Last Call

Submitted by John k Adams to Contest #17 in response to: Write a story about a family dinner that includes someone unexpected showing up.... view prompt

Charlie kissed his little boy, Charles Jr. and girl, Jenny, good-night and went downstairs to the living room. He clicked the remote, surfing through channels on cable. Nothing grabbed his interest.

Charlie looked at the clock. After ten. He was restless.

The phone rang. It was the landline they kept for emergencies.

“Is Miriam there?”

“Who is calling?”

“Sergio. Let me talk to Miriam.”

Charlie paused. Miriam was his wife. Wherever she was, she wasn’t with this idiot.

“She isn’t here. I’ll give her a message.”

“I need to talk to her.”

“I’ll tell her you called.”

“Just put her on, man.”

“Excuse me?”

“Put her on. I know she’s there.”

“Really? Hold on.”

Charlie placed the phone on the table and returned to the couch. He picked a magazine from the coffee table and paged through it. He thought, ‘Who reads these things?’ He put the magazine back on the table and returned to the phone.

“Hey, Sergio. You still there?”

“I need to talk to Miriam…”

“You need to get a clue. Don’t call back.”

Charlie hung up the phone. He couldn’t sit. He always felt better if he was busy. Pacing around the house, nothing caught his attention.

Things hadn’t been good between Miriam and him for a while. But this? Some kid calling in the middle of the night? This was bad.

The phone rang. Charlie picked up.

“Let me talk to Miriam.”

“Is this Sergio?”

“I need to talk to her. Just put her on. I know she’s there.”

“Do you know who I am?”

“Your Miriam’s punk ass husband.”

Charlie paused. He gave Sergio a little more rope.

“How do you know Miriam?”

“We work together. I’m her bodyguard.”

“She didn’t tell you about the layoff?” Charlie hung up.

The phone rang again.

“She’s not here Sergio. I’ll tell her you called.”

“Why don’t you just put her on, man?”

“She’s out.”

“She told me she’d be there.”

“She says lots of things. You don’t know that?”

Sergio hung up.

Charlie half laughed. “How rude!” He paced around and looked out the window. The streets were empty. The kids were asleep.

Charlie went back to the phone. He dialed ‘star sixty-nine’.

A man picked up. “Hello?”

“Is Sergio there?”

“Who’s this?”

“This is the husband of the woman Sergio keeps calling. He called me three times this hour demanding to speak to her. You know anything about this?”

“I’m his father. No.”

Charlie couldn’t believe this idiot still lives with his parents.

“I don’t know Sergio. I don’t want any trouble. But I think your son is out of his depth.”

Sergio’s father didn’t respond to that.

“I know it’s late. I just wish he would stop bothering us.”

“I’ll speak to him.”

“Thank you. Good night.” Charlie placed the phone back in the cradle. He couldn’t get a good read on Sergio’s father. Either Sergio won’t know what hit him. Or they would laugh about it together in a father/son bonding moment. Either way, he hoped that would be the last he heard from good ol’ Sergio.

“Daddy?”

Charlie looked up. It was Jenny, his six-year-old daughter.

“Who should be in their bed? It’s late.”

“Where’s Mommy? I’m thirsty.”

Charlie walked to the kitchen and poured Jenny a small glass of milk.

“She’ll be home soon, baby. You can talk tomorrow. She’ll be home all day.”

“It’s Thanksgiving!”

“I know. What are you thankful for?”

“Turkey. And Mommy. And you.”

“That’s good. Now don’t drink too much or you’ll have to pee.”

She handed him the glass.

“Okay. G’night, Daddy.”

Charlie watched Jenny run to bed. Then he saw his reflection in the hall mirror. ‘What a loser,’ he thought.

Charlie flopped onto the couch and stared into space until he dozed.

Around two, Miriam shook him awake. “Sleep upstairs, Charlie. I’m going to watch TV.”

“You know I have to work in the morning. Can’t you just let me sleep?”

“You don’t have to work. It’s Thanksgiving.”

“Yeah. Right. I forgot.” Charlie remembered. “Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. Your bodyguard called.”

“My… What are you talking about?”

“You know. Your bodyguard.” Miriam looked at him blankly. Charlie had to smile. “You know, Sergio? We had a nice chat. He said he was your bodyguard.”

Miriam turned away.

Charlie continued. “Maybe I got it mixed up. Are you his bodyguard? Anyway, we talked for quite a while. He felt bad that you stood him up.”

Miriam entered the kitchen and opened a Coke. “I want to watch TV.”

“You want to invite him to dinner tomorrow? He could use some company.”

“Go to bed. I’m tired.”

“I’m not. I’m ready to party.” Miriam stared at Charlie. “Or did you have a long day?”

Miriam returned to the living room and sat on the couch. She picked up the remote.

Charlie stood in the doorway. “You know, I’ve been thinking, Mir. You said you wanted to work on things. Remember saying you were sorry for asking for a divorce at every little disagreement?”

Miriam did not respond.

Charlie continued, “So, I was thinking. You might be right. Now that you’re a working girl. You can get along without me.” Charlie waited for a response that didn’t come. “‘Night.”

Charlie left her staring at the empty TV screen.

The next morning, Charlie was up early. He put the turkey in, boiled potatoes and took the store-bought pies from the fridge. The rolls were waiting to go into the oven. He put Sinatra on the stereo and sang along with ‘The Best is Yet to Come’.

Charlie was in the best mood he’d been in for a long time.

Jenny and Charles Jr. came down and got in the mood of the day. Charlie enlisted them in setting the table.

When they finished with that they came to him. Charles Jr. said, “Dad? When are we going to do the Christmas tree?”

“Let’s get through today and then we’ll worry about that, okay?”

They agreed. Charlie offered Charles Jr. a potato masher and put him to work. He pulled tall candles from the drawer and asked Jenny to find the candle holders to put them in.

Miriam drifted in about ten o’clock. The kids ran to her, shouting. She gave them cursory hugs and sat on a kitchen chair. She had nothing to say.

Charlie poured her a glass of wine and raised his glass. “Happy Thanksgiving to all! And to all a good night!”

Miriam lifted her glass but didn’t drink.

Jenny said, “That’s not how it goes, Daddy.”

“It isn’t?”

“That’s for Christmas.”

“Oh, well, I modified it a little. Just for today. Ready to eat?”

The kids ran to the table with a cheer.

When everyone was seated, Charlie held his hands in prayer. “I thank God for our blessed lives. Our health, our home. That we have love and warmth and trust in God to see us through the hard times. I thank God for this delicious feast. And pray those in need find the blessings that will keep them in God’s hands. Amen.”

Charlie looked at Miriam with tears in his eyes. She was serving Charles Jr. some peas.

After the meal was over and the dishes put away, Miriam found Charlie in the bedroom, packing a bag.

“What are you doing?”

Charlie zipped the bag shut and looked up. “You don’t think it’s time for me to go? That’s what you’ve wanted.”

“You’re going to leave us?”

“I’m not the one leaving, Mir. I’m just changing my address. I was faithful and…”

“You are nothing.”

Charlie stopped himself from a knee jerk impulse. But Miriam sensed his energy and stepped back.

He composed himself, “If that is the best you can do, I think I’d better head out. I’ll be back for a few things. Perhaps we’ll talk later.”

Charlie left. Miriam didn’t try to stop him.

The kids saw Charlie lugging his bag and ran to him. “I have to go now, but I’ll be gone for just a little while. I’ll see you soon.”

They understood more than his words could explain. He kissed them both and gave them big hugs.

Charlie went to his car. He threw the bag into the trunk, got in and drove away.

It was cold but the sun was shining.




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