115 Doxtater-Complete story (Image:The Doors-Redux)

Reader: this story–”118 Doxtater”–was originally posted in 6 parts but is here posted in its entirety. (Note date: 12-20-10)

Today’s image is called “The Doors” for the obvious reason but is “redux” because I used the same title for another pile of doors I shot on Cape Cod about a year ago. This particular assemblage of doors was leaning against an old barn near Richfield Springs in Upstate New York–I referenced it in my last post, “Closed.”  The picture was taken 11-26-10 and yes–the color was saturated–these doors did not really look like this–I just liked the effect.

115 Doxtater

5900 words/12-15-10 Rev.

Major Provisano missed World War Two.

It occurred to him sometime in the nine years since the war ended that breaking codes and changing the course of world history was what he was born to do. He stood at the kitchen window studying the deep snow and drifts covering Doxtater Street in Rome, NY remembering the incredible sense of mission, purpose and camaraderie of “Ultra” team in England—at the same time noting the desolation around him—a lot of neighbors had fled to Florida after Thanksgiving. Most of the homes in the immediate neighborhood were dark and vacant—Doxtater Street looked like a frozen, snow-buried ghost town. The scene outside his window was a lot like his own life in recent years.

41 year old John Provisano put down his cup of half chocolate, half coffee (heavy on the cream) on the kitchen table to bring in another arm load of fire wood. He hadn’t had that particular beverage in many years—somehow it seemed appropriate on the occasion of this storm. The rich, bittersweet taste brought back bittersweet memories from the war years. As much as he loved his family his life since then—especially of late—seemed lacking—almost pointless.

Dropping the wood in the firewood box he made a mental note to drive over to Westernville and bring back another cord of wood once the power was on and streets cleared. There would be more storms and power outages before spring returned to Oneida County. In the meantime he had plenty to feed the cast-iron, Franklin stove he’d picked up at a church rummage sale last summer. Growing up in Buffalo and Rochester before the war, he knew how to prepare for winter in Upstate New York.

That obviously wasn’t the case for the young Atlanta couple across the street at 118 Doxtater who’d moved in a few months after he did. As far as he could tell the only preparations they made were to buy a snow shovel and put snow tires on their car. They seemed nice enough—both attractive, well-spoken, intelligent people. One evening last fall he was taking the trash out to the curb and observed the husband storming out of the house. He thought he could hear the wife crying as the door swung open then slam shut as the young man drove away. The car was back a few days later

This winter day the car was gone—the driveway a clean expanse of snow drifted thirty inches deep. Having left before the storm hit a few days ago—the husband was probably stuck somewhere until the roads were cleared.

John Provisano had been reading earlier but found himself unable to focus. He put the book down on the hutch then picked up and contemplated a framed picture of wife Vera and six year old daughter “Sam”—Samantha—who were still in Mississippi and would be until spring at least three months away. His unexpected assignment to the new, secret crypto unit at Griffiss Air Force Base had made it impossible for them to accompany him to Upstate New York—Sam needed to finish out the year at her current school in any event. Tears welled in his eyes as he studied the faces of the two most important people in his life—the only warmth and real meaning in his world now—and they were hundreds of miles away. With his day-to-day family responsibilities absent, the haunting emptiness seemed to color every thought or perception. Looking across the street at 118—he put the picture down on the hutch by the book, sipped his drink and thought about a life and time in history that had vanished like an improbable dream.

“Numerological equivalent of 118 is 11 the square root of which is 3.3166247,” John thought. “Since the first number in the root is 3 you use the third step in the Fibonacci sequence—6.6332494—and apply that to your source key—“Mein Kampf” in the case of the 4th Enigma variation—and use that to develop your phrasing. Whoever the jerk on the other side was that set up the phrasing pattern after that was pretty stupid to think a simple mirror image in sets of four would make a serious difference in decoding. Gordon (Welshman) spotted the phrasing “straight-away” as he used to say.” Plug all that into the “Bombe” device and track the daily sub-variations on the diagonal sheets and Nazi communications were an open book.

