As the taxi slid up to the curb with its wheels chattering for traction, the driver switched off the “On-Duty” light. The vehicle rocked with the force of the wind and the snow tumbled down painting sky and ground white. He leaned his head back against the seat rolling it side to side to release some of the stiffness in his neck. This was his last fare of the night, a special fare, a favor called in.
As he looked out the window, he noticed the neighborhood appeared like a postcard or a Rockwell painting. No McMansions, just pretty houses. All nicely painted with neat shutters and landscaped yards. They were bathed in warmth from the lights spilling out in golden waves across the snow. Flipping on the overhead light, he reread the instructions he had received before starting this journey then turned to look at the passenger in the back seat.
The young man appeared to be in his late twenties. As he watched, the young man placed his hat on his head before brushing his hands over the faint creases in his military uniform. He smoothed the folds of the scarf that had remained snugly wrapped around his neck during the two hours it had taken to complete the trip from the airport. Then he buttoned his coat and pulled on his gloves.
Although he had indicated that he was going home to see his father, the driver could see his hesitation in approaching the house. A former soldier himself, the driver knew the aftereffects of war, knew the difficulty the young man faced. The instructions were very detailed so he knew that finding the strength would be as hard as finding the words.
“Ready,” the driver asked.
The young man swiveled toward him, eyes shimmering in the filtered light inside the taxi. He swallowed slowly, flinched, and then nodded affirmatively. The driver switched off the ignition and the interior lights before moving around the vehicle to meet the young man at passenger side where he stood staring at the house. As the driver watched, the young man squared his shoulders, and lifted his chin before trudging toward the front door. The driver paced him. At the glossy red door, the young man reached out with a trembling hand to push the door bell.
From inside the house the faint trill of the chimes was heard, followed by the muffled shuffling of footsteps. An older version of the man beside him answered the summons of the door bell. He addressed the driver, saying “Yes, can I help you?”
The driver turned slightly to the right and gestured to the young man beside him hidden by the shadows on the front porch. Seeing the second visitor, the older man said, “Oh, my God! David. Son.” His voice broke and he cleared his throat before continuing, “Come in. Come in, both of you.” He grabbed his son, pulling him into a hug, then ushered the visitors inside.
“It’s so good to see you. How long can you stay? It’s too bad Dylan couldn’t make it home at the same time.” His voice trailed off as he saw his son clearly for the first time. His son’s face was pasty under his tan. His eyes were sunken and encircled with a shade reminiscent of bruised plums. His facial features were drawn and skeletal.
“You look . . .,” his voice faded as a tear slipped down his son’s cheek.
“Sir,” the driver said, then handed the older man the envelope that had been entrusted to him for delivery.
The young man’s father reached toward it as if it were a rabid dog that might strike at any moment. He opened the envelope and began to read the contents. “We regret to inform you, “ his voice choked into silence. The only movement was the twitching of his eyes as he continued reading. His face paled to a parchment shade and he appeared to age twenty years in the time it took him to complete the notification. When he looked at his remaining son, he said, “Oh, David.”
The young man nodded and unbuttoned his coat. Then he loosened the scarf revealing the stark white bandages covering his throat. A souvenir of the attack that had killed his brother had left him with no further words to speak.
© 2009 Lisa G. Beaudoin