Copyright©June 2017 Suzy Stewart Dubot
Published at Shakespir
An Anglo/American who has been living in France for over 30 years, she began writing as soon as she retired. It is a passion discovered late in life, but lived to its fullest.
Before retiring, she worked at a variety of jobs. Some of the more interesting have been: Art and Crafts teacher, Bartender, Marketing Assistant for N° 1 World Yacht Charterers (Moorings), Beaux Arts Model, Secretary to the French Haflinger Association…
With her daughters, she is a vegetarian and a supporter of animal rights. She uses words when she’s not protesting in the street. She is an admirer of the British abolitionist, William Wilberforce, who was also a founding member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (S.P.C.A.).
Her website :
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each.
I don’t know what to think of my son.
I reckon he’s spent half his life in the basement with nothing to show for it. It’s not healthy down there in unnatural light with my canned fruit and vegetables and all that scrap metal. If his dad were alive, he’d soon get him out of there and fishing.
He almost had me fooled today with his blue lights flashing everywhere, the walls and floor vibrating like the time my washing machine went berserk, and then that big bang and smoke. It wasn’t much more than shooting a cap-gun, but it sure smelled a whole lot worse.
He didn’t fool me though. He pulled a cream-colored object out of his contraption and said, ‘I think this is for you, Ma,’ just like he hadn’t known it was there.
There he took me by surprise, because it was a comb!
I took it from him and was surprised by its solidness as I turned it in my hand.
I do believe it is an antique ivory comb, not one of those plastic imitations.
“It’s not much to look at,” I say, still annoyed with him.
Without much thought, I slip it into my pocket adding, “Please try not to make so much racket. That machine disturbs the whole house.”
The result is that he’s down there now toying with his machine, trying to tame it. Better that, I guess, than sitting with his feet up in front of the television, guzzling beer.
Just wonder what to expect next…
Ma didn’t seem too impressed with the comb I gave her. She didn’t recognize it, so I guess it didn’t match the one in my memory or the photo.
Holding the old black and white print under the basement light, I revisited that day when Gramps took the photo in the late afternoon. I guess I was about five and Dad and Ma look happy with me sitting between them on the back doorstep. I can smell the dry grass after a day of brilliant sunshine.
The pale comb in her hair is just like the one I took out of the machine, but there has to have been something different for Ma not to recognize it. Maybe she’s the one who’s forgotten? It will stick in my memory forever as I recall her untangling her lustrous hair with the comb before using it to pin her hair back. Funny how selective childhood memories can be.
But, of course! The memory was mine, that of a five-year-old. I don’t know what the comb was made of or how many teeth it had. The color might have varied from the original, too. Besides we all remember different aspects of any one thing. That comb wasn’t hers.
I need to make something with this machine that she will recognize and acknowledge, just to show that the hours, days — years I’ve spent working on it have been worth it.
Glancing at the photo again, my heart swells as I notice my dad’s arm around my shoulder. I remember the well-being it procured.
He’s been gone now for many years; too many. I miss him.
What if I were to bring him back?
My memories of him are more detailed thanks to hours spent with him fishing in the reservoir. Do I dare attempt it? I can feel my throat tightening; a prelude to strong emotions. Almost in a second state, I turn the machine back on and seize a handle.
Suddenly, I’m awake.
The house is trembling but I know it’s not an earthquake. Don’t ever remember hearing that Ohio has them. No, I know that it’s my son in the basement with his infernal machine.
I reach for the bedside light and as soon as it’s on, my eyes fall on that comb he handed me earlier.
Now it makes me think of a set of combs I once had, but they had only been cheap ones from the dime store. This one’s quality.
I didn’t hear a bang this time after feeling the house shake, but the infect smell from his machine has wormed its way into my bedroom.
That’s it! I’ve had enough. I ought to be able to sleep in my own house. My bare feet fish around for my slippers, but I end up on my hands and knees trying to get them from under the bed. Just another irritation to add to my mounting temper.
By the time I’m at the top of the stairs leading down to that junkyard of a basement, I’m ready for combat. I start down the wooden stairs, deliberately banging the plastic heels of my slippers on each step to show I’m on the warpath.
I am three steps from the bottom when my legs give way and I sit. There is no way I’m seeing what I’m seeing.
‘Are there any beers in the fridge?’ I hear, just before I pass out.
Now what do I do? I can’t move.
Ma just passed out at the bottom of the stairs and my defunct dad is standing next to me asking if there are any beers in the fridge.
