Excerpt from Henry’s Secret, by Robert Gately

From 2009 Literary Awards Finalist Robert Gately comes Henry’s Secret.

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Pastor McMillan and Henry Wolff were sitting in the front pew in an empty church not too far from where Robin had her session with Doctor Tucker. Henry was feeling as if the Pastor was somewhat short with him, as if he didn’t want Henry there.

“But you already have been baptized, Henry,” the Pastor said. “Several times.”

“He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Henry felt his philosophy was sound. Fool proof.

“Yes, Henry. The ceremony of water baptism, by water-sprinkling as you put it, is for the forgiveness of sins of a true repentant.”

“That’s why I want to be re-baptized,” Henry said.

“But we did it last year, and the year before. It’s not a tool to use every time you want to be forgiven for your transgressions.”

“I feel differently. Baptism should be like making a confession, not limited to an once-in-a-lifetime event, but rather it should be an occasional cleansing of the soul one should take every now and then. Rejuvenate the spirit whenever you want, is my contention.”

“But that’s an abuse of its intent,” the Pastor sighed. “Anyway, what sins have you committed in the last two years, Henry?”

Henry thought hard. “Impure thoughts. That’s my final answer.”

“I have impure thoughts, Henry,” the Pastor confessed. “That’d mean I have to be re-baptized every time I think of a girl in a swimsuit. And this is not a game.”

The church door swung open. Robin stormed down to the front pew. “What’s going on,” she asked as she planted herself in front of the Pastor and her father.

“Henry wants to be baptized again. Please. This has to stop.”

“I’m afraid my father is a little unnerved as my mother’s condition worsens.”

“How is Mary doing?” the Pastor inquired.

“Not good. It’s nice to know you care.”

Henry noticed the little innuendo in Robin’s tone – an indication of bottled feelings against the Pastor. There was always a little strain between them, and Henry never why. Perhaps Robin’s tone was because he had interrupted his daughter’s busy schedule. Feeling a tinge of guilt, Henry thought a little humor might ease the tension, so he looked up at Robin and smiled. “I’m dying, you know?” he said.

“We’re all dying, Dad.”

“I don’t mind dying,” Henry returned. “The trouble is you feel so damn stiff the next day.”

Henry could almost hear Robin growling.

“Very funny, Dad.” She turned to the Pastor. “Newspaper. Joke of the day.” And then turned her attention back to Henry. “You’re not going to get baptized again, and that’s that. Let’s go see Mom.”

While Robin drove Henry to the hospital, she found it difficult finding the right topic to start a conversation that wouldn’t lead to frustration on her part. Even if she talked about the weather, Henry would probably turn it into something silly. She’d say, “It looks like rain” and he’d say “Hey, do you know what happens when it rains cats and dogs” and she’d say, “No, what Dad?” and he’d say something like, “You have to be careful not to step in a poodle.” Robin was not in the mood for that. So, she kept silent.

When they passed a cemetery, Henry finally broke the ice. “People are just dying to get in there,” he said with a big grin on his face.

Robin gave her customary ‘that’s nice’ smile. Nothing demonstrative to encourage him.

“I’m sorry you had to leave work,” he said.

“It’s Saturday, Dad.” Indeed this was not the way she wanted to spend the day. Or the week. Or the month. Or her life. “What else am I going to do?”

“Anything,” Henry responded. “You’re beautiful. You’re smart. You can do anything you want. I’m very proud of you, Robin.”

“Thanks. You want to tell me what this baptism thing is all about?

“No,” Henry said.

And that was that for the rest of the ride to the hospital. Robin didn’t know how talk to her father with her mother lying in the hospital dying and not knowing if Henry could really take care of himself. Robin wanted Henry to be given a chance to stand up on his own two feet. He had risen to the occasion when Robin’s mother got sick, and had been taking care of her for the past year. That was a good sign to Robin that Henry was ready to take care of himself. Of course, the argument could be presented that Mary, her mother, although incapacitated for most of the year, was instructing Henry on what to do, what to shop for, and those kinds of things.