It was such a treat to sit in on Gordon’s computer class at MIT a few years ago after he came to this country. Following class one afternoon the two had been drinking at an English-style pub in Cambridge when Gordon told John he meant to become an American citizen. After buying another round of drinks John reciprocated by telling Gordon how he accomplished the leap in imagination that led to his breakthrough.

Late one evening in 1943 John—then single—was laying naked next to an equally naked, sleeping Buckinghamshire girl. Having spent himself at least three times that evening John was drifting in that almost out-of-body state of reverie following sexual catharsis when—like a kind of mathematical quick silver—the epiphany shimmered out of the darkness into semi-consciousness. He immediately jerked awake and wrote down his thoughts and the several permutations of his premises. In his euphoria John woke the girl and had sex twice more that night.

The girl’s name was Samantha and he would always remember her as having incredibly thick, beautiful hair and the most evocative eyes of any girl he had ever known. John was 30—she was 23—when they met and fell in love. In John’s memories she would always be 23—because she would not live to see 24.

End part one

Begin two

In February of 1944 Samantha traveled to London to do some personal shopping. The Woolworth’s she was in was hit directly by a V-2. Nearly a hundred people were killed outright or injured. Miraculously she wasn’t harmed at all by the blast. She along with two other people, was killed when an unstable wall collapsed while they were trying to drag injured from the rubble.

Gordon Welshman was the only person who knew the inspiration for John’s daughter’s name. On the occasion of their daughter’s birth John told Vera he had always “just liked the name.” It wasn’t simply a matter of Vera not liking where the name came from. It was more a profound sense of wanting to keep Samantha’s memory a sacred, personal secret—deep in his heart where he could cherish it and no one could touch or sully the sweetness of his first love. A few years later it occurred to him that night was—or at least symbolized—the intellectual and sexual peak of his life. And that period—that love—was the purest love he would ever know. The only love that came close was the love he had for his daughter. Standing there drinking from the bittersweet past it seemed to him his life had been consistently downhill in the 11 years since.

John Provisano very much missed World War Two. No epiphanies—no urgent codes to break, no history to change—no truly pure and perfect love—just emptiness, cold and desolation. The puzzle of a meaningful life now defied his best efforts at a solution. This was one code he could not break.

Like his house, the home across the street had no power and he seriously doubted there was any heat. He had seen the girl sitting in the large bay window earlier when the sun shone for a few hours through the glass providing her a bit of relative warmth. As the sun set he could see again the faint glow of candle light through the kitchen window he’d noticed the night before.

“She must be miserable,” he thought looking up at the bare branches of the old Elms arching over the street as they faded into frozen darkness.

Filling a thermos with hot chocolate he pulled on his heavy Air Force Parka, slipped on felt boots and trudged through the snow—almost up to his waist in places—across the unplowed street. Climbing the porch steps he rapped on the door. The girl—Mary Kent was her name—quickly answered.

“Hi,” John said as she peeked through the partially open door, “I’m your neighbor across the street—115 Doxtater. Mary Kent isn’t it?” The girl looked at John—nodding with a mixture of caution, appreciation and anticipation.

“I hope I’m not intruding,” he continued, “but I thought you might like some hot chocolate.” He held up the thermos so she could see and handed it to her through the partially open door.

“Come in,” Mary Kent responded as she quickly accepted the thermos.

“Just a minute,” John replied.

Picking up the snow shovel standing by the door—John quickly shoveled off the small porch, stamped his boots clean of snow and stepped inside. The kitchen was dark except for two candles burning in pint mason jars on the table and almost as cold as it was outside. “The pipes are probably frozen by now,” he thought.

John had never spoken to the girl other than to wave across the street and holler “hi” or “good morning”—that sort of thing. Mary Kent was a lot younger than him. How much younger it was hard to tell this evening. The girl was bundled up in sweaters and shirts under the bulky overcoat. She wore a knitted cap, gloves and appeared to have on at least two pairs of pants. Despite the layers of clothing she was shaking and looked haggard—probably from lack of sleep. She sat the thermos down on the table and started toward a cabinet for cups. John glanced around the dreary room and when she returned he looked carefully into the girl’s eyes.

