The man sitting in his den was lost in thought. The room was in shadow as he had only the desk lamp turned on. But he knew every inch of that room, he had spent many hours putting it together, gathering around him the reminders of better days. There were the trophies he had won in sports in high school, and next to those his degrees. He had graduated with honors and he still remembered that day, taking that picture with his parents, all of them grinning from ear to ear. The picture was still sitting on the piano in the living room.
Here on his desk was the picture of his family; they were all smiling, he, his wife and their two boys. They had been so young, all of them. The boys are now all grown, with families of their own, each in a different city, hours away. But he was proud of them, they had been good boys and they turned out to be good, dependable men who graduated from college and each now was quickly rising in his profession through hard work and creativity.
Yes they inherited their creativity from him, while getting the part of hard work from their mother. She always worked very hard, no matter what the job at hand she gave it all her attention and effort. It was he who had the flair, the intuition, and he was the risk taker. That was the problem. He sighed deeply, then with resignation opened the desk drawer and looked inside for a long moment.
There was no getting away from it, it had to be done, that was the only way out. The only way he could save his family from the aftermath of the scandal. And it would be a scandal. How could life turn so suddenly and become totally unbearable in just a few months. One mistake led to another then another. One lie spawned another to cover the first; till the web became so tangled he lost the thread. He could no longer remember what he said to whom, the whole situation had become so complicated that the only way out was to cut it completely.
His insurance was paid, his letters were written, and in his mind, his goodbyes were said. His wife was a bit surprised when earlier he had insisted that they call each of the boys just to check in on them. It was not Sunday, when they usually called, but they did and he was glad to hear their voices. At least he had that. If he could he would have spared his wife the ordeal, but there was no getting out of that. At least the insurance will help minimize the effects of the scandal, and she would be provided for and well taken care of for the rest of her life.
With another sigh, and a heavy heart, he reached in the drawer and pulled out the pistol. He wondered fleetingly if it would hurt, or if he would feel anything. Well anything was better than the anguish of his life now; it just could not go on like that any more. He felt a tremor in his chest and hoped he was not having a heart attack. It took him a few seconds to realize that it was his mobile phone that was on vibrate, ringing in his suit’s breast pocket. He automatically took it out and glanced at the screen.
Surprise froze his hand for a few seconds. What did HE want, and at this late hour? He very nearly shut off the call, but at the last minute he answered.
The voice coming through was loud and slightly higher in pitch than usual, with a great deal of excitement. He was talking so quickly and in such a loud voice he was barely intelligible. The man asked him to slow down, to repeat what he had just said and to please explain. The man on the other end paused for a couple of seconds to catch his breath, then started speaking again, slowly and distinctly. As he spoke the man at the desk kept tightening his hold on the phone till his fingers ached, his jaw was clenched and he realized that he was holding the pistol in his other hand. He quickly tossed it back in the drawer and shut it with a bang.
Reprieve! That was the gist of the telephone conversation. Reprieve. While there is life there is hope. He thought he had reached the end of his rope, but here was the reprieve he never thought would come. The deal had come through. The scandal can be averted. He can live.
He must have finished his call because there was silence but not the heavy dark silence of before the call. This was a light, hopeful silence, an expectant silence, and one with light shimmering at its edges, with laughter coming towards it. The den was still in shadow but everything there shone with hope, the deep darkness that had been there just a few minutes ago was miraculously gone and in its place was the soft, mellow light of relief and hope.
He now remembered, he had ended his conversation with his partner by saying “I will see you tomorrow”. Yes, there was still a tomorrow….
They had decided to meet there as it used to be one of their haunts when they were young. The place still had the same feel to it, though now with experience, they could see how shabby it really was. But they had been friends since school and it was just good to see one another, no matter what the surroundings were.
When Dan had called to say that he needed to see him, Joe could not say no. The excitement in his friend’s voice and the way he teased him about his ”news” made Joe cancel a squash date to come see his friend. They had always been friends, but they became best friends in high school, when Dan, being on the football team and having the build and strength, had protected the more introverted, slightly built Joe from the gang of bullies who were after him. The Brain and the Braun became inseparable; each found in the other something that he was missing.
The weather had turned and it was starting to rain. The forecast was for a great deal of rain and another drop in temperature. Nothing new in that, after all it was near Christmas. The streets were a joy to see with all the decorations and the lights. Joe always loved that time of the year. He was looking forward to seeing Dan; they had not met since Halloween and that was too long not to see your best friend. Yes they both had time consuming jobs that drained them, but Dan had been hiding over the weekends as well. “Busy” was his answer every time Joe tried to set up a meeting, so when he called wanting to see him, Joe was happy to oblige. He missed his friend.
