by David O’Boyle Copyright 2021 Transient Visitors: Month 1 of 12, a Collection of Very Tiny Tales.
Two and a half hours and two cups of coffee.
That’s how Marc Pontruff answered the question, ‘how long does it take to get to Wyatt, New Jersey.’
Ten years ago, his response would sound less staged. Back then, Ma was still around and Pop had a little juice left in his knees, not to mention a functional memory. Under those circumstances, he could justify sporadic visits. Not anymore. Not after Pop turned ninety last winter and needed near-constant care. The situation left Marc Pontruff with two choices. He could either take long drives to Wyatt or short drives to a nursing home. He chose the former.
“It’s more and more errands every day. He won’t even walk down the driveway to get the mail anymore. If it wasn’t for me, I’m not sure his neighbors would know he still lived there,” Marc told Lita in between toothbrush strokes.
“You really have to go again tomorrow?” his wife asked without lifting her eyes from her book titled, Management in the Digital Age.
Marc Pontruff nodded as he crawled into bed, conscious of where his comments ranked on his wife’s list of priorities. “Gotta pick up some of his prescriptions tomorrow morning, then I’m going back to Wyatt. Wanna join?”
“You know I can’t take off,” Lita said without pause. “Big day tomorrow.”
Mark knew better than to question her about anything work-related. As much as he wanted to say she was being crazy; that she deserved to take one of her many personal days accrued over a decade of company service, he kept quiet. When he noticed the chapter she was reading from Management in the Digital Age, titled “On Millennials,” he was thankful he did. Fifty-something Lita worked for a business swarming with young professionals. Given her tendency to snap at age-related issues, he steered the conversation away from that minefield.
“I’ll be gone before you wake up,” Marc said as he kissed her goodnight and shut the light on his side of the bed.
The light on Lita’s side did just the opposite. It burned deep into the night, illuminating her preparation for her “big day tomorrow.” This consisted of a one-on-one meeting with Morlin, the founder and CEO of her company. Experience with Morlin and his history of terminating unproductive staff made her prep for the worst. If her head was bound for the chopping block, he’d have to hear her quote Management in the Digital Age, his own book, while her head rolled.
Per usual, the meeting was not the doomsday scenario Lita anticipated. Yes, Morlin had some constructive criticism, which, for someone like Lita, was hard to swallow. But it was only a side dish of the meeting. He also spooned out heaps of praise and a promotion.
“Under one condition,” Morlin said. “You take the rest of the day for yourself. Accrued time off is there to use. It’s unfashionable as a badge of honor.”
Energized and excited by her promotion, Lita wanted to call Mark and relay the good news. Then a better idea surfaced. Mark loved a good surprise. He also liked booze and beef. With those two things in mind, Lita grabbed some steaks from the butcher and some wine from the liquor store. Then she headed to Pop’s house for dinner, confident that Marc would be happy as a gull to get some food, and appreciative of her efforts to see Pop for the first time in almost a year—since the last holiday season.
When she pulled up to the house in Wyatt, it looked like more than a year had passed. Lita hardly recognized the place with all the improvements. But for the GPS announcing her arrival, she would’ve driven right by. Odd that Marc didn’t mention these changes, she thought to herself. Such lack of communication bothered her. How things used to be, Lita would have heard about every screw that hit the drywall during the renovation.
This had to change. Armed with dinner and a bottle of red, there was no better time to start then now.
She entered Pop’s house how she used to enter her own home—with a youthful magnetism that demanded a bedroom hello from her husband, who in those days waited for her at the door like an excited little puppy. Would time repeat itself tonight?
Not exactly. Marc Pontruff was not waiting at the door like a little puppy. He was napping on the couch with a beer between his briefs and a bag of chips on his belly, like an old dog.
“Where’s Pop?” Lita asked as she kissed his forehead and put the wine on the coffee table. Marc’s initial reaction was puzzling. True, she could understand him being startled. But he looked more than startled. He looked guilty. Lita soon learned why.
Pop had been dead since January.