Walt had a melanoma on his neck. Or at least he thought he did anyway. It was on one of those spots that was located just out of the reach of comfortable vision when one looked into the mirror. The kind of spot that was located in just such a place that when you tried to see it, you tended to pull a muscle in your neck there-bye causing a newer, fresher pain. And pain was not Walt’s forte.
He thought about telling his wife Kaye, but he knew if he did, she’d want him to see a doctor, which to Walt was out of the question. I mean what if he did really did have a melanoma? He certainly didn’t want to know for sure. The mere thought that he might was stressful enough. He couldn’t even image what he’d do if he was completely positive that he did in fact have one. To think one is dying is one thing. But to actually know is something completely different. So Walt did what he normally did. He went on with his life, but with the almost certain knowledge that he was dying.
“I’ve been calling you,” said Kaye when she entered the bedroom.
Walt was sitting on the edge of the bed gingerly touching his neck. “I’m sorry. I’m a bit occupied this morning.”
“There’s a phone call.”
“Did you bring the phone?”
“You’ll have to use the one in the kitchen. The cordless is dead apparently.”
Walt’s eyes began to mist when he heard that the cordless was dead. How symbolic he thought. A dead phone now, and soon a dead me.
“Are you okay?” Kaye asked while walking to the bed.
“I’m fine,” Walt replied. “Just thinking about the poor cordless.”
“Nothing to think about. It’ll be charged and good as new in few hours.”
Walt nodded, and thought how lucky it must be to be a phone. You die, and then a few hours later you’re back to your normal inanimate state.
“Someone named Ray,” said Kaye, “on the phone that is.”
Walt gave her a quick peck on the cheek, and then headed downstairs to the one phone that was still living. On his way he began to think if he even knew a Ray. Certainly he must or one wouldn’t be calling. But then again it was possible that this Ray was merely selling something. Possibly time shares, or maybe some form of generic ointment for those with moderate to severe afflictions. The only Ray, Walt could truly remember was his sort of friend from high school, but that was forty years ago. So that Ray calling now didn’t make a lot of sense, although little made sense to Walt at this point. Why was he facing his own death? Where along the lines of life had he failed? Was he saying all this out loud, and if he was, could Kaye hear him? All valid questions he thought as he answered the phone.
“Walt? Walt Egan?”
“You have any idea how hard you were to track down? I’ll bet I called thirty people looking for you. Twenty some didn’t remember you, and a few others thought you were dead. But then I talked to old Smiley, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t know where to find you.”
Smiley? Now that was a name Walt hadn’t heard in years. They were best friends through high school and roommates in college. The last he’d heard from him was a Christmas card about ten years back from some foreign place like Iceland or Wyoming. One of those cold places was all he could remember.
“Ray,” Walt slowly said. “Ray Chandler?”
“The one and only. How in the hell are you?
Dying is what he wanted to say. I have this cancerous growth on my neck that’s slowly killing me. My only chance of survival is for the doctors to amputate half my neck or better yet my head.
“Fine,” Walt said instead.
“Walt Egan. I still can’t believe I found you.”
“I’m in the phone book,” Walt joked.
“The phone book wasn’t the problem. The problem was which phone book. I had no clue what state you lived in. I even tried to find you on the internet, but apparently you haven’t done much with your life, because I couldn’t even find you there either.”
Now he remembered why Ray and he were only sort of friends. Ray was an ass. But he was also older, which back in the day meant only thing. Ray was the first to turn eighteen. Ray could therefore buy beer.
“I see you haven’t changed over the years,” said Walt without feeling. “Same old rascal.”
“And I can still buy you beer. Let’s not forget that.”
Walt took a deep breath and hoped that death might take him immediately.
“I’ll bet you’re wondering why I called?” asked Ray. “Well wonder no more.”
Fabulous Walt thought. I’m dying and yet that’s not punishment enough.
“I have one word for you,” Ray said, “reunion.”
“Not you and I?” Walt replied a little too hastily.
“Of course you and I. Along with the rest of our class if you can still stand any of them.”
“So you’re talking class reunion then?”
“Well you and I could just have one, but we’d no doubt bore each other to death in no time,” Ray said with a comical tone that Walt found rather annoying.
“Forty years huh?”
“Forty on the nose.”
Walt paused for a moment, trying to think of any avenue that might give him cause to refuse this invite, but unfortunately thinking on his feet wasn’t one of his strong suits.
“I suppose I have to say yes,” Walt finally responded.
“Not only do you have to say yes, but I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’m going to let you stay at my house.”
Walt dropped the phone.
“Speechless,” continued Ray. “I thought as much. Didn’t think I was that generous, did you?”
