Cold Comfort

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The story of a man who is searching for redemption and the love of his only daughter.

Submitted: July 26, 2012

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Submitted: July 26, 2012

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Cold Comfort

 

“Yes, Carolyn. I know. I know. I know…I know! Look. I know we’re separated, but it’s her birthday and I’m her father. I just want to talk to her for a moment. Let me talk to her. No…no I haven’t been drinking”

John raised his voice, forgetting momentarily that he was standing at a payphone. He found himself angered by the accusation. Only because he was lying, and he knew that she knew it. He tried to keep his voice down in the midst of the crowded airport. The nervous glances of passerby only serving to further agitate his already delicate situation. He tried with everything in himself to keep from losing control. He couldn’t let his soon-to-be ex-wife find a reason to keep him away from his daughter any longer. She was the only bright spot left in his life.

“Could you just put Samantha on the phone? I just want to tell her I love her. “

John abruptly found his frustration turning to desperation at the realization of his tone. He tried so honestly to be the father that Samantha needed him to be. But he had failed, and the guilt followed his every move. He hadn’t been thinking when he purchased the plane ticket to see her. Carolyn would never let him see her. Not after all the disappointment and heartache he’d put them both through. He had to try, however. He had to let his daughter, the love of his life, know how much he truly cared for her.

“Yes. Yes I’m listening. I know, Carolyn. I know what I did…and I’m sorry. Look I have to go. Tell Samantha I love her.”

Every syllable of that sentence filled with anguish and self-pity. As he placed the receiver on the hook, his hands quaked with a self-hating anger that only came from years of being of no use to anyone important. John reached into the pocket of his wrinkled suit jacket and pulled out the most recent photo of his daughter that he owned. He looked at it with sadness and head-shaking regret. He had let her down so many times. He had never been there the way a child needs her father. There was always another late night at the office. Another drink to be had at the bar. Another woman who wasn’t his wife. In the eleven years since the day of her birth, he had never found time for the one thing his life that was supposed to mean anything to him. Now it was too late. Now she was out of reach, and he was the farthest thing from her mind.

John collected himself and shoved the photograph in his pocket. “Get it together, John,” he muttered to himself. He picked up his only suitcase and headed toward his gate. He’d hoped that perhaps while he was waiting to board his plane, he would figure out a way to actually see his daughter once he’d arrived. His wife didn’t know of his intentions to visit, and likely wasn’t going to welcome him with open arms. He had to try, however. He had to see his daughter and tell her as best he could that he loved her more than he could describe, and beg her to forgive him. To trust him. To love him at least half as much as he loves her.

On his way to the gate, John found himself passing the airport bar. He figured if his wife already knew he’d been drinking, it would do no real harm for him to have just one more. After all, he’d felt he needed something to calm his nerves for what was to be perhaps the most stressfully heart-wrenching encounters of his life. John shuffled his feet as he walked in and found an empty seat at the bar. Almost immediately, the bartender approached him.

“Uh…scotch on the rocks, please” John  mumbled as he rubbed his forehead as if doing so would somehow relieve him of the worry that accented his every heartbeat.

The bartender returned in a moment with John’s drink. He eagerly reached for it and took in a generous sip. The familiar burn of the whiskey found its way into his throat and into his chest where he needed it. He let out an exasperated sigh and tried to form a thought. Any thought that would help him prepare for what was to come. John took another sip of his drink. He held the glass to his lips longer than necessary. Hoping to maybe find the answer to every problem he now faced hidden under the ice that cooled his whiskey.

A moment later, John’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound a woman sitting next to him at the bar. He found himself looking at her for nothing more than simple curiosity. She wore a black pantsuit. Her overcoat loosely covered her slender frame and he could tell she had been tired from the day as her eyes  contained the cloudy fatigue of a late afternoon. Because of this, he’d assumed she was traveling on business and decided against striking up any sort of conversation with her.

“So where you headed,” the woman suddenly asked John.

“Uh…Cleveland,” John answered startled.

“Ah, Cleveland. I hate Cleveland,” said the woman as she sipped the cosmopolitan she’d ordered.

