The week had been a long difficult one. Pressure was building at work to finish my current project before the end of month cut off. My wife was also looking forward to a more relaxed weekend having to put up with me, grumpy and irritated most evenings through the week. Both of us looked forward to retirement in the not to distant future. Do some travelling; a spot of fishing maybe; fix up my extremely untidy overgrown garden and do the odd job or two around the house. Work, work existing to work. We had been talking about have more balance in our lives for years, but it never seemed to get any easier. Anyway it was Friday, time to wind down in front of the tele which we did after a quick but tasty toasted sandwich dinner.
I had dozed off when the door bell startled me back to reality. I looked at my wife puzzled.
“Who could this possible be at this time of night?”
I glanced at my watch, 11.30. Way too late for anyone to be calling. I staggered to my feet, body stiff from inactivity and lumbered towards the front of the house. I felt uneasy as I tentatively opened the door a fraction and peered out. It took a moment or two for my eyes to focus on the blue uniform.
“Good evening Sir, am I speaking to Mr Peter Larkin?” the burlier of the two policeman asked.
“Yes that’s me. What can I do for you?”
The two policeman glanced at each other and the smaller one spoke.
“Do you mind if we come inside for a moment?”
Peter led the men down the narrow corridor to the family room where they sat down on the settee. Stella, Peter’s wife had a concerned look on her face.
“This isn’t going to be good, ” she thought to herself.
The burly policeman took a deep breath in before he spoke.
“Do you have a son Robert Anthony Larkin?”
” Yes, what’s happened to him?”
“I’m sorry to inform you, Mr and Mrs Larkin, your son has died in a motor accident on the freeway 6 pm this evening.”
The words didn’t mean anything to Peter at first. I t was like they had no meaning, not real, just words. Stella’s scream didn’t even seem really. He looked around the room in this daze and felt the tears rolling down his cheeks. The pain of reality seeped into his consciousness. His hand felt for Stella. She was inconsolable and collapsed onto the back of the settee sobbing.
After a few minutes, the burly policeman spoke.
“I know this is a very difficult time for you, but unfortunately I must ask you to come to the hospital to identify the body.”
Peter didn’t answer at first. His mind was struggling to comprehend. He had not seen Robert for almost 2 years, even though they lived in the same city.
“Yes of course,” he eventually murmured.
We haven’t seen each other in years and now I’m going to see his corpse. He thought, how ironic.
Peter and Stella sat in the back of the police car, numb. Life would never be the same again. Robert was their only child.
Peter thought long and hard. He knew it was he who had driven him away. He was to blame, no one else. Poor Stella was torn between the two loves of her life and in the end, sided with her husband. He had no right to have let this happen. But he did. His pig headedness created this mess.
Peter and Stella married later in life. Robert wasn’t born until they were both close to 40.
Robert was not like his dad. As a youngster he was shy, timid and insecure. The polar opposite to Peter the self-assured high flyer. The corporate animal who lived and breathed work. He was never home and when he was had little time for his wife and child. His job was to provide for them and that was what he excelled at.
The passing street lights filtered and flickered an array of motley ghostlike shadows through the glass window on to the occupants’ faces as they sped along the almost deserted highway to the hospital.
It wasn’t all bad; there were times they tried to get along. Robert longing for his Dad’s love and attention, but Peter’s short fuse and intolerance would more often than not, surface to destroy whatever little bond that was developing.
Never close, as time went on, they drew even further apart. Adolescent was particularly difficult. Robert was not good at school and struggled with low self-esteem. He got into some trouble with the police, petty larceny, nothing too serious. Peter could not accept a son of his would do such a thing. They never spoke to each other much after that.
The last straw came just over two years ago. His son had just got his first real job. It was going to work for a department store as a sales assistant. Stella was so happy for him and knew that deep down he finally felt good about himself. It was a start and that is what he needed.
The car was nearing the hospital. Peter stared out the window and remembered what a fool he had been. Instead of being happy for the lad, he had started an argument.
“A son of mine should not be working in any department store as a common salesman,” he shouted at his son.
Robert shook with rage. Even in his finest hour, he still wasn’t good enough for his father. Without thinking, he lashed out.
Peter just remembers sitting on the floor with blood streaming down his face.
“Get out! Get out! And never set foot inside this house again. Do you hear me? Go!”
And with that he went, never to return. Stella was beside herself, torn between love for her son and her husband.
Stella was the last to get out of the car. She didn’t want to go in. She had forgone her only son two years previously and knew now it had been the biggest mistake of her life. She would never receive the forgiveness she longed for. Never hear the words from his lips,” I love you mum.” Two years ago she had taken sides. At this moment she hated herself and despised her husband.
Peter walked in front of the policeman as the approached the morgue. He just wanted to get it over with. Stella sat down on a bench outside. She just couldn’t do it. The memories of him being alive was all she desired.
The refrigerator door was open and the body shrouded in a white sheet was pulled out. Peter took a deep breath and braced himself. This was to be the last time he would ever see his son in circumstances no parent should ever endure.
The burly policeman readied to pull the sheet back off the face.
“Are you ready, sir?”
“Yes, just do it.”
Peter’s eyes misted over. The face was exposed.
Peter was transfixed and started to stagger backwards. The policeman caught hold of his arm.
“You ok, sir?”
“This is not my son.”
“Excuse me, sir but the shock can confuse. He’s been in a terrible accident.”
“This is not Robert.”
He quickly turned and bolted out the door to find his wife.
“Stella, it’s not him, it’s not him.”
She looked up from her handkerchief with eyes as wide as saucers and embraced as they cried together.
The police came out of the morgue looking concerned in deep conversation. The burly one stepped forward and explained that the only identification discovered at the scene of the accident was a driver’s licence with their son’s name on it. Maybe it was stolen? He asked whether they knew where their son lived
Peter had no idea, but Stella, gazed up at Peter and uttered,
“I think I know where to find out.”
Robert Larkin was still in bed when the door bell rang. The sun was barely up and for the life of him, he couldn’t imagine who could possibly be calling this time of the morning.