Rory and Lawrence by David Lanvert

Busy and fastidious Rory doesn’t have time for his father, a retired academic, but must convince him that he’s too old to safely drive; by David Lanvert.

"Dad, it's time to give up driving," Rory says. Seated in his dad's den one morning, for the first time in over a year, he fidgets and reads from prepared notes held in his lap. The briefcase at his feet contains notes on how to get an aging parent off the road. Sitting at the edge of a chair wearing a dark, Italian, bespoke suit and tie, the jacket still on - he always wears a jacket for negotiating - he fingers his collar, checks the knot of the French tie cinched tight against his neck. "Dad, it's gotten too dangerous. A month ago, you had an accident, and you were lucky no one was hurt. Your insurance is going to go sky-high. It's time." Rory pauses, uses one of his trademark gestures with the raised eyebrow and knowing expression. His colleagues often imitate the gesture, the mimicry not suggestive of flattery.

Rory's Dad, Lawrence, sits bemused on the couch opposite his only child, the coffee table dividing them. Widowed for years, he glances at the photos on the end table depicting earlier days. In all the family portraits, Rory's a serious child wearing the same downbeat expression he's wearing at this moment. Lawrence's starched khakis, the ironed seam down the front having gone white years ago, and his short-sleeve plaid shirt are incongruous against the room's elegant furnishings. He wears the uniform of a semi-retired academic, conveying a phase beyond middle age but before infirmity. Lawrence holds a bone china cup in his hand, the saucer balanced on his knee, and takes a sip. He is likely the only one in this middle-class neighborhood who knows that bone china originated in 1747 and contains bone dust and phosphorous, giving the material strength, allowing for a thinner rim and a translucent finish. He looks over at the Biedermeier sideboard, its golden hue friendly and welcoming against the tapestries and bookcases containing first editions. The books are all out of order from the inexpert handling of Lawrence's former students, who still roam through the antique books at will, a fact that always provokes jealousy in Rory.

Lawrence gazes over to the clock ticking on the wall, behind his son with blue eyes as bright as the sky on a summer's day. He passes his free hand through his trimmed white hair, as unruly as cornsilk, and covers a yawn. Rory clears his throat, says, "Dad, it's the right thing to do. Everyone has to face facts."

Lawrence places the cup and saucer on the table, leans back on the couch, and crosses his legs. His pants ride up, revealing black dress socks on thin ankles in dramatic contrast to his chunky white Reeboks, which are almost new. He tilts his head and moves his eyes from Rory over to the items lying on the counter in the kitchen behind them.

Rory takes the hint, rises, and walks to the kitchen at the exact moment an errant fly buzzes around his head, the only other sound in the room except for the ticking clock. Waving his hands to thwart the fly, he advances towards the counter.

"What's this?" says Rory.

"My car key and our schedule for this week," says Lawrence.

"Our schedule?"

"Well, read it first."

A single worn car key lies on the counter next to pages covered in Lawrence's distinctive handwriting, block letters belying the elegance of his fountain pen. The words delineate a schedule with precise dates, times, and activities. The mundane is listed next to the lofty, the trips to the grocery store followed by a speaking engagement downtown, followed by a stint mentoring kids at the local library. Rory holds the paper with his fingertips at a middle distance, resulting in bent elbows, the cufflinks on each wrist winking in the sunlight from the kitchen window. His brow furrows, his lips appear to move but are just pursed in concentration. Rory's grey eyes dart left to right as if confronting a line-up of suspicious characters through a one-way mirror. He arrives at the bottom of the page and sighs.

"You do this stuff every week?"

"Well, it varies. Some of the appointments are once a month. Other things tend to come up at the last minute. You'll get the hang of it."

"Dad, I can't be driving you around for all this. I have a job, obligations, you know."

Lawrence speaks. The younger man stands, the paper held at his waist, looking on, lips parted, listening to the music of his father's oration. He hears an explanation of both the "what" and the "why" of his father's schedule. His ears tuned to the sound of unwanted obligations, he picks up snippets along the way, "There's a restaurant I think you'll like. We'll have lunch there on Tuesday." A bit later, "The museum has a guest lecture series. I'm supposed to speak on some topic - you can help me prepare."

