—A Short Story. Part One of Two.
They say that the sense of smell has the ability to retain the most powerful memories of a person’s life.
A smell can bring you back home. It can return the warmth of past relationships, or bring with it a deep inhale of something cooked from your childhood when times were simple and innocent and all the world was wonderful and new.
Smells can be sombre, too. A smell can create scars in the mind with which nothing can heal.
Some painful memory can be bottled up for years, even decades without peeking above the surface, until a certain smell hits your senses — then it hits you all at once, overwhelmingly.
Everyone remembers the smell of a hospital room. It is pungent. This hospital smelled of dried urine and bad cafeteria food, and all Beau wanted to do was leave.
Beau had been watching his mother in the hospital bed off and on for about four hours. Occasionally, he would glance out the window, and outside the weather was wonderful. There was a giant tree right outside, and even through the thick windows he could hear birds singing and greeting the early morning sunlight. The sunrise was indeed beautiful. He witnessed as it seemed the world outside was beginning a normal day. There was moderate traffic on the highway just across the hospital parking lot, and above a news helicopter flew overhead.
“Son.” His mother called. Beau turned around, eyes adjusting back to the darkness inside the hospital room. He stood and approached his mother. Wires and hoses were attached all around her, and next to her the machines keeping her conscious continued their beeping.
“It’s your turn, Son.”
Bicycle playing cards lay on her bed. Beau’s mom would regain consciousness off and on, and when she was awake, they would continue their game of go fish. Granted, this was the single longest game of go fish ever played, being that his mother could only really stay awake five or so minutes at a time, but Beau was enjoying what time he had left with his mother.
Gently, she lay the cards face down on her lap. Beau noticed her arms looked blacker than before, even from a few hours ago. Her body was already starting to give up. She started to resemble a skinny little doll. During her time in chemo treatments, and the amount of nutrients her body was rejecting, it looked like someone stuck a vacuum in her body and sucked out all of the air within.
“I don’t want to play anymore.”
“Is everything okay?”
She smiled. “Of course, Dear. Of course”
“Would you like something? How about another orange juice? It’s about the only thing good in that goddamn cafeteria.”
She laughed, then slowly shook her bald head.
“I’m alright, Beau. I am just tired.”
Beau nodded, and began gathering the cards off of her bed. Her nurse entered with towels and a fresh bed pan.
“Is everything alright, Mrs. Fredrick?”
Barbera let out a quiet sigh and nodded to the bedpan underneath her. The Nurse put her things on the couch in front of the bed, and began changing out the bed pans. By now, Beau was already used to the smell, and just looked back out beyond the window again. Once the nurse was done and finished administering all of Barbera’s medicine and care, the nurse left the room. After a while Barbara slept once more, then awoke.
Beau leaned over his mother’s bed. Her breaths were now low and slow and infrequent. Even though her mouth made very little movements, he could tell in her eyes that she was smiling at him.
“I want you to know, that I love you very very much.”
Her eyes were locked to her son’s. Her son was seventeen — very much considered a man to everyone else, but to her, of course she saw her baby boy. There were even times where Beau would get away without being carded when he bought beer for his friends, or cigarettes at the nearby gas station. Beau had the stature of a leaner, taller version of his late father.
“Mom, you should be napping.”
She lightly placed her paper-thin hand on his. Even though this moment to Beau was only a few seconds long, Barbera was witnessing her toddler running naked through the grass of their backyard. Then she saw him riding his bike for the first time, her husband helping him along the sidewalk as Beau peddled past. Now she was seeing Beau adjusting his bowtie for his prom. She remembered combing his greasy hair out of his face, and her husband waiting outside in their truck. Then, she was attending her husband’s funeral, Beau holding her hand and offering his shoulder for her to rest and cry on. Her eyes gleamed, and she suddenly felt a warmth come over her.
“Beau. I want…” She inhaled, deeply and low. “I want you to live.”
“What are you talking about?”
She smile and attempted to put her hand on his face. He redeemed her hand, and assisted it to his cheek.
“Live, Beau. I will, always, be with you. Be a happy boy. Now go and pick up your toys please, your father will be home and you don’t want him stepping on them.”
Tears continued to roll off of Beau’s face. “Yes mom.”
Barbera let out a slow exhale. Her eyes half-cocked to the world. She faded, and Beau wept at his mother’s bedside.
Barbera’s funeral was held at a small Spanish church close to downtown. Many people attended. Her family, friends, neighbors, and even many acquaintances and work friends showed up — so much so that everyone who attended could not fit inside the church’s capacity.
The church itself was filled with white orchids & wild flowers. Barbera had always loved wild flowers. She would stop on the side of the road just to pick them. She did this often. Her coworkers knew when she stopped by the office because she would leave different types of flowers for them.
