…Picking up in Chapter 6 because I wanted to get to the [Irish] heart of the matter to pay homage to Joseph O’Bromely and all such kindred souls. HaPpY Saint Patrick’s Day Y’all. (Psst I think it’s a 99¢ St. Patty’s sale.)
“I have to go to ER.” Clara calmly announced after she returned the telephone to its holding place. “I will go with you.” Mary told her, tossing her bag to Levi, “Keep up with this until I get back.”
Levi and Maggie stared as the two quietly exited without further explanation.
“I have to go to ER.” Clara calmly announced after she returned the telephone to its holding place.
“What was that about?” Maggie asked shaking her head.
“Clara’s father.” He told her, concentrating on the mental picture.
“Oh my lord! Is Mary telling you this? What’s going on?”
“He’s not going to make it.” Levi said, shaking his head sorrowfully.
Mary’s left hand was locked tightly inside Clara’s; with her right hand she pressed the silver colored disk on the wall that allowed them entry to the emergency room. She could see Jim pacing beside the clear enclosure. The same place that it seemed only moments ago Mary MacDougal O’Bromley had breathed her last breath.
“Have you seen the outcome?” Mary asked just above a whisper and Clara nodded. “Then you are ready?” again, the woman nodded. Turning loose of Mary’s hand, Clara rushed to Jim with open arms.
“Are you alright sweetie?” she asked wrapping her slender arms around him.
“I’m fine. I’m fine.” He repeated as if trying to reassure himself.
“We knew this was coming but it doesn’t make it any easier does it?”
“No. No, it doesn’t” he answered smudging a stray tear from his whiskers. “How are you Mary?” he asked pulling her in for a hug.
The women looked like children hugged against the massive man.
“You walk between the yin and yang.” Mary said, smiling up at him.
“It beats the lonely road that brought me here.” He said with a weak grin.
Clara watched through the clear wall as Dr. Lawrence pushed medication into the veins of her dying father. Easing away from Jim she pressed her forehead to the plastic glass and waited for Joseph O’Bromley to look her way. When his faded green eyes finally met hers he smiled and winked and motioned her to come in. She in turn held up her index finger indicating in a moment and winked back at him.
“They know not to resuscitate him, right?” she asked without taking her eyes off of the first man she had ever loved.
“They know.” Her husband answered, “The doc said they would just push a few cardiac meds and see if that will patch him up.”
“Their pharmaceuticals won’t fix a broken heart.” Clara replied with a quiver, “He will be with Mama before long and I don’t want him seeing you grieve Jim. He needs to know you’ll be okay.”
“I know. I know.”
Clara didn’t have to look to know that his cheeks were wet, that his beard was spattered with droplets like an autumn field in the early morning dew. She could feel his mourning; see the sobbing child in the dim corner of his subconscious and the terrible sadness that had overshadowed them both since the passing of her mother. A shared sadness more about the state of the man now on his journey to reunite with that woman, the one he could never live without. In an odd way Clara felt at peace with the fact.
“We’ve done as much as his living will allows us to do but I’m afraid it won’t be enough Clara… again, I’m sorry.” Dr. Lawrence carefully announced.
“How much time do you guesstimate?” she asked still frozen to the sight of Mr. O’Bromley.
“One hour… maybe three hours tops. This one’s hard to call.”
Dr. Lawrence had an uncanny ability to estimate death down to the hour. He considered it a matter of scientific reckoning though Clara argued if it were science the art should be prevalent in most doctors, it was not.
“Will you ask Maggie to write me off the clock? I want to be with him until it’s over.”
“I sure will. I’ve been meaning to stop in there and visit with her anyway; this will give me an excuse.”
“You all can go in now.” Lisa told them after she had tidied the room and smoothed the thinning gray hair of her patient. “We’re not going to admit him so if there is anything you need just let me know.” The three smiled and nodded graciously before entering the room. Mary seated herself against the wall while Jim and Clara stood silently on either side of the bed.
“You two should have a seat. This might take a while.” The old man announced without opening his eyes.
“I’ll stand for just a bit if you don’t mind.” His daughter said, smoothing the wrinkles on his cold blue hands.
“What about you Jimbo?”
“I can’t sit with a lady standing Joseph.”
“You can if she insists.” Opening his eyes slightly where she could see them he added, “Clara Bell why don’t you insist he take a seat.”
“Please sit down honey, I insist.”
“Alright then.” Jim obliged.
