"It's Nothing Important"

“I’ll get it,” Harold casually stated to his wife Patty as he walked into the living room and over to the ringing telephone on a sunny afternoon.  He picked it up and asked, “Hello?”

Harold stood motionless as he listened, seeming frozen in place and in time.  Then, only a few seconds later, he slowly put down the phone and hung up.

“Who was it, dear?” Patty called from the kitchen.

Harold wiped his hands together.  “Oh nothing, nothing at all.”

“Was it a wrong number?”

He sat slowly down on the chair by the desk.   “Well, no, not quite.”

Something in Harold’s tone alerted Patty that something was wrong.  She entered, wiping her hands on her apron.  “Who was it?” she nervously asked, noting her husband’s worried expression.

Harold looked up, still rubbing his hands together.  His smile seemed uncertain.  “Oh,” he said, standing up and walking to the front window.  “It’s nothing important.”

To Patty it seemed as if Harold was making an effort to be matter-of-fact, the way he answered her question, the way he stood up and the way he walked to the window to stare out at nothing in particular.

After a pause she asked, “Are you going to tell me?”

He turned and faced her.  “There’s nothing to tell,” he answered with a strained cheeriness.  “I told you it wasn’t anything important.”

Now Patty was getting suspicious.  She knew her husband, knew he couldn’t tell a lie to save his life.  “I was just asking you who it was,” she said in a softly sarcastic manner.

Harold turned away from her to once again look blankly out the window.  “I don’t know why we always have to fight over these things,” he said fatalistically.  “I tell you one thing and then you question me.”

Patty walked over to the seat Harold had been sitting on and sat down, looking at her lap.  “Is that what we’re doing?  Having a fight?”

There was silence for a time and then Harold turned to look at his wife.  “No, of course not,” he said softly, “I mean, why can’t you take my word for it when I say it’s nothing’s important?”

Patty lifted her head and looked off to one side.  “It’s just that I remember the last time you got a phone call like that.”

“Like what?” he asked, taking a step backward.

She stood up and faced him.  “You know very well what,” she said flatly.  “That phone call we got last year, the one that you answered.”  She then softened her tone as she added, “The one that nearly destroyed our marriage.”

Harold exhaled and slapped his hands against his hips, walking around the room but not making eye contact with her until he stood with his back to her.  “That’s your interpretation of events,” he said angrily.  “There was never any question in my mind of our marriage being in jeopardy.”

Now it was Patty’s turn to walk to the window.  “There was a question in mine, though.”

Harold turned and started to walk toward her but stopped short of standing next to her as if out of fear.  He tried to think of something reassuring to say but couldn’t.  He thought about walking up to her and placing his hands softly on her shoulders as a gesture of reassurance but did neither.  In the end he wiped his mouth with his hand and started to walk toward the kitchen.

“This isn’t finished yet,” she said in a tone he knew only too well.  He knew she meant business and would not let go until they had hashed it all over again. 

He stopped his journey and sat wearily down in the chair.  “All I’m saying is why can’t you believe me?  It was just a phone call, it meant nothing.”

She turned to face him.  “To you or to me?”

He stared at her a moment as if to make an impact.  “To both of us.”

She smiled and walked toward him, stopping two steps away.  “Then why won’t you tell me the truth?   A marriage, a true and happy marriage, is based on trust, mutual trust.  The last time you didn’t trust me and look what happened.”  She folded her arms.  “I have no intention of ever letting that happen again.  You know what will happen to you if it does.”

Harold stood up and finally placed his hands on her shoulders.  In the softest voice he could imagine, he said, “Please let’s not go there this time.”

Patty’s response was to yank Harold’s hands off her shoulders before slapping him in the face, stunning him.  “YOU were the one who crossed the line last time,” she yelled, pointing a finger at him, “And don’t you forget it!  Because when you did, that’s when I crossed the line!”

As Harold put a hand up to his stinging cheek she stared at him with a wide-eyed expression before stomping into the kitchen.  A moment later Harold could hear her opening a drawer and rattling things around.  He felt desperate and sensed his pulse was increasing.  “Sweetheart!” he called out to her, “Let’s not let things get out of hand!”

He stood there motionless and watched in shock as she walked back into the room holding a large spatula, tapping it against the palm of her hand.  “So I see you still remember,” she said softly.  “You do remember some things, don’t you?  Like pain.  You remember what can happen when you doubt me, when you don’t trust me, when you don’t tell me the truth.”