Many got up in front of the stand and told stories of Barbera.
One of her best friends, Mary — who was solely responsible for organizing the entire service — told stories of when her and Barbera were young. How they would sneak out when they were teenagers to drink at the parking lot of a nearby Walmart and get in all sorts of trouble.
She recalled when they were just finishing college, and how Mary routinely had to find Barbera during keg parties, because Barbera had a tendency to just wander off when she was drunk. Mary proceeded to say that she would find her in the most odd places. She found her on a neighbor’s roof, howling at the moon. She once found her sleeping inside a large tool shed in a garage. She even found her passed out in the middle of a Jack-In-The-Box drive through, apparently trying to order a midnight munchie with no vehicle. After Mary told a few more stories, she began to sob uncontrollably, and excused herself away from the mic stand. Many others told their stories of Barbera as well.
Beau sat silently at the front pew. His mind was blank. He considered several times walking up to the mic stand and saying a few words, but he never mustered up the courage. There was even a point in the service where Mary motioned at Beau to come up with her, but Beau sat silently trying not to meet eyes with her. After everyone said their stories and the service was near it’s end, Beau began to quietly cry. He attempted several times to calm himself, but his emotions overcame him. His Grandparents, Frank and Josephine sat on either side of him, and Josephine began to scratch his back to comfort the grieving boy.
After the service ended and everyone gave their condolences to Beau, his Grandparents drove him to a nearby diner for lunch. They pulled up to the restaurant, and close behind Mary pulled into the parking lot to join them. Beau ordered coffee, Frank did the same. The other two ordered only water for the moment while they all collected their emotions.
“Are you okay, son?” Asked Frank.
“Yeah. That was really a beautiful service Mary. Thank you.”
Beau looked down at his coffee. “It was really great for you to do that.”
“Don’t worry about it honey. Your mom deserved the best.”
Frank and Josephine both smiled and thanked Mary as well. Mary insisted on paying for the funeral service. She had been pretty well off for a while, selling her printer company to a major manufacturer and essentially becoming a multimillionaire almost overnight. She was very Type A, and she wouldn’t allow Barbera’s parents to pay for her funeral. They had visited her several times prior to that during her chemo treatments early on her diagnosis, but when they got the word that their daughter was on her deathbed, they took the next available flight to San Diego, but unfortunately didn’t make it in time to see her before she passed away.
They all sat at the small diner table, pretending to look through the menu. After a while they ordered their meals, then ate in silence. After they were finished, Mary offered Beau a ride back to his house, and his grandparents followed them in their rental car.
Beau and Barbera lived in an old restored horse property North of Escondido. Barbera had bought the property back in 1987, when Beau was just three months old. The house became dilapidated with the prior owner being old, feeble, and a hoarder. The bank took over the property and evicted the old lady from the house. It was listed on the housing market as a “cozy horse property. Live in your project!” Beau’s parents bought it for next to nothing. He lived in that house his entire life. He couldn’t come to grips to the fact that he would now be living in this house without his mother.
Mary, Frank and Josephine all offered to stay the night at the house with Beau. He thanked them for the gesture and gave them hugs, and made it apparent he wanted to be alone. After they left, Beau sat in the living room for awhile. He thought about his mom. Beau turned on the TV, curled up on the couch with a throw blanket and fell fast asleep.
Beau awoke the next morning with the sunrise hitting his face, temporarily blinding him. It was already getting hot in the house at 7:30am. He tossed the blanket off of him, scaring his tabby cat, Winston — making him dart across the house.
He sat up and smelled coffee brewing in the kitchen. His brain, which was still half-asleep, assumed that his mom woke up early to prepare the morning brew. All at once reality kicked in that his mother was dead, and he began to wonder if he was just imagining the smell of coffee. He sat up in silence, his ears focusing on any noises coming from the kitchen. He heard one of the stools in the kitchen move, as if someone were shifting their weight. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up.
He stood up quietly, making sure his movements were silent.
He tip toed over to the fireplace adjacent to the couch he was sleeping on and picked up a fire poker. As he gripped the fire poker, he could hear someone walking from the kitchen stove back to the pots and pans. He smelled eggs and bacon.
Who breaks into someone’s house and makes breakfast? He thought.
Slowly he leaned around the corner to peek into the kitchen, and saw a small slender female figure cooking on the stove and drinking coffee. All the sudden he recognized the girl. She was his neighbor, Ana. Quickly, he motioned the fire poker behind his back. Ana saw him from the corner of her eye and jumped with fright, spilling her coffee onto the eggs.
“Jesus!” She said, “Beau, you scared the shit out of me.”
“Ana… why are you in my house?”