“Who is that across the room?” Mr. O’Bromley asked squinting at Mary.
“It’s me – Mary, Linda’s mother. If you would like for me to wait outside I will understand.”
“Heavens no.” He gasped, “Come over here and give me a hug.” Mary quickly rose and hurried to the bedside. Leaning over she hugged him and asked, “How are you?” Immediately she regretted the inquiry. It was a stupid question, one asked out of polite habit. She knew how he was – he was dying.
“I’ll be better soon.” He smiled as he took her hand, “It didn’t take you long to lose that accent once you got to Texas did it?”
“Is that a wedding ring on your finger? Who’d you marry?”
“His name is Levi Turner.”
“That’s Maggie’s dad ain’t it?”
“Yes it is.” Mary blushed.
“Didn’t take y’all long to-” Mr. O’Bromley’s words were cut short by a fit of coughing that left his lips a deep shade of lavender.
“Let’s put some oxygen on.” Clara said bringing the mask toward his face only to be met with a weak hand clutching her wrist.
“No now, let’s don’t prolong it. I’ve got a date with destiny.”
“Ok Daddy. I just want you to be comfortable – as comfortable as possible.” She told him in a tone as bold as she could muster.
“It ain’t near as bad as it looks honey… or as bad as it sounds.” He wheezed and licked at his dry lips. “You could get me a shot of whiskey to wet my whistle though.”
“You don’t drink whiskey.” Clara grinned.
“I do on special occasions and this here is pretty darn special I’d say.” His attempt at joking lead to another bout of hissing coughs which gave his mouth a darker appearance.
“How about you quit trying to be funny. There’s no need to rush it by-”
“By what? Laughing myself to death. I can’t think of a better way to leave here.”
“You’re right pops. You always did love to joke. I guess you can’t help it.” Clara subtly turned her head and swept the wandering trickle from her jaw line.
Mary stood vigil holding the old Irishman’s hand and viewed the clear memories on his outer cortex. The picture playing out in color of him as a small lad holding to the tattered pocket of his father’s mud stained khakis.
On a cobbled Chicago street he had stopped to spit shine their shoes with a dingy handkerchief laden with holes before stepping onto the sidewalk. He removed his woolen flat-cap and spoke to what looked like a butcher in a stained white apron,
I see ye have a help wanted sign and I sir am looking for work. They’ll be nothing I can’t do and do well if ye give me but a chance, I’ll prove it to ye.’
She could see Joseph hang his head so his father would not see him ashamed and crying when the cruel man answered, ‘Gawl darn white trash! Why don’t you first learn to read? The man then slammed the door where the sign was clearly visible through the glass pane
NO IRISHMEN NEED APPLY!
Maybe in another hundred year’s wee Joseph.’
The memory had apparently pained Mr. O’Bromley most of his life, not for himself but for his father’s desperation… for the humiliation. Had it not been for the MacDougal’s they would have frozen or starved to death in the alleys.
I’d recommend you tone done yer accent Isaac and say yer a Scott. Drop the O in O’Bromley and maybe even try to pass yerself as a Brit- would certainly make life a bit kinder. That was Mr. MacDougal’s advice to Joseph’s father.
I’ll not do it. I cannot deny who I be no more than I could deny Christ himself. Tis by His mercies and good men like ye Marland MacDougal whom He put in me path – I’ll find favor. And me little Joseph will one day be a respectable citizen of these United States.
Mary continued watching, enthralled by the man’s mental history and squeezed his hand tighter at the sight of young Duffy.
The boys were instant buddies, playful and happy. She concentrated on every word, every gesture and movement of the adolescent MacDougal. She cheered him on as he slid onto the makeshift base in a game of ball played with a thick cedar limb and a heavy wad of masking tape. ‘Safe!’ a young girl yelled from the batter’s square and instantly the vision of Duffy was gone. Joseph’s full attention lighted on the smiling child with hazel colored eyes. The girl he knew he’d marry when they were old enough.
“Clara tells me you got the gift of seeing. And that you helped her.” Mr. O’Bromley forced the words out in short gasps.
“She helped me more than I helped her, I’m sure.” Mary smiled at Clara who was entranced in her own theatre of the man’s reminiscences.
‘Duffy would you make me a cup?’ the expectant Mary O’Bromley was asking, ‘and mince a sprig of mint to ease my troubled tummy.’ The burly barefooted man smiled sweetly and obliged. Moving gracefully for his size Clara noted as he tenderly handed his sister the warm chamomile tea with fragments of wild mint floating toward the edges of the shallow cup. ‘Little Clara likes the chamomile.’ He’d told her.
