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Neither Here Nor There
The birds would not humor Pappy Green today—they avoided his offering of breadcrumbs devoutly. After a solid forty years of feeding said birds, Pappy was abandoned on his bench with nothing but an empty sack of Wonderbread and one heck of a backache. If ignorance was gratitude, then Pappy had received plenty of it. He was fed up. To be shunned by the various fowl that inhabited his daily refuge was one thing; to be forgotten by ones offspring and thrown into a smelly nursing home was an entirely different ballpark.
Perhaps therein lay Pappy’s reasoning for taking solace on his bench in the park: He wanted to forget the world for forgetting him. It was truly painful to be a memory faded from mind, backwash in a bottle; yet, somehow, he found the strength to roll out of bed in the morning. If sixty-nine years of life had taught Pappy anything, he supposed it would be that the human heart never breaks, but is subject to agonizing bruises that only heal if dwelling thoughts are banished from the mind. The torture of old age made healing impossible—all a geezer had to do was brood on golden days gone by.
Sighing deeply, hand patting jacket for bottle, Pappy wriggled around on the bench so as to get more comfortable. Who was he kidding? He would be sitting for a long time, as returning to the Home meant chatting with drooling, farting peers who had left “town” a long time ago. It was far better to yuk it up with Jack Daniels than with a hunched-over coot who swore up and down that you looked like a beloved French poodle long deceased. Unscrewing the bottle of glorious amber silly-juice, Pappy drank deeply, and then cleared his throat as the familiar burn crawled down to settle in his belly.
Everything surrounding Pappy began to look rather nice: The birds weren’t so stuck up; the shrieks of playing children melodic to Pappy’s ears compared to their usual ear-piercing quality. Closing his eyes, Pappy took in a breath of crisp air that could only be associated with autumn. What a shame it was that every day couldn’t be this tranquil and uneventful. Breathing in more of the afternoon, Pappy brought the whiskey to his lips so as to continue his peaceful meditation, resting his head on the back of the bench.
“Ah,” Pappy whispered. “Il dolce far niente!”
Indeed, Pappy was experiencing the sweetness of doing nothing. For nearly ten years, he had been doing little save for breathing and boozing. These had been his sole occupation. Oh well—he deserved it.
In his minds’ eye, Pappy began to picture the rolling hills of Tuscany. He had lived there in his youth, when art had been his passion; wine, his fuel. He had left when a letter from his mother relating the sobering news of his father’s death prompted him. That was the turning point of his life—the place where dreams were crushed and reality took hold. Coming back to the States to run the family grocery was his biggest mistake marked up against painting Italian landscape and eating real food. Pappy could only reflect and fantasize how his life could have been had he stayed.
“Is it all right if I sit here?” a sweet voice said from Pappy’s backside.
Pappy opened his eyes with a start. Since when did someone address him? It was probably someone by the next bench, no matter. He fell into daydream mode again. Now where was he? There—dolce Italia.
“Excuse me,” the voice persisted, “do you mind if I sit with you? The other benches are coated with bird cr**.”
It had to be him they were talking to, Pappy wasn’t that senile. Turning around, Pappy faced a tall blonde dressed in a button up plaid shirt, jeans, and Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Her lips were plump and wet with youthful splendor; they opened to reveal a set of respectable pearly whites that made the loveliest smile.
“Did I wake you?” she asked, mild concern spreading on her face.
“Not at all, Mary,” Pappy replied in recognition. “Come have a seat.”
Grin widening, Mary approached the bench cautiously and sat snuggly next to Pappy. She planted a kiss on his stubbly cheek and simultaneously wove her hand into his.
“Mercy,” she exclaimed. “I thought I told you to quit drinking!”
Pappy chuckled. “Sorry.”
Mary rolled her blue eyes. “I could smell ole Mr. Daniels from a mile away, Paul.”
“Old habits die hard,” he shrugged.
“In fact, where is Mr. Daniels?”
Pappy held up his whiskey. Mary accepted the bottle, took a swig, then chucked it off into the grass.
“Hypocrite,” Pappy accused.
“Shut-up,” Mary giggled, slapping his arm. “I just wanted a nip.”
“Then why get rid of it all?”
“Because you don’t need it, dear.”
Pappy grunted. “Uh-huh.”
“Let’s take a walk, shall we?”
“Sounds lovely,” Pappy agreed.
Mary sprang up from the bench and with an extended hand, hoisted Pappy off his seat. “Ready?” she inquired.
“Sure,” Pappy acknowledged, popping his back in a series of awkward snaps, making Mary wince. “Let’s go see the Wizard.”
