Monday, November 30, 2020



When Second Chances turn sour

      There are any number of reasons for a sixty-nine year old fellow to end up in the hospital. But a barroom brawl? Does that sound likely?
        Or what about the quiet lunch in the city's finest restaurant that was suddenly overtaken by the "scene" neither of them wanted? Odds are he will not handle that very public embarrassment well.
     It seems the Harris brothers' Second Chances were growing more contentious at every turn. Where might that lead?


                             Chapter 19

        By midmorning on Monday, nearly eighteen hours after his ill-fated barroom episode, Gary Harris was showing the initial, halting signs of a return to consciousness. The first hints were little more than a vague awareness of people coming and going around him. Still more asleep than awake, he soon realized that the slightest movement of his head was enough to trigger extreme pain. 

        Finally, when his eyes flickered open for the first time, he recognized the truth of his surroundings. About then a nurse noticed his eyes following her as she went about her tasks and summoned the doctor to his bedside.

Placing his hand lightly on Gary’s chest the physician bent low over him. “Mr. Harris, I’m Dr. Adams. I don’t want you to talk or move your head. I’d like you to blink your eyes if you can hear me. Do you understand?”

The strongest of Gary’s understandings was the overpowering urge to close his eyes and drift back into sleep. Yet the doctor’s instructions could not be ignored. He blinked once, then again.

“Good,” came the doctor’s response. Having established that minimal level of communications it took only a few minutes for Dr. Adams to glean what information he could from Gary’s blinking replies. The still-groggy patient was told he would receive new pain relief, beyond what could be administered while he was unconscious. The guidelines for his immediate care were spelled out---he must lay still and use the call buzzer, placed next to his hand, to summon help.

Alone again, though still adrift in a dulling fog of trauma and medication, Gary’s muddled thoughts stumbled off in search of new answers. Why was he in a hospital? And why did his head hurt like that? In the course of the next hour disjointed hints bubbled to the surface---of ice cubes floating in his scotch glass and blurry images of a wild-eyed, hairy-faced young man,  

Vaguely at first, he remembered the man’s painful hold on a woman’s arm. Echoes of her distressed screams filtered through his thoughts, continuing his reconstruction of those brief seconds. Things were slowly coming into focus. He had tried to help her. Instead, that scruffy young pup had punched him out. He recalled the blow coming at him, but not the impact. 

There had been a fight. To help a lady. He had to replay that notion a few more times before it sunk in. Who would believe that? He was certainly old enough to know better. His first reaction was to laugh, but the first slight movement of his head put an end to that possibility. It must have been some kind of punch to hurt like that.

Shortly before noon Clint returned to Gary’s room. “Good to see that you’re up for the day,” he said, leaning over the bed so Gary would not have to move his head to see him. “You gave us quite a scare.”

Clearly the patient was not up to extended socializing. Yet if Clint was reading Gary’s still-dilated eyes correctly, he was ready to fight his way back. “No need to talk,” Clint explained. “I’ll grab a nap here in the chair. You try to do the same.”

For the next several hours Gary drifted in and out of sleep. After each catnap his eyes would blink open for a moment as he struggled to reorient himself. If Clint was on hand he would offer a few words of encouragement before his brother’s eyes again closed, allowing the pain to be swallowed by welcome sleep. As the hours passed the knife-sharp headaches eased a bit. By late afternoon he had managed a few words with the nurse who stopped to read his computer printout. 

Then, some time after four o’clock, Gary’s already surreal day turned even more confusing. He was roused by the sound of ice cubes tumbling into his drinking glass. Opening his eyes he found himself staring into a vaguely familiar face.

She wore the brightly colored blouse of the hospital’s Candy Stripers---volunteers who performed non-medical tasks, providing comfort and encouragement to patients. Most of the Tanner Hospital's Candy Stripers were high school-age girls, often those considering a nursing or other medical career. Gary’s new visitor did not fit that description. Her well-lined face was framed in short, gray hair, but it was her toothy smile that triggered his recognition.

“You’re Cousin Sarah,” he whispered, relieved to find that the sound of his own voice was no longer as painful as before. “What are you doing here?”

“I come by a few times a week, to help out where I can.” She took a ‘sponge-on-a-stick’ from the tray beside his bed. Dipping it in the water glass she placed it on his lips. “The question is, what are you doing here?”

Gary savored the cool dampness of the sponge, then mumbled, “Long story.”

“Does Claudia know yet?”

His reaction was enough to startle her. His eyes narrowed and his mouth tightened. He said nothing, but his glaring frown was speaking volumes.

