The Honored and the Forgotten
by Norman A. Rubin
It was hustle and bustle as Samuel, a proud senior in his golden years, prepared for the trip for a reunion of his old comrade in arms. His mind was filled with the coming journey, which will ferry him to a conclave of veteran campaigners of a past global war. The former legionnaires were gathering at an eastern city from all parts of the Union for a few days of remembrance and celebration; and Samuel, a decorated veteran, was honored with chairing the convention.
The elder’s crease-lined face showed a bit of anxiety when there was thought of the coming flight. His mind scanned worrisome speculations of the possible lateness of his ordered taxi, not arriving on time at the air terminal, and other abstract expectations that signed with the temperament of old age. He constantly checked his watch and his grayish eyes widened with anticipation on the passing of the hour.
Samuel’s veined hands fidgeted in the pockets of his overcoat as he watched Henrietta, his wedded companion of nearly fifty years, as she fussed on his appearance and barraged him with endless remarks... The dowdy woman, dotage in the passing of years, reminded him to which pocket he placed his ticket and other petty statements concerning his flight. And, above all, she constantly warned him of the possible pitfalls facing an elderly traveler.
“Now, Henrietta, don’t worry so much!” pleaded her husband, “It is not the first time I’ve taken a flight...”
Henrietta took no heed of her spouse’s pleas as was not placated in her nagging concern. She dutifully scanned her husband’s suitcase and flight bag that lined the vestibule floor. A quizzical frown crossed her wrinkle creased face. Twice over, with an arthritic finger, she Pointed to the luggage and calculated items to be remembered.
“Ash, I knew it,” she exclaimed and searched with worrisome eyes along his paunchy upper body. “You would forget something,” she exclaimed, “Your medals, the badges... they’re not pinned to your suit coat. Perhaps they’re in your tote bag?”
“Now Henrietta, it doesn’t matter whether I have them or not. Please don’t fuss so.. I have the veteran’s pin in my lapel and that should be enough.”
But the fussy woman was not satisfied with the reply as she thought of the honor of the decorations; their symbol of valor was needed to complete the dress of her husband. Her thoughts centered around the appearance of her husband who was to be honored with the chairmanship; in her mind, the decorations would add a mark of distinction to his honorary position.
Henrietta, deaf to the pleading of her husband, hurried, as fast as her swollen feet would allow, towards the staircase leading to the upper story of her home; she climbed the stairs slowly, each step placed carefully. She called out, “They’re are in a box on the shelf of the bedroom closet. I’ll find them. Don’t you worry... Must look your best...”
Henrietta’s stubby legs carried her aged body to the bedroom, making their way to the large walk-in closet. Without bothering to switch on the light she opened the door and she quickly made her way to the back shelf. She pushed aside clothing at a maddened pace. Through the dim light she sighted the packed shelf. Then with her cramped hands she searched about until the feel of the small wooden box with its treasure was in her grasp. Suddenly, a slight gust of wind slammed the door shut, locking it. Darkness was all about and fear crept through her very soul.
The poor woman tried to grope her way back through the depth of spacious closet, but she was impeded by the hanging clothing. Panic ensued; her heart palpitated in a sickening beat and the labored breath shortened to grasping gulps of air. Henrietta’s head swam dizzily and she called out plaintively for her husband. Darkness engulfed her and she held tightly to the small box, which dropped from her hand as she fell in a swoon.
Samuel waited patiently for the return of his wife. A minute or two passed when he heard the hooting horn of the taxi. He searched with anxious eyes to the floor above, but there was no sign of his wife. He paused for a moment of deliberation of searching for her, but the anxiety of his old age fears toward the coming trip forced him to reject the idea.
“HENRIETTA! HENRIETTA!” he shouted, “The taxi is here, I’ll miss my flight, HENRIETTA.”
No answer was given to his call. Another call was issued but still there was no reply. Samuel showed only signs of annoyance and not of care and worry of his wife’s absence. “Damn them medals,” he cursed.
Samuel pitched a few loud words that informed his unseen wife that it wasn’t nice of her for not seeing him depart for his flight. At the end of his phrases he forgave her so-called thoughtlessness. He yelled a hearty goodbye as he lifted his suitcases and made his way through the front door to the waiting taxi.
Samuel’s flight was one of routine; his hands had found the ticket quite easily in the inside pocket of his suit coat. The three-hour trip was quite comfortable; and the service of the smiling stewardess added to his comfort as she served him coffee and biscuits. He relaxed and the thought of hearth and home faded.
