Leaving pt. 4A Story by Chas Stover
As he began the night covered only by the shallowest veils of sleep, Charles Vauldermare was still able to hear droned, muffled versions of the anchors on television. He would've been thrilled to know firsthand that the Yankees had just blown their third consecutive game to
Come on, mom, he repeated in regular intervals. You're gonna make us late to the dol-phins….
Carolyn Vauldermare had retaken her maiden name when her two-year marriage to an alcoholic navy sub mechanic had fallen apart unexpectedly. Left with her two sons, one five and one three, Carol had done her best to raise the boys by herself, taking odds-and-ends jobs all over town just to scrape by. This weekend, however, Charles decided that a trip to the Oakridge aquarium was in order so that he could see the dolphins he’d learned about in science class firsthand. He had no idea that she’d woken up three hours early to nurse the nagging cough she'd been suffering from for nearly a month, or that she’d had to rake together all of her extra funds to drop little Billy off by the daycare center; he had no idea because his mother, as she so often did, had gone out of her way to fulfill the promise she’d made to her little angel.
Come on mom, Charles persisted. Quit being such a slow-poke….
“Momma doesn't feel very well, Charles. Slow down, okay?"
The boy answered his mom by slowing his pace slightly but upon hearing the splashes from the tanks ahead, he forgot all about his mother’s pleas and opted to run as fast as he could. Even so, the show had already started by the time the two had arrived and Charles, as he was prone to do, spent the first ten minutes or so sulking over what he'd missed. Try as he might, however, he too was on the edge of his seat and was just as amazed as the rest of the crowd by the time the really impressive stuff came around. Carol, on the other hand, spent most of the show cradling her flushed, fevered face in her hands, wishing silently that the whole damned aquarium would suddenly be forced shut down and reopen….
A Budweiser commercial had just finished announcing the brewery's seventh consecutive first-place finish in the European Beer Foundation's annual tasting competition when Charles Vauldermare was escorted into the muggy waiting room of
Tiger Woods had just won his twelfth consecutive PGA tour event as the newly-adolescent Vauldermare boy stood grieving over his lifeless mother. His Aunt Ruth found her condolences fruitless as the boy stood weeping near the open coffin where his mother's pale, wrinkled face stood out like a snowflake on a slab of onyx. Ruth reminded him not to cry for her because she’d gone somewhere better, but the only thing Charles could think about was how abandoned he felt; Billy, of course, was still too young to be heartbroken, although he mimicked Charles’ tears perfectly. Later, when he and his aunt were alone, Charles had asked Ruth why his mom had been wearing a scarf on her head and she, unaware of Carol's euphemisms, said that the cancer had taken her hair. When Charles pictured his mom without hair, he began weeping again heavily, despite the unbearable pain that weeping now caused; once again, Ruth did her best to comfort the boy, saying that Jesus would give her hair back before he took her into Heaven. Charles listened but only out of courtesy; never again would he be the same.
The happiness he'd felt before meeting his now-wife could have been covered in half the time Neil Everett spent documenting the ICC's latest man-versus-computer chess championship, but that part of his life was omitted. Somewhere between the Michael Vick drug allegations and the NFL commissioner's response, the orphaned Charles Vauldermare, now sixteen years old, had dated and fallen in love with a young, innocent Connie Smith-Emerson, who herself barely had time for dating between her busy school schedule and her short story writing. Not long after two began spending time together, however, Connie had begun joking about being a housewife and Charles had naively proposed. In his dream, Charles saw neither this precursor nor the beginning of their marriage—which he himself didn't remember—as he was taken immediately to the here-and-now of his life.
ESPN’s new female anchor had passed the cue to some other newsperson who immediately began the rundown of the day's top plays as Charles was parking his car outside his room; by the time they'd reached number seven on the list, he saw himself standing between the two beds in his room listening to the voice mails he'd received while driving down. Charles, please answer, one said. Charles, where are you? implored another. He saw himself standing there, grinning one of the scariest smiles ever smiled and mocking his wife aloud.
"Oh Connie. Don't you know? I never loved you," he said maniacally as his grin began growing wider and wider.
