by Ron Downing
The story is about a old man and a yellow tom cat named Mister Gibbs.
Henry Porter a seventy-six year old widower sat in his archaic aqua blue tattered recliner. Setting on the floor directly in front of him is a bulky cabinet television, a product of the mid seventies. His yellow long haired abdominous cat named Mr. Gibbs, lay dead to the world on the orange Naugahyde sofa across the room. He had a real disinclination toward the old cat. However, he had promised his wife he would look after Mister Gibbs until either of them died.
And in his estimation he and Mr. Gibbs, were almost the same age in feline years that is. Consequently, it was more like a competition that the old cat, most likely would not prevail. More or less from neglect rather than pure brutality, because Henry would never deliberately nor maliciously hurt an animal just to be mean. In his current state of mind he didn't care about himself, much less a pesky old fat lazy cat.
Henry had once again fallen asleep. This was not anything new for Henry though. Given that Agnes his wonderful bride of fifty years three month and ten days passed away. Henry had made a lot of life style changes. Most of these transformations had not enhanced his health. Since her death His days have been filled with watching old television shows, consuming an abundance of beer, and an occasional meal once a day, when he felt the ambition to fix something for dinner. In the past four months, Henry had lost over twenty-five pounds. Even though for years, Agnes had fiercely encouraged him to lose the weight. She would have been dreadfully displeased with the manner in which he had done so.
Mr. Gibbs was wrenched from his nap by the irksome sound which occurred when the network left the air at night. Wide awake the old tom cat climbed off the couch and made his way over to Henry. The old tom sat before Henry, who was clearing the entire forest in his sleep with an Alaskan butter knife, also known as a chain saw. Mister Gibbs proceeded to meow as loud as his aging lungs would allow. Henry slept motionless he did not even cringe. The sprightly old feline jumped into his lap and began clawing and pulling at his red and black checkered flannel shirt. Shocked he awoke startled thrashed his arms about. Mister Gibbs scurried from Henry's lap over the rickety old table lamp which sat next to the recliner. His back paw had become entangled in the white lace doilies this sent the can of beer into Henry's lap. He jumped up from his recliner soaked in beer.
"You stupid, fat ass cat… your days are numbered, you hear me… Gibbs.?"
The old cat scuttled across the floor where he found safety beneath the very couch he had been sleeping on just moments before.
"Where are you…? Gibbs you worthless feline just wait until I find you."
Henry yawned then stretched his arms out, grabbed the remote and turned off the television.
"Damned old chubby ass cat, keep this crap up and I will send you to the pound."
As he staggered up the stairs, Henry tripped on the next to last step coming down on his right knee and left forearm. The side of his face struck the base of the last spindle. He crawled like a sick and injured animal to the upper level. He grabbed the door knob on his right, then the stair railing to his left and pulled his drunken carcass off the floor. Henry made his way to the toilet for some greatly needed relief. Henry unzipped his trousers. As he experienced the burning sensation and strained to go, he closed his eyes. He then felt the effects of the nine or more beers from earlier. As he stumbled he grabbed a hold of the sink where he recaptured his balance. He slowly and carefully found his way to his bedroom where he found himself alone each and every night. Still dressed, Henry flopped onto the bed where he fell off to sleep. Since her death his inebriated state has been the only way he has gotten to sleep.
Many hours later the Clanging and banging of trash cans jolted Henry out of his deep drunken induced slumber. As he climbed from the bed with a headache from hell and feeling slightly disoriented he sat on the edge of his bed. With his head hung low fingers tightly clasped behind his head he mumbled aloud to himself.
"Shit I guess it is Thursday, not sure where the hell the rest of the week went to."
The reflection of his face in the mirror revealed the abrasion above his right eye and the trail of blood on his cheek. Having little or no recollection of how it had happened. A mirror also exposed his ragged five day old whiskers, as Henry stroked his face he was reminded of Agnes's dislike of facial hair. Once he removed the old flannel shirt; he grabbed the can of shaving cream and his razor and began cutting away at the silver whiskers which covered his elderly face. When he was halfway done he asked himself, why bother with it? He needed not please anyone. Who cared whether he had facial hair or not he sure as hell did not worry about it
The shower and shave did little to rejuvenate Henry. He tossed the towel on the bed as he got dressed, combed his gray hair. He glanced at the picture on his chest of drawers, it was a family portrait of Agnes, himself and the two kids stood next to a tree. It was Easter Sunday 1962. He was stationed at Larson Air Force base in Moses Lake Washington. A much younger Henry was dressed in his Air Force dress uniform, with his arm around Agnes they smiled at the camera. His five year old daughter Becky was grinned as she held on to her two year old brother Thomas' hand. Agnes looked beautiful that morning, as she always had. She made the matching green dresses for her and Becky herself for the special occasion. Just as she had made a lot of the kids clothes over the years saving them a lot of money.
