Publicat de: leonard oprea | 14 Februarie 2014

Jeff Howe’s abyssal novel “From Here to Never”, from never to here / Room 102


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jeff FRONTCOVER

Jeff Howe’s abyssal novel “From Here to Never”, from never to here. 

“Jeff Howe’s “From Here to Never” is a double rainbow after a hard rain. One for peace of mind, with joy. The other for do not give up, with victory. Reading this so original confession-novel you might be tempted to remember of Walt Whitman or Robert Frost; J.D. Salinger or John Updike; Jerome K Jerome or G. K. Chesterton. But, not. Jeff Howe is his own master.  As a poet he is a genuine American poet.  As a novelist – having a great sense of absurd humor – he is a wonderful American hyper-realistic storyteller.  As an essayist  – ‘cogito ergo sum’ is the cornerstone of his conscience. The feedback of  “From Here to Never” shall be ‘from never to here’ – into the heart of reader. Oh, yes a maverick work and healing book for that one who is in the search of thyself.” ( Leonard Oprea – novelist, poet, essayist )

From amazon.com:

  • Paperback: 181 pages
  • Publisher: PublishAmerica (October 9, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1424153875
  • ISBN-13: 978-1424153879

*** 

Room 102

„Those were glorious days. Not glory days, mind you, for they had nothing to do with any celebratory performance on my part. No, they were glorious for what we did together, Lorraine and me. Yeah, we were young and smooth and tight. We had energy like you wouldn’t believe. And even if we never did, we felt like we could go all night at times.” Howard leaned back and sighed.

„You dirty old man,” said Charlie with a slight frown on his face.

„What dirty old man, Charlie? You was married, too, you old coot.”

Charlie sniffed. „Yeah, but me and Doris didn’t go much for that.”

„Ya got kids, dontcha? You had to have had something going on at some point.”

„Well, Doris, she only wanted one kid, and I think that was just to please her mama. I dunno… it was always dark, she never liked any lights on, never let me see her undress and she usually didn’t much anyway. I respected her wishes. It was all just a bunch of foolishness.” Charlie trailed off with a mutter.

„Foolishness? Really, Charlie? Lorraine and I used to hold each other tight. We were in our altogether and never did care much for darkness. Oh, the sight! It was like looking at a breathing sculpture only the breathing got quicker. And she felt so warm and soft and good, and she said the same about me only I wasn’t so soft, if you get my drift.” Howard paused as he thought. Then he leaned forward, with a bright glint in his eyes.

„Charlie, it is a great gift when a woman gives herself totally over to you, when she lets you touch her wherever you want because she wants it just as much. Then you feel like a violinist caressing the strings of a Stradivarius and you know how to make it murmur the low mellow notes and sing the high sweet ones because you’ve practiced together for so long…

„To feel her in your arms, in your hands, hard up against you, every curve fitting so well together, well it’s almost like you do become one…”

With a quick wink, Howard said, „For a brief moment, you do.”

He sat back shaking his head, the glint replaced with a sad smile. „And it’s a damn crying shame when it all comes to an end…….. a damn shame. I know we don’t get out of life alive. I just don’t know why we can’t keep some of the benefits until we die.”

Charlie said, dourly, „Well, life is a long list of chores, a lot of hard work to make enough money to satisfy the wife and her constant desires, and then you end up in a nursing home for the last part of it. That’s how I see it. And maybe what you had with Lorraine was as special as you describe, but I bet that’s not common.”

„It’s not as uncommon as you think, Charlie.”

Both men looked sharply at me. I was nearby listening to their conversation and found it so interesting, I just had to interrupt.

We were sitting in the waiting area of Oak Grove Health Care Center. I had come to visit my dad in Room 102, but the nurses were busy with him at the moment. I was still wearing sunglasses I had put on for the drive over because I thought it might prevent me from being recognized. That was about to change.

Charlie was the first to speak. „Who are you and why are you eavesdropping?”

„Who I am, Charlie, is of no real consequence to you.”

Actually, who I am is of every consequence to him. „And I was eavesdropping because I found what Howard was saying is quite right.”

„Thank you, sir, ” Howard said. „But Charlie asked you a question and you just blew him off. I think you should answer it.”

„Howard, if I told you who I was, you’d never believe me.”

„Try me,” he said simply.

