate wood and glass door of the Starbuck coffee house Michael was alone again looking out at the deserted street. In one direction lay the campus of the College of William and Mary and the other way lead to the grounds of Colonial Williamsburg. Gray November skies and a persistent cold drizzle were keeping what students who had not gone home for Thanksgiving and the scattered tourists who came to see the nearby historic district dry and warm inside their dorms and hotel rooms.

As Michael sat on the patio absorbed in the isolation and silence, he watched as a sudden gust of wind stirred up the leaves scattered about the curb and street. The blast of air was strong enough to pick them up and cause them to swirl about almost as if they were dancing until the energy played out leaving them again strewn on the ground in a new location further down the street. Michael ignored the thoughts of futility and decay that wanted to invade his mind and he forced himself to remember a happier time, which was the reason he was there to begin with.

This bright and happy time had him sitting in the exact same location on the patio. Except that it was a warm spring afternoon many years before and the building now housing a national coffee franchise was a simple diner serving lunch. Beside Michael was his wife, Alison, and across from them sat Thomas, their seven-year old son. Thomas had wanted to go to Disney World but Michael’s demanding work schedule and Alison’s church and social activities did not allow the long and time consuming trip to Florida. Instead, the family drove down from Richmond to Williamsburg, Virginia to enjoy the historical site and so Michael could take care of some business.

Despite the disappointment to Thomas, the boy was all smiles. It was clear to both his parents he was enjoying the rare occasion of having their undivided attention. Later that day the family walked among the colonial houses watching the reenactors playing out the 18th century roles. As evening approached they strolled among the wooded paths before going back to their hotel. That night as both his parents tucked him in bed he told them this day had been the happiest in his life.

Those memories of warm sunshine and having his family close were the most important possessions Michael had now that everything else he had once considered important had left him or faded away as the years passed by.

“After all these years I suppose this had to happen eventually.” A voice from Michael’s past said coldly, pulling him out of his recollections. The face of the person now standing in front of him had a vague resemblance to someone he once knew but the tenderness and empathy associated with it was completely absent. What he now saw was disdain and vaguely hid contempt.

“Hello Alison,” Michael said after taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, “Where’s Davis? I didn’t think you two ever went anywhere without the other.”

“Davis past away three years ago Michael,” Alison said matter-of-factly.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” Michael said formally, “he was a good man.” To Michael the words burnt like acid as they rolled off his tongue. It went unsaid but he was actually happy to learn the man was dead and hoped he burned in Hell.

Alison said nothing in return; she only pulled one of the matching wrought iron chairs away from the table and sat down.

“This is quite the special event, please, do sit down and join me,” Michael said sarcastically, “we have years of catching up to do.”

“Keep your snarky comments to yourself Michael, nothing has changed since the divorce. For Tommy’s sake, all I ever wanted to know about you since then was that you were still breathing. You abandoned Tommy and me long before any formal legal document stated that fact.”

Michael laughed. “I left you? If I remember correctly, your lifestyle and social obligations required a lot of money, for that reason alone it became essential that I work extra long hours. No, my sweets, it was you that left Tommy and me, you may want to ignore this fact and play the victim, but both of us know Tommy was closer to his nanny than you.”

“Is that how you rationalize your multiple infidelities?” Alison asked as if an important piece of a long abandoned puzzle had mysteriously appeared revealing a lost secret.

“Please Alison, there is enough blame to go around for the both of us, including that bastard you married after me. I’m here just to think of happier times.”

“Why do you think I am here as well?” Alison almost whispered. “We had something special at one time.”

“No,” Michael said putting down the container of coffee and shoving his hands in his coat pockets to hide the shaking he was now unable to control. “We were not special, in fact you and I were just run of the mill individuals that became self absorbed assholes because of our successes. Tommy was the only thing special about us and your husband ruined that.”

“If you insist on blaming Davis,” Alison said, “I’m going leave, Tommy followed in his footsteps because you were never around.”

Visions of Tommy’s graduation from West Point ran through Michael’s mind. His life after the divorce had been one meaningless relationship after the other. The money and power of being a high-paid and sought after attorney had made his life easy and free from worry. During his carefree days Michael just assumed he would reconnect with Tommy when he was older and that his son would follow in his footsteps and become an attorney. Instead, Tommy became a soldier like his stepfather.