Those were some wonderful days when they were stationed at Larson Air Force Base. Thomas now lived in Santa Fe New Mexico where he worked as an architect making a very good living. Becky lived in the next town over and has been putting a lot of hours in at the hospital. Henry had not seen much of either of the kids, since the funeral. Henry had lost a lot that day his wife and the zest for life. He felt no purpose in his life and is looking forward to the day that he and Agnes can be together again.
After he checked his hair in the mirror, he grabbed the brown derby hat that hung on the bed post and headed down the stairs. As his foot hit the third step then the fourth, Henry heard that familiar squeaking sound. This brought back an old memory. He and Agnes would lay there in bed at night waiting to hear the squeak, which told them the kids were home from their dates. Henry took hold of the antique brass door knob and stepped outside. On the porch he noticed the morning paper lying next to the old wicker chair. He picked it up then pondered for a moment, whether to toss it in the house but decided against it leaving it in the chair.
As he clutched the door handle of his old truck. He heard his neighbor's dog, Jasper barking loudly, a large full grown Siberian husky. Suddenly he was forcefully pushed forward against the door. He felt two paws with nails as sharp as ice picks on his back. Henry shouted out in excruciating pain. His back was already in bad shape from a previous accident during his military career. Infuriated by this stupid canine Henry did not care much for the dog, and a whole lot less for its owner.
"Damn it Jasper, you stupid son of a bitch!"
As Henry regained his composure he turned around, grabbed a long narrow piece of wood from the bed of his truck. he started to lay into his assailant someone determinedly grasped his arm from behind. Henry heard the voice of his owner Jasper takes off leaving Henry alone the board was quickly jerked from the grip of his hand..
"Not a good idea Porter" Henry quickly pulls away from Andrew Garrett who was forced to release his grip on Henry's arm.
"You ever lay hands on me again like that Garrett and you will wish the hell you hadn't"
“Jasper come here boy, come to momma.” Patricia Garrett called
"Whatever you old fart. You really belong in a home for old people"
“Garret you should keep that damn dog pinned up, then so he isn't attacking people." In disgust Henry took the board from Andrew Garrett and threw it, in the bed of his dark green truck.
"We normally do old man, but somehow he got out."
Henry climbed into his old truck and started the engine.
"Old Fart, Old Man, is that what you called me? It's Mister Porter to you. My God, boy, have some manners or didn't your Momma teach you that. Show some respect I am a veteran I served 25 years in the military to protect Panty waste punks like you."
Without any warning Henry threw the truck in reverse, and then quickly backed out of the driveway to the street. As he cut the corner too short he almost clipped his own mail box. Driving forward Henry heard a thunderous noise as he hits his other neighbor’s mega sized plastic trash can, sending it airborne into their yard. As he drove forward Henry left tire tracks in their freshly manicured lawn as his truck jumped over the curb. Henry sped off down the street in a hurry. Even moments later He still felt the pain of his attack and enraged with his neighbors stupidity.
Henry cruised down Main Street he zeroed in on a place to park in front of Bermensteins drug store. Herschel a short portly guy was outside sweeping off the sidewalk.
"Hello Henry how are you doing today?" The Druggist paused and offered his hand to Henry.
"I am fine Herschel. Hey I thought you hired someone to do the janitorial work around here." Henry shook the man's hand.
"Oh... Yes I did... the boy called me, ten minutes, after he was supposed to... be here. He said to me mister Bermanstein I can no come to work today. My dog she falls down some stairs and hurt herself. Have to take her to see the... Doctor."
"I aint heard that one, before." Henry laughed.
"Me neither! Kids… you can no depend on them these days." Hershel Wiped the glistening sweat off of his shiny semi bald head and forehead with the towel from his pocket. Then he resumed his task. Inside Henry pulled out a bar stool from in front of the soda fountain counter. With a cloth he seized from the counter he wiped the syrup and morsels from the seat. Irene, the red headed waitress observed Henry.
Irene called out "Be with you in just a minute sweetie." As she prepared an order for another customer.
"Oh, take your time Irene. I guess that is one good thing about being retired, you have plenty of time."
"I don't know about that Henry. You know Mister Jenson?"