Rory flashes back to a much earlier time. Walking through a school corridor, one of the places where his father taught. Gripping his hand, he would concentrate on keeping up, staring at his dad's dress shoes. The big brown wingtips took forever to polish, but his dad would give him a dollar for the effort versus 50 cents for his other dress shoes. His dad, narrating, would speak in a low, calm voice, intended just for him wherever they were going, whatever they were doing. Entering a classroom, he learned that chalkboards used to be called blackboards and originated in Scotland in the 1800s. He learned wingtip shoes were also called brogues, and all the decorative holes in the top of the shoe were originally functional to let water out.

Rory studies the document in his hands and sees it for what it is, a love letter from father to son. Things are listed for his benefit, "We'll go by the tailor and get you some new shirts." There are anecdotes about the barber, "Why you never get a haircut on a Monday," and shopping advice, "Always go to the deli for corned beef on a Tuesday."

"Uh, Dad. You want to do all these things with me?"

"Well, that's the point, isn't it?"

"No, the point was your safety and the fact you can't drive anymore."

"Well, I guess there's that. But an old man can dream, can't he? I know you don't have time for these things, I'm not delusional, but it's pleasant to imagine us spending more time together."

Rory's phone chortles from a pocket somewhere but goes unanswered. He retreats to the bathroom down the hall, head down, shoulders slumped, his father's schedule still in hand. Walking back a moment later, he pauses in the hall and glances at a framed photo on the wall amongst dozens of artifacts, newspaper clippings, framed letters from famous people. In a 3x5 picture frame, he sees the ten-year-old version of himself standing alone, holding a small trophy in his hands. Rory stares at the photo, imagining for a moment that somehow his head is superimposed on some other kid's body. He can't remember ever doing anything, ever, that would warrant a trophy, not to mention something worthy of a photo framed on a wall, even one leading from the kitchen to the garage. He glances at his watch to find that he's been there for half an hour. It feels like he's been there for most of the day.

Rory returns and sits down in the den with his knees splayed, resting his forearms on his thighs with his hands dangling. The cufflinks and starched cuffs have retreated into the sleeves of his coat. His eyes narrow while various facial tics tell of total and complete concentration around the implications of the single car key on the counter, inert, a tool at rest.

"Dad, you've sat there this entire time. Don't you have to go to the bathroom or something?"

Lawrence smiles, says, "Son, at my age, you always have to go to the bathroom." He adjusts his position, recrosses his legs. "Hang on to that list. At least you'll know what your old man is up to all week. It's not all sitting around answering questions on Jeopardy."

"I get it," says Rory. "I guess we'll have to set up some sort of a taxi, or Uber, some kind of arrangement. We'll have to talk about it later. I'm late for the office." Rory had given his father a specific time, an appointment, for their conversation. He was late now because he was late arriving, having taken a wrong turn on his way to his dad's house.

"Makes sense. Perhaps I could save a couple of those errands and appointments for a Saturday or a Sunday. Maybe you could join me for a few things on the weekend?"

"Yeah, I think I could." Rory stands and reaches for his briefcase but stops short. "Dad, there's this picture in the hallway. I think it's of me, but I don't remember anything about it."

"Huh, let's take a look. I'm the one who should have memory issues, not you." They gather in the hallway. "I remember that, Rory. I took the picture. That's the party after your last season of running track in junior high school. You won a trophy for 'most inspirational,' or some such thing. You were a little embarrassed because some of your teammates received the same award. It was at that one kid's house, the one with the dad that was a lawyer or something."

"Geez, Dad, I don't remember that at all. I guess I'll have to take your word for it."

"No need for that," said Lawrence, moving past Rory down the hall to the garage. "Come out here. I can't reach the top shelf. There's a box there for you."

Back in the kitchen a few moments later, Rory peels back the flaps on a dog-eared moving box and finds his childhood neatly packed inside. There's schoolwork, college yearbooks, Boy Scout badges, and other treasured junk scattered inside. A complete time capsule, representing a slice from somewhere between junior high school and college graduation. Rory, wide-eyed, slowly pulls out each artifact, sneezing from the dust.

"Dump it upside-down," his father says, "the good stuff is between the flaps at the bottom." They find the trophy, along with loose photos of track meets and Rory with long hair.

"I can't believe you saved all this."

"Of course, I did. Memory is a tricky thing. The way you remember something is usually not the way it happened. It's nice to have physical reminders to guide you." Lawrence reaches for a metallic glint stuck at the bottom of the box, an old Zippo lighter that he'd given to Rory. Lawrence picks it up, flips it open with a practiced hand. "I remember when I gave this to you. I was worried that you'd pick up smoking just to use it."

