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Authors: Tom Winton

Within a Man's Heart

BOOK: Within a Man's Heart
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Within a Man’s Heart

 

By

 

Tom Winton

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 201
3 by Tom Winton
All rights reserved.

www.TomWintonAuthor.com

 

Within a Man’s Heart
is a fictional work. All the names, characters, events and locations are from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to current events or locations or living persons, is entirely coincidental.

 

No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Tom Winton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special thanks to my wife
, Blanche for always being there

and also to my good friend, Ruby Barnes for all his help.

 

ALSO BY TOM WINTON

 

 

Beyond Nostalgia

 

The Last American Martyr

 

Four Days with Hemingway’s Ghost

 

 

My Elyse

 

 

 

It was a Manhattan Sunday morning. I’d spent the night at a friend’s place and had come back to my apartment to make sure the movers had taken everything.  Pensively, I walked from room to room, the sound of my footsteps echoing in the alien emptiness.  All the pictures of Elyse and I were gone from the walls. Prom night, a wedding picture, a shot of us by the lighthouse at Montauk Point, all my framed remembrances were packed in cardboard boxes— jammed tight in a huge truck somewhere. All the furniture was in there, too, including the bed we had once shared. The place I called home for sixteen years was lifeless now—impersonal as an empty mausoleum.  Everything was gone, everything except the treasured memories that haunted me.

After seeing all I needed to, I stepped back out of the apartment and into the fourth floor’s common hallway. I didn’t close the door right away. I stood there in the quiet for a long moment
, looking inside for the last time.  A tear tumbled from my eye. It slid down my cheek and found its way to my lips.  Wiping its saltiness away with the back of my hand, I breathed in a deep one; then let it out slowly. “Goodbye honey,” I said, “I’ll always love you.” Then I closed the door.

I took the elevator down to the first floor, said goodbye to John the doorman, and slowly descended the stone steps outside. When I reached the bottom one, I stopped and stood there a moment.
Squinting toward my new Volvo XC90 SUV, double-parked out in the street, I let out a small sigh of relief. Luckily, there was no ticket. The only thing on the windshield was the reflection of the bright, early June sun. While still standing on the step, I tilted my head back and looked up beyond the brick canyon walls that surrounded me. There was a narrow strip of cheery blue sky up there. It ran up and down East 56
th
as far as I could see. As I studied it, rolling my eyes from side to side, I only wished my future could be as bright and promising.

Uncertain about what
lie
ahead, I brought my gaze back to earth, trudged across the wide concrete sidewalk, and stepped into the street between two parked cars. I waited there as a monstrous steel garbage truck roared by. Then I walked around to the driver’s side of my loaded-to-the-windows SUV and climbed in. After turning the ignition key, I checked the rearview and pulled away. I didn’t allow myself to look back at that building. I had reasons to believe that Elyse would not have wanted me to.

In my mind my wife died a thousand deaths. Every time I thought about her I felt as if I’d returned to that tragic final moment. The memories of it were brutal, and for four years they wouldn’t leave me alone. I’d been alive but really wasn’t. My soul was gone. It was buried in the Long Island dirt, alongside Elyse, the day of her funeral.
All that was left of me was my body, and that shell is nothing but cells and tissue. It did little to protect what was left of my spirit.

Yes, I loved my Elyse. I loved her hard, and I’m not talking about a love laden with doubts or a certain-things-about-her-bother-me kind of love. My love for her was pure
, unadulterated; clear as tropical seawater. Sure, we’d had our share of spats, probably more than our share, and some weren’t very pretty.  And sometimes we had it out over the most ridiculous petty things. I remember getting hot under the collar a few times because Elyse wouldn’t stop dog-earing the pages of my books when she read them. But forget all that for now. I would have done anything for her. Without as much as a flinch, I’d have leaped right into hell’s hottest raging flames for that woman. I’d have crawled backwards through them. But, unfortunately, I never had those opportunities. There were no deals to be made. All I could do was watch as an insatiable malignant growth ate away at her thirty-five-year-young brain.

I continued to work after she died, but other than that I mostly just hung around the apartment and read books. I read a lot of them, and I’m glad I did. Reading was one of the few things that ever allowed me some sort of respite from my mourning. When I got into a good book it would take control of my conscious mind, and I always welcomed that.

Although I read mostly novels, the one book that really held my attention was John Steinbeck’s
Travels with Charley.
I had bought the paperback shortly after Elyse died, and it was so good that I reread it, from cover to cover, every year. And I always did it on the exact same day. I’ll explain why in a just minute, but for now let me just say it was
absolutely necessary
.

Steinbeck’s little book about his 1960 trip across America didn’t just hold my attention, it
commandeered it. Every time I read the aging author’s words, I felt as if I, too, were rambling back and forth across the country with him and his pet poodle, Charley. It was as if I were sitting right between them on the front seat of their custom-made camper. Yes, Steinbeck really brought me there. He described scenes and places so vividly that each one appeared on my mind’s screen in living color. But as much as I enjoyed trekking through all those states, there was one area that intrigued me more than all rest—New England.

