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 9

 Time is precious, but truth is more precious than time.
― Benjamin Disraeli

     “How’s Lorne?” Brennan asked his son. His breathing was weaker, more strained. It seemed a struggle for him to even open his eyes. It had been two days since Lorne was attacked, and this was the first opportunity Alex had to talk with his father. Truthfully, Alex was probably avoiding him, ashamed of what he had confessed to.

     Alex sat in a chair next to his father’s bed. “He’s going to be fine. He needs to take it easy for the next few weeks. He’s on a liquid diet,” he said.

     Brennan nodded his head. “Good,” he said in a low whisper. “That’s good. I was worried about him. Jeff wheeled him here to see me. It broke my heart.”

     “I know, Dad. Me too. He didn’t deserve to be beaten like that.”

     “He’s a good boy,” Brennan said. Brennan’s shoulder’s convulsed and a pained sob escaped from his mouth. “I was so scared. After everything I’ve seen. Everything that happened…that I let happen, I was afraid that God was punishing me.”

     “Dad. It’s not your fault. None of it is. Not what happened to Lorne and not what happened in that farm in Europe.”

     “I could have saved them,” Brennan said. “I should have. All I did was watch.”

     “You were a boy,” Alex said. “You have to forgive yourself. There’s nothing else you can do.”

     “What if there was?” Brennan’s eyes sought out his son’s and he held them there. Alex was struck by how much life they still held, despite the battered body that housed them. “What if there was a way? What if it’s not too late to help that family?”

     “What are you talking about?”

      A violent fit racked his body and Brennan wheezed for breath. “There’s a way,” he gasped between coughs.

     “Take it easy, Dad. Take a breath.” Alex raised a glass of tepid water to his father’s parched lips and the older man took a desperate draught. It had been several days since the big revelation, and Alex still didn’t know what to think of it. His father was just a boy. Alex still had problems reconciling the story of the Jewish family’s execution with the man he had always believed his father to be. His feelings were conflicted and he didn’t know what he was supposed to feel. Part of him was angry at Brennan. Angry and ashamed. What sort of man watches an entire family being wiped out and doesn’t even lift a finger? He was sympathetic too. Brennan was just a kid, barely into his twenties when the war ended. He was tired, and shell-shocked, and scared. It was easy to forget how young he was then. When Alex was that age he could barely manage a line of credit. The thought of being expected to kill another man, even as a soldier was completely foreign to him. Did Alex really have the right to judge?

     He ran his hand along the day’s growth of stubble along his chin absent-mindedly. The cacophonous humming of the assorted machines keeping his father alive concerned him. In the past few days, Brennan’s health had taken a sharp turn. It was impossible to gauge how long he had left; a day or two perhaps, but no more than a week. He was weaker, even the effort to sit up had become a struggle. Anything beyond that was simply impossible. His silvery hair, always smartly combed was now in a perpetual state of what could only be described as mad scientist chic, if that was even a thing. His colour had drained and had become so pallid, so grey it could be used as the title of the next E L James book.

     Brennan calmed himself, breathing in and out slowly. Alex heard the rattle in his lungs. “I’m dying,” he said. His voice was clear and surprisingly strong.

     “I know, Dad,” Alex said. “You know I love you, right?”

     Brennan nodded his head. “I love you too, son. I love you all. It’s funny. I thought I’d be afraid, but I’m not. Maybe I’ll get to see your mother again. I’d like to think so.”

“Me too,” Alex said. They weren’t a religious family, except perhaps peripherally. Christian by default, he always said. He didn’t remember the last time he had set foot in a church, probably for Mom’s funeral. The notion of heaven had always seemed impossible, silly even. Yet now, with his father at death’s door, he found it comforting.

     “I don’t want to die with any regret,” Brennan said. He rubbed the nub of his missing finger. “I don’t want to die with the shame of what I done hanging over me.”

     “You didn’t kill those people,” Alex said, “Klagges did.” Alex took the opportunity over the past several days to read about the man who murdered that family. His search engine was filled with stories about the man known as de Slager van de Hoop. The Butcher of Hope. Erich Klagges was a Nazi officer, a captain in the SS, Schutzstaffel. He was noted for his cruelty in an organisation that has a well-documented history in cruelty. Klagges was personally responsible for the murders of countless Jews, often executing them without provocation. So volatile and unpredictable was his temper that he was feared even by his own party members. After Germany’s surrender, he presented his baton to General Harry Crerar in a gentlemanly show of submission. Crerar, the commander of the First Canadian Army was so disgusted by the horror he’d seen, responded with an uncharacteristic punch across Klagges face. Klagges was tried and convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity at Nuremberg. Even as he stood at the gallows, Klagges was unrepentant. Asked for last words, he merely spat and scowled.