He continued listening to message after message; one message in particular had seemed really desperate, and in it, Connie had spoken about calling the police. Charles scoffed to himself and jested verbally about how foolish his wife really was; much to his own surprise, the next message was from a police detective saying that Mrs. Vauldermare had reported him missing and that, if he still had possession of his phone, he should call the department and check in. There were a few more messages from Connie both before and after a single message from Billie which began with some nonsensical jesting about his running away like a child and ended with a tearful plea for his safe and immediate return home. The thirty-first and last message was one he'd never heard before.
Mr. Vauldermare, a strong, manly voice beckoned from the other end. This is examiner Roberts down at
His strength had left him all at once. Suddenly unable to take what he'd heard, he dropped his phone and flopped carelessly down onto the bed behind him. The voice on the other end of the phone roared unnaturally, so loud that Charles could hear the man from the phone's mouthpiece five feet away. She killed herself, Charles. She killed herself.
Killed herself. Killed herself.
Your wife loved you Charles, and now she's dead because of you. She killed herself. Charles, are you listening to me? She blew her brains all over the wall, Charles. She did that, and she did it for YOU….
The man's voice began to drone as he repeated the accusations. Killed herself, he'd say, and …for you. Charles closed his eyes and pretended that the man wasn't real—no man, and no phone, he tried to tell himself. It was all a joke—just his wife trying to scare him, that’s all. Just then, before he had a chance to convince himself, a pain seized somewhere behind his ribcage and gripped him strongly enough to squeeze a pain-filled moan from his tight, stinging throat. He tried to tell himself that he was dreaming. Of course he was dreaming—now if only he could wake up. Just wake up.
And then, suddenly, he no longer cared about his dead wife or about the image of her lying smeared beneath the white, blood-splattered walls of their home. Instead, he was overtaken by the joyous reminders of his first major league baseball game, where the Minnesota Twins had shocked the baseball world by putting themselves firmly into the pennant race with just five weeks left in the season….
He sat up violently, noticing immediately Neil Everett's voice blaring the day’s recap. I'll tell you what, folks, he was saying, these Twins are HOT…. Charles grabbed clumsily for the remote several times before taking hold of it fully; he immediately turned the power off and tried to get himself under control. He tried breathing deeply, which he repeated several times before the pain in his chest had gotten so severe that he thought he was going to lose consciousness. Instead he stood, walking slowly into the bathroom and looking at his colorless, sweat-covered brow in the room's mirror which was cracked in half a dozen spots and stained yellow from God only knows what. He studied his reflection for what seemed like an eternity and again wondered whether or not he was really a monster and trying to forget the dream he’d just had.
He turned the knob with the blue 'C' printed on the top, sloshing his hands in the water; after about ten seconds, the water began heating itself to temperatures well beyond warm and Charles decided to try the other knob. Once again, he waited a few seconds before running his hands through the water and once again, he was greeted only by very warm, coppery-smelling water. To avoid any further stress, Charles decided to use the situation to his advantage. At that moment, he began undressing himself in front of the mirror, which he'd always done at home in order to laugh at the little things out of which he'd always hoped he'd grow; after finding solace in neither the hairless patches scattered across his stomach nor the awkward way his manhood curved near the head, he sighed heavily and walked slowly over to the tub.
As he turned the knobs mechanically and ran his hand through the weak stream of water being deposited, the more logical side of his mind popped back up. You're not actually going to sit in that, are you? it asked. Charles knew this time that it was right, but having grown accustomed to ignoring it, he decided to climb right in and splash himself down. Even after noticing the brown stains running up the side of the tub from the drain and the patches of mold lining the ring around the shower head, Charles simply closed his eyes and allowed the warmth of the water to soothe him. He finally fell back to sleep around twelve-thirty or so with his head propped stiffly backward against the tile wall and much to his surprise, the warmth of the water had helped him intensely—so much so, in fact, that this patch of sleep was dreamless and was ferociously sought by his worn-out mind which embraced the night and left him alone just long enough to be placated itself.
© 2008 Chas Stover
Added on May 6, 2008