The Medal
Wayne Purdy
Alex Allenby returns home to visit his dying father. His father has one regret; he witnessed the ... Show More
Contemporary Fic., Literary, Sci Fi
world war 2, time travel,

Chapter 11

 The future is uncertain but the end is always near.
Jim Morrison

     The funeral was a sombre occasion, as these things normally tend to be. Alex was humbled by the number of people in attendance and he wondered, most gravely, if he would have anywhere near that many people in the event of his own passing. Several members from the local branch of the Legion attended. A few old soldiers, wearing uniforms that no longer fit smartly attended. There were also a few younger soldiers, veterans of the war in Afghanistan that paid their respects. Brennan had lived a good, long life and over the course of nine decades had accumulated many friends. Most had passed on, but some shuffled in and lamented the loss of a dear friend. The front pews were taken by immediate family; Clive, Emily, Jake, and Dolores, Alex, Genie, and Lorne and Jeff. Family also came from all across the country, distant cousins that Alex hadn’t seen since his mother passed away and likely never would again.

     The reverend, a short, portly woman with a shock of untameable white hair and a Vaudevillian voice that was so squeaky it seemed out of place for the hallowed place beyond the pulpit, led the service. Alex was slated to read a eulogy but was suddenly overcome with such emotion that he wasn’t able to do it. The reverend took his notes and finished for him. Miraculously, her voice took on a more dignified tone, and the eulogy was all the better for her efforts.

     He had known that his father was going to die. It was amazing that he’d held on for so long. Still, the reality of it hadn’t quite sunk in. Brennan was telling him a story, and Alex felt that it wasn’t quite finished. His mind drifted during the service. His thoughts were of the damned medal, and the importance Brennan had put on it. He was glad that he was surrounded by his family in the end, but was haunted by his last words. “Promise me…fix it.”

     Of course Alex being the dutiful son promised he would. He was gratified to see the slow smile spread across his father’s face. He took it as a sign. At least he’d died happy. That left Alex with a greater problem. How the Hell was he supposed to fix something that happened nearly seventy years ago? Alex snapped back into the service when others around him stood to sing a hymn called Be Not Afraid. He hurriedly opened the hymnal to the correct page and tried to sing along, but was out of place. In the end, he decided it was better to just listen quietly. Beside him, Genie sang, “You shall speak your words in foreign lands, and all will understand, you shall see the face of God and live.”

     He’d forgotten how beautiful her voice was, how effortlessly the words flowed from within her. She was one of those people that could easily carry a tune, unlike him with his tone-deaf warbling. His own singing could be politely compared to the midnight wailings of an alley cat. He always believed she could have made a career of it, but for Genie singing was never more than a hobby, something to keep her busy while in the shower or vacuuming the carpets.

     After the service, mourners were invited to Emily’s home for a luncheon. Alex shook hands and promised to see them all there. “We’re going over,” Lorne said.

     “I’ll meet you there,” Alex replied. “I’m just going to sit hear awhile.” Alex sat in the pew. His father’s casket, covered in flowers, was behind the altar on a raised chancel. It was an open casket and Alex could just see the top of his father’s head, and it reminded him of the mindless games of peek-a-boo that all parents play with their babies. Surely Brennan played it with Alex too. “Peek-a-boo I see you too,” he whispered.

     He crossed the church to his father’s coffin. He placed his hand on his father’s. It was cold and puffy, and felt nothing like it ought to have. “I don’t know what you want me to do, Dad.” Alex looked upon his father one last time, saddened by the knowledge that he would never see him again. He walked through the narthex and out the door.

     Alex parallel parked his rental car between two large SUVs in front of Emily’s house on Percy Street. Inside, he found Lorne and Jeff talking to an elderly couple in the kitchen. “Hi Dad,” Lorne said. “You remember Uncle Art and Aunt Irma?”

     Alex took a hard look at the married couple who not only seemed to have aged so that they look like the other but also to have become entirely androgynous. They didn’t look familiar but the names rang a bell. “Yes, of course,” Alex said politely, feigning remembrance. “It’s been a long time. I’m sorry to see you under such sad circumstances.”

     “Your father owed me twenty bucks,” Uncle Art said gruffly.

     “Wha-?” Alex was confused. Surely this old dinosaur wasn’t expecting a debt repaid now-was he?

     “Art,” Aunt Irma said, nudging him in the ribs. “Don’t you start with the old war stories.”

     “War stories? Did you serve with Dad?” Alex asked. “I was just telling your boy and his friend about it,” Art said.

