Friday, November 20, 2009


It was 5:44 when Graham returned home. He had made his rounds at the local bars, catching up and seeing what the folks he had left behind were up to. John, the bartender at Cisco’s, still looked the same yet sounded different. Frank, at Gigi’s, seemed to have gained a few pounds. Sue, the head waitress at Leo’s, had become a blonde.

The old players of the game were still at it, still doing what they always did before.

It was what Graham had expected when he came back. He wanted to chat about the old days, ask about town politics and figure out what he had been missing out on.

But he knew what he had been missing out on. He left to go see the world, become educated and meet girls. He had a list of things to do, places to see, people to meet – really everything cliché about the “one” who left town. He was, as if they never forgot, the “one and only” Graham.

When he walked into Harry’s, his favorite butcher in all of town, he reminisced about the days that he’d come storming in to pick up some pork chops. Harry would always cut them thick like Graham’s Grandfather had requested.

“If they aren’t thick, you don’t get the proper texture of meat,” his Grandfather would say.

Harry could never disagree.

While the two started the conversation about how the day had gone, who still came in and what Graham had done since leaving – an odd moment of silence fell between the two. The smile on Harry’s face that he had kept on throughout the conversation dropped. His arm went a bit limp as if he lost his strength. His balance shifted left.

As he dropped the knife he had been holding a tear began to stream down his wrinkled left cheek. He covered his mouth with his left hand as short sobs dribbled out from within. His right palm gripped the counter for support.

Graham stood there transfixed. He had never seen Harry like this and didn’t know how to react – as if we ever do. He knew the Harry that always cut him the best chops from the “stock in the back.” He knew the Harry that woke up at 4AM just so he could watch the sun rise and tend to his livestock. This was the man that Graham had grown to love almost like another father – someone who he counted on for so much.

Harry was 89 years old when he died 13 years later. Graham would eventually lay the final flower on his coffin as it lowered into the ground – one of the few who actually remembered Harry as a good man. His funeral would take place just 4 miles from town, up Cobble Hill and behind some trees in a lot of about a dozen others. Graham thought back to how he came home 13 years ago to see Harry breakdown and tell him everything that he had done since Graham left. He remembered what Harry had told him not to forget.

With each sob the momentum built up until his right palm slipped from the counter and Harry lost his balance. By then Graham was able to react out of habit and jumped over the counter to check on Harry. He lay there in a feeble position, holding the back of his head with arms bent behind it. He didn’t look like a guy that butchered meat for a living. That façade was gone. Now he was Harry, weak and broken, clutching himself on the floor of his shop. It just wasn’t the same.

Graham reached for a few towels that he saw at eye level – at the time he was on his knees – and pulled them from their hook. He wadded them up into a loose ball and placed them under Harry’s head. There was no blood from the slip, as there was enough around them, which was a good sign to Graham.

He tried his best to think back as to when he might’ve seen Harry like this. He couldn’t, really, yet he tried.

It was the memory of July 4th weekend, some time ago, when he had decided to join Harry and his wife on the beach. Both had run off into the surf to swim out to sea, while Evelyn stayed under the umbrella. She distinctively reminded Harry not to let Graham swim out too far, as his mother might grow worried of his safety. It was years ago for Graham, so the details are a bit fuzzy.

But he recalls how he had to bring Harry out of the water after he crashed against a rock exposed by a heavy wave. It knocked him unconscious and caused him to sink down into the tide. Graham was actually about two body lengths away, looking out into the horizon when Harry began to go down. He only turned around when he realized that all he could hear were the natural waves – not the ones churned up by Harry’s signature stroke.

For now he was still conscious on the tiled floor of his store. He was still sobbing and clutching his head. The sole tear that had streamed down his face had brought about a full deluge of tears that soaked his porous skin. He moved his hands so that he could cover his face, the wrinkles squishing between his jittery fingers.

Clutching him by the back with his right hand, Graham kneeled beside him trying to come up with something to say. All he could do was look at Harry grovel from his own fears and the feeling of being seen by Graham. Yet he did not push him away or say a word. He chose to cover himself instead, hiding his face and smothering his tears and sobs and shivering mumbles with his crumpled shirt.

Five minutes ago he was the man smiling behind the counter noting how often Samuel Moyer had been coming in lately. Three minutes before that he had been the friend who opened the door for Graham with the most enthusiasm he had expressed all day. Four minutes before he had opened the door a telephone order had asked him to hold the next fresh rack of lamb that came in. A minute before the call he had finished carving a prime cote de boeuf.

Far before he told Graham who he had betrayed, who he had lied to, who he had cheated on in his life he was an idea in Graham’s head. He was a fabrication of the instances they had shared before this. It was an innocent ignorance that the two had shared for so long – and it had worked. No one knew Harry better than Graham – even compared to Evelyn.

There was that bond the day Harry had gone down in the tide, slipping away into the depths of the sea. Darkness crept below, closing in over him and sealing him off with the secrets he had stored within. He kept a lot to himself – so he thought – but so did Graham.

Harry was known for his smile throughout town – as if it were his signature. Graham knew him because he cut pork chops and liked jazz. He was one of the few guys that Graham could relate to and talk about his life without interfering opinions that he didn’t want to hear. They could spill information to each other that they couldn’t to anyone else. They knew each other quite well.

When they were chatting about town politics Harry had mentioned that the direction of the town was moving. It wasn’t the same even though it seemed the same on the outside. The signs still needed cleaning and the people still had yet to say anything about it. But they went on throughout the day, doing what they needed to do and accomplishing what needed to be accomplished.

He mentioned that the rack of lamb would take a few days to Graham because they still were a bit young. He didn’t want to end what had flourished before his eyes so soon. He cherished it too much. He cared too much.

Graham tried to stop him then and say that there was no need to put a limit on how he should feel. If it mattered that much to him he should keep what mattered to him alive. It was a duty to himself, as Graham had told him.

The reality of it all was that Harry had a lot on his mind that he hadn’t told a soul. He wanted to talk – which is what Graham had come in to do – but it meant going behind, not beyond, the usual banter between the two. Smiles and pork chops aside, Harry had done a few things in his life that needed to be shared.

But he never got that chance because his nerves got the best of him and rattled through his arms. He stopped mid-sentence as he was describing how Evelyn was.

After about a quarter of an hour Harry was able to slow down the sobs. Graham remained by his side, sliding the palm of his hand over the forehead of Harry. He had heard so much in such a short time – all without saying a single word.

What had been said would stick with him for a while. On his ride home he kept thinking about what had happened over and over. He knew Harry in a completely different manner, yet he couldn’t decide how he was to feel about this. There was no one to direct or persuade or remind Graham as to how he should behave.

It was he against the darkness of the night, alone with his thoughts, going over them over and over. He was speaking to himself the entire way home.

When he arrived it was 5:44 and he still had no idea.

He was lost and confused without the parameters that he had grown to accept. He didn’t know who he was or what was going on.

Yet he accepted it for that moment and closed the tired book.

1 comment:

JAY said...

Kid's a keeper.