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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Drama · #412836
A startling discovery and a revealing look into the heart of a silent community.
“Mr. Greely”
By Jeff Wells

They say there are moments in life that stay with us forever, moments that are etched permanently in our minds. Moments that become ingrained in the very fiber of our being as much as the air we breath. Moments when time stands still, and the very hour, minute and even second become photographs, portraits stolen from time. It has been my experience that this is only partially true.

I’m reminded of the day that I found Mr. Greely, Mr. Edward Greely.
I remember it was wet, not exactly raining, but wet nonetheless. There was a thin veil of misty vapors dancing playfully, spurred on by the gentlest of breezes. I remember it was gray and chilly, the way New England in autumn is supposed to be. I remember the leaves, a thick, damp blanket of them underfoot, moldy and rotting discharged from then barren trees. I remember the woods, the frail exoskeleton that it was, silent, lifeless, and content to be so.

From that point, things become a little vague. I’m pretty sure it was November. I judge that by the mere feeling of the memory. A Connecticut fall sloping toward winter with all the desolation of Ethan Fromme. Being uncertain of the month, I’m even less sure of the time. I believe it was a weekday, probably near Thanksgiving, as I was not in school. It was obviously daytime, probably afternoon, as I would not have been awake much before that on a non-school day. As for the exact hour, minute and second, I could not even hazard a guess.

I’m not even sure why I was in the woods on that day. Usually, I found myself quite intimidated by them. They were either too big or dense in the summer, capable of harboring any wicked creature known to man. Or they were too lonely and foreboding, as was the case on that very day. I suppose, more than anything else, it was a matter of boredom. I was a kid looking for something to do. (Christ, just how old was I?)

The woods were a boundary marking the far edge of our little housing development. By development I mean a series of bland, photocopied cape cod dwellings perfectly aligned in symmetrical rows. Each with it’s perfectly maintained hedges and lawns. They had to be perfect. The pressure from one amateur landscaper to the next was unforgiving. Each driveway was home to two automobiles, one of which was a station wagon of some sort. Each backyard was cluttered with bicycles, tricycles, roller skates, sporting equipment and barbecue gear of all makes. If there was a tree, there was a tree house. And if there was a patio, there were cheap, white, plastic tables and chairs. About the only difference from house to house was the color of the vinyl siding and shutters. Our house was blue and white. Mr. Greely’s was gray and black. His was two houses down from ours.

I remember Ricky Greely. We shared a seat on the school bus every morning, as well as an intense disdain for it. We rode bikes every sunny summer afternoon. Huffys I believe, again his black and mine blue. We were the same age, and of the same ilk. Relatively small for our age and somewhat shy, neither of us was the most popular kid in class. It’s hard to say if we were best friends. We were together less than three years in the neighborhood, and there were a lot of other kids around. I suppose we did share a special kinship during that time now that I think about it though. I do remember that Ricky wasn’t with me on that particular day.

My mother didn’t really like me going into the woods very much, especially not alone. And like I said, ordinarily she wouldn’t have to worry about me being brave enough to disobey her very often. I remember one day in the middle of summer, my father found a small, two foot garden snake in our front yard. He killed it with a rake, said it must have slithered over from the woods. Scared my mother pretty good. Didn’t do much for me either. After that, I envisioned those woods as being nothing more than a breeding ground for slimy reptiles. Woke up with nightmares more than once. I’m still not very fond of the critters today. But, for whatever reason, I found myself in the woods on that day.

Of all the things that I don’t remember very well from that time, I suppose my father would top the list. It was mid to late 1970’s, and money was pretty tight. My father was one of the lucky ones who actually had a job. Seemed more like the job had him though. He worked what they called swing shifts. I’d never know when he would be home from day to day. And when he went to work, there was no telling how long they’d keep him there. His days off were spent mostly in bed, trying to catch up on lost sleep.

