|The Dead Gibbons Boy
When he first heard the grave news about his son, Gibbons was closing down his line. His shift manager, who had a grim sort of look plastered across his flat face, approached solemnly. He apologized for not telling him earlier, but he was hesitant - Gibbons had made a record number of cans that day.
“There’s been an accident,” the manager explained. His coal eyes failed to produce emotion. Gibbons felt a firm, cold hand on his shoulder. “Your son is dead.”
The massive bay doors were opened at the end of the shift, and the heat that had congested underneath the steel cradle of the ceiling forced its way outside. Gibbons followed the steam to his car, then to the highway, and then to his hometown. He never really liked listening to the radio, but the background noise kept it all together.
The city by the lake was forgiving and sorrowful. When Gibbons walked in to the pub that night, the barkeep filled his usual glass at no charge. The patrons were unusually quiet that night, choosing to whisper the what-ifs and the whodunits amongst themselves without upsetting the delicate balance on Gibbons' shoulders.
“I don’t know what to say to him,” Jacobs murmured to Smith. “Feel just awful for his wife, y’know.”
“Yeah, she must be a real mess about it all,” he replied quietly. His breath stank like peanuts and alcohol. Jacobs didn’t notice. “Wonder what they’ll do now?”
The sportscaster’s news of a goal for the home team broke the mood, and four beers and two whiskeys transformed the men back to the fans they were the night before. Gibbons needed twice that. He drank, and drank, and drank.
The barkeep couldn’t help but feel a tinge of guilt as he added a fresh total to Gibbon’s lengthy tab. But times were tough, and the pool tables were ragged and desperate for new cloth. And so, at the end of the night, with a come-from-behind victory that had the bar in an uproar, the barkeep watched as the drunkards poured out to the streets and stumbled home to their wives and children. He closed up and spent the early hours of the morning dreaming about his future, forgetting that one of his patrons no longer had a child to go home to.
Mrs. Gibbons was never the kind of woman who deserved to be burdened with such tragedy. Certainly she wasn’t perfect, nobody really could be, but the neighborhood children would have argued otherwise. The Boroughs kids a few doors down had grown especially accustomed to her chocolate chip cookies.
“Here you are, boys, right out of the oven,” she cooed, carrying a plateful down the crooked porch steps. “A little burned on the edges, but I know you like them that way.”
The boys engorged themselves in her cookies and thanked her politely. Like nothing else mattered more, they ran off and down the street to play cops and robbers. Mrs. Gibbons watched them, and her tears stained her makeup, so she had to hide inside to fix it.
During the weeks coping with her loss, she found joy in the brightly lit faces of the boys and girls of the street. One day, as she watched the children playing street hockey from her window, there was a knock at the door. Mr. White introduced himself to the lady and she had him in for coffee.
“He was a wonderful writer, Mrs. Gibbons,” said White admiringly. “I was lucky to have him as a student.”
Mrs. Gibbons smiled and nodded slowly, and scrunched her face to hold back loose tears behind her light brown eyes.
“I know, I know, I’ve tried reading to settle my thoughts,” she said, forcing a laugh. “But whenever I do, the grief comes back. It all reminds me of him.”
White gave a clean smile and looked down at his mug. “To be honest, Mrs. Gibbons, that’s partly why I came here. I want to publish your son’s stories.”
“Publish?” she echoed, dumbstruck. She heard the cheering of a scored goal outside, and an annoyed horn trying to clear the kids from the street. “Oh, my, you really think that they could be that good? I mean, published, really?”
“Yes. A lot of people are interested in hearing your boy’s story, ma’am. And having read some of them, I know they won’t disappoint.”
Mrs. Gibbons smile faded slightly, and she poured herself more coffee. “But Mr. White, he was just a simple boy, and simple people don’t get much attention nowadays.”
White gave a quick laugh that unsettled her. “Simple people who have such untimely accidents so early on in their lives—“
Mr. Gibbons had slammed the door behind him, and groaned as he bent over to untie his work boots. When he staggered in to the kitchen, he noticed the terrified look on his wife’s face, and a broken mug scattered across a floor swamped in black coffee.
“Oh, Mrs. Gibbons, I’m so sorry for startling you,” began Mr. White, rising to his feet to find paper towel in the kitchen. “Really, I meant no harm in that, perhaps it was too soon, how silly of me to burden you like that.”