Harold felt he had no other choice but to sink down to his knees, breathing heavily as he tried to think of a way to soothe her anger.  Then he smiled a weak smile and gently said, “But dearest it was only a phone call.”

“ONLY a phone call!” she yelled as she took a swipe at him, but he ducked so violently that he ended-up crouched onto the floor.  They both knew she had only taken a half-hearted swipe at him.

Harold rose up on all fours but held his position as if to acknowledge her power over him.  She walked around his submissive posture, again lightly tapping the spatula against her palm while he shivered beneath her.  Then she leaned down to speak into his ear as she held the spatula above his head.  “Don’t you EVER lie to me about phone calls again.  Didn’t I tell you what would happen if you ever kept a phone call from me again?  Didn’t I make it clear what would happen to you if you did?  Do you think I enjoy disciplining you?  WELL?”

“No, dear, no,” he answered almost out-of-breath.  “I don’t doubt you, I know what can happen.”

Standing up she told him, “You know what can happen?   No, precious, you know what WILL happen.” 

There was complete silence now broken only by the sound of Harold’s heavy breathing as Patty could now detect droplets of sweat along his left temple.  After a time he spoke slowly as if regarding his next speech with great significance.  “It’s nothing important,” he said with a determined desperation.  “It’s nothing important.”

“It’s nothing important,” she quietly echoed.  For a long time both said nothing until Patty put the spatula in her apron pocket and strolled over to the window.  He turned to look at her but stayed put in his position as he watched her walk over to one side and with great deliberateness pull the curtain cord down until the curtains met at the center.

The room was suddenly dark.  “Please,” he said almost under his breath.  “Think about what you’re doing.”

“What am I doing?” she said as she turned to face him.  “I only just closed the curtains.”

He swallowed hard and exhaled.  “What you’re thinking of doing.”

She smiled broadly.  What so terrified Harold was that it seemed very genuine, not a forced or phony smile at all.  Then he felt worse as her smile faded.  “You should have thought of that when you answered that phone call.”

Patty walked over to the front door and turned the bolt, fastening the door with a loud lock.  She then walked briskly into the kitchen where Harold heard her setting the chain on the back door.  For several minutes there wasn’t a sound until she returned to silently stand in the kitchen doorway. 

Harold was bathed in sweat now; his lower lip trembled as he hyperventilated.

“You see darling,” Patty said as she reached into her pocket pulling out a large butcher knife.  “There is a price to pay for everything, especially lies.”  Speaking as if in a trace, looking almost at him but not quite so as if she were somehow removed from the proceedings she added,  “And you are going to pay a price for your lies, an ultimate price.”

Sensing his doom Harold tried to stand up but a command of “KEEP YOUR SEAT!” forced him back into all-fours again as he cowered before her.  She then crept down on all fours, mirroring his position.  He looked at the knife under her hand but knew he was powerless to remove it from her grasp.

She leaned into him, her face only an inch from his.  Breathing deeply into his face she said, “That last phone call you got, don’t you remember it?  Of course you do, darling.  Remember how you told me it wasn’t anything important over-and-over again until finally a policeman came to the door to tell me that our little boy had been killed in front of his school by a reckless driver?  Remember how you tried to keep the truth from me because you weren’t man enough to tell me until the cop showed up?  Do you remember?  DO YOU REMEMBER?” 

“I remember,” he quietly answered.

“And do you remember how I reacted right in front of that cop, how I screamed and went out-of-my-mind, whirling around the room until I collapsed on the floor?  And how the neighbors all saw me getting carried out on a stretcher to spend months in a sanitarium?  And how front that point on I had to discipline you so that you knew never to keep the truth from me again?”  She then regained her footing and faced him.  “But I see you will never learn.  Never.  Ever.”

She then turned away from him, giving Harold the chance to stand up, but as he tried the lack of circulation in his limbs forced him to clumsily fall to his knees.  Patty turned and slashed into him with her knife, striking him in the neck and then about the face.  He could see the blood on her the knife and the room spinning around before a red haze forced itself into his eyes and finally blackness forever.

Harold’s corpse lay on its back as Patty calmly regarded him as she wiped the blood off the knife with her apron before walking  into the kitchen to wash her hands in the sink.  A moment later she breezily walked over to the phone and dialed a number as she raised the receiver to her mouth.

“Hello?” she said into the phone.  “Is this the police department?  I need someone to come over here right away.  What’s happened?”

She turned and looked at the stilled figured lying on the floor.

“It’s nothing important.”  

