It has often been said that the ultimate direction of your life can be traced back to one significant moment in time. For JR’s mother that moment may have been the day she married his father – or, perhaps, it was the day he left her for the second time. For JR’s father it was the very instant his father died.
Did JR’s life change the day he set out on his journey, or the day he first began to comprehend the clarity of what he discovered? When the direction of your life is about to abruptly change you never seeing it coming. Then when you refocus you still can’t possibly foresee where it will lead.
As JR sat on the porch of that rural home, he knew the day that set his life on its present course: the day his father came to see me 10 years earlier … for the last time.
As the car turned the corner and headed towards the highway, Maria could see Ray sitting at the bus stop. He looked the same as he had all those mornings before — waiting to catch the commuter bus to NYC for work.
It now seemed a lifetime ago. She saw the bus approaching and hurried to reach him before he boarded.
He spotted her car pull up alongside the curb. She rolled down the window of the little red Honda and shouted to him, “Ray, it was a shock to see you after all these years. Please, come back to the house and let’s talk.”
By her presence there he’d known that she had looked inside the envelope he’d left at the house only fifteen minutes earlier. He also knew, by the absence of his son, that he too had seen its contents. Stubborn kid, Ray thought to himself, just like when I was his age.
He started towards the bus then stopped, turned, and looked back at her and hesitated — as if to take one final lingering look, to capture a last image to take with him. “I can’t do that Maria. That time has passed.” He absorbed her face, then turned and continued up the steps and the doors closed behind him.
Maria stood there bewildered. The bus pulled off and then a sudden sound, a repetitive noise, like the chimes of clock amplified. It seemed out of place. A flash of light was the last thing she remembered before she was knocked to the ground from the explosion; her body shredded like paper from the bus debris.
Everything was suddenly quiet. What remained of the bus lay on its side like a dead animal. There were torn fragments of metal that lay littered on the highway as though lions had ripped at it for hours – now dead and motionless waiting for the vultures to come and remove what little remained. But there were no Vultures. There was only a graveyard of scrap metal and burnt flesh, eliminating any traces of the surrounding strong smell of Evergreen in the air. The street was empty: oddly no on-lookers, no cars, no movement of any kind. Just a strange heaviness in the air. Then she appeared, faintly, in the distance, a lone woman standing, watching.
The echo remained constant and with purpose. It slowly pierced deep into Ray Jr’s sleep. His eyes opened. He sat straight up in his bed with a look of terror on his face, unsure of what had just happened. Sweating, his breathing heavy, he gazed around the small bedroom. Everything seemed to be in place.
As his mother whisked past his room, she pleaded “Ray, honey, please answer the door.” In that moment everything came into focus; she’s not dead, it was a dream. The doorbell. With relief, his heart still racing, he collapsed back into the bed.
The last time he saw his father had been many years ago, that day he left the envelope that ignited the words that would be the last they ever exchanged. Was this some premonition, some message from his father? Nonsense. Perhaps it was just some weird dream that fused past reality and current fiction, of a meaning that he may never understand, if in fact there was any meaning to it at all.
“JR, please, I’ll be late for work” his mother urged with a slight impatience in her voice. He strolled by the open breakfast bar and noticed his mom pouring a hurried cup of coffee. She scoffed, “really, you’re going to answer the door in your underwear?”
He grinned, and in a fun yet condescending tone said “Oh Martha, seriously, propriety is overrated.”
He signed for an envelope addressed to him as his mother rushed passed him and out the door. Placing it on the coffee table he returned to his comfortable slumber, in bed.
Shaking off the long sleep that vacation time can provide, JR wandered to the kitchen for a cup of coffee and a muffin. It was 4pm, so he had several hours before his mom would return from work. He plugged his iPod into the Bose speaker cradle, chose an album by Kayne West and lounged on the couch.
He laughed within himself as he eyed the open living/ dining room. Oh Martha, you done good,. He often referred to his mother as Martha, an endearing taunt of her Martha Stewart ways, always decorating, arranging flowers, and pretty much anything Martha Stewart promoted.
The room was mostly decorated in taupe and cream colors, with splashes of muted green for effect. The long levelers lined the wall of windows and sliding glass doors that led to a small terrace. The Lion-claw dining table and chairs were offset by Rattan and wicker chairs and accents, and lots of art – both paintings and statues.
It was a comfortable understated space that he enjoyed for lounging. His eye wandered to the envelope lying still on the big round coffee table adorned with books and magazines; a large bowl of potpourri at its center. It gave off aromas of vanilla and some flowers he couldn’t identify. With curiosity and caution he slowly opened it.
“Dear Mr. Stearrett, I’ve represented your father Raymond for the past seven years. It is with importance that I request you to come to my office on Thursday at 4pm. It is located at 547 5th Street NYC, 7th floor. It’s important. It was signed Mary A. Ford, Esq.
His first impression was to dismiss it. He rarely had any thoughts of his father these past few years. Just the mention of his father’s name got his blood boiling. It conjured feelings of anger, betrayal, and a sense of longing for answers to open-ended questions. Then his mood changed, caused by waves of indignation, regret, frustration and the loss of a time gone by when they used to be close, father and son, friends even.
What could he possibly want of me after all these years?
When Maria entered she found JR sipping a glass of Scotch listening to Jazz of the ‘90s, starring into nothing, deep in thought. He hadn’t even noticed her enter.
“Drinking? What is that about?”
“Nothing” is all he said. He didn’t seem willing to talk, something she knew meant something. She gently pushed until he finally gave her the letter.
After reading it she was clearly shaken, never one to like spontaneity or uncertainty. “You don’t really want to go, do you? she asked. But in truth it wasn’t really a question. It was her way of saying I don’t want you to go! It was their way of communicating, a cat and mouse game they’d been playing since he was a child, where she’d impose her position disguised as a question and the decision was presented as his to make, though it never really was.
He said nothing.