By: David Morrow
Shuffling down the sterile hallway, the only sound present was the scuffing of his worn out fuzzy slippers against the highly polished floor. Growling to himself, he reflected on this morning’s breakfast.
The morning oatmeal paste was no more palatable today than any other oatmeal they had served him over the one thousand, six hundred-seventy two days, no – today was seventy-three, days he had been here. Harvey had thought that maybe, just maybe, today, with his plans finalized, somehow things just might taste differently. That maybe a little extra effort might be put in to his last meal here. Heck, even prisoners on death row get a fancy last meal. He had committed no crime, but felt he also was on death row and today he was going to take that long walk.
Stopping at his pale, aqua colored door, he looked at the slip of paper in the plastic holder on the door. It read:
Family Contacts: None
Harvey reached up and pulled out the slip of paper, leaving the plastic holder open for the next resident of the room he was vacating that day.
Back inside his room, Harvey carefully shaved and then shaved again. He brushed his own original teeth until they shined. Always a proud point for Harvey: he still had his own teeth. No dentures for me, no sir!
Laid out on his bed was his best suit. Well, his only suit. Since he was not generally a suit person, this one had survived well over the years. Maybe it was a few years out of style, but then, to tell the truth, so was he, he admitted.
He had first worn it the day he and his beautiful, red headed, blue-eyed Lizbeth were wed by the Justice of the Peace at the Jeppson County Courthouse. He had also worn the same blue cuffed pant suit to his little daughter’s christening. The last time Harvey had forced his body to submit to wearing a suit with its accompanying “hangman’s noose” tie was five years ago today. The day Lizbeth was placed in the grave.
Stopping for a moment, he found himself back in time, standing again at the gravesite. It had been a simple, sweet ceremony, much like Lizbeth herself. She would have liked it that way. She never was one for fanfare. It was one of the reasons he had loved her so much from the first day he had met her.
Pulling himself out of the reflection that both warmed and hurt at the same time, Harvey began the ordeal. Was this harder than it used to be? A man shouldn’t hurt just trying to put on his socks. He never hurt enough to let the nurses or aides help him, regardless of the pain. Always the same, first the socks, then his best t-shirt. Next, pull up the blue, creased, cuffed trousers. Then the simple white dress shirt, button front, but no buttons on the collar. Harvey hated those buttons! Put there by demons meant to drive a man to madness just trying to get that little button through an obviously too small hole. Why, I would have better luck wrestling a big snake than getting those buttons done!
Lizbeth had always insisted on the button collars. “They were dignified, showed people what kind of man you are,” she would say. Well that was all well and done when Lizbeth was around to calm the beast in him (and the snake in the collar). It took her no time at all, in fact. “Sorry dear, but not today,” Harvey spoke, as if she was in the room with him. “They’ll just have to think I’m not dignified if that’s what men are judged by. When you were here, I was dignified just being able to walk by your side.”
The tie, as long as no one looked closely, was a very nice double over-hand knot that held the tie tightly at Harvey’s throat. To look at him, one would think it was nearly suffocating him. But truth be known, it was a clip on tie. The hands that had once used every tool known to a mechanic, that played a banjo like no tomorrow, and that held the hand of the most beautiful girl in town, just didn’t work anymore. Gnarled and twisted like a juniper on a wind blown hill side, his fingers had long since stopped cooperating. Harvey even had sold out and bought himself some of those wuss shoes that didn’t have any laces; slip-ons, like a woman’s pump. But, if “the rabbit can no longer follow the fox,” the shoes never get tied. Harvey looked at his hands that were curled upon themselves and he shook his head. Sighing, he slipped on his shoes using one of them fancy shoehorn doodads.
Standing in front of the mirror, Harvey found himself having a stare-down with a shrunken old man who barely stood five foot eight. Harvey wondered when he had turned the corner and gotten old. He ran his fingers through his still thick hair, another of his prides. Seventy-two and still a full head of hair! Lizbeth had tried to warn him that being prideful would keep him out of heaven. But seventy-two and still having to go to the barber…he smiled back at the man in the mirror.
He stepped back taking one last look at the man in the reflection. He slowly pulled the suit coat over his arms and pulled it tight. Not bad overall. Lizzie would have approved. And since she was who he was going to see, that was all that mattered. He has always worked to make her proud.
