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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/2132904
by sdv413
Rated: E · Short Story · Relationship · #2132904
Short story entry in August's Short Shots contest
                                                 In Memoriam
         "I have to go there someday. It's the last picture he ever put on the wall of this den," Rachel observed. "It's on my bucket list."
         "Where is it?" Ross responded
         They were near the end of their fourth date this evening, and she had invited him into her house to see some of her paintings and photographs. This particular photo had been placed on the wall of her den by her father, Edward Rogers. It was still in his den when he had died five years earlier at the age of ninety-six. Rachel now owned the home that her father had built, but she had gone into debt to purchase the inherited shares of her four siblings. Now in her sixties, twice divorced and childless, she was still in good health and great shape - she swam for an hour every day - but her wrinkled face and grey hair made her look a few years older than Ross, who was in fact a year older than her. He too was in very good physical shape, but his tanned face still looked young. It would not have been too outrageous if someone who saw them together mistook them for mother and son: she about seventy, he about fifty. Both of them understood this, but it was certainly not a topic that should be broached.
         "I don't know," she replied. "Somewhere in Greece or Rome, or where their empires extended, I should say."
         "Or it could be Egypt. The picture's not clear enough for me tell which distinctive style it is - too blurry. Not that I'd be able to tell anyway, but there's water in the distance. Could be the Nile; could be the Mediterranean at Alexandria," her date said with a self-conscious chuckle.
         "Well, none of my relatives know where it is either," Rachel said.
         "You ought to google "ancient ruins" and then click on "Images." I'll bet that if you stayed at it, you'd eventually find what you were looking for," was his response.
         "I've already done that. You get a few million images. It is a daunting task to go through them all. I don't have that much patience."
         Well, I guess it's staying in the bucket. Ross kept that thought to himself.
         The two had met on an over-fifty dating site, and their first two encounters had gone quite well. The third date, two weeks earlier, had merely been a walk around a park; and at the time Ross had thought that it might be their last. She had spent much of the date talking about her faithless first husband and her magnificent, deceased father. When he would try to change the conversation, she would raise her voice and talk over him or let him get a sentence or two out then go right back to one of her preferred topics. Still, she was a kind-hearted and gentle person, they were both college graduates, middle-class Americans, and Protestant Christians; and neither had been in an intimate relationship in many years. A fourth date seemed like something worth risking to each of them.
         They had each already exposed a bit of themselves to the other, something their instincts made them want to keep hidden. He let her know at the beginning that he had been a bachelor all of his life - a fact that was a deal-breaker for most middle-aged and older Salt Lake City women. She had spoken of how she had not been on a "real date" in fifteen years - since her short-lived second marriage had ended. "When you've been alone for that long, you become a little eccentric," she began to fashion her excuse for embarrassing future discoveries that he might make. That's the truth, he thought; but his ego kept him from giving up more of his own history.
         The fourth date had gone well until now. It had been a dinner date, and they had talked about film, history, politics, culture, and nature - subjects that interested them both. They seemed compatible in most respects; but something still worried her, he could tell. Intimacy was certainly still a long way off, but the heyday in the blood is tame, and waits upon the reason (or something like that). He had his concerns about her as well: the peace sign on her brand new Lexus, conflicting symbols for sure; the license plate that bore her father's nickname: "TheMule." Who does that?
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         Edward Rogers had been born on a farm in the Missouri Ozarks during the First World War. He had hopped a freight at seventeen during The Great Depression and had made it to the imagined oasis in California. Eddie was a resourceful lad who expected nothing from life but the opportunity to work hard and make his own way. He admired the president who had brought the poor people of the land the "New Deal," and he would develop great compassion for the poor, the hungry, and the mistreated people of the world. In today's terminology, he became a "progressive;" and even though his life would take him to a community where the majority of the people had a severe dislike of that ideology, he would build a home there and raise five very successful children with the love of his life, a woman who he had met in the California fields where he had first found work. He never wavered from his liberal politics, nor from his middle-of-the-road Protestant faith. Hence, his nickname: The Mule.
         He and his wife, Elizabeth, started their family in the late nineteen thirties in Utah, where he had found a job as a farm hand. He built his own house, and two daughters were born (Rachel's older sisters, both about a decade and a half older than her), before the Twentieth Century's second global conflagration erupted. Edward Rogers, of course, answered his country's call. He joined the Navy in early 1942, and fought in the Pacific Theater. After VJ Day in 1945, he returned to Betty a decorated war hero, and the two of them began the second half of their family. Rachel was the fourth child. She had two older sisters, an older brother and a younger brother. Dad had somehow found time to use the GI Bill at the University of Utah, and he became a civil engineer. By the time Rachel started to school in 1959, the family was doing pretty well. That circumstance lasted for the remainder of Ed's life. All of his kids went to college, and the family was never poor again.