"Jenson... Jenson, The name rings a bell, oh yeah, you mean Pete Jenson?" As he tapped his fingers on the counter
"No Henry, his older brother, Fred Jenson. He used to be the mayor here in Corbit Cove. Before we elected that dumb-ass we have now. Well, Fred was in yesterday and said that he works harder since he retired than he did when he was Mayor." Irene dropped a basket of onion rings into the deep fryer
"I don't doubt it, if he has a wife she probably gives him a three page honey do list every week." Henry removed his derby hat and placed it in the empty seat to his right.
"That aint no damn lie either, Irene why the hell you think that I hang out here so much. If I aint at home I can't get them done."
"You better watch it Joe. I'll tell Miss Brenda what you said. Besides I always thought that it was my good cooking that brought you in here."
"Well that too. I got to run Irene. Money's on the counter down here." Joe climbed off of the stool then placed his Navy blue hat back on his head, The hat was adorned with the Navy insignia,
"Thanks Joe take care of yourself." She watched as Joe walked out the door, Irene turned to Henry.
"Okay Henry what can I get for you today sweetie?"
"Well, I'll have my usual double cheese burger, fries and chocolate malt."
"I'll have it ready in about eight minutes!" Irene pulled the order from her pad and returns to the grill.
Henry wandered around the store to see what he could find. Agnes always loved little glass figurines. He picked up one that he knew she did not have and looked it over carefully. The figurine even had some moving parts. Agnes would have wanted it for her collection. He turned the piece over to see the price. The sticker read twelve dollars and fifty cents. He gently placed it back on the shelf and continued to peruse
Irene hollered, "Its ready Henry"
The burger was mouth-watering as usual. Just like he liked it, tomato, ketchup and mayonnaise oozed from of the sides of the burger resulting from Henrys solid grip. Henry was a systematical eater, first the burger, a sip or two of the malt, and then on to the fries and back to finish off the malt. Irene put his ticket with the meal. He laid nine dollars on the counter, eight dollars for lunch and a dollar tip for Irene. As he sat there in the softly lit diner area of the old store he could not evade the thought of all the times that he and Agnes had come to Bermansteins for nothing more than a milkshake or a float just to sit and talk, or visit with some of the old regulars. Without saying a word he left Bermansteins. For the next two and half hours he spent walking aimlessly up and down Main Street visiting some of the familiar shops. Later Henry returned to his truck.
As he backed the old truck out of its parking spot he abruptly heard screeching tires followed by metal striking metal then an unexpected jolt. The enraged lady driver stuck her head out of the car window as she shouted obscenities at him, Words Henry would never have expected to hear from a young lady. he exited the truck he grabbed a tire iron, in the event that he had to pry the vehicles apart. Silently he walked toward the old red Buick, as he got closer of the vehicle the driver gave it the gas sped off in a hurry. Although he knew that he was partially at fault for the accident, her obscene words really irritated him. Everyone who either lived in or visits Corbit Cove knew that the speed limit on main-street was only twenty miles per hour, and that people parked at an angle had a very hard time backing out. He knew without a doubt that they had been speeding when she hit him.
Henry checked his truck for any damage, but found only a minor scratch. Tossed the tire iron into the bed of the truck Henry drove home with the windows down. Feeling the cool ocean breeze, upon his face. It was a nice day for a drive in Corbit Cove.
Henry turned the radio on and they were playing a song that took Henry back in time. Lost in his thoughts, as the song ended he spots the sign that read Shipwreck Beach half mile ahead. Henry realized that he had driven too far. Pulling in to a nearby parking lot. He stopped and looked through the windshield at the ocean view. He and Agnes used to walk on the beach four days a week, every Sunday afternoon, Tuesday morning, Thursday afternoon and Friday evening as the sun was setting. Even after Agnes died, Henry tried to keep the routine alive, but after three weeks it too died.
The cloudless blue sky reflected off the ocean surface in the distant horizon. He got out of the old truck and headed past the soft sand to the wet hard packed sand. He removed his shoes and socks carrying them in his left hand. He walked north, holding his right hand slightly away from his side, and turned outward as if he was holding someone's hand.
Incoming waves lapped at his bare feet. A bitter chill swept through his aging body with each wave. Henry's mind was in another place little if any attention was given to the frigid waves . Occasionally he turned his head to the right. He could see Agnes her face flushed with excitement. She had beautiful blue eyes just as he remembered them. He always knew when she was happy by the way her eyes sparkled and her face glowed.
“I don't understand Agnes. The doctors said that you had at least seven months, yet you were gone in less than four, it isn't fair."
