Shadows on a Dark Street


As he swung the kitchen door open, Wallace grabbed his keys off the hook. He glanced at Zach, who was pushing paper bags into the recycle bin under the sink.

“Where’s my wallet Zachariah? I had it on the bedside table just a minute ago…” he said.

“I dunno, Dad. Did you leave it in the car?” Zach replied, still packing the bags.

“When I got out of the shower it was there. When I got dressed and came out of my closet it was gone” Said Wallace, frustrated.

“Then how did you buy the groceries?” asked Zach.

“I haven’t! I need my wallet before I can drive. It has my license in it!”

“Pop, you already went to the store. We unloaded the groceries together just ten minutes ago.” explained Zach calmly, trying to take his father’s hand and lead him to a chair at the table.

“Preposterous!” Wallace burst, pulling away. “I only just got dressed! I’m jolly well sure I would know otherwise!”

“Then why isn’t your hair still wet, Pop?” asked Zach, trying to sound soothing. “Surely it didn’t dry in the few short minutes between your shower and you getting dressed.”

Wallace began to pace. He didn’t know what to think. True, his hair was drier than it should have been, but what did that prove? He didn’t have as much as he used to, so it made sense that it would dry faster. Besides, he thought, Zachariah has always been tight on money. That’s why he’s living here in the first place. Can’t hold a dollar for more than an hour, that boy, without spending it.

“Pop? You ok?” asked Zach gently.

“Listen Zachariah, if you need some money, just ask me, okay?

“What? Pop, I was paid yesterday, I don’t need any money. In fact, I’ve been doing really well lately. I’ve saved a lot, almost $500 now.”

“Ha, I’ll believe it when I see the bank-note.”

“Dad, that’s not fair. I’ve been trying hard not to let you down.”

“Stealing is a poor way to show an improved character, Zachariah.”

An expression of hurt played across Zach’s face. He stared at his father with his brows furrowed and lips parted, debating how he could respond to the accusation.

“Dad, I didn’t steal your wallet. Or any money from it. You probably left it in the car when you and I were unloading groceries…”

“I’m telling you, boy, I’ve not left yet!”

“Pop, listen. I think you’ve had another episode” said Zach, slowly.

Wallace stopped cold. He knew what Zachariah was thinking of. Again, his mind drifted back to that phone call – he was down at the Walgreen’s demanding the clerk give him his credit card back. He said he’d checked his wallet already and it wasn’t there. Zach got a phone call from the concerned owner. When Zach got there, he asked his father to check his pockets. Sure enough, Wallace found the card in his back pocket. He’d been too embarrassed and furious to apologize to the clerk and left without a word. Zach had moved in that weekend, saying he needed a place to stay.

“Another episode, you say? Well let me tell you, boy, that I have had no such thing! I got dressed, and then I came out here! There’s no gap in my memory whatsoever!” Wallace fumed.

“You went back in your room to hang up your hat, Pop.” Zach was trying to keep his patience. He knew this was hard on his father. “You must have thought you just got dressed because you were in your room when you had the episode.”

“Preposterous.” Wallace said as he walked out of the kitchen, tossing the keys on the table.

“Pop, wait!” Zach called after him. “Let’s talk here.”

“Talk to yourself on the way to the store!” Wallace’s voice drifted from the stairway. “Get my money’s worth!”

Zach’s heart ached. “Pop…”

Upstairs, Wallace slammed his door and sat down on the bed. Then stood again and paced the room. As he turned to the bed again, he glanced at his hat, tossed on the bed by his pillow. He kept it on a hook near the door. He looked at the now dry towels hanging on the rack. His temper broke.

“Preposterous” he said, sadly.

He crossed to the bathroom and turned on the faucet. As he waited for the water to warm, he stared at his face in the mirror. Wallace was a proud man. Having served his time in two wars and managing his own restaurant after, he was no stranger to responsibility and the importance of strong regimen. But what good were routine and time management if his memory constantly betrayed him?

His face became grey and clouded, altogether disappearing before he realized the steam from the faucet had fogged the mirror. The water hot, he took a dry washcloth from its designated spot in the closet and dipped it slowly into the steaming pool. After wringing it out, he draped it over his upturned face and inhaled deeply. He let the hot steam ease his thoughts into tranquility, slipping into comfort.

He knew he should apologize to Zach, but his pride still stung from his mistake. He wanted to avoid a direct confrontation until he had truly calmed and collected himself again. A flustered apology was unacceptable, making a loss of face in front of his son, especially in the form of a blundered apology, was unacceptable. If Zach hadn’t already taken the car, he would go for a drive. It was getting dark, but Wallace needed a change in surroundings.

Leaving his room quietly, Wallace found Zach sitting on the couch. His eyes were glazed as they reflected the steady changing of channels, never staying on one for more than a few seconds. After watching him cycle through the numbers twice, Wallace slipped past unnoticed, sliding the untouched keys off the table with the hushed scratch of metal on worn wood. The screen door swung wide and slapped loudly behind him. Wallace was just within range to hear Zach’s sharp intake of surprised breath.

