FATAL FLAW

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Even the very best of humanity have at least one flaw. Sometimes, it seems that those who contribute the most good in the world are capable of doing the darkest evil.

Submitted: August 02, 2017

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Submitted: August 02, 2017

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FATAL FLAW

A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran

 

 

“Hey, Andy,” smiled Charlie Hone, “you got all that big old backpack there on your back . . .jeez, man, that has to be real heavy. I mean, looks like you got a few hundred pounds in there.” Charlie laughed and slapped Andy on a spare shoulder.

Andy had barely avoided tripping over Charlie in the grasping gloom of an early Sunday morning.

Charlie was one of the best neighbors Andy Ettinger had.

In truth, they all loved Andy. Not one of them would pass up a chance to do some favor for Andy; call a cab or an Uber; mow his lawn; feed his cats when he traveled; even take his batteries to Walgreens for recycling.

“Seems you’re always totin’ someone else’s bale, Andy,” smiled Charlie, a seventy year-old retired Detective who wore his grey hair long and his temper short, “damn, if you don’t seem to have a different size pack every time I see you, which isn’t often these days, I must say. Whatch’ya  been up to; and what’s next; a duffel bag, sailor style?”

He laughed with a mild merriment, just enough to bring a smile to Andy’s crinkled lips.

“Hey, Charlie, needs dictate the pack, you know. Size of the surprise, eh?” Andy began his own round of laughter. When Andy laughed, his face appeared to crack between his brows; his head took on the shape and mien of a ship’s prow.

“Whadaya got in there today; looks like could be baby elephants.”

“Moon rocks, Charlie, nothing but moon rocks. That astronaut guy over on Eleventh Street told me his grandkids were spooked by having alien material in his house, so he just told me to take them if I wanted to.

"I’ll put ‘em in the back garden where they can catch the maximum moonlight. Next to the Deadly Nightshade and The Foxglove, between the Datura and the Death Caps.”

Charlie nodded an ignorant nod while maintaining a neutral look on his long lined face. It seemed to him that every time he asked Andy about the contents of his pack, he received a recondite answer, which meant that he was left with no answer at all.

“Well, neighbor, any time I can give you a hand with any of this, just let me know, okay?”

Andy looked down into the brown dull static eyes of his neighbor and wondered if he had a backpack big enough to hold Charlie.

“Hey, okay, Charlie. Might do real soon. I’ve got a lot of digging to do coming up; maybe see how you are with a shovel, eh?”  

This time Andy did not laugh. But Charlie did.

Andy, white-haired and lean, was well into his eighties. He was quite tall but stooped from a lifetime of bending to the shorter height of others.

His face usually wore an expression of subdued displeasure, not easily discernible without close regard. Often his lips were a mere dash and his black eyes receded to bee bee size behind a quasi-Neanderthal skull.

Andy turned away from his dim friend and thought about all the people around the area who either liked or loved him.

He had earned their love and respect.

Yes, Andy Ettinger knew how much all these people; these hundreds of people in his neighborhood loved him. He wondered which part of his character was the top vote getter. Or was it simply his constant willingness to volunteer for anything; to help anyone?

On Mondays, Andy made the rounds of the local Children’s Hospital, visiting sick kids, especially those with cancer.

Andy often stayed until the very last minute of visiting hours to give the kids encouragement in any form he could imagine. Gifts and treats were always in his backpack. Special requests were always filled.

Monday nights, Andy drove for Meals on Wheels.

Andy had lost his wife, Mavis, to a vicious South American stomach fluke some twenty years ago. Her lingering death visibly drained the determination from his jaw line and left the rest of his face in a puddle.

She had encouraged him to keep up his driver’s license and to continue driving at every opportunity; to never lose his mobility. She always warned him that once he lost his driving mobility, his physical mobility would be next, and then it was curtains.

On Tuesdays, Andy helped out at the animal clinic, spaying cats. The remainder of the day, he picked up and delivered sick and cured animals and birds.

On slow days around the pet clinics, Andy would go and read to the blind. Sometimes this was accomplished in a studio where his words were disseminated throughout the entire area, as well as the meeting rooms and living quarters of the blind children.