Their hands interlaced, Mary led Pappy down an old dirt trail that began at the far end of the park and winded through a hefty chunk of forest. The path came to a clearing that resided next to a creek gushing with clear waters. They both sat down, resting their backs on a grand tree-trunk.
Mary laid her head on Pappy’s shoulder. “This is our spot, Paul. Do you remember it?”
“Only too well.”
Time passed, but it was of no consequence. The two lay in the arms of the other, content as possible. When the invisible timer ran out of sand, Mary said, “Let’s take a dip in the creek.”
Pappy laughed considerably hard at this.
“What?” Mary demanded incredulously.
“Nothing,” Pappy admitted through hiccups of laughter. “It’s just I can barely dress myself anymore, let alone take my clothes off. I actually have a nurse help me at the Home—I’ve become quite the cliché.”
Mary also burst into a giggling fit. “Silly old man.”
“Yes? You called?”
Standing up, Mary unbuttoned her shirt, revealing a tidy black bra—nothing special. Then she threw the shirt on Pappy’s face. “I hope you know that I can properly manage undressing us both,” she proclaimed.
Pappy felt like a teenager again. He smiled. He hoisted himself off the ground. Once up, Mary gingerly peeled off his jacket and shirt, tossing them aside. She poked his belly, “You’re getting chubby, dear.”
“Tell me about it.”
Her work was unfinished. Swiftly, she unzipped Pappy’s pants and swatted at him.
“I’m not here for that!”
Pappy shook his head. “You’ll have to forgive a ‘silly old man,’ Mary.”
Just that heavenly smile offered in return. Mary slid Pappy’s pants away from his body as he kicked off his shoes. Once he was in his boxers, she rid herself of her pants and stood in a small pair of ebony briefs. Pappy stood back and pretended to take a few photographs with an imaginary camera. “Lookin’ good, hon,” he praised.
Mary blushed and crimson stained her pale cheeks. They then stepped into the creek, which was pleasantly cool and came up to their knees. Pappy swayed with Mary; hand on her side, her arms around his neck. They danced to Nature’s song, whose orchestra was comprised of insects, the rushing water, and the chirping of the birds—even the insane knocking of a woodpecker.
The dance continued until Mary splashed some water onto Pappy’s legs.
“Hey!” Pappy cried out, splashing back.
“Paul,” Mary sighed, “you do know why I’m here, right?”
A look of bewilderment came over Pappy. “I don’t,” he admitted, “but I don’t care, either. I don’t want to ruin this. I don’t want you to leave.”
The kiss came quickly, without warning, as most of the best kisses do. It was sweet, of course, and Pappy could taste the potent combination of strawberries and honey that made Mary’s kisses special. Her lips were exceedingly luscious beyond expectation. The lip-lock was long, but once it had reached appropriate measure, they parted for a glowing gaze.
“I love you,” Pappy said softly. “More than I’ve loved any other woman.”
The blue diamonds sparkled. Mary kissed Pappy again in a briefer fashion that was just as savory. “I know you do, Paul,” she said. “That’s why you’re coming with me.”
Every ounce of breath stole out of Pappy’s lungs in an instant. His body was sucked under the seemingly shallow water into a deeper chasm. Eyes burning in shock to discern his beloved Mary, Pappy swished around violently to no apparent avail. In reply to his protest, a bright light struck his whites. Unable to brush his eyes while bobbing in the water, Pappy was relieved to see Mary afar off, standing on some solid surface. She was beckoning to him. He could do nothing but writhe like a drowning man in reply.
She beckoned again—the water was no more. Pappy was now standing next to Mary, dry and clothed.
“Where—” Pappy began.
“We are neither here nor there,” Mary replied, pointing to a random bench sitting in front of them that had another Pappy sitting on it staring blankly past them. “We are in between. You, Paul Green, have died.”
Pappy was dumbstruck. This was his Mary. His wife of forty years was back. That night of rushing into the ER a year ago came flooding back—her raspy breathing, her moans of agony, her still, pallid face—and it was at that moment that he knew that no heart attack could hold his Mary down.
“You came back for me,” Pappy said at last.
“Of course I did,” she said smiling. “It was time.”
“That and you missed me,” Pappy teased.
In the nothingness, a familiar dirt path appeared as the old Pappy on the bench vanished from sight. The couple walked down the road together, hand in hand, and came to their cherished clearing.
“Is this it?” Pappy asked. “Is this all there is?”
“Our place?” Mary responded. “Nah, we can go anywhere we want, love—we have eternity.”