Joseph Cedarland – “Memories of the Desert”

It had started at a young age. The need to be distant. The want for something more. Away from the small-town feel and all the things that it entails. He wasn’t always like this. Things had been different for him when he was younger. There were memories of happiness, glee, and joy. Yet, they were fade and drab and of older times. As he grew, the feelings, the memories, and most importantly, the people, changed. And rightfully so. Everybody changes, and it’s just a question of how people change. For better or for worse? Awning, Indiana had little to offer besides a small house and big gossip. Worse still, everything was owned by the Laurel Family. Laurel Hardware, Laurel Grocery, Laurel Factory. Even the church was donated by the Laurel Family. And he was one of them.

Charlie Laurel was the heir to the entire empire. Everything was laid out for him. All he had to do was take up the mantle and become the town millionaire. Yet, it meant nothing to him. He still felt worthless. His father was worth millions and he still felt unworthy in his sight. As if Charlie was indebted to him for all the expensive schooling and clothes.  His brother, Eli, and sister, Elizabeth, didn’t have to bear the same weight as he did. The need to get away was rooted from this. The feeling of indebtedness that hit him as the oldest.

The pounding of the engine began to be annoying. A few people were in the dining car when Charlie entered. None of which he recognized. Good he thought. Conversing was not his thing. And in Awning, people will chat the ears off of a ‘body if they’re not careful. He sat down and ordered a meal. The sound of a Gramophone could be heard in the corner; it’s crackly raspiness bellowing out new tunes. Jazz as they called it. He had been away a long time and didn’t know what had become of America until about two months before. The train was coming to the station. Awning, Indiana: Population 9,000. That’s was the sign at the station read. The small-town feel began to odor his mind like some perverted thought or haunting. The sign was new, though. It had a fresh coat of paint and was hung from a new iron pole. And besides, the town was about a thousand people smaller when he left. He had forgotten that towns change, too.

The steam of the locomotive began spouting up from the workings of the engine and a step was placed where the passenger cars would stop. The conductor stepped off first, then helping a woman passenger disembark. Charlie grasped the hand rail and rested his foot on the step. He jumped off and looked around. While the steam made the ability to see very detestable, he could still know where he was going. Though he did not like it here, that didn’t mean he was going to get lost. He knew this town like the back of his scarred hand. So it begins he thought. The journey home. He could feel his mind trying to come up with detours. Why not go to the Parlor to get some ice cream? Maybe go to the bar or the billiards hall? As much as he wanted to not go to his house, he had too. If he went through the town and completely ignored his family, it would break his siblings’ hearts. For their sake and theirs alone, he went home. The family home was located on a high promontory overlooking the town. It was called Bonaventure, after Bonaventure Laurel, the founder of all things Laurel in Awning; Bonaventure was three stories with a cellar and looked creepier than the Winchester Mansion.

He strolled through most of town without incident. Most people went about their day and didn’t care hide or hair who was in town. That was one of the few things he admired about Awning. Its citizens were hard workers and would focus on whatever they set their mind to until it was done, regardless of what distractions may be. He kept his head low, just to be safe. He watched the feet of people walking by. As he kept walking, a person came out of the dress-shop. They came from the side so he didn’t see them. And they didn’t seem him either because of the massive box they carried. The collision was quick and to the point, as any collision should be. The box spilled out its contents: a beautiful lace dress. Charlie almost slipped but maintained stability. The person once hidden by the box screamed in horror as she picked up her muddy dress. Charlie went to help her. The recognition was almost instantaneous.  Rebecca looked up. He put his hands on her arms and smiled. Her face turned as red as her hair. She thrust his hands off with hers.

“Why, Charlie Amherst Laurel! First, you leave me without so much as ‘Goodbye!’ You stay away for years and years. Then, you come all the way back to Awning and bother to tell no one! Then you bump my new dress into the street! You’re inconceivable, you know that?!”

Charlie laughed that laugh of his. Nostalgia filled the air. Memories of running in the fields after school and holding hands by the west bridge filled his mind. Somethings are worth coming back for.

“Not even a ‘Hello, Charlie. How’s your life?’ You treat me like I was some book that you lost and then you found again.”