     “That’s not his friend,” Alex said. “It’s his fiancé. They are going to be married.”

     “Oh my,” Irma said. “Well, it’s not my place to judge.”

     “Anyway,” Art interrupted her, “back in the war, I bet Bren that we’d both make it home alive. We shook on it and everything. Sonuvabitch whelched.”

     “He didn’t,” Irma said. “You and him talked about it again. When was it ’72? ’73? It was the year we was all at cousin Johnny’s cabin in Esquimalt for the big Allenby reunion. You said you’d make it home alive. Brennan said the bet was you would come home the same as before you left. Then you both agreed that you wasn’t the same no more.”

     “That’s right,” Art said. “I musta forgot. It was a long time ago.”

     “Do you know what happened over there? To my Dad?”

     “The same as the rest of us, I’d guess. We didn’t talk about it too much after it was all done.”

     “What about in Holland? The time he got separated from his division and ended up behind enemy lines?”

     Art scrunched up his face trying to remember and then broke into laughter. “That,” he chortled. “I forgot that too. Brennan got in shit for that. At first we thought he was killed or captured, and I thought I lost the bet. Then a couple days later, he shows up in camp. He had detailed information about a town by the name of Hoopstad still under Nazi control. Anyway, we liberated it. He dug graves hisself for a family that got killed by some German prick. Can’t remember his name now, but they hung him in Nuremburg. He wouldn’t let no one help. Most of us was excited. The war was almost over; you could feel it in the air. It was ‘lectric. But Brennan was sorrowful. We called him Sad Eyes after that. He didn’t hardly laugh nor smile. I guess that’s where I lost the bet,” Art said ruefully. “He wasn’t the same again.”

     Alex picked up a triangle of a tuna sandwich and chewed it thoughtfully as Art and Irma went to chatto some other distant relative Alex didn't recognise. “It was a nice service, wasn’t it,” Genie said. She was carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses. “I stole some of the good stuff from Emily’s fridge.” She poured them both a glass and placed the bottle on the countertop.

     “Thanks,” Alex said after taking a drink. The wine was bitter but somehow rejuvenating.

     “Tough day,” she said.

     “Yeah. At least he’s not suffering anymore.”

     “What about you? Are you alright?”

     “I’m fine. I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m letting him down if I don’t honour his wishes. I just don’t know what to do.”

     “Lorne told me,” she said. “You know he could have been delusional at the end, right?”

     “I’ve thought that too, but I don’t think so. He seemed perfectly lucid otherwise.”

     “Then you will just have to make peace with it. There’s nothing more you can do. Maybe all he wanted was to confess, to get it all off his chest so he could die with a clear conscience.”

     “I guess so,” he agreed, though he still wasn’t sure.

     “What about you and Lorne?” “I think we’re better. I have a lot to make up for.”

     “I meant about going into business together.”

     Alex drained his glass and refilled it from the bottle. “We talked about it,” he said. “He wants to do it. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited. I’ve already set the plan in motion. My practice is being sold to a big Bay Street firm in Toronto. I’ve set up a joint business account for us here in Victoria. We’re going to start off in a small office. Lorne is going to go back to school and work part-time with me. He can learn on the job. When he passes the bar, we’ll be partners. When I retire, he will take over the firm.”

     “You’re moving back here then?”

     “I have to go home, probably in a couple weeks. Clean out my apartment. I’ll rent a U-Haul and bring my stuff over.”

     “I’m happy for you,” Genie said. “You have that look in your eye you used to have when we were kids. It’s a good thing.”

     “I guess I finally realised what the important things are.”

     As people filed out, their bellies full of sandwiches and treats, Genie helped Emily tidy up. A dark cloud hung over Clive throughout the afternoon and it was obvious that he and Emily were arguing. Emily seemed perfectly content and that contrast made Clive even angrier. He ended up leaving. He shook Alex’s hand and mumbled some barely coherent words of condolence. Where he went, Alex didn’t know. This was his home after all. “Clive seemed upset,” Alex said.

     “Oh he was,” Emily said. She scraped some half-eaten cake into the compost bin. “We’re getting a divorce.”

     “What?” Alex asked. He knew that they had been fighting but didn’t know it was this bad.

     “Emily, I’m so sorry,” Genie piped up.

     “It’s okay,” Emily said. “You never hear about happy people getting divorced for a reason. We were both miserable and that’s no way to live your life. For twenty years I’ve been a wife and a mother. Now I want to be me. Is that horrible?”

     “I don’t think so,” Genie said. “You deserve happiness too.”

