Morgan on The 4th of July
High upon a grassy knoll, comfortably wrapped in the cool shadow of oak and elm, Morgan sat on a simple wooden bench and stared out at the sandy strip below. It was the kind of bench so often favored by those of his particular generation. Those that had waged the battles of life and were now content to happily surrender to the cries of aching bones and shrinking muscle. Those that found pleasure in the capture of a perfect cloud...a small sail boat, framed by a passive, yet menacing rock...a solitary gull gracing it's craggy point.
Those that truly knew...there wasn't a museum on earth that could ever house the moment. It breathed life into the artist’s soul...and to the old, life was truly an art...to be treasured.
Morgan breathed deep and savored the rich fragrance of a freshly mown lawn. He could actually taste the greenness of it, and a flood of memories from a lifetime of youth swirled around his mind.
The old man smiled at the mass of it all and savored the elusive moment that sometimes gripped his soul and said, "Yes...it's alright."
It had been more than just awhile since Morgan had last looked on the gentle ripples of this quiet sea. The big island sparkled like a jewel and the giant wheel spun forever at the amusement park down the shore.
One day, at a time when a man looks back and surveys what he hopes was the first half of his life, Morgan decided to pack it all away, and moved on to find his second.
And surprisingly...he had.
Rebecca...my own sweet Becky....
Yes...it had been awhile and now he had come home just to see the fireworks one more time on the Fourth of July. Morgan loved the Fourth of July.
He swallowed another taste of summer air, and found his thoughts drifting back to that boiling cauldron of youth that was the beach.
Youth, jockeying for position, shouting to be heard, at the top of their lungs..."NOTICE ME...TELL ME I'M ALIVE!"
Morgan chuckled while he watched the dance.
He didn't envy them...their youth. Nope, he had been there...done that...wouldn't go back for the world. It wasn't easy, being young. Sure, you had your life stretched out ahead, as far as a dream can see. But, life never came with a guarantee. Strictly buyer beware...everyday.
Nope, Morgan had come to the conclusion, a long time ago, that a lifetime wasn't neatly divided into young and old. To him, it was alive and...well, not so alive. He knew he could only think with certainty about the former, so into that basket he had piled his eggs...one at a time, carefully...oh, so carefully. And...never...never...look back.
Why fry an old egg, when there's a fresh one waiting to boil.
Somehow, he had managed to assemble most of eighty years in that sturdy bushel. Of that he was most definitely certain....Truth be told, there's nothing in youth that could ever match the taste of that.
"Time to move on to town," Morgan said to no one in particular. He'd had his one philosophical thought for the day and now it was time to break the spell. "Don't want to miss the parade."
Morgan leaned on his flimsy cane and managed to pry himself from the bench. The cane was for the occasional stiffness in his knees and hip, but again, truth be told, he was mostly able to get around without it. He used it more as a prop than anything else.
Sometimes, playing the feeble old man has its advantages, don't you know.
He tugged on the weathered brown fedora that crowned his thinning patch of dusty hair, and shielded his eyes from the early July sun.
"A privilege reserved for the old," he had always said. "Nobody is gonna mistake me for an "Indiana Whosits wanna be."
Shaking out his baggy chinos, he mused that maybe he should have unpacked the Bermudas.
"I don't think so," he chuckled. "Why my old knees would scare the feathers off a chicken."
On his feet he wore a pair of seventy five dollar running shoes. The only shoes he could wear with any comfort these days. They were the most expensive footwear he'd ever worn.
"I never paid seventy five dollars for a pair of shoes, let alone fancy pancy tennis shoes, in my life," he had complained to Becky.
"Times they are a changin," she had replied. "Same as your feet. Put it on the Visa, chances are you won't be around to pay it, anyway."
"Well then, you better make damn sure they're stuck on my feet when you snap that lid closed," he shot back.
"Seventy five measly dollars for eternal comfort. I'd call that a bargain," she replied.
They giggled like children and he happily paid the bill.
The thought of Becky brought a smile to his lips, while he meandered down the path that exited the park. He couldn't imagine life without Becky...but now...what else could he do.
The bus pulled up just as Morgan neared the corner stop. Its doors opened and disgorged a flood of anxious beach goers of all shapes and sizes.
Morgan was lost in the washout but managed to wave his cane at the bus driver. The driver nodded back in recognition, gesturing for Morgan to take his time.
"Never fails," he snickered.
"Hop on Pops," the driver said. "Gotta a sched to keep."
"Yes sir," Morgan said politely. He carefully dropped some change into the deposit slot."
"No, no, that's ok Pops, seniors ride free on holidays."
"How nice," Morgan said, sporting a sly grin. He leaned on his cane and hobbled to the front seat of the now deserted bus.