“You might as well be! Do you know what I’ve been through because of you?”

“Enlighten me.”

“They all said you were dead like the rest. That you had been killed. And we were practically pledged to each other. And you didn’t come back! You left me here! No one treats me the same! To them, I’m already an old maid. And I’m 23!”

She kept on babbling and babbling like some old brook.

“Rebecca!” Charlie barked.

Rebecca Chambers was never more silent and scared. Her face shifted color. His face was harsh and angry, his smile no longer existent. Then, he grinned.

“It’s good to see you.”

Rebecca shifted once more to that beautiful smile and cheerfully wonderful face that was hers truly. She embraced him and the two began to laugh cheerfully. Charlie picked up the dress, put it neatly in the box, took her by the arm, and the two walked on. The pair walked and talked as if he had never left town. As if…well, that was another matter. They walked out of the main part of town and came to the junction between the road that led to Bonaventure and the rest of Awning.  

“I gotta go, Becca. See the old man and rest of the family. I-uh-hope we can see more of each other. Like the old days, right?”

“Of course,” Rebecca said, “I hope everything goes well with your folks. Explaining everything and all.”

“You know, Becca, I hope so too.”

And with that, he kissed her on the forehead. She wasn’t surprised, for it was a habit of his when they were younger before…well, when times were different.

Bonaventure looked gloomier than ever on the day of his return. It was sunny and the dark colors of the giant mansion were non-reflective and dull. None of the servants were out in the grounds and the gardens were abandoned. Leaves blew around and around in tiny tornadoes and the ground was dewy. The door, not two yards away from him, was the first obstacle. With hat and single bag in one hand and weary finger muscles in the other, he slowly grasped for the doorknob. With its cold form firmly in his hand, he breathed, and began to turn the knob. He pushed forward. There was nothing to talk about when it came to the interior of Bonaventure because it was that dull. A painting or two, a couple candles, and the first plight of stairs.

He heard voices and the stairs began to creak from the weight of at least two people. They made there way down the old stairs, not expecting to see the form of Charlie Laurel. He looked to see his siblings. Eli, who was overjoyed, ran down the stairs, embracing his brother. Elizabeth just stood there in shock and awe. She was just a child when he left.

“I can’t believe it’s you, Brother! You came home at last! You can’t do this again, you know that, right?” cried Eli with relief.

“Next time I leave, I’ll tell in advance,” Charlie chuckled, patting Eli on the shoulders, “My God, you have truly grown. Both of you. I am-I’m happy to see both of you. It’s been so long.”

“Eight years and two months to be exact,” said Elizabeth, while proceeding down the stairs.

“I didn’t know you were a timekeeper, Lizzie,” Charlie paused, “You remember I used to call you Lizzie, right?”

Elizabeth nodded slowly, tearing up as she did. She ran to him, bumping Eli out of the way, and hugged Charlie. He put his hands around as she cried. She had been just a child. Something made Charlie dispense with the embrace, some old feeling of boarding school and etiquette class. He turned to see the old, firm figure of his father. He wielded a cane now and had that same old captain-of-the-ship style beard to compliment his wrinkly, crackled face.  

“Is that my boy?” his wrinkled mouth breathed. It tried to create a smile.

“Hi, Father.”

Charlie didn’t know what to say beyond that. He wasn’t too close to his father. Father started to approached him, his cane making a distinctive tapping noice on the red-carpeted floor. He seemed to take a good look at Charlie, checking to see if anything had changed about the man. When everything seemed to be approved by his standards, he smiled again and brought up his hand.

“It’s good to see you, son. Very good. We’d all thought you were a-goner. Not receiving any letters from you and all. We were about to sit down for some lunch. I-I’m assuming you would care to join us? Maybe we can talk about everything that happened to you.”

“I’d love to join you.” Charlie said politely.

“Good,” Father remarked, “Eli. Elizabeth. Why don’t you see what’s going on in the kitchen. See that we have a hardy meal. I will be in the study with your brother.”