“Mary Kent,” John intoned in a concerned voice, “I’m inviting you to come over to my house. I have heat, hot food—warm water for a bath. Please come—I think your health is at risk here. You’ll be fine—you’ll be safe with me—I promise.”

The girl studied his face for a moment taking note of the sad, fatherly expression in the military officer’s eyes.

“You promise you won’t try anything?” she returned.

“On my honor as an officer and a gentleman,” he smiled. “Besides my wife would kill me if I ever—uh—you know.”

John could tell she was vacillating. On impulse he said something that surprised himself.

“And if you’ll forgive my saying so,” he said in an unhappy voice, “I think we’re both very lonely. Please come. You’ll be safe with me.”

The girl disappeared returning a few minutes later with a wicker laundry basket filled with clothing, toiletries and other personal effects. Major Provisano took the basket from her and led the way back across the street—churning his way through the deep snow while Mary Kent followed behind him in the trench he created.

Like most homes in Upstate New York, John Provisano’s house had a full basement. In the basement besides the furnace, was a hot water heater which—though it had no power—was able to passively bring water to the relatively warm room temperature. After filling the tub with tepid water from the hot water heater, John added several tea kettles of boiling water from the wood stove to bring the water temperature up to warm. Closing and locking the bathroom door the girl emerged a half hour later with her hair wrapped in a towel wearing one of John’s terry cloth robes.

Standing by the wood stove she took the towel off her head and bent her head over the hot stove—running a brush repeatedly through her thick, wavy hair as it dangled in the rising heat—while John heated up a pot of canned beef stew. Freshly bathed, warmed and rejuvenated John could now tell the girl was about twenty years younger than him—she would later confirm she was 21. Watching her brush her hair and glance warmly in his direction, John Provisano reflected he had not seen such beautiful hair and compelling eyes since 1943.

It was Samantha that introduced John to half-coffee, half chocolate—heavy on the cream (she hated tea). In Buckinghamshire where Samantha grew up, snow was rare and once the couple began discussing marriage, she talked excitedly about the prospect of living somewhere—Upstate New York—where there was lots of snow—for months at a time. John wrote home and asked his mother to send a small album of photos of family snapshots taken outdoors in winter.

John and Samantha spent many evenings drinking hot chocolate and coffee and looking at the black & white photographs—John commenting on the people in the images or the occasion on which it was taken. On the day Samantha was killed it snowed in Buckinghamshire.

John Provisano and Mary Kent ate, talked, laughed and reveled in the almost narcotic joy of warm human comfort in the midst of surrounding frozen desolation—it was as though they were the last humans on the planet. Each was desperately grateful for the rich, nurturing presence of the other as an ally in the struggle against isolation. It had an almost war-time urgency.

Forty-five minutes after finishing their meal they were making love in the double bed John had purchased for himself and his wife in the room that would later become his daughter’s bedroom.

End part two

Begin 3

During the night the fire in the woodstove downstairs had gone out and the house was getting cold. John went downstairs and built a new fire—within a short time the house was again becoming comfortable. Back upstairs standing by the bed he studied the young woman snuggled under the covers. Her decadently thick hair nearly covering the pillow, the petite girl lay curled in a fetal position making her look more like a child than a young adult.

“I’m old enough to be her father,” he thought. “And I’m probably looking at the end of my marriage.”

John watched her breath softly—the thick lashes of her closed eyes giving her an angelic appearance. He found himself remembering various details of the room at Blenchley Park Manor in England where he usually slept with Samantha. The more he looked at the sleeping girl the more she looked like Mary Kent from across the street and less like Samantha dead these last 11 years.

Even so—everything about Mary Kent seemed so fresh, strong, delicious and immortal. It tore at his heart to think how much of his own vitality had been stolen by time. Looking up at himself in the dresser mirror he saw staring back at him a middle-aged man wearing the patient expression of someone used to giving orders, salt and pepper hair, hairline beginning to recede, a so-called “spare-tire” spreading around his waistline. His legs were still fairly firm but the muscles in his arms and upper body were soft now from years of desk work.

