Nothing Is Ever Fleeting That Returns
by George Mahoney
I walk along the hardened-sand road and turn at the path marked Begonia. Two plots in I stop and look down at a rose-speckled stone that stands out from all the others in Lemon Bay Cemetery. Its top lines read:
My eyes flick up and down between the first name and the second. Then I bend to feel the grainy surface of the stone.
“You’re spending a lot of time here. Don’t you have other things to do?”
I shoot up and turn to see if someone has followed me. “Who’s there?”
“Whom do you expect? You’re messing with my spot. Can’t I respond?”
Speechless, I swivel around looking for someone hidden behind one of the scrub pines.
“It’s useless to search for someone who’s already here.”
“Here and everywhere. Have you come to snoop about me or my father?”
“I’m not snooping. It’s public land. It’s hard to answer your question.”
“It says right here that you’re the son of this father, the famous painter.”
“Don’t I know it? It’s strange that he followed me, wherever I went.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s the one that left us, five children and a wife. He had some calling he told my mother to go off to the South Seas and paint the natives. She was dumbfounded. Do you blame her?”
“Not at all.”
“But finally she told him to go, figuring she was better off without him. He was useless hanging around or going off painting whenever he felt like it.”
“How did you feel?”
“I didn’t have a childhood, you know. I became the man of the household, expected to keep the others in line.”
“That must have been hard.”
“Very. I was pissed at him then and stayed pissed at him even after he became famous and died young. I still had that big ache.” There’s a long pause.
“Are you still there?” I ask.
“I’m not going anywhere. What was I saying?”
“About the ache.”
“Oh, yes, I was furious at him for leaving, but more so for not taking me with him. If he was going on an adventure, I wanted to be a part of it but never was.”
“I don’t blame you.” My throat tightens as I sputter, “I’d feel the same if my father took off and left me.”
“Something wrong? The last words sounded a little wobbly.”
“Oh, it’s nothing. Just a fleeting feeling.”
“Nothing is ever fleeting that returns. You can’t get away with that here. May I ask you something?”
“But I’ve come to learn about you, or you and your father.”
“That’s not the way it works here. If you ask something, so do I.”
“What was your father like?”
“He stayed with us, if that’s what you mean.”
“Was that good?”
My eyes shifted upwards to a row of clouds above the bay. I hesitated to answer. “Sort of, I guess.”
“Go on, please.”
“He was there, and he was not there. That may not be a clear answer, but he was at work a lot. My mother always told me that he was very busy. We lived in the same house but only connected briefly. We seemed to be going in opposite directions: I’d be going out as he’d be coming in, or I’d be going upstairs as he’d be coming downstairs. He was pleasant enough when we met, but he was never really there for me.”
“How did that feel?”
I stop and struggle to respond. “It’s as though there’s a big empty space in my life where there should be somebody important.”
“What did he do?”
“Investment banking. He left us well off. We wanted for nothing.”
“Except for the most important thing, which is why you’re here.”
“I’m not sure why I’m here. I’m curious how the son of a famous painter ended up in the cemetery of a small town in Florida, off the Gulf of Mexico.”
“I had my own journey as all of us do. So whom are you seeking to know about? Me or my father? Do you still seek to know about my father because the one you had eluded you? Or are you wondering how I survived after being abandoned because your father abandoned you?”
“That’s unfair. My visit here is out of curiosity about you and Paul.”
“Is it really? Is it out of curiosity or need? Were you drawn here for some other reason?”
“What could that be?”
“To be at peace with your father as I have come to peace with mine.”
I hesitate before asking, “And did that happen finally?”
“Strange to say, yes. While I was fuming that he went off to some exotic place without me, he told me on his last visit home that my time would come.”
“And did it?”
“Of course it did. I travelled for work in South America and then the United States before finally settling here. Each move was a new adventure. And, strange to say, while I didn’t go with him, wherever I went he came with me.”
“He came to me every time I introduced myself to someone new. There’d be that flicker of recognition in the person’s face and then the question, ‘Are you related to the famous painter?’ Soon I realized that he stayed with me more than if he stayed at home. Things can turn around.”
“I doubt that could be the same with me.”
“Mine stayed but was never really there. I wouldn’t know where to look for him.”
“Be open to letting him find you.”
“He didn’t when he was alive.”
“Well, that can change, if you want it to.”
I pause and then gulp, before saying “It’s hard to admit but I don’t know if I want to.”
“May I ask why’s that?”
“You may but I don’t have an answer for you now. It feels too heavy, like layers of resentment built up over the years. My way of survival, I guess. It’s hard to suddenly let go of all that.”
“Strange that you came wondering about me and Paul and now I’m wondering about you.”
“How’s that?” I answer sharply.
“Why snap at me for pointing out something within that you’ve avoided? I’m curious where you’ll go from here. The greatest adventures are those inside of us, what we hold onto and what we let go of. You don’t have to travel far for them.”
“No indeed.” I shake my head knowing it’s time for me to move on.
◊ ◊ ◊
George Mahoney has had varied and well-travelled careers as teacher, priest, and consultant. His short stories have been published in The Storyteller and The Iconoclast. He runs two literary discussion groups at the local library here in Englewood.
6 thoughts on “Nothing Is Ever Fleeting That Returns”
“the greatest adventures are those inside of us.” Absolutely!
That is probably the most surprising sentence for me in the whole story. It just came.
A very sensitive story, well told, though a few commas scattered about might help. For me, the paradox is that there is nothing more present than the kind of vacancy being explored here. Then, too, there is the uncertainty about what letting go of one feeling opens the door to receiving a different one. The story gives us things to think about and feelings to explore. AGB
Thank you for a very perceptive and sensitive comment. It’s on the mark.
I find this a warm and wonderful story nicely merging historical information with personal insight. At first the dialogue seems to be something of a stretch asking the reader to suspend disbelief, but it works as a kind of magical realism. Congratulations to George Mahoney on a fine story.