The Patrickson Dilemma

Duke Patrickson fought his way through the shroud of sleep and sat up in bed. His tousled mop of curly black hair hung in front of his eyes. He stood up and reached his hands above his head, slowly stretching out his long, lithe body. He slipped on a pair of khakis and an outdated pullover. Sunlight streamed in through the window, lighting up the luxurious hotel room that had served as his living quarters for the past three months. Normally he would not have splurged in such extravagance, but since the National Institute of 17th Century Metaphysical Poetry had paid the hotel fare, he had allowed himself the indulgence. Duke smiled sleepily. Today he would be returning home to Eliza and Sammy. He had enjoyed the poetry conference a great deal, but three months was a long time to be away from his wife and son. Eliza did not like being home without him, and Duke did not like being away from home without her. In addition to this, he had to get home to prepare for the new school year, which was beginning in less than a week. Duke could not decide what he enjoyed doing more; filling eager young minds with great English literature or attending the summer poetry conference.

The whole conference had been excellent, but last night had been especially wonderful. A masquerade ball had been held for all the scholars that had attended the conference. It had been a magical experience. Duke had been asked to dance many times by superbly masked women and each time he gave the same answer: “I am married and I only dance with my wife.” He would then go off and dance alone, sometimes pretending he was dancing with Eliza, other times making up his own solo dance routine. The festive evening had left Duke completely engrossed in seventeenth century life. So much so that when the ball had ended, rather than going outside to his car, he had walked around the parking lot looking desperately for his carriage. Duke had been painfully jerked back to reality when a car had to come to a screeching stop right in front of him. A few hours of historical activity can manipulate the senses in astonishing ways.
But now was not the time to muse about the conference and the masquerade. Duke had to have breakfast quickly and gather his luggage together so that he could get back home to his wife and son. He had his traditional breakfast; three cups of hot chocolate with two jumbo marshmallows in each, and a half of a banana. As he stirred the hot chocolate, he said in a squeaky, falsetto voice, “Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.” He tossed in a marshmallow and said, “Fillet of a fenny snake, in the cauldron boil and bake.” Then he threw in another in the next cup and said, “Eye of newt,” and another, “Toe of frog,” and he continued this way until he had two marshmallows in each cup. This was a daily tradition. He would recite a little more of the scene each breakfast until he was finished, and then he would start again at the beginning. He followed Shakespeare’s exact text, except when he got to the part that said, “Nose of Turk, and Tartar’s lips, finger of a birth-strangled babe.” He always skipped that section, as it was quite rude and unpleasant in his opinion. When his breakfast was prepared, he sat down on the edge of the bed with one of the deliciously hot beverages, half of a banana, and a copy of the previous day’s newspaper. He finished his breakfast extremely quickly, ending up with surprisingly minimal tongue blistering.
Duke began to pack his bag rapidly. He carefully rolled up every article of clothing and placed each one in his suitcase. Eliza had told him to roll up his clothes because it saved space and prevented excessive wrinkling. When he had finished, he picked up his suitcase and left the hotel room. He walked through the hallway, said a polite thank you and goodbye to the oddly startled-looking receptionist, and walked out into the crisp, midmorning air. The suitcase was beginning to feel rather heavy, and Duke suddenly remembered that it had wheels on the bottom of it which could be used when transporting it from place to place. He gratefully put the suitcase onto the ground and pulled it the rest of the way to his car. His hands shook with excitement as he turned the key in the ignition. He would be back at home with Eliza and Sammy in less than six hours.

Home, sweet home. The many years spent struggling to teach his students to avoid cliché phrases did not seem to matter as Duke approached the front door of his old-fashioned yet not at all unattractive bungalow. As cliché as it was, the phrase perfectly summed up his feelings. Duke raised the knocker and rapped out a cheerful rhythm. He had bought the beautiful, ornate knocker off of eBay for much less that it was worth. He had never been able to resist good deals on beautiful antiques.
Duke heard Eliza’s calm, measured step, as she approached the door and little Sammy’s much quicker step, as he tried frantically to keep up with her. The door opened to reveal Eliza with a rosy-cheeked Sammy clutching her hand. Her blonde hair was tied into a knot at the nape of her neck and her smart little apron was spattered with tomato sauce. Duke greeted her warmly. “Darling, I’m home! How is everything here? And how are you, little guy? I missed y—”
“Excuse me, but would you kindly leave?” Eliza said curtly as she shut the door.
Duke laughed. She was the same Eliza, always playing tricks. He lifted the knocker and knocked again. Eliza came to the door and opened it a crack. “I don’t know who you are. Leave or I will call the police.”
Duke laughed a little uneasily. He pushed the door open all the way. “All right, that’s enough of your jokes.”
Sammy began to cry and clung to Eliza. “Get out,” she said, her voice quivering. She slammed the door and Duke heard the lock slide home.
He stood staring at the door for some time and then turned around and walked slowly back toward his car. He looked back over his shoulder, longing to see the door open. He craved to see Eliza’s smiling face, assuring him that it was all a joke. But she could not have been joking. Her eyes had not possessed that familiar twinkle. Duke shuffled the rest of the way to his car, his head bent. He would have to find a place to stay for the night.

