Fall 2009, Volume 7

Fiction by Dennis Wolverton

The Letter: Two Brothers, A Dead Father and A Past

Model airplanes and cars were displayed on shelves above the desk; Gerald’s trophies for basketball and track gathered dust on a set of shelves next to the beds.  My father had at some time decided to use the attic bedroom for storage and had stacked cardboard boxes full of stuff next to the door.  I’d been in the room several times after I left home, had even slept in one of its narrow beds while visiting my parents without my wife, but I hadn’t thought about how little it had changed since I was in high school.  My brother Gerald and I now had to clean it all out to get the house ready for sale after my father’s death.

Each with an empty box in our hands, we stood just inside the door at the top of the narrow stairs.  Gerald breathed a little more heavily than I from the climb up.  When he saw the trophies, he laughed, “I must have been a great athlete.”  Heavy set and with a middle aged man’s paunch, Gerald had long ago lost the good looks and muscular prowess that made him a popular boy in high school. We were now in our fifties, but I was the slim athlete, the one who ran five miles three times a week and watched his diet.

Gerald walked across the room and took a trophy from its shelf.  “You know, Dad was great teaching us how to play ball and everything.” 

I couldn’t let it pass.  “He taught you to play,” I said.  “He never had much interest in teaching me.”

“Well he was a great teacher.  He should have been a coach instead of an insurance salesman.”

“Whatever,” I replied.  I sounded like my oldest grandchild.

“He was a good father and a good man.  And you know Charlie, he would have helped you too but you didn’t let him.”

I sat down on one of the beds.  It was a little dusty but still made up with sheets and blankets ready to be slept in.  “No Gerald, he wouldn’t have.  He had you.  You were his star.  He didn’t need me and he let me know it.  My job was to stay out of the way.”

“Oh come on,” Gerald shot back.  “You did everything you could think of to get under his skin.  You grew your hair long when you knew he hated boys with long hair.  You hung out with those creepy friends of yours.  And smoked.  Remember the cigarettes he found?”  He stopped to catch his breath.  “You deliberately provoked him.  He was a good father and a good man Charlie.  Nothing’s going to change my mind on that.”

Gerald put his empty box on the desk.  We’d been through this argument before.  I hoped he realized we didn’t have time to quarrel and bicker.  We had a lot to do to get the old house ready for repairs and then paint.  Living alone and in poor health, our father had done nothing to keep it up in the two and a half years after our mother died.

I decided to look in the stacked boxes by the door.  The first two had hard cover editions of long forgotten best sellers my mother bought from the Book-of-the-Month Club.  I remembered them arranged on built-in shelves next to the fireplace downstairs.  My father must have brought them up here when he remodeled the living room and ripped out the shelves.  They could go directly to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.  A smaller box had nothing but old receipts.  I opened a box full of old postcards, letters and pictures.  This kind of stuff interested me, so I dumped the contents on the floor and sat down to sort through them.  In the empty box, however, a letter had stuck in the flap at the bottom.  I took it out and turned it over.  It had a three cent stamp and was addressed in my father’s handwriting to “Mr. Joseph Pelican, 845 First Street, Grand Falls, Montana” with our Grand Falls return address in the upper left hand corner.  The envelope had been sealed but never sent.

“Hey do you know a Joseph Pelican?” I asked Gerald.  It wasn’t a name I remembered.  Gerald was sitting at the little desk, which now had several trophies arranged on it.

“Huh?” he replied.  Then “No, never heard of him.  Why?”

“Nothing, never mind,” I said.

I opened the envelope and pulled out a handwritten letter dated November 3rd, 1956.  This was the year my parents had married and a year before Gerald was born.

I read: “Dear Joey, I hope you’re still not mad about last Saturday.  I know what we did was wrong, but I couldn’t help myself.  I think you wanted to do it too.  Please don’t be mad.  We’ve been good friends, ever since basketball in high school.  I miss you.  Please call me.”  He had signed it “Love, Walt” with two little hearts next to his name.

