The Prodigal Father

Inspired by Shakespeare’s “Henry IV Part One. Have you ever wondered what happened after the Prodigal Son’s return to his father?

Twenty years or so after the Prodigal Son’s return, his father occupied a table outside a cafe on a small street near a city park. The old man lifted his half-filled wine glass, saluted the spring morning, touched the liquid to his lips, sipped the nectar, then smiled at his mouth’s delight as he waited for the younger of his two sons.

His thoughts elsewhere, he occasionally raked his fingers through his white beard, unknotting the long, fine strands. He lifted a pipe to his mouth and inhaled a slow puff of tobacco.

He remembered asking his son in that long ago time of the boy’s return, “Tell me. What was it like?”

“It was glorious. Until the money ran out. Stuck my thumb out and headed West, cause West was where the night life was. And I had one rip roaring time. There was down on my luck days and full house nights. Did the Vegas thing and lost everything, including the seat of my pants. Robbed a train or two. Me and my outlaw buddies. Spent some time out Siberia way. Cold so bad it froze the bones. Fell in love seven, eight, nine times. Prayed at the Ganges.”

Listening to the boy spill his stories out like he was tossing dice, he couldn’t help but wonder what it was like to just take off toward the horizon without a care in the world.

“So. What made you come back? The farm sounds like it’d be Boredom City compared to the life you were living?”

“Don’t know. Guess I got tired of mining for gold and coming up pyrite. When I tired of a life on the run, I got into my head to settle down. Thing is I didn’t have much job experience. Even for a swineherd job, I needed a resume. So I lied and made everything up. Then I got to feeling guilty. Lying just wasn’t in my blood. You’d taught me well where that was concerned.”

As his son talked, the father realized he’d missed so much. He’d taken over his father’s farm because his father couldn’t do the work anymore. If the farm had depended on happiness to prosper, it never would have prospered. But it had prospered as he sowed the seeds of his misery. That’s when he realized he had taken a hankering for the wondering life. It’s like they say. You don’t know you’re lonely till you glance at a happy couple.

That night he called his two sons into his library. Right there and then, he did a Lear. Handed his older son the deed to the farm with a check for enough money to manage. He gave his second son, the prodigal boy, another check. That left him with just enough cash to head for parts unknown.

He’d been places. He’d gone East when he could have travelled West. He’d wanted to find the place where the sky drew back a curtain and gave the opening act of the sun, a new day to play with. He’d never found that spot, though he tried. It was just as lost as the end of the rainbow.

Scanning the park nearby, he recognized his son, walking briskly toward him. The once-upon-a-time young man had put on some pounds but otherwise he’d prospered in the intervening years since the two had last seen each other.

The old man called the waiter over and ordered a second bottle of wine.

The younger man saw his father and hurried toward him. The two men embraced, then sat down. At the table, they took a long look at each other, and tears rolled down their faces.

“Where’s your brother?”

“He wouldn’t come.”

“Figures.”

“How are you, Pops?”

“Still ornery enough to kick your butt.”

“I bet you can.”

The old man poured out two glasses of wine. Then they sat silently gazing into the park. They had never been a talkative bunch, he and his sons. His long dead wife had done most of the talking, often carrying on both sides of the conversation.

The sun slipped out of the sky and slowly the evening settled into shadows. In the silence, the father reached across the table and squeezed his son’s hand.

“I love you, Son.”

“I love you too, Pops.”

It was close to midnight when the two stood up and embraced.

“You sure you won’t come home with me? For just one night. Liza would love that.”

“No, Son. It wouldn’t be right. Your brother would think I was playing favorites again.”

The Son nodded. He knew what his father meant.

“‘Sides I got to get on. There’s a whole wide world out there to explore.”

The two embraced one last time, kissing each other’s cheeks. Then it was goodbye.

The son walked away, glancing back at his father several times, each time a longing in his eyes, a longing for another time and place when the two had shared a meal with his brother, when the three had laughed heartily at bad jokes and good wine and a mother’s love as his mother served up a feast of a meal. That time was gone, only a memory that would fade into the dust of time.

The old man sighed, then finished the wine. He decided it was time to go West finally to the sun’s setting and catch a wave off to Avalon. He stood up, dropped his pipe into his pocket and strolled off to the park. He’d hitch a ride the next morning.

In the dark and under a tree nearby, his older son watched his father. He started to call out, but something stopped him. He just couldn’t do it. So he turned and headed back to the farm. He had cows to milk early the next morning.

Living Room Story: What the camera didn’t see

This one came after I went through an book of old photographs.

That summer at the farm was a perfect summer for the Davises. The camera stood waiting for one last photograph before the family headed back to the city for their winter life.

The camera saw the mother. Hope stepped through the front screen door and onto the porch. She took her place in the large wicker chair. She smiled at the camera’s eye, radiating the look of someone who had found the secret of happiness.

The camera saw Marty step behind her, a tall, lanky kid soon to be in his senior year in high school. He placed his long, thin hands onto his mother’s shoulders. She reached up and squeezed one of them.

The camera saw Marty’ sister, Grace, slide up beside her brother, wearing her engagement ring, thinking of the wedding to come. Standing there in her soft summer dress, she gave the camera a wink.

The camera saw Richard, the oldest son, join the others behind their mother. In his lieutenant’s uniform, he had that all-American look of promise that said he could accomplish anything he set his mind to.

George, the father, walked out onto the porch and sat down on the porch steps beside his wife. He looked around at his family and the camera saw the pride on his face. He was on his way to becoming the Ted Turner of laundromats, having inherited one from his father and turning it into five.

