Fade Away

The old man moved slowly from a room which included a collection of books, an oak desk with a leather chair, and a framed degree from Princeton.  He had white hair combed neatly back, and his once handsome face was now wrinkled and spotted.  Although his body was curved by age, he wore an L.L. Bean sweater and Kenneth Cole slacks.

In the living room the television broadcast the late afternoon business report from the New York Stock Exchange.  On screen, an executive in his sixties wore a red tie on a white dress-shirt.  He confidently answered a question from the correspondent.

“No, I’m not going to resign as Arthur Douglas did back in ‘85 after the insider trading scandal.  As CEO of Global Financial, I assure you that I had no knowledge of the recently reported illegal investments using funds from protected customer accounts.  In my 25 years as CEO I’ve done nothing but strengthen the reputation of this corporation.”

As the old man moved into the living room, a young woman in the kitchen called to him, “I turned on the news for you Mr. Douglas.”

“Turn it off, Karen.”  He said, irritated at the report.  He sat in his comfortable chair near a small oak table, from which he picked up the day’s newspaper.  He opened it, but could make out only the headlines.  His sight had started to go after his ninetieth birthday.

He began to read, and then began to sleep, breathing the fall air that came in through the screen of an open window.  Outside, dry leaves crackled and scraped, swirled by the wind.

The man’s head leaned back, and his mouth opened slightly.  He began to snore quietly.

Karen came into the living room.  She was thirty-five, petite,  and had blond short hair and blue eyes.  She wore the colorful short sleeve top of a nurse, gray loose fitting pants, and clean sneakers.  She was Arthur Douglas’s care giver.

She called to him gently.  “Mr. Douglas?”

He had just started to dream when he heard her voice.

“Mr. Douglas?  It’s almost time for dinner.”

He woke, embarrassed that he had fallen asleep. “What was that?”

“Dinner will be ready soon.  Here, I’ve sliced an apple for you.”

“Thank you Karen,”  he answered slowly.

“Did you find anything interesting in the paper?”

“The marathon is this weekend.”

Karen enjoyed their conversations, even now, having cared for him for more than a year.  She asked him playfully, “Would you like to run the marathon this weekend Mr. Douglas?”

He laughed a short but honest laugh.  He then answered earnestly, pointing a curved, aged finger at himself.  “With this body?”

“You’re not in that bad of shape, Mr. Douglas.”  Karen admired his health, and wanted to learn more about how he had stayed so fit.  “Were you ever a runner?”

He placed a slice of apple in his mouth, and chewed slowly as he seemed to leave, thinking back.  Then he said, “I had never run,”  he paused as he thought back,  “until I was about forty-five.”

He went on carefully. “After a couple years of training I ran my first marathon in about five hours.”  And he smiled.

Then Karen continued to be playful.  “Did Mrs. Douglas run with you?”

“No.”  He laughed, enjoying the memory’s details as they came to him.  “Nancy liked that I ran.”  He paused, and went on seriously.  “But she worried about how it exhausted me.”  Then he rubbed his kneecap.  “And she worried that it hurt my legs.”

His eyes then showed the beginning of tears.  “And she always waited for me at the finish line.”

When Karen saw him get like this, she cheered him up.  “Well Mr. Douglas, you are still in very good shape.”

He began to smile. “Yes.  But my mind…” His voice rasped, and then faded.

“Your mind is very good too.”  Karen truly appreciated Mr. Douglas’s intelligence.  “I took your advice about moving some of my money into that investment account you told me about.

“You went with the Lincoln Company’s product, not Global Financial, right?”

“Yes.  Just as you told me.  The man at the bank was impressed!”

The old man liked the compliment.  “You won’t go wrong with that one.”

He then lost track.  “What day is today?” he asked expressionless.

Karen replied comfortingly, “Today is Friday, Mr. Douglas.”

He then remembered what they were talking about.  “Investment accounts,”  he paused.  “That’s how I made my living.” He leaned forward proudly as if to his desk, “I’ve always been good with investing and finance.”

Karen had many times heard him reminisce, and she admired the good that came from his success.

“It enabled you to provide so well for your family.”

Around the living room, picture frames displayed photos of the man and his wife, his son and daughter, and their families.  He stared past the photos, towards his den where he had sometimes conducted business.

The old man was now off in some other place and time.  He thought back to boardroom discussions, quarterly meetings of shareholders, and then to late nights alone in his office:

There was a time, a time when I had thought that being at the top would be easy.  It sure wasn’t.  So much on the line every day.  The risk of losing millions.  The deals I had to make to cut that risk.  But I never crossed the line.  Damn me for trusting that my guys wouldn’t cross it either.

Coming out of the daydream, he then spoke aloud.  “I tried to give them as much as I could.  I wanted to please them.”

“You did Mr. Douglas.  Your family is doing very well.”

The young woman’s voice brought the old man back, but he looked confused.

Karen repeated herself.  “Your family,” Mr. Douglas, “they’re doing very well because of you.”

Karen had been around the Douglas family so often that they knew her well and liked her very much.  Over time, Mr. Douglas began to open up to Karen about things he would not discuss with his children, and even some things he had not talked about with his wife.

The old man had now fully returned from his daydream and now thought about his family.  “My daughter is not happy.  Even at sixty-five there’s never enough for her.”  The old man’s face turned red.  “Despite how Nancy and I had helped her, she continues to need loans.  I don’t understand it.”  He shook his head.

Karen had heard his disappointments before, and responded the same way.

“It’s okay Mr. Douglas.”  she said in a sincere and calming voice.  “It’s just the way it is sometimes.  Besides, you know how much she loves your grandchildren.  You’ve told me yourself how well she raised them.”

The old man responded stubbornly.  “But my daughter is always on the edge of bankruptcy.”

“Mr. Douglas,” Karen said flatteringly, “the expert with money is your son.”

“My son?”  The old man became upset.  “He understands money, but he has divorced and remarried so many times.”

“Mr. Douglas, the woman your son is with now, for so many years, she truly cares for him.  I’ve seen how she smiles when she looks at him, how honest she is with him.  And he is so comfortable and confident with her.  I’m sure it was not that way with the others.”

The old man continued, again shaking his head.  “But he doesn’t keep his vows.”

“Okay, Mr. Douglas.”  She used her voice to calm him.  “Dinner is just about ready.  Start making your way to the table.”

The old man entered the dining room.  He sat at the white plate with gold trim, the silver fork and knife on a folded cloth, he again disappeared in thought.

“They used to line up to meet with me.”

“Who did, Mr. Douglas?”  Karen asked.

“At work, at the office.  The vice presidents and the directors.  I got things done for them.  I made most of them.”

Karen listened, but said nothing now.  She saw that he was discouraged.

“And now where are they?  The last time anybody from the corporation called me I was in my seventies, just a little older than my son and daughter.”

The old man paused again.  “Karen.  Did either of them call today?  Jonathan or Ann?”

“Yes Mr. Douglas, I forgot to tell you.  They both called this afternoon while you napped.  They are coming on Sunday to take you to dinner, like they do every month.

And the old man continued to stare, and then he started to smile, and his eyes came back to life.

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1 Comment

Filed under Character Treatment, Fiction, Short Story

One response to “Fade Away

  1. I read this during the Friday, March 30 recording of the Kenosha Writers’ Guild “Speaking of Our Words” radio show.

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