And Farewell Goes Out Sighing
"What time is it?"
"Ten minutes later than last you asked, Dad."
"That doesn't help me. I didn't know what time it was then, either."
"No, I suppose not. You have plans for a late supper out?"
He opens the paper and folds it over to the financial section, hoping the charts and statistics will spark his interest and help keep him awake and in his father's good graces a few minutes longer.
"You'd better turn that desk lamp on, you'll ruin your eyes."
"Hm, too late for that. I'd still squint either way."
"Where's Mary? It's not like her to be late."
"She's not, Dad. You're twenty minutes ahead of yourself as usual. She'll come when she comes, about ten-thirty."
They're all named Mary, the nurses. He's given up on reminding his father that the one who comes in the evening is called Debra.
"Shouldn't you be getting home?"
"Nope. I'm fine sitting right here, reveling in your company."
"I'd like to be alone. Go on. Get home. It's getting late."
"Sorry. Not going to budge."
"Well, then, have it your way. Pass me part of the paper, will you?"
"The fashion section. What part to you think?"
"You know, Dad, this paper has sat here on your bedside table all day long and only now you want to check up on your portfolio?"
"Who paid for the subscription, my boy?"
He sighs, unfolds the section and prepares to rip it in half.
"Yes," they both answer, although he knows the nurse is only addressing him.
"Sorry, I'm early. Would you like me to change your father's IV?"
"Yes, that would be fine. After that, I'd like to turn in."
"Of course, I'll be right back with the tray."
"What the devil does she want to do with my IV?"
"To flush it out, I think. You're backing up again."
His eyes fall on the tell-tale red tinge staining the thinner of many assorted tubes pumping fluids in and out of the old man.
"Why am I still here?"
"You mean still in this bed or still on this planet?"
"That's not funny. Of course I mean this bed, you idiot."
"Manners, Dad. Or see if I stay up past my bedtime again for you."
The old man's quiet for a while. He leans back into the pillows that keep his aged, withered body propped up and closes his eyes. He may be sorry, or maybe he's just fuming quietly.
"I told you to get home. Back to that wife of yours and that ridiculously small real estate property you call a home. I keep telling you to sell that place, buy something proper for your family."
"Would love to Dad, but the problem is, I already sold it."
His father's eyes open in surprise.
"You sold it? What did you get for it?"
"No, come on. Tell me."
"I told you already, I got fair market value for it."
"Never want to discuss your financials with me, do you?"
"Why should I? You'd just tell me I should have gotten more. Sweated out the buyer and such. I'm not interested in that conversation anymore."
"Well, what conversation would you be interested in?"
"Anything else. TV sit-coms, world economics, black holes, puppies, anything."
"What about your wife? Is she happy with the price?"
He doesn't bite. Sometimes ignoring the question is the best deflection.
"You never want to talk about her anymore, do you?"
It should sting, but he's too tired to feel much of anything at the moment.
"Well...what did you do now? The two of you get in another fight? What was it over this time? Her hen-pecking or your head-stuck-in-the-sand obstinacy?"
Dammit. Not tonight.
"Nothing, Dad. I don't want to talk about Julia right now."
"That's why you don't want to go home, isn't it? You've made a royal mess of things again, haven't you?"
He gets up and drops the paper on his father's bed.
"I'm done. I'll go call the nurse. Goodnight."
He heads for the door. He opens it and Debra is coming up the hall. Thank God. Ten more minutes of his father and sleep would have been impossible tonight.
"Mason, I asked you a question!"
He stops in the doorway. Debra can hear the yelling. More importantly, she can see his weariness. All the nurses could.
"Would you like me to give your father a sedative tonight?"
"Yes, please. Wake me if there's any problem."
"I will. Goodnight, Mr. Capwell."
He turns around sharply as the nurse moves past him into the room.
"What do you want me to say, Dad? That I lost her because I failed her somehow? You like that version, don't you?"
His father's eyes cloud with confusion.
"What on earth are you talking about? I asked you what's wrong with me, why is the nurse here?"
He doesn't answer. His father looks so much older than his eighty-six years and far more fragile.
"Mason..." This time's it's a plea as the nurse lifts his arm, covered in white tape and bruises.
"You're fine, Dad. It's nothing...nothing at all."
It's not far for him to find his bed. Just a step or two across the hall. The furniture and walls and pictures that hang on them are familiar. As are the sheets. It's the closest thing he's felt to comfort in months. That is as long as he doesn't think about the rest of the empty rooms. He can rest here, sometimes quite well as long as his father sleeps though the night. Tonight he will, already the halls have grown quiet.