     Alex knew in his heart of hearts that his father wasn’t truly responsible for the murder of that family. That was Klagges’ burden. But even still, Brennan did have some role in it. What was that quote? He couldn’t remember it exactly, but it was something like ‘The only thing necessary for evil is for good men to do nothing.’

     “I didn’t pull the trigger,” Brennan agreed, “but I may as well have killed them.”

     “You’ve led a good life, Dad. You’re a good man, whatever sins you’ve committed are forgiven.”

     “It’s not enough,” Brennan rasped.

     “It will have to be,” Alex said his voice a low whisper. There was a short pause.

     “There’s a way,” Brennan said. Excitement climbed in his voice and his eyes grew animated. “There’s a way to put things right.”

     “What? Like a charitable donation? Do you want to give to the United Jewish Appeal, or something? I can talk to Emily—“

     “No,” Brennan interrupted. “There’s a real way—“Brennan let out an anguished cry and clutched his chest. The machines connected to him, connected to his very life screamed in protest.

     “Dad!” Alex yelled, jumping from his seat. “Somebody help,” he yelled out the hallway. A harried nurse rushed in. She took a half second to survey the scene before moving to action.

     “Stand back,” she barked at Alex,” get out of the way!”

     A doctor ran into the room. “What is it?” He asked.

     “Cardiac arrest,” the nurse replied. She had already unlocked the wheels on his bed and started wheeling it. Two orderlies took an end and began pushing it into the hallway. The doctor prepped a defibrillator, as the gurney rolled out.

     “Dad!”Alex said. Brennan mustered up some hidden well of strength and pushed aside the doctor momentarily. He looked back at his son. “There’s a way, son. Promise you’ll make it right. Promise me.”

     “I will, Dad. I promise.” The gurney disappeared down the hall. Alex stood in the empty room, rooted to the floor. He didn’t know what to do; he scarcely knew what was happening. All he knew was that he would never talk to his father again, and that realisation struck him with a force he hadn’t expected. He tried to hold in a sob but soon was crying uncontrollably.

     Emily pulled her little hatchback into the visitor’s space in the underground lot of her father’s condo, right beside Brennan’s space. As usual, his Chevy was parked there. She got out and walked quickly towards the stairwell. Underground parking lots always made her nervous. They were so big and claustrophobic at the same time. She stopped abruptly when she spotted a small yellow square of paper on the windshield. It couldn’t be a parking ticket. This was his assigned spot. It was included in the ownership of the condo. Upon a closer look, she realised that it was much too small to be a parking ticket. It was a Post-It note and there was something scrawled on it. She peeled it off and read it. Dolores. The handwriting was unmistakeably Clive’s.

     She pocketed the note and harrumphed her way up the stairs and onto the main floor. Pressing the call button on the elevator, Emily felt her temper rising. Ever since she cancelled the deal for the boat, things between her and Clive had reached a boiling point. She accused him of wanting Brennan to die just so they could pick through his possessions. Worse still, he seemed to revel in it. He was pissed (angry wasn’t a strong enough word) that she wanted them to take a cruise together. A waste of money, he called it, a one-time extravagance that didn’t give them any tangible rewards beyond memories. If they bought a boat, he reasoned, they could go on their own cruise, whenever they wanted. Emily wasn’t having any of it.

     She opened the door to her father’s condo and stepped into the living room before stopping dead in her tracks. “What is going on in here?”

     “Hi honey,” Clive said. He was in the master bedroom. “I wanted to surprise you. D’you like what I’ve done?”

     “What exactly have you done?” She asked, her face flushing an angry crimson. Clive poked his head around the door frame.

     “I’m divvying up all your dad’s things.”

     Emily looked around the living room and the open concept kitchen and dining room. Every surface had a yellow sticky note stuck to it. Every stick of furniture, every tchotchke, every appliance had a tiny yellow square attached to it. Every. Single. Thing. The condo was awash in a sea of yellow. She walked around. The bookcase had a note that read Jake. The TV stand, Dolores. The toaster, Lorne. The fridge (probably because it was an older model), yard sale. The dining room set, Emily. The framed Rembrandt print, Alex. On and on it went. Clive had taken it upon himself to sort out Brennan’s belongings. He hadn’t consulted anyone else. He didn’t even bother asking for permission.