Agnes said nothing as he continued walking, but that was to be expected. Henry was the only one who could see her. He came to the old ship wrecked Steamer, then turned and walked back toward the parking lot. Agnes was still beside him all the way.
"Life just isn't any fun without you Agnes. I don't know how to spend my time these days. Hey, I was at Bermensteins today. I go there a lot these days. While I was there, I found this glass figurine. I know that you will love it. I am going back there tomorrow, to buy it for your collection."
Otters barked out on the rocks a couple hundred feet away. Henry stopped to watch them. He and Agnes always watched them. Their playful antics would always make Agnes laugh. The week before she died they had come to watch them play. And as always had a great time there
Henry turned to Agnes but she was gone. No sign of her, not even foot prints in the sand.
Henry heard the phone ring as he unlocked the door. The phone had to wait as he made a mad dash in to the bathroom. He managed to pick it up 'Hello...Hello... Anybody there? Damn just missed her."
Henry sat the receiver down then realized he had messages. He pushed the play message button. And a grating male's voice rasp out.
"You have six messages, two old messages.... four new messages."
Henry listened to the machine.
Wednesday one thir... message deleted, Wednesday... two fort... Message deleted, Thursday two fifteen PM. Dad, Dad. Are you there? When you get this message please call your daughter Becky."
Henry laughed. "Damn. She must think that I have that forgetful disease. What do they call it? Oh hell I forgot."
Henry pushed the delete button.
"Message deleted. Thursday, two fifty two pm..."
"Dad it's me again. Now I am getting worried, PLEASE CALL ME DAD!"
Henry picked up the phone and dialed Becky's number. The phone rang several times. He pulled the phone away from his ear as he heard a breathless young womens voice answered.
"Hi Sarah, is your mom home?"
"MOM, GRANDPA'S ON THE PHONE"
Henry heard a loud thud as Sarah set the phone down on the counter. As he waited for Becky to come to the phone he over-heard the conversation between Sarah and Becky.
"Hi Dad I have tried to get a hold of you all day. What have you been doing?"
"Not much really. Over slept; then ran some errands."
"Well, the reason that I called, is I have not seen you in a couple of weeks now. I wanted to know if you would have dinner with us."
"Oh, dear, I don't know about that. I don't want to put you out, and besides you know that I hate driving after dark."
"Yes I know, that is why David is going to pick you up."
"Honey, I really appreciate the offer, but that sounds like a lot of effort because David has to bring me back home."
"He is more than willing to do that. I made lasagna!"
Henry really liked lasagna and Becky was a great cook. Since Agnes died, he really had been sustaining on sandwiches, burgers and frozen dinners. Not exactly the most nutritious diet for a man of his age. However, if he went he would miss his television show.
"That sounds really good, but I think that I will pass, perhaps another time dear."
Beep-beep-beep "Dang It the timer is going off; hold for a second Dad." "SARAH! SARAH!"
"Would you please take the cheese cake out of the oven and set it on that cooling rack?"
"Sorry dad, you were saying?"
"I forgot what I was saying. Did I just hear you tell Sarah to take the cheese cake out of the oven?"
"Yes, it's mom's recipe."
"With fresh strawberry topping?"
"Uh-huh, I will have David pick you up about six-thirty?"
"I'll be ready. You know that's bribery."
Becky laughed. "Oh yes. I learned from the very best. See you when you get here, Love you Dad."
"I love you too sweetie."
Henry gazed out the kitchen window at the garden he and Agnes had worked so hard to put in. Now it was overgrown with weeds and grass. He was certain that the insects had moved in and it was shot for this year.
Reality returned as Mister Gibbs yowled and stood in-front of his personalized ceramic water bowl that Agnes had made for him. And Mister Gibbs was letting Henry know it was empty. The old man opened the refrigerator and pulled out a cold can of Coors, popping the top, he leaned over and poured some in Mister Gibbs's bowl,
"There you go fellow; made from the very best Rocky Mountain spring water."
The fat yellow cat, licked the bowl clean in no time at all. Henry took a drink then noticed Mister Gibbs glanced at him, then at the empty bowl, then back at Henry again.
"Oh, so you want more huh?"
Henry walked over and put some more beer in the dish then headed into the living room. He sat in his favorite recliner and looked at the news paper.
"Lets' see what is going on in the news." The headlines jumped out at him. 'Boy Scouts issue Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, Evolution at heart of science debate.
"What is the world coming to Gibbs? As long as you don't say you're gay you can stay in the Boy Scouts. The damned government is still spending tax dollars to determine if God created us or if we came from a monkey!"
