It had been a week since Victor Willis woke up on his living room floor with his cat licking him on his face.
Vic was an average man. Nothing in particular stood out about his physical appearance. He was proud of his height at 5’8″. He was a good height for clothes to fit correctly. He had friends that were much taller but all complained about none of their sleeves were long enough and they felt like Lurch.
His full head of salt and pepper hair matched his full beard of salt and pepper scruff. His weight was average. Some would say that Vic was actually a handsome man at 70. Vic had no intentions of dating, so he really didn’t care what people thought about his appearance. He did, however, feel a certain personal responsibility to himself to look and be as healthy as he could. He supposed he wanted to look good when they laid him to rest. His mother always had some odd fixation with preparing for death and made sure the family knew of the importance of looking your best. Even when you’re laid out on a slab.
Collecting himself and recalling what had happened in the moments before he went down, Vic still couldn’t make sense of it all. How had that letter, written by his dead Aunt Dot to him WHILE he was in college in 1968, just now show up at his residence? And how did Aunt Dot know what his address would be in 2020 since she had passed in 1975?
The first few nights of the week, he’d had some problems sleeping. Mostly because of remembering the love that he had for Aunt Dot. And how painful it was when she died. He had come to the conclusion that he’d never be able to figure this out. And quite frankly, he was a little embarrassed to even show this letter to anyone. I mean, who would believe this? Anyone would accuse him of seeking attention and setting this up. That would be his own first thought if someone presented this same scenario to him.
Every since the accidental death of a patient of his, Vic had tried to stay to himself. Just he and Larry. He had people from church ask him out but he declined.
Dr. Victor Wills had once been a prominent oncologist in their small southern Louisiana parish. People traveled many miles for his more ‘untraditional’ approach to help with their cancers. He had a high success rate of full recovery and remission in many areas, but especially with breast cancer patients.
But 2 years ago, he had made a mistake in his chemo calculations with a patient and she had passed away due to his error. It was an ugly scene that played out in the community forcing him to retire and be out of the public eye. After the settlement, he had lived a quiet life and wanted to keep it that way. He certainly wasn’t going to show anyone a letter from his dead aunt that just now showed up.
After putting Aunt Dot’s letter in his family Bible, he had a pretty good week. He’d decided to not get it back out, at least for the time being. He’d been busy with old man retirement things. Yardwork mostly. He would be lying if he said that letter didn’t cross his mind, but he had to move past it.
He enjoyed reading and occasionally would take his Lexus to the local store for supplies for some new recipe that he saw on Facebook. He had a Facebook, but it was mostly perfunctory. He and his now-deceased wife, Lilly, had never had any children. He wasn’t a social butterfly, even before the lawsuit, and most of his relatives were dead. The majority of his friends were dead as well.
He did, however, have precisely six people on his ‘Friend’s list’. Three of those were church acquaintances and the other three were people that used to work in his office that he had a decent relationship with. They were cordial to him, that was about it.
Dr. Victor Willis didn’t want, or need, any new friends or people in his life. He was quite content now to be left alone.
Alone, except for Larry.
He had driven by the mailbox a few times and put off getting his mail. He knew that was probably stupid, but most of his bills were paid online. The antique black wrought iron mailbox at the end of the driveway now was sort of an entity that he would rather stay away from. Previously it had a function. Now, it was more like a vessel of something that scared the living daylights out of him;
He was dreaming, so the knock on his front door startled him. Who could this be? Nobody ever came for a visit and he liked it just like that. Rousting Larry out of his warm spot on Vic’s belly, Victor grumbled and made his way to the door. On the way there he announced ahead of him ‘this better be good. I was having lunch,
on the beach,
with Sophia Loren’.
As the door flew open, Heather the mail woman didn’t know whether to run, laugh or ask what he and Ms. Loren were having for lunch. She opted to just stand there and hand Vic his letters all bound up in a tight rubber band. His mailbox had gotten full, so she felt the need to deliver those and also to check and make sure that Vic was ok.