By the time six o’clock rolled around, even the ferociously optimistic  Andy Ettinger was partially deflated.

Ten years ago, Andy’s son, Hunter, died from an overdose of cocaine. Although Hunter was a well-respected dentist in the city, he somehow lost his way.

First, he tried the nitrous oxide, often slumping all night at his clinic, drifting in and out of states of stupor and seventh heaven.

When the aggressive effects of the oxide began to dwindle, Hunter turned to cocaine, which he scored from several of his patients.

The day before his death, Hunter learned than he had inoperable brain cancer. His last lines were as much a celebration of death as they were a festival of his rapidly concluding life. His Head Nurse found him draped over the pick tray in Suite A with a smile on his lips and a terrible complexion.

On Wednesdays, Andy made the rounds of five hospitals, a skilled nursing center, and three long-term retirement homes, where he read a variety of fiction and non-fiction, as well as the local newspaper and the New York Times, to bedridden residents.

Invariably, some members of the institutions would insist on another story. This made for very late nights and a cold supper.

Last year, Andy’s grandson was killed when he inhaled toxic fumes form a massive fire in a warehouse holding Performance Art presentations. A number of other people also died, mostly from being trampled to death.

For weeks, neighbors noticed Andy’s absence. Most had no idea that his grandson was a victim of the frightening conflagration. When they discovered this horrible fact, many of them placed candles and flowers at the base of Andy’s mailbox. Some left tuna casseroles, others, cherry pies.

Every Thursday would find Andy either in the Presidio or along one of the several beaches bordering the city. In these locales, Andy would stoop, bend, and grunt while picking up loose seaweed holding beer cans or dig holes for planting trees or shrubs.

On several occasions, Andy would lead the Beach Patrol to check for broken glass and can tabs hiding under an inch or two of sand. Metal detectors were his third or fourth hobby and so he relished Thursdays for the opportunity to get right at it with a detector. Sometimes he found collateral treasure; coins, jewelry, watches, and on one occasion, a full denture.

Andy had two sisters and three brothers. All were alive but in various types of ‘homes’.

Neither Jocelyn nor Arabella could communicate because of the loss of their hearing along with faded vision. They dimly recognized Andy and would shout at him for hours but were unable to decipher anything he said, leaving the impression that they and he were on two sides of a soundproof piece of Plexiglas with only a one-way audio function.  

However, Andy never missed a day and continued to send all the appropriate cards and wishes for good health, or another birthday, or Happy Holidays. The sisters greatly appreciated this and reciprocated.

Andy’s three brothers; Clem, Curtis, and Devon, were scattered in one-room walkups throughout the lower income areas of the city. Nevertheless, they continued to live alone and attempted to sustain their dignity, if not their pride in the eyes of their brother by volunteering to lead singsongs and square dances at the nearest Senior Center.

Andy’s wife had been stung by the home economics and home money management bug twelve years before the fatal fluke.

Almost from the instant of concluding her online courses in investing and wealth growth, she rang the bell, buying one harebrained stock after another until their portfolio resembled that of a mad techhie with a one-track mind.

However, as the years rolled along, these initial flyers like Apple and Amazon, Google and Facebook, burst forth into the light of general market consideration and promptly went through the roof.

As a result, Andy had money coming out his pants from every pocket. He quickly came to appreciate that their fortune was not from good fortune, but one earned by the extraordinary powers of premonition possessed by his darling wife.

At the time of her death, Andy was able to supplement the care of his sisters as well as enliven the lives of his three dim brothers, undertakings to which he applied himself with gusto and great success.

All five were extremely happy, considering where they were perched in the goofy cage of life.

On Fridays, Andy labored to preserve the glories of the municipal holdings; parks; terraces; rose gardens; the Dahlia Gardens; the Botanical Gardens; the hot weather inhabitants of the steamy Conservatory of Flowers, where Andy volunteered to direct attention to the various exhibits as well as conduct tours for out-of-town Rotarians and Masons.

Morning and afternoon, Andy was with glove and trowel; microphone and leaflets; soil and pricks.