“She doesn’t know?” she asked tentatively.

“No,” he mouthed.

“You don’t want her to know?”


“And you don’t want to talk about her.” It was not a question, simply the recognition of his intent. Though she did not understand his reluctance, her patient was in no condition to debate the issue. 

Sarah watched silently as Gary’s eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep. She was gathering her things, preparing to leave, when Clint returned from the coffee shop to continue his vigil. “I’m glad I caught you,” she said, extending her hand. “It sounds like Gary will be here at least until Wednesday.”

Clint did a double take, unsure what to make of the apparent volunteer who was dispensing medical information. “How do you know that?” he asked.

“I don’t know for sure. That’s just what the nurses are saying.”

About then she picked up on his unspoken questions. “I’m sorry. I’m Sarah Cummins. I was an LPN here for years and years. I do volunteer work now, but I still know most of the girls. They tell me what’s going on.” 

She stepped back as Clint nodded his understanding. “I also do home-care follow up,” she added. “Chances are I’ll be coming by to see your brother when he goes home. You two still live together, don’t you?”

“Yes, Ma’am. I’m glad to hear about the home care help. I’ve been wondering how I’d deal with that. I would appreciate all the help I can get.” Then, as he started past her, Sarah reached for his arm. 

“Gary got upset when I asked about Claudia,” she said in a low voice. “Is there something wrong there?  It seemed they were getting along so well.” 

Clint’s puzzled frown had returned, prompting her to explain. “I’m Claudia’s cousin. She stayed with me the night you folks went to Portland a few weeks ago.”

“Oh yeah, I remember. You must be Cousin Sarah.” Though he understood Sarah’s casual connection to Gary’s plight, it was not his place to be explaining Gary’s newest dilemma. “I’m not sure what happened. But it sounds like the two of them have gone their separate ways.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. They seemed like such a nice couple.”

“Well, those things happen.” Clint walked back to his bedside chair, reminding himself that indeed ‘Those things do happen.’ Lots of crazy things happen. Why else would the old man laying before him, so hurt by a broken love dream, be in such a fix?


It had been a hectic but uneventful Monday, like so many days in Elly Warren’s still-evolving Tanner life---filled with enough busyness to make the hours pass, without the emotional investment of an actual commitment. 

After a bit of late morning shopping at the mall she had joined Esther Hammond and other members of the country club Social Committee for a luncheon meeting. Twice during the afternoon she tried to call Clint. Having only his home number, the best she could do was to leave an answering machine message.

She was filling the dishwasher after a light dinner, thinking it was time to try again, when she was startled by the ringing of the phone. “Well, hello there. I was just thinking about you,” she said in response to Clint’s greeting.

“Don’t stop now.”

“I tried to call you. All I got was your answering machine. Are you home now?”

“I’m still at the hospital, helping Gary with his dinner. It looks pretty good---if you’re into yucky green stuff.”

“He must be doing better.”

“Can’t say he looks any better,” Clint answered, loud enough for Gary to hear. “But the tubes are out. Most of the machines are gone. About the only thing left is the TV screen that proves he’s still alive.”

“Could I come see him?”

“He’s really not up to company quite yet.” Was that too blunt? Perhaps so. But the patient was, in fact, not ready for social calls. “I’ll tell you what would be nice though. It looks like I’ll be bringing him home on Wednesday. I know for sure he’d appreciate some better looking company once he gets there.”

“I hope it’s Wednesday. Because I’m leaving Thursday for a few days in Los Angeles. I’d like to see him before I go.”

“Apparently Wednesday is the day. Some insurance company wants him gone. It costs too much to keep him here.” He winked at Gary, who was trying to eavesdrop on their conversation. “Besides, there’s talk about a cute young nurse who comes by the house every few days to check up on him. He’s looking forward to that.”

Elly’s voice lowered as she asked, “What about Claudia? Has she heard about this yet? She really ought to know.”

Turning away, Clint stepped toward the door, half whispering as he replied, “I told you before, he doesn’t want that. Besides, she doesn’t seem to care any more.”

During the course of their conversation Elly had paced from the kitchen, through the dining room, to the sliding glass door that opened to the back patio. There, looking out into the fading daylight, she was again unwilling to accept his understanding of Claudia’s motives. 

“I don’t believe that for a minute,”  she said. “I don’t know what’s happened. But she didn’t just erase her feelings for him.”

“Well, we’re not going there now. It would only get him upset. The doctor’s already said he needs to avoid stress and agitation.”