He readies himself for bed and turns out the lights and climbs in. A pale moon is just rising over the trees. He wishes it was dark, because then he might imagine her here, with her head resting on the pillow beside him. Sometimes it's Mary, sometimes it's Julia. That's what he misses the most, the company while he sleeps. The breathing. Tonight he closes his eyes and listens hard for the sound neither of them can make anymore.
"Mason, I want out of this room."
"You, too, huh?"
"I mean now. Today. Get the nurse. Get my wheelchair. I want out. There's birds chirping outside."
"Since when did you take up an interest in birding, Dad?"
"You like keeping me prisoner in my own home, don't you?"
"It's a joy that knows no bounds."
"I mean it, damn you. Call the nurse!"
It's not even an hour past breakfast, which he takes at his father's bedside each morning, waiting for him to wake and assess his lucidity. This morning he's sharp as a damn tack. Just his luck he wants out today. He'd hoped to get the old man on the phone this morning to Kelly who's been calling for the past few days.
More of the same.
Mason, tell me the truth, should I fly out this weekend?
No, save your frequent flier miles.
You need a break, Mason.
I'm all right.
No, you're not. It's not fair what Daddy told you. We should all take turns watching over him.
He doesn't want you to worry. Besides, he's fine.
He's not fine, Mason.
Okay, so he's circling the drain. He's still keeping his head above water.
I'm coming soon.
Kelly, he doesn't want that. He's told you that. He doesn't want you and Ted or Brandon to see him like this.
It's not like it's the flu, Mason. He's not getting better.
The conversations with Ted aren't much different except for the air of indifference and the unspoken sibling-wide apology that when it came to drawing straws, he'd been the one stuck with the short stick. But, he always knew that would be the case someday. And when he's honest with himself, he knows that's why he stayed behind in Santa Barbara. That, and he wasn't yet ready to say goodbye to Julia.
In the end it took two nurses, the wheelchair, and a traffic controller (aka Nell, the housekeeper) to get his father down the stairs. Well, halfway down. The steps proved too jarring on the old bones. After a good deal of cursing it was decided that the old man would deign to allow his son to carry him the rest of the way. Good thing for his own aging back that his father didn't weigh much anymore.
"Now that, my boy, is a fine magnolia tree! We used to hold birthday parties under it, you remember?"
"Yes, I do."
It is well into spring and the grounds are in bloom. He pushes the chair over the flagstones, feeling the sun on his back. He parks his father under the tree and removes his suit coat.
"Eden, she had her fifth birthday party right here. Rosa set the table under the boughs. It smelled just as wonderful then as it does now. There were pony rides and a juggler, you remember?"
There had been stains on his pants, too, from where Channing had shoved him to the ground while carrying a piece of cake. Pink cake. Disgusting. The few bites weren't worth the scolding he'd gotten for "horsing around in fine clothes."
"I got her a new silver bike that year. The one with the bells and the horn. Boy, did she love that bike. She insisted on bringing it up to her room at night, remember?"
He watches his father's eyes. They're bright today. It's okay, then. He can relax. He won't have to remind him. Today, he remembers she's gone.
"Yeah, I remember. I also remember Ted wandering off and getting lost."
His father laughs. He wasn't laughing at the time. "That's right, Minx caught him stuck halfway though the shrubbery. Fine memory you have, Mason."
As my eldest, I'm counting on you to keep an eye on your little brothers and sisters. You disappointed me today, Mason. What if Teddy had wandered up onto the road? Or into the Lockridge pool?
"You know what I want, Mason?"
"What? Deal the cards, Dad."
"Chateau Briand with bearnaise sauce and pommes parisiennes."
"I don't think La Virage delivers. Besides, if I'm not mistaken, Nell already prepared you a strapping meal of Jell-O au pommes vertes."
His father deals them both eleven cards from the double deck, face-down. "No wonder I'm dying, the food you let them feed me. I didn't see you lining up for a serving of gelatin."
"I had Indian take-out in my chambers. I didn't want to spoil your appetite by indulging my paneer in your presence."
"How thoughtful of you, Son. Always putting your pallette first."
"Well, my stomach's not shaped like a shriveled pear at present."
"Yeah, likely not, but your liver might well be."
He fans out his hand, arranging like cards together. Damn, not a joker in the bunch. He never gets a joker when his father deals.
"Told you, I quit drinking decades ago."
"Mm-hm. Keep telling yourself that."
He had to. That was the truth of it--almost as often as he had to remind his father. You'd think it would get easier.
"Look, are we going to play cards or do you want to fling insults instead? I'm not up to multi-tasking tonight."
"All I'm saying, is once in a while you might want to sneak something edible in for me. It's the least you could do."
