Short Stories

Prior Departure

His best friend hanged for murder, love of his life suicided, daughter is drug addict, he has no clue why he ended up on his own.

He couldn’t remember how long he had been lying on the recliner in front of the television. One day or a few days? He felt like weeks or months had past him by. It couldn’t be. Without food and water, he wouldn’t have survived that long.

He didn’t know what the date was. In and out of consciousness, his mind was confused. He did remember trying to reach the mobile phone on the coffee table and suddenly experiencing a feeling of tightness beneath his breastbone. It had been a cool Melbourne autumn morning but he had been sweating like he had been jogging in the hot summer sun.

That was Friday morning. He had wanted to watch the ‘Business Today’ programme on television at 9.30am. He liked to know the latest reports and expert analysis of market trends. He may have been 80 but his interest in business and finance news around the world was still keen.

He thought maybe he had had what they call a stroke. If Rachel had still been here, she would have done something for him. Called an ambulance, taken him to the doctor, put a blanket over him. Anything was better than lying paralysed in the cold with no one around.

It had been 15 years since he had last seen Rachel. She had taken Wendy and May back to her hometown Alabama to visit her ill mother. At least that was what she had told him. She had never called or written even though it had been their first separation since they were married.

He had tried to call her many times but Rachel had refused to answer the phone. He had written many letters but she had not responded. He had gone to the States, only to find that Rachel hadn’t been staying with her family in Alabama. Her family wouldn’t tell him where Rachel and the girls were.

He had gone to see his friend Kenny, who had been the one who had introduced Rachel to him in the first place. Kenny had had no idea that Rachel had gone back to the States. Poor Kenny had been suffering from the late stages of lung cancer. Soon after, he had lost Kenny.

Two years later Rachel had filed for divorce. He had never got the chance to ask her the reason. He had thought they were happily married. Maybe not ‘very’ happily but what did she expect? Their married life had been dull but so was every other married life. Over rated romance only happened in the movies, any mature aged person knew that. The fireworks that set the heart pumping were the privilege of those foolish youngsters. He could not find a reason for Rachel to leave him.

She had been well kept, had lived in a big house, had a well maintained car to drive, hadn’t had to worry about how to pay the bills. Both girls had attended a private school, had piano, swimming and tennis lessons. She had really enjoyed being involved in the school parents social group. How many mothers with young kids have that kind of luxury?

It was beyond his understanding. The more he knew a woman, the more he couldn’t understand her. What did women want? Really? He had tried so hard to provide his family with a good life. The returns from them were lousy. Maybe he had been too nice to them. They had treated his kindness as a weakness. Those who never married were the smart ones.

After their divorce, he had tried to visit the girls twice a year. Each time he had held a hope that he would have a chance to see Rachel. Each time he had come back with the same disappointment.

On Wendy’s 23rd birthday, he had visited Lily in hospital in New York and tried to organise a detoxification programme for her drug addiction. He had taken both Wendy and May out for dinner. The surprise visit hadn’t given Rachel a chance to prepare the girls. Without their mother’s instructions, they had talked like any other daughters would to their fathers.

“How’s your mother?”

“She’s fine” Wendy had answered. In the past, the girls had always answered “fine” and stopped. Never telling him anything, he figured that Rachel had told them not to tell him anything about her.

“She is into healthy stuff. She has more than 20 different kinds of herbal teas in her kitchen, each one has a different healing power” May added. He had been taken aback. What had Rachel become?

“That’s good, isn’t it? Most women her age have lots of health problems. She is fine, nothing’s wrong with her.” Wendy had been very proud of her mother.

“How about you Dad?” May had asked.

“Nice of you to ask. I am ok, other than high blood pressure and diabetes. Normal problems for people my age.”

“Do you take medication?”

“Yes I do. Thank you for your concern.”

That dinner had made him feel closer to the girls. It had been the bonus he got from that trip that had begun with a horrible reason.

*        *        *

Lily was his first-born. He loved her but couldn’t stand her. To her, he was only good for providing money. He couldn’t say no to her. She had lost her mother at the tender age of 3. He couldn’t get her mother back so at least he would try to fulfil her other needs.