Simply dropping something that important, without knowing more about the ‘why’ of it, was not Elly’s natural reaction. Not when a phone call or two might provide an answer. Still it was not her dilemma and not her place to stir things up. “Okay. We can talk about that when I get back.”

“Elly. Are you still there?” Clint was about to end their call when the all-too-obvious possibility came to mind. “Are you there?”

“I’m here. Was there something else?”

“Yeah, I just had an idea.” He paused, hoping it would not sound too silly. “I don’t like to miss your phone calls. If you want to talk to me, I want to be there. If you have something to write with I’ll give you my cell phone number.”

“That would be nice. That way I can track you down when you’re not home.” 

Their transaction took just a few seconds, yet it had the feel of being special---as though there was something more caring and intimate about a cell-phone number. Only after she hung up did Elly pause to wonder why she had not thought to give him her cell number.

She carried the phone back to the kitchen counter and placed it in its charging station, before starting toward the den. Seconds later it was ringing again. Picking it up, her expectant smile faded when she heard his voice.

“Tom. This is a surprise,” she said, asking herself why he was calling.

“I wanted to apologize.” His tone was low keyed, apparently sincere. “I was way off base the other night at the club. I hope I didn’t ruin your evening.”

“Not at all. I had a wonderful time.” She was not about to give him the satisfaction of “ruining” anything. “Everyone had a good time.”

“You mean Clint Harris enjoyed himself?”

“I’m sure he did,” she answered, hoping to deflect his ‘Clint’ questions. “He had a chance to visit with old friends. If you had stayed I’m sure you’d have had a good time too.”

“Perhaps I was a bit impulsive. That’s one reason why I called. I was wondering if we could get together for lunch on Wednesday. It would give us a chance to talk about things.”

“Tom, what do we have to talk about?” How could she make him understand there was no reason for his silly persistence?

“Elly. I’m going on the assumption that two old friends can have a quiet lunch at Ryan’s, in downtown Tanner, in the middle of the day. Is that too much to ask?” It was as close to begging as his ego would allow. “You could come in your car. I’ll come in mine. There’ll be no unannounced side trips. Nothing like that. What do you say?”

With the phone to her ear she walked back to the kitchen and filled a glass with ice cubes and cold water from the appliance on the refrigerator door. What could it hurt, she asked herself. She wanted them to be friends, if only he would forget his insistent notions of a relationship. Finally she asked, “Just lunch. That’s all?”

“That’s all.”

“Okay. Let’s do lunch,” Elly said. They needed to break their stressful standoff. Hopefully lunch with Tom was a way to begin that process. “Wednesday at twelve, at Ryan’s.”

“That’s great. See you there.”


Elly had been running behind schedule all morning, completing several errands before her Thursday morning flight to Los Angeles. Having called to confirm that Gary was home from the hospital, she made plans to see the Harris brothers later that afternoon. As a result it was nearly twelve-fifteen when she hurried into Ryan’s to meet Tom.

Whatever her reasons, Elly’s tardiness had created instant anxiety for Tom Berry. He was waiting impatiently…..wondering if he had been stood up. In the face of those doubts, relaxation was impossible.…until he saw her round the front counter, approaching his table.

“There you are,” he said, with a not-so-subtle touch of relief. Holding the chair for her, he noted, “I was hoping I wouldn’t be eating alone.”

“I’m so sorry.” She felt no need to explain, beyond, “It’s been a crazy morning.”

For the next fifteen minutes they nursed their cocktails and nibbled on appetizers, steering their timid conversational dance toward safe and superficial topics. It seemed that neither of them was willing to trigger the edginess that had plagued their time together. 

Only when their sandwiches arrived was Tom prepared to turn the conversation to his topic de jour. “Elly,” he said between bites. “I don’t want to make you mad, or cause a scene.”

She looked up from her salad, wondering what prompted his strange disclaimer. “I’m glad to hear that,” she smiled. “I’d rather you didn’t make me mad. And I certainly don’t want a scene.”

“So here’s the deal. It’s just one simple question.” He set his fork down. “What do I have to do to be the man in your life? That’s all I want to know.”

“Tom, please. Not again.” Elly was fighting to maintain her composure, scolding herself for having been drawn into a replay of his uncomfortable appeals.

Tom pushed his chair back and laced his hands across his ample belly. An apparently lighthearted grin was spread over his round face. “It’s okay,” he assured her. “I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last few days. Looking back, I can see exactly what happened. And it was definitely my fault.” 

He raised his hand to cut off her objection. “I realize now that when I first heard you’d come back, I took way too much for granted.”