"Didn't think you had much appetite anymore. Do you want me to lead?"
"Be my guest."
He draws a card from the deck. A red king. An auspicious start. He might have a chance this round. He discards a five. His father has the unnerving ability to tell exactly how far ahead or behind they are in the deck, holding his cards close until the final crushing melding. Call it a sixth sense, or voodoo maybe, but those gnarled fingers and faltering mind could still outmaneuver him at Canasta.
"Don't look smug, Mason. You know you're not going to win."
"Only two rounds into the deck and you can tell?"
"Yes, I can. I can tell by my leading hand. Much as in business as in cards, it's the foundation you begin with that counts."
"One that's full of jokers, I suppose."
"You never were very good at this game, were you, my boy?"
"Nope. Cards weren't really my forte."
"No they weren't. But Channing--now there was a card shark. Texas hold 'em, Gin, Canasta, he could knock us all flat."
"I guess he could."
"You know, it's a shame he isn't here. I'd give just about anything to take him on right now. That's how lucky I feel tonight."
"I'd feel lucky if he were here."
"Nothing, Dad. I'm taking your ten."
He can't sleep, so he walks to the beach instead. The old fence is still bent in the same place between the homes, allowing him access onto the private sands. It's a dark night, and microorganisms light the crashing waves with violet luminescence. There is little wind and the sand is still warm. He walks to where the log still lies, half in and out of the sand. This is his place and he makes himself comfortable against its shelter. No one's ever asked him to leave, even when he occasionally sleeps here. He supposes the new owners understand. He addresses the sea air.
"Well, it's been a peach of a night at Casa de Capwell. Dad still plays dirty at cards and everything else. Sometimes I think he invents his own dottage, just to irritate me. But then, what did I expect? I knew I'd be dealt this trump card sooner or later. He couldn't leave this mortal coil without throwing a few rusty daggers at me for old time's sake. He's spared the rest of the family his good humor. But myself, I suppose I was especially reared for this task, wasn't I?"
For some reason this makes him smile.
"What else can I say...being back in the bosom. Didn't think I'd ever sleep in my old bed again and here I am. It's a lot like being twelve again. Too much like being twelve. I don't much care for it. Something about being a Capwell...we can't ever truly leave home.
The waves flash and glow in answer.
"I'm still angry, Julia. Wish I wasn't. I wish I just didn't care very much anymore and maybe a part of me doesn't. But he's my father. His words still have teeth, if lacking reason. I could do myself a favor and just stop listening, but what other choice do I have? I suppose you'd tell me I do have a choice. But how can I choose it? He needs the companionship. Or maybe, it's the other way around."
He ponders this thought and imagines her expression, looking back at him, soft brown eyes filling with sympathy.
"Yeah, I think that's it. I'm still grasping at reasons to stay."
The wind is mild but it blows the sand around his feet. She may still be here yet--ashes washed back in from the sea.
"Should have married you, Julia, the first minute I had the chance. Then maybe I could have bought myself a few more days of your company. Like putting away savings bonds for a rainy day. I would draw on a few right now and spend them very wisely. I guess I didn't think very far ahead. There was always going to be another day, another place."
He turns his head and can see the dim glow of interior lights in their old living room up the shore behind him. He hopes the couple that bought the place will be happy here. They were happy here. All three of them. Most of the time. He longs to walk though that door once more and find a blanket and pillow waiting for him on the couch.
"Mason, do me a favor."
"Get your nose out of that book and listen to the old man, will you?"
"I said, put the book down and get up for a minute. I have a favor to ask you."
He sets the book aside.
"What the hell is so interesting anyway? It's been keeping you occupied all day."
"You'd be proud of me, Dad. I'm studying."
"Studying? Studying for what?"
His father wags a finger at him. "Nice, try. You think you can fool me. I may be slipping, but I know you've been practicing law for over twenty years."
"Not outside of California."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Never mind. What favor, Dad?"
The old man points to a shelf high over the bed which is home to various antique collectibles.
"Up there, bring me a flask."
"What do you think?"
"Trying to speed yourself along, Dad?"
"No, I just wanted to mark the occasion."
"Of what? Your imminent demise? That's a bit macabre, even for you."
"Oh, shut up, Mason, and bring down the flask."
"The silver one."
"They're all silver. Be more specific."
"Sometimes I think you were put on this earth just to annoy me."
"Fine, I'll grab the one I can reach."
He steps up on the chair and brings down one from the Louis XIV era. It's still half-full. His father accepts it approvingly.
"Good, now bring us two glasses."
"I'll bring you one glass."
"Spare me the lecture, Mason. It's just one drink. Don't get on your high-horse and don't go telling the nurses, either."
