The Price of Closure
By Mort Laitner
Editor’s Note: This is a follow up story to The Conman.
As I slept on the couch, I awoke to the ring ring—ring ring—ring ring—ring… By the time I picked up the telephone in my living room, the line was dead.
I hit the button on my answering machine and heard, “This is Larry. Paul is dead. Call me!”
I tried three times in the next few hours. I wanted to leave a message. I wanted to know what had happened. I was curious. I heard, “The Mailbox is full. Try again later.”
One year had passed since I last saw Paul, the conman. He had a stroke. He lay paralyzed and diapered in his nursing home bed. I felt sorry for the conman. But on that day, after our conversation, I decided to end our friendship. I saw no future in it. I had had enough. I wanted closure.
I did not call. I did not visit. And I did not open Paul’s e-mails. I knew the conman monitored his emails to see if people opened them. Paul never phoned during his recuperation or his rehabilitation. I was relieved.
The next day, Paul’s ex-wife, Dale, called. I had not heard her voice in over thirty years; not since law school graduation. “Joshua is coming down to Florida to get his Dad’s possessions and wrap up his affairs. Would you mind helping him out?”
“Sure, no problem, just have him call me.” I replied.
We discussed Paul’s life. We laughed at his follies and cried for the wasted life. Paul’s day in his self-made garden of weeds had ended.
Dale caught me up on his last year. “He left the nursing home three months ago. He recovered enough to move back to his old apartment and bought a dog for companionship.”
I thought, a dog, what better prop for a conman.
“Paul’s heart stopped ticking. They found him dead on the apartment floor. Hard living has a price. All those years of smoking, drinking, and doing drugs finally caught up with him,” she surmised.
“Not to mention his over eating and lack of exercise. I’m surprised he made it to sixty-two,” I added.
She wondered out loud, “Do you think he accidentally took too many pain killers? Or did he mix them with booze?”
My ears honed in on her word “accidentally.” I decided not to open that door and let her question hang.
“Well– we’ll never know. No autopsy is going to be performed,” Dale said.
I changed the subject, “Paul followed baseball’s three strike rule. He faced death twice before in the last three years only to be taken out on the third strike.”
Then I thought to myself, what affairs was his son wrapping up? The conman did not work. He had no money. He lived off the dole. His son would have to pay to ship his body to Jersey and bury him. Even in death the conman was having others pay for his expenses. To buy a round trip plane ticket to obtain his father’s mementos, a gold ring, a Timex watch, and an old computer filled with porn, seemed like a colossal waste of money.
Closure has a price.
As I said good-bye to Dale, I realized I would most likely never hear her voice again.
Joshua called the next day. He said, “I’m planning to come down a few days after the funeral. But there’s a glitch, Larry, (the guy who left me the message, the guy with the full mailbox) expropriated my dad’s dog, his ring, his Timex and his computer. Larry claims he was closer to my dad than I was. Therefore, he supposedly deserved my dad’s stuff more than me. I told him if he didn’t give me all of it, I’d beat the crap out of him.”
“Joshua, don’t end up in jail over your father’s possessions. Larry’s been incarcerated a number of times. He will call the cops on you in a split second,” I counseled.
“I understand,” he replied.
“Call me when you get down here. We’ll see if we can work out a compromise with Larry.”
As I said good-bye to Joshua, I wondered if he would come down to Miami. Would he call me and I would ever hear his voice again?
He never did call.
The next day, I opened my cell phone and read on the screen, “You have eight messages.” I called my voice mail, entered my password, and listened.
“Hi. This is Paul, as in Steinman. We have got to talk.” I sat down not believing my ears. His voice was as clear as if he was sitting next to me. He had died six days ago.
“It’s been over a year since we last spoke. I’m out of the hospital. It’s time you and I talk. I’m doing well. I’ve joined Chabad. After all these years, we shouldn’t let a bump in the road end our friendship. Regardless of what your wife says, you’re still the man of the house; we should talk. It’s the time of the year to repent. If I wronged or offended you, I’m sorry. I’m willing to do that and you should do it to. I don’t want anything from you. I just want to talk. You were kind enough to visit me in the hospital. That showed you cared. My telephone number is the same. I don’t know how many more bites of the apple I’ve got left. Please call. Thank you.
I listened to the message twice. It was classic conman, slightly sarcastic, falsely humble with religious intonations. I knew he wanted something from me. Paul wanted to be invited to Yom Kipper break fast with my family as he had been for years in the past. He wanted to lay a guilt and manhood trip on me. He wanted to make my wife out to be the evil factor in ending our friendship.
I wondered if he had really found religion. I wondered if he realized his end was near. I knew he did not know that I hardly ever listened to my voice mails. My mailbox was not full just hardly ever opened.
Then I listened to my next message. It was Paul slurring his words, like he used to do when he was high or drunk. He pretended to be another out-of-town friend, and in an obnoxious tone, left his Broward phone number.
If I had gotten his messages, I would have called. But now, I had missed my chance. As I hit delete on my phone, I realized this was the last time I would hear Paul’s voice. I pondered the value of friendship and the price of closure.
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