“Tom. Stop! Now!” Her icy stare bored in on him. “It’s just more of the same. I’ve had enough of it. I don’t want to hear any more.”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying, Elly. I’m just like you. I don’t want any more of that either. I want to go back to the beginning, to where we can start over again. We could take it from there and get it right this time. Just tell me what I have to do.”

Their conversation had ended, though Tom did not yet understand that. Before he realized what was happening the explosion had begun. Elly slammed her open palm on the table top. A half-full water glass skidded across the table and crashed to the floor. Gathering the purse from her lap she pushed her chair backward, bumping into the man seated behind her. 

While surprised diners craned to see what the racket was about, Elly stood, turning away from their curious stares. Without looking back, she walked briskly past the front counter and out the door, leaving Tom to wonder what had happened. Dodging the bemused frowns of surrounding customers he finally walked to the counter to pay his bill.

Not since her stressful days of marital combat with Mike Warren had Elly taken to the highway to calm herself. Leaving the restaurant, she promised herself she would not call on Clint and Gary until the toxic indignation had passed and her trembling limbs were stilled. 

Years before, in the midst of contentious divorce negotiations, she had sometimes cruised the Los Angeles freeways for hours---damning Mike’s deceit and letting her anger subside. Her Tanner alternative was a twenty minute drive up the interstate to the Reynolds City exit, then back to town. Finally, an hour later, she scolded herself one last time and started across town to the Harris home

In the kitchen Clint took Elly’s jacket, then led her down the hallway to Gary’s room. Peeking through the half-open door they found him asleep in his recliner, a plaid blanket spread across his lap. Clint rapped softly on the door jamb, rousing his brother. “You’ve got company,” he announced.

Gary’s head rose from his chest. His eyes blinked open to find Elly smiling at him. “Hello there,” she said. “How are you doing?”

Instinctively Gary tried for a quick, confident grin, which only aggravated the dull pain that codeine-laced Tylenol had not fully subdued. “I’ve felt better,” he was forced to admit.

“He’s a lot better than yesterday,” Clint said. “He just needs to take it easy for a few days. With a big-time nurse like me it won’t take long.”

Gary managed a weak smile in Elly’s direction. “What are the chances you could find me a better-looking nurse? Those gals in the hospital were a lot easier on the eyes.”

“Hey. You get what you pay for. Remember?” Clint paused, watching for Elly’s reaction to their  banter. “Gary got a pretty good rap on the head. But from what I’m told, it was the other fellow who was the most frightened.” 

“Why was that?” she asked, following Clint’s lead.

By then Gary was prepared to provide his own explanation. “The ambulance guy told one of the nurses that the kid ran like hell. Scared out of his wits.” He paused, eyes closed and breathing deeply. “I guess he was afraid he’d killed me. That’s a pretty sad way to scare someone, isn’t it?”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Elly asked, unsure how else to join their conversation.

Clint glanced at Gary, shaking his head. “I believe we’ve got everything covered for now. The home-care nurse is supposed to be here tomorrow afternoon.”

“Just a damn minute,” Gary countered. He straightened up a bit to growl at Clint, “I think she was asking me. Seems like I should be the one to answer. And I can think of lots of things she could do.”

“Like what?” Elly asked.

“Well, here’s one.” A long-absent glint was flashing in his eyes. “Tucking me into bed. You can’t imagine how insensitive and clumsy my brother is. I know you could do better.”

“Hold on a second,” Clint protested, picking up on the fun. “This is my lady you’re talking to. You’ll have to get your own.” 

He stopped short, wondering what had possessed him to go that far. Glancing sheepishly at Elly, then Gary, it appeared that neither had taken offense. It was probably best to let the matter drop.

“I’m afraid you two will have to muddle through without me for a few days,”  Elly said. “I need to get home and pack.” Turning to Clint, she said, “I’ll be back from Los Angeles on Tuesday. I’ll call when I get in.”

Clint escorted Elly to her car, then returned to the house and Gary’s room. Gary eyes opened at the sound of his return. “She’s a keeper, brother,” he said. “Don’t you let her get away.”


Saturday, November 28, 2020



        Too old to be tilting at windmills?

        As a fellow nears seventy you might think he had learned more mature responses. Yet, their late-life Second Chances were leading the Harris brothers into unfamiliar territory, where once reliable answers seemed to no long applied.
        After days spent alone in his room, mulling the reality of his sad situation, Gary had finally reached a new, decidedly darker understanding of what it meant to grow older. That in turn had him searching for more productive ways to deal with that sad fact.
   Who could have guessed his search would take him to the bar in Hector's Club, nursing his scotch-on-the-rocks........preparing to tilt at yet another that would fight back.

