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The Call

by Fred Miller

Militarily stiff and stolid, Richard braced himself against the unforgiving ledge at his back, his shoulder blades abraded by the rough-hewn stone wall. Funny, he thought, attempting so carefully to look down at his size nine wingtip shoes; they seemed so much larger before. Now the leather toes precariously overlapped the lip of the elevated, man-made precipice where he patiently waited. The pavement below appeared as a fuzzy woolen gray blanket in the pale blue light of the street lamp, a posted sentinel with a translucent halo about its head.

Quickly his stubby fingers clawed in crevices between the stone blocks of the cold building. He prayed now to gain a firmer purchase against the ravenous, unforgiving gale that whipped and howled down the side of the massive structure where he maintained an uncertain perch. Looking east out over the Atlantic, he knew this to be the makings of the type of storm Boston whalers most feared, even more than a fire of St. Elmo dancing electric jigs across sails and masts.

He winced. Then he began to relax somewhat as the gelid banshee loosened her grip and disappeared just as quickly as she had appeared. Peering up, his head set firmly against the stone behind him, his glassy eyes could see a spindrift of stars spread wide across the moonless heavens.

Toward the east, over the far reaches of the horizon, ominous thunderheads appeared, roiling and scudding over jagged white fangs of surf reaching up out of the sea. Richard could only imagine these unforgiving waves lapping, curling, and engulfing fishing vessels like some mythological beast rising menacingly out of a dark abyss. Instantly the violent wind returned with a vengeance, cutting like white-hot epees into his leathery, seamed face.

How much longer? he wondered. How much longer could he last? If only someone cared. If only.

Through a window behind him, he could hear the tinny strains of the piano and unfettered, boisterous laughter. They knew he was out there, he remembered now. Every one of them. They knew. Guffawing and cackling like hyenas at the same old stale jokes told over and over again. The merriment continued in the cozy room, the din gently thumping on the loosened frosted pane beside him. Richard’s muscles began to numb against the cold now.

The malevolent gust suddenly dropped into a steady, salt-laden breeze, chilling him further. He was able, ever so gingerly, to cant his head to one side and peer through the window into the amber-lit room and see the long mahogany bar through a thick, blue haze. Over the top of it moved a thick muscular arm attached to a rolled up shirt sleeve. Moving slowly and deliberately, it pushed a damp rag in smooth circular motions across the slick top of the bar. John.

Dear John. He had been a friend. Always there to listen to Richard. And listen attentively. Over the years he had patiently absorbed Richard’s woes and complaints, never grumbling himself; always offering solace as Richard described the clients artfully chipping and chiseling away at his moral fabric, his very soul. Richard had grayed as these avaricious vultures had hammered away at his senses and his tender caring nature. John had really understood. And shown genuine concern. Always there. Always a friend.

But John also knew Richard was fastened by nerve against the frigid projection along the building’s outer wall. They all knew. Each of them. The noise of the old upright piano, scratched and marred with cigarette burns, pounded away against the cacophonous laughter that continued unabated in the bowels of the steel and stone structure behind him.

How much longer can I take it? he wondered. No one cares anymore. Had there been any merit in it? The money? The constant barrage of phone calls day after day? The hours? The triumphs and failures, the highs and lows? Why had he stayed in until the market broke so badly and carried all of them into the abyss of financial ruin? Why? he wondered, just as he realized the chill had overtaken his shivering. Now he stood soporifically still.

The faint metal vibrations of the wall phone next to the bar inside caught his attention. An eerie stillness settled over the crowd inside as it continued to ring. Richard inched slowly along the ledge toward the window, hoping to get a better view of the scene.

Peering through the thick smoke haze, he could see John lift the receiver immediately following the fourth ring. A portentously queer stillness enveloped the entire tavern.

“O’Leary’s. This is John.”

“Oh, yes, Missy... uh, no, he’s not here now... What’s that?... Oh, yes, Missy, but that was some time ago... doubt if he will be back. What’s that? Oh, yes, I’ll tell him, if I see him... You can count on it, Missy... What’s that?... Oh, yes... gets very quiet here around this time of night. Most of the fellows have gone on home... yours, too, I imagine. Yes, Missy, I will.”

As the receiver hit its cradle, a wave of jubilation arose, the likes of which would have pleased the Babe in the old days as he connected with a homer for the Sox.

Amid the hoots and shouts, Richard could clearly hear John’s raspy voice, tobacco seasoned and deep: “’S okay, Richard. You can come on in now!”

Pirouetting jauntily on the street, just two feet below the ledge, Richard turned toward the massive green door of the tavern. Swinging it open widely, beaming broadly his infamous leprechaun smile, he was met with a tumult of fanatic cheers and applause from his comrades and brethren in O’Leary’s Ole Irish Pub of Boston.

Copyright © 2010 by Fred Miller

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