"Haven't seen you around," the driver said, running an oily hanky over his balding head. "Hope you don't mind the heat. These old diesel eaters never seem to keep the AC going."
"I've been out of town for a while," Morgan said, actually finding the warmth quite comfortable.
"That a fact," the driver said. He leaned over and pounded on the AC controls.
"That's a fact," Morgan replied, cautiously eyeing the oncoming traffic. "I'm headin into town to see the parade."
"Oh yeah," the driver said, catching Morgan's eye in the rearview mirror. "They're havin a parade again...no kiddin. I didn't hear. They haven't had a parade since I was a kid. Must be twenty five, thirty years now. Man I loved that parade."
Morgan shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"Oh really...well, I just assumed there was a parade...."
"Man, You have been out of town for a while."
Morgan's gaze drifted out the side window. "Yep...quite a while."
The driver continued to pound the AC.
"Uhm, why did they stop...the parades...everyone seemed to enjoy them so.
"Ah, you know how people are, Pops. Once they tore up
Main Street and put in the pedestrian mall, people just started losing interest. Also, the school budget didn't allow for the band anymore, so what's a parade without a band...right."
"Indeed," Morgan said quietly. "What about the fireworks...they do still have the fireworks, don't they?"
"You mean the ones at the old high school?"
"Yes...yes...the ones at the school field...yes."
"Fraid not old timer...those have been gone almost as long as Disney's been in the deep freeze."
Morgan closed his eyes and a crushing weight squeezed his heart. The bus hit a monster pothole and Morgan clutched on to the edge of his seat.
"But if it's fireworks you want, most folks around here go up the line for the big show. It's one of those Gurucci deals."
"A Guwhatchi?" Morgan said.
"You know, Gurucci. Those Italian guys that put on all those big time shows. They even have it all in sync to this computer like music. Sounds just like a real live band, all timed perfectly to the kabooms. My kids love it...me too. Puts those little sparkler shows we used to have to shame."
"Indeed," Morgan said. He was suddenly consumed by the hot stale air and pictured himself as a stuffed Tom Turkey on Thanksgiving Day.
"Say, If you don't mind pulling over, I think I'd like to hop off and walk for awhile."
"Are you sure Pops? You got about another mile or so to go before you hit town."
"Yes, I'm quite sure...thank you. I could use the exercise...and the fresh air...besides, there's not much of a rush anymore."
"Suit yourself." The bus driver spun the big wheel and brought the beast to a squeaking halt by the curb.
Morgan scurried out of his seat, cane slung over his shoulder, and scampered down the steps.
"It's been a pleasure meeting you young man," he said, tugging on the old fedora.
"Same here Pops. Say, you sure seem to be moving along a lot better than before."
"Yes, it must have been the heat. Loosened up the old hardware. Enjoy your day now."
"Not much chance of that, til I get off work at least."
"Yes, but I suppose someone has to be the purveyor of holiday goodwill for all the happy revelers."
The bus driver scratched his sweaty brow. "I guess your right Pops, whatever you say. Have a good one now."
The doors snapped shut behind the hydraulic squeal of compressed air and the bus pulled away.
"Have a good one what?" Morgan choked, wildly fanning a toxic cloud of diesel from his face.
When the air was once again capable of sustaining life, Morgan made a slow circle, taking a quick survey of the surrounding area. He found it vaguely familiar, yet somehow...not so familiar.
Endless lines of traffic rushed by, on a street that was at least twice as wide as he'd recalled. He made several vain attempts to cross the lethal thoroughfare, but concluded that the Donners had a better chance of getting to
Finally, Morgan surmised that maybe this had all been one big mistake. He was probably better off with his illusions. Memories, at least, are immortal.
Scratching his chin, he considered his options, then decided his best bet was to leave the main road and walk the back streets into town. He wasn't far from the old high school, he thought. Maybe he would stop and...well, then again, maybe not.
"No more fireworks...at the high school," he muttered. "On the Fourth of July...who would have thought...after forty years...who would have thought?"
Morgan digested his disappointment, then turned down a peaceful tree lined drive. He was pleased to discover a mixture of comfortable homes threading their way down the block. Old Victorians, flanked on either side by utilitarian split levels, built on land that had once been sprawling lawns.
He maneuvered over the crooked sidewalk, spotting a cheerful young woman sitting on her own spec of lawn, playing with her little boy. Morgan guessed that the boy was about one, racing rapidly towards two. A wide variety of toys were strewn about the lawn but the boy seemed completely satisfied, for the moment, at least, to be engaged in a game in which the sole purpose was to roll a big red ball back and forth between his and his mother's outstretched legs. The boy, in fact, screamed with such delight at each successful roll, that Morgan could not imagine anything in the world that could equal this child's immediate joy.