Joe was early, but then Dan was invariably late. So he ordered another cup of coffee and waited for his friend, dreamily looking out of the shop at the pelting rain. True to form, ten minutes later, Dan rushed in, apologizing for his tardiness, but with a grin on his face that belied any regrets. His happiness and excitement were infectious. Without knowing why Joe started feeling happy and excited, just because Dan was.
Dan took off his coat and draped it on the chair next to him, ordered a coffee and just sat there grinning at his friend.
“Well?” said Joe, “What’s the news?”
After taking a couple of sips of his coffee, Dan grinned at his best friend and asked. “Do you have a tux?”
“Huh? What do I need a tux for, I’m an architect not a mortician.”
Dan laughed and with his bunched fist hit him on the shoulder lightly and said “Well, you’ll be needing one soon. You cannot be best man without a tux.”
One minute of stunned silence then Joe jumped up, overturning his chair and gave a whoop of joy and excitement. Now he understood his friend’s euphoria.
“When, what, how, no, no, WHO?” he asked of the grinning, amused Dan who was quite satisfied with his friend’s reaction.
For the next half hour Dan told his best friend about the girl he met a couple of months ago, of how he fell like a ton of bricks and that it seemed to be mutual and when he did ask her she agreed to marry him. It was true that things were moving very quickly, but why wait? They set the day for Christmas morning.
“You can always rent a tux, you don’t need to buy one, but a tux you must have” Dan was adamant about that as Abby wanted a small but formally elegant wedding.
“Show me her picture,” said Joe.
“I’ll do better than that, I will take you to meet her tomorrow” replied Dan. They agreed to meet for drinks at a slightly more upscale restaurant the next evening. Dan had to dash out as he was meeting Abby and did not want to be late. The best friends gave one another a bear hug and a slap on the back then Dan dashed to the door where he turned and said: “See you tomorrow”, then ran out in the rain.
The temperature had dropped a great deal since Joe had entered the coffee shop, so when he left he felt the difference. This was not good; this will be turning all that rain into ice. He hoped Dan had his chains handy for the car.
Dan was in a hurry. He was meeting Abby and did not want to be late. How could a person he just met a few weeks ago become the center of his life so completely? He had even forgotten about Joe for a few weeks. But it was good to see Joe again; he had missed him without realizing that. He was so looking forward to introducing his best friend to the love of his life, to his soon to be wife. He was running a bit late but he will make up for it as the streets were mainly deserted because of the foul weather. Just as he crossed the intersection, a monster of a truck came barreling out on his left, careening all over the ice-slicked road, and hurtling towards Dan’s car. Dan saw it coming and the last image in his mind was that of Joe, but the last word he said was “Abby”.
The old priest was kneeling before the alter praying as usual at that time of the night when he heard the rustling of the curtain rings and saw the movement of the curtain to the confessional being drawn. He concluded his prayers, and with difficulty rose to his feet and walked to the confessional. There was something not quite right about the confessional but the priest could not tell what it was. He took his place and said: “Yes?” a deep whisper from behind the curtain said: “Forgive me Father for I have sinned”.
Although it was a whisper, yet there was something familiar about the voice, or it might have been the way the words were pronounced. Yet the old priest still could not be sure what it was, he just felt a sudden stab of dread. Something was very wrong with the whole situation.
“How long has it been since your last confession my son?” The priest asked by rote, while his brain was busy trying to analyze what was wrong with the whole situation.
“I have never confessed before.” Was the surprising answer.
“And why is that my son?” Asked the priest.
“I don’t believe in it” came the even more surprising answer.
“Then why are you here now my son? Do you now believe?”
“No Father but I want to see if you do”.
A chill went through the old priest’s body and he felt a cold creeping onto his body. He crossed himself and gave a quick silent prayer then turned to whoever was behind the curtain and said as calmly as he could: “Yes my son, I do believe.”
A chilling, short laugh came from behind the curtain and the strange voice whispered “For now”. Then there was a long silence during which the priest sent another prayer, one for courage and help. He then took a deep breath and turned again to the curtain.
“What can I do for you my son? How can I help you?” The priest was glad that his voice was steady and calm, not betraying his quivering limbs and his shortened breath. The only reply he received was another chilling laugh.
After another silence suddenly the voice asked, “Do you believe that after you die you will meet your Maker?” He replied, “Yes”
“Have you lived all your life with that in mind? That after death you will meet your Maker”
“Do you want to meet Him now?”
This time the priest felt the shiver run down his spine and suddenly a very odd calm descended on him. He took a deep breath and replied in an even tone: “I have been preparing for that moment all my life. It is what I have been eagerly awaiting for the past few years. It is up to Him to lift me to His side whenever He sees fit”.
