Commentary and Philosophy Fiction posted January 23, 2021


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Blood's Deep, Oh So Deep

All in the Family

by Jay Squires



“Why am I not surprised you’d be here first?”

“Am I? I took a plane when I got the call. Alice is here.”

“The first to be beside him. The first to hold his hand.”

“You wanted to hold it?”

“No.”

“The chair was empty. I took it. There’s another hand.”

“It’s the withered one, Sis.”

“Life’s like that. You’re looking well, Robert. Book sales?”

“They say my poetry’s not political enough. Matters of the soul don’t sell poetry anymore. What happens in the heart of a person in L.A, is of no consequence unless it causes a social reverberation in Moscow. Hong Kong. A man wrestling with his personal demons? They call it sentimentalism. Slop.”

“How’s Howie?”

“Painting. We’re fine.”

“He couldn’t come?”

“Really? Really, Sis?”

“Doctor told Alice Daddy has twenty-four hours.”

“Twenty-four. Hmm. Okay. Where is Alice? I haven’t seen her.”

“She might be napping. This has to be tough on her.”

“He’s had a full life.”

“He’s seventy-two, Robert. For Goodness sake! He hasn’t had a full life. Not alone. Not since Mama—died.”

“And yet here he is, seven years after.”

“What? What? I can’t believe—What?”

“Did you get to hold Mama’s hand, Vi? No, Of course, you didn’t. It happened too quickly to call for you.”

“Hey, you two. I thought I heard your voices out here.”

“Ah, look, Vi! What vision from yon kitchen comes?”

“Always the poet! Always the charmer. Hi, Robby. Can I get you something from the kitchen? I was about to fix myself a sandwich when I heard you."

“I’ll have whatever you’re having. Heavier on the mayo.”

“One PB and J, extra mayo for the poet. How about you, Vi? Soup? I can open a can.”

“Nothing for me. I’m good.”

“Of course you are, big Sister. Give me a peck at your cheek. And you, you big lug. How about a squeeze? There. Now, I’ll leave you two and be back in a jif.”

“Look at her go, Vi. Always about giving with her. The perfect caregiver. Yeah … So upbeat. So chipper.”

“I get your drift. Come on over, Robert. Give me a hug.”

“Well, if you can’t let go for one second, I suppose a one-arm hug’s better than none at all. Here. Are we okay now, Vi, you and me?”

“Yes …”

“There’s a but hidden in the shadow of your yes.”

“You need to forgive him, Robert.”

“I wasn’t aware you thought he needed forgiving.”

“For you. …You need to forgive him.”

“Here we go again. So short the truce. You’re clinging to his hand like he’s your life support.”

“Do you really want to hold it, Robert? Here.”

“No!”

“I just don’t want him to feel alone.”

“Feel!”

“Shhhhhhh.”

“Be real, Vi. He's a hollow shell of a boat. Oarless. Adrift in the weeds. Look at him. His mouth sagging open. No longer able to hold that firm, authoritarian jaw. Now there’s only a faraway flicker left in him. And that’s waiting to be snuffed out.”

“Jesus, Robert ...”

“What! You’re worried he can hear me?”

“I think the neighbors can hear you.”

“Okay, sis, is this better? Let me keep it to a whisper. Do you think he can feel you, though? Do you think he knows you are holding his hand? Do you think something in him feels connected to you?”

“Something. Yes. There is something.”

“Jesus H. Christ! I’m going out for a smoke. Tell Alice I’ll be back in a while.”

*     *     *
“Daddy … You can hear me. Can’t you, Daddy? There is something, isn’t there? I can see your chest rise and fall. Can you feel my hand? Can you hear me whispering to you? Maybe you can’t latch meaning to my words. Maybe it’s like the chirping of a bird. You hear it. It’s comforting. It connects, without meaning. I’ll be your bird, Daddy.”

“You are no bird, sweet Violet.”

“Daddy?”

“I feel. I hear. I understand.”

“If you could—”

“No. You don’t need proof.”

 
*     *     *
 
“Okay, grub’s on. Where’d Robby go?”

“He’s, uh … he said he needed a smoke. He should be back soon.”

“Sure you don’t want something?  You’re just skin and bones, you lovely bitch. Here, have half of my tuna fish.”

“All right. It does look good.”

“I’ll whip you up one in a minute. Hey, Sis…”

“Yes?”

“How are you—really?”

“Tired.”

“Jet lag? Go take a little nap, Sis. I’ll stay here with Daddy.”

“It’s not that. It’s Robert. He—he won’t let it go.”

“I don’t think he ever will, Vi. Would you, if you were Robbie? Really? Mama even went to their wedding. She idolized Howie.”

“But you don’t think Robert even held hope Daddy’d show up, do you?”

“Good Lord, no! Daddy even hated his name—Howie. Said it made a mockery of Howie Long, the football player.”

