By Carol aka Catfish
The trees were decked in the brilliant Autumn leaves, as if to warm the souls of mankind, but there was no warmth in my heart. There hadn’t been for years. I’d spent every day I could in the best nursing home and hospice money could buy. I’d become such a fixture that even Mrs. Crane was hard pressed to tell me I was spending too much time with her son.
Her son? Well, technically. After all, it was on her adoption papers, but in truth, to me, Lee Crane was my son. He’d even given me his power of attorney in case of, well, something like this, though that had not been his intention at the time. He’d simply known that in his line of work, which included special assignments with ONI, there was always the lurking possibility he’d either die or be near to it and he wanted someone he could trust to carry out his wishes.
But, there was no way in hell I was going to remove the life support he was on, had been on, for years. He’d signed a ‘do not intubate’ and a ‘do not resuscitate’ order that was filed with his lawyers, but since he’d given me his power of attorney at a later date, they’d decided my decision not to honor his previous intentions took precedence.
He’d come back. I knew he would. He had too, before I would be standing before the Almighty with an account of my life. God might forgive me what I’d said, but I needed Lee to tell me that he forgave me too.
Those last words I’d spoken in anger...the look of betrayal in Lee’s eyes. God forgive me, I’d even told Lee that he couldn’t command a garbage scow! I was drunk, yes, and influenced by Admiral Avery who was later discovered to be a saboteur and traitor, but I knew in my heart that I couldn’t have meant it, could I? Ordering Lee to get out of my sight and never come back?
Lee had tried to speak with me privately, but I was so caught in Avery’s web of lies, that I’d ordered a ‘cease and desist’ with the police. Escorted off NIMR grounds, his pay and belongings to be mailed to him, Avery and I laughing as, humiliated, Lee departed. It was a weekend, (he’d often worked weekends), but few of his colleagues were around. Avery had made sure there would be no intervention. No fanfare for his sudden departure.
Avery had it all planned. Getting rid of Lee who already had suspicions.
The accident a few hours later, when Lee was driving to meet Chip and probably tell him what had happened, had been designed to kill Lee, get him out of Avery’s way. Burns, a cracked skull, and massive internal injuries had put Lee into a coma. One he would never came out of, the experts said..
And then, after Avery’s exposure as the traitor he was, thanks to some undercover work by Lee’s part time spook buddy Lt. Cmdr. Joe Jackson, Lee’s letters were given to me. The letters that he’d had written and sealed with the lawyers, years before, for me to read in case of his death. Telling me that I was his best friend, brother, even father, the only man he’d ever trusted with his life. Trusted to do the right thing regarding him, whatever it was.
Oh God...I still can’t bear the guilt. His unjustified words of heartfelt praise for me.
‘Mr. Nelson?” the head nurse asked as she touched my arm, “we have some nice chicken soup today....”
“Thank you” I said, as I was a bit chilly and it might help warm me up, even though I was wearing the soft brown sweater that Lee had given me years ago. I sat down beside Lee, the mug in my hand, while the machines breathed for him, fed him, drained him, and kept him alive.
His hair was streaked with gray now, and if it hadn’t been for the tubes, he’d look like a rather distinguished looking gentleman nearing his twilight years.
It was hard to believe today was his birthday. For a years after the accident, his colleagues and crew had sent get well and birthday cards, and they still did with unfailing regularity. Most of the men had already left NIMR, many had retired, and a few had stayed with the institute conducting tours of the facility and Seaview. She’d been decommissioned more than a few years ago, antiquated, a newer sub taking her place. But Lee’s baby wasn’t going to rust as a derelict as long as I was alive, even longer. I’d made arrangements. Lee needed to see that she was still cared for when he finally woke. If he woke, even Chip kept telling me. It was becoming more and more obvious his time was near as his body continued to deteriorate despite the tubes. He might very well be meeting his maker before me.
I had to wonder if, as some experts said, comatose patients sometimes awoke with tales of how they saw and heard those talking with them. I dearly hoped so. At least I hadn’t failed him in that. All these years I’d spoken to him. About this and that, and all of our adventures. I told him how much I loved him as a son. And of course, that I’d been a complete fool for having let Avery sway, even brainwash me in a way to think ill of Lee.
As for what God would say about how I’d betrayed him, how I’d hurt him, well, that time’s not too far away.
I spilled my soup as I began to sob, bereft over what I’d done, and what I’d lost in the father / son relationship I’d forged with Lee all those years ago.
The nurses scolded me, again, but were used to me breaking down. But I’d spilled my soup on Lee’s nice clean sheets and they had to change them. As they escorted me out into the hall and out of the way, I cringed as I saw yet again how truly hopeless it was. No amount of nourishment or medicines could correct his malfunctioning metabolism, his failed kidneys, his failing heart...his failing everything.
It wouldn’t be long. Perhaps even before the golden leaves fell from the trees outside.
“Oh, Lee, Lee, Lee,” I sobbed, sinking to the floor before an aide could catch me. I knew when it happened, even though Lee would surely take his place with the Heavenly Host, he might decide to haunt me. I shouldn’t mind. I deserved to be haunted. I deserved hell. Not Heaven where Lee was going....
“Admiral? Admiral?” a familiar voice was saying, ”Harry? C’mon, wake up....you’re having a nightmare...”
“Nightma....” I opened my eyes, blurry with tears...”Lee? Lee!” I exclaimed as I sat up, and as he sat on the bunk beside me. His hair was coal black, his skin still young and unwrinkled, well, not much, the years had peeled off of him as if was years ago...he...he was alive, and the whole damn mess had never happened. I grabbed him. “Oh Lee, son. It was a dream. A horrifying dream...I...I lost you, and it was all my fault....all my fault....”
“Some dream. You nearly woke the whole boat.”
“Seaview? But she...” I asked, still a little confused.
“Doc, Nelson’s cabin, bring your bag,” Lee said into the mike by my bunk, “No, Harry, you lie back down, okay?”
“Lee,” I said, grabbing his arm, hard. “Whatever happens in the future, I will never fail you. Never again. Never.”
He seemed a little confused, but took my hand gently. “Nor I you.”
Just then we had a message from NIMR about a visitor waiting for us when Seaview docked. An Admiral Avery. Before Lee could respond in the affirmative, I declined the visit, citing previous engagements.
Lee raised an eyebrow.
“It might have been a dream, but I’m not taking any chances. Trust me in this Lee. I don’t want you or me or anyone at NIMR or aboard Seaview to have anything to do with him. Will you promise me that?”
“I don’t understand but...you’ve got it.”
I think I sighed in sheer relief.
Doc made me stay in my cabin and gave me a sedative, but made me put on my new brown sweater that Lee had given me at Christmas. I was a little chilled he said.
God help me, he doesn’t know how much.