"Sorry, Dad. I can't join you. I made a promise."
"Fine. Refuse me on my death bed. I guess that shouldn't surprise me. Could be the last drink of my life."
"Gee, Dad, did the Grim Reaper stop by earlier today and leave his card? I didn't know the big event was tonight. I'd have worn my tux."
His father slams the flask down on the side table. "Damn you, Mason. You're taking too much pleasure in this."
"To the contrary, Dad. Look, I'll share a pair of cigars with you, will that vice suffice?"
His father's expression changes and a smile emerges.
"There's a fine box of Cubans in the study. And fetch the card table, too."
His father's hands were too bent to open the wrapper so he did the honors--cut off the ends, lit the cigar and handed it over before preparing his own. Soon the dim room was swimming with smoke. He pulled open the windows to keep the alarms and the nose of the housekeeper at bay. The old man didn't take more than a couple drags over the next hour, even though his lungs were still in good trim.
"Remind me I need to call Jack about the Davidson/Harbinger Mutual Fund merger. We'll want in on that."
He nods and takes a lungful of smoke and plays the queen of spades, blowing rings. It's fun. For once, he's winning, even if the conversation has come unstuck in time.
"Huh, I see you've saddled me with the old bitch. How kind of you, Son."
"My pleasure, Dad."
"And tell Eden to stop riding that damn bike in the hallway, it's breaking my concentration."
"I'll ask Rosa to have her take it outside."
"Thank you. Now, reshuffle the cards so I can bury you in hearts."
He's got a fine headache from the tobacco by the time they've reached their final round. The bastard is winning by under fifty points--shot the moon twice. Maybe he let him. The old man points his smoldering cigar in his direction.
"Rep. Graveson and his family will be attending Opening Day at the Santa Barbara Yacht Club next month. You should call them, ask that daughter of theirs, Emily, I think her name is, to accompany you. She's a fine young lady. You'd get along famously, Mason."
"Uh, huh; I'll get right on it."
Graveson. If memory served, the 'young woman' must be in her fifties by now.
"Well, see that you do! I'll not have you bringing one of your trollops to such an important affair. I'm telling you I've got an eye on his boat. A 100-foot Evangeline. She's a beauty. Sophia agrees with me. I think I'll buy it for Christmas or maybe her birthday. Do you think she'll be pleased?"
"I'm sure she will, Dad."
"I mean it about calling that young lady, Mason. It might get us a better price on the yacht."
"I'd oblige you, Dad, but I'm afraid I'm still in love with my wife."
He looks up from his cards at the silence that follows. His father is staring at him through the curling smoke. There is an unmistakable expression of shock and sorrow on his face.
"I know why you sold the house."
"I'm so sorry. Julia's gone, Son, isn't she?"
One needed a playbill to keep up with the scene changes tonight.
"Yeah, Dad, she is."
The cards from his father's hand scatter to the table. For a terrifying moment he thinks the old man is going to weep. The moment passes and their eyes meet again.
"Listen, Mason. I know you're still grieving, but there's some advice I want to give you while I still can."
He folds his cards and sits back in the chair. Game over.
"A man your age shouldn't be alone. You have a lot of life left in you. Don't separate yourself from it. Believe me, there's no great honor in dying alone."
"It has nothing to do with honor, Dad."
"I know you, Mason. I know how you treat your wounds. You withdraw; you punish yourself; you blame."
"You're wrong. I don't blame anyone. Not this time."
"You blame yourself."
For once he lets the words sink in. They fall like lead in his stomach.
"All I'm trying to say, Son, is allow yourself the chance to open up again. This limbo you've placed yourself in, it's not good. There's still time."
"I haven't placed myself anywhere, Dad."
"What's it been now, a couple of years? More?"
He crushes out the cigar and gets up. Exhaustion has won him over. Two years, three months and 24 days.
"Mason, don't walk away. Hear what I'm saying."
"I heard you, Dad. But that's all. I'm not like you. My reasons are my own. There's only so much love in this world and I've accepted more of it than was ever my due. It's done. It's over. I've buried two lovers; I have no interest in finding a third. This is the last time I'm going to speak of it, so I hope you can remember."
He goes to the door to call the nurse.
He turns around and steadies his voice.
"It's all right, Dad. Let's just say goodnight. And thanks for the cigar."
Yeah, sweetheart. I'm sorry, I know it's late.
Are you okay?
I'm fine. Just...had a rough day with Dad. I wanted to hear your voice.
I'm sorry, Daddy. Is he getting much worse?
No, better, ironically. At least in mind these last few days. It comes and goes.
Do you want me to come out to California?
