LAST SCENE

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A high school class reunion revives old flames and broken hearts, some old and some new, a lot of life . . .and death.

Submitted: March 31, 2016

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Submitted: March 31, 2016

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LAST SCENE

A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran

 

“Whatever became of that slick bastard, eh?”

Morris Poole was looking over the shoulder of Larry Berman while they scanned and commented on the graduation photos tacked to the large rectangle of corkboard sitting under the banner proclaiming the fortieth high school reunion for Morrisburg Collegiate Institute and Vocational School.

Poole had maintained his alarming skinniness over the years by inhaling liberal quantities of alcohol and drugs.

Berman had not maintained his naturally muscled body through lack of both attention and concern. Thus, each had succumbed to their bêtes noir over the last forty years and they had agreed between themselves that they were damn lucky to be alive at all.

Poole had become a welder; Berman an exceptionally talented artist.

Black and red crepe dangled and doodled in various patterns around the gym. Live and sober musicians were featuring a sax solo of Earl Bostic, while a drinkers’ babble bounced off all the brick walls and ricocheted from the bottom of the running track suspended over the perimeter of the basketball court serving as the festive site of the class of ’76.

Both men were drunk. Berman was handling the load with a shaky glow; Poole needed a toothpick job on his eyelids.

“Somfabitcch immigrated to Ottawa; we’re too small for him, eh?; here in Morrisburg, eh?” He drooled onto his name tag changing his name to _o_r_s  P_o_le, which the next grad sidling up to view the mug shots read as Ors Pole and with a wicked whiney dribble, “Helllooo; Ors Pole; is that all a descripseeooon of your,” belch, “charctooor, eh?” Jeff Lynn then gave a bellowing burp and fell to a sitting position on the floor beside Berman’s Keds.

Poole ignored him. Berman moved his feet in a preemptive barf-defense maneuver.

Lynn was burbling an incoherent version of the old school song, punctuating the stanzas with eructations that threatened to turn his upper GI inside out.

The guy on sax was good; the grads and insignificant others clapped away the gabble and suddenly made this ill-advised gathering, a herd worth taming. The gabble level dropped even lower while a slow number from the seventies oozed into the hearts and memories of the participants.

“Naw, Hayward was a good guy, Morrey; a really good guy. He went to Ottawa to that prep school; and then to Queens. He’s an architect. Had to move to Arizona for his health; he caught TB in the Senatorial swimming pool and damn near died; so off to the sun and sand, eh?”

“Really?” gurgling, wanting to hock and spit, but settling for a swallow, “TB? “Jesus, Larry; I thought TB was fully squashed—stamped out; you know; kaput, eh?”

“Jesus, Poole; you’re coming across as a bad mix of a McKenzie brother and a goofy Newfie; you need another drink,” Berman put a hand under Poole’s elbow and swiveled him to face the open road to the open bar, “yeah, Chris Hayward was a good guy; a real good guy; knew him ‘til he went to Ottawa; saw him about two years ago. He came back for the summer, eh; stayed in Rockway; came by the gallery when I was off doing a photo lab deal around Bear Falls.

“Susan called me and I came back. Him and his wife and us went to dinner. Had a super time. Yeah, a really good guy; and a terrific wife. Chrissy boy always knew how to pick ‘em, eh?”

The outlines of the bar wobbled into view. Poole was half-asleep in the elbow grip of M.C.I.V.S.’s strongest grad.

“Are we there yet?” mumbled Poole? “I have to take a leak.” And he slipped Berman’s grasp and disappeared into the mishmash of swaying couples.

Berman decided to get another drink for himself and found Jane Drury standing next to him.

“Well, Janey; what a surprise, eh?; all the way from Victoria; wow; that’s just amazing; how are you, eh?”

Mrs. Jane Drury Mellis had retained a remarkable amount of her younger version and Larry took it all in as though it was 1976 and they were constant companions. She was tall and, it seemed to Larry, as trim as she appeared in her Graduation photo. Her cheekbones were prominent, giving her blues eyes a perfect platform. Yes, her eyes were her main drawing card.

Her brother Bob and Larry were fast friends; and out of respect for Bob—well, Bob’s family—Larry had kept his relationship with Jane at a level scarcely above platonic. It had been a struggle, and Jane’s lingering affection for Chris Hayward had further impeded any budding expression of ardor.

“Larry!” with genuine joy, “I heard you were sick and couldn’t make it; I was very disappointed, but . . . here you areAnd you look pretty much great, too.” Her dark blue eyes flashed a look of lost love and filtered memories.

“Is Chris here?”

It was common knowledge among the class of ’76 that Jane was devastated when Chris moved to Ottawa—and never returned; not even to visit; only post cards; they came about ten years later, with sights and destinations, but only a terse “Hi; how are you?” type of message; and then they stopped coming. Nevertheless, Jane had kept hoping.

Finally, when she heard that Chris had married, she traveled for a couple of years and then returned, swept Paul Mellis off his feet, married him, and fled with him to the West coast.

“Aw, no, Janey; he’s never been to one—and I doubt If he ever will. He’s a Yank now; Arizona and all; building wild houses with all sorts of fancy gizmos for the retired folks. Naaw, can’t expect him, really; he left after second year; he didn’t really belong here, I don’t think Janey . . . However, he was back here a couple of years ago; with his wife. Susan and I had dinner with them. Great couple.”

Some of the glimmer receded form Jane’s eyes and she turned toward the bar and asked for a double Scotch—neat. The music was louder again and this time a trumpet was blaring out Tequila. The chatter level had returned to booming.

When Berman leaned closer to Jane while he ordered another drink, he was sure he saw tears in her eyes. She turned to him and abruptly sobbed and lurched into Berman’s arms. He held her very tightly, just as she was holding him.