I stared at the letter and felt my face turn warm and probably very red.  As I put the letter back in its envelope, my hand shook a little.  Why didn’t he mail it?  Why did he keep it?  Didn’t he realize that someone might find it?  I put it down on the floor next to me.  After a few seconds, with my mind still on the letter, I picked up a picture postcard of Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park.  “Having a great time, wish you were here!  Tim and Edna, April 10th 1963.”  I smiled.  People actually wrote those things.

“You never got to know him.  That was your problem,” Gerald mumbled from across the room.  “If you had made half an effort to get to know him….”

“OK Gerald.”  I grabbed the letter and stood up.  “Here.  Look at this.  It’s from Dad to Joey Pelican.  I found it sealed and ready to mail in that box.”

Gerald hesitated but took the envelope.  He pulled out the letter and read it without getting up.  When he finished, he put the letter in his lap.

“Good old Dad was queer,” I said.  “He had a boyfriend named Joey Pelican.  A queer.  Guess you didn’t know him so well after all.”

“It doesn’t mean that at all,” Gerald blurted out.  “It doesn’t say that at all.  Where do you get that?  You’re assuming something that’s not there.”  He stood up.  “Dad was no more a queer than I am.”

“Look at it Gerald.  ‘Love Walt’ at the end with two little hearts.  They did something they were ashamed of.  What could that have been, Gerald?  Don’t you think it might have been something sexual?  If this isn’t a love letter, I don’t know what one is.”

“It’s just two boys fooling around.”

“The letter’s dated after Mom and Dad were married Gerald.  They got married in May 1956.  It’s dated November 1956.  He was in his twenties and married.”

“Nope.  Doesn’t mean a thing.”

“Nope!  How can you say that?  It’s as plain as….”

“He wasn’t queer.  He was our father.  He was a good man Charlie.  Why can’t you admit it instead of still doing everything you can to tear him down?  Why can’t you get over it?  It was a long time ago.”

 “I’m not knocking him down.  It’s you that’s putting him up where he doesn’t belong.  It’s you that…,” I stopped.  “Oh, who the fuck cares?  You’re god damn right about one thing Gerald.  It was a long time ago.”  Angrily, I returned to the stack I had dumped out on the floor.  Gerald sat down again at the desk but turned the chair so that his back was to me. 

I said, “Gerald, you’re spending an awful lot of time with those trophies.  We’re never going to get done with the house if you get sentimental over each and every one.”

He didn’t respond.

I decided to make two piles: stuff to keep, and stuff to throw away.  The pictures, however, slowed me down.  They were too interesting to go through quickly.  The people in them had been a part of my growing up.  I had just become absorbed in an old Polaroid picture of our crazy next door neighbor when I heard Gerald sobbing.

“Hey what’s the matter?” I asked.  He had already cried way too much, in my opinion, at our father’s funeral.  I wanted him to stop.  “Why are you crying now?”

He kept his back to me and continued to stare at something I couldn’t see in his hand, probably a trophy.  “He’s dead.  He was my best friend as well as my father and now he’s dead. With mom dead, no one except me gives a shit.  I know you didn’t get along with him and maybe he could have treated you better, but for me, those years growing up here in this house were the best years of my life.  And you just want to wreck it, wreck my memories, wreck everything...”  He spoke in a rush, without stopping for breath.  “What for Charlie?  What for?”

I expected him to turn around and look at me, but he didn’t.  I stared at the gray T-shirt he wore.  The letter lay on the desk next to him.  After he stopped talking, his crying seemed to get louder.  I waited, thinking he would stop or maybe get up and go downstairs.  When he didn’t, I stood up and stepped over to him.  No longer angry, I put my hand on his shoulder and gently held it there.  “Hey, it’s all right Gerald.  It’s all right.  He was a good man.” 


BIO:  Dennis Wolverton is a creative writing student at Long Beach City College.