by Michael J. O’Connor
Glenn Haynes was 50 years-old, and still feeling pretty strong. He was certain that 70 year-old men felt the same way.
Fear is a great motivator for positive thinking.
As he came out of the bathroom, Glenn walked past his two sons’ rooms. It was 10:30 a.m., and they were still asleep. He remembered what it was like being a teenager, how tired he felt, and he let them be. He went down to the kitchen, where his wife was making coffee and keeping her hands busy. She always did that, sometimes simply rearranging things on the counter, not making any sort of real change to it.
Treading water, killing time.
They said good morning and he sat down at the table to read the paper, a ritual he had inherited from his father. He opened up the paper and glanced through it. He wasn’t sure why. He would be on the internet all day at work. There was nothing to see here that he couldn’t read all about later. He was a payroll clerk for a farm equipment company, and in this town, like in a lot of farming towns, there wasn’t much business to be had. He turned to the last page, the obituaries, to start the grim ritual of looking for his contemporaries… as older people do.
He instantly recognized a picture on that back page. Jim Canton, his science teacher in the 7th grade, had passed away. As soon as he saw the name he was 12 years old again, watching Mr. Canton do science experiments and blow things up. He loved the man, and remembered that his imagination had never been so wide open than when he was in his class. Mr. Canton kept a reticulated Rhesus monkey skeleton on his desk, and Glenn thought it was the most fascinating thing in the world. He had forgotten all about it until this very moment.
The next day, there was an estate sale for Mr. Canton, and Glenn wondered if there was a small chance the monkey skeleton would be there. He had been feeling decent lately, but it had been a long time since he had felt young. The skeleton could be an excellent reminder not to get too old too fast, if it wasn’t already too late.
He drove up the dirt road to Mr. Canton’s house. Mr. Canton had lived on a large farm plot, barren for years, and even dustier now from the drought. Outside, there was all manner of furniture, bird cages, and other oddities, shined up and priced to move. Glenn was the first customer of the day, and felt that if the skeleton was there, he would be certain to get it. After he parked and walked up the driveway, it didn’t take long for him to find it. It was sitting under a glass dome and looking just like it did in the 7th grade. The man working the sale walked up and was oddly friendly.
“Hi there! How are you? Good to see you!”
Glenn just nodded and smiled. He figured he had enough time to look around a little bit.
Look around, look all around.
As he was eyeing some old cigar boxes, he turned to see another man admiring the skeleton — his skeleton — and his heart sank. He knew the man, and he knew him well. His name was Peter Karbowski, and he and Glenn were the only friend the other one had from ages five to sixteen. Peter looked at Glenn and immediately recognized him.
The two men approached one another and shook hands warmly. They proceeded with “How’ve ya been?” and “What do ya do now?” but it was all pleasantries. When they were in high school, the life-long friends had a fight after too many Coors Lights at Amy Hickey’s bonfire party. That same year, Peter changed schools and they never saw each other again.
Glenn heard that Peter had moved to Sacramento and become some kind of big time lawyer or executive. When Mr. Karbowski died, Glenn went to the funeral, but he didn’t see Peter there. He assumed that Peter never wanted to come back to the dusty township, but apparently he had seen Mr. Canton’s obituary, remembered the skeleton, and was struck with the same youthful feeling.
It was awkward.
Peter smiled, pawing at the skeleton.
“I actually came here for that,” Glenn stuttered, “and I’m afraid I was here first.”
“I should have known!” Peter’s voice raised immediately, as if he had been expecting this argument all along and had escalated it in his mind already.
“Should have known what, Peter? I was here first!”
Peter grabbed the glass dome, and hugged it close to him.
“No, you don’t get it! You always get your way, and you don’t care about anyone else!”
“What the hell are you talking about? I haven’t seen you in 35 years, what do you know about me!?”
Peter’s lip quivered which Glenn found pathetic in a man his age, and Peter hugged the skeleton tighter.
“I know,” he whispered, “I know.”
Fear is a great motivator for negative thinking.
Glenn became enraged and tried grabbing the skeleton from Peter, who resisted. Soon, the two middle aged men — in clothes their wives dressed them in — were wrestling, rolling around on the ground and knocking over tables and paintings, making an awful, embarrassing scene. They were finally broken up by the man running the estate sale, and when the literal dust settled, the glass dome was shattered on the ground, and the monkey skeleton was smashed to pieces.
The man running the sale held the two apart and yelled, “Stop it! Stop it! This is ridiculous! You guys were friends! A man we loved has died and this is how you act!?”
Glenn and Peter’s faces puckered up, and Peter asked “How do you know we used to be friends?”
The man’s eyes widened and he began to tug at his hair. “Are you…!? Are you serious!?” He began poking himself in the chest, “Jimmy! Jimmy Canton? Mr. Canton’s son!?”
Glenn and Peter exchanged confused glances.
“We went to kindergarten together! We went to high school together!”
For the life of him, Glenn couldn’t remember the guy, and it seemed Peter didn’t either. He let them go, exasperated, and began clearing up the mess. Peter and Glenn helped, wordlessly resetting tables and putting the items back on them. Soon, they had everything the way it was before.
Glenn and Peter split the cost of the skeleton and gave the money to an infuriated Jimmy Canton who snatched the cash out of their hands.
Do a good turn daily.
They walked together down the driveway, still silent. When they got to the parking lot, they faced each other.
Glenn said it first, and he meant it.
Peter looked up and said, “I’m sorry, too.”
With that, they nodded at each other, got into their cars, and drove away.
When Glenn pulled into the driveway of his house, no one was home. His wife and two teenage boys were gone. It was probably for the best, since his Dockers and golf shirt were covered in dirt and he had a skinned elbow. He walked into the house and into the living room.
On his mantle he had a couple of old clocks, a shark’s tooth, and a few other odds and ends to display. He reached into his pocket, pulled out the lower jaw bone of a Rhesus monkey, and placed it on the mantle. He knew that his old friend would probably be doing the same, and he smiled at the mischief they had made.
Michael J. O’Connor is a WRITER / MUSICIAN / WHATEVER