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126 Maple

by John Taylor 9 months ago in fact or fiction

A Life In The Shadows

“We have to let you go, John” his manager said, in a firm unwavering voice. "I understand" John said as he stared at the clock on the wall. It’s almost lunch time he thought to himself, He could hear the steady sound of the second hand ticking. “feel free to finish out the day” his manager said as John turned for the door. The ticking sound slowly faded as it was being drowned out by office chatter. John did understand because he has been here before. This always happens on a Friday, John thought to himself as he placed the last of his belongings neatly into the white file box. This time there would be no awkward goodbyes, he just did not have the strength. The entire office was now making their way over to the breakroom to sing happy birthday to a coworker. This was John’s chance to get away. He was not going to finish out the day. Slinging his worn leather satchel over his shoulder, he grabbed the box and hurried to the elevator.

The once familiar walk to the train station was now foreign to him. His mind was preoccupied with trying to find the right words to break the news to his wife. The pungent, stale smell of the subway stung his nostrils as he made his way down the platform steps. What was he going to tell her? How would he tell her? John began to feel overwhelmed as these thoughts consumed him. The screeching of the trains brakes abruptly pulled him back to reality. He took his usual seat on the train and stared out the window as he always did while his anxiety slowly started to consume him yet again. Stop by stop the train car slowly emptied but John hardly noticed, he still could not find the words to tell his wife. He could feel the tears streaming down his cheek when a warm hand grasped firmly on his shoulder. John turned to the seat behind him and was met by an unknown face that felt eerily familiar to him. "Tough day?", the old man asked as he rose and eagerly shuffled around to take the vacant seat next to John. "I was fired from my job today", John said, "We're already so behind on bills and I don't know how to tell my wife". "Everything happens for a reason", the old man exclaimed, as John stared blankly into the old man’s familiar face. The muffled sound of the conductor can be heard announcing the train’s next stop.” This is me” the old man exclaimed. The old man pulled out a notebook and jotted something down. He then turned and said; "Be patient your time will come" as he slowly rose to his feet. "I've seen you overcome far worse John, hang in their kid, it gets better", then the old man turned and stepped out onto the waiting platform. John feeling a bit puzzled with how familiar the old man was with his life felt a warm sense of relief overcome him as he politely smiled and waved goodbye to the old man. The doors closed and the train pulled away.

John looked down at the once again vacant seat and noticed a little black Moleskine book that the man had just written something in. John picked it up, his fingers caressing its smooth black cover. The old man must have left it he thought. How am I ever going to find him to give it back? John peeled back the elastic strap that held it closed. He slowly opened its cover to reveal its first page. In black ink the words 'In case of loss, please return to Walter Riggins, 126 Maple Street, were written. As a reward $20,000 dollars was shakenly written in blue ink. John was stunned by such a large amount of money for such a simple black book. John could not help but wonder what those pages contained that would make a simple, little black book so valuable. John found himself reading the pages one by one. Fascinated that the story within was eerily like that of his own. It was about this man Walter watching his son grow up from a distance. Birthday parties, plays, sporting events, high school graduation were all contained within. The dates of these events aligned perfectly with John's own life. As John read the details of those events every hair on his body raised and he could feel the blood draining from his face. John reflected on his own life and recalled those events, he remembered that old man being there at everything. John sat in complete shock.

John was raised by a single mother and never knew his real father. John's stepfather passed when he was young. Could Walter be John's real father? The trained finally pulled in to John’s stop. He quickly gathered his things and scurried out the train doors. He hastily threw his possessions in the back seat, typed 126 Maple Street into his navigation and drove as fast as he could to the address. He needed answers and could not wait. Who was this mystery man?

