The Employed Listener

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Commercial Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The story of a young boy who helps a stranger for no apparent reason at all. His actions set off a chain of events, weaved by fate, that will determine the life of all involved.

Submitted: February 15, 2008

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Submitted: February 15, 2008

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Jack and his mother had been living in one of the poorest neighborhoods of London for 9 years, in an old and tarnished cabin, which was bare from any aspects of a home. They moved in shortly after his father decided to leave one day. “I’m sick of it.” were his exact words, and Jack never saw his father again. Lily, Jack’s mother, worked full-time as a waitress in Joe’s Bar, and had little time to spend with her son. She thought she was doing the right thing, providing for her son and surviving, but Jack always missed his mother, even during the times when she was home. They usually ate one main meal all day, dinner. Jack tried to shape up decent food from the little ingredients they had before his mother got back from work, but usually ended up wishing he hadn’t even tried.
In school, Jack was the kind of kid who kept to himself and stayed out of people’s business. “Don’t stir up trouble Jack,” his mother had always said, “and stay away from it, I’ve only got one boy.” He had a kind soul, and was full of dreams. Dreams of success, of happiness and of a good life.
Once, when he was eight years old, Jack was walking back to his house from school under the pouring rain when his eyes glimpsed an elderly man on the corner of the street with a cardboard box held over his head by shivering hands to shield him from the water. The man was wearing a ragged pair of trousers and a brown trench coat, and his lips had a hint of blue in them due to the ice-cold wind. Jack felt utmost pity for the man, and was bewildered by this because he had always seen homeless people in the streets, but had never felt this way before. He wished there was something he could do. He considered offering a place to sleep in his house, but was too afraid of what his mother would think. Instead, he settled on doing the best he could at that time, and reached inside his backpack to grab his uneaten sandwich from lunch, which wasn’t as much of a sandwich as it was a loaf of bread. He cautiously approached the man, “Sir…sir, are you alright?” The man looked up. “Sir would you like this sandwich?” The man looked from the sandwich to Jack, and then to the sandwich again. He grabbed it, smiled at Jack, and lowered his head. Jack turned on his heels and headed back home, a sense of accomplishment drifting through his mind.
On December 18th, 1961, Jack was at the dinner table celebrating his sixteenth birthday with his mother. They were eating meat loaf, which his mother had been saving up for since October, just for her son’s birthday. “So how was school today son?” said Lily, “anything interesting?” Jack flipped through his day’s events, trying to find something worth talking about, but found none. “No, nothing much, mum,” replied Jack. “That kid I told you about, David, was showing off his new shoes today, he says his dad bought them for 30 pounds,” he said. “Oh my god, I can’t believe there are so many snobby kids at your school. Anyway, don’t listen to him, he’s just trying to make everybody else jealous,” replied Lily. “Well I think he succeeded,” murmured Jack. “What?” spat Lily. “No, I mean, really, why was I born poor? Why couldn’t I have been born rich like him? Why has the world been so cruel to us?” His mother’s face immediately turned a shade of red. Jack flinched. “WHAT? AFTER ALL WHAT I’VE DONE TO YOU, YOU COME AND SAY THIS,” she screamed loudly. “GET OUT…GET OUT OF THE HOUSE NOW!” Jack ran out of the front door, preferring the showering rain outside to his mother’s insults. The sound of his mother shouting drained as he stepped further down the stairs, until they were inaudible.
He walked the gloomy streets of London, for hours and hours, his mind wondered to a happier place, where worries were absent and hope flourished. His daydreaming was interrupted by the sound of a cat rummaging through a nearby dumpster, and he found himself standing at the gate of a gigantic mansion, on which were engraved the letters J.M. The front garden was mesmerizing, adorned with flowers and trees Jack had never seen before, and a flowing fountain in the middle. Marble statues of lions were on each side of the gate, giving a sense of grandeur and elegance.
“Young man…young MAN!” A woman called. Jack looked for the source of sounds and saw a plump old lady peering from behind the left side of the hedge. “Would you like a place to spend the night?” Jack nodded. The woman went into the house, and after a minute the gates opened. Jack walked up to the front oak door, but before he could knock, the woman opened the door and said “Come in, come in before you catch a cold.”
The moment Jack set foot in the main hall, his field of vision was filled with extravagance. From the crystal chandelier hanging on the ceiling, to the spotless marble staircase ornamented with gold linings. Large oil paintings hung from each side of the surroundings walls, and dark red carpets covered the entire floors. Awe was drawn all over Jack’s face. The housekeeper looked at him and said “Amazing isn’t it? Mr. Mason is one of the most noble people I’ve ever met, and all his wealth is well-deserved, if you ask me.” She led Jack up the stairs to the far most room of the stretching corridor. She got pajamas for him from the wardrobe, and later offered some warm milk and chocolate chip cookies. Jack finished his plate in a minute or less. “You must’ve been very hungry boy, eh?” said the housekeeper. “Yes, m’am” said Jack in a low voice, his cheeks reddening.