                                                        CHAPTER 18 

Clint Harris awoke on that sunny Sunday morning with his mind awash in pleasant recollections. He lay in bed reminding himself how his life-long aversion to the Tanner Heights Country Club and its inhabitants had been overblown. To his surprise he had actually enjoyed his first incursion into that high society, especially after Tom Berry’s angry exit. He got up, made his bed, then toured the house---picking up newspapers and coffee cups. Eying the living room carpet he decided he could wait another day or two before vacuuming. 

With that busyness behind him, and unable to avoid the matter any longer, Clint’s thoughts turned to Gary, still sequestered in his room. Was he sleeping or lying awake, wallowing in his morbid sadness? Either way there was no getting around the truth of it. It seemed that Gary’s ‘meet-the-world-head-on’ mentality had faded in the face of Claudia Hafner’s apparent desertion. In light of that sad fact Clint realized he would be doing Sunday church alone that morning. 

From his perspective there was an elemental unfairness at work. While he reveled in warm thoughts of his evening with Elly, Gary had been overwhelmed by a debilitating setback. How would he react to his brother’s good fortune? Until he was ready to talk, who could tell? 

It was nearly nine-thirty when Gary finally emerged from his room, shuffling to the kitchen for a badly needed cup of coffee. With his crossword puzzle in hand Clint came from the living room to join his brother at the table, though for several seconds neither of them was sure how to begin a conversation. 

Then surprisingly it was Gary who broke their silence. “Was it as scary as you thought?” 

“Was what scary?” 

“The country club. You went there last night. Didn’t you?” 

“Yeah.” Clint hesitated, unsure how to continue, afraid that his good fortune would sound too much like gloating. 

Gary waited a moment for Clint to elaborate. Hearing nothing, he asked, “Come on, aren’t you going to tell me about it?” 

“Not much to tell. I met a few fellows I knew from work. Was introduced to some other folks. Had a good time.” 

“And no one made you feel uncomfortable, like you were out of place?” 

Clint laughed a bit at that. “Well, Tom Berry tried to stir things up. But he didn’t get far.” 

“You shut him down, did you?” 

“Not really. Didn’t have to. Elly took care of that.” And if she had not? Clint paused to wonder where his verbal skirmish with Tom might have led if she had not stepped in. 

Again their loud silence returned, until Gary asked, “You and Elly---that’s going okay?” 

“Yeah. It’s going fine.”

“Good.” Seconds later he looked up. “You know, if she’s the one, you’ve got to keep hold of her.”

“I hope I can,” Clint nodded, certain that if Elly wanted to stay she would stay. On the other hand, if she wanted to go there was nothing he could do to stop her. 

For now, however, it was Gary’s dilemma that demanded his attention. The subject had to be broached. How else could he move on? 

“So what about Claudia? What comes next?” Clint asked his question and braced himself for the answer. 

When at last Gary replied Clint heard none of the emotion he expected. In a flat and soft voice, with no apparent interest in the subject, Gary explained, “There’s nothing to talk about. There is no ‘next.’ She just checked herself out of my life.” 

“What about you then? What are you going to do?” 

Gary’s wry grin was offering few hints. “I don’t know about me. Right now I just feel kind of empty.” 

“You’ve got to do something. You can’t just mope around like this.” 

“Are you sure?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” 

“I’ll tell you what it means. As the older brother it’s my place to pass on my hard-won wisdom to you youngsters.” For the first time Gary was actually smiling. “There have been times when we’ve both bragged that even if our bodies were getting old, our minds weren’t. You remember that?” 

“That’s how I feel most days,” Clint agreed.

“Well let me explain the problem with that kind of thinking. It’s nothing but a mind game---a bunch of lies. That’s what it is. It has nothing to do with reality. You’re only fooling yourself.” 

“How so?” 

“There comes a time when we really are old and used up, whether we’ll admit it or not. Whether or not our mind will accept the fact. We may want to think like kids. But that’s not who we are. And pretending doesn’t change that.” That, in a few short sentences, was the distilled truth Gary had wrung from his long hours alone in the dark. 

“As much as we’d like to, we can’t go back and live out the stuff we missed the first time around. I tried that. And it hurts like hell to find out it doesn’t work that way.” He paused, rubbing his chin. “The truth may hurt. But it’s still the truth. The sad fact is, a seventy-year old Gary Harris isn’t worth a damn to anyone.” 