No, it's all right. I should have remembered the time. It's...good lord, it's after 1 a.m. in New York, isn't it?
Yeah, but I'm glad you called. I miss you. David and I hope you're still considering moving out here. Lots of lawsuits waiting for you in Manhattan.
I know. They'll just have to wait a little longer. Your granddad's taking his own sweet time. It's like watching paint dry. "Ripeness is all..."etcetera.
Don't go Lear on me, Dad.
Sorry...I guess I shouldn't joke about this.
Are you sure you're okay? I can get a flight this weekend.
Naw. You stay put and look after yourself and my granddaughter, you hear me?
Dad, she's not much bigger than a softball right now. I'm feeling fine. I'm over the nausea. I can fly.
California's overrated this time of year.
I'm sure it's beautiful. Are you getting any sun?
Oh, the warden lets me out from time to time. If I'm good I get to see the ocean.
Dad, you haven't been going back to the beach house, have you?
Uh, the old house? No, why?
Daddy, please don't lie to me. I don't like to think of you out there alone. You'll get too sad.
I'm not alone, sweetheart.
You promised me.
I know. And I've kept the promise.
Good. I believe you. Sleep indoors tonight, okay?
Okay, I will. Love you.
Love you, too, Dad.
The quiet hours slip by as he lies in his childhood bed, listening to the leaves. Sleep would not come, only memories, some as disjointed and random as his father's: Samantha taking her first steps across the living room floor, a Christmas wreath he once nailed to the door, rain leaking through the front windows during a storm, the smell of bacon frying in the kitchen, his clock ticking in the study.
Shouldn't have sold the house, Capwell.
It's her voice, speaking in his head. It was painful how clear it could be sometimes.
In his mind he wanders through their home, touching the backs of the chairs, the brass fixtures, the wallpaper. In the bedroom she's waiting for him, splayed on the sheets with nothing more than a smile. The windows are open and the sea wind blows warm, stirring the curtains. He goes to her and they lie close, mouths together, warm skin against his, the curves of her body under his hands, her soft cries in his ear, her hair falling down over his shoulders.
I'm sorry, Julia-love. I had to. It was killing me, lying in that bed alone.
He sits up and wipes his eyes. It's no use pretending he's going to sleep anymore. He gets up and turns on the light. He goes to the desk and opens the bottom drawer. Under the file folders is a small silver box. He takes it out and lays it on the desktop. Inside rests a red ribbon tied to a coiled lock of hair. He traces the soft curve with a fingertip. He'd meant it as a gift, when he'd collected it. Something he was going to save for her when she got well and the rest would grow back on its own. Maybe now he'd save it for their granddaughter. When she was older. Until then, it would remain his.
He'd intended to take a short walk but he finds himself back at the beach, wading in the shallow surf.
"Dad's not getting any better, Julia. I don't know how much longer he has or how much time I have here, so I think I should come as often as I can for a while, if you don't mind."
Somehow his father's lifeline has become his deadline. When that was decided, he doesn't know, maybe decades ago, but the thought of it all coming to a close makes him panic a little, although he's made no promises to anyone.
"Tonight he remembered you. He doesn't always; I guess I jogged his memory. I didn't really know what I was saying, I just talk to him. But somehow it came out--nothing planned or contrived, but it was honest."
I'm afraid I'm still in love with my wife. Of course he was, how else should he feel? He didn't want to feel any other way.
And when that hour o'erslips me in the day
Wherein I sigh not, Julia, for thy sake
May the next hour some foul mischance
Torment me for my love's forgetfullness
"I guess giving up our home was a first step. Or maybe it's the biggest step I've made toward..."
"...something else, I suppose. Or maybe somewhere else, to put a finer point on it. Our Sam, she wants me to go back East and be near them and the baby when she comes. I'd think that's what you'd want me to do, Darling, so I'm going to do it."
She'd asked him three things when she lay dying in his arms in the sickbed they'd put by the front windows so she could watch the sea. To not ask why. To not blame or punish. And lastly, to not fear what would come after.
"But, I am afraid, Julia. It's...the letting go that terrifies me. I can't. I won't. Don't ask me to."
Think of what you would have missed, had you not found a way before.
This time the voice isn't Julia's.
"Mason, do me a favor and ask Sophia to come in, will you?"
He stills, uncertain how to proceed. He searches his father's face for clues. It's been a hard day of confusion, frustration and misplaced accusations and it seems to promise to be an even more difficult night.
"Mason, did you hear me?"
"Yes, Dad. I did. But...don't you remember? Sophia's out of town just now."
"Out of town? Where?"
"Uh, she's visiting her cousin in Salem, remember?"