Walt picked the phone up. “Could you please repeat that last part? I seemed to have dropped the phone.”
“I said you can bunk at my house. It’ll save you a fortune on a hotel. No need to thank me. Just remember, first ten beers are on you.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Walt said slowly.
“Nothing to say. It’s a done deal. The wife’s dead, so I’ve got plenty of room.”
Walt thought for a moment before answering. Surely there had to be some way out of this.
“I hate to impose,” he finally said.
“Impose nothing. It’ll be just like the old days.”
That’s what Walt feared. The old days for the most part were awful. Everything that could go wrong usually did go wrong. It was one of those mysteries that was no doubt grandfathered in, just waiting for the next opportunity to mock them.
“So it’s settled,” Ray said. “See you in a week from Saturday. I’ll pick you up at the airport. You can email me all the particulars.”
Walt took down Ray’s information, and then felt an incredible urge to jump off the roof of his house, and he would have if he didn’t have a debilitating fear of heights.
When the day of reckoning arrived, Walt was certain he was coming down with something to accompany his melanoma. His head throbbed, his stomach was a butterfly farm, and his feet swelled up just enough to make his loafers a tad uncomfortable. Kaye informed him that is was nothing more than his imagined fear of separation anxiety, and dropped him at the airport. His right loafer split open just as she pulled away.
Five hours later he was in Ray’s car, heading north on the Garden State Parkway.
“If I didn’t look so bad myself,” Ray said, “I’d tell how crappy you look.” Then he let out one of those laughs that made you want to crawl into the glove department and stay there until you died in a massive car crash with one of those movie type explosions.
“Thanks,” was all Walt could respond with.
Ray smiled, with what appeared to be sarcastic evil, and they drove on without any words exchanging. Walt took in the scenery. The smoke stacks. The shipping yards. The smog. It was all coming back to him. His entire youth was surrounded by this. And for the first time in years, he had to admit, he missed it. Even the smell brought back memories of his youth. It had been nearly thirty-five years since he’d been back, but in an odd way it was still his home.
“Do you think we can go by the old house?” Walt asked.
“I can do you one better. I know who owns it now.”
“You’re kidding me?”
Ray nodded and smiled. “You remember Tony McMahon?”
“Of course I do. We hated each other’s guts.”
“Then you might want to make up with him real quick. He bought it a few years back.”
Now that was something Walt hadn’t expected. To not only see the old house, but to have the chance to go through it changed Walt’s entire outlook completely. He smiled. It was the first real smile he could remember since he knew he was dying. To be inside again would be like having his parents back. The memories were that strong. He was sure it was completely different on the inside and out, but to see where he grew up just one more time, was an unexpected pleasure he hadn’t counted on.
“You think you can get us in?”
“Tony and I have a beer now and again at the Inn, so I think I can. Granted that’s if you don’t bring up that thing with the hockey stick.”
The hockey stick. Walt had forgotten about that. Seventh grade hockey. Friday mornings before school. Championship game. Tony had slashed Walt across the shins on his game winning goal in overtime, which in turn caused Walt to break Tony’s nose with an accidental slash across the face.
“It was an accident,” said Walt. “Someone slashes you in the shins and then before you know it your reflexes take over.”
“The accident with him wasn’t the issue. It was the you standing over him laughing that pissed him off.”
“He was an ass, what can I say.”
“Just don’t bring it up,” said Ray. “And he likes beer, so buy him a few tonight when we get to the Inn.”
Suddenly Walt felt ready for a reunion.
The rest of the ride was spent on small talk. They reminisced, lied about life stories, and once even had a minor laugh. Maybe this wouldn’t be all that bad after all Walt thought. Sure Ray’s an ass, but even after all the years, he missed him to a degree. That was the one thing he hadn’t counted on when he came back. The memories. It was like a trap door in his mind had opened and every event of Walt past came back. And in such vivid detail that it was as if he was living them again. It was wonderful.
“That’s Smother’s old house,” Walt said as they drove on by.
“He died a few years back if you didn’t know. Some kind of cancer from what I heard.”
Walt’s stomach grew tight. Smother’s was the epitome of health growing up. He was one of those muscle ridden athletes that never got sick, could out drink anyone, and still feel great the next day, and had such amazing hair, that it wasn’t possible for him to die. It was all in the follicles he liked to say.
He thought about telling Ray about his melanoma, but thought it best to keep to himself at this point. Why spoil a good time for others when you were almost having a good time yourself.
“Here we are,” said Ray pulling into his driveway.
Walt was stunned. It was his friends Brock’s house growing up. Four stories, on a lake, with immense landscaping. It was becoming rather apparent that Ray calling him was for more than a reunion.