As Wallace settled into the driver’s seat of the classic Packard, he felt the irregular lump of his wallet under his thigh. Though it pained him in more ways than one, he left it there, pushing into his sore legs. He believed he deserved to be reminded of his stubbornness until he had done his penance.

I shouldn’t have lost my temper with him, thought Wallace sadly. But Lord, I hate being wrong, especially about my own life! My life and its happenings is one thing I should know better than anyone alive, yet here I am, a cripple of the mind!

He flicked on the old radio and turned the dials until the hiss sharpened into his oldies station. One of the only stations old enough to have seen the war in Vietnam come and go, 86.9 The Good Times was an escape for an old man with too much on his mind, or too little. He rolled the car out into the street, cracked the window about halfway, and began his pursuit of serenity.

The wind of the summer night was warm, though just cool enough to keep from sweating under his stiff collar. One of the neighbors was having a barbecue that night, and the scent of charring ribs made Wallace remember his own backyard get-togethers when his family was still local, not spread all over the country.

Everyone would gather around the patio, white paper plates in hand, condiments already assembled on the sesame seed buns according to personal preference. Zach never had pickles, and was the only one in the family who didn’t crave them on everything between two slices of bread. The family always teased him about it, slipping one or two in under the lettuce and letting him fume when he got a sour bite. Just isn’t natural, not likin’ pickles, thought Wallace with a smile as he turned onto another street lit by only one or two streetlights in the fading light. Brought it on himself, he did.

A right turn, followed by a left turn, followed by a long stretch of shadow on a lightless road, Wallace finally turned his headlights on. The light shined off of the reflective panels on the side of mailboxes up and down the road. Some of the red flags were up, some were down. The mailbox in Wallace’s yard rarely had its flag up anymore. He continued to drive, dispelling his bitterness.

The barbecues had stopped when his last boy had graduated college and finally moved out. With his wife long passed, Wallace keenly felt the emptiness of the house weigh upon him. With everyone living their own busy lives, his visits became more and more a rarity. It wasn’t until his Walgreen’s incident that anyone had bothered to see how he was doing. Zach had been good enough to move in to help him with his day-to-day life, which was both a blessing and a curse. Wallace had always prized his independence, but took great comfort in the company. Zach had moved in saying he needed a place to stay because of his finances, which Wallace knew to be at least partially true. Zach had indeed fallen on hard times, but Wallace knew the primary reason was for his aid and comfort. Zach was his youngest, and had always been the most affectionate and understanding. The finances were a front to avoid bruising his father’s delicate pride, which Wallace greatly appreciated despite his rough demeanor. His son’s love was one of his most precious possessions, and he knew that he didn’t let Zach see that on purpose. He resolved to change that in the coming weeks.

He had reached the end of his calming drive. He knew that he was in the right state of mind to go home and talk to his son. Wallace turned the car around in the circle drive at the end of his long dark road and stopped. He had blanked. He didn’t remember where he was or how to get home. His thoughts over the last hour or so remained with him, but how to get home was a mystery to him. Being an old-fashioned man, Wallace did not carry a cell phone. He began to panic, furious again that he was reduced to a lost child. Curse this bloody condition and all its frustrations he thought, slamming his hand against the wooden steering wheel. The pain in his hand made him pause and look at it. It was the hand of an old man, worn and wrinkled, the skin discolored in places where stains from his kitchen had soaked into his hands. The bones of his wrist stuck out at odd angles, almost skeletal in appearance. A bruise was already forming under his thumb, further proof of his frailty. Slowly, his anger and frustration faded into sadness. It filled him from his chest to the tips of his fingers, a heavy heart beating blood into arms of lead. His eyes began to burn with the salt of tears, and his breath came short. Sobs racked his body as he bent over the wheel, forehead pressed against the back of his hands. I am an old man, admitted Wallace to no one in particular. I am alone, lost, and scared. I treat my son as a burden, when he is all that keeps me going. I need him. I need help.

With these thoughts released, Wallace attempted to calm himself. He knew what he needed to do, what he wanted to do. He turned off the Packard, and walked to the door of the home attached to the drive. The owners kindly allowed him to phone his son.

On the drive home, father and son were quiet. They pulled into the driveway, and idled into the garage. Wallace put his wallet into his pocket, and got out of the car. Zach was almost to the door, when Wallace called to him.

“Zachariah…” he said softly.

“Yea, Pop?”

“Thank you.”

It was little more than a whisper, but the silence around those words almost made them echo.

“For what, Pop?”

“For being who you turned out to be. For loving an old fool.” said Wallace.

Zach hugged his father, an act newly mutual. Long, weighted moments later, they walked up the stairs into the house, the father’s arm around the son’s shoulders, leaving the dark garage behind, the Packard whistling into peace.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Shadows on a Dark Street”
  1. Karen says:

    You are a beautiful writer; this was a lovely story.

  2. G-Money says:

    Eating pickles every time they are presented is what’s unnatural (fried pickles, though, are a different story).

    Anyway, good work. It was a good read.

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