Wayne Michael DeHart (August 9, 2022)
On the 40th anniversary of a fatal fire at his parents’ house, Patrick Simon knelt at gravesite #39 in a small cemetery that slumbers in silence on a lightly-traveled country lane skirting Lisbon, Maine. He made the 130-mile drive to his hometown annually from his unadorned basement apartment in Canterbury, New Hampshire.
His only keepsake of them was a wind up alarm clock they gave him when he left, a sound safeguard against being late for work. Its raucous ring had reliably announced each new day, including this one, for 46 years – with one notable exception.
On this October 7th, his 65th birthday, he struggled to remember their faces, their voices. He muttered aloud in cold, callous and cynical tones. He hadn’t seen a living soul there for years, thus disregarded discretion. He closed with a detached shrug, rather than fond words of farewell.
A robin whirled overhead, then darted downward. It brought boyhood memories of Teresa Tunney, an uppity, condescending classmate who relentlessly ridiculed him, chirping “Simple Simon, one for the birds.” Folks in Lisbon were devastated when she was found floating facedown at age fifteen in the Androscoggin River. How? Why? The questions remain unanswered. He wanted to smile, but he couldn’t.
He stood and turned, flinching at the sight of a statuesque young woman watching him. Her arrival had been silent. He looked past her, toward the small gravel parking area where his truck sat solo. Patrick wondered who she was, where she came from, and how she got there.
He walked directly toward her, out of both necessity and curiosity. She never moved as he approached. Her intense green eyes locked on his. As he drew closer, he became anxious, nervous, apprehensive. Should he say something? Do something? Nod in acknowledgment without breaking stride?
She remained motionless, holding her position in the narrow pathway, blocking his departure. She stared him into utter unrest as he stopped two steps in front of her. He searched for words that didn’t come. He felt a sense of inexplicable, undefinable familiarity. He also felt a heaviness in his chest. He panicked.
“Patrick, you look troubled. Please, come sit with me.” “Sit? Sit where? And you called me Patrick. Do I know you?”
“There’s a large prayer rock just beyond that maple. And of course you know me. It’s Jane. Jane Baker. I kissed you once in the fifth grade and you ran away like your fanny was on fire. Everyone laughed at ME, made fun of ME. It was the second worst day of my life.” She moved toward the rock. A befuddled and shaky Patrick Simon followed her, his mind racing as fast as his heart.
He did indeed remember Jane Baker and that klutzy kiss and running away because he didn’t think he “did it right.” He heard the taunts and jeers and assumed they were aimed at HIM.
No way this twenty-something, copper-haired beauty was Jane Baker from, what, 55 years ago? His legs weakened. His breathing faltered. “Are you Jane’s daughter or something, here to harass me all these years later? What’s your game? How did you know I’d be here today? Have you been following me? I don’t feel right at all, something’s wrong. I think I should go now.”
“Why didn’t you ever get married, Patrick? Was my kiss so distasteful that you chose a life of abstinence? You told people I was unhinged and unbalanced and that you were leaving after graduation to escape from me. Plain Jane Baker, insane trouble maker. Sound familiar?”
A delusional Patrick was trying to convince himself that he was okay, just having a bad anxiety attack. It was this woman’s fault. What was she trying to prove by confronting and taunting him here, of all places? “Why didn’t Jane just come herself, why did she send you?” He looked in every direction. “She’s here – leering, gloating, smirking – isn’t she?”
She finger-poked his forehead, restoring his focus. “You know it’s me, I know you do. After you left, your parents, in despair, said I stained your soul, darkened your heart, maimed your mind. Over one stupid kid kiss gone bad, you went rogue, abandoning and ignoring them while dishonoring yourself, hiding and wasting away, a no-excuse recluse. Over time, they gained perspective and accepted me, befriended me. I’d go to their house for dinner. We’d talk, play cards, watch television. Then that night . . .”
At this point, Patrick was reeling – physically, mentally, emotionally.
The robin reappeared, hovering briefly before him. The woman had vanished. Her voice had not.
“I knew you would be here today because you’re here every October 7th. Was it fate that the fire raged on your 25th birthday, the day you got fired for being late because you forgot to wind the clock? I think not. Welcome to my world, Patrick, where every day is October 7th!”
He dropped to his knees, gasping for breath. He shook, shivered, and lurched forward, face-first, fittingly and forcefully kissing the rock with a bone-crushing thud. He had met his Maker in the Fall.
Close by, observing from the weed-covered, flat footstone marker of the long-forgotten Teresa Tunney, the robin finally rested.
A handwritten note, discovered in his Canterbury apartment, told the tale.
Patrick Simon had drowned the noise and, ten years later, set the fire.
A guest, Jane Baker, had heroically pushed his folks to safety, only to trip, fall and perish in the flames. The townsfolk paid for her beautiful granite headstone – the one on gravesite #39. The one Patrick visited every year.
His parents cried at her funeral, then moved to Sacramento and never came back. Patrick was dead to them forty years before his face broke and his heart stopped under the maple.
Absent the revelation of that new and noteworthy Canterbury tale, only a mentalist, a lurking Lisbon robin, or a nearby northern King carving mystifying, yet mainstream, novel and needful things from his fabled castle rock, could have deciphered the hints, described the horror, and taken the stand to swear to the events described herein.
(Photo taken upon seeing Patrick Simon’s fractured face at the cemetery.)
Starring . . .
Simon Baker as Patrick Jane / Patrick Simon & Jane Baker
Co-starring . . .
Robin Tunney as Teresa Lisbon / Teresa Tunney & the Robin in Lisbon
Saw someone who wasn’t there.
Heard a bird in the Autumn air.
Dazed, disturbed, and in despair,
learned too late that life IS fair.
“Kissed a girl, made him cry.
Kissed a rock, made him die.”
– Stephen King?
A graduate of the now defunct Lisbon Falls High School – in Lisbon, Maine. Of course!
A Needful Thing to know if one takes The Stand to describe the horror of October 7th.
Discovered in a New Hampshire basement apartment:
The 25th Canterbury Tale (Note: G. Chaucer unable to comment at this time.)