“I thought you could use some company.” Her eyes glanced downward at him, and then back up to his eyes and smirked. Her cheeks glowed. “You should probably put some pants on there; Dinosaurs.”
He quickly leaped out of view back to the couch and grabbed his pants and shirt off of the floor. He threw his clothes on and went back to the kitchen where Ana was finishing up making their now coffee infused eggs.
“Nice boxers by the way. Love the dinosaur print.”
She picked up the pan and prepared the scrambled eggs — now with added coffee mixed in, and served the two at a kitchenette table by a large window looking outside the house. Beau didn’t check his phone, but he knew it was super early. The sun was just above the horizon letting in a soft orange light from the morning.
“What time is it? — And you still haven’t answered why you’re here, in my house… making me breakfast.”
She scooped a hearty spoonful of eggs and shoved them into her mouth. She wiped her mouth with a napkin, but then continued to talk even though there was still chewed up bits of egg dancing on her tongue.
“I wanted to make sure you were okay.” She chewed the last bit of egg and swallowed. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to the funeral.”
“Screw that. No, it’s not. I should’ve been there.”
“Really, it’s okay.”
“You know I’m not good at funerals.” She met his eyes. “…I should’ve just gone. I’m sorry, Beau.”
“Ana, I understand.” He smiled. “We’re still good. I’m glad you’re here, it’s hard being in this house alone. Last night sucked — it was way too quiet.”
“I bet. I’m really sorry Beau. I love you guys, and I loved your mom so much.”
Ana’s eyes started to fill with tears.
“Please don’t.” He said looking away from her face. “I’ve had enough emotions already. I can’t cry again.”
“I’m sorry.” She wiped her face.
“Do you want a cigarette? Thanks for breakfast. I’m glad we got to have both eggs and coffee at the same time. So efficient.”
She laughed and wiped the few tears she was unable to hold back.
“Yeah. I’m out, though.”
“It’s okay, I think I’ve got about five or so left in my room.”
Beau went upstairs and grabbed an almost empty pack of marlboros from under his bed. He looked around his room a bit. Even though the world he knew seemed to be spiraling around him, his room somehow remained untouched. One wall of his room was covered in band posters — The Misfits, Agent Orange, Bad Religion, and so on. They were all taped one above the other.
Across his bed he had a collection of old action figures and empty soda cans on his computer desk. His floor was a layer of clothes and blankets. The rest of the house was pretty spotless, Barbera made sure of it — but when it came to Beau’s room, she made sure he had his own space. She would remind him to tidy up every so often, but she felt that leaving it up to him to do what he wished of his room would make him more creative. He walked over his stuff back out to the hallway and down the stairs where Ana awaited.
They both walked to the back porch that looked out over the two acres of mostly empty land. Right across the porch they sat on is a horse pen overgrown with weeds and bushes. Next to that is a shed that Beau’s father built when he was very little — they kept mostly underused rusty tools and furniture they were too lazy to sell.
Ana put a cigarette in her mouth and perched on the porch stairs.
“So. what are you going to do?” She lit her cigarette with a little green bic lighter.
“Get the hell out of here, that’s for sure.” Beau mouthed a cigarette and Ana lit it for him.
“What do you mean — where are you going?”
“Hell if I know.”
Ana drew her cigarette and exhaled. “Well that doesn’t sound like much of a plan, Dinosaurs.”
“Will you stop? I like those boxers.”
She laughed. “You do change them though, right? Or do you rock those dinosaurs for days on end?”
“Screw you.” He smirked.
They both sat for a while in silence on the porch, each smoking their cigarettes and enjoying the last remaining hues of the sunrise. The day’s heat was already upon them.
Ana stood up. “So, where are you headed?”
“East, I think.”
“Hmm.” She flicked her cigarette. “What about the house?”
“I don’t know… I don’t how any of this crap is supposed to work.”
Just then they heard a knock in the distance. Beau put his cigarette out, and they both headed to the front of the house. Beau looked through the peephole and saw a tall shaded figure underneath the porch. He opened the door and there stood a skinny bearded man in an army surplus jacket.
There was an awkward pause.
“I’m not sure you remember me.”
The man smelled of liquor and cigarettes.
“Who are you?”
The man smiled. “Beau, I’m your uncle — Robert.”
Beau invited that man in and offered him coffee, he politely declined. They both headed to the living room and Ana followed. They all sat around the coffee table.
“I’m sorry I didn’t make the funeral.”
Beau smirked and shook his head. “To be honest I didn’t expect to see you at all. I think this is the first time we met since I could talk.”
“Yeah. Sorry about that, too. It’s just … you know your mother didn’t like me.”
Beau could feel butterflies in his stomach. He only heard very little about his Uncle Robert, and what few things he learned weren’t good at all.