"Cousin? What cousin? Sophia doesn't have a cousin."
"No, I believe she does...Karen. Karen's her name. From Salem."
His father's expression narrows. He's being read every bit as thoroughly as he's reading him.
"Mason. Tell me the truth, Son. Where is she? If she's at her cousin's, which I believe is a handful of bull, then you could get her on the phone, couldn't you?"
"I would, Dad. But it's late."
"Then it's more likely she's near a phone, in Salem, or whatever lie she told you to feed me. Get her on the phone!"
He gets up and places one of his infamous calls to his own answering machine, talking both sides of the conversation. He lets his father overhear how Sophia's gone out for a sail and can't be reached. He hangs up and turns to face the music. The tune is not promising.
"You're siding with her again, aren't you? What did she do this time, Mason? Why is she hiding? Who's she betraying me with? Lionel, again? Answer me, dammit!"
"No, Dad. You're wrong. You're just tired. Calm down."
"No, I'll not calm down! That woman is treachery! All women are! Heed my words, Mason. Women are the worst curse that ever befell mankind and disloyal sons run a very close second."
"I've not betrayed you, Dad, and neither has she. Trust me. Why would I side with the woman who stole my mother from me? Do you think I'd forgive her, even now? I thought you had less faith in me than that. I despise the woman."
His father studies him for a long time. He wonders which is worse, the lies or the truth. But experience has taught him the truth is far more painful and destructive where his father is concerned, and for once he feels the need to protect him from it.
Forgive me, Sophia. You did try your damnedest to love us both and all we did was wear you down for all your trouble...right into the grave.
So lies it is.
"Dad, there's no betrayal. Honestly."
"Hmf. Maybe you're right. Maybe she is on a boat. She does love the Oregon coast."
"Trust me, Dad. She's thinking of you. She'll be home soon."
His father relaxes.
"Sorry, Son. It's just there are times when a man needs to see his wife. You know what I mean. I don't think I need to make myself any more clear, do I?"
"Perfectly clear, Dad. Unfortunately, a day comes when they just can't be seen anymore and we have to somehow learn how to live with that."
It's a long quiet day. He's not sure which trials have been worse, the ones with discourse or the ones without. It's different today and he knows it. He distracts himself by flipping channels on the TV, welcoming the sound of human speech. The afternoon has grown late. His father lies in the bed, withdrawn and watchful.
"Turn that damn thing off."
The remote slips out of his hand and he bends down to pick it up. When the TV is silenced, he turns to look. The old man who stares back is unknown to him.
"Who the devil are you?"
"It's Mason, Dad."
"Mason, your son."
"I don't know what you're talking about. I don't have a son."
"You have several."
"Nonsense. I don't remember inviting you in, whoever you say you are. So get out."
"It's Mason. Your eldest. You've been ill, Dad. You might not remember."
"I'd remember if I had a son. If I did, I sure wouldn't give him such a ridiculous name. Mason--that's not a name."
O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown.
"It's the name my mother gave me. Pamela, you'd remember her."
"More nonsense. I asked you to leave."
"If you were my son, you'd mind me."
"Well, you're wrong about that."
"I said get out. I don't like the look of you."
"We can't all be George Clooney."
"Out! Before I call the police. Out! Out!"
The shouting brings the nurse to the door.
"Is everything all right, Mr. Capwell?"
"You! Nurse! I've asked this man to leave and he refuses. Summon my father, tell him there's an intruder in the house. Do it!"
The old man notices the tubes and wires now, binding him to the bed. He begins to pull at them.
"I'll get the sedatives."
"Please. Hurry. Dad, no! Lie still. Lie down, I said! The nurse is coming."
"Stop calling me that! Get your hands off me! Do you know who I am? Do you?"
He has to use both arms and a knee to keep his father down. There's still fight in the old man yet. He receives threats of a dozen punishments at the hands of his deceased grandfather for this violation, but he holds on until the nurse returns and her syringe finds the IV and his father finds sleep.
He returns to the beach, but finds he's much too tired to muster the energy to speak. He sits by the log alone and silent, late into the night, hoping she'll understand.
"What do you want to do tonight? Old movies? Cards? Strippers?"
His father reclines in the bed, staring ahead, an expression of resigned determination holds his features together. He's failing, the nurses tell him. Any day now. Yet, by some quirk of biology, tonight the time clock that runs his father's wayward mind is set to the current year, day and hour.
"Nothing, tonight. Just sit with me."
"I tell you, Son, growing old is a terrible thing, but dying is worse."
"One would assume."
"No, you don't assume. You can't. Until you've been here, in this bed...waiting...you can't know. All of your life's promises and dreams, gone. People you've loved, gone. We come into this world alone and we leave it the same way. It's a terrible shame. Terrible."