Seeing that he had made a fool of himself, he opted for a simply ‘Heather, my apologies. And, thank you’. She waved ‘bye’ as she walked down the sidewalk that ran along the front of his house to her waiting mail truck. And soon she was going on about her route with a cloud of gravel smoke behind her red, white and blue mail truck.
The mail carrier thought that Vic was creepy, yes. He never had any visitors like his neighbors and something was certainly odd about him.
Dreading this but knowing that it had to be done, Vic took the letters to the kitchen table and plopped them down. Larry jumped on the table again, to make sure this mail-sorting went according to acceptable procedure. Vic put on a pot of boiling water. He had been drinking decaf tea in the afternoon lately. Coffee had been keeping him up at night.
The smell of a peach cobbler wafted from the oven as he opened the door to check if his latest Facebook recipe was still progressing. The crusty brown top bubbled and wiggled some while the fresh peaches below were being cooked to a delicious ending.
Delving into the mail pile, he sifted as usual. He was nearly through the thick pile when he saw it. The first thing he noticed was the handwriting.
He’d know that writing anywhere. It had been so many years. So very many years. For some reason he wasn’t as spooked this time. I guess seeing your dead aunt’s letter out of the blue sort of conditioned him to whatever this was going on that he couldn’t tell anyone about. And this handwriting was from someone who he had spent a great part of his life with.
He held this letter in particular for a few minutes and just put it between his palms and closed his eyes. With his head bent he had no idea why he was crying. Was he losing his mind?
Why were tears dripping from his eyes down onto this letter from Elliot Thompson?
Larry came closer and leaned his white head on his Vic’s shoulder. He’d never seen his best friend cry like this.
Elliot and Vic met in med school in 1974. They immediately became the best of friends. They dated their wives together. Had fights with their wives together. Did their internships together. Studied late nights together. Laughed together. Bought the new Beatles album together. Yep, Elliot and Victor were inseparable.
Elliot had chosen to start his practice across town was the only thing they didn’t do together. He worried that their friendship might be damaged if they were partners in the same oncology clinic.
As life usually happens, they had gotten busy and not seen each other much. Elliot had kids and Vic was a little jealous of not having children with him, but Lilly was unable to have children and they accepted that fate. But inside, he secretly wanted to enjoy children like he saw Elliot enjoy his kids with his wife.
Life was good. They did talk on the phone some. Mostly about patients and work. But Elliot would talk about his kids Jessie and Jamie, twin boys. Kept him hopping, they did. Arrangements for coffee one morning kept being discussed but never materialized.
The night was August 15th, 1986. There are important dates carved into our memory and this was one of those nights he’d never forget. Late that evening, the phone rang at Vic’s home.
And everything changed.
It was Elliot’s neighbor calling him to come over immediately to Elliot’s house. But wouldn’t tell him why. Vic and Lilly went as fast as safely possible to their house which was just a mile or two down the road. Vic just threw on some jeans, a Saints t-shirt and sneakers without socks and they were gone. Before he got to their home, he could see blue lights and people standing outside in pajamas. The night was warm. There was still a hot Louisiana haze that laid thick in the air. It was the kind of air that had an odd whiff to it. It only came around at night when it was humid in the summer. And the whiff left at sunrise. It wasn’t a pleasant smell. The air that night smelled sort of like a musky cellar.
An ambulance was backed up into the driveway and the paramedics were loading a stretcher into the back. Vic could see the black ends of the body bag hang off the end of the stretcher. He could see blood around the front doorsteps and the light brown oak wooden front door had some blood smeared down the front of it. Neighbor’s dogs barked all around him.
Running up to the house, he was stopped by some policemen. But he insisted and got loud with them. The cops were asking are you family? who are you? Vic, kept pleading but not making sense. He was near a state of panic when he over heard Elliot’s wife, Susan say
‘yes, he is family.’
Hey Dic; (Elliot had always called Vic that just because he knew it irritated him)
I just wanted to take a minute and drop you a line to tell you how important you are to me. I apologize for being so busy lately.
I’d never have made it through med school without your tutoring. I’d never have met Susan if you hadn’t rear-ended her that day after clinicals. hahaha.