Suddenly there was a very cold gust of wind behind the curtain and a hollow voice that sounded far away said “I’ll see you tomorrow”
The next morning the church cleaner found the old priest dead in the chair of the confessional, with a calm, happy smile on his face. He said it was one of the most beautiful expressions he had seen on a dead face.
She was very worried. It had taken her a long time deluding herself that there was nothing wrong, but now she could no longer ignore it. She was losing her sight. It started at first with a slight blur, which she thought could be corrected by medical lenses. But still she did not go to have her sight checked. She kept putting it off, thinking there was still time. But when she was nearly run over by a car last night while trying to cross the street, she realized that she had reached a dangerous point and needed to do something about it.
Her friends had recommended that doctor, he was top in his field and she was lucky to have been able to schedule an appointment so quickly. The Assistant was very pleasant over the telephone and the appointment was confirmed. And here she was, waiting to meet the man himself and see what the verdict would be. Although she had been trying her best to ignore the problem, she now feared that she might have delayed it for so long that there might not be a cure for it. Her fear of losing her sight was paralyzing. How could she cope? She had seen many films and read many books about what the blind had to learn just to survive. The one thing that was not so bad was that if she needed one, she will be getting a dog. She had always wanted a dog but somehow never got one.
Suddenly the nurse was standing there before her and held out her hand to help her into the doctor’s office. The time had come when her fate will be decided. She took a steadying breath and lightly put her hand on the nurse’s extended arm and followed where she led. They seemed to have been going through a long corridor that felt more like a tunnel to her as she could not see the ceiling, floor or walls very clearly, and although she could see a slight lightening of the dark towards the ceiling, yet she could not see the lights.
The doctor’s office felt spacious and light though she could barely see anything. It was just an impression of light and space. Then there was a large form before her and a deep kind voice asked her to please take a seat. The nurse led her to a chair and she was told to sit forward and then had her chin resting against the cold metal of the machine while another cold band touched her forehead. She heard the doctor take a seat across that machine, facing her. She heard him turning knobs in the machine, and then asking her to look to the right or to the left. After what seemed to be hours, but was probably just minutes he told her she could now relax and sit back. The machine was pulled away but the doctor remained where he was, sitting across from her. She could not make out his face but she went cold with fear at what he would say next.
“Why did you wait so long before coming in for a check-up?” he asked mildly.
Her heart sank. She was too late. She will go blind for the rest of her life. She turned cold and started to shake. When she could finally control her voice she said “Is it very bad?”
He seemed to understand her fears and tried to reassure her. He said she needed a procedure and hopefully things can be remedied, but the sooner she had that procedure the better. A glimmer of hope. She immediately agreed and the procedure was scheduled for later that evening. It would be done at the clinic and she would go home straight afterwards, but she needed to be helped, as both her eyes will be bandaged. She called her friend and neighbor and explained the situation. Her friend immediately came and stayed with her till the procedure was done. On her way out the doctor said “I’ll see you tomorrow”.
Her worst nightmare was upon her she was totally sightless. Both eyes were bandaged and she was completely helpless. Yes the doctor will see her tomorrow, but will she see him? What if the procedure was a failure, what if things had gone too far for anything to help? What if she had waited too long for there to be any hope of a cure? How will she cope for the rest of her life? She had been living in this house all her life and now she kept bumping into furniture and into walls that she knew were there but could not judge the distance. At one point she went into total panic when everything got turned around and she did not know where she was. Thank God her friend was there to calm her down and point her back in the right direction. Tomorrow will decide her fate. Will she have a future full of light, beauty and joy, or will she be condemned to live in a black dungeon only lit by memories of colors and light?
The hours of the night were endless. The darkness was oppressive and the fear strangled her very breath. But finally, her neighbor came in to take her to the doctor’s office and the final sentence on her life will be pronounced. The drive there was too long, and at the same time too short. Suddenly she was back in the doctor’s office and he was starting to take off the bandages. Her eyes were closed, but through her eyelids she sensed a lightness that gave her hope. Tentatively she opened one eye, then the other. There was light, but blurred. The doctor told her to tip her head back and put in a couple of eye drops in each eye. She blinked a couple of times, then she saw the most beautiful sight of her life, she saw the doctor’s smiling face and heard him telling her that the procedure was a complete success and that from now on her eyesight will be even better than before. And true to his word, she started looking around and everything was clear. It was a beautiful sunny day, with blue skies and bright green trees laden with flowers swaying in the breeze. An elegantly furnished office and the handsomest doctor she had ever seen. She was so happy, so relieved, she just threw her arms around the doctor and gave him a resounding kiss. The doctor laughed and so did she. Her life was back, and true to his word, she did “see” the doctor.
3 Oct. 2014