"Twins aren't born alone."
"Mason, do me one favor and put a lid on the sarcasm. I'm dying, for the love of God."
"Look, Dad, you don't have to turn this into a Faulkner novel. Let me call Kelly and Brandon and Ted. Let them come and be a comfort to you."
The old man shakes his head slowly.
"No. We've been over this. I don't want them here. Not now. It's my last wish that they be spared my worst. I'm counting on you, Mason, to see that it's so."
"You don't seem to want to spare me your worst, Dad. I wonder--why give me the honor?"
The old man starts to chuckle, although the effort exhausts him.
"Because, Son, I have seen the very worst of you--more times and in more ways than I care to recall."
"Point taken. I just wish I knew how to make this easier for you. I never had much of a bedside manner. I think they'd have done a much better job."
His father turns his head to look at him. To his shame he finds he can't return the gaze for long. There's too much honesty in it.
"Take my hand, Son."
He leans in and does. Despite his frailty, his father's hand still feels strong.
"Out of all my children, you knew me best."
"I'm afraid that's likely true."
His father shuts his eyes. From outside, the scent of magnolia blows gentle through the blinds.
"You were a good son, Mason."
"I know, Dad."
There's an impressive turn-out at the funeral. Aside from the dutiful siblings and extended family, there's a plethora of business associates from bygone days, fellow country club members, Santa Barbara patriarchs of name...and Gina. She caught up with him after the graveside service as he was walking back to the car.
"I'm sorry about C.C., Mason."
"Don't be. He lived a good long life."
"I suppose. Maybe I'm just more worried about you."
"I know you are. You always are. But I can't help but care."
"You know, this place has changed a lot over the years. But you haven't. Not really. You're still a fine-looking man, Mason."
"Thanks, I think."
"I mean that purely complimentary. I didn't come to your father's funeral to hit on you."
"No you're not."
"You're right, I'm not."
"Do you have to be cruel? Today of all days?"
"Sorry, old habits..."
"I mean it. I wanted to be here for you and the family. You all said such wonderful things about him. Especially you, Mason. You brought tears to my eyes...everyone's eyes. You always had such a gift for words."
He doesn't answer her. The words he chose were borrowed, after all. She trots over grave markers to keep step with him.
"No, you and I haven't changed much at all. We're still both here in Santa Barbara, aren't we? Even if our paths haven't crossed often lately. We should have dinner soon; talk over old times. I think we might both find we still have a lot in common."
"Love to, Gina, but I'm leaving town soon."
"You are? Where?"
"New York. I've been thinking about setting up a satellite office in Manhattan."
"Sure, but you're not going to stay there forever, are you?"
"I just might."
"Well, I guess that's wonderful. You, a New Yorker...I can't quite picture that. You know it gets cold there."
"Who's going to keep you warm at night, Mason?"
"I'm thinking about getting a dog."
"You're funny. But, I suppose you'll feel better being close to Samantha."
"I will. And if you haven't heard, my granddaughter, in about four months or so."
"Ah, congratulations! You're going to be a grandfather!"
"Yes, I am. Don't be too happy for me. I'm still getting used to the title."
"Well, I love being a grandma. You'll jump all over the chance to be called granddad soon enough."
"I'm sure I will."
She took his hand when they reached his car.
"Mason, I've been meaning to tell you...I'm really sorry about Julia."
"Are you, Gina? So am I...I guess you're right, we do still have something in common."
It's late and the ocean breeze blows cool tonight. He's brought a blanket that flaps around him as he sits staring at the rolling waves. He's not going home tonight.
"I buried my father today, Julia. Never thought I'd live to see it. Somehow, I believed he'd outlast us all."
He looks down at his hands. He's holding the half-filled Louis XIV flask. He fingers the silver filigree as he speaks.
"Think Kelly tried to be brave for all of us. Brandon was miserable and Ted--well, he still has a lot of resentment toward Dad and me. I think he blames me for keeping them all in the fog during Dad's last days. They all do—though some hide it better than others. It's not like they didn't know. They didn't want to know. And I think they all expected me to protect them, while somehow also living up to my own worst expectations. They'd counted on it, for their own uneasy souls. And maybe I did. Maybe I failed them all."
Far off over the waves the lights of the fishing trawlers pass each other in the night—green and red, merge and separate.
"I wish you were here with me. I think you're the only one who could understand what I'm feeling. It's like I've been tethered to the ground by this invisible chain all my life and now...it feels like I'm floating away and the world keeps getting smaller and smaller each breath I take."
