Thanks for the Memories By devra
Alan looked up from the book he was reading and glanced at the door to the backyard. Again. He sighed heavily. This was getting ridiculous. There was no reason to be worried. So Charlie was home in the middle of the afternoon, what's the big deal? Alan went back to his book and after three attempts at trying to find his place, he realized that he had no idea what he had been reading since he'd seen Charlie come home and make a beeline for the garage.
Alan stood with one hand on the garage door. He could do this. It was just a garage. But, he had to admit to himself, it hadn't been a garage since the boys had been born. The place that had once been roomy enough to hold both his and Margaret's cars when they had first bought the house had slowly been taken over by the pieces of their lives that they had outgrown. That was, until Margaret had gotten sick and then it had become Charlie's self-imposed prison.
Charlie was sitting on the floor, legs crossed, a position that only young people were able to accomplish, and was staring upward at the multitude of empty chalkboards that were facing him.
Charlie blinked but other than that, there wasn't any acknowledgement of Alan's presence in this room. He cleared his throat and repeated his younger son's name but this time there wasn't so much as a blink of an eye, so Alan moved into Charlie's line of sight, blocking his view of a particularly large chalkboard.
Success. Charlie looked up at him then dropped his head, finding as much interest in the cement floor as he had with the empty board.
"Wanna tell me what the problem is?"
"It's unsolvable," Charlie whispered.
Alan felt his gut tighten painfully. "Like that P versus NP—"
"No. No," Charlie answered rapidly, glancing up at him with horror in his eyes. "There isn't even an equitable set of numbers—an equation—though Einstein..."
Alan squatted down until he was level with Charlie. "Talk to me."
"I want to turn back time."
Alan could feel the pressure in his stomach relax. "Even being the genius that your are, Charlie, I don't think—"
"Today is the anniversary of the day that the doctor told us that Mom had cancer."
Charlie's eyes widened in shock. "You didn't remember?"
Alan placed his hands on his thighs and stood. "No, Charlie." He struggled to force the anger down and out of his voice. "There are many things I mark the anniversary of, and the day I was told that your mother was sick and dying isn't one of them."
"I was a coward."
"You were scared. Hell, we all were."
Charlie shook his head, unfolded his body and stood. "No, see, you're wrong. Mom wasn't scared. She was the bravest of us all. Don got angry. You put blinders on. And me, I hid. Here. Behind the numbers."
"Your mother, she understood."
"Stop saying that," Charlie pleaded.
"Okay, son. What do you want me to say?"
"I don't know," Charlie answered sadly, "but those words are just an excuse for my inability to face reality." Charlie shrugged. "I miss her."
"Me too. Every day." His stomach did a flip flop this time, remembering the ride home from the doctor's office, Margaret chatting away about errands that would need to be done before she went into the hospital for chemo and the reminiscence hurt. He was angry at Charlie for not allowing sleeping memories to stay sleeping. "What are you trying to accomplish here?" Alan waved his arm around, encompassing the room of chalkboards.
"I told you," Charlie replied with just as much anger as Alan had doled out. "I want to turn back time."
"You're being ridiculous."
"No, being ridiculous is hiding in this garage for three months, working on a problem that I had no hope of solving. I had a three-month temper tantrum, Dad."
"You did what you needed to do to survive."
"Sticking my head in the sand is not surviving."
"It was, at the time," Alan said softly.
"I'm sorry." Charlie used his unbuttoned shirt sleeve to wipe away a tear.
"I know." Alan couldn't forgive what he didn't understand, but he could at least acknowledge Charlie's admission.
"Don said I would never forgive myself for not saying goodbye to mom. We argued. Well, Don argued, I—"
"I heard, but I didn't listen," Charlie explained. "I'm listening now but it's too late." Charlie walked over to one of the boards and began drawing random numbers in the chalk dust, hiding behind them now as he had then. "I didn't want to reduce mom to a number. Have her be a statistic. Numbers wouldn't do that to me." Charlie snorted. "I know, how sophomoric does that sound. Numbers are my friends. But it was the truth—and I thought—"
"You can't turn back time."
Charlie ignored Alan and kept on talking. "I thought if I saw mom while she was dying, that's how I would always remember her. Instead now, I've found that I can't remember her at all, which is worse than thinking of her wasting away, suffering—"
"Stop it. Stop it right now, Charlie." There was no purpose in this and he thought, unlike Margaret, he couldn't fully comprehend what made his younger son tick. There was no method to this madness, except to dredge up visuals and feelings Alan would rather keep buried.
Charlie turned at the anguish in Alan's command. "Oh, god, Dad, I'm sorry."
Alan scrubbed his face, wiping away a few of his own tears in the process. "You want to say goodbye to your mother? Come with me."
Charlie and Alan stood at the top of a secluded path, surrounded by trees, overlooking the city. He took Charlie by the shoulders and physically turned him to face an area off to the side. "Do you remember?"
His slow head shake turned into an emphatic nod. "We used to have picnics here." He laughed. "Mom would drag us up here. She'd make us leave—"
"I couldn't bring work. You weren't allowed a pencil or even a piece of paper and Donnie had to leave his—"
"Baseballs paraphernalia at home." Charlie shook his head. "We would talk. All of us. I couldn't have been—I was young."
"We all were." Alan slung his arm around Charlie's shoulder. "Your mother would pack a picnic lunch and drag us up here complaining and groaning. Saying we hated it."
Charlie laughed. "We did hate it."
Alan agreed with a chuckle of his own. "Okay, we did. But for some reason, when I want to talk to your mother, this is the place I come to."
"No numbers here."
"Nope," Alan said, tilting Charlie's head so he could kiss his temple. "Only you and your memories."
Charlie nodded. "Yeah, I remember." And he smiled at some long ago image.
"Take all the time you need talking to your mother." He squeezed Charlie's shoulder. "I'll be waiting in the car."
Charlie slid into the passenger seat, buckled his seatbelt then settled down. "You should have really locked the door. Don would be pretty pissed if he knew you were sitting in a—"
"I was fine."
"You were sleeping," Charlie groused.
"I just had my eyes closed. I wasn't sleeping." Alan started the car. "You were gone a long time."
"We had a lot to talk about. Well actually I talked. Mom listened."
Alan leaned over and patted Charlie's leg. "She was a good listener."
"Do you think that we could convince Don to come up for a picnic sometime?"
Alan nodded. "Kicking and screaming but he'd come."
"Good. I'd like that."
"Me, too," Alan agreed.
"I said goodbye."
"Do you forgive me for not being able to do it sooner?"
"It's not a matter of me forgiving you, Charlie. This was your own demon you had to exorcise."
"Thanks for the memories."
"Don't thank me," Alan replied. "Thank your mother. The memories were always there. You just needed to know where to look."