“I still like the chamomile.” She said aloud.
“Who you talkin’ to baby girl?” her father asked, “Do you see your mama comin’ for me?”
“Not yet.” Clara whispered and went back to watching what was left of Joseph’s recollections.
‘I wish you would settle down and make a family. I miss you so much when you’re out gallivanting all over the county.’ Mrs. O’Bromley was pleading with her brother, ‘There’ll be no heir to carry on the MacDougal name `less ye produce one.’
A bright eyed Joseph O’Bromley squatted across the room tapping the last miniature nail in to a freshly made cradle before testing its sturdiness. Don’t harp on the man Mary. Could be ain’t no woman would have him and you’re gonna make him feel bad about his self ‘cause he aren’t as handsome as me.
Duffy laughed, shook his head and took her hand in his, ‘You worry too much sweet sister. If it be me destiny I’ll have a troublesome wife of me own and a dozen mean boys to give fits to my ugly brother in law. But if not, so be it. Time will tell.’ Time was what the young Mary feared, knowing that Duffy’s was running out.
Mary Magdalene and Clara simultaneously heard his approach.
Joseph, are you ready old friend?
“I am.” Mr. O’Bromley wheezed, “Is my Mary with you?”
Clara squeezed her father’s hand and motioned for Jim. When he stood Mary reluctantly released her hold along with the sparkling image of the beacon and allowed Jim to stand in her place.
“Please know I love you and how grateful I am that you made me family.” Jim’s voice cracked when he spoke causing both women to sniffle unexpectedly. Joseph weakly pinched his son in laws hand and mouthed a few inaudible words.
“He says he’ll see you on the other side.” Clara told him.
It’s time to go now Joseph O’Bromley.
“Good-bye Daddy.” Clara whispered.
Mary watched from the end of the bed as the man’s body went limp. When his eyes glazed over she inconspicuously placed her hand on his foot to catch a glimpse of the departure. She could see the faint outlining of a door that appeared out of nowhere. “What’s it like?” She heard Joseph ask to which Duffy replied, “You’ll know in a moment.” And just before the flickers of shattered light faded… the transporter turned to Mary and smiled.
Roses from Ishmael
Ishmael thought the flowers would be a nice touch. Roses were her favorite, red roses to be exact. These were slightly black around the edges and void of fragrance, but they were roses nonetheless.
“You’re not old enough to remember when roses had a smell are you?” he asked the cashier as he handed her a twenty dollar bill.
“No sir, I guess not.” She replied handing him a rumpled one along with thirteen cents in change.
“I bet you’re not even old enough to buy beer.” He said tucking the flowers under his arm. The young woman gave a weary smirk and he shoved the change into his coat pocket. “I guess it doesn’t matter as long as you’re old enough to sell it.” Ishmael yanked the eighteen pack of Bud Light from the counter and strolled to his truck.
Just outside of the city limits he reached across the seat and twisted the first cap off of a tepid bottle. The clanking of the glass was comforting and the warm beer eased the queasiness in his stomach. He downshifted and let the black Chevy pull itself along the narrow country lane as he sipped the Bud and drank in the scenery.
The summer heat had taken a toll on the coastal Bermuda that waved its browned tops as he drove past. Ishmael nodded and gestured back, feeling a kinship. But relief was on the way, the weatherman said as much when he interrupted the radio host to announce tornado warnings in effect until eight o’clock this evening.
As he pulled into the drive he sucked the last bit of suds from the third bottle, took a deep breath and sighed.
Her car was parked in the usual place. He felt hopeful, nervously adjusting the flowers and dusting the fallen petals to the floorboard before popping a wintergreen disc into his mouth.
The mint clung to his cheek like paste as he gagged; the stench of evergreen caused him to heave with panic. A mouth full of juniper berries was an unpleasant memory to say the least.
His tongue swept his mouth in search of spit. After several frantic jabs his lips gathered to form weak whistle and he forced the disk from his mouth. The candy landed with indifference and Ishmael kicked at the dusty drive covering it and his boot in a fine white powder.
“Honey I’m home.” He called from the kitchen. “Arianna? Sweetheart? Are you here?” he spoke gently as he made is way toward the guest bedroom.
The squishing of his boots on wet carpet went unnoticed, much like her silent cries.