The two nodded in compliance and walked to the kitchen. Charlie followed Father into his study. It was kinda like a meeting place for them. As a boy, he would taken their to have a talk of some kind on some usually pointless topic. That was the annoying thing about his father. He always spoke to him on the same topics, pounding his lectures into him like a hammer with a railway spike. He entered to see the study the same. Three of the walls of the medium-sized room had bookshelves, the fourth having a fireplace. A bear-rug was on the floor, there was desk in the corner by the window that faced Awning, and a photograph of a woman was on the desk. Charlie grew tense as he looked at it. He sat down in the chair in front of the desk, never taking his eyes off of the picture. His father took his place in his seat behind the desk like a judge on the podium. He went to speak.

“So, Charles, how was your experiences abroad?”

“Good, I guess. I learned a lot.”

“Good. The foreign lands teach a man a lot about the world. You learn much from the people there and all the ins and outs of their society. What about the war?”

Charlie figured it would come to this. He had preparing for it, waiting for him to ask that question: How was the war?

“The war,” Charlie began, “was like any war: unforgettable. It was unlike anything anyone will ever witness in their lives.”

“I see. We, here at Bonaventure, were surprised to hear you had joined up. We didn’t expect it. Tell me, my boy, how was the fight? Did you fight with honor?”

“Depends on your definition of honor. In this war, honor was like the waves of the ocean. It was high and sometimes it was not there at all. Especially where I fought.”

“What do you mean? Did you not fight in Europe? In France?”

“I didn’t, Father. When I enlisted into the Legion, we were transferred to Morocco. The local tribes were being stirred up by the Germans and were causing trouble for the garrisons. It was quite the struggle. It-it was quite the place to see. The….desert is a…wonderful place.”

“Hmmm,” Father paused, “you mean to tell me, my boy, that you did all this and wrote only once to tell us you joined the French Army? Damn you, boy, haven’t I taught to communicate with your family?”

“Father, with all due respect, when you are fighting the Berbers in the middle of the desert, you’re hopes of getting a letter through are slim indeed. Besides, why does it matter?”

Father was naturally put aback by this. He stood up.

“And why didn’t you come home when the war ended. This is 1922. The war ended in 1918. Yet, you come home now. Why?!” he hit the desk as he said this.

“I signed on for the war, you’re not wrong. But, I had an obligation to stay. The fight still raged on in Morocco and they still needed men to remain. So I stayed on and fought. Now, it is over and I have come home. You taught me that when there is a job to be done, you finish it all the way through. Aren’t you satisfied that I followed your teaching?”

The stench of old infighting and arguing between the two began to come back. The pressure was the rising in the room. His father was the first to let out some steam.

“Well, I’m satisfied that for once, you heeded my advice. Well done. Now, I want to talk to you about throwing a welcome-back party. It would be a good re-introduction back into society from all your uncivilized galavanting in the desert. Also, I am in need of good men at the factory. I want you to-”

He never got to finish, because Elizabeth came in and announced that the meal, tomato soup with sandwiches, was finished. The tomato soup was not too thick or not too runny, yet the fact that it was not dense didn’t make the luncheon any less tense. Of course, Eli and Elizabeth were inquisitive and asked much of their eldest brother. Father didn’t speak much but did occasionally deliver a comment to contribute. Charlie answered all their questions but constantly maintained a veneer of warm smiles and selective vocabulary. The after-dinner experience was uneventful, with Father going off to smoke his pipe and the younger siblings cleaning up the table. That night, he was taken to his room, where he had once had many a time when he would open the window and escape to go with his friends. Those days, he remarked, were far from now. He thought of them as he drifted off to a sleep of memories.

He dreamt of that one fateful, eventful July when he and his college mates and Awning friends went on a European trip. They were 18 young men, desperate to leave home and enter a new world of excitement. He remembered the smells, the sounds, and the sights of Paris. He dreamt of the run-ins with the gendarmes and all the wonderful memories during their Parisian stay. But, that all changed, as a conflict began to brew from the mighty coffeepot of war. A conflict which Charlie and his friends all wanted in on. How naive he was. He awoke to the family rooster, Abe, cockle-doodle doing into the bright, new morning.

