It was late in the middle of the night at bewitching hour that I awoke once again prodded by what I suppose by the usual animal urge to relieve some needful urgent pressure from below of bowel or bladder declining slowly into middle-aged atrophy. The temperature of the time of year was not in line with the expected though frankly speaking little expectation remained of it being normal with the people of my area of the country. The last decade or so seeing uncustomary shifts of same. This time leaning towards a feeling in keeping with late Fall. The sweater I had worn to bed had done its job along with the bedcovers and the t-shirt and cotton cloth jogging pants were now clinging and damp with sweat. The ceiling directly above me bore a faint hint of the most available light that was available inside the room. It being cloaked by the usual shadows and darkness. The apartment overall was dead silent.. But the memory or two other voices still rang in the lingering hollow chamber of my own slowly draining unconsciousness.
I found myself accompanying my late father yet once again in his large Lincoln Continental automobile through the streets of a small town located on the periphery of that greater more well-known Midwestern metropolis that had provide the hub for out mutual existence. A place that we had grown up in our respective eras. He initially on its mean streets during the awkward period of the Great Depression between the two great World Wars. And myself in the era following where he and my mother had taken advantage of the new prosperity to make a reasonably bountiful existence from the living his career as a salesman provided. He ever cognizant of how precious life was after so many undeserved hard knocks both before and in-between. I having been shielded from direct experience of them by him for most of my childhood and early adult life. The solitude of being the solitary offspring compounding the dilemma of ever defying our close relationship by an attitude of condescension towards his views on life. And chronically offering evidence of this cynicism to him on too many occasions that were later regretted in hindsight. We both in some strange was too ready to take advantage of the other. He in vouchsafing my the uneasy silence of my company despite my affliction to too readily offer pesky judgement. Myself in reluctant succumbing to a need for loving companionship from that same old man whose health and vitality were forever in rapid decline. The men of his era characteristically afflicted in too many cases with coronary infarctions of the heart perhaps as a result of having endured the sorrows of seeing too much pain and suffering visited upon general humanity in their experience of life? Being privy to want at an early age to constant hunger and slim pickings. And then being thrust into a chaotic world far afield demanding his unhesitating participation in constant killing of other distant species of human beings. Something that I had always sensed but like an unbreakable taboo demanding absolute silence had never dared to violate with my inquiry. His feelings about it ever demonstrated in random acts of giving to complete strangers as well as a healthy disdain for harboring most things of a material nature once the purpose that they served had gone past its useful life.
He had me for his chauffeur on this occasion as we trolled the main streets of the old long economically leached downtown that decades before had been one of the myriad of locales that he had actively plied his wares. The familiarity of it clear in memory as it once had been closer to its heyday still lodged in childhood glimpses. Locales many of them where I had been with him so many times before coming along for the ride to wait in the car while he made a sales pitch at some merchant’s place of business. Offering them a way to get their business’ message on track to reach new customers with hundreds of thousands of ‘eye impressions’. The same local establishments now significant for their absence by displacement or dissolution. Something that mutually offered both he and I the experience of melancholy of common knowledge of being inducted to the special feelings about how this world once was against the way that it had ended up. The side lanes approaching the vicinity of the town’s most major boulevard along its most celebrated main drag still several blocks ahead, he bid me to pull over and park before an old movie theater and wait while he got out to visit a store across the street. The old ingrained reluctance within me to protest stopped short by the now constant weight of knowledge that as this man was nearing the end of the trail of life no request simple or otherwise could be easily tossed off. I sat alone with the motor running instinctually watching for the approach of a parking ticket happy cop or meter maid taking in the effects of urban blight on what must have been an exceptional movie palace in its day. The neighborhood at close view had descended like all place from that era tended to into a local for whores and druggies that seemed to collect wherever there might be the opportunity for quick and easy pickings. The constant lack of opportunity and financial collapse that hounded this modern time evidencing a bumper crop of same. A tall thin frousy looking female appeared just ahead of the Lincoln eyeing the possibilities for plying her trade as what I assumed by the cut of her clothing to be a somewhat burned out streetwalker. My father returning at just that moment from the other direction crossing just ahead of passing traffic that drove his progress in her direction. I felt my insides sink as the evident collision of the immediate fact of her youthful appearance and his insatiable desire to relive his youth would occasion an immediate conversation. It had been so typical that he had been quick to ever engage in these sorts of connections with a menagerie of types that I from the times as a child had assessed as losers. Something that irritated me as some sense of natural defense against loss seemed to be triggered in me but apparently not in him. He in my opinion too often serving as an easy mark to their avarice. His invulnerability financial and otherwise now dissipated by the advance of years I felt hard pressed to imagine what sort of mischief this chance encounter would bring down upon us?
