Ben Filla wrote the winning entry for our short story contest. This is his story, “Bobby Darin, Take Me Home”. Congratulations, Ben!
Frank Meeks was old. At ninety, he’d outlived all of his friends, and sadly, even his wife. All he had left was a son, who was aged and retired himself. He felt as though he might never die. His doctors kept cleaning his blood and would tell him absurd things like, “Mr. Meeks, you’ve got the body of a man half your age – you may live forever!” Condescending pleasantries he thought, but he understood they were trying to keep things light. The irony was he’d had rheumatic fever as a child which left him with a weakened heart, and he probably should have died years ago. It was always the same on Saturday mornings. His son would come by the nursing home early, around seven o’clock. Most days Frank was awake and moving before day break. When he was a working man, he’d get up and enjoy his black coffee and cigarette as the birds began their morning chorus. Of course he gave up the cigarettes long ago when his Rosie got sick. Everyone said she’d outlive everyone – she had been a model of health. Never smoked, rarely drank. But it seems cancer can find you even if you eat your greens and walk every morning. It leveled her, squeezing her breath away. It shattered him. He was dressed in the same clothes he always wore. The same style he’d been wearing in the twenty-three years she’d been gone – simple white cotton V-neck t-shirt that comes in a pack of three and a pair of blue jeans. It probably wasn’t really a style. No, the jeans were flat and square in a sky blue polyester. Probably just blue pants. Rosie had lovingly joked that he was in a class of his own. “Just need to make a quick stop dad,” his son said once they finished up at the doctor’s. “Oh?” Frank wondered. “My order came in this week and I’ve been meaning to pick it up,” his son explained as he parked in the expansive lot. They were at one of those big box stores. Gone were the days of getting to know the neighborhood clerks and pride in buying local. Frank understood the value of a dollar but was proudly American. “I’ll just stay here,” Frank muttered in a delayed response. Funny how your brain can do that. He heard the question, but it kind of hung there and didn’t process until his mind had come back around to the moment. “I’ll just stay here,” he mumbled again. The dialysis made him tired. He was nodding in and out, eyes jarring open at every little sound. A car horn bellowed in the distance and his eyes shot open. He let out a breath and a puzzled expression formed across his brow. Old and tired. Frank pressed the satellite radio button that played his favorites. It always took him back to happier times, and he’d be lying to say there wasn’t a part of him that missed the way things used to be. That part of him grew bigger every day. A jazzy brass tune filled the van, and now with his seat comfortably reclined, his eyes closed a bit easier. Another distant honk, and he startled again. Cars full of families, trucks making deliveries. His eyes followed the busyness along. Through the hustle and bustle, Frank could barely make out the lake on the horizon below. The town really had changed. The music switched tempo, and he was taken aback. The velvety voice of Bobby Darin came through the surround speakers. “Beyond the Sea” had been their song, and suddenly she was right there. It was like Rosie was sitting there with him. He hadn’t heard their song in years. “I think this is the spot,” he spoke quietly through his fingers, thoughtfully pinching his bottom lip. There was the expansive court house to the east and the Presbyterian steeple, now peeking over a fast food restaurant, to the north. This was, or had been, the orchard Rosie and he came to when they first started dating. “I’ll be…,” he trailed off in his memory. This was the apple orchard where he worked a summer, the summer he met her. “Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me,” she had said. She’d jest when that Andrews Sisters’ song came on in the old farm truck, but it was the sound of Bobby Darin that always moved her a bit closer to him. A full smile crept up his cheek. What a beautiful person she was. So happy, so vibrant. Vivacious. She brought him to life. He lived off the energy of the people around him, and her energy was infectious. Yes, he was positive this was their orchard. They were so young then. Her skin was soft and flawless with freckles, smiley eyes – eyes that had always reminded him of the brilliant hot springs of Yellowstone, an amazing azure center with myriad hues fringing the edges. And her hair, soft and red with little curls and flips here or there. She was always trying to straighten it out a bit, but he loved how it never could quite follow her directions. She was perfect. Ah, this song. His heart sang along. “Dream Boat”, she’d call him as they sat on the hill and watched the ships come up from the seaway toward the port. “Where do you want to go? I’ll take you anywhere,” he’d whisper to her. “Cyprus? Sicily? Santorini?” She’d giggle. “Yes. Yes. Yes. Take me to all those places. Take me beyond the sea Frankie.” The din of the traffic was now gone and Bobby Darin was all he heard. “…She’s there watching for me…” “…My heart will lead me there soon…” “…Happy we’ll be beyond the sea.” His son opened the van door. “Ready to go home dad?”, but Frank was already there. His heart had taken him home.