     Emily, unable to contain her volcanic rage, exploded. Hot tears of fury burned pathways down her reddened cheeks. She tried to speak, but her anger consumed the words and they evaporated before leaving her mouth. She pulled a fresh note off the pad, scrawled a word on it before slapping it onto his chest. “Don’t be angry, Em,” he said. “I was only trying to help. You’ve got so much on your plate right now.” Emily glared at him before stomping out of the condo, the door slamming punctuated her thoughts more than adequately. Clive removed the note from the pocket of his shirt and read where he could go.

     Alex lost track of time as he wandered the hospital aimlessly. He didn’t know how long his father would be in surgery. He didn’t even know if he was still alive. The nurse said she would page him, but he hadn’t heard anything yet. He retrieved his mobile from his pocket, and began dialing Emily before hanging up. He didn’t know what to tell her. He wished she were here. He wanted someone to share his grief with, but he didn’t want to do it over the phone. He went to the cafeteria and bought a ham and cheese croissant and a diet soda, before realising that he wasn’t hungry. After several minutes he found himself in Lorne’s room. Jeff was there, wearing his scrubs. A stethoscope hung around his neck. Lorne was sitting up. His face was still swollen and bruised and his jaw was wired shut. His eyes twinkled and even though it was hard to tell, he was smiling.

     “Alex!” Jeff said, “We were just talking about you.” It took a beat before Jeff noticed Alex’s red, puffy eyes. “What’s wrong?”

     “Is it Grampa?” Lorne asked, through gritted teeth. Despite his jaw being wired shut, Lorne could still speak. It was laboured and deliberate but intelligible. Alex nodded his head.

     “He’s had a heart attack. I don’t know how serious it is.”

     “Where is he now?” Jeff asked.

     “I don’t know. They took him away. They will page me when…” He let that thought trail off.

     “They must have taken him to coronary care,” Jeff mused. “I could go check up on him, if you want.” He looked to Alex and then Lorne for approval.

     “Go,” Lorne said, “please.”

      Jeff gave his fiancé a gentle kiss on the forehead. “I’ll let you know what’s going on once I find out.” He patted Alex comfortingly on the shoulder as he left the room. Alex stood there for several minutes, still shocked by the gravity of it all. He thought about what his father had said as they took him away. Promise you’ll make it right. Would those words amount to his last wishes? What could Alex even do to make it right? He didn’t have a clue.

     “Dad? Are you okay?” Alex plopped down into the chair at Lorne’s bedside.

     “I’m fine. I think we’re going to lose him.” Alex and Lorne sat in silence, both mourning the imminent loss of the man who had been most important in each of their separate lives. The day had been a long time coming but now that it was bearing down on them with the velocity of a freight train, it seemed to adopt an urgency that belied belief. He was going to die. Lorne tried to chew his fingernail, a nervous habit, forgetting his jaw was wired shut. He threw his arms up in despair. Alex took his son’s hand in his own. It didn’t provide enough comfort though, and he swept his battered son into a strong embrace. “Lord help me,” Alex said. “I can’t lose him yet.”
Log in to add a comment or review for this chapter Chapter updated on: 12/10/2015 11:08:13 PM
  • Andre Clemons commented on :
    12/23/2015 5:10:46 PM
    Even though I knew Brennan's days were numbered from the very first chapter, seeing him at what very well could be his final moments was so emotionally tough to get ... Show More
    • Wayne Purdy We've all had to deal with the loss of a loved one and I think can relate to the helplessness that comes with it. They will move on though because they have to.
      1/1/2016 4:04:09 AM
  • Ryan Watt commented on :
    12/11/2015 6:39:20 AM
    Heavy chapter in so many ways. I was talking to a friend tonight, for whom a cousin-in-law did much the same as Cliff did recently, so it rang extra true for me. Curious ... Show More
    • Wayne Purdy This has been my favourite chapter so far. I think we've all seen a loved one on their death bed and can empathize with Alex. I've seen first hand what people will do when someone passes and seen first-hand the things people do for money and possessions, though not to the degree we see with Clive.
      12/11/2015 12:59:57 PM