He’d found the booth buried beneath a pile of cast offs in the back of a barn on the vast Kansas plains. The owner had been a man closing in on ninety and had been happy to part company with it for the right price that Archie readily agreed to.
Archie’s dad had served in the European theater in World War II, wading ashore at Normandy on D-Day as Hitler’s finest mounted a stiff defense. Archie himself had served in the jungles of Vietnam, so he understood that need to make contact with those close to you before you stepped into the fight. That final moment to say your goodbyes. He closed the door behind him and settled onto the narrow seat as his emotions overwhelmed him.
The doctors said it wouldn’t be much longer before she required twenty four hour care, and the discussion had then turned to his options, that were becoming limited with every passing day.
Nursing home? Absolutely not!
Twenty four hour in-home care was an option that came with a price tag far beyond his ability to pay. Even if he sold everything he had ever purchased in his den it still wouldn’t be enough. They had some money socked away, but nothing close to what would be needed to provide the care she required. She had reached the end of a life well lived and in a cosmic twist of fate was destined to spend her remaining years as a stranger.
Oh how he yearned for the old Pat, the young girl with the mischievous eyes and the quick smile. She was a flirt, even as they grew old together she had that ability to have every man anywhere she went eating out of the palm of her hand in no time. Yet she had given her heart solely to him. They’d had a good life together, raising two sons who had gone on to make both of them proud. Of course she would have been proud of them no matter what.
A rapping on the glass pulled him from his thoughts and he looked up startled. A young man in uniform stood on the other side of the door, knocking on the glass impatiently as Archie gathered his thoughts, trying to make sense of what was going on.
“Come on, Pops, I’m shipping out soon and I gotta get back, I need the phone to call my girl,” the young man said as he pushed on the center of the door to open it.
“I’m sorry, what? Where am I? What’s going on?” Archie stuttered as he looked around the room. His den was gone, as was his collection of signs and toys. In its place was the smoky interior of a tavern. A narrow bar ran the length of the wall on the left, several patrons, an even mix between civilian and military types, sat as the bar with cold drinks in front of them as tendrils of white smoke rose from what seemed like a cigarette in every ashtray.
“”Let me use the phone for just a minute then you can have it back, I just want to tell my girl I love her before they ship me out.”
“Where are you going?” Archie asked before he could stop himself. He had never been as open with strangers as Pat.
“Somewhere in the Pacific, won’t know for sure till we’re on the ship, just hope I get to kill some Japs for what they did in Hawaii,” the young man, no more than nineteen said as he tipped his head and slipped into the phone booth, closing the door behind him.
Everything around him was dark, dreary, not black and white, not quite, it was like a photo that time had taken the color from. Even the neon sign over the bar glowed with a dingy light that had been sapped of any brilliance.
Then he saw her, at the end of the bar, her blue summer dress the only spot of color in an otherwise drab world, her eyes sparkling with a playful light, her red hair set off by the color of the simple dress she wore.
She got up from the bar, and was walking towards him, when from the baby monitor on his belt she cried out his name.
He looked up from where he was sitting to find himself back in his man cave. Sitting in the phone booth, his shoulder resting against the glass side.
“Archie.” Her voice crackled from the monitor again, a forlorn cry from the wilderness of her disease.
His back was stiff, his buttocks numb from having sat so long, and he struggled to pull himself to his feet.
How long had he been out? He glanced at his watch as a sinking despair overwhelmed him. She had been alone for four hours. How long had she been calling for him before he realized it?
Pushing open the door of the phone booth he rushed upstairs to find she had messed herself. He had no idea how long she had been calling for him, but the look in her eyes, that humiliation of having lain in her own waste, burned with a brilliant intensity.
“I’m, sorry,” he repeated as he worked to clean her, swearing to himself that he would never forget her again. As he worked he realized that while he was standing in that smoky bar, watching the red head walk towards him, he had completely forgotten, for the briefest of moments, about his ailing wife. He was surprised when he realized just how liberating forgetting her could be. His childish side sought to counter his guilt by reminding him that she had already forgotten him.
To be continued
That's 2 complete novels and a
collection of short stories.