Robin parked the car; they walked into the hospital and onto the elevator. The elevator door opened to the Oncology Ward where Robin and Henry exited and walked down the hall. As they pass by a maintenance man mopping the floor, Henry pointed to him and said to Robin, “Didn’t I see him in the operating room with a scalpel in his hand.”

Robin ignored her father as they proceeded to room 410 where Mary lay in bed. A nasal cannula protruded from Mary’s nose. Wires and tubes monitored her vital signs. A nearby EKG machine beeped in unison with her heart. Sharon sat bedside when they entered. “Glad you guys could make it,” she said.

Henry gave Sharon a peck on the cheek then sat down on the opposite side of the bed. “I hate hospitals,” he said, looking at Sharon and then at Robin. Neither gave a response. “We should keep your mother at home. I was doing fine.”

“We can’t, Dad,” Robin said.

“Why,” Henry wanted to know.

“Because she’s comatose.” And that was reason enough, Robin thought. No single person could care for another when that person was in a coma.

“Because she’s dying,” Sharon said as if a dose of practicality would end the conversation.

“Shut up, Sharon,” Robin said.

“It’s all right,” Henry whispered to Mary as he patted her hand. “It’s all right, dear.”

Sharon rolled her eyes and sighed as if she was gearing herself for a long day.

“You know, old watchmakers never die,” Henry said. “They just run out of time.” He waited for a response but didn’t get one. “Old yachtsmen never die, they just keel over.”

“That’s it,” Sharon said as she left in a huff. “I’m going outside to have a cigarette.”

Sharon stormed out onto a patio area of the hospital with Robin close behind. “I can’t take him today,” Sharon said while pulling a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from her pocketbook. “Cigarette?” she offered as she held out the pack to her sister.

“I don’t smoke,” Robin barked. “You know that.”

“You do when you’re stressed,” Sharon reminded her.

“I’m not stressed.” There was a chill in Robin’s voice. She wasn’t in the mood for small talk, or any talk that might lead to anything … complicated.

“Could’ve fooled me.” Sharon lit up and blew the smoke towards the sky. “Do you ever think how things would be different if our grandfather didn’t invest so wisely?”

“Sometimes,” Robin said. She eyed Sharon and wouldn’t let go of her gaze. Robin knew her sister had a hidden message behind that question and it would be just a matter of time before it would come out. Why did Sharon have to be this way, Robin thought? Their mother didn’t have much time left; this was not the place to talk about investments and things that are due her.

“Why are you looking at me that way,” Sharon snapped.

“I’m just wondering why you asked that question.”

“I’m just wondering what the trust is worth now. Is that a crime? The market’s on the rebound. Last time I checked it was worth three million.”

“It’s worth a little bit more now,” Robin said.

“That’s what I figured.”

A few seconds went by and Robin sensed Sharon measuring her thoughts, her words. “I never quite understood why Mom always lived below her means,” Sharon said. “She never liked people knowing she was rich.”

“Everyone knew anyway,” Robin replied. “It’s where we lived.”

“Yeah, but there’re a lot of people on the north side who are not as wealthy.”

“Mom just liked to live less extravagantly than her means,” Robin said.

“What’s the point of having money?”

“What’s your point, Sharon?”

“I’m just thinking about Dad. If it wasn’t for Mom’s father making his fortune in … in … what the hell did he make his fortune in, anyway?”

“Retailing. Spit it out, Sharon. What are you trying to say.”

“You know what I’m trying to say. Our grandfather set up the trust for Mom. It was always intended to be a family inheritance. And I’m having a tough time understanding why she never changed her will to reflect that.”

“Reflect what?”

“Don’t be cute, Robin. We can take care of Dad much in the same way Mom took care of him over the past thirty years. For some reason, Mom didn’t change her will …”

“No, she didn’t. And maybe there’s a good reason why she didn’t.”

“Yeah? And what do you think that reason is, Robin?”