The young woman noticed Morgan watching them and politely manufactured a smile.
Morgan tipped his hat and felt obligated to say something wise...something elderly.
"Ah...the simple pleasures...if only we could hold onto them forever."
Morgan blushed, though his low blood pressure ensured that it was barely noticeable.
What an idiotic thing to say.
The young woman, still smiling, in turn felt obligated to make and appreciative response.
"Yes sir...you could sure say that again."
Oh shit, Morgan thought, just look at that patronizing smile. She thinks I'm cute. I hate that. Why do they always look at the old as adorably amusing...out of touch with the world...hey, we created this world...for better or worse. I'm just like you with wrinkles...but...I guess I am just a little...cute.
The thought flashed like a shiver and was gone.
"It's the Fourth of July," he said. "What better day is there to laugh and enjoy the simplicity of play."
Jesus, where am I getting this old philosopher stuff. Talk about patronizing.
"That's right," the woman said, dutifully rolling the ball back to her son, whereupon he once again squealed. This was, apparently, the greatest game in the world.
"We're gonna give the fireworks a go tonight...though I have my doubts. But his father insists...says he's a big boy now."
"Ah yes...I would agree...you're never too young...or to old for the fireworks. Isn't that right young fellow?"
The boy shouted, "Ha!" and rolled the big red ball in Morgan's direction.
"Well now...do I get to play this wonderful game too?"
Morgan refrained from bending over but took his cane and squarely putted the ball back to the boy.
The boy skeptically studied this frightening new aspect of the game...and then decided that he didn't like it...no, he didn't like it at all.
"Whaaaaaaaa!" he wailed and rolled over into the grass.
His mother giggled with embarrassment and said, "Justin...is that anyway to behave in front of this nice old man."
Morgan winced. Nice man would have been sufficient.
"I'm sorry," the young woman said with a smile. He can be quite a handful sometimes. If you'd like I could sell him to you...better yet, I could give him to you."
Morgan smiled back and said, "No..I don't think so. I can see that you're world would be lost without him. He is the song that sings to your heart."
Feeling entirely the sage, and knowing a proper exit line when he hears one, Morgan tipped his fedora and continued on his way.
The woman bounced the child on her shoulder trying, in vain, to shake the tantrum out of him. Smiling genuinely, she said, "Enjoy the fireworks."
"Without doubt," replied Morgan, chuckling at the havoc he had wrought. "Without doubt."
The day had grown considerably warmer and a thick cloud of humidity now seemed to dog him as he walked. Pausing to rest for a moment, under a convenient elm, Morgan looked around and found himself directly across from a grand old Victorian; one that he had known from his youth. He looked wistfully towards the house and noticed an old woman sitting on the porch, rocking serenely. She seemed to stare straight through him.
"No...it couldn't possibly-" he whispered.
A younger woman appeared at the screen door and peered out. Sighing, the woman stepped onto the porch and retrieved an old woolen afghan that had slipped off the older woman's lap. The younger woman said something, but the older woman absently waved her hand, responding with total detachment.
Morgan's eyes flashed on the afghan, then he abruptly turned and continued walking on. His pace unconsciously quickened and he suddenly began whistling, seeking a distance that was more than just miles.
He maintained this expedient stride for several blocks and soon found himself approaching downtown. Another flurry of memories stirred and Morgan found himself recalling scores of happy days, prowling
Main Street with friends that were once so important...but, now so easily forgotten.
Suddenly, his pace slipped to a crawl. An icy swell of dread escaped from his nether regions and gripped him ...holding him back.
Maybe I shouldn't....
Then, he turned the final corner, and stepped onto
His feet froze to the pavement and his life's wind rushed from his body....he was, indeed, a stranger in his old home town.
Gone was the quaint little thoroughfare lined with family owned shops and restaurants. Jimmy B's butcher shop...the grocers...the shoemaker...all gone. In their place was The Gap...Banana Republic...
somebody...and dozens of other identical looking stores. Even the old movie house, dancing with light, was gone. Instead, across the square stood a large sterile edifice advertising "Seventeen Big Screens". Victoria
Down by the edge of the marina, where real fisherman once worked for a living, umbrellaed tables played host to young men and women, sipping colorful drinks in large frilly glasses.
On the street itself, old fashioned benches surrounded art deco-ish fountains that appeared at various intervals along the way.
Some of the old buildings still remained, but they had been spiffed up and their old facades were newly restored. They were now art galleries and trendy coffee shops. One had a sign draped from it's upper window: Loft Space Available, it read.