I took off my sunglasses and looked straight into Howard’s eyes. He blinked a couple times, then a thoughtful look came over his face. He turned his gaze away.

„Well, mister?!” Charlie almost roared. „Ain’tcha gonna answer him?”

At that moment, a young nurse approached. She was around thirty and quite pleasant to look at, but I could see early aging had started to take hold of her face and shape.

With a smile, she said, „Mr. Howe, your father is ready now to see you.”

I smiled back at her and replied gently, „Oh, that won’t be necessary, darling. My dad died two years ago.”

A look of confusion clouded her face. „Sir, what are you talking about? We just finished his treatment and he is awake and alert right now. Please, go visit with him.”

„I suggest you go back to the room and look,” I answered quietly.

Shaking her head, she turned and strode briskly down the hallway toward Room 102. We watched her peer into the room and then dash to the nurse’s station where she started talking excitedly with the other women there. An older woman, obviously a supervisor, left the station and walked briskly toward me. Her face had a rather grim appearance.

„Mr. Howe,” she said tersely. „Where is Thomas? Is this some kind of joke?”

My dad’s name was Thomas.

„Listen, Barbara,” I replied. „I told Christine that he passed away two years ago. What more can I tell you?”

Her face turned a lovely shade of red. „Then who was in that room and where did he go if that wasn’t your father? And how did you know my name? We’ve never met before!”

She had never met me, but I knew her quite well. Barbara was a 58-year-old woman who had been in nursing for 35 years. She had three children from her first marriage, none from her second. She and her husband, Phil, lived in a modest home outside Forest City with two cats, a dog and a parakeet. Phil was a lazy drunk who occasionally mowed lawns for a few bucks. At least he never got violent or abusive when drinking. I could go on and on, but I won’t.

Howard and Charlie were watching the scene taking place with fascination.

But I was growing bored with it, so I said, „Look down the hall there. See that fellow with the walker getting ready to go out the door? You’d better get after him.”

Barbara spun around and looked to where I indicated. There was indeed a patient with a walker heading toward the door at a speed that could probably be measured in terms of days. She took off after him, but he opened the door before she could get there. This set off an alarm that didn’t shriek, but was still quite discordant. The other nurses at the station scrambled about trying to help Barbara or tend to other patients who had come of out their rooms to see what was going on.

I turned my attention back to Charlie and Howard with a chuckle.

„To answer your question, Charlie, my name is Jeff Howe. I am a writer.”

Howard, still looking thoughtful, said, „Yes, Mr. Howe, but there’s more to it, isn’t there?”

„Well, Howard, that is very insightful on your part. Yes, there is more.”

I leaned toward them and said in a low voice, „I write stories. This is a story, and you are my characters.”

Charlie looked blankly at me for a minute and then burst out laughing.

He said, „Ya, right. That’s a good one. So I guess this ain’t poetry you’re writing.” He laughed again, this time at his own joke.

I smiled. „Heck, Charlie, I thought that Howard’s comments were fairly poetical. Didn’t you?”

„Okay, Mr. Writer. If you are writing this story, show me. Write an ice cream cone into my hand… no, wait… a cold beer! Yeah, put a nice, frosty bottle of beer into my hand.” Charlie smirked.

„Now, Charlie.. you know I can’t do that, don’t you?” I said.

„Ha! I didn’t think you could, you liar!” He sneered.

„Charlie,” I said softly. „You’ve had Parkinson’s for a year now and your hands are shaking more every day. Look at the end table beside your chair.”

First he held up his hands and looked at them curiously. They tremored as if beset by an internal earthquake. Then he looked down at the table and saw a cold, open bottle of beer, condensation glittering down its sides.

„A parlor trick,” he snorted. „Any cheap magician could do that.” With that, he folded his arms which hid his hands away from sight.

„Okay, Charlie… so you don’t believe me. Yet,” I said. „How about if I send you back to your days of youth so you could relive your life? Would that convince you?”

„You can do that?” Charlie asked me, incredulous.

„What do you think, Charlie?” I smiled.

He snorted again and replied, „I think it’s all just a flimflam. You’re a con man and nothing more and you can’t prove anything to me.”

„Charlie.. umm,” started Howard, a warning tone in his voice.

„No, don’t worry, Howard. I won’t hurt him.”