John stepped out onto the street as the last flashes of sunlight danced on the horizon. There was a worn white picket fence and a gate missing its bottom hinge. He made his way to the porch steps; he could smell the sweet aroma of the flowers that were so meticulously cared for in the garden that bordered the front of the quaint Craftsman home. He could feel the creaking of the floorboards on the porch as he made his way to the front door. "This is it", John thought to himself, the butterflies in his stomach growing stronger. John pressed his finger firmly against the doorbell. The muffled chiming of bells could be heard inside. As the door slowly opened, an overpowering aroma of coffee filled the air. There stood Walter, wearing his warm, now familiar smile that instantly put John at ease. Walter politely invited John inside.

The two talked for hours. John learned that Walter was in the military and was presumed to be killed overseas. Walter's wife at the time was unknowingly to him, with child. her name was Dorothy, but she went by Dottie. One day Dottie received a knock at the door. Dottie was handed a telegram explaining that Walter's plane was shot down, and he was presumed dead. Dottie went on to have the child and moved on with her life. She remarried and moved in with her new husband who offered to raise the child as his own.

Walter was later found alive in a prison camp. He was brought home and immediately rushed to seek out his wife. When he arrived at the old craftsman home at 126 Maple, he was shocked to find it empty. A for sale sign was swinging in the front yard. That is when Walter learned that Dottie had remarried. Walter was too heartbroken to approach Dottie and tell him he was still alive. That is when he also learned that Dottie had a child named John and judging by his age Walter knew that he could be the father. Walter being uncertain studied and followed Johns life very carefully. Every major milestone and achievement in Johns life, Walter observed from the back of a room or along the fence of a ballfield. When Walter learned of the stepdad’s passing, he thought about revealing his big secret, but he could not find the courage to do so. When Walter saw John's pain on the train his paternal instincts could not allow him to remain quiet anymore. That is when John learned of Walter's cancer.

Walter did not have much time left and he wanted to make peace with John in his final days. John spoke of his wife Jackie and how they met. Walter talked about his life with Dottie before the war. He handed John an envelope and said open this with your wife when you get home. Before saying goodbye, the men agreed that John would return in the morning with Jackie for breakfast. John stood there for a moment gazing back at the craftsmen at 126 Maple. His heart so full of love that he was bursting with tears. John returned to his apartment to a concerned wife who wondered where John was. The two sat at the kitchen table uncontrollably sobbing as John shared the encounter. John pulled the envelope that was neatly tucked into his breast pocket out and opened it. Inside was a deed to the property at 126 Maple and a check for $20,000 dollars which was every penny of Walter's savings. There was also a note that explained everything the two men talked about in Walter's kitchen.

John was instantly filled with guilt and relief. Guilt, because he now possessed the entirety of Walter's possessions. He felt relief as he stared past his wife's head at the eviction notice that sat on the kitchen counter behind her. The day John proposed to his wife he promised her a house with a garden full of flowers and a white picket fence. Up until this point John was never able to give her that. John held in his hands the deed to the Maple street home. Sadly, Walter passed away a week later, but in that week John and his wife learned so much from the man who lived in the shadows of John's life. John and his wife moved into the craftsman at 126 Maple. John found a new job and used some of the $20,000 to fix the new place up. As John was replacing the bottom hinge on the front gate, he looked up on the porch to see his wife on the swing curled up with a coffee and good book. She looked over at John, as the two locked eyes they smiled. John took the empty seat on the swing next to his wife and stared over at the flowers Walter planted in the garden. John quickly jumped to his feet and went inside to the homes study and picked up the Black Moleskine book that was once his fathers. He sat down at the desk and opened it to the last page his father wrote. John pulled the pen from the rear pocket of the Moleskin book and wrote,

Thank you, Dad, I love you!

John returned the pen to the rear pocket and placed the book neatly on the bookshelf. He went back out onto the porch and sat beside his wife. “is everything ok love?” his wife asked, as she looked up at John from her book. “it is now” John exclaimed, as he laid his head into his wife’s lap, staring happily at the flowers in the garden.

fact or fiction

John Taylor

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John Taylor
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