Henry tossed the news paper onto the floor next to the recliner and grabbed the remote from the rickety old table. He pushed the power button. The television lit up.
"Do you suffer fro..." Click.
"That's not all when you order in the next five minutes we will throw in..." Click.
Henry flicked through the channels again.
"Stay tuned for Gun smoke, next after this message."
"Damn, finally, something worth watching!"
Henry took another long drink of his beer, finished it then he tossed the empty can toward the waste paper basket strategically placed next to the television about four and half inches from the wall.
"Damn I’m good! Gibbs, did you see that! Off the backboard, against the front rim, and in the can it goes. Whoo Hoo!"
He looked over at Gibbs who was lying on his back in the middle of the living room floor, feet straight up in the air and his paws moving as if he were running across the ceiling.
The show came back on and Henry focused his attention on the television. He always got a laugh out of Festus and the old Doc. The show was just about over when his son-in-law, David, rang the door bell.
“Door's open. Come on in son”
David came in, he and saw that Henry was engrossed in his television show. The young man pulled a folding chair from the closet and took a seat.
“It’s just about over. You don’t mind if I finish watching it, do you?”
“No go ahead. I’m early anyway.”
“If you want a beer David they're in the refrigerator.”
“No I better not but if you have a Pepsi I’ll take it”
“I’m not sure if I do. You can check.”
David got up and put his hand on his back groaning, as he is slowly straightening up. David made his way to the kitchen. He Returned with a bottle of Pepsi and glanced at Mister Gibbs still on his back watching the blades on the ceiling fan.
“Dad, you haven’t been giving Mister Gibbs beer again have you?”
“No. Just some good old, Colorado Rocky Mountain, spring water. So when are you going to get smart and see the doctor about your back?”
“My back is fine Dad. I just get a muscle spasm every now and then.”
“David, I might be old but I’m not blind. Go see the doctor.”
Henry got up and snatched his derby hat off of the post at the bottom of the stair case. David opened the door and stepped out onto the front porch. Henry followed with keys in hand and locked the front door. He checked the door knob to make sure it was locked. Then the men walked to David's car.
Andrew Garret was washing his car and noticed Henry. He turned off the spray nozzle. His half washed car forgotten for the moment as he walked across the lawn toward Henry.
“Hi there Mister Porter. I am so sorry about this afternoon. I hope that Jasper didn’t hurt you today.”
“Well Garret my back is still sore. I’ll have to see if it persists.”
“Yes sir just let us know. I did have something else that I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Okay Garrett what is on that little bitty brain of yours?”
“Well Patricia and I were talking to Misses Wilson yesterday and she told us that the only reason that you painted your house purple was to make Agnes happy.” The young man wiped his hands on his jeans.
“Well she is partially correct. So what are you getting at, because, as you can see I am on my way out for the evening.”
Andrew Garrett stood there next to Henry he shuffled his feet, touched his face, and rubbed his cheek nervously.
"Well, Sir, my wife and I have been talking to some of the neighbors. We all feel that your house is, well sir it's ugly. We were wondering if you were going to paint it anytime soon with a more pleasing color?" Andrew pushes his glasses back.
"I can't believe that I am hearing this! You're telling me that my house is ugly!"
To be honest Mister Porter we feel that the color brings the property value down; in the neighborhood."
"What the hell is this we stuff Garrett. All I see; is you. I don't see anyone backing you up. When I got out of bed today I could have sworn that I was living in the United States of America."
Henry got in the car as David rolled down the windows. Henry buckled his seatbelt and looked at Andrew Garrett with total contempt he tried hard to keep his temper in check.
"Yes, you are, I mean we all are Henry." replied Andrew Garrett as he leaned against the car.
"Good. Then you will understand this. I have a right to paint my house any damn color I want. And as for you, well you can go to hell!" Andrew Garrett moved his hand quickly to avoid getting it caught in the door as Henry slammed it shut.
David put the car in reverse. Henry reached with a shaky hand and rolled his window up. He remained quiet during the twenty minute trip to David and Becky's house. David gave him some time to shake off the anger.
Henry spoke up as they made the corner on to Daisy Loop.
"That stupid prick has a lot of damn nerve."
"Yes... some people are like that dad. I will say it looked like someone put him up to it."
"Why is that?"
"Well he looked like he was nervous to me, like a cat on a hot tin roof"
David Pulled into his driveway and parked the car. Both men got out.
"No, I think it was the PEE-PEE dance the little shit was doing."