Mrs. Gibbons froze for a moment, then smiled. “Oh, no, don’t be silly, just a little accident is all. My nerves are just shot nowadays, you understand.”
When White returned, he heard the footsteps of Mr. Gibbons retreating upstairs, and fixed his tie and collar.
“Oh, I’ll never understand that man. Such a big commotion, just taking off his boots, did you hear him?” whined Mrs. Gibbons, gesturing upstairs to where her husband had fled. “You would think he could at least say ‘hello’ to company.”
White gave an uncomfortable smile and nodded politely. “I’m sure he must have just had a rough day.”
Mrs. Gibbons sighed. “He’s barely spoken to me since it happened. And you know what? We aren’t fighting because of it. If we can’t talk, we can’t fight, now can we?”
She gave a little laugh, and White played with the rim of his mug with his index finger. “But Mrs. Gibbons, about the stories…”
“Oh, right, yes, the stories.”
“I think he would love that, yes, but you will have to ask my husband, its only fair.”
Mr. White frowned slightly, but nodded and waited as Mrs. Gibbons screamed for her husband. He trudged down the stairs slowly and dropped in to a seat as if it were an electric chair. He crossed his arms with a grunt, and raised an eyebrow to White.
Mrs. Gibbons blushed slightly, embarrassed for her spouse’s attitude. “Um, Honey, Mr. White here was one of –“
“I know who he is. Parent-teacher conference. My son was your favorite student. What’s the problem?” Mr. Gibbons interrupted his wife and spoke slowly, his words echoed throughout the small kitchen. His eyes were a solid blue and refused to show a hint of emotion.
“Oh, no problem, Mr. Gibbons,” said White, struggling to find the words under the husband’s gargoyle gaze. “Quite the opposite. I think your son deserves to have his work published.”
Mr. Gibbons took valuable seconds to think it over. Then he grunted, “Absolutely not.”
White was not easily defeated. “But surely you agree your son deserves recognition for his art! A father couldn’t want anything less for a prodigy?”
“I said absolutely not.”
White was shocked at Mr. Gibbon’s stubbornness. He looked to the housewife for help, but she simply shrugged her shoulders and looked to the ground quietly.
“If you don’t mind me asking, why not?” he asked plainly.
“Three reasons,” began Mr. Gibbons, cracking his knuckles. “One, you didn’t take off your shoes when you came in to the house. Two, I don’t like teachers. And three, you will not be profiting from my son’s death.”
“But, Mr. Gibbons, his work is fantastic. He could be the next Vonnegut, or the next—”
The door was slammed again, and Mr. White swallowed his disappointment and adjusted his tie. He stumbled down the uneven steps that Mr. Gibbons had forgotten to fix, and the children laughed at him as he fell in the mud. He cursed loudly, again and again, which awed the kids in the way something forbidden always did. Unfortunately, his language attracted the attention of some overly zealous mothers, who funneled their anger into overly damaging letters to the local high school’s principal.
That night, after being ridiculed by his wife for being so insensitive and impossible, Mr. Gibbons smoked a cigar under the starlit sky. He exhaled and watched as the smoke drifted aimlessly amongst the darkness. It twirled and danced with the wind, following it down the street, and over the highways, and up to the heavens.
He closed the door quietly behind him, and locked it carefully. He watched his wife as she slept peacefully alone on her side of the bed. Like an angel. He crept to the room where his son used to sleep. He was always up much later than either of his parents, always writing something in that notebook of his.
Mr. Gibbons had been sure to keep everything in its exact place, every detail exactly as it was the last day his son was living in this room. When the police removed the body, they had destroyed a few of the books that were scattered on the floor. The torn pages still were strewn about the room like confetti, a few marked with his blood.
Gibbons tiptoed to his son’s bed and carefully took his notebook from the bedside table. He tried his hardest not to scuff any of the pages or to damage the paper, and he read just one more page that night.
He read every word carefully and precisely, and studied each word for everything it was worth. He thought of how his son wrote it, how he felt writing it, why he wrote it, and whom he was writing it for. It made him feel warm, the sort of warmth nothing else could provide anymore. He felt, for a split moment, or maybe two, that he was watching his son write again.
As he crawled in to bed with his wife, he decided how he would explain it all to her. He decided the next day he would tell his wife that he loved her. But as the thoughts in his mind settled, Mr. Gibbons fell asleep, and the memories of the night before were lost again.