But the camera didn’t see Hope’s breast cancer and her death two years later. The camera didn’t see the knife plunged into Marty’s gut as he tried to stop a convenience store robbery. The camera didn’t see Grace’s three divorces and then her suicide from an overdose of sleeping pills. The camera didn’t see the bullet chasing Richard in the jungles of Vietnam.

The camera didn’t see an older George in a run-down motel, sitting on the side of the bed. He was left with only with an empty wallet, a half bottle of scotch and a cough that won’t go away. His accountant had embezzled him into bankruptcy.

And the camera didn’t see that time in the future when the family gathers for another perfect summer.

Near 500 words:Elgar

The farm was dying. Elgar knew it. His wife, Beatrice, knew it. His son, Jock, knew it. The question was what to do with it. After all, it had been his great grandfather’s, his grandfather’s, his father’s. For three generations before him, the farm had prospered. Fed the family. Kept them happy. Now he had failed. But not one of his forebears had had to deal with the droughts of the last several years.

Elgar’s feet were rooted in the soil like a tree. Elgar wrestled with the what-to-dos like Jacob wrestling with the angel long ago. To pull up and seek a new life, Beatrice and Jock knew would kill Elgar.

The farm was dying. God had abandoned this land Elgar loved so much. As the other farmers sold out and moved away, Elgar became lonelier and lonelier. When you’re the last of your kind, it’s hard to avoid the isolation, the alienation.

The tall, thin farmer walked his land one last time. As he did, he came upon his father’s old tractor seat, that “seat of power” where Dad ruled his domain. If his father had taught him anything, it was not to dominate the land. But to be its steward. It was still not too late to return to his father’s ethic.

He reached down and took the seat from the tractor, raised it above his head and began to dance. It wasn’t a rain dance. It wasn’t a folk dance. It was the dance of a man who loved his land.

Near 500 words: Ancestors

The woman in the door of the wooden hut stood before Rufus. Her dark hair and her brown eyes were full of life though her life was hard.

Her focus reminded Rufus of the last time he saw his father. It was late at night and the old man sat at his desk, studying a photograph of his father who had been gone some thirty years. There was a light in the old man’s eyes. It wasn’t the light from the table lamp. It was another kind of light. It was the light of memory.

Or was it more? Was it the light of someone who has experienced some piece of the divine in his life? Rufus’ father never spoke of his father.

“Can I have some water?” Rufus asked the woman in the doorway.

The woman smiled. Instead of water, she invited him inside her one-room house. A house that was spotlessly clean. In the corner was an altar to some god or other. He didn’t ask since he knew it would be as rude as asking his father about his grandfather. She brought him a cup of tea and offered him a seat on one of the three wooden chairs.

Rufus took out his camera and pointed to it. “Can I take your photograph?”

The woman blushed, then shook her head yes.

Rufus pointed and snapped several pictures. Then he finished his tea. He thanked her for her hospitality.

It was a brief encounter but not as brief as the night he saw his father studying the photograph of his father.

As he walked up the path away from the woman’s house, he missed his father and his grandfather. Perhaps in another life. Perhaps.

Near 500 words: Disagreements

Cameron, 21, stood before the painting and studied it. Finally, he said to Louise, “Raphael or no Raphael, that’s just too baroque for me.”

“You’re such a stick in the mud. You always have been, and you always will be. You probably wouldn’t like Vermeer.” Louise, 23, wore her light blue suit, and nothing could spoil her mood. Especially her brother.

“I love Vermeer. Wonderful light. And that girl with the pearl earring. I would have dated her.”

“Question is would she have dated you.”

“Course she would have. I’m not a bad looking fellow, and I do have my good points.”

“Name one.”

“I can name two. I like Vermeer and I’m your brother.”

“Aren’t you the smarty pants,” Louise said. “Just what is wrong with the Raphael?”

“It says it’s The Triumph of Galatea. Who the heck is Galatea anyway?”

“From some Greek story, I guess.”

“Another thing I don’t like. The women are supposed to be naked. It’s like Raphael has put skin suits on them. Nothing really showing. And all you get of the little guys with their wings is their butts. Geez, I don’t want to see a bunch of guys’ butts. If I did, I could look at mine in the mirror. Oh, I correct myself. There is one guy in the corner. You get to see his stuff.”

“It’s all supposed to be symbolic.”

“Symbolic?” Cameron snickered. “I think I’ve enough of this art for one day. Let’s go see a movie like you promised.”

“All right, but I get to pick the movie.”

“Oh, no. You picked the art. I’m picking the movie.”

They turned and headed for the entrance of the museum. They passed the guard and walked down the stairs to the street below.

“If you pick the movie,” Louise said, “you pay. I paid for the museum.”

“Want to get a dog and a coke?” he said, pointing to a hot dog stand over in the park.

As they hurried across the street, she said, “We’re not going to another one of those shoot ‘em ups you love. I absolutely forbid it.”

“Let’s go see ‘Heat’.”

They arrived at the hot dog stand.

“No. That’s another shoot ‘em up. Absolutely not.”

They took their food from the man and found a park bench. Cameron plopped down on the bench. Louise checked it for anything that would dirty her skirt. Finally, she sat down beside her brother. They both bit into their wieners.

“This is good,” Louise said to Cameron.

“This is good,” Cameron said to Louise.

The two looked out at the park and both smiled.

“This is the life,” Cameron said to his sister.

“This is the life,” Louise agreed. “Mom would be proud.”

“Yes, she would. We do agree on something.”

“But we’re not going to that movie.”

“It’s got De Niro and Pacino and there’s romance in it. I’m sure.”

“Over my dead body,” Louise said.

“That can be arranged. Maybe I’ll get Pacino to do the job.”

Louise laughed. “I’d rather it be De Niro.”