As he walked past the front desk, the attendant called out, “Going for a walk, Harvey?”
“Yes, in fact I am. I’m going out to see a girl.”
Chuckling, the aide replied, “Ok. Have a good walk, Harvey.”
As he continued walking, the door closed behind him for the last time. Squaring his shoulders, he put on his favorite hat and stepped off the porch.
The bus arrived right on schedule at 11:13. The doors swung open. The driver allowed Harvey extra time to climb the steps. And it was done without help. He was mentally directing that thought to the aides in the home he was leaving behind.
Each step of the day seemed to be injecting strength and determination into his body, mind, even into his soul. Settling in to his seat by the window, Harvey double checked his watch. It was an old Timex windup that Lizbeth had given him for their thirtieth wedding anniversary. He had growled at her then for spending money on such a fancy doodad that probably wouldn’t last six months. Twenty-two years later, it still was accurate to a minute a day, if he remembered to wind it. In one hour and twenty minutes, according to the bus schedule, he would arrive in the little town where he and Lizbeth had made a home for all of their 45 years together. The bus started to move and Harvey soon lost himself in the passing scenery.
“This is your stop, Sir.” The driver’s voice caught Harvey’s attention and brought him awake from the half nap he was taking. Sure enough, they were sitting in the parking lot of Ma Nelson’s diner. She used to serve the best food at her diner. The place hadn’t had its lights on in 10-12 years, but as Harvey stepped off of the bus, he could still smell Ma’s biscuits, gravy, and fresh made donuts.
As the bus pulled away, the exhaust from the air brakes gave Harvey, or rather his suit, a light coating of dust. After dusting off his suit, Harvey repositioned his hat and looked down the road to where home was, where Lizbeth was waiting for him.
“Live around here, Mister?”
The boy’s voice startled him and he jumped a bit. His first glance around failed to find the source of the voice. When the boy spoke again, Harvey looked toward the diner where a young boy, who looked to be about 13-14, was sitting on the steps that once led inside.
“I used to son, just up this road here a bit,” Harvey answered.
“I’ve never seen you before.”
“Well, I’ve been away awhile, but I think I’ve come home to stay.” As Harvey began to walk away, the boy called to him, “I live down that way with my mom. Mind if I walk with you? I gotta be getting home myself.”
Harvey stopped to wait for his young companion. “Yes, that would be nice. I would enjoy the company.”
Putting out a dirty, smudged hand, the boy introduced himself, “Name’s Jimmy.” Taking his hand, Harvey replied, “Well, Jimmy, I’m Harvey. Pleased to meet you.” The next hour and two some-odd miles passed by quickly as Harvey showed Jimmy where all of the sights used to be.
“Right there on that corner was my gas station and repair shop,” Harvey pointed. “I was the only one in 40-50 miles. Got woken up a lot in the middle of the night to help someone with a flat tire or someone who had run out of gas. Wasn’t always happy about it, but I never turned a single person down,” he said with pride.
As the two stood looking, Harvey sighed. All that was left or at least visible were two sides of an old brick building, partially hidden by an over growth of weeds and sapling sprouts. One window, almost entirely blocked from view by weeds and a piece of old plywood, had obviously long ago given up the glass panes that had made it whole.
“Wow, I bet you coulda fixed anything,” complimented Jimmy.
“Almost, son, almost. What I couldn’t fix was something a wrench or screwdriver couldn’t help.”
“Whadya mean, Mister?”
“Say, mind if we sit a minute, Jimmy? Give my old dogs stuffed in these tight shoes a break?”
As they settled down on a stump of a tree long since cut, Harvey continued. “Well, Lizbeth and I were blessed with a daughter. A beautiful girl we named Mabeline. She was the love of our life and we had waited so long for her to come. Thought maybe we’d never have children, but the day Lizbeth turned 39, she found out we were going to have a baby.