“Come on, brother,” Clint pleaded. “You can’t be giving up like that. You’re exactly the same person you were yesterday or last week.” 

“Bingo! I am the same person. The only difference is a week ago I didn’t know what the hell that meant. At least I wouldn’t admit it. Now I know.” 

“So, what are you going to do?”

“Right now I’m going to take a long walk.” 

Gary slipped on his jacket and went out the back door, leaving Clint to revisit his brother’s thoughts about beginning a new life at their age. Was he right about that? Was it all an illusion? If so, how could an illusion feel so real? 

Shortly after noon Clint returned from church to find dirty dishes in the sink, confirming that Gary had eaten something in his absence. Twice during the next hour he knocked on Gary’s door, pleading for him to come out and talk. His brother’s refusal, especially his second, openly-hostile outburst, was enough to convince Clint to leave well enough alone. Then, about three o’clock, he looked up from his ball game to catch a glimpse of Gary’s car pulling out of the driveway headed north toward downtown. 


Losing Christy’s affirming presence after more than forty-four years of marriage had been the most painful and traumatic experience of Gary Harris’ seventy years. He had grieved for months, looking here and there for some satisfying way to explain her departure and the terrible emptiness she had left behind. 

Long sessions with Pastor Williams were meant to put his loss in perspective and reinforce his resolve to face the future. Night after night he fell asleep muttering repetitive prayers to a God who had become harder to understand. Short on prayerful protocol but long in heartfelt intensity, his pleadings were sometimes enough to see him through the next day. But not always. 

In the first months following his loss he had turned to other ways of forgetting---particularly the mind-numbing scotch served at Hector’s Club. More than anything else it had been Gary’s growing dependence on Hector’s intoxicating company that prompted Clint to suggest that his brother move in with him for a week or two. 

With Clint’s support Gary had finally found a middle ground---a way to escape the harmful extremes of jagged pain and scotch-induced anesthesia. Together the brothers immersed themselves in work around the house, along with volunteer hours at the church and senior center. They spent pleasant days fishing on the river and an occasional long weekend in Reno---anything to fill their hours and restore a sense of normalcy. 

Finally, after struggling for so long, Gary could recall the exact moment when the debilitating weight was finally lifted from his soul---when he could at last see beyond the dark despair. It had been the unexpected sight of Claudia Hafner at their fiftieth reunion that sent his imagination racing. Without knowing why he recognized her after all those years, he knew at once who she was. Seeing her was a surprise. The feelings he had never forgotten, were not. 

But what had come of those hopeful feelings and the possibilities they represented? Nothing at all. He had relived his maddening confrontation with Dennis too many times already, always dwelling on Claudia’s silent, but dominant role. What had she been thinking? Why could she not tell him herself? 

Dennis had spoken the distressing words, but Gary found himself laying the blame at Claudia’s feet. He finally concluded that if he could not forgive, forgetting was the only other alternative. He had to try, because not forgetting hurt too much. 

He knew from experience that Hector’s Club was a good place to practice 'forgetting.' On that afternoon, leaving Clint to his ballgame, he hoped to again find that welcome relief. The club was nearly empty, but that did not bother him in the least. 

“Not sure we have a decent selection of ladies this afternoon,” Jimmy, the bartender, joked when he brought Gary a first scotch-on-the-rocks. He nodded toward the thirty-something women seated at a back table. “Especially not in your age group.” 

“Don’t you worry about that, old buddy,” Gary grumbled. “If I was looking for ladies my age I’d be checking out the old-folks home.”

For the next hour he nursed his drinks, letting his mind settle into the dull blankness he was seeking. There, in his own space, the few customers who came and went made little impression---at least until the insistent pleading from the back of the room grew louder. 

“Come on, lady,” the angry voice repeated. “I can tell you're looking for some company. So am I.” 

Once again the chubby blonde, the one in too-tight slacks and even tighter sweater, refused the young man’s offer. 

Gary turned on his swivel barstool to see what the fuss was about. One look at the persistent young man made the woman’s objections easy to understand. He was medium height---bulky, but not fat. His denim overalls were covered with splotches and spots of dubious origin. Perhaps he was good looking, though that was hard to tell. Long dark hair tumbled to his shoulders and his scruffy beard reached nearly to his chest. 

Returning to his drink, Gary silently complimented the woman on her sound judgment. A second later he heard her yell out, “Stop. you’re hurting me.” Turning to look again, Gary saw the shaggy youngster with a grip on the woman’s arm, pulling her toward another table. 