During the night they made love twice—a far cry from his days in England and the years just before and after his assignment to that country. His current work for the American Military monitoring, decoding and analyzing Soviet communications during the cold war of the 1950s was important work—but it was peace-time work. There was no wartime urgency. The SAC bomber crews that arrived and left from Griffiss each day depended on the accuracy of his reports but now his work was largely oversight and consultation. Younger, quicker and better educated minds did the critical heavy lifting.

His days as a wunderkind were long behind him. Now he was almost a professor emeritus, a steadying influence and provider of military, procedural and technical expertise. The dramatic breakthroughs and leaps of imagination were now the province of kids the age of this girl and her husband.

The girl stirred, opened her eyes, raised up on her elbows and looked at him. In her beautiful eyes was a jumble of emotions—remorse, doubt, sadness, uncertainty and some sort of need. She pulled the covers over her breasts, looked into his eyes briefly then lay back down looking up at the ceiling. Tears filled her eyes overflowing down her temples. John studied her face and looked carefully at his own feelings—he was quite certain she was feeling she had been manipulated—taken advantage of by an older man with a warm house.

In the clear light of day he saw her now not as an object of lust and a time-traveling escape from the vicious unfairness of time, but as a very young woman floating in that exquisite golden light between childhood and adulthood—the body of a woman—the eyes of a child. He gently sat down on the edge of the bed with his back to her.

“I’m sorry Mary Kent,” John Provisano said in a heavy, contrite tone. “I’m twice your age—it shouldn’t have happened—I shouldn’t have let it happen. I take responsibility for last night. I could tell you I’ve never cheated on my wife before but that would be pretty self-serving—if I were you I wouldn’t believe it. I apologize for what I did …”

Mary Kent dried her eyes with the edge of the top sheet and inhaled deeply.

“Jay cheated on me,” she interrupted—ignoring his supplications, “lots of times. There were a bunch of them. My personal favorite is a cheesy little whore who worked in a travel agency next door to his dealership in Atlanta. He was screwing her in Volkswagen campers at the back of the lot. That’s the main reason we came here. Jay said we needed a complete change of scenery so we could start fresh. He even had us renew our vows a few weeks after we moved in across the street. And I bought it—I believed him. I can’t believe what a stupid bitch I was—hoping for a miracle. I have reason to believe he’s up in Old Forge right now screwing some trailer-park tramp.”

The girl’s declaration caught John completely off balance. He was at a loss as to what to say other than, “I’m sorry that happened to you.”

“I was really playing the martyr,” Mary Kent continued, “the poor, betrayed, faithful wife. I felt so superior to him. Well, at least I cheated with someone with a little class.”

Well—thank you Mary Kent,” John responded, “but I’m not feeling like a very classy guy at the moment.”

“Oh get over yourself, “she said sitting up and still holding the sheet over her breasts. ”I wanted last night as much as you did. I’m not an infant thank you. “

“Uh, well, I’ll let you get dressed,” John said—again taken aback by the girl’s assertiveness. “Come on downstairs when you’re ready. I’ll go down and start breakfast.”

Ten minutes later the girl and the major were sitting across from one another at the kitchen table eating hot oatmeal with peaches and milk.

“That thermos of hot chocolate was such a sweet thing to do,” Mary Kent smiled. ”It reminded me so much of my dad. Only he used to mix half hot chocolate and half coffee and pour in a big slug of cream. I love it that way.”

Major Provisano almost choked on his cereal laughing.

“That’s what I drink in cold weather,” he said once he was able to speak clearly. “Well—that’s not really accurate. I drank it during the war for awhile—haven’t had any since then but just started back again yesterday. Your father fixed it for you as a child you say? I don’t suppose there’s some sort of symbolism here?” He got up and set out coffee, chocolate, cream, measuring cups and spoons and a pot.