“Why…why’s that,” asked John suddenly curious.

“Horrible weather, boring people, and absolutely nothing worthwhile to do”

John thought reflectively. It  had been a while since he’d been in Cleveland and he could only faintly remember what kind of city it was. The more he thought about it, the more he’d tried to remember why he’d chosen to move himself and his then pregnant wife there all those years ago.

John suddenly realized how long the silence between them had lasted, and the sudden observation made him feel somehow uncomfortably awkward.

“So where are you headed,” John asked,  trying to sound genuinely interested in hearing her answer.

“Chicago. I’m an art dealer, and there are some amazing pieces there that I just have to see in person. Very young up and coming artists are producing them, so I want to..”

The woman continued to talk while John continued to drink. He made sure to nod with feigned interest at every 6th word. He had gotten very good at pretending to listen. Or perhaps not good enough, and that was the problem. He could never pay attention long enough to notice the details that were of any consequence, and he often found himself at a loss for words when asked if he knew why people felt the way they did about him. It was always just more convenient for John to remain oblivious to the thoughts and feelings of others. This ignorance, however, was always perceived as a selfish indifference. In reality, he really just didn’t know if he could handle knowing the reasons he fell out of the favour of those he felt were most important.

“So what is it you do, Mr….”

It didn’t seem that she had noticed he wasn’t listening. This saved John the trouble of having to apologize and explain to her he had something else on his mind.

“Edgeworth. John Edgeworth. I’m actually…between jobs at the moment”

It had been the first time today that John had been completely honest with someone. He found it to be remarkably easy. Maybe it was because she was a stranger, or maybe it was because he had run out of lies to tell and the truth was just a default option.

“Oh. Well I’m sorry to hear that. Well, John Edgeworth, I’m Allison Collins and it’s been very nice to make your acquaintance. I’m curious. What’s in Cleveland that’s got you flying out there?”

The question caused John to feel a lump in his throat. He reached into his pocket and rubbed his fingers against the photograph of his daughter.

“I’m actually going to see my daughter. It’s been a while.”

“Oh? How long has it been?”

“Four years”

“My, that is quite a while. How old is she?”

“She’ll be eleven in a few days”

John had begun to find himself hoping that Allison would suddenly realize that she was going to miss her flight and leave, but she continued to sit next to him with no signs of urgency. And no signs of changing the subject. Then suddenly, John felt like opening up. He felt like telling this woman he barely knew every detail of just what he was doing in an airport bar waiting for the plane to take him to daughter he barely knew.

“I was never exactly the best father or husband,” he said letting out a dejected sigh.

“I’ve always found myself too busy for her or her mother. I never honestly had good reason to be away from them, but still I never saw them. Every day, I think to myself that I should tell them how much I love them. Take them somewhere. Do nice loving things for them. But I never did. Samantha, that’s my daughter, was always the single brightest spot in my life. She never knew that.  I never told her.”

John went to take a sip of his scotch and realized the glass was empty. He sat the glass back on the bar and stared into it.

“Now I have to make up for everything I never did for her. If nothing else I have to let her know that her father loves her. After that, all I can do is hope that she finds a way to love me too.”

John could feel Allison’s eyes on him. He could feel her sympathy for him. No, not sympathy, her pity. He knew he didn’t deserve it, but he welcomed it. John needed someone to feel sorry for him, just once. He had gotten so used to people either hating him or being completely indifferent to him, that it was nice for someone to feel something different for him. Even if it was just sympathy.

“John,” said Allison with a hesitation John could almost feel pressing against him.

“If you truly love your daughter, and it really sounds like you do, then she’ll have no trouble seeing how much she means to you. She might not recognize it immediately, but she will eventually. Just do everything you can for her.”

  John knew this to be true. Or at least he knew it should be. He had no idea if Samantha’s mother was painting some kind of evil portrait of him in her mind. He only knew he had to see her as soon as possible before it was too late. Maybe it was already too late. Maybe he was just wasting his time and needlessly complicating his daughter’s life. John pushed the thought out of his mind and looked at Allison with a sort of pleading. He wanted to beg her to tell him he wasn’t as much of a waste as he felt he was.