No pitfalls for the elderly traveler greeted him as he taxied to his hotel in the eastern city. The room, albeit being small, was comfortable; the meals served at the dining room were adequate and much to his taste. A telephone call was placed to his wife and he didn’t worry when there was no answer. In his simplicity he assumed that the good woman was probably gossiping at the neighbor’s home.
Samuel received the honors in chairing of the gathering of the old soldiers; his opening speech was well received and he accepted the accompanying plaudits. The start of the five-day conference and the following days were one of good cheer and the liquor of comradeship renewed each day.
True, Samuel tried once again on the opening day to contact his wife, Henrietta; but the impatience of receiving no reply wearied him and further attempts were not made.
But the elder veteran was not aware of the concern of his immediate neighbor, a gossipy friend of his wife. The biddy was aware, through the gossip of tongues, of Samuels’ convention and she decided to enliven his wife’s lonely hours.
Upon entering the back door to the kitchen of his home, usually unlocked, she found emptiness of soul inside. The kitchen table and the sink was signed with Henrietta’s unfinished housework. She searched and called for the good woman through the rooms of the bottom floor; she cupped her good ear but the only sound heard was “that annoying buzz.” A touch of rheumy ached her limbs and she avoided the climbing stairs. Still, she was puzzled at not receiving a reply from her calls. The neighbor simply left the premises, making sure the kitchen door was secure.
The neighbor lady, upon reaching her home, busied the telephone line to other so-called dear friends of Henrietta, but she was unaware she and her neighbor were considered a bit daft in their ways. But she still gossiped out the strangeness she felt about her neighbor’s absence. Their soothing explanations were many, which ran the gamut from daily shopping, visiting a kin folk, to the possibility of Henrietta attending the conference together with her husband. Two, maybe three, with similar mental faculties to hers, suggested a report to the police, but the poor woman rejected the idea as she recalled nasty incidents in the past with the authorities.
The elderly neighbor was flustered at the sight of darkened windows during the night hours, but her confused mind was unable to come to a clear decision. She had the thought of calling Samuel at his hotel, but her gray cells of memory forgot to direct her to the small piece of paper on which she had copied the address. She cried in her helplessness. Suddenly she saw a blue flashing lamp at a near distance through the window of her living room...
The elder veteran, in the meantime, was among friends of the past and their pleasant company; their conversation and thoughts mainly coursed through the short years of being comrades in military training and battle. The present was entirely forgotten with only a few minor queries about occupations and a smattering of words on marriage and children; it was bantered about in the spirit of comradeship mixed with flowing spirits.
The gathering of old veterans came to end; a toast was proposed by the chairman Samuel. Glasses, filled with vintage champagne, were raised and the senior wished the old soldiers Godspeed; he expressed his desire to meet them the following year. The response was overwhelmingly received, mixed with the shouts of parting by individuals at the gathering, and followed by the shaking of trusted hands.
Samuel knew the time of his return flight. His bags were packed and carried to the lobby of the hotel. The account was settled to his satisfaction. Tips were passed to the bellhop and the doorman as he was ushered with his luggage into a waiting taxi. Before settling into the comfort of the plush seat he checked once again to assure that his flight ticket was safely in the inside suit pocket. No pitfalls for an elderly traveler were encountered as he taxied to the airport and reached his window seat in the waiting airliner. The return flight was comfortable due to the smiling attention of the steward.
Samuel fitted his key to the front door of his welcoming home; he entered and deposited his luggage on the floor in the entrance hall. He gave a good stretch to aged limbs and commented to himself on his tiredness. He entered into the darkening dwelling, switching on the main lights. He searched with tired eyes for any sign of his wife, Henrietta. Only silence greeted him, and he found that it was strange.
“HENRIETTA! HENRIETTA!” he called in loud voice. “HENRIETTA, I’M HOME!” he shouted louder, but there was no reply. Worry creased his brows as his calls echoed through the rooms without any response. He was only greeted with the void of emptiness.
He walked through the living room and kitchen, filled with the unfinished handiwork of his wife Henrietta. Anxiety filled with trepidation ran through his mind. Then he scanned the upper story as fear-ridden thoughts rumbled within his mind and numbed him to deep fearful expectations.
”HENRIETTA, HENRIETTA!” he yelled.” As he mounted the stairs his nose twitched as it was overtaken by a foul odor increasing at every step he made...
Copyright © 2006 by Norman A. Rubin