“Yeah, I think it's best we both leave.” Michael said standing up, “I feel the urge to strangle you right now.”

Alison got up as well and began quickly walking in the other direction without saying anything else. A few seconds later Michael turned around to have one last look at the small patio table and imagine his young son still sitting there. A short distance away, he saw Alison had stopped as well and was looking back towards the patio obviously remembering that same happy moment in time.

“Tommy would have been thirty-years old today.” They both said to themselves and each other.

Rage and despair filled Michael's mind at the thought of how much he had lost, so much that inside the pockets of his coat his hands were clinched into fists. In the fingers of his left hand he felt the letter he had received from Alison stating their son had died in Iraq. He had been on a south Pacific pleasure cruise with clients when Tommy was killed and did not learn about the event until he returned home two weeks later. Not wanting to give Alison the satisfaction of seeing him totally defeated he turned and walked away, this time his hands were shaking for a completely different reason.


Akelamalu said...

Oh how sad, but fantastic writing Beach.

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

I feel for Michael. I really do.

Anonymous said...

A delightful read. I enjoyed it very much. Thank you.

Randal Graves said...

Dude, this was really good.

fourleaf clover said...

a sad one, short but well-written =)

Mike Williams said...

One of Jimmy Buffet's sadder songs and one of your sadder stories. I can't say I cared for either of the characters. Not because they weren't well written but because they were both jerks. Good Story.

Pixel Peeper said...

Very sad; great story. Makes you realize how easy it is to just get on the wrong track in life.

lime said...

you definitely drew me in and made me feel the years of regret and sadness and loss. very well done.

Beach Bum said...

Akelamalu: Thanks, its a story whose idea came from both a picture I had taken while on vacation at Colonial Williamsburg and the Jimmy Buffett song of the same name.

While the picture I took was of my daughter in the background was a couple sitting with their son. The dad seemed preoccupied with stuff on his mind and the mom was on her cell. It struck me as odd at the time, see when I'm on vacation all other concerns like work go out the door. While I understand some do not have that privilege I just remember seeing that kid being very happy.

Jerry: Yeah, this story is more or less structured around one of my usual themes about how the capitalistic rat race ain't worth the cost. "Michael" was a jerk but so was "Alison" in her own manner.

Mad Mike: Glad you liked it!

Randal: Thanks, still chasing down my usual typos and may rewrite a paragraph or two.

Fourleaf: Thank you and welcome. Will stop by your place shortly.

Mike W.: Yeah, like I told Jerry above I ain't into the rat race lifestyle. My problem is that I live, work, and associate with many who do. The two main characters are very much like several people I know in my little cursed area of South Carolina.

Pixel: Exactly, I have a strong aversion to that type of lifestyle. Then again, those that do enjoy that life are far more successful than me. I suppose a balance could be achieved between those types of demands and family life but it would be hard.

Life As I Know It Now said...

They could have been friends in their mutual grief rather than bitter toward each other but then that's the way most people behave towards each other.

Anonymous said...

I liked it. You were able to make the reader feel the emotion of the situation, and that's not always easy.
The only thing I'd like to point out is that the military doesn't notify you of a soldier's death with a letter. They will notify you in person. Maybe he's holding some piece of his son's military life? A metal, a letter from him?

Ryan Ferguson said...

I like this post for the most part. However, I want to give you a more in-depth critique. If you'd like, I can critique on a line-by-line basis. Just share the document with my via Google Drive and give me comment privileges.

Look forward to hearing from you!

Beach Bum said...

Lime: Thanks! Funny how story ideas come.

Life As I Know It Now: Yeah, that is the way most people beave.

Melissa: Yeah, I had to figure that since "Tommy" was primarily in the care of his mother and "Davis" they were the ones that got the knock on the door. You're right though, if I get around to doing a rewrite I need to fix that letter issue.

Ryan: Thanks, passed it over to you through Google drive, if I did it correctly.

Mike Williams said...

If they had just gone to Busch Gardens a mile or so down the road with the kid they could have avoided all the drama.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Outstanding. This has got to be my favorite of the writing snippets you've posted. The characterizations are very true-to-life and poignant. Good job!

goatman said...

Usually I leave half way through your stories but this one held my attention, --why were they meeting, what happened to the kid, the time changes of the patio, some history -- very nice.
You are getting better at this.