“You’re in there aren’t you?” He asked pressing his hand to door. “Speak to me, please?” Ishmael ran his fingers across the buckled paint and continued, “Ari- I’m sorry. You have to believe I never meant to hurt you. You believe me don’t you?”
Ishmael’s statement was honest but how could she believe him? He knew how she loved her perfect house; how hard she had worked to make the quaint space a home. He knew too that it was him she loved, only him but jealousy blinded him to the fact.
“I was only trying to make a point… a stupid point I know but I never struck the match Arianna. It was an accident. Can you forgive me?”
A sharp snap came from the other side of the door and his heart dropped. He made his way back to the kitchen and tossed the roses into Tuesday’s dishwater.
How many Tuesdays had passed? Her silence set a new record. She had never shunned him so long and the guilt that urged him to buy the flowers – the same remorse he felt every time he lost his temper was quickly being replaced by irritation; an all too familiar annoyance building in the pit of his stomach. It would simmer there until it bubbled over and rumbled through his empty gut, lapping against raw nerves, reviving memories of every rejection and hurt feeling he had ever known.
Ishmael felt the heat rise in his face and throb in his ears as he gripped the counter to steady his frame. Trembling he strained to recall what the therapist had taught him. It was not working. The only happy thoughts he owned were of her and they had been supplanted by unbearable memoirs, images of unforgiving eyes. Her eyes once bright and smiling now flamed and pierced him with accusations. The same eyes that gave him comfort now cut him to the bone. She had a way of doing that – shaming a man without a word and shame was a thing he hated.
He had been ashamed for as long as he could remember. Even as a small boy, before he had ever heard the word or perceived its definition – he felt it. He ate shame for breakfast and bathed in it before going to bed each night. He knelt on it as he said his prayers and iced his beer in it and sometimes he hid it in a bundle of flowers. Yes shame was his unfaltering companion, the one sure thing he could count on.
Jutting his face toward the heavens he prayed and waited for an answer.
Oblivious to the first drops that landed Ishmael continued to pray. As the rain drenched his upturned face, mingling with his tears he steadied his breath and waited for an answer, an absolution that refused to come. Instead the wind swirled in the open roof above him showering his blistered face with twigs and scorched bits of fiberglass, a foul reminder of things that could not be undone.
“Am I beyond forgiveness?” He pleaded toward the thundering sky. “Will you always be angry with me?”
Ishmael tried to stoop amongst the debris, to kneel if for no other reason than sheer exhaustion but the charred drywall held his fists.
“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!” he croaked, his throat too dry to scream
“Damn you Arianna!” He cursed through cracked lips, unable to summon any moisture, unable to summon anything. Not so much as a heave could he muster from the memory of juniper on an elementary playground. He would now welcome the kicks of a bully in canvas sneakers, the scratching of coarse pungent needles against his face and the bitterness of their berries.
Ishmael heard the machines approaching; he could hear the men talking just prior to the wall landing. They used words like ‘total loss’, ‘unsalvageable’ and ‘condemned’. Words he had come to terms with, things no amount of roses in the world could fix.
He laid his head against the sooty timber that permanently fixed him and asked once again, “Arianna? Ari-honey… are you here?” and again she refused to answer.
Happy Valentines Day to you all and hats off to the women who
dare to write horror.
So I just told Maddie she is not going to Nashville with me in two weeks. As you can see she did not take it well.
She had just finished reading Cloud Wrangler and had promised to give an honest cat’s pur-spective….
Well that is not going to happen now. She is p-hissed.
It seems I never know when to just say nothing. 🙊🙉🙈
It is hard to believe Door Number Four was published over six years ago. Wow! That means I am six years older and [probably] none the wiser.
Four years ago this month Door Number Four was published in audio. Another wow! I could have earned a Bachelors degree in that 48 months or sailed around the world a few times.
I can’t accurately account for the years that have passed but I can tell you when I think of Door Number Four (or IIII) I am still proud of this quirky, surreal, sci-fi love story. It still intrigues me. And secretly I would love to see it in film.
I was digging in my archives for another project when I happened upon this narration sample of Door Number Four narrated by Christopher Lane.
I confess I still giggle a little when I listen to it.
Another truth, sometimes when I meander through the woods picking berries, soul-searching or conversing with the wild animals, I wonder what really became of Donald S. Crowley. And sometimes…
Sometimes I think I hear Tetra seductively calling to him. “Donald, come.”