“I’ll be damned,” said Walt.
“You’ll be damned even more when I tell you; you get to sleep in the attic,”
The attic. The attic was one of those places that went on forever. In one end there was the equivalent of a living room. In the middle a ping pong table and pool table. At the far end another living room area. Then off in the small L shaped area was a single, twin sized bed. Walt was amazed when he saw the room again, it looked exactly the same. Ray had duplicated it to perfection. It was a thing of beauty.
“What do you think?”
“I’m in awe,” Walt said. “It’s like it never changed.”
“When I bought the house from Brock’s parents, I made sure this all came along with it.”
So that was why it was so perfect. It was the originals. There were stains on the carpets. Holes in the odd wall. Even cigarette burns on a few of the chairs that Walt had witnessed the original burn. It was like going back in a time machine to teenage perfection.
“Brock would have loved this.”
“Couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute,” Ray said, a slight quiver in his voice.
“I still remember that night.”
It was their senior year, right after New Years. Brock went in to the hospital with a 104 fever, and never came back. One of those heartbreaking moments when you realize that you’re not invincible. That even 17 can be the end for some. But to see the room again in all its glory brought back memories of some of the greatest parties Walt had ever been to. And all because of that attic room with Brock.
“You might want to start getting ready,” said Ray. “We’re supposed to be at the Inn by five for happy hour.”
“Sounds great,” said Walt, still taking in the room.
“I’ll be down stairs. You know where everything is up here, so make yourself at home.”
“I will. Thanks.”
Ray nodded and went down the stairs.
Walt took his suitcase over to the bed and started to unpack. It just seemed surreal to him to be back in a world that hadn’t changed. He tried to absorb of much of it as he could, because he knew it wouldn’t last. That was one thing he hated about growing old, his long term memory was still rather good, but his short term was about half that, which made no sense. But sense and Walt suffered a divorce some years back. But what are you going to do he thought. So he took a deep breath, changed into his only suit, and went down stairs to face the inevitable evening of pending disaster.
The Inn was but a five minute drive from the house, in the heart of downtown, a beautiful two block strip that had everything one could ever want. Grocery Store. Pharmacy. Chinese restaurant. Italian restaurant. Shoe repair store. Two gas stations, one on each end. A Sweet Shop. And a Five and Dime store, amongst others. It was the perfection of small town life. A fact Walt hadn’t realized until they parked in front of the Inn.
“Are you ready?” Ray asked as they stepped out of the car.
“I think so.” Walt adjusted his tie and collar. He didn’t want anyone to see his melanoma, and he also didn’t want his collar so tight that melanoma might grow in size due to some odd choke hold move that his shirt might put on it.
“After you,” said Ray, ushering Walt in the front door.
The lighting was dim, the music low, and Walt couldn’t imagine how an entire class was going to fit into this place. At most eighty to ninety people would be the limit. Anymore he reasoned would result in a serious fire code violation. And that was not how he planned on dying. In an imaginary inferno that would render his possible melanoma a mute point.
“I don’t recognize anyone,” Walt said.
“And I doubt anyone would recognize you as well. We’re early. No one should be here for another hour. We’re on the set up committee. I forgot to mention that.”
“Where’s the rest of the committee then?”
“We’re it. It’s just a few tables and some chairs in the back room. The bar’s taking care of the rest once we’re done.”
“Why couldn’t the bar do a few tables and chairs themselves? It can’t be that hard.”
“That’s another thing I forgot to tell you. Tony McMahon owns the place. He likes to think he’s cutting a good deal. Made booking up the place up a tad easier if I volunteered the muscle.”
“So he hasn’t really changed all the much then is what you’re saying?”
“If you mean is he still mostly an ass? Of course he is. But he did cut me a pretty good deal. Even if our muscle is nothing but flab.”
Walt nodded with a laugh, and then they headed to the back to flex their flab. Once the tables and chairs were in order, Ray motioned for Walt to follow him back into the bar area. There, with a huge smile on his face, was a face Walt could almost recognize. And after the smile got bigger it was all but obvious Smiley had arrived.
“You son of bitch,” Smiley said reaching out his hand.
“You’re looking well,” Walt lied.
Smiley was close to three million pounds, and had more chins than Walt and Ray combined.
“Nice lie,” laughed Smiley. “The last time I looked well was the mid nineties. That was the last time I could take a leak without lifting my stomach to find it.”
Walt almost asked him, to find what? But luckily his senses kicked in. That was one habit he’d always had around Smiley. If it was a stupid question, Walt had a habit of asking it, and then the second it came out, only then did he realize the immensity of his idiocy.