End part 3

Begin 4

Mary Kent stood up and took charge of the preparations—brewing the coffee, fixing the cocoa, measuring out the cream—expertly pouring and mixing careful amounts of the three liquids into a large tea-kettle. When the heady mixture was ready she poured 2 cups full from a height so froth appeared on the surface of the hot beverage. She handed a steaming cup to John and held out her own in a toast.

“Here’s to the enduring clinical contributions of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and the human condition insights of the Electra and Oedipus myths,” she pronounced.

As she sipped her drink she looked around the room taking notice of an open book laying face down on the hutch.

“Dante’s Inferno?” she asked as she picked it up. “I think you’re the first person I ever met that read the Inferno of his own volition.”

“Years ago I started reading a classic a month,” John explained. “Last month it was Death In Vienna.” I haven’t decided what next month will be.”

Lolita’s a pretty good read,” Mary Kent winked.

The girl spotted the picture of Vera and Sam on the hutch.

“Oh,” she said smiling, “is this your wife and little girl?” as she put down the book and picked up the picture. “They’re both very pretty. She has your eyes and your wife’s mouth and cheek bones.”

“Yes—thank you.” John Provisano replied.

“Is one of them named Samantha?” she returned.

“Yes,” the major replied surprised, “how did you know?”

“You said, ‘Samantha’ in your sleep last night,” Mary Kent continued as she put the picture back. “Who’s who?”

“My wife—at least she is at the moment,” John returned, “is Vera—but I almost never call my daughter Samantha—I always call her Sam.”

“Then who’s ‘Samantha’?” the girl asked. John hesitated then replied.

“Someone I knew during the war,” he acknowledged.

Mary Kent paused—thinking for a second.

“You named your daughter after an old girlfriend!” she burst out half accusing and half giggling. “And Vera was OK with that?”

For a few seconds Major Provisano sat silently eating his oatmeal feeling like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

“Vera doesn’t know anything about the other Samantha,” He responded. “You look a lot like her—and you’re about the same age she was. She was from Buckinghamshire,” John admitted.

Silent for another second the girl snickered.

“Last night—you weren’t having sex with me,” she said, “you were making love to your old girlfriend Samantha.”

The major put down his spoon and wiped his mouth with a napkin.

“Well—uh—it’s a bit more complicated than that,” he said, “but—yes—in part.” He glanced at the picture of Vera and Sam.

“I love them,” he intoned, “I’ve hurt them—betrayed them…”

Mary Kent stood up.

“They don’t have to know,” she said. “I’m certainly not going to tell them.”

“Secrets in a marriage are like poison,” John said.

“Oh—and like telling Vera all about us would be beneficial to your relationship?” she returned.

End part four

Begin 5

Major Provisano didn’t reply but stood and began clearing the table.

“As long as I’m staying here,” the girl said taking the dishes from him, “I might as well earn my keep—I mean besides last night.”

Mary Kent busied herself cleaning the Major’s home as best she could without power while he tagged along helping—the two of them talking about their lives.

John related his years in England during the war and meeting Vera while in a graduate program at the University of Maryland just after the war. He shared his thoughts about where he was in life—and his nagging preoccupations with his failing capacities.

“It’s called a mid-life crisis,” Mary Kent opined. “Freud and Jung both described turmoil in middle age related to aging issues—the term itself is new in clinical circles. Not all men experience it—the numbers are all over the chart—some studies show figures as high as 70 percent, others show like 10 percent. But many men—when they hit middle age—feel threatened by their fading abilities—relentlessly comparing themselves to an idealized, younger, former self. In recent years have you experienced any big set-backs, changes or developments—problems, crises?”

“My father died last year,” he said, “and I was passed over for promotion at work. And I haven’t been quite what I was sexually,” he muttered.

“Well,” Mary Kent smiled, “I don’t know what you were like with Samantha in England but I’ve got no complaints about last night. Which reminds me,” she said with feigned indignation, “you owe me for a pair of panties—the ones I had on last night wouldn’t make a decent rag now.”

“You say a lot of men go through this?” John inquired.