“Oh Larry,” gasping, “why did he leave me; why didn’t he even come and visit me . . .” The rest of her questions fell anonymously on Berman’s chest.

“Hey, hey, hey, Janey; c’mon now; that’s enough, eh?” He gently moved her away form his chest and held her in front of him, “Chris is with all of us, but apart—only apart, Janey.”

Jane’s face had risen and she had called up her reserves of pride and dignity and now presented as the mature married woman, mother of three; grandmother of six.

Nevertheless, to Larry, she continued to look like young Jane Drury, Christopher Hayward’s last ‘girl’ before he moved away; and then farther away. The music had paused and Berman thought it was a good time to move Jane closer to the dancers and dance with her himself. Susan had declined to come along, correctly thinking that class reunions are for classmates only; others simply filter the talk and drop a fog over happy memories.

“C’mon Janey, let’s dance, eh?”

Berman sought a position on the edge of the waiting dancers, somewhere near the foul line at the north end of the basketball court floor.

Suddenly, Morrey Poole was tugging Berman’s sleeve, “hey; hey, man; Larry-man; hey.”

“Hey Morrey; hey, man you look a ton better; barf or what?”

“Barfed and or what, eh?” and he sunk below eye level for a moment before giving his inimitable Jack-in-the Box number and was right in between the two retreating faces of his two favorite alums.

“He’s here, you know,” slipping from sight again. His slump coincided with the musicians return and the shifting, drifting mass of alumni getting it on.

Berman and Jane looked down just as Poole popped up, “in the can, eh? . . .in the can.” This time he dropped from sight and was gone, scrambling between and around the shoes and legs of his former classmates.

Jane’s eyes had cleared and now the glimmer had returned when she asked,

“Who do you think he meant by, ‘he’?”

Larry leaned in and pulled her closer to hear her question. She repeated it. Berman simply shrugged and moved spryly in an oldster’s version of dancing. Jane didn’t feel much more agile and so decided not to laugh at her friend while he made a fool of himself. However, she did smile.

Moments later, Poole bobbed up again and this time his face was furrowed and pale. His grey eyes had cleared of alcohol; the tilt of his jaw transmitted something serious to Berman.

Jane put her hand to her mouth. She somehow guessed about the news that Poole was about to announce; her eyes misted; a tiny gasp released behind her hand.

“I saw him, guys; he’s here.”

Before the current song had finished, a very tall man with grey hair appeared on the far sideline. He was alone. In the corner. No one else was anywhere near him. The three friends quickly walked toward the tall man, who did not move; or even seem to notice them.

Clear whitish light danced all around him.  A slight penumbra glowed around his head. The friends drew closer. Jane ran. She was within a few yards of him when, without warning, the tall man vanished.

The three alums gathered around the position where they had all seen him;  . . . or, something.

*

Berman drove Jane back to hotel after dropping off Morrey.

Larry gave her a kiss on the cheek.

She said nothing.

She had not said a word since they watched the tall man vanish.

Berman had simply said, “Let’s go.”

They departed immediately and even Larry and Morrey exchanged only necessary words for directions.

*

Jane turned on the TV in her room as some company for her lonely soul.

The news was on and up to date. A female reporter was on the scene of a ‘horrific crash’ on the outskirts of Morrisburg.

The dead driver was Christopher Hayward, a resident of Arizona.

Jane knew the time of Chris’ death would be at exactly the minute when she had seen his image in the gym.

*

From the effects gathered by the investigating officers, Hayward—Christopher Hayward—had been on his way to his fortieth class reunion in Morrisburg. There was also a letter. The police were trying to find the letter’s addressee. Jane was the intended recipient.

Jane finally received the letter upon her return to Victoria. She locked herself in their bedroom. Her husband, Paul, was still at work.

Dear Jane,

I have no idea what effect this letter may have on you; and if it’s a bad effect, I apologize.

In fact this entire letter is an apology for so many things that I did to you as well as all the things I didn’t do with and for you.

This must sound very peculiar to you after all these years.

And so let me first apologize for leaving Morrisburg so abruptly. And then for not writing to you—or even just calling you.

As I look back on my life, I think of the way I treated you. And that was terribly. I had thought of myself as a good person, except about the way I treated you. Or rather, ignored you, and I ‘m sure, hurt you.

I could use all the excuses of a young mind, a new school, a new city, new friends, barely a minute left between studies and sports. And those were the excuses that I gave to myself.

However, over time, I came to realize just how badly I had treated you.

For some reason I thought that because we were so relatively young, that my treatment of you –or ignoring you—was just part of growing up; that you’d get over it and all the other clichés.

Of course I was wrong. And I apologize to you.

I married Moira and she was the absolutely best wife and companion that anyone deserved. We had over twenty years of bliss. Her illness was unexpected and it took her so quickly.

After a year or so, I spent a long time, thinking of my life and where I had made my bad turns. I think that my first—of many—was when I abandoned you without warning and without even common courtesy.

Well, I ‘m hoping that you will be at the Reunion and we can have a good talk . . . preceded, of course, by my abject apologies and my asking your forgiveness. Maybe we can renew our friendship.

I am looking forward do to seeing you with a very happy heart.

All the best; and see you there . . . I hope.

Stay safe and,

Cheers!

Chris.

She read the six pages while tears etched channels through her eyeliner and pattered onto the rug.

Chris was on his way to renew our friendship.  

*

Jane resisted suicide and lived a miserable life.

Morris Poole was haunted by the specters he had seen that night and now lives in a psychiatric ward.

Larry Berman spoke to everyone about what he had seen, but no one was interested.


© Copyright 2017 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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