His fingers slip up to the neck of the flask and unscrew the cap. It falls off and hangs by its own fragile chain.
"Can you see me, Julia? Are you watching? Are you? I wish I knew."
He lifts the flask to his nose and gives it a sniff. The aged brandy smells of dust and forgetfullness.
Welcome ever smiles / And farewell goes out sighing.
"One drink, Dad. That's all you asked of me. And I refused. But didn't you guess? I was ever your most humble and obedient son..."
He rolls the flask back and lets a mouthful of stale brandy spread over his tongue. It's tastes of death and lies but he wants it like nothing before. He swallows.
What do you want, Son?
He wants to not be cursed anymore with the voices of those he's loved who have deserted him; each taking another piece of his soul along with them, leaving him a broken frame of bittersweet memories and regrets.
"What do I want, Dad? Is that all you want to know? It's simple. I want to be left alone. I should have stayed alone. I was better then. Safe. An island unto myself. Mason Isle--great place to vacation, though there's not much of a view. I want to go back. This is my ticket, right here."
He lifts the flask.
You promised me.
Her voice, the only living voice he knows, floods his heart and stills his hand.
"I know, sweetheart. But you're so far, far away. Can I ever reach you? Or will I just disappoint you like I've disappointed everyone else? I let you down so many times when you were little. Maybe you don't remember, but I do."
He grips the flask tightly in his hand. "And this was how I did it, too."
The waves sigh and crash, changing the shape of the shoreline. Someday, even the beach he sits on will be gone.
He gets up and walks to the tideline. He gets down on his hands and knees and digs a hole into the wet sand, and without preamble, tips the contents of the flask into it and watches it bubble away, every last amber drop. He affixes the cap and presses the flask into the sand like a tombstone.
"There, Dad. Now you can't say we never had that drink. But I'll not weep. I have full cause of weeping; but this heart shall break into a hundred thousand flaws, or ere I'll weep."
He sits on the stone bench, enjoying the last few days of summer before fall sets in over Central Park. The sun is high and children are rowing boats across the lake, dazzling the water with their splashing. Something about this time of year reminds him of his old home. The air holds a similar quality--full of light and expectant of change. It's been a long while since he last saw California—almost two years have passed since the night he buried a priceless Louis XIV flask in the Pacific Ocean and made a decision to take the road less traveled. He really didn't get fair market value for that house.
His companion sits beside him, enjoying the afternoon herself. She likes it when he can get away from the office for a few hours mid-day. He studies her expression--soft brown eyes, tinged with hunger.
"Portia...now don't look at me that way."
His companion sighs and moves closer, resting her snout lovingly on his knee.
"You're not getting the last bite of my Polish dog."
The spaniel raises her furry brow as if to say, You wanna bet, mister?
"Okay, I relent. But you owe me—slippers at my bedside for a week."
He finishes off the bun and tosses the tip of the sausage in the air where it does a half-gainer and is summarily swallowed mid-flight.
"That's my girl."
The dog licks her chops and turns her head and sniffs. One bark. It's time to head down to the fountain.
He takes her leash and her lead as they walk, remembering his last days back home and how it came clear to him after the will reading that there really was no longer any reason to stay. In his heart he knew Julia could hear him no matter what coast he addressed her from and still did, though less frequently now.
He was mildly surprised to hear his name called out in the will. Some habits die harder than others, but his father left him a fair and generous portion of his fortune as he did to all his children and grandchildren. His slice of the inheritance went into a new wing of the Santa Barbara Children's Hospital as well as a substantial donation to the Julia Capwell Memorial Women's Defense Fund. The rest, he reserved for the new little woman in his life.
"Dad! Over here!"
Sam waves to them from the path at the base of the hill. Portia won't be contained so he drops the leash and watches her bound down the slope to his daughter who he still swears grows more beautiful every year—the most beautiful woman in the world, he'd stake his life on it...save one. He catches up to her and gives his daughter a kiss before turning his attention to the pint-sized usurper in the stroller.
"She's been asking about Pa-Da all day."
"That so? Not quite two and already a great orator. Up we go, munchkin. Pa-Da's got you."
The little girl smiles in his arms and grabs at his beard. She has David's nose and mouth, just like her mother has his own--but the eyes, those sweet brown eyes, are those of the one he loves; then, now, and forever.
Can you see us, Julia? Yes, I do believe you can.
I stopped watching SB the day Lane Davies left the show and thanks to online clip collections I've recently been able to rewatch most of his Mason days and refresh my memory of what happened to whom in the Capwell family. However, I'm certain a lot of my facts may be off or simply edited out of the scenes I've collected, so consider those deviations mere artistic license. Feedback most welcome!