“It varies,” Mary Kent explained, “it manifests in different men in a variety of ways but the basic themes are always the same—lots of self-doubt, dissatisfaction with and questioning of life, dwelling in the past—“the good old days.” Some guys in mid-life just do some personal stock-taking and soul-searching but cruise on through—others go through hell. Some of the more common things you see are marriage break-ups and affairs with younger women.”

In the months prior to this most recent assignment John tried to explain his feelings and anxieties to Vera but was unable to put his struggles into words. Vera listened sympathetically but couldn’t understand why he was so stuck in the past all of a sudden and preoccupied with perfectly natural, normal life changes that couldn’t be stopped or changed.

“It’s kind of like,” Mary Kent said smiling, ‘the older I get, the better I was.’”

With that concluding quip John burst out laughing so hard his eyes filled with tears. It all made sense—for the first time in many months he understood what was happening and where he was at in life.

When he could finally get his breath John took the girl’s hands in his own.

“Thank you Mary Kent,” he said kissing her hands then hugging her.

Then it was Mary Kent’s turn to tell her story. Mary Kent had met her husband Jay while in college in Georgia. She was a psychology major, he a business major. Dropping out a semester short of graduation they got married because she was pregnant. The baby—a boy—was stillborn and the doctor told them it might be best for Mary Kent not to become pregnant again.

“Jay felt cheated, betrayed, victimized,” she explained. “He had talked for months about having a son and treating him—loving him—the way a father should treat a child. He was raised by his father and it seems there was an endless string of girl friends. He won’t talk about it but I know he was neglected and I strongly suspect he was terribly abused as a child by his father. I think Jay felt he had been betrayed and victimized by the two most important people in his world—his father and his wife.”

“So that made it OK for him to see other women?” John offered.

“In his mind I guess,” the girl replied, “he has some major adequacy issues—needs to prove himself as a man—over and over. His whole life is a mid-life crisis and he’s the same age as me. I hate to think what his life will be like when he hits his forties. Like I said—he’s up in Old Forge right now—humping some piece of trash—a few weeks ago it was that pathetic little bitch that works in Mazzafero’s Meat Market over on East Dominick. Where do you keep your dusting spray?—I need a dust cloth.”

“He started cheating again a few weeks ago?” John asked pointing to a linen closet.

“He never stopped,” she replied clearing pictures off the mantle and spraying the top surface. I think he was involved with some bimbo three or four days after we got married again.”

“How did you handle the stillbirth? John asked.

The girl stopped dusting and stood looking at herself in the mirror above the mantle. She was silent for several long seconds as if trying to decide whether or not she would divulge a secret.

“His name is—Theseus,” she said with a quiet defiance. “As in Theseus who slew the Minotaur.”

“Is?” John asked.

“He’ll be back,” the girl said looking into her own eyes with a knowing conviction that made the hair on the back of John’s neck stand up. “Like the mythical Theseus he’ll find his way out of the maze and come back to me.”

“And you will be his Ariadne?” John asked?”

“Yes,” the girl responded. John decided not to pursue this subject further.

“So what are you going to do?” John asked, “what’s next—what do you want for yourself?

Putting down her dusting cloth and spray the girl dropped down on the living room couch to bask in the brilliant winter sunshine pouring through the front windows overlooking Doxtater Street.

“Up until yesterday I thought I wanted to be Jay’s wife,” she said—a tone of incredulity creeping into her voice. “Each time he apologized and begged for forgiveness I thought he was serious and would straighten up—actually be a husband to me. I’ve been a sap,” she went on, “he’s a dirt-bag—I guess I wanted to be Mrs. Dirt-bag—provide meals and a place to sleep in between sluts. Like most women—I thought I had no choice—that I needed to have a husband—that I couldn’t make it on my own—and if I left him I’d be a failure and not a respectable woman. People would look at me like there was something wrong with me.”

John Provisano listened silently as the girl talked about how she’d been brought up to believe the most important thing she could do with her life was to be a wife and mother.