Morgan approached a large polished chain, attached to two old ship anchors. The chain, apparently, protected the cobblestone street from motor vehicle traffic, allowing hordes of busy shoppers to roam freely up and down the concourse.
Morgan smiled and shook his head in amazement. He was numb, yet not at all displeased. He had to admit, it was all tastefully designed, modern-old fashion...and the people, by their sheer numbers, seemed to love it. He stepped around the chain and began walking...catching up with the present.
The cobblestone surface was a bit awkward for his tired old feet to negotiate, even with his fancy pancy tennis shoes, so he hopped onto the sidewalk. He was amused to see that it was dotted with replicas of the town's original streetlights. He grinned, recalling when everyone was in such a rush to remove the original relics and install the newest in "modern design".
He marveled at the swarm of young faces and actually found himself enjoying all of the hub-bub. It was, after all, the "Fourth of July" and it felt good to be among people enjoying themselves...even if they were only shopping.
Morgan crept ahead, peering with curiosity into the stores, most of which were proclaiming "Firecracker Specials" and "Summer Splashdown Clearance Sales".
Clearance...? Why Summer was only starting.
He paused, absorbing it all, when something across the street caught his attention. He scrunched his eyes and focused in on what he thought was a somewhat familiar figure, sitting on a bench, beside one of the cascading fountains.
The face was an aging mystery, but the shortened right arm, a full foot shorter than the left, was certain.
"Stumpy Simons...I'll be...another survivor...Stumpy."
Stumpy, Morgan recalled, had been born with the obvious defect, but his engaging personality was such, that no one ever seemed to take notice. He was just one of the boys, though Morgan had to admit, not a very popular choice in touch football games. He was, inexplicably, however, one of the most popular picks among the ladies.
The other guys could only speculate as to what magic Stumpy could wield with that little arm.
Morgan approached the bench where Stumpy sat, throwing popcorn, more at, than to, the pigeons.
"Now that's just a little cliche, don't you think, Stumpy."
Stumpy looked up and flashed the same personable grin that Morgan had encountered a lifetime ago, yet his expression was uncertain.
Suddenly, a spark of recognition shot through Stumpy's eye and caught the one that flashed in Morgan's.
"Morgan," Stumpy said with genuine excitement, as if the last unifying piece to a long lost bridge had been suddenly restored. "I'll be a son of a whore...Morgan."
"Hello, Stumpy...it's been a while."
"Yes it has," Stumpy answered. "Five, ten years at least...where have you been...sick?"
"Try Forty, Stumpy...and no I haven't been sick...just living another life...somewhere else."
"Forty years...no kidding...boy have you gotten old."
"And you don't look a day over eighty," Morgan shot back. He eased onto the bench and shoveled a handful of popcorn into his mouth. "Uhgh...this stuff is older than the both of us."
"Why do you think I'm giving it to the pigeons ...they'll eat friggin anything."
Just then a street mime, bobbing his head, tucked his arms in like wings and approached the two men. Stumpy tossed a kernel of corn at the mime who caught it in his mouth. The mime made a sour face and spit the corn out onto the street.
"This guy's forever bothering me," Stumpy said matter of factly. "Serves you right you nut case...go find yourself a statue to shit on!"
Morgan chuckled as the mime feigned indignation and pompously bobbed off down the street.
"Can you imagine that guy struttin around down here in our day?"
"Sort of reminds me a bit of Squeaky Arnell," Morgan answered.
"Ha! Squeaky Arnell...God I haven't thought about old Squeaky in years...he's gone you know...along with most of the old crowd."
"Really," Morgan said, partly in surprise...partly in resignation.
"Well...you know I'm just assuming. Just about everybody our age is dead these days."
"I think Georgie Burns said that."
"Well he's dead too...so now I'm sayin it. Used to check the obituaries everyday...til it started gettin too damn depressing, that is. Hell, I figured if I kept on looking, sooner or later I'd find me a nice tidy little column with my name sittin right there on top...starin me right back in the face, over my mornin decaf and all."
"That could ruin your breakfast, alright", Morgan said.
"Stumpy Simons...once he lived...now he don't," recited Stumpy, laying out the imaginary headline.
Morgan chuckled and took a deep breath of salt air drifting in from the harbor. A group of teenagers blazed by, scattering the pigeons. Stumpy emptied the contents of the bag and the birds quickly re-converged.
"Boy things have sure changed around here...I guess they've changed everywhere," Morgan sighed.
"Yep," Stumpy said." I guess you don't really notice it if your sittin in the middle of it, though."
"Nope, I guess not. Takes some distance to see the change. Tough to get old, I guess"
"Ya know, Morg...I never give much thought to bein old...or how I got here. I mean I think the same...feel the same...look the same-"
Morgan shot Stumpy an amused grin.