With that I whisked Charlie eighty years into the past to watch his own birth. Then I screamed him through eighty-one years of his life to watch his burial. His daughter was the only witness at the interment. I then sent him to the surface of the sun where he danced in the corona followed by the bottom of the deepest ocean with the only light provided by lantern fish and to the farthest reaches of the solar system where there was nothing but loneliness and heartbreak.

A quick flash to a beach in the Caribbean, Charlie found himself in a hammock about to be served a mai tai by a lovely Jamaican girl in a blue string bikini. But just as he reached for the drink and the girl, I brought him back to Oak Grove.

His eyes were wide, his face drained of color. Howard and I watched him as he tried to reconcile what he had just seen with his current reality. It seemed like he wasn’t even breathing, but then he gasped and sputtered.

„Wha.. wha.. what was all that? Di..di..did you hypnotize me or so…so…something?” he finally got out.

„No, Charlie. No swinging watches were used in the execution of this trick.”

Howard spoke up, „Okay, Mr. Howe. Even if Charlie isn’t quite convinced yet, I’ll bite. Why are you here?”

Why was I here? That question had popped into my mind more frequently of late. I charged into middle age a few years ago like a bull slamming head first into a stone wall at full speed. With youth fading rapidly into the background, I came to realize that life was pretty much a collection of stories with characters coming and going, some staying, most not. In the end, however, everyone leaves. It was a sobering realization.

„Howard,” I finally said. „I’ve come here to offer you and Charlie freedom – the freedom I can’t have because my story still has to play out. It’s that simple.

„Charlie, how about it? Shall I send you back to your youth?”

Charlie had recovered somewhat from the shock of his being transported around the universe so quickly. He replied, „I’ll take a gamble. Sure, go ahead if you really can. Then maybe I can have what Howard had.”

I nodded.

With that, Charlie was gone.

Howard didn’t look the least bit surprised.

„Charlie’s a teenager now, Howard. He is in his hometown, getting ready to ask Doris out on their first date. What do you say? Would you like me to send you back, too? I’d be more than happy to…”

„You think you’re God, don’t ya?” he said.

His question made me uncomfortable.

„No, no, not at all,” I answered. There is a God-like aspect to creating, but story characters always seem to resist when I direct them in the ways I want them to go. I usually give up and just follow them instead while recording the tale they tell me through their actions.

„So what about, Charlie? Is he finally gonna get the life he wants?” Howard asked, an edge in his voice.

I shook my head. „I’m afraid not, Howard. Charlie is who he is. He will make the same decisions he made the first time around and nothing will change.”

Howard chuckled sardonically. „I’m not at all surprised. He’s a miserable bastard.”

„So, back to you, Howard. Do you want me to make you young again? To be able to relive with Lorraine all those wonderful moments?”

He thought about it for a few minutes. As he stared into nowhere, his eyes flashed. A slight smile touched his lips.

„I’m tempted,” he said. „Sorely tempted. But hear me out. Have you ever listened to a song you really loved for the first time?”

I nodded my head.

„It’s a unique experience, one that can never be recaptured. You may enjoy that song greatly when you hear it again, but it loses some of its magic. Eventually, that magic runs out altogether when you hear it over and over and it becomes just another song.

„I had my one time – my life with Lorraine – and my memories keep it magical. I won’t run the risk of losing that no matter how much I may want to go back.”

Howard sighed and yawned, his shoulders slumped. His eyes slowly closed and he became still. I knew he was only dozing.

I was stunned. Howard just taught me something not considered before. The mid-life wall had knocked me senseless, made me yearn for the impossible. And though I knew all my desires were fruitless, this new perspective clicked them into their proper place.

I leaned forward and whispered to him, „My dear Howard. I think I know your mind and what you really want. When you awaken, I’ll be gone. But in my place, Lorraine will be sitting here holding your hand. The two of you will live together for two more months, and it will be in Room 102. At the end of those two months, you will go to sleep together and neither of you will wake up the next day. The staff will find you holding each other in bed. Some of the nurses will weep for the example of love and devotion you show each other in your remaining time. You will be missed.”

With that I stood up and took one last look at Howard. His mouth twitched a little. He let out a loud snore and smacked his lips. Then I put on my sunglasses and walked toward the exit. A bright, unearthly light shined through the glass doors. Soft music wafted through the air.

I left the nursing home.

***

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