“Maybe to encourage Dad to live more independently. Or maybe it’s something very simple like … to keep it away from you.” There. Robin said it. She anticipated Sharon was going to bite on that one but, surprisingly, Sharon remained calm.

“Robin, I don’t want a fight. My point is Dad won’t be able to take care of himself regardless of what Mom thought. He’s never been able to take care of himself as long as I have lived. That’s why I filed for guardianship. So, stop giving me an attitude.”

“I’m not giving you an attitude,” Robin said.

“Yes, you are.”

“I’m giving you looks of disgust. ZZZT.” Robin waved her fingers at Sharon as if she were zapping her with invisible rays. “For filing for ‘Limited’ Guardianship.”

She grabbed Sharon’s cigarette and took a puff.

“Keep it,” Sharon said and lit up another one.

“We could’ve worked it out, Sharon. You didn’t have to go to court. Now we’re under the microscope. Judge Brady has elected me temporary guardian until this thing you started is settled.”

“I got the notice,” Sharon said. “And let me tell you something, the spending money you’re allowed to give him? The hundred and forty dollars a week? That’s not enough for him. He’s not going to be able to handle that. You wait and see.”

“Fine, Sharon. We’ll wait and see. By the way, Judge Brady called me yesterday and asked us to see him on Wednesday. I told him we would.”

“The hearing’s in a couple of weeks, so why does he want to see us now?”

“He’s known us all our lives,” Robin reminded Sharon. “He wants to understand why you think Dad’s incapacitated. Off the record.”

“All he has to do is read the petition. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out.”

Robin put her cigarette out. “I got an idea,” she said. “Let’s put Dad away in some institution. This way we can get the whole enchilada. And he won’t be in our face every day.”

“You know I don’t want that.”

“Then, if you just want a piece of the pie, take ten thousand a year. A gift from the estate. No tax.”

The door burst open, and a nurse stood in the doorway. At first Sharon hurried to put out her cigarette thinking the nurse was going to read her the riot act for smoking. Instead, the nurse’s face conveyed a deeper concern. She waved the sisters inside. It was their mother.

Robin and Sharon stormed into Mary’s room. Their mother was dead and as Sharon was coming to grips with that, she couldn’t believe her father’s response. She watched Henry fluff up her mother’s pillow. He stroked her hair as if nothing was wrong, as if she were alive. He looked at Sharon for a brief second. His eyes looked cold, unknowing. He surveyed the various wires connected to her body and began removing them.

“Dad!” Sharon yelled. “What are you doing?”

Both Robin and Sharon rushed to the bedside, edging Henry away.

A doctor barged in and Henry backed up to the doorway and watched the commotion over Mary’s body. Sharon noticed Henry by the door taking deep breaths, as if he was having an anxiety attack. She only looked away for a brief moment, and when she looked back he was not there any longer.

Robin ran out of the room after him, but he was already halfway down the corridor. “Where are you going, Dad,” she yelled.

“I’m gonna get a banana split,” he yell back. “Your mom always got a banana split when things got too … crazy.”

That was so typical of Dad, Robin thought. Ducking out when the tension got too great. As he disappeared around the corner, Robin knew there would be fewer second chances for her father. No longer would Mom be around to manage his misbehavior. No longer would he have her to guide the way. What would happen to him now if Sharon gets her way? She turned back into the room wishing she had an answer.

———

In 1998 Robert gave up a lucrative career with a large telecommunications company to follow his dream of writing full time. Since then he wrote 9 screenplays, 2 stage plays, 2 novels and 1 non-fiction book. He has won or came in second place in 24 contests such as FADE IN Magazine, Telluride Indiefest, Brechenridge, Queens International Film Festival, Garden State Film Festival, Hollywood Screenwriting Institute, Woodshole Festival, etc., and has placed in over 145 competitions including Writer’s Digest, Chesterfield, Austin, American Theatre (La Jolla), Festival of New Plays-Stage 3, McLaren Memorial Play Competition, Mazumdar New Play – Alleyway Theatre, and a host of others. You can find out more at Rgately.com.

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