I’d never have learned to play the guitar, well, sort of without you showing me. We have been through so much together and I’m incredibly grateful to you and owe you so much. Once Jessie and Jamie get through their ballgames, I feel sure we can get some coffee at the new mall. I’m buying.
We’re men and we don’t say it often enough. In fact, I know that we know it, but I’m not sure I’ve ever said it. So I’m doing it right now cause I’m having a weak moment. And don’t ask for it again buddy. haha
I love you.
So, thanks for being not only a friend, but you are the best friend that a man could ever ask to have in his lifetime.
See ya soon,
There are certain cries that people have. And then there are cries that come from a place that you never even knew that you had access to.
They resonate from a place that is hidden deep inside of one’s own soul. And when a man cries from that spot, it is a dangerous cry. He’s accidentally gotten into a place inside of himself that he’s not supposed to be in ; it’s a locked place with a huge sign that says ‘KEEP OUT’ hanging precariously on it’s cold and steel door.
The cry is one of a dark and gruesome and painful type. It doesn’t stop. It’s both cathartic and damaging at the same time. It perpetuates itself to keep going in bouts of anguish that will leave the man empty and weak.
It is the cry of a loss that no man should experience. This is the cry that Vic wept that day in wet, unstoppable sobs on his kitchen table as he clutched the letter. Larry the albino cat, Vic’s only friend, did his best to console his tormented pal. He laid up against Vic but despite his best intentions, the only consolation that a cat could offer the the painful cries was simply a soft purr.
The police report later said that Elliot had been trying to protect his family from some drunk thug that apparently randomly picked his house to try and rob. There had been a struggle and the thief point blank shot Elliot in the center of his chest. Elliot’s body slid down the oak front door and his best friend collapsed into a dead pile at the base of the door. Susan saw the whole thing happen and tried to revive him while the boys called 911 but he was dead at the scene. The whole town still remembers that fatal night.
Elliot’s murderer was sentenced to death row where he still sits to this day awaiting his execution. Vic had wondered if it’s better to let him live and daily suffer and be reminded of the life of the amazing man that he took. Or would it be easier to fry him and be done with it.
However, there was something extremely satisfying about sending a picture of the victim to the murderer once a month.
Vic was so engaged in the horror of it all over again, and holding his dead best friend’s writing in his hand that he was deaf to the shrieky whistle of the tea kettle and the fire alarm beep-beeping trying to warn him that the cobbler was burning in the oven.
Reliving the pain of that night had encapsulated Vic in a sort of virtual cocoon of his own fear as he sat frozen at his table. He was unable to set himself free from it. The fibers of the past were returning to wrap themselves around him, to trap him. The pain he had learned to cope with and move ahead from these things had come back. The sadness of losing two people that he needed in his life was so difficult to do the first time. But now, having it fresh all over again was too much. The wounds had completely healed. But seeing Elliot’s handwriting and the things that he had said was like he had never been shot that night ripped that protective scab off and Vic sat emotionally hemorrhaging in his kitchen.
It was like Elliot was still just a couple of miles down the road and looking exactly as he did the last time that they saw each other. He could call him and discuss this letter and this problem. He could tell him that he loved him too. They could have coffee together and Elliot would help him sort these things out. That’s what best friends do. They help each other. He would give Elliot a call as soon as he got himself together, later. Yes, that’s what he’d do. It’ll all be fine later. Haha! It’s just a bad dream. I’ll wake up soon.
He hadn’t even noticed that the loud noises around him had forced Larry to abandon him and take cover under the couch.
He raised his head up and using a paper towel on the table, Victor wiped his swollen eyes of the tears shed for the only real human best friend that he’d ever had other than his wife.
Ignoring the smoking oven, burning smell and the tea kettle now spewing water all over the top of the stove, Vic turned the envelope over.
Somehow, he already knew before he looked at the postmark on the front of the browned and aged envelope. And when he saw it, he clenched the envelope with his sweaty hands, raised his head towards the ceiling and with a set of lungs full of smoky air, Vic opened his mouth wide and expelled a sound so loud and magnificently haunting that it drowned out both the fire alarm and the spewing tea pot.
His best friend’s letter to him was postmarked