Jimmy, the bartender, yelled something to the young man, though Gary could not make out the exact words. At that moment he was concentrating on staying erect. Three shots of scotch had rendered his legs wobbly and unresponsive. He half-fell from his stool and stumbled across the room, grasping at chair backs and tables to stay upright as he made his way toward the still-complaining lady, 

Finally, leaning against a table next to the struggling pair, Gary spoke out. “Leave the lady alone, son.” Then, aware that his words were not being heard above the scuffle, he reached for the young man’s shoulder and repeated his instructions, this time more loudly. “I said, leave her alone.” 

Dark eyes, flashing with anger, darted in his direction. “Get the hell out of here, old man. This has nothing to do with you.”

Tugging hard on the man’s shoulder, Gary was straining to pull him away from the lady, until suddenly he was aware of the blur coming toward his face. The clenched fist hammered against his temple, overwhelming his careful efforts to stay upright. His arms flailed for support as he crashed awkwardly toward a nearby table. An instant later came the numbing thud of his head slamming into the edge of the table. He was unconscious before his body slumped to the floor. 

By then his young attacker was running for the front door. The two women were screaming hysterically, hugging each other tightly, while Jimmy knelt beside the apparently lifeless old man. 


Muting the television, Clint pushed his recliner upright and reached for the wireless phone. He did not recognize the woman’s voice, but when she identified herself she had his full attention. 

“Mr. Harris, this is Wendy, from the hospital Admitting Office. It’s about Gary. He’s just been brought in to the Emergency Room.” She paused, then added, “I’m afraid it sounds pretty bad .” 

“What are you talking about?” His mind was racing, trying to make sense of her unsettling report. “What happened?” 

“I’m not sure. He’s unconscious. The ambulance driver talked about ‘a knock on the head.’” Wendy too was getting caught up in the rush of emotions. She took a deep breath, forcing herself to slow down. “I’ve seen you here for Foundation meetings. As soon as I heard who it was I thought I should call you.” 

“Thank you, Wendy. I appreciate that. I’ll be right there.”

Setting the phone down, Clint started toward the kitchen. Gripping the back of a dining-room chair he ordered himself not to give in to the sudden wave of nausea. By then the questions were coming in a rush. What had happened? How badly was Gary hurt? Uttering a silent prayer, he grabbed his coat and headed out to the pickup. 

Fortunately, in Clint's mind hospital settings no longer inspired the dread and distaste they once had. During Karen’s last days those antiseptic hallways and blue-clad professionals had taken on new meaning for him. There, in the midst of the familiar smells and white-curtained cubicles, the two of them had spent her precious last hours together. In those times of unspoken fear he had come to appreciate the staff’s tireless efforts to provide comfort and compassion in the harshest of times. 

Now there was a different sort of urgency on his mind as he hurried to the Admitting counter. “Hi, Wendy. Thanks again for calling. Can you tell me where they’ve taken Gary?” 

“The nurse’s station, down the hall on the left...... they’ll know what’s going on.” 

He half-ran down the hallway, past the gift shop, to the long counter where a pair of nurses stood reviewing a medical chart. Looking up, the older woman asked, “Can I help you?” 

“Gary Harris,” Clint said. “He’s my brother. I understand he’s just come in.” 

“Oh, yes,” she said. Her voice gave no hint of urgency. “The doctor is with him now.” 

“Could I see him?”

“Not yet. Not until the doctor's examination is completed.” 

“Do you know what happened? How was he hurt?”

The nurse moved to another stack of papers and retrieved what Clint took to be an accident report. Scanned it quickly, she responded, “According to the EMT, Mr. Harris was struck on the side of the head. He was unconscious and unresponsive when they arrived here.”

“How did he get hit on the head?” 

“Well.” At such a serious moment the nurse’s unexpected smile seemed a bit out of place, even uncalled for. “It appears there was a fight of some kind, at Hector’s Club---something about a woman.” 

“A fight? In a bar? About a woman?” Clint could not believe his ears. “Come on. You’ve got to be kidding. There must be some mistake.” 

“I’m sorry, sir. I’m just telling you what the EMT reported. Now if you’ll have a seat in the waiting room I’ll ask the doctor to come see you when he’s finished his examination.” 

For the next thirty minutes Clint tried his best to remain composed in the face of his anxious questions. He leafed through worn, out-of-date magazines he would never have noticed in another setting. When those distractions failed, he walked the length of the corridor to the main entrance and back---two, three, perhaps four times. 

All the while he struggled to construct scenarios that included Gary, a bar, a fight, and a woman. No matter how hard he tried, he could not make those disparate pieces fit together. 

