Jack stared at the old oak tree at the edge of his property, recalling the tree house he had built for his two daughters. Ellen, older by a year, loved to pretend she was a bird flying off to search for new worlds. Susan, on the other hand, outgrew the house the day it was built. She preferred solid ground, holding tea parties for her dolls and creating elaborate rituals for putting each one to bed at night.
Later, Jack built a swing under the tree. He recalled sitting on it with Susan, who shared her plans to marry Alan as soon as she graduated high school. She was young, too young, Jack worried. She pouted when he suggested she wait and consider taking courses at the local community college. He finally gave in. What else could he do? They married under the oak tree while Jack fretted over the threatening rain clouds. None of that mattered now that his Little Susie and Alan had grown children of their own.
Ellen eventually flew off to explore new worlds. When she'd return, they'd sit on the swing, shaded by the oak, and she'd tell him wondrous stories about her adventures in
He was proud of his daughters and wished his wife had known them as grown women. The two girls were just ten and eight when he and Marianne sat beneath the stoic oak and cried over the news Dr. Harris had delivered that afternoon.
He tried imagining what life would have been like had Marianne lived and the girls been raised with a mother. Should he have remarried when he had the opportunity? Grace Tolliver would have made a fine companion, but he couldn't divide his allegiance between his girls and a new wife.
Jack stared at the old oak tree at the edge of his property. It was autumn now. The oak would soon offer no shade, and its leaves, as scattered as an old man's memories, would be little more than a nuisance.
Beer and Confession
Tom and I split a pitcher at Bailey's. He had just gotten back from his father's funeral.
We were talking baseball when he abruptly changed the subject. "I had called my father and told him I couldn't see him Labor Day like we planned. I said I'd visit some time in October. The old man said, 'No problem.'"
I could see Tom's eyes glistening, his nose turning red. "September seventh. Bam! A heart attack. He was dead before I could get to the hospital."
I didn't know what to say. A tear trickled down his cheek and he wiped it away with the back of his hand.
I wanted to console him, but I didn't know how. Pam would have put her arm around him or said something comforting. I just stared. We drank our beers in silence.
"It's tough," I finally said, feeling like a jerk. "I mean it was so sudden."
"Yeah." Tom grabbed a napkin and blew his nose, one foghorn of a blast. I tried getting the conversation back to baseball, but he was having none of that.
"He was seventy-two, smoked all his goddamn life. Last time I saw him he was coughing like a sonuvabitch and grabbing his chest. I shoulda thrown away his fucking cigarettes and dragged him to the doctor."
"It's not your fault."
Tom looked up from his beer. "I thought my life was so damn important. You know why I cancelled the visit? I had a conference in Vegas. A free trip."
"You couldn't have known," I whispered. "Besides, you had to go to the conference, didn't you? It was your job." I paused. I needed to say something reassuring. "Of all people, your dad would have understood that. Didn't you tell me how he had worked nights and weekends at the store?"
Tom downed the beer left in his glass and split what was in the pitcher between us. "The truth is I hardly went to the conference at all. I signed in and headed straight for the blackjack tables."
"How'd you make out?" What a stupid-ass question. I couldn't believe I asked him that.
Tom looked up from his beer. His face turned red again. "That's the worst part of it. I won almost five hundred bucks. And I can't brag to the old man."
After teaching writing and literature in college for twenty-five years, WAYNE SCHEER retired to follow his own advice and write. He's been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net.
Some of his work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Notre Dame Magazine, The Pedestal, flashquake, Pindeldyboz, Eclectica Magazine, Hamilton Stone Review, Stone Table Review, River Walk Journal, The Potomac and Triplopia. His previous work on SHINE! is here.
Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"What motivates me to write is the fear that I may have to get a real job."