By Richard Wallace
Come, let me show you a picture of my father, she said to her new friend as she took his arm and led him into the hallway. Her voice was soft and sad as she told him she hadn’t seen him in almost two years. He’s the head of a chemical plant, a demanding job, so much so that he’s lost contact with her and almost all of his friends. She said that he’s a self made man who made his way to the top by using his brain and being fast on his feet. The down side was that as he became more and more successful the more and more friends he lost, discarded was more like it. He doesn’t have any time for friends and there aren’t any women in his life, only work. Time for work is all that matters.
The picture that her friend saw was that of a man, fifty years old or thereabouts, a distinguished looking man but distant. Sitting above a shirt and tie was a face void of all expression and a head of neatly combed hair. He was not smiling and did not appear to be the kind of a person that one would want to engage in conversation. He was all business. I suppose that is what one would expect.
I miss my dad. I miss him a lot. He is all that I have. He was, I guess still is, my family. My mother passed away several years ago. She was not the mother that a young girl would want so you won’t be seeing any pictures of her. She is gone. She is gone from me and I’m not sorry. I guess that’s the way life works out.
Beside the picture of her father was the picture of a young man, a good looking young man, smiling and full of life and fun. She explained that he was her brother and best friend. He had been killed in a car accident several years ago and she missed him so much. He had always been there for her, for the most important moments in her life. Julia said he was so kind and generous and that he had to be the most thoughtful person in the world. She missed him every day. How could he have been taken from her; who could have dreamed of such a thing.
Julia had set out the pictures of her father and brother with care and they were arranged just so, just so that one would complement the other. There was an amber light in the hallway casting a soft glow on the walls making the hallway a special place. Jimmy was new in her life and impressed with her artistic talent but didn’t say anything. This was Julia’s moment.
Julia John was alone. She took her friend’s hand, stared at her brother’s picture and cried. She was so vulnerable. She was so young and afraid.
Jimmy, her new friend put his arm around her shoulder to comfort her and although Julia leaned into him he could feel a stiffness in her body. He didn’t think anything of it, after all, he was a new friend and they were alone in her hallway.
As weeks turned into months Jimmy was no longer a new friend and he was confused. He and Julia had seen a lot of each other during the past few months. There were movies to watch, walks in the park, hamburgers and hot dogs, fun. They did lots of fun things but one thing was missing. What was missing was a closeness that should have developed by now. They were no longer new friends and he mentioned this to one of his co-workers, a close friend that he had known forever.
When Jimmy told his friend about the new woman in his life his friend said he knew a Julia John and her family. He said they grew up on the same street and he lived just a couple of houses away. He and Julia had been good friends all through high school and even though they never dated they would find themselves at the same parties, talk and hang out together. He went on to tell Jimmy about her going to college, where she worked and even the area where she had her apartment. There was no doubt that this Julia John was the same Julia he had been dating and he thought it a unique coincidence. Nothing more was said about Julia and they got on with their day.
As it turned out Jimmy had to go out of town for three or four days and he thought that this would give them a good break from one another. A tension had developed between them and their relationship had been going down hill for some time. He hoped that this would provide an opportunity for renewal.
When he got home there was a message on his answering machine. It was Julia asking where he was and to give her a call. She sounded a little irritated and he didn’t know why. He called her and asked her what was up. In an agitated voice she told him that she had expected him to come directly to her place when he got back in town as they had planned to have dinner together that night. She said that by now the dinner was overdone but to come over anyway.
Jimmy explained that he was at a loss to know what she was talking about because they had never made any such plans. This was met with a harsh rebuttal and Julia appeared to be seething in anger. He figured the best thing he could do was to go over to Julia’s and try to straighten things out. He was also convinced that no such plans had been made. He knew that no such plans had been made and nothing about this made any sense. Jimmy went over to Julia’s and spent a very uncomfortable several hours listening to how Julia was so disappointed in him for letting her down and what their relationship was coming to.
Several days later Jimmy bumped into his co-worker friend who asked how things were going in his love life. It was a light hearted question and didn’t require a detailed reply. As far as the co-worker was concerned everything was fine.
Jimmy thought that this would be a good chance to get some input into how things were unfolding between him and Julia and he explained that at this moment things were not going well. He related the homecoming dinner that Julia said they had planned but that he had no recollection of and he knew that no such plans had been made. He said that while at dinner Julia became verbally abusive, very abusive and he wondered how he ever got himself into such a mess. He said there was one instance when he actually thought she was going to hit him. She was that angry.
Jimmy said that he felt sorry for her and that he was so conflicted. He said that it must be tough being left behind by her father, a person that she rarely saw and completely wrapped up in his job as head of a chemical plant. It was sad to be so estranged from her mother before her mother passed away, for them to have never settled their differences. The loss of her brother must have been a dreadful blow and something a young girl could never get over. She said her brother was her best friend, he was everything.
Mr. Co-worker looked at Jimmy. It was a look of disbelief. He looked with blank eyes and a blank face and wondered what to say. Mr. Co-worker told Jimmy that none of what Julia had told him was true, none of it. He told Jimmy that her parents were still living in the same house on the same street that they had lived on the last twenty years or more. He said he saw Julia there just a few days ago and they waved to each other.
He went on to say that her father was not the head of a chemical plant and that Julia was not estranged from her mother. As for a brother, Julia never had a brother. Julia was adopted and an only child; no brother. Mr. Co-worker said that Julia’s parents are lovely people. Her dad drives a transit bus and her mother is a school teacher. They both have good jobs and are still working.
He said it was known in the neighbourhood that Julia had come from a dreadful environment and even though she had been adopted when she was about two years old it was well known that she never really escaped. She had been a troubled child from the start and a constant trouble maker. He said that she was tolerated well enough but when she became an adolescent and grew into a young woman her problems went from bad to worse. He said she well understood the dynamic between men and women and would start the most vile rumours. He was silenced by Jimmy holding up his hand. He didn’t want to hear anymore.
Jimmy sat in silence. There was nothing he could say and he could not believe what he had just been told. He was trying to assimilate the good times they had with those that were more than a little unsettling. There were the hot dog and hamburger times that were so happy and carefree with nothing to be won or lost, just fun. There were other times when Julia would put him on the defensive by accusing him of not following through with a plan when he knew full well that no plan had ever been made. The ill fated dinner plan following his trip out of town stood out by itself. On that occasion he was actually afraid of Julia and was left wondering what he should do; to try to help her or run.
Jimmy looked at his co-worker and just shook his head. There would be time for anger and remorse. All of that would take place in time.
More short stories to follow from Richard Wallace