"No, Dad, it was just for the sound it makes. And, also, I carried it around because you gave it to me."

Deeper in the box, his eyes drawn toward it, is his senior project from college. The "A" penned in faded red ink on the cover representing a grade he didn't earn, the product of paying someone to produce the document. The image of the faint "A" punches him in his stomach, where he feels his breakfast harden. He's the son of a prominent academic who cheated his way through college.

Rory pulls the papers out, winces at the sight of his name on the cover and the unfamiliar words that follow. "What was it that you said about memory, Dad?"

Lawrence follows his son's gaze, takes the document from his hands, and glances through it. "How you remember something is not necessarily how things occurred. The memory of events changes every time you recall them. I was saying that's why we all need reminders." He hands the document back to Rory, walks back to the den, and takes a seat. "Don't you think you should rip that old Band-Aid off, son? I'm not getting any younger, you know."

Rory reclaims his seat, checks the time, thinks for a moment of his job, all the things left to do in the day. "You know about my cheating, dad?"

"Yup. I do."

"Why didn't you ever confront me about it?" Rory turns and gazes back into the kitchen, the dusty box on the counter sitting in the sunshine beaming through the kitchen window.

"Because I cheated too. By knowing about it and not confronting you or turning you in. The school would have kicked you out if they knew, no warnings. You're the son of an instructor who was teaching at the same school at the same time. If they had let you off, it would have looked like favoritism. So, I lived with your lie and added my own to the mix."

"I'm sorry, dad." Rory turns back to the room, tries to look at his dad but only manages to point his head in the right direction. His eyes lock on the floor, the Persian rug there, the colors swimming in his vision as the muscles in his neck tighten just enough to kindle a headache.

"That's okay. I owe you an apology, or maybe apologies, as well. Maybe things would have turned out better, or perhaps we'd have a better relationship after all these years, if we both had come clean. Now, we'll never know."

"Did mom know?"

"No, she didn't. Well, not really."

Rory rises, hears his back creak, grabs his briefcase and keys. "Well, I've got to get to work."

"Yeah, I'm sure you do. You're probably late for whatever important tasks you have planned for the day." Rory glances at his father, expecting sarcasm but seeing goodwill instead.



Rory's office is just okay. That's how he sees it. Not too large and not the smallest one on the floor; like Goldilocks and the three bears. He sits behind the desk, with the Zippo lighter in his hand, flipping it open and shut, over and over. One of the people in the outer office closed his door earlier out of annoyance. His college paper sits in front of him on the desk. A thick document with a staple in the upper left-hand corner, it's not unlike all the others scattered on this desk. Perhaps a bit less "fresh" than the others, the cover page smudged with evidence of rough handling, a coffee ring from having been used once as a coaster. It smells faintly of dust and the mold of basements and old buildings. He pulls open a drawer to the left and tosses the paper in, flirting briefly with the thought of throwing it in the wastebasket at his knee. Closing the drawer, he pulls his father's schedule over front and center and once again confronts it, palms down on either side of the document, pressing down as if to keep the desk itself from floating away somehow.

The cover page looks more like a map than a list now. His scribbles, arrows, post-it notes, and highlighted notations litter the page, sullying his father's carefully worded schedule. He's noted taxi rides, Uber reservations - errands on multiple days are now consolidated based on time and location. Rory stands and looks down at it, walks around the office, stares out the window at the parking lot below, but sees the afterimage of the paper on the desk, the lines, notations, the story there. An unbidden memory reaches out to him of a book on a low shelf (so that a child could reach it) in another house years ago. What was that book - the one with the map? Treasure Island. A first edition, bound in red leather; no doubt his father still has it on a low shelf in his office - probably priceless.

Rory pulls his phone from his pocket and dials it. "Dad," he says, "About that restaurant you mentioned. Are you free for dinner tonight?"

5 comments:

  1. Nice read. Framed up the scene and characters with great descriptions. So reminded me of the last few years my father was alive, and coherent enough to communicate, always followed by regrets.

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  2. Thanks, Arthur for your comments!

    David

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  3. Great Story.....Excellent job of showing the underlying emotions of both characters. I felt for both the father and the son. Thanks for sharing your work with us.

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  4. Thanks for reading and commenting, James.

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  5. Well done, David. I was really drawn into this story. I too am facing a similar with my own mother and you've captured the challenges and understanding of both aging as well as memory.

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