"Night of Infamy"

The Arizona Memorial is one of the most-popular tourist attractions in Hawaii, but no one was more fascinated by it than Doug Simmons.  “Just think of it,” he told his friend Alex as they were being transported on a small boat to visit the memorial, “Those men were blown up and died in a ship on a Sunday, when all they were expected to do was lounge around all day from winning a band contest the night before!  What could go wrong, what could happen?”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Alex replied.  He was also interested in the Arizona’s tragic story on December 7th, 1941, but he could never match Doug’s almost insatiable appetite for what had happened on that fateful day.

“And then all hell broke loose!” Doug continued in that same excited whisper, “And that ship blew up like a firecracker!”

“Carried a lot of explosives on it, eh?” Alex asked.

“Uh-huh,” Doug replied, surveying the scene as the boat approached the memorial.  “At one time they thought a bomb went down its smokestack, but it was actually a torpedo that did her in.  And you know what?  The guys who torpedoed her were shot down during the battle of Wake Island a few months later.”

“That’s poetic justice for you,” Alex said as he shook his head with a grin.

The launch boat moored next to the memorial and soon Doug and Alex found themselves walking on it with dozens of other sightseers.  Doug was immediately struck by not just the quiet beauty of the memorial resting in its peaceful Hawaiian harbor but of its solemn nature, as here was the beginning of World War II for America, a war that changed the course of history.

“And just think,” Doug said licking his lips, “They’re still here.  All of them.  The whole crew.”

Alex turned and looked at his friend as they walked around.  He was a bit worried as Doug’s interest seemed almost too intense.  “Not all them died,” he pointed out.

“No,” Doug admitted as they stood by a railing.  He then kneeled down to look into the water before exhaling and saying, “But a lot of brave young sailors did.  And look!” he exclaimed as he pointed downward.  “Take a look at that!  See that glob there in the water?”

At first Alex couldn’t see what Doug was pointing at until he noticed sunlight reflecting off of a smeary rainbow-colored substance.  He stared at it a bit longer trying to make it out before looking at Doug and asking, “Oil from the Arizona?” he asked.

“Oil from the Arizona,” Doug answered.

The two young men continued on but Doug seemed to be elsewhere.  “You know,” he murmured, “If you listen long enough you can almost hear them.” 

Alex stopped walking.  “Hear who?” he asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

“The crew, of course,” Doug said with a surprised tone as he stopped to face Alex.  “All of them.”  He looked down at the cement foundation.  “Sometimes I can hear them in their bunks talking about their girlfriends, about their jobs back home and about their families.  I can hear them complaining about their drills, about firing their weapons, even about their getting seasick.”

 Alex looked at his friend.  “C’mon Doug,” he said,” I think you’re getting a little carried away here.  You can’t expect me to believe that you can actually hear them, you just mean you can imagine or guess what they might have said when they were ...”

“No, Alex,” he solemnly declared, his jaw set firmly.  “I can hear them.”  He looked off.  “And I’m the only one who can.”

Alex almost felt foolish as he pointed out, “Doug, they’re dead.

Doug only shook his head and muttered, “Not to me.”

Alex decided to drop the subject and be content simply to enjoy his friend’s company, so the two of them did the usual tourist things as they posed for pictures and took in the lovely view during the breezy day.  Their last stop was the wall upon which were listed the names of the sailors who died onboard the Arizona.  The two men stood still silently paying their respects; Doug with his head bowed while Alex glared at several Japanese children shouting gaily as they ran up and down the walkway. 

“We ought to get back,” Alex said, looking at his watch.

“You go ahead,” Doug said softly.  “I’ll stay here awhile.”

Doug stared at his friend with surprise.  “Stay here doing what?  For how long?  I thought we were going back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.”

“No, you go ahead,” Doug said as he reached out and placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder, all the while still gazing at the names.  He then turned to see Alex’s worried expression.  “Don’t worry,” he added reassuringly, “I’ll meet up with you in time for dinner.”

At first Alex wanted to say something in protest, but it was obvious that Doug was very moved and in the moment, so he merely nodded his head and said, “All right, but don’t be too long, it’s nearly five o’clock now.”

“I won’t be long,” Doug whispered, returning his gaze to the names.           

One hour later it was sunset as the last departure boat pulled away from the Arizona Memorial, but Doug Simmons was neither on it nor on any of the previous boats as he had managed to keep out of sight until everyone had left.  As twilight faded into night he found himself all alone on the memorial, a rare opportunity he clearly cherished. 