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         There were a few more unexceptional photographs in the den, and there were two of Rachel's paintings, both portraits of older people. Ross examined them, and told her that they were very good. He knew little about evaluating paintings, but he knew that they were much better than anything he could do. She took the complement well and told him solemnly that the older woman was her sister-in-law's mother, and that she was now in a nursing home and needed a visit.
         At the far end of the den, opposite the door to the patio, was the entrance to another room, "Dad's old study," she told him. Behind a collapsing wooden nursery door, an aging Rottweiler lounged and kept a wary eye on Ross. He would start to snarl whenever Ross got too close to Rachel.
         "That's Bruno. He's really a sweetheart, but he is very protective."
         Ross looked down at the dog - the only breed that he disliked more than pit bulls - and he tried his best to smile. "Hey, Bruno," he said; and as he looked up he noticed a photograph on the wall behind the loyal old fellow. It contained the iconic image of the American soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima. Superimposed in front of the soldiers and flag was the face of a U.S. Navy sailor, young and handsome, probably in his late twenties.
         "That's an interesting photograph," Ross said and pointed to it.
         "Yes, that's Dad during the war," she responded.
         "Was your father at Iwo Jima?" Ross questioned, expecting to be duly impressed by her affirmative response.
         "No, but he served two tours of duty in the Pacific."
         "Impressive," he said, even though he was mildly disappointed. "It looks like you have more of your paintings in the study. I'd love to see them if it's ok."
         Rachel turned and faced him, looking directly into his eyes for one of the few times since he had met her. Her clear eyes were remarkably large and blue, extraordinarily so for an older woman. She seemed to have the innocence of a child as she said, "Well, I suppose it will be alright, but I'll have to put Bruno outside. You should go wait in the kitchen."
         Ross retreated safely behind the kitchen counter as Rachel sweet-talked Bruno from his comfortable rug in the study out to the patio, then closed the sliding glass door behind him. Bruno remained at the door and stared into the den, whimpering slightly from time to time.
         When Rachel returned Ross followed her to the entrance of the study, where she paused and looked him directly in the eye again. "No one but family has been in this room since he died," she said. He followed her into the sanctum sanctorum silently, sensing immediately that solemnity was appropriate. The room was about twenty feet in length and eight in width. It had a desk with a computer on it in the middle of the room facing one long wall. The opposite wall from the entrance was bookshelves filled with books. The wall that the desk faced and its opposite were lined with Rachel's paintings, and all were of the same person: her father. There must have been twenty-five of them.
         "This is Dad at age ten," she said and pointed to the first painting on her left. It directly faced the Iwo Jima photograph. "I painted it from the oldest picture we have of him. As you can see he was a pretty ordinary looking Missouri farm boy at that point. This next one is done from a picture taken of him when he was in high school, just before he ran off. Dad always said he 'ran off' never that he ran away."
         "We don't have another picture of him until he got married to Mom," she said as she walked toward the desk and pointed to a painting that was hung directly over the middle of the desk. It was the only one that had another person in it, his new wife. "All of these in between are kind of age-progression portraits. I imagined what he must have looked like in those years."
         Beyond the desk were paintings of the young family man, the farm worker, the mechanic, the home builder. In all of them except one he is doing some kind of work. In that one, he is in church kneeling before an altar. Most were painted from photographs. On the opposite wall, beginning by the bookcase, the portraits of the sailor and the warrior begin. Some sprang from her imagination, and some were done from photos. At the middle of the wall, the family man and the engineer followed. All but one - a portrait of Ed in front of a great bridge - were painted from photos as well. The last few were of an elderly gardener and handyman. Then came a touching poem about the dying patriarch, and the exhibit ended with Iwo Jima.
         Ross did not speak as his tour guide described each particular work of art. Every now and then he'd hear the desperate Bruno scratch the glass and whine.
         "Your father was a remarkable man," he offered just before he left.
         "Yes, he was," she said with moist eyes as she showed Ross to the door.
         I can never match the idealized deceased.
         "Text me or call me," he said; but he knew that she never would.


Word count: 1996
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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/2132904