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                         A  Chance  Encounter

 

                          By  D. W.  Hammil

 

 

       Sean forced his eyes open. It was cold in the car. Looking around, he had no idea where he was. The only thing he did know was that he had a hell of a hangover. Little by little the events of the previous night came to mind. Once again, he and his girlfriend Joan had argued. As usual, she questioned what she saw in him. His drinking was really getting out of hand and she was sick and tired of his blaming everything on his father, Mike, who was killed in Viet Nam.

          Michael Patrick Cleary, star quarterback, captain of the basketball team. The most prolific baseball pitcher that Saint Martin’s had ever produced. His school record for shut-outs will probably never be broken. Mike Cleary. The sports page never said that St. Martin’s won the game; it was always Mike Cleary won the game, whatever sport it happened to be. Mike Cleary, always the hero. His accomplishments had been haunting Sean since he was old enough to know who his father was, The pressure was always there.

          His given name was Sean Michael, but he refused to use his middle name. Having a father that everyone thought was perfect was destroying his life. Mike Cleary even died a hero in Viet Nam, saving many lives by giving up his own. Would it ever end? Joan didn’t understand. She thought he was being weak. Many times he had tried to convince her that he just wanted to lead a normal life without the shadow of Mike Cleary always there.

        Slowly, Sean crawled out of the car into a fairly heavy fog. He was more lost than ever. He noticed a faint light across the road and walked toward it. As he got closer he could see that it was an old farmhouse. The planks of the porch creaked as he approached the door.

         He started to knock when a voice said, “ The door is open.” Once inside, he noticed an elderly gentleman wiping down a long mahogany bar. A sign on the wall proclaimed the premises to be the proud possession of one Tommy Harrington.” Your Home Away From Home.” Next to the sign was a picture of a glass of Guinness. The man behind the bar looked up and asked.” Can I help you?”

           Sean ordered a pint of Guinness and reached for his wallet finding his back pocket empty. The bartender told him that he was, indeed, Tommy Harrington, and that the drinks were on the house. Sean and Tommy swapped a few stories and the Guinness seemed to settle Sean’s stomach. Sean heard a door open and close behind him and a man walked to the other end of the bar. He surmised that the man must have been in the men’s room. Glancing down the bar Sean noticed the number 13 tattooed on the man’s right wrist.

          The man looked over and Sean froze. What he was seeing could not be. It was nuts, but Sean knew the face. He had seen it all his life. His mother had pictures all over the place. He was looking at the face of none other than the famous Michael Patrick Cleary.

          He knew the story behind the tattoo. His father was born on September 13th at 1:57 A.M. Being born on the thirteenth day of the month and that month being September {9/13} which adds up to thirteen as does 1:57, there was no doubt that it would become his lucky number. Still, Sean thought that he had to be seeing things. His father had been killed, years ago, in Viet Nam.

          Everybody knew that. His first reaction was to get away from this bad dream as soon as possible. He got up to leave and a voice much like his own said, “Sean, if you leave now you will never confront your demons.” Sean looked at him. He didn’t know what to think. The person that he had hated all his life seemed to be in the same room with him.

           He finally managed to say,” You’re the last one I’d ever want to talk to.”

            Mike kind of smiled. “Don’t be so hasty, I’m the only one who can help you give yourself a chance. You need to set aside your anger and move on with your life. Regardless of how you feel about me, your mother is the one who is being punished. Many nights she has cried herself to sleep wondering why she cannot reach you.”

          With the mention of his mother, Sean knew that he had to stay and listen. Mike had that look on his face that Sean had seen in the mirror many times when he, himself, had something on his mind. “Sean, you have to understand, your mother had a very difficult time grieving for me. We had many plans. The one thing in life she held onto was you. Your complete dislike for anything related to me just adds to her hurt and despair while she tries to deal with my dying in ’ Nam. She still dreams that one day I will come walking in the door, the way she thinks that things should be.”

          “ When I was in high school, sports were easy for me and I admit that I enjoyed all the hero worship but I always felt that something was missing in my life. Sports were fun and everybody knew who I was but I wanted some reality. I had this nagging feeling that there was much more than being the big jock from St. Martin’s. I still remember the first time I saw your mother in the hallway at school. It was love at first sight, but more importantly, for the first time in recent memory, I was afraid. I was completely overwhelmed and she knew it. She was actually enjoying my discomfort. I kept trying to think of something clever to say but ended up walking past her feeling like a fool.”

         “ Your mother, Alice Devlin; black hair, green eyes and skin so pale and clear, it glowed. She didn’t just walk into a room, she took it over. But her beauty did not end there. She always took time for everyone; your problem became her problem. She had an entourage, much like I did, but for more honorable reasons. Believe me, I was scared. It’s funny but I remembered that someone had once said that a man without fear is a man without hope. That wasn’t much of a consolation but I knew that I had to come up with an excuse to talk to her. After much soul-searching, one day I caught her eye and forced myself to walk up to her. I must have had a frightened look on my face because she just kind of  laughed and didn’t try to hide the fact that she was still enjoying my uneasiness. I forget what I said but once we broke the ice, so to speak, we were inseparable from that day forward. Your mother told me later that she wanted to make me sweat to see what kind of man I was once the tables were turned. She wanted to be sure that she could trust me.”

         “ The rest, as they say, is history. We had so many plans. My draft notice was going to be a minor inconvenience. After boot camp, I received orders for ’ Nam, so we decided to get married while I was home on leave, Those were turbulent times in our country with a lot of protests concerning the war. It was 1970 and the conflict was becoming very unpopular. Your mother and I, being the dreamers that we were, hoped that I would get there and they would call a truce and send me home. Once I got there, the most important part of the day quickly became mail call. When your mother wrote that she was going to have a baby, I couldn’t wait to finish my tour and get back to the real world. Of course, that’s not the way it happened. Your mother’s grief consumed her to the point that she considered suicide, The only thing that stopped her was that she was pregnant with you.”

         “ After you were born she felt needed and used to sit by your crib to be there when you awoke so she wouldn’t miss any time with you. Obviously, I wasn’t coming back but having you gave her a purpose in life. She thought that when you got older, you would be proud of me. To be honest, it’s not really fair that people compare you to me but she has never understood why you hate me so much. You’re holding your mother hostage because of the way that you feel about me. With all your anger, you’ve shut her out. She needs you to understand. Sean, you’re 26; an age I never attained. Don’t let your life be defined by mine. You’re much more than that. Everyone’s life experience is unique. You, alone, can put that special smile on your mother’s beautiful face.”

         Sean woke up behind the steering wheel in his car. The sun was streaming through the windshield. He noticed that, for a change, he did not have a hangover. His mind was clear. As he reached under the seat to get his keys, his cell phone rang. His mother wanted to know where he had been all night. As the events of the previous evening flooded into his consciousness, he told his mother that he had quite a story to tell and would be over shortly.

           As he headed down the road, he noticed that there was no farmhouse.