For several minutes Doug lay on his back on the cement with his eyes closed as if trying to somehow hear the sounds of the ship, breathing softly and listening intently to any noise that might reach his ears.  Minutes later he thought he heard a motor running and sat up thinking that perhaps another boat was approaching him, but he saw no boats moving in the moonlit harbor.

Resting again on his back, Doug soon heard another sound, a low rumbling like that of a ship’s motor; only this time it seemed to be coming from underneath the memorial.  Doug then actually felt the sensation of being moved forward, yet a quick glance around him confirmed that the memorial was standing quite still in the water.

Putting his ear to the cement floor he then heard what sounded like muffled voices.  Straining to hear further, the voices became more distinct, until one voice louder than the rest appeared to be calling out commands.  Doug could not make out any of the words, yet there was no question in his mind that orders were being given by the captain standing on the bridge of the Arizona.

Doug then heard the sound of a bell ringing and of a boson’s shrill whistle before hearing the sounds of many feet scrambling about as a four-syllable shout could only be interpreted to him as meaning: “Battle stations!”  Then a siren wailed and the engines reached a higher rpm.  He could now hear the sound of the ship’s bow splashing waves up against the sea and even sense its pitching deck.   

He closed his eyes imagining images of desperate men locked in a desperate battle, yelling and waving their arms violently about, of seeing huge guns being elevated and turned before belching forward huge clouds of reddish-black smoke.  Then, a terrible shudder vibrated through his body as if sensing the ship had been struck.

Doug sat up, startled, sweating as he tried to clear his head.  Then, appearing in the moonlight before him, he could see shadowy human figures with glowing outlines appearing one-by-one shuffling along the deck of the memorial.  They moved in a steady and rhythmic pattern, not making a sound and seeming not to notice him at all.  Doug stood up and turned to see them all around him, one line moving away from him on one side while another line of figures walked toward him along the opposite railing, as if walking in constant circles around the memorial.  Then, they slowly vanished as Doug once again found himself all alone.

Overwhelmed by what he had just witnessed Doug fell to his knees and covered his face with his hands as he broke down and cried.  Several minutes later he had recovered somewhat but felt frustrated as he tried to think of something to say that would be appropriate for such an incredible event.  Finally, he stood up almost in defiance to his shattered nerves and spoke in a loud voice saying:

“I loved you guys, you were great.  You died fighting for your country and it wasn’t fair the way that you died as you never even had a chance.  But please believe that I have always felt as if I was a part of your crew and that I somehow belong to be with you.   I’d have given anything to be a member of your crew.”      

Not long afterwards, Doug turned and lay on his back as he looked up into the night at the bright full moon.  A moment later however he heard something splashing against the side of the memorial and stood up to walk over to the railing.  Looking down he only saw water gently lapping against the side of the memorial, which seemed odd since the water in the rest of the harbor was as still as a stretched-out piece of cellophane.  Looking further into the water he stared open-eyed in amazement as he saw what looked like a white hand gently waving up at him from just beneath the surface.

Doug shook his head as he rationalized that it must be a mirage caused by the moonlight, but this thought was soon shattered as the moonlight suddenly faded away.  Startled, Doug looked up at where the moon had been a moment ago, only to see nothing but inky blackness in a sky now devoid of stars.  He then felt a sudden chill whipping through his body as something grabbed hold of his leg.

Looking down Doug saw a wet and glistening white sailor’s uniform as a hand as gray as a marble statue had seized his left ankle.  Doug winched as it felt his leg was in a vice, the pain so intolerable he was forced down to his knees.  He frantically reached down and tried to force the hand away from him, but the object was ice cold and slippery, not at all like human flesh but hard and rigid as a rock. 

Doug could only now cry out in pain as another arm came out of the water and grabbed onto his other leg.  As Doug slipped he desperately grabbed onto the railing in an attempt to lift himself up until he froze in fear as he saw a white sailor’s cap rise up revealing a sailor’s face staring at him with empty and ashen eyes.  A moment later Doug screamed as he was pulled violently into the water.     

The following morning a worried Alex returned to the memorial to try to find his friend as Doug had never shown up at the hotel.  After searching the entire length of the platform he decided to give up and contact the Honolulu Police Department.  As he waited for the departure launch to take him back to shore, he found himself standing next to the memorial’s hallowed list of names when something suddenly compelled him to notice a name he hadn’t seen the day before.  Peering more closely at it he blinked in horror as he read the name.

It read: "Doug Simmons."

 

 

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