Present, n. That part of eternity dividing the domain of disappointment from the realm of hope.
Alex exhaled sharply. He hadn’t even realised that he’d been holding his breath. He felt dizziness swirl about him, like he’d been engulfed within a powerful, emotional tornado, affecting only him. That’s how tornadoes work though, destroying one house while leaving its neighbour unscathed.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” he muttered, trying to steady himself against this unexpected barrage of vertigo. He was afraid that he may pass out.
“Dad, are you okay?” Lorne said, supporting his father’s weight.
Lorne helped Alex to the chesterfield. Alex looked inside the cigar box, unable to dispel the disbelief he felt. “Dad wrote me out of the will for this?”
“What is it?” Jeff asked. Alex handed him the box. Inside was the missing medal. It was star-shaped and tarnished. Decades of neglect had covered it in a thick brown patina. A tattered red, white, and blue ribbon held on tenuously to a ring on the top of the star. There were words etched on it, but they were indecipherable through the tarnish. Underneath the medal, was an old black and white photograph of what appeared to be a family of four; a husband, a wife, and two children, a boy and a girl. They were dressed in fine clothes, the males wearing suit jackets and ties, the females wearing dresses. Both the males wore yarmulkes. The photo was slightly discoloured and wrinkled, but otherwise in decent condition.
“I don’t even know these people,” Alex said. “This has to be a mistake. It just has to be.”
Emily, still laughing said, “I can’t believe you got disinherited for that!” Lorne silence her with a very stern glare. She retreated back to the living room, contritely. Clive followed quickly on her heels.
“Maybe you should talk to your father?” Jeff suggested. “From what I know of the man, he’s not mean-spirited. There has to be more to this.” Alex quietly nodded his head. Never in his life had he felt more humiliation, more defeated than he did right now in that moment.
“I think you’re right,” he said in a whisper.
“Dad, what I said before about the money. It still stands,” Lorne said. “You can have it all. Every last penny.” Alex turned the medal around in his palm, studying it, hoping it would reveal its secrets. There had to be an explanation, but if there were, it wasn’t plain to see. He needed to talk to his father. It wasn’t a conversation he looked forward to.
At home, Jeff diced onions, celery, and peppers while Lorne browned a pound of extra lean beef and fresh garlic in olive oil. Lorne was worried. First that business with his father’s credit card concerned him. Now, the strange inheritance deepened his concern. This was already a hard time for Alex, these peripheral problems weren’t helping. He decided to stock the kitchen with food so Alex wouldn’t have to eat out so much. It was probably healthier, and certainly cheaper. Jeff suggested they make their easy crockpot chilli. It had become a favourite recipe because it was so fast and delicious and they could stretch it out for a couple days. With all their busy schedules and trips to the hospital, it would be nice to have something ready to go. Jeff slid the veggies into the frying pan, letting Lorne sauté them as the meat cooked.
“I meant what I said about the money,” Lorne said. “Dad can have it all.”
“I know,” Jeff replied. “It’s fine. Really, it is.”
“Thanks,” Lorne said. “I just need to know I’m doing the right thing.”
“You always do the right thing,” Jeff said, kissing Lorne on the cheek. “It’s why I love you so much.” Jeff opened tins of tomato sauce, corn, and seasoning, pouring them into the crockpot as Lorne strained the beef and added it to the pot. Then they added their secret ingredien; maple baked beans. The beans provided an unexpected sweetness to the chilli. Lorne put the cover on and set it on low. Now when they came home, they’d magically have dinner ready to go.
“It would come in handy for when I go back to school,” Lorne said.
“We’ll make due,” Jeff replied. “My gut tells me that your dad needs it more than we do.”
“I know. That thing with his credit card was embarrassing. He’s a proud man, though. I doubt he’ll want to talk to me about it.”
“What about that photo? Did you recognise anyone in it?”
“Nope. I’ve never seen it before and Gramps never mentioned it. I have no idea what is going on,” Lorne replied. “Are we still going to the bar tomorrow? I really could use a night out.”
“Sure,” Jeff said. “It’ll be fun.”
“I met a young guy there the other day,” Lorne said, remembering Dave. “He was pacing around the door, deciding whether or not to go in. It reminded me of me when I was younger, so afraid to be myself. At least I had Grampa’s support. This kid didn’t seem to have that. I told him to come too. I thought we could introduce him to some people.”
“You’re becoming a softie in your old age,” Jeff said, grinning.
Lorne laughed. “Maybe I’m just trading you in for a younger model.”
Jeff feigned shock. “You’d regret it for the rest of your life.”
“Don’t I know it?” Lorne’s cellphone beeped. He checked the message. It was from his mother. “Uh-oh,” he said. “Mom’s at the hospital.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“The mood Dad is in? It’s probably better if their paths don’t cross.”
Jeff sighed. “You know, my family has nowhere near the drama that yours does.”
Lorne smiled. “What can I say? We’re the Munsters,” he said.
“Who does that make you? Eddie Munster?”
“Are you kidding? I’m the most normal one in my whole family. I’m Marilyn,” Lorne said as he playfully tossed back a heavy lock of imaginary hair.
Alex stopped at the hospital’s commissary, and bought a cold can of diet cola. His head was throbbing, probably from stress but possibly from caffeine withdrawal. He opened it and took a drink, savouring the sweet, bubbly drink. He carried his briefcase, empty save his copy of the will and that wretched cigar box. He tried to quieten his anger but was failing. He was afraid that he would lose his temper with his father, and reminded himself, several times, that he was dying. He didn’t want to lose his father on bad terms, to say things he would only regret later, but this will was not fair. At the very least, Alex thought, he was owed an explanation.