Many a Friday night found Andy bent over a sickly plant or butterfly while a full moon threatened the arrival of lycanthropes.

Most of Andy’s school chums died before their eightieth birthday. Now that Andy was about to hit the nineties, he began to miss a number of those dear pals of yesteryear.

With his vast and available pile of cash, Andy undertook to seek out the families of his old friends and, where required, drop large amounts of money into their bank accounts. 

After visiting the thirty-fifth widow, Andy decided to try and find out what had caused all his classmates to succumb at what was now considered a relatively early age. 

This led Andy to several conferences with longevity experts, gerontologists, Life Extension weirdoes, and a worldwide cross-section of strange people, all obsessed with trying to squeeze out another week or two when the end of the stick got pretty much shitty.

After investigating all his high school and college mates, Andy decided to look into the progress of death in his architecture class. They were, almost to a man and woman, sturdily marching through their eighties and into their nineties, matching  Andy, step for step, in their assault on the higher numbers of the mortality charts. And they were dammed glad to see Andy. Most of them insisted on staying in touch and Andy obliged.

These were the first moments of enjoyment in Andy’s personal life since he could remember. However, each night, before he fell asleep, he had this image of all his closest friends sinking while on an architectural cruise through the Northwest Passage, bowled over into the icy deep by a mutant iceberg, the size of Latvia.

Saturdays, Andy made the rounds of the Missions, where he would prepare and serve lunches and dinners to the influx of homeless and downtrodden members of the community. After finishing the clean-up, Andy would counsel both men and women about their choices at the moment, often urging them to undertake one challenge or another for which Andy would pay. School and job training were the most popular.

While a large portion of the neighborhood was at church on Sunday morning, Andy chose to visit God’s errors in the insane asylum. He often forced a debate with some religious type about the theory of intelligent design. Andy would then lead his debate opponent down the corridors of the poverty-green painted building, pausing at certain doors or rooms or gatherings, to verbally tag one or more of the inmates as an exhibit for his point of view.

His opponent never failed to be humbled, but, as with most zealots, the moment they escaped Andy Ettinger, they reverted to their idiotic position and prepared for the next debate, writing down Andy’s salient arguments and vowing to visit the church or one of its elders during the week to garner some new ammunition.

Andy’s pals from his Vietnam War days were rapidly diminishing. Death and disease maintained a ferocious pace in their elimination of the best friends he ever had.

On Sundays afternoons, the few who remained were the recipients of calls, emails, and SKYPEs. Those in the VA, received personal visits which often lasted well into the quiet, mournful Sunday nights. 

Andy would also make a point, whenever he was rained out of any of his weekly outdoor volunteer activities, to rush to the VA and console his old buddies.

On every late Sunday evening, an impenetrable curtain of heartbreaking gloom shrouded all the sunshine of Andy’s disposition.

When he arrived home, he waited, with his cats, until midnight before turning his back on the latest week of profound misery that surrounded him; that surrounded his neighbors and theirs; and theirs, all unable to or unwilling to acknowledge the endless layers of deprivations and suffering that surround us on all sides, every day, throughout the year, since the beginning of time.

Blazing interior heat scalded his mind, his thoughts, his soul.

how can anybody presume anything from life, other than death

Maybe that’s why Andy Ettinger did what he did in the early hours of every morning between two am and five am.

He had lost four cats to dogs over the years. Several of his family and most of his friends and acquaintances had been menaced by or bitten by dogs.

Everyone he knew deplored the fact that dogs piss and shit on everything and anything whenever they want. The scale of this health crisis appeared to Andy to be either covered up by or blown off by the consortium of dog owners, dog lovers, petstore owners, and everyone with stock in PETCO.

He decided that after every day of every week helping those who were incapable of helping themselves, he would do what he could to reduce the surplus canine population.

Depending on his reconnaissance and surveillance, Andy would choose the proper size bag and head off into the gloom of night, intent on completing his rounds despite snow, fog, or rain.

Andy Ettinger had been poisoning dogs for over ten years.  


© Copyright 2017 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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