The smoky haze in the basement makes me cough, and in doing so, I start functioning again.
“Did you hear me, son?” my dad asks. “Are there any beers in the fridge?”
“Sorry, Dad. Ma has just fainted,” I reply as I go to her and try to sit her up.
“Ma, are you all right?” I say as I pat her face.
“I’ll just go up and look for myself,” says Dad, not really paying much attention to Ma.
As he goes to step around her, he does take the time to say, “Are you okay, Honey?”
I’m relieved to see Ma nod her head several times in response to his question.
He continues up the wooden stairs with no backs and proceeds into the kitchen. I hear the whoosh of the fridge door opening and bottles clinking.
“Found one!” I hear my dad say as he begins rattling drawers in search of a bottle opener.
Mother is finally back to her old self. She’s glaring up at me as I help her stand.
“What have you done now, James?”
I know she’s not happy, because she never calls me James unless she’s mad at me.
“If that is your dad, James, send him back!”
No one can accuse me of being soft or lazy — or delusional. Since Thomas passed, I’ve had to manage with my boy all alone, so that hasn’t allowed for much fantasy in my life. I guess some folks might say I’ve let the boy spend too much time on his own, but, as messy as his hobby is, he’s always seemed content enough with things. He’s a good, caring son on the whole.
As I come to, I’m aware of someone going up the stairs, while my son has hold of my shoulder and is patting my face.
“Ma, are you all right?”
He does sound kind of worried as I come to my senses.
“Are you okay, Honey?” the legs that are passing me say.
There’s still a bit of a smoky haze hovering around the light bulb hanging from the basement ceiling, but my mind clears as soon as I sit up straight.
My mind is spotlight bright now.
My boy helps me stand.
“I’ve been easy on you all these years, James. Some mothers would have shoved their kids out by now; had them fending for themselves. You are … 45.”
I pause for effect.
“Guess that was my BIG mistake! Having you in the basement, toying around with this and that comforted me. Kept me from feeling lonely. Reminded me of your dad.”
I can hear footsteps on the linoleum in the kitchen, and then I hear chinking of a bottle as the opener flips the cap, but it is not enough to distract me from what I want to say.
“If that is your dad, James, send him back!”
My stomach drops taking all the blood from my face at the same time.
I gulp and breathe deeply before saying “I don’t know how, Ma. I’ve never had to send anything back before.”
I realize my mistake in trying to recreate my dad.
He is the superficial dad that a kid is exposed to. I never really took the time to discuss his deeper thoughts on any subject. I was always too wrapped up with my own thoughts and emotions and those of my peers. Those opinions of the older generation didn’t interest me until, as with my dad, it was too late to ask. So, the man upstairs enjoying a beer, was that dad I hung around with on a hot summer’s day. We’d go fishing together, but didn’t talk about more than the best spot to be, or bait, or the size of the fish.
I would never have the information I needed to bring back a whole dad.
Ma hasn’t moved from where she’s standing as she waits for my response.
In fact, not much time has passed and another thought enters my mind.
“I think I have an idea how we can do it. We just need to hold on to the machine and think about yesterday, before all this happened. We both need to think about… the comb. Can you do that?” I ask.
We hear an empty bottle being put into the bin.
“Yesss,” my mother replies grabbing one of the machine’s handles.
“It’s not much to look at,” I say as I examine the comb casually.
I’m annoyed at him for all the noise and smoke that fills the basement and then seeps
upstairs when he has been using his infernal machine. I don’t feel inclined to thank him for it.
My son has just fished a cream-colored comb out of that machine of his, and I’m surprised that it is quite heavy and smooth, which makes me think it is something better than plastic.
He’s looking at me as though his feelings have been hurt because of my lack of enthusiasm, so I relent, and this time I smile and say ‘thank you, dear, it’s lovely.’
Why ‘this time?’
There’s something niggling at my memory, but it is just out of reach.
I’ve read about ‘déjà vu’ and this smacks of it, but there is something more…
As the haze finally clears, I’m a little puzzled to see such a dazzling smile on James’s face. All mothers love their sons but I’ve never deluded myself into thinking he was perfect.
Could never afford to have his teeth straightened once his dad had died, but his smile shows me perfectly straight, white teeth. I reckon he’s a bit taller than I remember too, and he doesn’t look anywhere near 45.
“James! What have you done now?”
'Are you sure that's what happened? That's not the way I remember it...' Memories are selective, aren't they?