Finally he glanced up to see the doctor approaching. “Clint Harris?” Dr. Adams asked, extending his hand. “I believe we’ve met before. Last spring at the Foundation review.” 

Clint nodded his recognition, then asked, “What about Gary? Is he okay?” 

“I’ll tell you what I can,” the doctor replied. “It appears that he fell against a chair or table. It was a substantial blow. He’s still unconscious.” 

“Was anything broken?”

“Please don’t ask me to get too detailed. We haven’t done a CAT scan yet. I can say that there is no apparent fracture and no sign of internal hemorrhaging. I would expect some swelling of the brain. How much is hard to tell.”

“My God. you don’t have much to go on, do you?” Clint’s frustration was obvious. “Why don’t you do the CAT scan so you’ll know for sure?” 

“Mr. Harris.” The doctor seemed to sense it was time for a more professional approach. “It’s not like we don’t know what to do. There are procedures that we follow. Chances are that’s all that will be required. Your brother is being closely monitored. If a CAT scan is called for we’ll order one. In the meantime we’re doing everything we can.” 

“I know that,” Clint nodded apologetically. “It’s just that I feel so helpless. Just sitting here and waiting.” 

“I’m afraid this is one of those times when waiting is what we have to do.” 

“Can I see him?” 

“He’s being moved to C Ward,” the doctor said. “I’ll have a nurse call you as soon as he’s settled in.” 

“Thanks for your help, sir. I’ll be waiting right here.”

What else could he do in the face of such uncertainty? On second thought, it was more than he wanted to face alone. He took the cell phone from his belt, spent a few seconds considering the idea, then punched in Elly’s number. 

“Hi there. I didn’t bother you, did I?” he asked when she answered. 

“Not at all. I was wondering if you’d recovered from your night at the club.” There was no need to mention that she had vowed not to be the first to call this time, no matter how long she waited. 

“There was nothing to recover from. Just a really good time,” He was not sure how to steer their conversation in such a different direction, so he jumped right in. “Look. I’m calling from the hospital. I just needed to talk, if that’s okay.” 

“The hospital?” He heard the alarm in her voice. “Why are you there? What happened?” 

“It’s Gary. He’s been hurt. Maybe bad.” At least he could say the words out loud. That seemed to help. 

“What happened?” Elly repeated, this time more urgently. 

“I’m not sure.” Why was he reluctant to tell her what he knew? “According to the ambulance guy, he got in a fight at a bar.......apparently something about a woman.” 

“A fight? At a bar?” Once more that unlikely possibility was greeted with disbelief. “What in the world was he doing in a bar And what do you mean, ‘about a woman’?” 

With a deep breath to calm himself, Clint was struggling to assemble a coherent response. “To begin with, I didn’t tell you about it the other night, but Gary and Claudia sort of parted ways a couple days ago. He’s been messed up ever since.” 

“What do you mean they ‘sort of parted ways’? I thought they were getting along so well.” 

“So did he,” Clint said. “But when he went to see her the other day, her son ran him off. He accused Gary of preying on his mother and told him to stay away. Claudia was right there and didn’t say a word to stop him.” 

“That doesn’t sound like her,” Elly answered. Then, pausing to recall Clint’s earlier words, “You said it might be bad. How is he now?” 

“He’s still unconscious. Has been for more than an hour.” 

“My God. Would you like me to come down there? Or perhaps I should call Claudia.” 

“Please don’t do that. It would only make things worse.”

Clint looked up to see a nurse motioning him down the hall. “They’re telling me I can see him now. I’ll get back to you as soon as I know more.” Then, before he hung up, “Thanks for listening.” 

A moment later he was ushered into a single-bed room. The nurse pulled back the hanging curtain to reveal Gary lying on his back with his eyes closed. For a brief instant Clint felt a fresh wave of faintness. He grasped the end of the bed and forced himself to take in the frightening sight.

On the monitor near the head of the bed a digital display was flashing, scrolling rhythmic green waves across the screen. On the back of Gary’s left hand an IV needle was taped in place, connected to a pair of clear plastic pouches hanging from overhead brackets. A thin oxygen tube was in place under his nose. The only apparent wound, on his left temple, was covered by a single three-inch square gauze pad. 

Clint stood there for a moment, taking in the flashing displays and the hypnotic drone of the monitor---unsure what they meant or how serious the situation might be. 

“Can I stay for a while?” he asked the nurse. When she nodded her okay he pulled a chair closer to the bed and settled in. 


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