"Well," Stumpy said. "At least I look the same as I did yesterday...and that's as far back as I can remember...these days, anyway."
The two men laughed.
"I hear ya, Stumpy. In fact when I...left, I felt as if I had lived a lifetime...that the best was all behind. Little did I know that a whole nother life was waiting to be lived."
"And...how'd that one go?"
"Well, you know that old sayin: If I knew then what I know now."
"Think I've heard it...hell, think I wrote it."
"Well...I heard it, loud and clear...and I made damn sure I remembered it."
Stumpy nodded and surveyed his diminishing flock of pigeons.
"Why'd ya leave town, anyway Morg. I can't imagine just chuckin it all."
"I don't know, Stump...it just seemed as if I'd used up all my time here. The air was just gettin stale and too thin to breathe. Besides, there was no family left...what was keepin me?"
"Yeah, but...I mean, you had roots here. What about all your friends. Nobody ever heard from ya. I mean talk about shuttin the door."
"Truth is, Stump, I never felt like I had any real friends here."
Stumpy raised a single brow and looked over at Morgan. "What do ya mean...you grew up with most of the guys around here."
"Yeah, I mean, don't get me wrong, they were great people, all of them...but in the end I sort of figured that they were just that...people...people that I knew for a very long time. Can't blame anybody but myself, I guess. And I can't say that I ever grew up with them. Fact is...I didn't really grow until I left."
"Stumpy pondered this statement for a bit, not knowing if he should be insulted or not. He decided not.
"Geeez Morg, ya think you know a guy."
"Well, that's the half of it, I guess. Soon everybody thinks they know you so damn well, that you start thinking that they're right. Soon you stop being yourself and just end up trying to be what they think you are."
"I guess there's some truth in that, Morg. Fact is, I never gave a good goddamn what anybody thought I was...I just was."
"Yep...that you were, Stump, and I always thought that you were truly one of the lucky ones. Me...I was a prisoner in my own mind. So, one day I just opened the door to that ol' cell...and walked out."
"More power to ya, Morgan," Stumpy said. "More power to ya."
Morgan shot his old friend a smile and sat back.
"Say...I just remembered," Stumpy said, brightly. "She's still here you know. Still lives in the house."
Morgan stared straight ahead, but winced inside and felt his stomach flop.
"Ah...what's that Stumpy. I must have drifted off somewhere."
"She's still here...in town...Maddie. Madoline O'Toole. God Maddie O'Toole. I forgot all about you two. Lord, you two were a pair as long as I could-"
Morgan interrupted. "Well, that was a long time ago...another life in fact...."
Maddie and Morgan were, in fact, a pair for as long as anyone could remember, even Morgan, up until forty years ago.
They did grow up together and then...they did grow apart together. Marriage was always in the cards, or so it seemed, but there was always "one thing or another"...at least for Morgan. Finally, at least for Maddie, there was "one too many, things or another", and she got tired of waiting.
Morgan panicked and promised her the moon, even marriage. But Maddie said, "No...it was never meant to be...we'll both be better off...apart".
Morgan grew numb. He couldn't imagine that he an Maddie wouldn't be together.
"We dreamed we'd grow old together," he protested.
She said, they already had...more than he knew.
As he left her that night, she smiled, that funny squinty smile that he loved, and told him that, "life was funny...you never know. Maybe they would be together in another life."
There was no last kiss...they didn't say goodbye.
Morgan drifted for awhile and pretended it didn't matter. He dated some local girls from time to time. Everyone seemed to have a friend, who had a friend, that would be perfect for him.
Maddie met someone else and lived her dream of marriage.
A month before the wedding...Morgan left town.
In time, looking back, he had come to accept that she was right...it wasn't meant to be. If it had, he would have never found his Rebecca...and Becky had made his life complete. Where would he be without his Rebecca?
Stumpy sensed Morgan's uneasiness and tried to break the spell.
"We'll at least she's here physically. I'm not so sure about the rest of her, from what I hear."
Morgan turned towards Stumpy with genuine concern.
"What do you mean?"
"You know," Stumpy said, making a circular motion by his temple with his short little arm. "What we used to call the vapors...hardening of the arteries or something ...senile. Not playin with the full deck any more. I've seen it happen to lots of em. Who knows, maybe they're the lucky ones...livin it all again."
Morgan twisted back in his seat and the color drained from his face.
"Living it all again," he whispered.
Stumpy could see that Morgan was shaken by his, little news bulletin, and decided to change the subject completely.
"So tell me about this other life of yours...did ya ever get hitched...any kids. Me, I got five great grandkids. They call me Poopoo. Imagine that. Pretty shitty name huh...Poopoo...."