I knew he worked in a factory, but I never knew what he did, or even the name of the company. All that I can remember was the size of the place, it’s sheer enormity. What seemed like endless rows of smokestacks dotted the landscape, burping clouds of vapor of every color and consistency into the atmosphere. It was a metallic maze without a core surrounded by absolute chaos. Iron structures jutting to and fro, giant trucks coming and going, banging and clanging from every direction. Yet, with all of the activity, all of the confusion, the one thing I never did see when passing by was people, not even my father. Just like home.

Now that I look back on it, I suppose I envied Ricky quite a bit in those days. His father was home every day at the same time, rain or shine. At 5:30pm, Edward Greely’s four door, red Buick Century would pull into the driveway, delivering it’s passenger to a waiting family and a warm meal. The consistency amazed me. Mine certainly wasn’t the only family undergoing hard times. Many of the other fathers kept hours as obscene as mine. Many had two jobs. Some had none at all. But Mr. Greely was different. He had the life everyone wanted.

I never knew what Mr. Greely did for a living. Ricky tried to explain it to me once, but it all sounded too boring to pay attention. My guess is that Ricky didn’t know either. Mr. Greely would arrive home in a shirt and tie with a jacket folded over one arm and a briefcase in his hand. There would be a lazy stroll to the front door, followed by the sounds of a cheerful greeting inside. My dad would arrive home smelling of chemicals and sweat, and the exact hour would be anyone’s guess. In place of the lazy stroll, there was an exhausted stagger. His entrance was typically in silence, a combination of his fatigue and our bedtime. More often than not, we never saw or heard him come home at all.

It’s difficult to summarize your opinion of your friend’s parents when you are a kid. They seem to be less of an actual person, and more of a breathing stereotype. Instead of the loving mother/father/husband/wife that is defined by his or her job, education or socioeconomic status, children are able to see people as they really are. There’s the grumpy father who doesn’t want the neighborhood kids to play in his yard. Or there’s the ever-happy mother who always wants you to join them for dinner. There are those parents that want to play with their kids, and some that never would. The possible definitions are endless, and none are ever more complicated than this.

Mr. Greely was no exception. He was the easygoing Father that everyone wanted. He was never one to tell Ricky to be home in time for dinner, or not to stay out too late. And he certainly never punished Ricky when he pushed the boundaries. He was always ready with a “how’s school going?” or “what’s on today’s agenda boys?” Yet, at the same time, he knew his role. A pleasant greeting followed by a hands off approach was all that was required. He may have been a cool dad, but we certainly didn’t need him tagging along with us. He was content to sit back with the newspaper and let us kids continue on unencumbered.

Beyond all of this, I couldn’t really tell you anything more about Mr. Edward Greely. Maybe I never knew any more than this. Maybe I did, but have forgotten over the years. Maybe there wasn’t really anything more to know. After all, he was just the father of a childhood friend. I had other friends, and they all had fathers about who I knew just as much, or as little. There were many other people on the neighborhood that I did not know at all: mothers, fathers and children alike. People with personalities and lives that never mixed with my own, and therefore left no permanent images with me at all.

People can only be as consequential as you’ll allow them to be. And even those that do play roles of importance can be demoted to the supporting cast as time goes by. Often without you even being aware. Often, the ones who do stand out in your mind do so without you even knowing why. It is doubtful that Edward Greely would mean anything to me today, if I hadn’t found him.

I didn’t have to traverse very far before I noticed him. Far enough where he wasn’t visible from the road, but just barely. Looking back from the way I came, I could still see the curtains in my living room window. Yet, there was no way anyone would have spotted him unless he was being searched for, or in my case, stumbled upon. He was shielded from view by a large oak tree. While its branches were bare, its circumference could have hidden a man much larger than Mr. Greely.

He was dressed, as usual, in a shirt and tie. The shirt was white with navy blue pinstripes. The tie was a deep maroon with tiny golden half moons. It was an ugly tie. The top button of his shirt was undone, and the collar of a plain white tee shirt was visible underneath. There was no suit jacket to be found.