After Joan committed suicide, he had stayed single for 11 years. He had wanted to protect Lily because he had failed to protect Joan. He hadn’t wanted another woman come into his home and mistreat his little girl. There were times his mistress became pushy, wanting to move in or asking for a ring. The easy way out for him was to find a new mistress.

He found that a new relationship could keep his interest for a while. The more times he saw a woman, the more she lost her appeal.

He had given Lily everything. Not just because he could, but because he had wanted to.

Joan had been a beautiful woman. A woman that he had waited a long time to meet. Once he had met her, he had made her his Mrs within 3 months.

She hadn’t talked much. That was why he had found her so lovely. He didn’t like chatterboxes much.

Joan hadn’t smiled much. She had a kind of melancholy in her.

She had been a gentle, placid, dreamy type of person. He would never have imagined a lady like her would end her own life. The shock had been too great for him. He hadn’t been able to accept that Joan had been unhappy with him.

How could she not have been happy? He had treated her like a queen. She had had things that other women could only dream of. No matter how late, he had always come home and slept in the same bed with her. 

He had loved Joan. Loved her soft skin, loved the way she laughed, loved her shyness, loved the way she walked; loved everything about her.

Why had she wanted to die? Why had he had such a short time with her?

Sometimes when he looked at Lily, he could see a part of Joan. Most of the time though, Lily was like a small female version of him.

She had been 5’10” with broad shoulders ever since she had been 14 years old. Poor little Rachel, barely over 5 feet, had been bullied by her rude and tough step-daughter.

*        *        *

He did not particularly like short women. It just happened that both women he had married were short. He had had lots of affairs during his lifetime. Some women were as tall as 6 feet, 6 inches shorter than him. They had looked good standing together in photos. Unless it was in the photo studio, looking good together didn’t mean much to him at all.

Rachel and Kenny had been workmates. When Rachel travelled to Australia for a holiday, Kenny had asked her to pass a few stone samples to him, that’s how they had met.

He had liked her straight away. She had reminded him of Joan, although Joan had been 5 inches taller, had a very different hair colour and a totally opposite personality. Rachel had been bright as a button. Maybe it had just been right timing, nothing to do with Joan.

So he had married Rachel. He had had to if he wanted to be with her. The States were too far to reach and he had already been celibate for 6 months.

Lily hadn’t liked having a woman come between her father and her. She had given Rachel a hard time whenever she had got the chance.

As a law of nature, the strong ones controlled the weak ones, the large ones killed the small ones. Lily had known that, physically, Rachel was not able to handle her. A simple push could have injured Rachel in a bad way.

Emotionally, she had had control over her father. The way her mother had died had given her the right to manipulate her father the way she wanted.

Outsiders may have been scared of her father. His physical appearance was enough to damage others’ confidence. His connections with underground gangsters made him a king without a crown. No one dared to upset him. Who would be stupid enough to pull a tiger’s whiskers?

*        *        *

He was a father who loved his daughter blindly. She could do whatever she liked. He was always there to support her, no matter what. Lily had known it well.

Sending Lily to study in the States had been his idea. He had had enough crises caused by her. He didn’t want her bad influence affecting Wendy and May.

Lily had settled in New York without any problems. He had taken her there personally, arranged everything that needed to be arranged. A healthy bank account, a comfortable apartment, a brand new car. All she had had to do was attend classes and study.

He had gone to Joan’s grave after he had gone back in Melbourne and reported how he looked after their precious daughter. He had wanted Joan to feel better because her daughter was well looked after, no matter where she was. He believed that Joan should have gone to heaven but heaven may not accept those who end their own lives. He hoped Joan was in heaven because that was where he intended to be when he left this world. He would love to be with her again.

Lily didn’t finish her studies. Somehow she got mixed up with the wrong crowd. Constantly she required large sums of money, raising his awareness. By the time he visited Lily in New York, she had already become a drug addict. He had done what a good father would do in that situation. Money had not been what he was worried about. Her future had been his main concern. What would she do to survive after he joined Joan? How would she be able to pay her living costs? She was not cut out to live on her wits like him.

When Lily had brought Eber home with her, Rachel had refused to look after him. She couldn’t forget the fact that Lily had beaten her so that she required hospital care. She hadn’t wanted anything to do with Lily. That was Lily’s own fault, no one else was to blame.