     “I just hope that one day we can be friends, like you two are now.”

     Alex assessed his relationship with Genie. Were they really friends? He wasn’t so sure. They had a long, shared history. He still loved her but they weren’t friends. Alex would not call her for advice, or go to a movie or do any of the things friends do. Whatever relationship they had, would always be tempered by the past.

     “Dad. We’re going home. Are you coming with us?” Lorne asked. Jeff was holding his hand.

     “Yeah, I suppose I should.” He’d shared several glasses of wine with Genie and probably shouldn’t drive. “Can I leave my car here?” He asked Emily.

      “It’ll be fine,” she replied. “Just come get it in the morning. I don’t want my neighbours complaining.” He hugged Genie and his sister and climbed into the back of Jeff’s car. Lorne and Jeff went to bed early. Lorne was tired from the emotion of the day. Alex sat at the dining room table, sad and tired. He considered calling Genie but dismissed the idea instantly. Maybe they could heal, but not today. Instead, he crossed the house with its stylish hardwood floors and modern throw rugs to the spare room. He was getting ready for bed too when he spotted the medal and the crumpled photograph on his dresser. He picked up the photo. How can I make things right? He asked. What can I do.

      He pocketed the medal and photo and returned to the dining room. He foraged for a piece of paper and a pen before finding them in a drawer filled with miscellany in the kitchen. He scrawled a note: Gone to Dad’s place for the night. Want to be alone. See you tomorrow. Then as an afterthought he wrote; Love Dad.

      On the way to his father’s condo, he stopped at the liquor store and bought a bottle of his father’s favourite whiskey, Crown Royal. He decided the best way to pay respects to his father was the time-honoured tradition of getting blindingly drunk. He poured himself an inch of whiskey and drank it immediately, “here’s to you, Dad,” he toasted. After several toasts, Alex was very drunk. He removed the medal and the photo from his pocket. He turned the star over in his hands, but his vision has blurred and he couldn’t easily read the inscriptions. He looked at the photo instead. It was a handsome family, so full of potential. When was it taken? He wondered. Certainly before the war, during happier times, but there was no hint of when in the image. He folded it and placed it into the breast pocket of his suit.

     Alex felt his phone buzz. He checked the message. It was from Lorne. Alex was in no condition to respond. Instead, he plopped it down onto the counter, along with his keys. He still turned the medal over in his hand. He poured himself another drink, and then deciding it more practical to eliminate the middle man entirely, began drinking straight from the bottle. He looked out the bay window and could see the harbour. With the reasoning of a drunk, he slipped on his shoes and made his way to the shoreline. Esme had loved this view. It was one of the reasons they bought this place. She would drink her morning coffee and watch the sunrise over the water. Brennan loved it too. He used to fish in these vey waters. Alex sat on a big stone outcropping, watching the waves break on the stony shoreline. His bottle of Crown Royal was half gone when he decided to go back inside. That’s when he remembered he’d left his keys and phone sitting on the counter. “Damn,” he swore.

      Thankfully it was a mild evening. Lorne sat on the rock, staring at the medal. “How am I supposed to make it right, Dad?” He said aloud. “What do I do? It's all in the past and I can't change it. The past has always been there. It was there yesterday and it'll still be there tomorrow. I’d do anything to save them, you have to know that. I’d do anything to save you.” The medal seemed to grow brighter and warmer in his hands, until it burst into a brilliant light. Startled, Alex slipped into the water, hitting his head on a rock on the way in. He gripped the medal hard, protecting it from falling into the cold, churning ocean. “I’m sorry, Dad,” he said before blacking out.
Log in to add a comment or review for this chapter Chapter updated on: 12/29/2015 10:08:52 PM
  • Andre Clemons commented on :
    1/3/2016 4:27:18 AM
    Oh, and now the mystery has gotten to Alex and he has little idea of where to go from here. It will be interesting to see how far he goes down the "rabbit hole", so to speak...
    • Wayne Purdy The mystery surrounding the medal and Alex's burden will be revealed I In the next chapter. It's safe to say that everything changes!
      1/4/2016 2:33:42 AM
  • Ryan Watt commented on :
    12/30/2015 7:13:36 AM
    Alex's slow drowning of himself in the bottle at the end held a lot of great weight to what he is going through, and the burden he is placing on himself. I also am glad ... Show More
    • Wayne Purdy Yeah Alex is carrying a heavy, self-imposed burden and he's struggling with it. This chapter marks a very big change of direction in his story.
      1/1/2016 3:57:48 AM