Duke turned the key in the lock and entered the hotel room. It was the least expensive room he had been able to find, and the decor quickly revealed why. The carpet was worn and stained. The curtains were frayed and hung limply in front of windows that looked as though they had not been cleaned for months. The plaster on the walls was cracked and the paint was peeling. A repugnant odor of dead mice filled the room. There was a single bed in the corner with two meager bed sheets spread out over it. Duke went over to the bed and sat down. He leaned his head against the wall wearily.
“I knew that I had been away too long. I should never have left Eliza and Sammy alone for three months,” Duke said to himself. “Why did I ignore all the misgivings that I had been feeling? Oh, I thought she could handle it. Her forgiveness…it seemed to be inexhaustible!” Duke laid his head down on the bed. He threw his shaking hands up into the air desperately. “I should not have presumed upon her kindness. I have always been a selfish man. All I wanted was to go to the conference. I thought nothing of dear Eliza. How I wish that I did not have such an uncontrollable passion for metaphysical poetry! I have wronged Eliza too many times. I have no hope of gaining back her favour.” Duke’s voice rose to a trembling climax. He stood up and began slowly pacing back and forth across the room.
“Soon she will find another man, a man who is less selfish, better looking, and an excellent father for little Sammy.” Duke spoke miserably, his back hunched over and his head bent. A thought suddenly occurred to him. He raised his head and his pace quickened. “Oh, she has probably found a better man already! Why else was she so determined not to allow me to enter the house? Now I know the answer to that question. Her new boyfriend was in the house!” Remorse filled Duke’s heart, constricting his airways and causing him to breath with small, shallow gasps. “She could not bear to have me see him. What would she have said? He had probably been sitting on the sofa watching television or reading to Sammy. Sammy used to like only my reading. This new boyfriend can probably read stories a lot better than I can,” he said bitterly. “Sammy was crying because he wanted me to leave! He did not want me to spoil all the fun he had been having with his newfound father. Oh, I should have stayed home. An endless amount of seventeenth century metaphysical poetry conferences and masquerade balls cannot take the place of being back together with Eliza and Sammy.” Duke walked to the window and gazed listlessly out at the setting sun. The grunge on the window stained the dull landscape.
“If I show such thoughtlessness toward my wife and son, what will stop me from showing this same insensitivity to my students? That will be a disaster. If news of my selfish behaviour gets around, I could be fired. Then I will not have a job either. All those dear students!” Duke pictured his class with their eager faces turned up toward him, listening to every word he said. “I hope that the new teacher will be better. He must have a wide scope of knowledge of many different types of literature. That is what young students require. He must be firm but encouraging.” Duke walked back to the bed and sat down.
“Without a source of income, I am not going to be able to stay in this hotel for much longer, and I am definitely not going to be able to buy or rent a new house. I could sleep in my car, but it is getting awfully close to winter and it will become excruciatingly cold. Soon I will no longer have money to buy gas for my car either. I must find a place to live before all my resources run out!” Duke searched desperately for a practical solution. “There is the kind Robinson family that we provide with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner each year. They would probably let me stay with them. There hut is rather small and shabby, but if they would let me live with them, I could help them find food and clothing. Oh, and I could teach them how to read and write! I have some books with me. They are mostly all metaphysical poetry anthologies but that does not matter. I cannot think of a better way to learn to read then using those poems.” Duke imagined the Robinson children stewing over George Herbert, and he smiled slightly.
“It will be difficult to go on without Eliza and Sammy, and I will miss my students dreadfully. But I must go on. It will be miserable for a while. Oh, it will be miserable.” Duke gave a little shiver of trepidation. “I must stay far away from Eliza and Sammy. I could not bear to see them with that new man. I do not know what I would do. If I stay away from them and concentrate on helping the Robinsons, then maybe I could forget. Just maybe—,” he paused, “No. That would not be possible. I could never forget. But I must go on despite the memories.”
Duke sat back quietly and his feverish brain quieted down. He pushed back the strands of hair that had fallen in front of his face with moist, trembling hands. His hair felt oily and in need of a good washing. He had not showered since the morning before the masquerade ball. Across the room, there was a bathroom, which held a toilet and a small shower. Duke took the toiletries out of his suitcase and walked into the bathroom. He was grimy and cold, and a warm shower was beginning to appeal to him more and more. He must look like a wreck after all the day’s events. Duke took a quick glance in the mirror, and—
He was still wearing his mask! Duke could not help himself, and he yelled aloud. It resounded through the entire hotel. Eliza had not let him in because he had been wearing his mask, and she had not recognized him! Sammy had been frightened and had begun to cry. Duke ran out of the bathroom dancing for joy. He jumped on top of the bed and wrapped himself in the curtains, caring nothing for the clouds of dust that were emanating from them. He unwrapped himself and went spinning across the room. He grabbed his suitcase and threw it over his shoulder. Suddenly remembering that it had wheels, he put it on the ground and wheeled it all the way out of the hotel. The receptionist looked at him oddly and called out after him to come back. He waved at her over his shoulder but kept on half-running, half-walking all the way to his car.

Duke walked toward the door, his heart full of eager expectation. He underwent a severe case of déjà vu as he lifted the knocker and wrapped three times on the door.
The door opened and Eliza and Sammy stood there staring up at him.
“It’s me, I’m home!” Duke said triumphantly.
Eliza screamed. There was no mistaking the pure terror in her voice. Sammy began to wail loudly. For a second, Duke’s heart sunk, and he thought he would topple and die right there on the doorstep.
Then he remembered. “This wretched mask! I still haven’t removed it, have I?” He ripped the mask violently from his face. Below it was Duke’s unmistakable, slightly aquiline nose.
Eliza stood some distance away, staring at the nose in astonishment, her mouth hanging slightly open. Little Sammy came running. “Daddy, daddy,” he called out happily and ran into his father’s arms. Eliza came forward slowly. An affectionate smile played about the corners of her mouth. Duke reached out his free arm towards her. She gave a laugh of pure joy as he caught her in his embrace.

The Patrickson Dilemma


Joined January 2008

  • Artist

Artist's Description

Duke, an absent-minded English professor, finds himself in a horrible situation and must find a way out. This story shows an absurdity of human behaviour; the tendency to jump to absurd conclusions. It also shows the importance of family.

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