* * *

The welcome-back party thrown by Father interested a diverse group of individuals. Charlie, of course, was supposed to welcome his guest as they came to Bonaventure. Soon, the yard was filled with automobiles and carriages as people packed in to see if Charlie Laurel had really come home. For the most part, they were those who Charlie had known as a child. Rebecca came, which put him at ease. The last thing he wanted was to be stuck with a bunch of old people who had scolded him when he was young. Rebecca joined him at his side as he retired to the gardens. As the two began to converse about life, a haggard form came into Charlie’s line of vision. A person Charlie had not seen in a long time. His wheelchair was moved towards him.

“Paul!” Charlie exclaimed.

Paul Colton, resting in his wheelchair with his blanket, looked up to see his old friend. Paul was the third of the Colton Triplets, three magnificent gents who had been Charlie’s friends for life. He was all that was left. Charlie went to him, kneeling down to be on the same level as he. Paul smiled that kiddish smile of his that he had acquired as the reckless Colton triplet, yet he was obviously very troubled on the inside. Nevertheless, it was good to see him.

“I didn’t think I’d ever see you again, Paul. How are you doing?” Paul just nodded that he was alright. Another man came from behind the current scene. It was Harley. Harley went up to Charlie and gave him a hug. Like Rebecca and Paul, Harley was also a good friend from too long ago.

“You old son-of-a-gun, how you doing, Charlie? I didn’t reckon you’d-” Harley paused.

Harley looked down at Paul, whose face was now riddled with sadness. Charlie patted Paul on the shoulder. He looked up at Harley.

“I’m good, Har. It’s good to see you. Both of you. I’d hoped you’d come. I’m glad we could be here together, all of us. You, me, Rebecca, and Lil’ Pauly here. Come on, we can talk about some things together.”

And so they did. Rebecca left, of course. She wanted Charlie to talk some with his old buddies. She had also made sure that they had come, for Charlie’s sake. It was good for him.

Charlie, Paul, and Harley sat down together at a table in the middle of the gardens. Paul was gloomy-faced and Harley seemed weighted down by some burden of desert sand and blood. Charlie knew all too well what it was. He looked at Pauly, poor, naive little Pauly. The poor chap had been through hell and it was too much to bear for Charlie to look at him. It was too much and it brought back memories. Awful memories.

“So, Harley, I was wondering where the rest of the boys are. How’s Phil and Dobbs and uh-Jim?” Charlie inquired.

“Well,” Harley started, looking at Paul, “Dobbs is alright. So is Jim. Phil’s uh-he’s ok.”

“Do you know why they didn’t come? I was wondering why? It’s been so long since we’ve all seen each other, I figured we could grab a drink or something. Maybe-like old times?”

Harley contemplated this as he nodded. Something flared in his eyes, some premonition of warning or hinting at an unfortunate truth. Things were not as they seemed, Charlie knew that.

“I guess we could. I don’t know. I’d have to contact them, all. The round-up will be harder. We’re all so busy, I guess.”

Yes, there were lies in his voice. A hint of lies and a scent of bourbon was on his breath. All was not well here. Why was Harley holding back? The answer seemed to be Pauly. Pauly was a primed weapon, make a mention, a mere comment, a meager notion about Morocco, the war, the Berbers-particularly the Berbers, and Pauly would pull the trigger. It was a shame to feel helpless in his presence. The man had lost a leg. How do you comfort a one-legged man? Pauly was ashamed too, ashamed of being useless, a charity case, and ashamed of leg that he covered it up with that blanket of his. Pauly had gotten worse since he lost it. After all, these men, his friends, had all come back when the war ended. He didn’t. That had clearly taken a toll on these men. He was the only one that showed no fear, no sign of shock. The only one who’d been a comforting, sane friend to talk to. People handled war in different ways. But there was something else. Something lingering in the winds of concealment. Something Charlie was voracious to find out.

The party began to decline and Charlie, the conflicted host, showed them out. Harley helped Paul out, saying goodbye to Charlie and “assuring” him that he’ll get the boys together. Charlie pretended to agree with his friend’s scheme, and felt himself slipping. Since when were things so tight with his friends? He hated doing it, putting on a fake smile and fake concurrence. He guessed it wasn’t new, as he had done it with his siblings. But that was different. They didn’t understand and could never. Charlie then said goodbye to Paul.

“So long, sport. I’ll make sure to visit you, all right? I’ll come by soon.”