“She was a wonderful little girl, almost the perfect child, if I do say so myself.” I know, Lizbeth, watch my pride, but she was almost perfect! We tried to raise her right, but Mabeline was growing up in a world so much different than the one we had known. Even the small town here was so different: what was expected from kids, the availability even, out here, of drugs and alcohol. And I don’t mean small amounts. Mabeline came to see us as the two most old-fashioned, out dated, mean, restrictive parents who ever lived. We tried so hard to love her, pray for her, help her in any way we could, but it seemed as if destiny had decided to not let us keep that little girl of ours around.
“The summer of her seventeenth year, she came to us and told us she was going to have a baby. That she and the father were getting married and moving to the big city where they would find work. I don’t know if I was more shocked or hurt, but I do know I was stupid and I got very angry. Despite Lizbeth’s objections, I told Mabeline she had broken the final straw, that this was unacceptable in our house. I threw her out and told her to go and never come back.
“She took me for my word. She went out that night and I never heard from her again. I quickly cooled down and sent feelers out everywhere trying to find her. I found out later that she lived in the city, alone, with her new baby boy. The father had abandoned her even before the baby was born. Letters I sent were never answered. Calls were not returned. The one time I got her to answer the phone she hung up as soon as she realized it was me. Soon after, everything I sent came back marked, “moved, no forwarding address.”
“I have re-lived and regretted that night for 14 years. I have spend many nights wondering, praying to know where my girl might be and how the boy would have been my grandson was doing. NEVER, never son, let anger control your words. Anger can do damage that no tool can fix.”
With that, Harvey struggled to his feel. As he straightened up, he felt more tired than he had in many years. The day he had buried Lizbeth was the last time he had been this tired. He leaned against a pole to catch his balance.
“My ma says she used to live around here somewhere. We live in a trailer just up the next road. She wanted to get away from the city and take me back to the country. Thinks it will do me good…keep me out of trouble. Probably will, too. There ain’t nothing here at all to get in trouble doing.”
Harvey smiled a bit as he thought back to his youth, Oh yes there is, but he kept that to himself. Pushing off of the pole Harvey settled into a routine of simply putting one foot in front of another. Knowing what waited for him gave him the strength to keep going. Just one more step, just…one…more.
“This next road is where I turn off, Jimmy. Thank you for being my companion.” As he spoke, his feet stumbled, as if forgetting how to step. If not for the quick reaction and strong arm of Jimmy, he would have fallen. His head wasn’t thinking very clearly. So, so tired.
Looking up he saw his destination, just a hundred yards or so off of the road. The huge maple tree that protected Lizbeth’s grave was visible. Beneath its branches was a small family cemetery plot on what had used to be Harvey’s and Lizbeth’s farm. The land had long since been sold off to corporate farming, all of the buildings razed. And now, all that remained was a tree and a few headstones.
“Would you be so kind, Jimmy, as to help me to that tree?” Harvey asked. With arms much stronger than the slender build indicated, Jimmy kept Harvey upright as they made their way to the shade of the tree. Harvey slowly dropped to his knees and then turned, placing his back to the tree. Leaning into its strength, he looked again at the boy.
“Thank you, son. You have helped me come home. I’ll be fine from here. Now you run along before that good momma of yours gets worried about you.”
When he was sure Jimmy was back on the road, Harvey leaned back, and with his right hand reached out to the closest headstone, whispering, “I’m home Lizbeth” and closed his eyes.
When he opened his eyes a moment later, Lizbeth was kneeling there beside him, just as beautiful as he remembered. “Welcome home, Harvey,” she whispered, and they both smiled lovingly at one another.
A mile down the road, Jimmy was telling his mom about his day over dinner. “I met this neat old man today. Came in on the bus. Says he used to live around here. Showed me lots of stuff that used to be here. He would have made a cool grandpa. Wish I had one. I left him resting by a cemetery down the road. Said his name was Harvey.”
The breaking of glass as his mother dropped her plate on the floor and the white look on her face told him all was not well.
By the time they reached the cemetery Harvey was already gone, but on his face was a peaceful smile.
After the mortuary had take Harvey’s body away, the mother sat down on the grass and motioned for Jimmy to sit beside her. “I’ve got something to tell you, son. Mabeline is my first name. I’ve gone by my middle name for all of these years.”
Unsuccessfully holding back tears, she pulled Jimmy close. “Let me tell you about your grandpa. I think you would have really liked him.”