“You about asked about it, didn’t you?” said Smiley.
Walt felt the sweat beads begin to form on his forehead.
“Of course not,” lied Walt. “I’m just glad it was still there.”
Smiley bellowed his slightly infectious laugh, slapped Walt on the back, which sent him into the bar, and then offered to buy him a beer.
“Still drinking the same?” Smiley asked.
“I hope not,” said Walt. “I’d like to think I’ve moved up from the dollar fifty a six-pack brand.”
“Well played. A hefty domestic it is then.”
Smiley order a round of beer for the three of them, and that’s when Tony McMahon entered from the kitchen. Walt was the first one to notice him, and unfortunately he’d changed for the worse. He was now nine feet tall, had muscles on top of muscles, and the most tattoos Walt had ever seen on a human being’s arms. Luckily he was wearing pants Walt thought, or he’d no doubt be showing off the bevy he must of had down there as well.
“If it isn’t Mr. Hockey Stick.” Tony said in a deep, serious sounding voice the moment he saw Walt.
Walt took a long pull from his beer, and once again felt the beads of sweat beginning to form on not only his forehead, but also on the flabby crevice just above his almost sixty year old buttocks. He then thought about running away, but realized he had nowhere to run.
“Don’t worry,” said Tony walking over. “Just wanted to see the reaction. And to honest, it was better than I expected.”
“You’re huge,” said Walt shaking Tony’s hand.
“I decided in college huge works better with the shape of my nose.”
“Still sorry about that,” Walt meekly replied. Maybe if he told him he was dying of cancer, Tony wouldn’t look at him as if he was about to rip off his head and eat it.
“All in the past,” said Tony, “and besides, I’m sleeping in your old room these days. Kind of payback enough if you ask me.”
Walt had loved his room. It was a converted attic that his parents had completely redone his junior year in high school. They added a dormer, drywall, and brand new carpet. It was the exact opposite of Brock’s attic room. They were the ying and yang of party bedrooms back in the day, and unlike Brock’s room, Walt kept his fresh. Not so much out of pride, but more out of fear his parents would find out people had been in it.
“I even put a skylight in the room,” Tony beamed with pride. “Right over where the bed is. On a clear night, you can see everything.”
Walt did everything in his power to keep his cool. He wanted to see his old house more than anything, but he knew at this juncture it was best to play Tony’s game rather than being too presumptuous. After all, he had but one chance, and it was a chance he didn’t want to ruin by being overly eager.
“Can I buy a beer?” Walt finally asked.
“No need,” said Tony. “I get them free. Just buy a lot of beer for other people, and maybe if you do, I’ll let you see the house.”
“That would be great,” Walt said a tad quicker than he would’ve liked.
“I’ve got a few things to tend to before the party. So you guys just keep on spending money and we’ll talk later.”
Tony started back to where his massive form had arrived from, when he turned to Smiley. “And you quit smiling so much. I still get nightmares from all your smiling back in high school.” And with that Tony was gone.
“It’s no wonder I never liked him,” said Smiley.
“Don’t let him get to you,” said Ray. “Once an ass, always an ass.”
“Then why do you still have beers with him?” Walt asked.
“Simple,” said Ray. “And here she comes now.”
She was instantly recognizable to Walt. Even after all these years she looked the same. Her beauty, the perfect skin, the amazingly form fitting sweater that screamed, “I’m stretched as far as I can go without bursting.” She was the one girl in school that Walt was possessed with. Roxanne Burns. The epitome of hormonal splendor.
“Oh my God, she’s magnificent,” Walt said in a voice a tad louder than he wanted.
“Thanks,” replied a smiling Roxanne.
“I’m sorry,” Walt stammered.
“No need to apologize. You just got yourself a free beer out it.”
“You remember Walt Egan,” Ray said.
“How could I forget,” said Roxanne. “He was my number one stalker back in high school. I never saw anyone un-tuck their shirt quicker when I was around.”
The beads of sweat once again started to form on Walt’s entire body this time.
“What can I get you?” Roxanne said once behind the bar.
“You work here?” asked a stunned Walt.
“I don’t seem to have any choice. I married the owner.”
How was that possible Walt thought? She was the most stunning creature on planet Earth, while Tony was the stunning opposite.
“Which means she finally saw your bedroom.” said Ray with mock sarcasm.
”Shut up,” Walt said quickly. “You’re going to embarrass Roxanne.”
“No. I’m going to embarrass you.”
“Which judging by the color in his face, I think you already have,” said Smiley.
“Don’t let them kid you,” said Roxanne, handing Walt a beer. “I love your old room. Maybe you can come up and see it while you’re here.”