“Mary Kent,” John offered, “take back your life—go after a life you value and enjoy. I don’t see that you have much of that in your life now. If Sam were your age and in your situation I’d do everything and anything I could to get her to leave a bastard like him. If you decide to do that, I’ll help you. I’d like to be your friend. As much as I enjoyed last night it was wrong—I can’t be your lover. Find a guy closer to your age that respects you—if in fact you want a man in your life.”

End part five

Begin 6

The afternoon was sunny and cold. About 3 PM the scraping rumble of a plow clearing Doxtater Street roared by the house. Mary Kent ran to the front door to catch a glimpse of the big orange plow turning down Liberty Street. An hour later John, who had been napping on the couch, awoke to the girl’s delighted squeals when the power came back on.

“Give your house a little time to warm up,” John offered, “then we can go over and I’ll check your pipes for leaks—they’re probably frozen.” While waiting for Mary Kent’s house to warm up they finished the last of the hot chocolate and coffee. It would be the last time John would drink it for a number of years.

***

Mary Kent’s pipes were only partially frozen—there was no damage and the water was flowing freely in a few hours. While she cleaned her own house John shoveled out both driveways. The couple drove to the Mohican Market on East Dominick Street to shop for groceries. That evening she prepared a lavish supper—complete with wine and candle light. At the pre-arranged time she called John to come over.

The girl came to the door perfectly made up, dressed in a crisp, white frock, pearls and high heels. Sitting down at the table John opened the wine and poured two glasses. Mary Kent raised her glass.

“Here’s to two unhappy, confused people,” she exclaimed, “who somehow found each other in the midst of darkness, cold and loneliness.”

John took a sip of his wine then raised his own glass.

“Midway upon the journey of our life,” John recited from The Inferno,

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straightforward pathway had been lost.”

“But maybe now,” John continued, “we can both get back on a more straight forward path. I’m not very good at being a sneak and a hypocrite.”

Mary Kent’s dirt-bag husband returned a few days later. It was unclear to John whether she threw him out first or he told her he was leaving her for some woman who managed a trailer park in Old Forge. A few months later they were amiably divorced.

Shortly after her separation Mary Kent found a job as a substitute teacher for the Oneida County School System and John helped her move to a cozy, much less expensive, basement apartment a few blocks away on Embargo Street. Less than a month after starting to work for the school system she was dating a young assistant principal and had taken steps to complete her degree at SUNY Herkimer County Community College 30 minutes from Rome.

Vera and Sam would not make the move to Rome for nearly two years. During that time John began flying back and forth between Griffiss and Columbus AFB in Mississippi on MATS flights twice a month. He read another 20 classics and spent some time in counseling discussing his impulsive, self-defeating behavior and life goals. Shortly before Vera and Sam moved to Rome, John retired with 22 years of service and went to work as a civilian employee at Griffiss.

Mary Kent finished up her bachelor’s and immediately began work on her master’s in clinical psychology, eventually she would find work as a therapist at Marcy State Hospital in Marcy, New York—about 25 minutes from Rome.

After Vera and Sam (by then age 8) moved to and settled into the new community, Mary Kent became Sam’s favorite baby sitter and soft-ball coach. About a year after divorcing her first husband, she married her assistant principal boyfriend and moved into a beautiful, two-story home on George Street. By the time Sam started at Staley Junior High in East Rome, Mary Kent had a two-year old toddler named Theseus (everybody called him by his nick name—“Theo,”) who Sam began baby-sitting when she turned 13.

And on the occasion of her thirteenth birthday—which was in November and coincidentally, the same day as the first snow of the season—Mary Kent and John gave Sam a party in Mary Kent’s basement rec. room. As Mary Kent looked on, John introduced his daughter to half-chocolate, half coffee—heavy on the cream. After one taste Sam’s eyes and face lit up with a “Wow!” expression.

She announced it was incredible and henceforth her absolute, all time favorite hot beverage. As she finished her third cup she looked at her loving father and smiling former baby-sitter with an expression of puzzlement and asked, “How come you guys never shared this with me before? What is it—like—some kind of big secret?”

End part six. End story


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