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.

Near 500 words: Personalized Poems

Some will do anything for love. Jay was thinking. What could he do to get Dab’s attention? He had been in love with her since he saw her six months before, coming out of Apartment 12B. He would say, “Hello.” She was always courteous. She said hello back to him, and that was it.

Once he went across the street and stood on his head as she walked out of the building. It started to rain and he was left wet. She laughed, plopped open her umbrella, then went on her way.

Then it hit him. He was pretty darn good at writing poems. At least, that was what his literature teacher said.

He put on his khaki shorts, sneakers and blue t-shirt. He made a large sign out of the cardboard box he had in the corner. On it, he wrote “Personalized Poems” in black marker. He took some cord and tied it to each end of the sign, threw it over his head, adjusted it against his chest, put on his straw hat, grabbed his clip board, placed some nice stationery on it and stepped out into the hallway of his apartment.

Mrs. Claymor saw him. Looked at the sign. “Write me a poem,” she demanded.

“Five bucks,” he said.

“What if I don’t like it?”

“Then you don’t like it.”

“Do it get my money back?”

“Of course,” he said, wanting to get on with things and find Dab.

“Does it rhyme?”

“It might just rhyme. Then again you might not be the kind of person who gets a rhyme. Some of the best poems never rhyme.”

“How long will the poem be?”

He wasn’t sure but five lines came to him. Mrs. Claymor liked that, smiled and handed Jay her five bucks. By the time Jay left the apartment building he had made fifty bucks.

Out on the street, several people stopped him and wanted poems. A woman with her daughter wanted one for the child.

Each poem took about five minutes of writing in his beautiful script. One was about how the woman made the sun smile. Another was the story of coming out of a dark tunnel and the woman provided the light. He wrote a poem for a man who had lost his job. And one for a woman who had just been hired. But still no Dab.

As he was about to head back into his apartment building, Dab approached him. Goosebumps appeared on the back of his neck.

She smiled and said, “Write me a poem.”

Jay had saved his best work for this one moment. He quickly wrote her poem and handed it over to her. She gave him the five bucks.

“No, no,” he lied. “This is my hundredth poem. It’s a free one.” He placed the money back into her hand.

She read the poem and said, “What dribble.” Then she dropped the paper on the sidewalk. She walked away.

At that moment, Jay’s world came crashing down. He stood in the middle of the sidewalk with tears in his eyes, thinking what a fool he was. Why did he think this would impress Dab? He felt like a man suddenly caught with no clothes on. He looked up at the side of the apartment building and saw his apartment window on the twelfth floor. He would be dead by the time he hit the ground.

“Hello,” a voice came from behind him. It was soft and light just like one of his poems.

He turned and a woman was holding his Dab poem in her hand.

“How did you know?” she said.

“Know?”

“Yes, this is—” she stumbled over the words. “This is my poem.”

“It is?”

“And it just made my day.”

“It did?”

She looked at the poem again, then back up at Jay. “I’m Carol. Can I buy you dinner?”

Near 500 words: Grief

Helena loved her accordion. It had been a life saver when her husband died after months of suffering with cancer. During his illness, she picked it up and played for him often. Sometimes when he had the strength, he danced to her music. That accordion was the only constant thing in her life and she kept it close at all times. Even taking it to work and sitting it by her desk.

Helena loved going through art books. One day she came upon a portrait of George Washington and his family. There was Martha and her granddaugher and her grandson with a slave off in the corner to do their bidding. She studied the faces, then the background, then how they were positioned.

It was interesting that they had a map unrolled on the table. The granddaughter held the map in place on the table while Martha pointed to some point on the map with a ruler. The grandson stood just behind the President, looking over his shoulder with one hand on a globe. As Martha and the girl discussed places on the map, George looked off into the distance. His face had one of those “what might have been” looks.

Helena began to hum a tune. She picked up her accordion and made the instrument sound like her hum. Over the next few days, the hum did not disappear from her head. It seemed more and more insistent that she finish the piece she had started.

It was her first composition and it took two years. Day after day she worked on it. Never having composed before, she had to learn how to build a tune into a piece of music. Every night she came home from work, ate a quick supper, then sat down with the print of the painting, a large notebook and her accordion.

The composition was called “Longing”. It was just music and no words and it was sixty minutes long. It paralleled her husband’s life with George Washington. With its music, she told the story of how Washington had wanted to go to sea when he was a boy and how her husband had wanted to be an artist. Both chose different lives than their childhood dreams. Lives that they found satisfying but still the two men were left with those longings.

One Saturday night, she called together her closest friends. After some wine and cheese, they sat back to listen to her music. She said, “This is for Ben.” Then she began to play. For the next hour, not one of them moved. The music froze them to their seats. At the end, they each had tears in their eyes. They too had remembered their childhood dreams and experienced once again that longing for what might have been.