"Poopoo...?" Morgan chuckled.
And with that, Morgan and Stumpy quietly passed the remainder of the afternoon filling in the missing pieces of their lives.
The shadows lengthened with the veracity of their stories and the two men laughed with a richness they had long left behind.
Finally, Stumpy looked up at the big clock in the square and started to rise.
"Whoops, look at the time, Morg. The kids are probably wondering what the heck happened to ol' Poopoo. There's a picnic at my son's. Say, Morg...why don't ya come on over an have a dog and a burger...if you can still eat them things...I can't, but I do anyway."
Morgan smiled but politely declined, "Thanks, Stump...but I don't think so."
"Ah come on...the kids will get a kick out of meeting a shadow from the past."
Morgan, absorbed this statement and thought, that's exactly what I am...a shadow from the past.
"Then we're all gonna pile into the new mini-van and head on up to the fire works. What'd ya say...it'll be a hoot."
"I don't think so, Stumpy...thanks, though. I really appreciate the offer. I think I'm just gonna take a walk out by the old school...you know...old times sake and all."
Stumpy shot Morgan a knowing look and said, "There's not much out there you know...anymore. Everything is falling apart and has seen better days."
Morgan smiled at his friend and replied, "Haven't we all, Stumpy...haven't we all."
Morgan waved goodbye and continued on his way.
Stumpy called out, "Hey Morg...."
Morgan turned around and set his cane in front of him, resting both hands on top.
"Think ya will...you know...be stayin for a while?"
Morgan gave Stumpy a quizzical smile and shrugged. He tugged the brim of his old fedora and set off to find the past. Until then, he hadn't known it was lost.
Morgan sat in the ruin of the grandstand and gazed out at the long forgotten field, absently running his hand over dry, splintering wood. The lengthening shadow of the clock tower struck him as a long, lost tunnel, burrowing back through the years...his years.
It was true, he thought. Memories do last forever...as long as reality doesn't interfere.
Yet, sitting there, a relic among relics, he knew it wasn't the roar of "school days" past, that had brought him back. Mining deep into the years, he unearthed the memory of a soggy mid-summer's day, packing a lifetime into the backseat of a Chevrolet. Then, the clock tower disappears into the rearview, as he turns the corner and pulls away from...the house.
It was...the house. The very same house where an impossibly old and feeble woman had sat earlier, that very afternoon. It was...the house, pulling him like a magnet. He knew he had to go there...he had no choice...and he knew...it wasn't really...the house.
Feeling every one of his eighty years, and several more of someone else's, Morgan dragged himself out of the ruins. The shaft of his cane bowed with the full heft of his weight. He had been sitting on that old wooden bench for quite some time and the stiffness in his hip was starting to complain, not to mention his knees. The cane was now a necessity, and no longer a prop.
All too quickly, Morgan found himself shuffling down an old well known street. The rich aroma of barbecue escaped from busy back yards and embraced him, while the occasional pop of a fire cracker paved his way...towards what, he didn't know...yet he took it all in.
Finally, braced with a holiday cocktail of excitement and dread, Morgan found himself on the edge of his destination. Could he do this thing? Would he do this thing? He knew he had to...do this thing.
Taking a deep breath he approached the stately Victorian and happily wrapped himself in the comfort of its old familiarity.
He brushed the tip of his seventy five dollar running shoe along the edge of the lawn, and paused. He watched the old woman wander aimlessly across its length, occasionally bending to pull at a stubborn dandelion, then stuffing it into the pocket of her tattered sweater.
Morgan crossed the lawn and approached the woman. His mind still searched for excuses to run.
It couldn't be, he told himself. We couldn't possibly be...so old.
He tipped the brim of the fedora and quietly spoke to the woman who was busy fighting with another obstinate weed.
"Excuse me, young lady, but I was just wondering if you knew the name of the current residents of this fine house...you see I used to-"
The woman slowly straightened and turned towards Morgan. Her eyes appeared vacant, lost within. Then, she met the sparkle in the strangers moistened eye and a smile brightened across her face.
Then, all at once, the old woman's eyes squeezed into that magical squint that Morgan recalled from thousands of smiles, and layers of age suddenly fell from her face.
"Maddie," he repeated, with confidence.
The old woman quickly turned sour. "Morgan...where have you've been?"
Morgan stuttered and hesitated, unprepared to face the issue so quickly.
"I've been waiting here for hours...it's the Fourth of July and I don't want to miss a single second of the fireworks. You know how much I love fireworks. Have you been down at the tavern with those silly friends of yours, again."
Morgan was confused...disoriented. He instinctively started to defend himself.