Walt removed his handkerchief and dried his forehead.
“You’d better stop there Roxie,” said Ray. “You’re going to give the poor man a heart attack.”
And a heart attack was the last thing Walt needed on top of his melanoma.
“I’ll talk to Tony,” said Roxanne. “See if I can get you in the old room.”
Walt took a long sip of beer and settled down. Maybe things would all work out he reasoned. Surely Tony wasn’t going to kill him. At least he didn’t think so. Granted that could all change in an instant if he was alone in his old room with Roxanne. Although in retrospect even when he lived there, he’d never been alone in his room with a real girl. Imagined yes. And for the most part always Roxanne. But even God himself wasn’t going to let Walt have that great of a night.
After an hour or so of embarrassing Walt to the fullest extent of his patience, old classmates began to slowly filter in. Some they recognized, some they didn’t, and some looked so old and horrendous that the three of them didn’t want to recognize them even if they could. Walt didn’t look so bad he thought to himself, even with the thing on his neck. And in an amazing stroke of luck, one of his old class mates, Andy Glickman, was missing half of his own neck no doubt due to his own melanoma. So even if someone noticed Walt’s neck, all he had to do was point to Andy’s, and the conversation would be diverted. He just wondered if he should tell Roxanne. That could be the one turning point that could get him into his old room with her. Not for the sake of getting her in there, but more for the sake of seeing it one last time. And this time with the girl of his younger dreams.
“If you don’t stop staring at her nonstop,” said Smiley, “Tony’s going to finally notice.”
“And if you haven’t noticed yet,” said Ray, “there’s a hockey stick mounted over the bar.”
Walt had to admit, he had been staring a lot. The one thing he hadn’t noticed though was the hockey stick mounted over the bar. And after a moment Walt finally recognized the stick.
“Oh dear God,” Walt said in complete shock. “That’s my stick. The one I hit him in the face with.”
“You’re serious?” asked Ray.
“Positive. See the way the grip is wrapped? No one else ever did it that way.”
Walt’s heart quickly sank, and the river of sweat began to surface for yet another time.
“Got to be another stick,” said Smiley. “There’s no way that stick is still around.”
That’s when Walt noticed his name on the bottom side of the stick. It was then that he knew he was dead.
“Great stick,” said Roxanne joining the chorus of stares. “Tony found it stashed in one of those storage cabinets that you had in your room. Way in the back under some old boxes.”
“He’s going to kill me?” he asked Roxanne in a matter-of-fact voice.
“So that’s what that stick is.” Roxanne finally said. “The famous nose stick.”
Walt nodded again.
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” smiled Roxanne. “If it wasn’t for that stick we never would have gotten married.”
Walt’s expression went blank.
“It was his nose,” she said with a smile. “For some reason I was always a sucker for a ruined nose.”
Walt directed his attention to the stick.
“You want to hold it?” asked Roxanne.
“Of course he does,” said Ray.
“Go for it,” said Smiley. “What’s the worst that can happen.”
Roxanne handed Walt the stick. At first it was like holding a foreign object, but after a moment or so, his natural grip all but came back. They were all so engrossed with the stick that no one noticed that Tony was now standing behind them.
That’s when the worst that can happen happened.
“The lucky stick,” said Tony with a gentle pat to Walt’s back catching him totally off guard.
Before anyone knew what had happened, Walt’s reflexes kicked in, the stick went flying, and Tony’s nose was once again sliding off his face.
Walt instantly dropped the stick and took off running out the front door. With no plan in sight he went to the only logical place he could think of. His old backyard. There, he climbed his favorite tree, and waited to die.
Greg Freier is the author of seven full length plays, numerous one acts, and was a finalist in the 2009 Samuel French playwright contest. His plays have been produced from Sydney to off Broadway, and have won numerous awards. His full length plays, “Trapped In My Own Life,” and “It’s The Beginning of the End,” are available at Heartland Plays. Seven of his one acts plays, “We Appear To Have Company,” “I Love You, Mrs. Claus,” “Shadows,” “Big Dog Likes Chocolate,” “Grand Delusion,” “Heavenly Inspiration,” and “There’s A Legend In the Room,” are published by the One Act Play Depot. Eight more of his short plays are available at Independentplaywright.com. His play, “Intentional Deception,” is available in an anthology of the best 50 ten minutes plays of 2013, by Smith and Krauss. He also has two short story collections, “Sleepy Town” and “Thinking for Distance,” both available online at Amazon.Com, and also has had numerous short stories published. He currently resides in the Midwest with his wife, sons, and a white thing named “Phil the Dog.”