Sure enough, after watching a scant few minutes of a pantomime of him warning up to what I assumed to be her pitch the two of them turning back towards me and the car’s doors to let her in. That usual sense of immediate choking protest rising up within and squelched by the fact that it was his car and ultimately his decision. Something that I could not take away from him though something inside me felt so alarmed by as if I had yet again failed to judge his foibles and left us both vulnerable to some inevitable loss. My inner protests running along the lines of any number of implicit violations of trust in terms of marriage, finances and of course my own patience with such self-deprecating behaviors. The doors slammed shut from without and within he announced that we would drive the lady down the street just on the other side of downtown. I felt like a clam that had tightly closed its shell amidst my own building steaming anger mechanically acceding as I always did to his command to drive ahead. Something within now ‘on guard’ as it always was in these sorts of situations that would drag me down into some demeaning pawn in a larger scheme that would inevitably lead to permanent loss. I parked down a side street and without the necessity of any direction on his part to me we all got out of the vehicle. The two of them actively engaged in a of conversation that had her playing the role of humble ingenue simulating the ersatz of an aura of youth that had long past her by. I walked behind the pair my attention rapt upon assessing any sign of weariness that his heart condition might unexpectedly summon. Concerned but tolerant of his involvement ready to jump in to interrupt her pitch when it began to endanger his immediate health.
The street in the middle of the block was under heavy renewal. Barriers that impeded any vehicle from further progress across pavement or sidewalk that had been stripped down to dry dusty red dirt. The workman assigned to ward off casual traffic seemed indifferent to our progress in attempting to navigate this zone. The woman pointing out a point of entry at the side of a three-story commercial building just ahead. I paced along behind the two as before watching her sympathetically offering her embrace of his arm to steady him as they past by a series of deep excavations just to the side. The building might have been first built before he was a boy and had that aged lurking aroma of old dry desiccation so characteristic of wainscoted walls and generous use of heavily varnished wood. It was obvious format he first floor that it had formerly been a hotel but over the years but had recently succumbed to other varied uses when the interest of tenants and potential guests had wained. Now it seemed a place as much for haphazard storage of an odd collection of items that may have seemed useful but were evidently past utilitarian value. The upper floor that we ended up upon was dim within the columns of dusty light that imposed themselves from the tall windows to the side. The arrangement of the large room looking more like a intermediate banquet hall too filled with the flotsam of random discards to be anything but derelict. The girl spun her own tale of romance wherein cancer and its accompanying misfortunes ushered out her young marriage to her lifelong love escorting him too quickly to an early grave. The subsequent long depression occasioned by her loss and a lack of family support sending her ultimately to a life of dissipation and daily regrets. So much about the darker parts of life that she had heard about and once found abhorrent that now was now simply part of her daily existence. The ‘topper’ being that she had now been visited with the news that now within the midst of her fourth decade she too had contracted a form of cancer that she had no hope of addressing having no financial resources to put towards its cure. I could see my father’s face throughout this tale. The way that it so customarily transitioned into a grave but tender sort of empathetic expression the sight of which suggesting his need to seek some measure of peaked with an inner penance offer generously offer his unreserved help. The silence ringing loudly with the ned of her tale he turned to me with a look that I knew that sought both council and consent on my part. Something that we both no would be hesitant at best but more than likely not willingly offered.
It was between two situations that offered only three choices. And I already knew exactly what he was going to offer aloud to me without having to hear a single word. He could make the sole decision himself pay for her operation and treatment with the remainder of the limited amount of monies set aside and make himself vulnerable to the inevitability of his rapidly progressing heart problems. He could ask me to advise him aloud in so many words why he should not choose to become involved in this stranger’s dilemma in that same manner that I always did. My role being one to deter him and subsequently play the ‘bad guy’ as I always seemed to do in these sorts of situations. Or, we could simply excuse ourselves and just walk away indifferent to this woman’s pitch or possible plight. The gravity of this moment striking me as the summation of all the previous encounters when against what he thought was his better judgement, I had tugged him away from acting. Adding in so many cases to some inner sense of hidden guilt. Something that was bound up in a deep dark corner of his life experience before I was born. This Hobson’s choice was not a matter of his dodging a decision by laying it off onto me. But a long held desire on his part to be recognized at long last by his son for the virtue of an abiding sense of charity that he wished to be acknowledged for. The visitation of his spirit in such a scenario was overwhelming. The worth of my own soul seems to hang in its balance as I lay here in silence as the full moon outside dampens its decent into the oblivion of a nearness to the coming day.