"No...I ran into Stumpy and we were...."
"Oh, well isn't that fine...you were running around with that womanizer, Stumpy Simons. Why did I go to all the trouble of packing a wonderful picnic, when you would rather be holding hands with Stumpy?"
Morgan suddenly beamed, recognizing Maddie's saucy sense of humor, and as always, Maddie melted under the spell of his smile.
"Oh Morgan, I never could resist that toothy grin of yours."
They embraced and her warmth filled his soul.
"Hello Maddie," he whispered in her ear. "I've missed you more than I knew."
Morgan was relieved to find that Stumpy was mistaken. There was nothing wrong with Maddie. Nothing at all.
Just then, the screen door opened and Morgan saw the younger woman step onto the porch.
"Mother?" the woman said with surprise. "Are you alright?"
She was apparently not accustomed to finding her mother in the arms of strange men...old or not.
Maddie tensed and pulled away from Morgan. "Shoot," she muttered. "I swear that woman has a built-in radar."
"Mom?" the woman repeated.
"We were just talking, Mother, Maddie said sweetly. "Trying to decide on drumsticks or breasts."
Maddie turned back to Morgan and whispered conspiratorially, "I know you have a fondness for the breasts, don't you, Pookie Pie."
Morgan blanched, and Maddie shot him a wink. He smiled at the younger woman and tipped his hat.
"How do you do, madam. My name is Morgan. I'm an...old...friend of your mother's."
Maddie gave Morgan a curious glance. "Morgan, what on earth are you talking about. Mother has known you forever. Stop it, you'll confuse the poor old dear."
Morgan looked back at Maddie, suddenly wishing that his old legs could carry him quickly away.
The younger woman stepped off the porch and approached them.
"Yes...Morgan...she speaks of you...all the time. She always seems to be...waiting...for you, to magically appear. And my goodness, here you are."
Morgan looked at Maddie, whose attention had now wandered somewhere back inside. His heart sank. He suddenly began to fully understand...Stumpy was correct, after all.
"She speaks of me?"
"Oh yes...Morgan this and Morgan that...Morgan is taking me to the pictures tonight. I'm afraid it's a bit of a joke with my family. She has absolutely no memory of my Father, at all."
"Oh no, please don't apologize. Laughter keeps us all sane. Mother still loves to joke and laugh."
"She always did," Morgan said, looking wistfully at Maddie.
"Maddie suddenly brightened. "I must go finish preparing the picnic basket...don't want to miss a single boom. Oh how I love the fireworks."
Morgan stood by the younger woman and watched while Maddie scampered, as best she could, up the porch steps and through the screen door.
"My goodness you certainly seem to have brought out the best in her. My name is Kate, by the way."
She offered her hand and Morgan politely shook it. "You know I think I would have recognized you from your old pictures. Mother is constantly making us go through them."
"Really," Morgan replied.
"Except for the...obvious, she's as healthy as a horse. A little slower, of course. Most of the time she just sits and mopes. She's easily depressed, and she appears to be waiting...for what, we didn't know...until now. When we try to explain things to her, she just becomes agitated, as if we don't know what we're talking about. Then she sinks back into her own little world."
"It must be very...difficult...for you."
"It's just difficult to see her like this...it's as if she's outlived her life."
Morgan smiled in the direction of the old house and said, "Maybe just her second."
Kate didn't quite make out what Morgan had said and leaned forward, "Excuse me."
Morgan just sighed, still looking towards the house.
"Oh nothing. Is it the Alzheimer's?"
"They can't really be sure, but they don't think so. They feel safer labeling it Dementia."
Morgan winced, "What a terrible sounding word."
Kate quivered and wiped the start of a small tear from her eye. "Anyway, despite the fact that she thinks I'm her Mother...we get along just fine."
Morgan smiled and gave Kate an appreciative hug. "That's wonderful, Kate. Your Mom is very lucky to have someone like you...to care."
Maddie burst through the door, slightly stooped, with several strands of snowy hair waving wildly out of place.
In her arms she carried an old fashioned picnic basket and a familiar looking afghan.
"I'm ready," she proclaimed buoyantly. "Let's hurry, Morgan, I want to find the most perfect spot of all."
"Mother," Kate cried. "That's your special afghan."
"Of course it's special, mother. I made it especially for Morgan...and why did you put the picnic basket behind the sofa?"
"But...." Kate sputtered. She looked towards Morgan who was smiling in her direction.
"I swear, Mother you are always trying to stand in the way of Morgan and I."
"Mother," Kate said. "It's almost dark...I don't think it's any time to be wandering off on a picnic."
"Of course it's almost dark, Mother. It's the Fourth of July. How else would we see all those glorious fireworks."
