No Longer Playing, by Rich Paschall
It was a bright winter day. The sun was out. The temperature was above freezing, and it seemed like a good day to get out of the house. So Art got into his car and drove the short distance to George’s house. He found a parking spot in front and went up and knocked on the door.
The house was quiet so George was able to hear the knock clearly. When he answered he was surprised to see Art standing on the front porch. “Oh, is the doorbell out again? I recently changed the batteries.”
“I did not even try it. That thing never works.” George pressed the button several times without success. “See?” Art said with a grin.
“I guess it needs replacing. What brings you by?” George asked.
“I thought we would walk down to that Colombian bakery you are always talking about and get a cup of java and some pastry. You need to get out of the house.”
“Jon loves that place,” George exclaimed. “He would go for the breakfast foods they make and come right back. He always gets too much.”
“Let’s go then. The walk will do you good.”
“No,” George stated in a sad voice. “Jon does not like me to go out, considering how things are right now. I only go to the supermarket or the post office when necessary. Why don’t you come in? I just made a pot of coffee and I am sure we have something else you would like.”
That defeated the purpose of Art’s visit, but he went in anyway.
“I have some good coffee. I always get something that says 100 percent Colombian on it or Jon does not like it. There are a lot of good brands, but I only bought Colombian after Jon came to the US.”
Art never knew how to react when George brought up Jon’s name, and he would do it often. If truth be told, Art never liked Jon and he took a few opportunities to tell him so in the past.
The mention of Jon was a conversation stopper for Art, but George would just go on anyway. There was no telling what was in George’s head and Art did not know how to bring up anything about Jon, so he left it alone. George had to know the truth. Everyone knew the truth.
“It looks like you have been cleaning and organizing since I was here last,” Art observed.
“Yes, I am only working part-time from home and will give it up completely very soon. I now have the opportunity to do some of those things I have been putting off for years. Jon never liked it when I left papers on the kitchen table or the counter. He is always complaining about it. So I am working on the clutter. Did you ever see all the papers on the desk in the backroom or on the radiator cover? None of that stuff is mine! I guess I will have to clean up all of that too,” George declared with an air of exasperation.
For the next hour, the two old friends talked about a variety of topics from sports to local politics. On occasion, George would mention Jon, and Art would resist commenting. He tried not to say anything in the past and now… Was there any point in saying anything now?
Finally, Art decided it was time to go. He grabbed his coat and headed for the door. “So what are you going to do this afternoon?” Art inquired.
“I will have to decide on dinner. I don’t have to make chicken, rice, and beans every night lately. Besides Jon was much better at…” George began choking on the words so Art jumped in to help out.
“Well, you were always a lousy cook anyway. Maybe you should just open a can of soup,” Art said with a bit of a smirk. George nodded.
“Jon would be glad we stayed in. He’s so concerned about me getting sick. Odd, isn’t it?”
It was indeed odd. There was no denying that.
Jon often stated his concern about George going anyplace and getting sick. For a while, Jon called every few days from work or from the gym to ask George if he was alright. “Sick? Are you sick? Are you sure?” George would always assure him that he was fine.
Jon was much younger and apparently in excellent physical condition. He worked hard and worked out harder. He never thought he himself would get sick. He was healthy and he was vaccinated. Then it happened. A breakthrough case landed him in the hospital and George was in quarantine. George had the booster shot but it was not yet available to Jon when he got sick.
In the early fall, on a day that was cloudy and cold, Jon passed. George had been waiting at home at Jon’s insistence. When the phone rang, George just stared at it, frozen in place, with a single tear running down his face. He knew without answering.
Since then George does not refer to Jon in the past tense. Some wonder if George realizes what has happened. Could he be in denial? Or does he just want to remember things as they were, with the belief Jon is about to walk through the door with a bag of Colombian pastries?