He walked down the sterile hallway towards his father’s room. He passed the nurse’s station, and nodded a friendly greeting to the stern looking nurse who manned the phones. Then he saw her. Genie. She was only a handful of metres from him, close enough that he could smell her shampoo. She wore a navy blazer over a crisp, white blouse, and matching skirt that clung to her curves masterfully. She spotted Alex moments after and stopped in her tracks. It had been a decade since they last saw each other but he thought she looked as beautiful as ever. He knew time had been less kind to him. They stared at each other, neither able to form words. Finally, Genie smiled. “Hello Alex,” she said.
Alex turned on his heels and stormed out. Dad could wait. The sting of betrayal still hurt Alex, even after all these years. He knew that he was being stubborn and pig-headed, but he couldn’t forgive her. He had loved her, still loved her, but she strayed. She didn’t love him as much as he did her, she didn’t find the same value in their marriage that he did, and he wasn’t going to make nice and pretend otherwise. “Alex,” she called after him. “Alex!” Mercifully, the elevator door closed, carrying him away from her.
Alex returned to Lorne’s place. Lorne was working his shift at the bar and Jeff was already asleep, having to work the midnight shift at the hospital. They graciously left the chilli simmering in the crockpot. Alex helped himself to a generous portion, topping it off with a thick layer of parmesan cheese. He wolfed it down ravenously and then poured a second bowl. He opened the fridge. The boys have been shopping, he thought. I hope it’s not because of me. He took another diet soda from the fridge to wash down his meal.
He should have been more attentive to his credit card payments. Of course Alex knew that he was close to his limit. The flight, ferry, and car rental were big costs, but he thought he still had some wiggle room. It was embarrassing to have to rely on your son to pay a restaurant bill. Alex’s ears burned crimson at the mere thought. Tomorrow, he’d call the bank, juggle some payments and put some more money down on his card. It was stealing from Peter to pay Paul, but he had little choice. He really needed a cash infusion or he was in danger of losing his practice. Hell, personal bankruptcy was practically inevitable. He hoped to talk to his father, but that would have to wait until morning. He forgot that Genie was going to be there. She looked great, he admitted to himself, and when she smiled, he almost forgot that he was angry with her. Almost.
Sighing, he pushed Genie from his mind. He plugged in his laptop, something he did out of habit. He was terrified of the battery dying while he was in the middle of something. He didn’t have a full understanding of technology but didn’t want to risk losing any important documents he was working on. He turned on the computer, and took a spoonful of chilli while it booted up. He logged as a guest onto Lorne and Jeff’s Wi-Fi. Thankfully, it wasn’t pass protected. Lorne’s spare room had a small table, and Alex used it as a desk, placing his briefcase on its faux walnut surface. He took out the cigar box. Time for some detective work.
He googled the foreign phrase; Onze Koningen. It was Dutch, translating as “Our Queen.” Another google search revealed the wartime Queen of the Netherlands as Queen Wilhelmina. There was a long wikepedia entry, detailing her reign and her role as an inspiration to the Dutch resistance during the Nazi occupation.
Next, Alex googled war medals shaped like stars. A series of images came up on the screen. They all looked basically the same though, until he spotted one with the same ribbon. Alex took another mouthful of chilli, and chased it down with pop. He continued reading. It was called the France and Germany Star, awarded to subjects of the British Commonwealth who served in the Second World War, specifically for service in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands or Germany and adjacent sea areas between 6 June 1944 and 8 May 1945.
Alex rubbed the days’ worth of stubble growing on his chin while he processed the information he just learned. It was safe to assume that the box was from the Netherlands based on the portrait of Queen Wilhelmina on its lid. Alex looked up the Netherlands during the dates mentioned on the previous web entry, discovering that it was covering the time between D-Day and V-E Day during the war. So, it was between the time it took the allies to storm Normandy until the Germans surrendered. Because it was the Netherlands, Alex also surmised that it had to do with the Canadians liberating the country from German occupation. It didn’t provide him with any answers.
Alex took the photo and scanned it onto his laptop, and then did a reverse image search, but came up empty-handed. The lawyer in him continued looking for clues using the photo as evidence. It was obvious by the yarmulkes that the family was Jewish, probably Dutch Jews. Alex finished off his dinner, and stared at his computer screen for several minutes, hoping more clues would present themselves, but none were forthcoming. He’d hit a dead-end. He was missing something; he just didn’t know what it was.
Alex took his dirty dishes into the kitchen and put them into the dishwasher. He also put the lid on the crockpot and put it in the fridge. That would make a delicious (and inexpensive) lunch tomorrow. By the time he was ready for bed, his eyes burned with exhaustion. He dropped off right away, but his sleep was restless, tormented with foreboding dreams that faded from memory as he woke.
So a few changes have been made to the blog that will hopefully make reading the blog that much easier. After a suggestion by Eric T Knight, (check out his work) you can now just jump into the newest chapter and not have to read my earth-shattering opinions on writing or my personal processes.
This chapter answers the big question; what’s in the box? No big surprise here. It’s the eponymous medal, though we still don’t know what’s so important about it, or why Brennan is leaving it to his son in lieu of something really useful, like money. We’ve also had a deeper look into Alex’s financial woes, and they seem to be dire.
And finally, we’ve been briefly introduced to the heartbreaker, Genie. Alex reacts poorly to her appearance but you just know these two will have to hash out their differences sooner rather than later.
As always, I’ll be back next week. I hope you are too. Don’t forget to follow the blog for email updates and share it with your friends. And your enemies too. That’ll really piss them off.