Later that night, he crept onto the silk bedspread and slept on down feather pillows. He experienced something he hadn’t in a long time, and finally realized it was physical comfort. He questioned himself, wondering whether it was safe for him to sleep in a strange house’s bed, but something inside him brought him at ease, and his eyes closed to a dreamless sleep.
The next morning, he was awakened by the sun striking his face. His eyes slowly opened. It took him a few seconds to realize where he was, and whether it was all a dream. He quietly got dressed and tried to sneak out of the house without anyone noticing, as to not cause more trouble, and avoid awkward questions. “You’re not going to leave without having breakfast with Mr. Mason first, are you?” The housekeeper asked, just before his hand could touch the front door’s knob. “No m’am” Jack replied.
He was led into a yet more luxurious hall, with a 100-foot long dining table in the middle. At the far end, an old man was sitting, sipping from a glass of orange juice and waiting for his guest to be seated. “Welcome, boy,” Mr. Mason greeted. “Sit, sit” he gestured to the chair beside him. “Would you like some eggs, or some delicious French toast if you’d like?” he said as he inspected the table’s various dishes. Mr. Mason face’s then turned away from the food and fixated on Jack’s. Suddenly, it had the strangest look on it. It was as if he had just witnessed a miracle. Jack didn’t notice that; as he was too busy examining a beautiful jewel-encrusted ring on the kind man’s hand. Mr. Mason wiped his shocked reaction off of his face and said “Son, I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing your name?” Jack hesitated to answer, still not reassured of who this man was, but after a few seconds, reconsidered and replied “Jack, sir…Jack Bolkin.” The man nodded, smiled, and said “You can call me John.”
Jack finished his superb breakfast after half an hour, during which Mr. Mason asked all sorts of questions, mainly involving Jack’s interests, hobbies, and background. He went up to the bedroom he had slept in during the previous night, grabbed his jacket, and went down the stairs. At the front door, Mr. Mason and his housekeeper were waiting for him. “It was a pleasure, boy” said the housekeeper, “Now, do you have a house to get back to?” she asked. “Yes, my mum should be worried sick by now,” Jack said. He put on his jacket and was ready to set off. “Jack, I need a favor to ask of you,” said Mr. Mason, “I’d like for you to come visit me daily, if you don’t mind,” he murmured. “For what?” asked Jack, caught off guard by this odd request. “Because I need a listener” Mr. Mason replied. “A what?” asked Jack. He had never heard of such a job. “You know, a listener. Someone that can listen to me. As you can see, I am a lonely man, and I have a lot on my mind. It would be nice if there was someone to talk to and share my ideas and feelings with.” Jack was still pondering on the concept and in his mind knew he was eventually going to refuse. Mr. Mason sensed Jack’s hesitation and added “I’ll pay you, if you’d like.” Jack was never greedy, but the prospect of getting paid doing something so easy appealed to him, and he thought of how much he would be helping his mother. “How much?” asked Jack. “100 pounds per day.” Jack was ecstatic, and immediately accepted. “At 3 o’clock then, Jack? Tomorrow?” asked Mr. Mason as Jack was going down the stairs. “Yes, sir” replied Jack with a huge smile.
At first, Jack was not so keen to his appointments with Mr. Mason. He just felt he might as well go if he was getting paid for it. The money he was receiving from Mr. Mason greatly improved Jack and his mother’s lives. They were able to rent a house in a much better neighborhood, and Lily was very thankful for the night she screamed at her son and drove him out of the house. “Best thing I ever did.” she always exclaimed.
After four years, Jack was still Mr. Mason’s listener. However, by that time, John Mason was Jack Bolkin’s best friend. His appointments with Mr. Mason were the highlight of his days. They would sit for hours and talk. Talk about their dreams, hopes, embarrassments, accomplishments and life. They often laughed, which was a rare occasion for both of them before their encounter four years previously. Jack’s life couldn’t get better than this, but everything was going to change on July 13th, 1965.
Jack was lying on his bed, talking on the phone with his girlfriend Nikki. She had known Jack for 5 months at that time, and they were already head over heels in love. They were talking about the movie they saw the previous night when Jack’s mother came hurrying into the room. Her face was soaked with tears, and her voice muffled by her uncontrollable sobs. “J-Jack..” she cried, “It-..It’s Mr. Mason….He’s sick.”
