This is the forty-seventh part of a fiction serial, in 850 words.
The start to Phin’s one hundred and first year had been rainy and cold. I continued to try to get something down about what had happened to him in the lead up to his deciding to contact me, but his replies were accompanied by a series of shrugs and head shaking.
“That won’t be much of a chapter, Julian. The war came, and I made even more money from the companies I had invested in. They were all doing well, manufacturing stuff for use in the war. More people came to work and live in and around Wichita, and I sat here thinking about the old days, while paying people to do everything I used to be able to do for myself. Hell son, I was ninety in forty-three, with the war still having some ways to go. What did you expect me to be up to?”
He was right of course. Writing about some lonely old man sitting contemplating his life for twenty years between the ages of seventy and ninety wasn’t going to make much of a chapter. The bulk of my book was going to have to be the events before Henry fell from the ladder. I tried again about his connection to my parents.
“So you got sent a photo of me as a baby. You knew my father had gone to Rochester to take over the newspaper, that gave you a point of reference. But why did you leave it so long to make contact? Why wait until my parents were both dead to finally contact me? Was it just so you could leave everything to someone?”
He was eating a slice of cake that Mrs Mallory had given him with a glass of milk. I had to wait until he finished it.
“I know it’s hard to understand, Julian. But Sophia made her choice, and it wasn’t for me to go against it. Once I knew about you, I had always decided to leave you everything. Ask Brad James, it was all down in my old will and testament. But I had a hankering to see you. You are the only family I have left, and all that remains of my Sophia. But I will tell you something I hadn’t mentioned. Brad’s daddy used to run that law firm before he got sick and Brad took over. I had him contact a private detective in New York State. He found a reliable man in Buffalo, and I retained him to keep a check on you, and how you were getting on”.
That was a revelation that took me by surprise. “How long had you been doing that, Phin?”
He thought for a moment. “Well his first report mentioned your daddy being in hospital, and you taking over the running of the paper. It must have been about twenty or more years ago. When Brad’s daddy passed, I got Brad to keep it up, using the same company in Buffalo. So I knew you were okay, and how to get in touch if need be”.
Mrs Mallory came in then. “Nap time now, that’s enough until after dinner”.
By the time the weather was brightening up, I had just about done with the tape recorder sessions. I had concluded that Phin wasn’t about to tell me any family secret about Sophia never getting in touch, and I was genuinely beginning to wonder if he even knew why that had happened. If he did, he appeared determined to take it to his grave.
I spent more time at the desk in my room, getting the draft tidied up into a manuscript I could send to the publisher in New York. My talks with Phin then tended to happen after dinner, and I noticed him going back over old ground more, his mind seeming to wander on occasion. Talking about his daddy or Susan made him more emotional than it had last year, and sometimes he would wave his hands at me and just stop talking. He didn’t seem to know that I had finished my research, and kept telling me stuff I already knew.
One morning, Mrs Mallory came and knocked on the door of my room. “He’s crying, Julian. No idea why, but he’s sure broken up”. I went back down with her to see him, and wa shocked at how distressed he was. But he wouldn’t answer any of my questions, and just kept shaking his head. When he calmed down, he started to say random things that had nothing to do with what I was asking him.
“That Delacroix, you know, Eugene? He got himself shot dead, for cheating at cards. Place called Abilene, we were told. That woman with the teeth missing. She tried to hold us up once. Daddy said he saw her in Delano. Selling herself she was. Oh my Lord I cannot imagine who might want to buy her! Walter Washington was a strong man, one of the strongest. My how that man could work”. Ann touched my shoulder, and shook her head.
“He’s not right. I’m calling the doctor”.