Beau’s mother would occasionally receive letters in the mail from Robert, and when she saw them amongst the pile of bills and other miscellaneous mail, she would quickly throw those letters away. She never went into great detail about her relationship with Robert. One time Beau tried to confront her about his uncle, and tried to get her to tell him something — anything about her brother.
“What’s in the past should stay in the past,” she would say. “What happened, happened — and talking about what happened in my childhood won’t change a goddamn thing.”
He learned to avoid bringing up his Uncle, lest Barbera would either cry or begin an emotional hysterical and incomprehensible one sided shout-fest. Beau had ideas of what might have happened between them. Maybe Barbera was molested by her brother. Maybe they both did some kind of terrible crime that — if confessed or got out somehow — would bring about her incarceration. It really didn’t matter to Beau what happened between his mother and this dirty skinny man that sat before him, but he knew that whatever the reason he decided to show up, he was not welcome in this house.
“I think you need to leave.”
“Beau.” Robert leaned back, “I’m sorry. If I’m making you uncomfortable, maybe I can see you some other time.”
Ana was glaring at Robert, and it cut through him like a knife
“Yeah. Right now is not a good time.”
“Okay.” Robert pulled out a card and placed it on the coffee table and stood up and they all made their way to the front door.
“Talk to you soon Beau.”
Beau watched his Uncle walk down the pathway to a motorcycle that looked as ratty as the man that sat upon it. Robert kicked the bike with a petal to life, and it started with a roar, and beau watched him ride out past the property and out onto the street.
“You okay, Beau?” Ana asked.
“Yeah… I don’t know. I think so. This is all so shitty.”
They both walked back into the living room and Beau picked up the business card that was sitting on the table. U-Dun Rite Plumbling — Robert Harrison. He pocketed the card and sat back down with his head in his hands. Ana put her hand on his back and scratched him with her nails.
“Come on. Let’s make the most out the rest of the day and play some video games.”
The two turned on the console, sat in front of the T.V, and played games until Beau’s mind became blank and content again to the world.
Even after the weekend ended Beau decided not to go back to school. After Ana left, the house became empty and bare and a continuing reminder of all the horrible things that had happened that week. He lay in his bed until the afternoon sun woke him up.
Beau would eat whatever he could find around the house. Sometimes he would find enough bread and cheese at least to make a sandwich. They had plenty of top ramen, but he became tired of the taste very quickly.
Days would pass by where the only thing that he would do was watch T.V. and level up his characters in his video games. He would cry off and on during the day, especially when he started packing his mother’s things in boxes and store them in the garage. He’d catch a whiff of his mother’s scent when packing her clothes, and he’d go right back to crying again.
His grandparents would stop by everyday to see how he was doing. They were staying in a nearby motel. They would’ve stayed over at Beau’s house, but whenever they brought it up he would become defensive and combative for no reason and they didn’t want to bother him further. Finally one day when they stopped by to take Beau to lunch, he brought up that he was tired of being lonely and wanted them to stay the night. One night turned into two — which turned to three, until finally they left the motel and moved their things into the empty house.
About a week passed by and Beau still wasn’t going to school. Ana would come by and drop off Beau’s homework for him from his teachers, to which he would add to the pile of untouched school work he had in his room. Beau’s grandparents liked Ana very much, and would ask Beau if she could join them for lunch or any other reason to get her to spend time with him.
“Beau — Honey.” Josephine called from the kitchen.
The old woman was making tacos for dinner. Frank sat at the kitchen table reading a newspaper. Beau noticed the newspaper was old, but didn’t want to interrupt him with needless details like that.
“You know…” She was frying the taco shells on the stove and the smell hit Beau like a nostalgic warmth. “You can come home with us. You don’t need to be in this house by yourself.”
“I can’t.” He leaned into the kitchen. “You know I love you guys, but I need to finish school.”
“There’s a very nice school not far from our neighborhood, you know?”
She removed the warm taco shells from the pan and placed them on separate plates. She was cooking the beef adjacent to the tacos, which were almost finished.
“I… I just can’t. I don’t want to leave this house. Mom and Dad worked so hard to pay off this house and I can’t just leave it.”
“Okay son. Okay. Just know if you ever need us for anything, we’re here for you.”
Frank grunted and smiled, and flipped the newspaper to another outdated and irrelevant page.
That night was the last night before they flew back home across the country.
The very next morning a man rang the doorbell. Beau immediately recognized the skinny man as his Uncle again. He also noticed a moving truck pulling into the driveway behind Robert, and several men hopping out to begin unpacking the truck.
This… Robert—the man Barbera loathed with every fiber of her being was here to move in with Beau.
Beau tightened his fists, sighed, then opened the door.
…To be continued