“Look, John,” said Allison

“I have to catch my flight. I want you to know that any man who would fly across the country just to tell his daughter he loves her in person can’t be all bad.”

Allison flashed a supportive smile to John as she collected her things and left the bar.

After another drink, John decided it was time that he too get to his plane.  As he approached the gate, he felt his stomach turn with an anxiety he hadn’t felt since the day Samantha was born. It was almost as if he were about to become a father all over again.

John handed the gate attendant his ticket and boarded the plane. As he walked through the tunnel, thousands of images flashed through his mind. Everything from  the night Samantha was born, to her first birthday party, to the day Carolyn told him to leave their house and never return.

John stepped onto the plane and found his way to his seat. He stowed his bag in the overhead compartment and sat down next to the window. He stared out at the runway while he tried to imagine what he was going to say to his daughter if he got to see her. He’d resigned that at this point, there was nothing to do but try. If Carolyn was going to try and keep him away from Samantha, then he would fight as hard as he could to get to her. If only long enough to tell her how much she means to him.

In a few moments, all of the passengers had boarded the plane, and the flight attendants were securing the doors.  The plane began to move forward and the flight captain’s voice could be heard over the PA system. John closed his eyes and tried to shut this out. He didn’t want to hear anyone’s voice now but Samantha’s. He just wanted to hear her call him “dad”.  It wasn’t long before the scotch had caught up to John and he felt himself drift off to sleep.

The plane shook and John found himself abruptly awakened. The captain’s voice could once again be heard over the PA system.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We’re just experiencing a bit of turbulence. Nothing to be concerned about. I’ve turned on the fasten seatbelts sign until we’ve gotten through it”

John had heard those words plenty of times during flights before and thought nothing of it. He decided he’d just go back to sleep until the flight was over. Just as he began to doze off, the plane shook again. Then again. Then again. John felt himself getting a bit nervous. He’d never been on a plane that experienced this much turbulence and it told him something was definitely wrong. He looked outside saw that it was raining. Lightning danced across the sky and filled John with a sense of unease. The PA speaker crackled once more.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain. We’re flying through some pretty rough weather so I’m going to bring the plane up another few thousand feet to see if I can get above it. Again, there’s nothing to…”

Before the captain could finish his sentence, a bolt of lightning came down in front of John’s face and struck the plane’s engine. It immediately burst into flames and oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling.

“Damn it! Get it under control! Pull it up!”

The captain had obviously forgotten that the PA speaker was still on. The cabin was filled with the panicked screams of passengers.

“Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” gasped the man next to John. He was terrified. John could see the sense of realized mortality in the man’s eyes and soon could feel his own fear taking hold of him.

John didn’t fear for his life. He feared that he wasn’t going to get the chance to see his daughter again. Tell her all the things he was supposed to. He was afraid that he would die without her knowing that she meant more to him than his next breath.  

John felt the plane begin to tilt downward.

“No. Please. I was so close,” muttered John.

John began to feel desperate. He began to feel angry. He began to feel cheated. He had come so far. He was so close to his daughter and now she was slipping farther away by the second.  He could feel the plane picking up speed.

“We’re going to die, aren’t we?” said the panicked man next to John.

John knew this was a rhetorical question, but he couldn’t help but answer him

“Yes. I think we are.”

At this the man began to scream and cry uncontrollably. John could only think of Samantha. All the regret he would die with. He was never going to hear her voice again, and at this, he began to sob deeply.

John knew this was soon to be the end for him. The end of his failures, the end of his disappointments, the end of his redemption. Everything would be over in a matter of moments.

“Samantha…I’m sorry. I love you.”

The plane struck the ground with agonizing force. And just like that, he was out cold.

John awoke to find his vision blurry and his head spinning. He realized he was lying in a field of grass. He slowly got to his feet and looked down at himself. He couldn’t find a single scratch on his body. His clothes weren’t torn, he wasn’t in any pain.

“How long was I out? Where am I?” thought John.

He looked around and finally spotted the wreckage of the plane he had been on. It had been broken in half. Fires raged and sirens blared. People were running in every direction. News vans had assembled outside of a blockade.