As Jack frantically stumbled into his car, he was feeling something extremely bizarre. It was as if his flesh wanted to separate form his bones. His fear was shivering across his limbs. He was numb. He drove to the same house he knew too well, yet it had never seemed that far before. As he turned the corner into John’s street, he saw an ambulance and a police car parked at the front gates. He tried to force the worst possibility out of his mind, but it was all he could think about. He stopped in the middle of the street and continued the way to the ambulance running, a strange thought convinced him he could get there faster that way. As he stopped, a police officer approached him. “Are you Jack Bolkin?” he asked. “Yes, yes that’s me..WHAT’S WRONG?” Jack yelled. “Mr. Mason has been requesting that you escort him to the hospital.”
As the doors of the ambulance opened, Jack knew he will never see a more devastating sight. His best friend was attached to so many equipment that his face was barely seen, and the parts that were visible showed pale skin. He was breathing heavily, but at the sight of Jack, his face lit up.
“Oh, Jack, son..Sit down, sit down, please,” Mr. Mason said with difficulty. “I need to tell you something…Son, do you remember my face?” Jack didn’t understand the purpose of the question “Well, of course, John, you’re-” “No, Jack, I mean do you remember me from before you came to my house?” interrupted John. “Well, no, but-” Jack didn’t know how to finish the sentence. “I see,” said John, “Well, son, do you remember walking in the pouring rain when you were a child, and you gave an old man your sandwich?” Jack couldn’t possibly figure out how in the world John could know that, Jack himself could barely remember, and he had never told that story to Mr. Mason. The only reasonable explanation masked his face in an instance. “I see you’ve figured it out. Well, during those times, Jack, I was a very poor man. I had nothing to my name, no family, no friends. Nothing. One day this stranger, a young child, came up to me and offered his sandwich. Do you know what that meant to me, Jack?” Jack could not answer, he was still stunned by the sudden surge of events happening at the same time. “When you gave me that sandwich, you gave me with it faith. Faith that kindness still existed in people, and that not everybody could walk past a homeless man and not pay the slightest of attention. I never forgot your face Jack, and never will. You drove me to change myself, and I was eventually hired by a well-known oil man as his assistant, merely out of pity. During my employment, I learned the outlines of the business, and one day, during an excavation for my boss, I spotted a land which was overlooked by my employer, and it had all the signs of a land covering a lake of oil. I quit my job and purchased that land with the money I had saved up. And sure enough, when I had it inspected, it was proven that oil was filling its depths. I sold the land to the highest bidder, and was a man of wealth overnight.” Jack was listening intently to the story, yet it felt as if the past hour had been all a dream, and he still didn’t utter a single word. “I don’t know what brought you to my doorstep that December night. Maybe it was fate, coincidence, or maybe God himself. Whatever it was, I am eternally grateful.” Suddenly, the sound of the nearby machine accelerated, piercing Jack’s heart with terror. The nurse sitting at the back rushed to the gurney. “Jack, never forget that I’ll always love you, and that you’ve always been a son to me,” Mr. Mason cried, peering over the nurse’s shoulder. “I love you, John” were Jack’s last words to his best friend.
Three weeks after the doomed day of July 13th, Jack was sitting in a rocking chair on the porch. He was staring into the sunset, the memories of his last conversation with Mr. Mason haunting his mind, when a black car parked in front of their house. A woman in a dark green suit stepped out of it, carrying a cup of coffee in one hand and a yellow folder in the other. She walked up the lawn, noticed Jack sitting in the chair and asked “Is your mother home, young man?” Jack did not know who this woman was, but didn’t care to ask. “Ya, she’s in the kitchen. Come on in.” Lily seated the woman at the kitchen table, and Jack was about to leave the room when the woman said “You can stay, Jack, this concerns you too.” How can this woman know my name, thought Jack. She opened the folder she had, took out a piece of paper and read aloud “I, John William Mason, give 10 percent of my finances and estate to my housekeeper, Susan Merch. 40 percent is to go to the homeless, and finally, 50 percent to my listener, Jack Harry Bolkin, along with the ring he had always admired.” Lily collapsed on the chair nearby. Jack stared at the woman in disbelief. “That 50 percent, how much is that worth, exactly?” asked Lily. “114 million pounds.” replied Mr. Mason’s lawyer. Jack’s mother turned her head, looked at him, and said “Throwing you out: Best thing I ever did.”
10 years later…
“So, what’s for today, Steve?” asked Jack Bolkin. “Well, sir, you have a meeting at 9, a contractor’s appointment at 12, and a conference at 4.” replied his assistant. The day was July 13th, 1975, and Jack had built himself a business empire. He was known as a good man. A man of heart, of integrity and of respect. “Cancel everything for the day, Steve, I want to visit my father’s grave,” said Jack. “And call Nikki, will you? I want to say hi to the kids.”
At the National Park Cemetery, Jack stood near the grave of John Mason, rubbing a ring on his hand with the tips of his fingers. He thought of all the good things that have happened to him through the past years. They all wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for you, Jack thought. “Thank you, dad,” Jack whispered. “I hope I’m making you proud.”


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