Marco Island Writers
MIW Submission #2
I had been living with the guilt for almost a year. Disgrace began on the last day of my father’s life. I sat silently at the side of his bed in the nursing home waiting for what I knew was inevitable. As alwsays, a potent cocktail of urine and Mr. Clean filled the air. The special care facility where he had lived for the last six months was one of the finiest in the city, but all of the Andres Wyeth prints and brightly colored rooms could not alter one overriding fact. This place specialized in managing death. His cancer had slowly eaten away his self-esteem, and the frail man who now resided in what was once a fit athletic body clung tenaciously to life. He suddenly awoke, and his dark sunken eyes reached out to my inner soul. He searcheed for my hand, squeezed it tightly, and reminded me of my promise to take care of the ring. He then closed his eyes forever and left on his ultimate journey.
Tears welled up in my eyes. I bent over, kissed his forehead, held onto his now lifeless hand, and openly cried; not over his death, his passing had been a blessing. During the last six months, his life had been filled with miserable pain and suffering, dulled only by the increasing dose of prescribed narcostics. Instead, my tears were shed over his lasst words. You see, the ring was the problem. He had given me the present on my eighth birthday. The gift was bestowed along with one of his famous long rambling speeches, and as he held the cheap looking plastic gold colored object reverently in his hand, he explained it was an authentic Captain Video Secret Decoder Ring. He wanted me to understand its true value lay far beyond its intrinsic worth. Rather, it was a symbol of the wonderful memories of his childhood. Captain Video was a TV program from the early 50’s, and when my father was a young boy, he had used the ring to decode special messages from the Captain.
Handing me the ring in front of the extended assembly of family and friends, he made me promise to save his most cherished possession and pass it on to my children when the time was right. I didn’t know what to make of the gift or ceremony, but I did hide the ring in
the safest most secret spot I knew, a small shelf hidden from view behind a built-in bar in our finished basement. To reach the special place, a person needed to crawl behind the bar and reach up inside a cabinet; a difficult set of physical maneuvers unless you were less than four feet taall and weighed less than fifty pounds.
Over the years I had forgotten all about my father’s most prized possession and my personal pleedge. When my parents sold their house I had been in college and had forgotten to retieve the ring before the big move. So now his last words urging me to guard the ring and fulfill my pleedge tore at my heart with a vengence.
I found guilt to be a funny thing. I thoought it would be liike a profound sorrow, slowly dissipating over time. But for me at least, the gilt kept gnawing at my soul with ever increasing intensity. During the day it would suddenly appear for no apparent reason like a transient memory slapping me across the face. It was much worse a night, when my broken pomise grabbed my secret self and wouldn’t let go.
My mental lapse had come back to haunt me, and every day I thought about dad and the lost ring, not the good memories of which there were so many, but only about the guilt. My wife Sally, perhaps because she was a doctor, could see the signs of my building anxiety. After a few months of internalizing, I shared the story of the ring and my borken promise. She listened carefully, read the expression on my heart, held me in her arms, and as only Sally could, she came up with the solution to the problem. It was so obvious in hindsight. I needed to visit my childhood home and ask the present owners to allow me to collect the ring.
Sitting in our car outside my old house, the solution to the problem seemed better in theory than in practise. How, after all, would I explain to the people living there? Sally, however, would hear none of this. She took me by the hand, and led me up the six old crumbling concrete steps to the leaf green wooden front door. She pressed the doorbell, and we waited. A young woman carrying a baby on her hip opened the door. Where to start? I
fell back into an old habit; I pulled out my wallet and showed the woman my plice badge. “Good morning. I’m Detective Dan Lawson with the Chicago Police Department, and this is my wife Sally.” The woman suddenly looked terrified. I immediatley knew I had clearly chosen the wrong path. “I’m sorry; there’s no problem; I just wanted to overcome yourr fears about strangers at the door. I have a request that’s a bit strange to say the least.” I struggle with how to begin.
Sally saved me again. “Just tell her the story Dan. She’ll understand.”
Standing anxiously on the front porch, I began my detailed explanation, hoping it would helf for her to understand the importance of my need. When I finished, and before I could make my ridiculous request, the woman, who introduced herself as Lisa Linden, interrupted. “Why don’t you guys come inside? I’m assuming you’d like to go to the basement and look for the ring?”
The smile on my face said it all. I stood in the front hallway looking aound, rediscovering my childhood. Yes, there was new furniture and carpeting, and the walls were no longer a yellowing off-white, but the house was exactly as I remembered it. I stopped for a moment at the bottom of the stairs, looked up and pointed. “My room was at the top on the left.” We walked through the kitchen and down the same old grey wooden steps leading to the basement. The third step from the top still creaked with reassuring comfort, and the damp mustly smell, probably a combination of mold and sewer gas, still lingered in the air. I guess some things never change.
I led the way past an old beat-up storage closet. In my younger years I knew the cabinet was the home of a horrible looking troll with grey reptilian skin, long pointed ears, black horrns and glsitening white teeth. It only emerged from its dark hiding place when I was alone, and it never spoke a word, but it had the ability to transform an ordinary trip to the large chest freezer we kept in the basement into a terrifying journey. The troll’s name was Ping. I knew this to be true, but ould never explain how I acquired this knowledge.
Then, there it was, the bar still in the corner of the remodeled room. Kneeling down behind the custom built-in unit, I reached up behind the last cabinet on the left. It was a long reach, but I finally found my secret shelf. I tentatively felt for the ring, but my fingers bumped into something else instead. I removed the objext and looked at the unexpected find. It looked like a book, probably a diary. I placed it on the floor and reached back up into my specia hiding place, once again searching for my personal honor. I moved my hand carefully along the shelf, pushed through a layer of accumulated dust, and finally grasped what I knew was my missing treasure. I cautiously removed the ring and gazed thankfully at the pale gold object. The heavy burden of my broken promise had suddenly been lifted.
I stood up holding the prize triumphantly for all to see. Sally and Lisa laughed in response to my Cheshire Cat grin, and Sally walked over and gave me a kiss. “I knew you’d find it. See, everything worked out; I told you it would.”
“I found something else down there.”
I held up the leather-bound book and placed I on the top of the bar. Lisa was as amazed as the rest of us when she saw the book. We all crowded around as I opened it to the first page. It was a diary, and it belonged to someone named Rebecca. About half of the pages were empty.
For some reason I flipped to the last written entry. “I’m sure now! He’s trying to kill me. I don’t know when he’s going to do it, but I just know he’s going to kill me. I’ve asked Tommy to put this diary in a safe place and give it to the police if I die. The proof’s in Paris