LAST SCENE

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

EERIE, CLASS REUNION, SUPERNATURAL, SHOCK, MELANCHOLY, GRIEF

Joy, merrymaking, and tragedy meet at a class reunion.

LAST SCENE

A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran

 

“Whatever became of that slick bastard, eh?” Morris Poole looked over Larry Berman's shoulder to scan the graduation photos tacked to a rectangle of corkboard. The board sat under a banner proclaiming: “The Fortieth High School Reunion for Harrisburg Collegiate Institute and Vocational School”.

Poole, essentially bald, with a seven-times-broken nose, maintained his alarming skinniness over the years by inhaling liberal quantities of alcohol and drugs. Berman, still tall with all his hair and a killer smile, had not maintained his naturally muscled body through lack of attention and concern. Thus, each succumbed to their respective bête noir over the last forty years. They agreed  they were damn lucky to be alive at all. Poole became a welder; Berman an exceptionally talented artist.

Red and black crepe dangled and doodled in various patterns around the gym. Live and sober musicians featured a sax solo of Earl Bostic. A drinkers’ babble bounced off the brick walls and ricocheted from the bottom of the running track suspended over the perimeter of the basketball court. This was the setting for the fourtieth anniversary of the graduating class of 1976.

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

“Somfabitcch immigrated to Toronto. We’re too small for him, eh? Here in Harrisburg, eh?” said Poole. He drooled onto his nametag, changing his name to _o_r_s  P_o_le.  A grad sidled up to view the mug shots. He read the nametag as Ors Pole. With a wicked winey dribble, he stuttered, “Helllooo; Ors Pole; is that all a descripseeooon of your,” belch, “charctooor, eh?” Jeff Lynn gave a bellowing burp and fell to a sitting position 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 school song, punctuating the stanzas with horrific belches that threatened to turn his upper GI inside out.

The guy on sax was good. The grads and insignificant others clapped away the gabble, instantly turning this ill-advised gathering into a herd worth taming. The gabble level dropped yet lower, when a slow number from the seventies oozed into the hearts and memories of the alums.

“Naw,” bubbled Berman, “Hayward was a good guy, Morrey; a really good guy. He went to Toronto to that prep school; and then to U of T. He’s an architect. Had to move to Arizona for his health; he caught TB in the Granite Club 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 TO; saw him about two years ago. He come 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? Susan declined to come along; thinks class reunions are for classmates only; others fog over happy memories."

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

“Are we there yet?” mumbled Poole? “I have to take a leak.”  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 retained a remarkable amount of her younger version. Larry took it all in as though it were 1976 when 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. Out of respect for Bob—well, Bob’s family—Larry kept his relationship with Jane at a level scarcely above platonic. It was a struggle, and Jane’s lingering affection for Chris Hayward further impeded any budding expression of desire.

“Larry!” with genuine joy, “I heard you were sick and couldn’t make it; I was very disappointed, but . . . here you are. And 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 Chris’ move to Toronto devastated Jane. He never returned; not even to visit. There were only post cards, and they came about ten years later, with sights and destinations, but only a terse “Hi; how are you?” type of message. Then they stopped coming altogether, Nevertheless, Jane kept hoping. Finally, when she heard Chris married, she traveled for a couple of years. When she returned, she 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 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 . . . Anyway, 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 from Jane’s eyes. She turned toward the bar and asked for a double Scotch—neat.

The music was louder again. A trumpet blared out Tequila. The chatter level 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, as tightly 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 unanswered on Berman’s chest.

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

Jane’s face rose. She called up her reserves of pride and dignity. She was the mature married woman, mother of three; grandmother of six. That being said, 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 paused and Berman thought it was a good time to move Jane closer to the dancers and dance with her himself.

 “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. Morrey Poole tugged 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 cleared. The glimmer 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 any more agile and  decided not to laugh at her friend while he made a fool of himself. Nevertheless, she smiled.

Moments later, Poole bobbed up again and this time his face was furrowed and pale. His grey eyes were clear of alcohol; the tilt of his jaw transmitted something serious to Berman. Jane put her hand to her mouth. She somehow guessed the news 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 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. The man was motionless. His eyes were vacant and unseeing, taking no notice of them.  Clear whitish light danced all around him.  A slight penumbra glowed about his head. The friends drew closer. Jane ran. She was within a few yards of him. He vanished.

The three alums gathered around the position where they saw him  . . . or something.

They departed immediately. Larry and Morrey only exchanged the necessary words for directions. Berman drove Jane back to hotel after dropping off Morrey. She said nothing. Since they watched the tall man vanish, Jane was silent. Not a word. Berman simply said, “Let’s go.”

 Larry gave her a kiss on the cheek.

*

Jane turned on the TV in her room, 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 Harrisburg.

The dead driver was Christopher Hayward, a resident of Arizona. Jane knew the time of Chris’ death would be exactly the minute when she saw his image in the gym.

From the effects gathered by the investigating officers, Hayward—Christopher Hayward—was on his way to his fortieth class reunion in Harrisburg. There was also a letter. The police were trying to find the letter’s addressee. The envelope had postage as well as a date of one week ago. ‘Return To Sender’ was stuck on the left side. The address was correct but the Postal Code was not.  

*

Jane finally received the letter upon her return to Victoria. She locked herself in their bedroom. Her husband was 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 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 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 pages while tears etched channels through her eyeliner and pattered on the rug.

'Chris had been on his way to renew our friendship.'

*

Jane resisted suicide and lived a miserable life. Morris Poole, haunted by the specter he saw that night, now lives in a psychiatric ward. Larry Berman spoke to everyone about what he saw. No one was interested.

 

THE END


Submitted: April 01, 2016

© Copyright 2021 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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