“Alice, you may be too young to remember … Robert was still nursing. Mama and Daddy and you and me, we used to watch All in the Family.”

“Vaguely.”

“Archie Bunker would have Mama and me in hysterics, what with his narrow-mindedness. But you know what? Daddy could never see what everyone found so funny about Archie Bunker.”

“No, he wouldn’t.”

“You do remember.”

“Not really. But I know Daddy was too much like Archie Bunker.”

“And yet … just as Edith loved Archie through it all—”

“I know. Mama loved Daddy. Through it all.”

“But what if Gloria … you remember Gloria?”

“Their daughter, Gloria.”

"… had been a lesbian?”

“The show would’ve been canceled.”

“Ha! True, but not what I meant. Edith and Gloria would’ve still loved Archie. Through it all.”

“Yeah, I know. And we love Daddy.”

“We?”

“Robbie, too. Don’t you think? In his way? Through it all.”

“He’s coming, Alice. Why don’t you ask him?”

“Okay, you two … what are you conspiring about?”

“Whether you’ll actually eat your P B and J with extra mayo.”

“You wouldn’t, Sis!”

“Okay, okay, I didn’t. We were talking about Archie Bunker.”

Our Archie Bunker?”

“I’m surprised you even know.”

“Really, Vi? They offered a course at Berkeley about Archie Bunker’s place in sociology. I scanned the curriculum and decided against it. Hell, we’d already been living the curriculum at home.”

“I see. So…”

“So?”

“Vi and I were talking about how his wife, Edith, and Gloria—”

“His daughter, yes. And don’t forget Meathead, Gloria’s leftist boyfriend.”

“Yes, but we were saying how Edith and Gloria still loved Archie in spite of his narrow-mindedness.”

“His ignorance.”

“Well … yes. His ignorance. But Vi had an interesting thought. What would have happened if, instead of Meathead, Gloria … had a lesbian girlfriend.”

“Jesus Christ! I see where you’re—Wow! So, let me see if I follow you. Our Archie Bunker is ignorant—”

“You can call him by name, Robert.”

“George. Is that better, Vi? George is ignorant?”

“I mean, you can call him Daddy; or Dad; or Father; or Pop.”

“So, George, that hollow skiff there is ignorant. I should just overlook that. He rejected the one I love, the one I married. But I should simply forget all that. I should forgive George. That’s all it would take, Sis? Just forgive him and everything would be hunky-dory?”

“You know he was part of his generation. It was the way he was raised.”

“Mom was from that generation, Vi. Besides, Sisters of mine, I’m surprised you can forgive him … for killing Mom.”

“Stop that!”

“Oh, Robbie! You’re not being fair. She went off her meds. She slipped into depression. Her doctor said that’s what drove her to it.”

“Her meds … What do you suppose would convince her after—what—three years of living a comparatively normal, balanced life, to suddenly flush her meds down the toilet?”

“Don’t!”

“Oh, and the exquisite timing of it. She pushed the flusher just a few weeks after receiving one of the greatest joys a mother can have … that of watching her only son take his marriage vows. With all that happiness, she starts wondering, what could be better than this? Sure, why not plummet into the black pit of depression?”

“Little Brother, you’re not saying—”

“It’s exactly what I’m saying, Alice. Face it, Mom was a lot easier to control when she didn’t have the energy to get out of bed. When she slept thirteen hours a day. When she was too weak to badger him about giving his son and Howie a chance.”

“Enough! I can’t do this anymore. We’re supposed to be here for Daddy. If you’re so full of hatred for him, why did you even—"

“Oh, Vi … Robbie … I love you both so much!” 

“Vi’s right, Sis. I shouldn’t have come. I think … I was just hoping …”

“Hoping what?”

“I don’t know, Vi. Maybe that he would … kind of float to the surface.”

“Long enough to give you his blessing?”

“Like that would happen! No. Not that. Oh, hell, I don’t know.”

“It must have all been so confusing for him, Robbie. Deep down—”

“Wait! Alice. Robert. Listen!”

“What?”

“Listen—Ohhhhh. He’s gone. Daddy’s gone.”

“How do you know? Are you sure?”

“Oh, yes, Alice, I’m sure. Check his pulse, but I know. I could feel it the instant …”

“Yes, he’s passed.”

“Damn. Damn, damn, damn.”

“Robbie? What?”

“Ohhhh … Why couldn’t …?”

“It’s okay, Robert. I think he was just waiting so he could let go. It was peace I felt when he passed.”

“Damn.”



 



Dialogue Only Writing Contest contest entry

Recognized

#6
January
2021


Thanks to Miguel Bruna for his haunting photograph from Unsplash. Under the category "Dying" I came across many pictures of wilting roses, but this one, while it has nothing to do with dying, it has everything to do with the sense of aloneness that accompanies dying and I found myself drifting back to it.
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