He was also minus his ever-present eyeglasses. That may have been the one and only time I saw him sans glasses. He was also uncharacteristically unshaven, but perhaps with only a single day’s growth. This in itself was an odd site, as Mr. Greely never allowed even a hint of facial hair to show before. His slightly thinning jet-black hair was saturated and wildly unkempt, a victim of the nagging breeze. Most noticeable to me, however, was his skin, how it had no color. Not white or gray, but no color whatsoever.
It appeared soft and clammy, the way clay on a potter’s wheel might feel. Beads of moisture had settled into the lines in his face, collecting in tiny pools until gathering enough weight to roll freely away.

I didn’t scream, I remember that. I didn’t utter a word, make a single sound. I couldn’t tell you what I felt. Not because I don’t remember, but because I couldn’t decide, not even then. Fear, sadness, repulsion, disbelief, I felt them all, plus more. Yet, none of the feelings were able to take precedence. I stood motionless, staring for a minute or two, or five, or more. It seemed like an eternity and instantaneous at the same time. It felt like some bizarre, melancholy dream, but I knew it was real. Maybe I didn’t understand it, but I knew it was real.

The branch was no more than ten or twelve feet off the ground. Either he knew what he was doing, or he was extremely lucky. The rope was one kept in the trunk of his Buick. I remember seeing him tie down Christmas trees with that very strand. His head tilted slightly to the left, and I could see that the rope had worked rather deeply into the flesh. The skin around his throat was red, raw and swollen.

I remember thinking that the most eerie part of the entire scene was the absolute stillness. How he seemed to be levitating more than anything else. His feet came down to my knees, but there was no movement. He swayed not an inch. No motion, no sound, nothing disturbed. I easily could have wandered by and never even noticed. For such a violent, irreversible act, it seemed only right that the surrounding area would be trampled or disturbed in some manner. But nothing was. It almost seemed as if he were part of the landscape. It was as if he belonged there, in those woods, on that day.

What happened after that completely escapes me. My next recollection is of me sitting in my house watching police cars and an ambulance outside my window. Mrs. Greely was in the street screaming at the woods. My mom was outside talking to one of the cops. They gestured towards me a couple of times, but I can’t remember if I spoke to them directly or not. I was just a kid after all. How much information could I have imparted anyway?

By the next summer, Mrs. Greely and Ricky were gone. They moved away as soon as school was out. The topic of Mr. Greely never seemed to come up after the incident. Or if it did, it wasn’t brought up in front of me. That always struck me as funny, seeing as I was the one who found him.

My guess is, there was a lot not being talked about in those days. My parents were divorced soon after. They never seemed to talk. Maybe it was the same with Mr. and Mrs. Greely, although that’s hard to imagine. Of everyone I knew in those days, of all the families, the Greelys seemed to have more going their way than anyone else. A lot of parents argued. My parents argued, when they were speaking. But the Greelys never did, or at least not to anyone’s knowledge. The neighborhood gossip never seemed to include them. Maybe they were just better actors than everyone else was.

The usual guessing game took place soon after. Were there marital difficulties? Were there financial troubles? Was he sick? Was it legal in nature? No one ever knew. He left no note, continuing the silence. Mrs. Greely fell apart and couldn’t maintain any of her relationships afterward. She offered no suggestions as to why. My guess is that she had the answer, but was never going to divulge.

Maybe the reason my memory on the incident is so spotty is due precisely to the silence. There was an unwritten rule in communities such as ours that the less said the better. More than once my sister and I were instructed not to tell our friends or their parents about my mother and father’s fighting. When they were in public together, mom and dad miraculously found the gift of conversation that eluded them so thoroughly at home. Life was a lie for appearance sake, and I suspect that we were the norm, and not the exception. From house to house, from street to street, the same script was being played out to the benefit of no one. Perhaps Mr. Greely said more than everyone else combined. Question is, did anyone listen? I can’t seem to remember.
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