Eber was half Mexican, a beautiful boy. Later, he had gone to stay with his Mexican grandparents. Pity, he would have loved to have Eber around. He had always wanted a boy. That grandchild had arrived at the wrong time.

If he had kept him as Lily had hoped, he wouldn’t still be lying on the recliner, wishing someone would drop in. Who would have guessed that a man like him would end up on his own? He had had 2 wives, 3 daughters, 22 long term mistresses and countless girlfriends. In another few days, he would turn 80. He would be surprised if any of them came to celebrate with him.

If he could have the chance to do it all over again, he wouldn’t have any children. They were a money pit, always taking, never giving anything in return. If he hadn’t wasted money on his children and wives, he could have had a housekeeper. She would have found him early enough to save him.

*        *        *

If Mike had still been alive, he might have dropped in every now and then, like the old times. Mike had been like a brother to him. They had hung out together, fought for each other, helped each other clean their wounds. He never met another guy with whom he could have the same connection.

They had become good mates when they were 13. Their kung fu teacher had thought they were two brothers. Those had been the good days.

Mike had got caught when he was 31 for the murder he committed 2 years prior. He had killed the woman who had broken up with him. It had been a heated situation, accidents happen. No one’s fault really but poor Mike got the death penalty.

The prosecutor called Mike a monster. They listed the bad things that he had done. How could the judge allow them to do that? Robbery, stealing, graffiti and damaging public facilities were part of young men’s activities while they were growing up. They were not the same as murder, those were different things.

The media had put him on trial before the court had. They believed Mike had been planning to kill her because he was a macho man who could not accept the fact that she had dumped him.

They had got it all wrong. He had known Mike and he was not a murderer. 

The last time he saw Mike had been a heart breaking experience. The guards had been nearby so he hadn’t been able to give him a hug. Knowing his time was limited, he hadn’t been able to talk but had held his fists tightly to avoid showing Mike his anger and frustration.

Mike hadn’t wanted anything done. He had told him that he was the only person on Earth that really cared for him. “Ditto” he had answered.

After parting from Mike, before he had walked out of the prison, he had lost control of his tears. He had had to stop for a while because his tears blocked his vision. The guards had been sympathetic. No one bothered him. They had let him grieve prematurely.

He had seen the blood on both of his hands after he had walked out of the prison, caused by his fingernails cutting into his palms.

Mike had been hanged the next day.

A few years later, capital punishment had been formally abolished in Australia. The cruel, inhuman and degrading law was gone forever but it had been too late for Mike and him. Mike had lost his life, he had lost his best friend.

Unlike the Mike situation, losing Lily had been his choice.

Drugs had destroyed Lily. She could not hold herself together for long, she had dragged his finances right down. He had been a good provider for his loved ones but he had never been a rich man. Life had got harder once he reached the age of 60. He had had to either cut Lily loose or go down with her.

Wendy and May were good kids. They both had a useful degree, working as respectable citizens should. Rachel had done a good job bringing them up. He couldn’t have expected they would love him the way they loved Rachel. The distance between him and the girls had been laid when Rachel left him.

*        *        *

“Looks like he has been dead for many days.” A strange voice said “The autopsy will determine the exact date.”

“Tomorrow is my Dad’s eightieth birthday. We wanted to surprise him.”

He heard May’s voice.

“We should have told him when we decided to come, he might have waited to see us. Now he’s gone without knowing that we came to see him.”

That was Wendy.

He stood up and rose up high. He saw his body lying on the recliner, Wendy and May kneeling in front of his body and praying.

Two uniformed police were in the room with them. One was writing down notes for their report, the other was on the radio, trying to organise whatever he needed to organise.

Wendy and May had willingly spent their own money to come to Melbourne to visit him. What a wonderful gift for his birthday! No one had ever spent money on him. He had been the one who supplied money to everyone. He had bought a house for his mother to live in when he was 25, he had paid for the cruise on his sister’s honeymoon and he had paid the whole cost of burying his father.

The birds stopped singing in his ears. He quite enjoyed the tranquil feeling. No more discomfort, no more aches and pains, he didn’t feel the cold anymore. He felt peaceful, the way he had never felt before.

Before his daughters finished praying, they both said ‘Happy birthday Dad.’

With his 2 daughters present, he couldn’t have asked for a better departure. He was more than satisfied and willingly departed.

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