As John walked forward, he saw the bodies of his fellow passengers. Men, women…children. Violently torn from their seats thrown about like dolls. He felt remorse for their fate. He knew that this wasn’t how any of them would have wanted to die. Afraid and out of control. John continued walking and then felt his heart drop into his stomach.

He was looking at his own dead body. He had wanted so badly to believe that he miraculously survived the crash alive and unharmed. He’d wanted so badly to believe that he was given another chance to see Samantha and put everything right. But he wasn’t. He was never going to see her again, and what he saw cemented that into his mind. John fell to his knees and stared at himself. He wanted to cry, scream, yell, anything. But he couldn’t he felt numb. He felt empty. He wondered what was to become of him. Where was he going now? He was sure that if Hell did in fact exist, that’s where he was going. He knew that someone who’d caused so much pain only belonged there.

As John began to imagine what fate awaited him, he began to feel very light. Like his whole body was filled with nothing but air. He looked down and saw his feet began to leave the ground.

“No, this can’t be right. Am I going to Heaven? I don’t deserve to go to Heaven,” thought John.

As soon as that thought entered his mind, he felt himself being pulled forward by some unknown but increasingly powerful force. He was moving faster and fast. Buildings and trees were blurs in his peripheral vision. This velocity began to slow and he soon realized where he was. He looked down and he saw the skyline of Cleveland, Ohio. What was he doing here?

John found himself floating in the direction of his family home. The house where he once lived with his wife and daughter. John began to feel an intense anxiety building in him. He realized that he wasn’t ready to see his wife. He wasn’t ready to see his daughter. Not yet. This was out of his control, however, and he was pulled ever closer.

As John neared the house, I felt himself slowly floating downward. He watched as the house grew larger and closer. In a few moments, John was on the ground again. He was on the walkway leading up to his former doorstep. He had come so far, and yet he could not will his legs to move.

“Go inside,” said a voice John heard in his mind

“There’s something special waiting for you”

John couldn’t bring himself to resist any longer. He walked up to the door and reached for the knob. His hand passed through it as if it weren’t there at all. He reached his head toward the door and found that without effort his fingers reached through the wooden panels. John stepped forward and in an instant, he was inside his old house.

He walked around and saw that everything was almost completely as he left it. Then he saw Carolyn and stopped in his tracks. He had almost forgotten how beautiful she was. Her shoulder-length brown hair partially covering her heart-shaped face. He didn’t realize how much he missed being around her.

“Carolyn?” called John.

She didn’t respond.

“Carolyn? It’s me. It’s John. I’m home,”

Carolyn didn’t seem to hear him. John walked over to her and tried to touch her, but his hand had passed through her just as it did the door. He stood in front of her and yet she couldn’t see him.

“What…what is this? Why is this happening?” thought John. His frustration mounting, he couldn’t understand what it was that brought him or for what reason. He began to think that perhaps he was brought here so that he could be tortured. Spend the rest of eternity being an empty invisible shade that was of no consequence to anyone. Then the voice came to John once more.

“Go upstairs. There’s someone who would like to see you”

John complied and walked slowly up the stairs. He remembered exactly where Samantha’s room was and walked toward it with equal measures apprehensiveness and eagerness. Her door was open. He peered through and saw her. Kneeling next to her bed. Hands clasped together

“Please bring my dad home. Mom said he can’t come here, but I want to see him. I never get to talk to him at all. I just wanna see him for a little while.”

John couldn’t believe it. After all this time, Samantha had never given up on him. She never stopped loving him. She never stopped wanting to be with her father.

“Sam?”

Samantha voice stopped and she turned her head to face John.  When her eyes met his, smiled wide and found herself unable to speak.

“It’s me, Sam. It’s dad. I’m home, baby”

Samantha ran toward her father, and he kneeled to meet her embrace.

John hugged her tightly

“I’ve missed you so much, Samantha. I love you. I love you so much”

A single tear made its way down John’s cheek.

Then Samantha whispered “I know, Daddy. I always knew I could count on you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 John Vattic. All rights reserved.

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