Stuck as I was in the throes of my tormented mind, Steinbeck’s fifty-year-old descriptions of New England still managed to pique my curiosity. So intrigued was I that twice I actually pulled myself together enough to drive up there. Both times it had been during the summer. Both times I found that I liked New Hampshire the best. Both times I ended up spending most of my time there. I fell so head-over-heels in love with the beauty and serenity of the state that when I headed back to New York the last time, I vowed to someday move up there. “LIVE FREE OR DIE! LIVE FREE OR DIE! LIVE FREE OR DIE!” the motto on all the license plates seemed to be shouting directly at me. And they weren’t yelling at deaf ears. I badly wanted to live a simpler life and hopefully find solace. I wanted to heal. I
needed
to get out of Manhattan.

As much as I loved Elyse and always would, I knew it wasn’t good for me to keep seeing her ghost everywhere I went. But what I didn’t know was that someday
Elyse herself
would actually encourage me to make the move. Oh, she didn’t float down from the clouds like some kind of angelic apparition and say in her sweet, soft voice,
Go, Chris, go! Go to New Hampshire!
No, that didn’t happen. But one night, when I was alone in my apartment, two very strange events took place. Two things that I still can’t logically explain.

It was the night of May 23
rd—
the fourth anniversary of Elyse’s passing. And as I had done every year since she died, I was sitting in my recliner reading John Steinbeck’s
Travels with Charley
. I not only read that little book because I enjoyed it so, but also because it was the one thing that helped make that most grievous of all days somewhat bearable. That paperback was my tool, my weapon, my defense mechanism. It kept my mind occupied when I needed it most. That’s why, for three years straight, I read the entire book all the way through in a single sitting.

On this night I finished it at about e
ight o’clock. I closed the book; laid it on the end table next to me; then went into the kitchen for a beer. When I came back into the living room I plopped down in the recliner again, took a swig of cold brew, and picked the book up again. I wanted to read the passage where Steinbeck described the White Mountains in autumn one more time. Though I hadn’t yet been to the northern part of New Hampshire to see them, I’d been feeling their pull since the previous year. I wanted to move up there. And if it turned out I didn’t like it up by the mountains, I would gladly settle down in one of the nice spots I’d already seen in the southern part of the state.

With only the sound of the clock ticking on the far wall now, I went to open the book. But I couldn’t. Something happened. I wanted to find the part about the White Mountains again, but suddenly both my hands froze. I tried to part the pages but my fingers wouldn’t allow it. They were paralyzed. Instantly a cold layer of goose bumps raided both my forearms, and the hair on them rose as if being pulled by a tremendous charge of static electricity. Then my eyes jolted wide open. I swallowed hard. I could not believe what I was seeing.

One of the pages on the top of the still-closed book was
dog-eared
. My eyes now as wide as silver dollars slowly rolled from one side of the dimly lit room to the other. Whether it was just in my head or it wasn’t, it felt as if somebody was in the room with me. Hot perspiration rose on my neck and, for the first time in my life, my heart missed a beat.

Eerily, I lowered my eyes back to that dog-eared page and managed to open the book. The fold was at the top of the page, on the right side. It was page twenty-three. Again my heart felt like it would miss a beat.


Page twenty-three?
” I blurted in the silence as if it were a question. “Today’s date is May
twenty-third
. Come on . . . stop, it can’t be. This has got to be a coincidence.”

But then I began to read the page. And as I did the goose bumps that had by then faded from my arms reappeared. Again, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Near the top of page twenty-three was the description of the White Mountains I was going to look for.

I read those two paragraphs three times before calming down enough for any of it to sink in. And when it finally did, I closed the book. I sat there for a long while wondering if I possibly could have been the one who dog-eared the page. I’d read it enough times, and always while under terrific stress. Maybe, without thinking, I had done it year before. And maybe this go round I just hadn’t noticed it until after I finished the book.

No, that wasn’t it
, I thought,
I definitely would have seen it when I read that page today
.
Oh hell, I don’t know! I’ve been so messed up for so damn long, I don’t know my left from my right anymore

I sat there for quite some time with my thoughts going back and forth like that before the initial shock began to lose some of its impact. And when it eventually did, I got up and went to the bedroom to get my road atlas out of the closet. I had bought it just before leaving on my first trip to New Hampshire. And both times I went scouting around up there it had proved to be invaluable. The Subaru I was driving back then didn’t have a GPS, and I didn’t dare go without having the atlas alongside me on the front passenger seat. Curious now to find the best route to the mountains, I carried the big book back to my easy chair and sat down again.

After fingering through the Nebraska and Nevada pages, I came to the New Hampshire map. I then reached for my beer, took a mouthful, and plunked the can back on the end table. And when I looked back down at the atlas I could not believe what I was seeing. I choked on the beer as it went down and had all I could do to keep from expelling it all over the open pages. The routes to the towns I had visited in Southern New Hampshire were highlighted in yellow, and that was fine. I had done that with a marker. But now there was something else there. Another route had been traced. And that yellow line ran almost straight north out of Portsmouth,
directly to the White Mountains
.

No matter how hard I racked my brain, I couldn’t remember marking that route. Why would I? I never had a need to. I only acquired an interest in the northern part of the state the previous year and hadn’t been back to the Granite State since. I had no reason to mark it off. I asked myself if Elyse actually could have done it. Maybe she did. Maybe she dog-eared page twenty-three in the book as well. I wasn’t sure about any of it. Nevertheless
, those strange events bolstered my courage that night. And by the time I went to bed, I
was
sure about one thing. I knew I was definitely moving to New Hampshire. And that I’d be doing it soon.

BOOK: Within a Man's Heart
2.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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