Kate looked curiously towards Morgan, who was focused on that old woolen afghan. "How does she know the date? Did you tell her?"
Morgan shrugged. "She just knew. Mentioned it when I first arrived."
"Well, in any case, I don't think it's a good idea...."
Morgan leaned over and whispered into Kate's ear, "Please...let me take her for a little walk. I'll take good care of her...I promise."
Kate studied Morgan, considered it, then cautiously nodded consent.
"Well at least let me straighten your hair...look at it, it's going every which way."
Maddie stood patiently and winked at Morgan, while Kate pinned and poked at her hair. Morgan winked back.
"Thank you Mother," Maddie said, rolling her eyes. "Please don't wait up for us...you need your rest."
Morgan offered his arm and Maddie graciously accepted it, slowly strolling onto the sidewalk.
Morgan turned back to Kate and shouted, "Don't worry Mrs. O...I'll have her back by dawn."
Maddie shrieked with delight and poked Morgan in the ribs.
"Morgan...you are such a rascal."
Kate smiled and waved good-bye. She was happy to see her Mother...alive again.
They walked easily, down the darkening street and approached the forgotten field.
"Mother is such a dear," Maddie said. "But I'm afraid she might be starting to lose it. Do you hear how she's always calling me Mother. And I swear, sometimes she just doesn't seem to know what's going on. Every time I tell her that we're keeping company, she acts as if you don't exist."
"Well," Morgan said, patting her hand. "I suppose we all have to get old some time."
"I suppose," Maddie said. "It's just so hard when...."
"Here we are," Morgan said brightly. He pushed aside the rusted gate. "It looks as if we have our pickins."
Maddie peered about and said, "Just look at this place, you'd think they'd cut the grass."
"You'd think," Morgan agreed.
"Come on, Morgan. I want to sit in the absolute center. I want to lay on my back and watch those marvelous explosions, right over our heads."
"Your wish is my command, Madam," said Morgan, carefully navigating around a mound of debris.
They spread Maddie's treasured afghan out over a dusty patch and plopped themselves easily on top of it. Morgan ran his fingers thoughtfully over the colorful squares, and wondered just how easily they would pull themselves up from it.
Maddie looked around and said, "The turnout's a bit disappointing this year."
"Oh it's early yet...you know, there's always a last minute rush, once they hear that first big boom."
"I suppose your right, Morgan...as usual. Why don't you open up that basket and see what sort of goodies I packed for you?"
"Why don't I?" He hungrily pulled the basket over and peered inside. He was greeted by an odd assortment of yarn and knitting needles and he abruptly closed the lid.
"Say...why don't we wait a bit to eat? I think I'd rather just look at you for a while."
"Oh Morgan," said Maddie. "Aren't you always the charmer."
Smiling, he leaned forward and kissed her, gently at first, and then, with all his heart, re-opening a door that had long ago closed.
"It's great to see you again Maddie...it's just so great."
She nuzzled against his forehead, absently stroking his hair. "Why Morgan...you silly thing, you see me everyday."
"Yes...I did...every single day...."
He smiled, and they kissed again as the sun dropped far behind the horizon.
Suddenly he pulled back. "Did you see that. They've started. KABOOOOM!"
"KABOOOOM!" shrieked Maddie with delight, and together they lay back on the blanket; Maddie's head tucked comfortably on Morgan's shoulder; Morgan's arm wrapped tightly around his past.
"They're the most marvelous fireworks I've ever seen," said Maddie solemnly. "They're straight from heaven."
"Yes they are, Maddie...they most certainly are."
Morgan closed his eyes and savored the moment, lost within Maddie's innocent wonder.
Circled around them, in a field, now filled with life, a happy crowd of adults, children and everything in between, sat mesmerized, oohhhing and ahhhhhing as the big booms sounded. Spectacular bursts of color and fire filled the sky, exploding all around, as the marching band played all the familiar tunes.
At the edge of the field, hawkers paraded by, with tiny American flags and patriotic buttons, while the ice man shaved chips into a large paper cone and drowned the works with a sticky orange goo, all to the wonder of a small waiting boy.
It was the Fourth of July and Morgan was back home. Maddie was in his arms, and she made the circle complete.
Morgan opened his eyes and quietly stared into the milky sheen of observant stars above. He knew that, somewhere, his Rebecca was smiling on him.
"Please stay with me forever, Morgan," Maddie whispered, then she softly kissed his ear. "Don't ever leave me."
Morgan hugged her tightly. "I won't, Maddie...I promise...I'm home to stay."
Laying there, in Maddie's arms, Morgan wondered if it was possible to have a third life...or was this just the remainder of the first.