The Stroke of Time

It was a hot summer day and Hank had been sitting on this bridge for what seemed hours. Hank had fished this pond every Sunday; he would wake up and make his coffee, wait for his wife Ellen to bathe and dress and the two would drive the 4 blocks around the corner to the Elm Grove Baptist Church. Hank enjoyed church, especially now that he was much older and his life was slower. Amazing how some people lose their hearing about the time Hank’s got better. Though Hank never had a hearing problem, it was more like a listening problem. Now at age 71, Hank finally knew how to really listen. He knew how to listen to his wife when she talked about how her orchids, of which he finally knew she had 11 different varieties; and he listened when the minister took an hour to speak about forgiveness… Hank finally took the time to listen. Hank was no longer in a hurry.

As Hank sat in his folding chair with his pole in the water, wishing to catch just about anything that would take his bait, he tried to remember the last time he really had been on this bridge. Why hadn’t he been back in so long, the question went through his mind searching for an answer, playing the question over and over like rewinding a movie; finally the answer came.

“The last time I came”, Hank thought, “was the Sunday before the stroke”. Since having the stroke things had become so different. There was a time when Hank would be on his way to the bait store, and half way there he would forget how to get there. He would have to call Ellen and give her the street name he was on so he could pick him up. Ellen would drive them home and Hank would quietly walk to the back of the house, sit in his Eazyboy chair, and fall asleep. It got to the point that Hank was afraid to go anywhere on his own, even his favorite fishing place on the Russell Hampton Bridge.

Hank had found this spot purely by accident. It was 1987, he remembered that because it was right after a big storm had hit and he had gone with his friend Ray to survey some property he had and the easiest way to do that was in Ray’s boat. Ray had actually won the boat in a poker game. Ray told everyone he was just one of those lucky people, first time playing poker and he ended up with the jackpot. Truth was, Ray was a genius. When Ray was in school his mother had him tested and he had scored over 145 on his IQ test. He was even invited into Mensa, a club just for the small population scored as genius. Shame of it was, Ray was lazy. He never made it through college and ended up as a mechanic at Martin’s Automall. But Ray was happy, he made a good salary and didn’t want for much. In fact, Hank was his only friend.

After the storm, Ray had called Hank to see if he wanted to meet at the Lander’s Marina and ride out to his property. Hank had been retired now for about three years and loved that he could just pick up and go, he jumped in his car and was at the marina in five minutes. The waterways in Elm Grove twisted and turned through little bays and creeks and Ray’s property was towards the end of Cedar Creek, in the area that had yet found it’s way to the overdevelopment of homes the size of mansions, “that,” as Ray always said, “only polluted the very water they were there to enjoy.” “Don’t these people know all their fertilizer does is create a fish kill?” Ray shouted out. In the last turn off the bay into the creek was a small bridge that Hank had never noticed before and Ray explained that was the bridge just south of Hank’s place. “Great place to fish” Ray remarked, “if you like fishing off a bridge”. And that is how Hank started fishing off the Russell Hampton Bridge.

There was a tug at the pole and Hank pulled the pole back gently, and then tug was gone. Hank’s memories now were smaller and unorganized. Now and then, he would have an image in his mind, but he couldnt remember if it was a dream or something someone had told him Another tug, and Hank was geared into action, gripping the pole, and again, the tug was gone. Hank sighed, and thought, “this feels like my relationship with my Carl”. How old is Carl now, Hank couldn’t even remember. He had to go back to the year Carl was born, 1963. That made him 40. “That means we haven’t spoken in 10 years” Hank thought to himself. Seemed like yesterday.

Carl had been a good kid, getting into trouble only here and there. Normal things. Things boys do as they grow. So, he stole some cigarettes from the 7-Eleven when he was 13, and maybe a few nights missing his curfew in high school, but Carl pretty much did as he was asked. Or maybe as Ellen asked. Hank knew he had been too domineering with Carl. Yelled too much, listened too little, demands too high. “But that was how I was raised” Hank would explain to Ellen. “I don’t know any different”. “You are driving Carl away from you” Ellen would respond and the converstion would be over. Carl had gone to college in Tallahassee, as far as he could be from Elm Grove and still be in the state.

He called his mother every Sunday; that was until 10 years ago. Before that he would send photos of his family, write long Christmas stories, and visit every year for his mother’s birthday. But the calls became fewer and the cards became less. Carl had found his way into a new “job” he had told his mother. He would be facilitating seminars, seminars that could help people. Ellen was very pleased that Carl had found something he was so happy with. She told herself that Carl was busy with his new job, that is why he missed her birthday. That was 1992, the beginning of the end.

Within a year, Carl had left his family and moved to Boston. He told his mother this was a promotion, a chance he just couldn’t pass up. “But what about Danny, your son?” Ellen said on the phone, the last conversation they had. “Oh, don’t worry Ma, I need this. I need to get my life together, and this is the answer for me.” “Danny will be ok.” And that was the last time the family had heard from him. Ellen tried to call, every Sunday for six months she tried, but Carl never answered and never called back. Hank knew he was ok, because Ray knew how to use the internet and found the company web site Carl worked for. On the employee page was a picture of Carl, said he was some sort of facilitator, whatever that meant. “Doesn’t sound like a normal place to work” Ray would later tell Hank. “I did some research on CoAxium, and if you ask me Hank, sounds like some kind of cult.”

Ellen stayed in contact with Shirley, Carl’s ex-wife. She would tell Ellen that once a year, and they never knew when, Carl would show up at Danny’s school, pick him up early, take him to McDonald’s for an hour and they would talk. Never about what Carl was doing, it was clear he would not share that information. But more about what Danny had been doing, how school was, little league, girls. Then Carl would drive Danny home, have him call his mother and let her know he was home, and Carl would disappear. Just like these fish, Hank thought.

Ah, Carl was like his fishing. Since Carl had taken his new job, he and Ellen had tried every kind of bait they could think of to lure their son home. Hank had a huge birthday party for Ellen when she turned 65, thinking Carl could not pass up a party for his mother. Not even a response.

The Stroke of Time


Pensacola, United States

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