This is the forty-fourth part of a fiction serial, in 808 words.
Talking to Phin and getting to see more of Wichita led me to make a decision. I had nothing to keep me in Rochester now, so I broached the subject one morning over breakfast. “Phin, how would you feel if I came to live here permanently? I have already sold the newspaper, and Brad James could contact someone to arrange to sell the old house and everything in it. To be honest, there is very little there of any sentimental value to me, and I can buy new clothes here in Wichita. It would have to be okay with Mrs Mallory too of course”.
He hesitated, and cleared his throat before answering. For a moment I thought I had exceeded his hospitality and been too presumptive. But there were tears in his eyes when he spoke.
“Julian, nothing would make me happier. And as for Mrs Mallory, she thinks you’re the bees knees, whatever she says to your face. Get it done, and clear up your affairs. You’ll be a Wichita man now, and a famous writer one day too, I’ll be bound. Maybe get near as good as Mister Herman Melville”.
Excited by his reply, I phoned to arrange a taxi to take me into the city. I had things to do that day, so there was no tape recorder session.
Brad James was pleased to have all my business, and treated me like royalty. He introduced me to his friend who managed one of the banks, and between them they set everything in motion for my residence in Kansas. That afternoon, I wrote letters to six big publishing houses, outlining my idea of a book, and giving them a taster of what it would contain. At dinner that evening, Mrs Mallory came in from the kitchen and gave me an impromptu hug. “You are very welcome here, Julian. You have brightened up the place, and taken years off of Mister Fuller, believe me”.
The next afternoon when Phin was having his nap, Ann Mallory and I engaged in a little conspiracy surrounding his forthcoming one hundredth birthday. She was adamant that he would be upset if there was too much fuss, but I wasn’t about to let such an important date slide. I resolved to contact the local newspapers, radio stations, and even the new television company. She wanted to invite people to the house for food and drinks, allowing for the fact that it would be too cold to be outside in the Fall. She gave me a list of those she thought should receive invitations, and I promised to get them sent out. When we had made our notes, and decided on decorations and food, she furrowed her brow.
“Julian, we will have to let him know. He can have a fierce temper when he’s riled, and might well take to his room and refuse to come out”. I assured her that I would tackle Phin, and while I was at it, I asked if she would stay on with me after he had gone. She choked up a little, and reached for an embroidered handkerchief in her apron pocket. “Why Julian, that would mean the world to me. I don’t know what else I would do once Mister Fuller leaves us. Your offer is accepted with my gratitude”.
As promised, I did tackle him. And as she predicted, he was none too pleased.
“You know what will happen, Julian? Well, you don’t know, but they will dig into my past, and someone will find out that my daddy was a Confederate from Virginia, and had no real claim to this land. I tell you, Julian, let it go. Nothing good will come of it, once those Redlegs and Yankees get their teeth into the story”.
I asked him for more details, and got it all down on tape. “But Phin, Henry had the title to the land, and left it to you. That means there is no problem about your daddy being a rebel. By the way, why has Henry got no last name on his grave marker?”
Phin smiled. “‘Fore he died, Henry told me that the Fullers were his real family. He didn’t reckon that he could be called Henry Fuller on his marker, so just asked for ‘Henry’. He said his own family didn’t treat him good, because of his problem with learning. But me and my daddy didn’t care, and neither did Walter, Mary, or Susan. He cried when he told me to just put ‘Henry’ on his marker. He said he can’t claim to be a Fuller, but being buried with the rest was the next best thing”.
After almost wearing him out with argument that afternoon, he stuck to his guns. No television, and only the newspaper if I wrote the piece.
And definitely no photographs.