With that, Paul smiled an exuberant, joyful smile. He looked as if he was gonna jump out of his wheelchair, one leg and all, and just start dancing. He reached out his hand. Charlie took and shook it, winking at Paul.

“I’ll be along shortly. You just be expecting me.”

Rebecca was the only one that stayed, for she had been invited to dinner at Bonaventure. She began to walk the grounds with Charlie. This had been their lives before the war, except wilder and more rebellious. Rebecca had come from a Puritan family and had objected to her courting Charlie because of his father. Charlie, on that basis, wouldn’t have blamed them. They, however, still courted without consent and became evermore distant from their families. She was different, he had noticed. She wasn’t as wild as she had been, but then again, neither was he. But it wasn’t time for a sob story. It was time to get answers.

“Becca, Harley lied to me. I know he did. He said the other boys are alright, but they aren’t, are they? Harley lied to me. Don’t do the same. Please.”

Rebecca looked at him like an ashamed child caught in Sunday School. She slowly nodded. For some reason, as much as he wanted the truth, he felt empty as she gave it. He had expected this to be the case and upon her confirming his suspicions he felt relieved and saddened.

“They’re not alright, Charlie. They all are hurting, every last one them. Even Harley, who tries to cover it up with his charm and smiles. He still hurts. I heard he was in his boarding room, screaming and wailing, throwing things and yelling for the pain to stop. Paul never speaks anymore, Phil is… in the state asylum. He used to shake violently and scream. Like something was eating him from the inside. It’s terrifying. He’s been there since he got back. Dobbs never leaves his room up above the general store, and Jim…he got killed. He ran out and was hit by a truck. Most thought it was an accident but the sheriff think it was intentional. That he tried to get hit.”

Charlie was silent, now. He had feared that they wouldn’t recover from the oasis and from Taza, but it had gotten worse. A parasite of fear and terror had been swirling inside all of them. From the moment that Freeman, their friend and first casualty, had been killed in the desert, it had been manifesting growing and growing. They had been stimulated by the war, its gore, and its scenes. They had come home and couldn’t experience the same sensation of killing and gun smoke. It must of driven them insane. With no one to talk to too about it, going off into their own hells and isolation. No one would understand the feeling to kill they had experience, the feeling to watch a man die in their arms. A friend dying in their arms. He realized how much he should’ve come home with them.

“Dobbs is at the store?”

“You can’t visit him, Charlie. You can’t. You don’t know what it’ll do to him. Please, Charlie.” “I’m going to, Becca. I have to. I had a duty to these men, not just as a counsel, a big brother, a superior officer. But as a friend. I never forsake my duty. I will be back, my love. Wait here for me. Please.”

Rebecca, not one to comply, refused. She held on to the ship for as long as she could. But she knew that there was no avoiding the rock that was Charlie’s arrogance. As much as she knew what would happen, she gave in eventually. Her ship, her fighting spirit, gave in to Charlie. She let him by. As soon as he began the walk to town. She ran for Bonaventure. He wasn’t going to go alone.

Charlie strode into the general store, fist clenched. Determination stalked his mind. He had no idea what to expect but since Dobbs was a drinker, it wasn’t good. The clerk at the counter was put aback that he wanted to see Dobbs. He shrugged, finding it useless to argue with a Laurel, so he showed him up the steps and into the unknown where a broken man was going to be tried to be put back together by a puzzle fanatic named Charlie Laurel.

An hour or so passed before Charlie stepped down the old, creaky stairs and descended back into the known. He turned around the concealed corner to see his brother, wearing a black suit like an undertaker. Following an upset Charlie was certainly a deed that needed to be undertook. Eli stood there, smiling slightly through his tiny, childlike lips. Rebecca, that sly woman. He had to marry her. Eli motioned for him to follow, which he did, of course. Conversation was coming into the station. In fact, the first the two had had since Eli was 15. Since before the carnage of the Great War, as many were now calling it.

“So I’m assuming Rebecca sent you?” Charlie pondered.

“You wouldn’t be wrong, there. She was gonna come but had to help Elizabeth with dinner. She told me that you were determined to see Dobbs. No doubt… you did?”

“I did. He was,” Charlie paused, trying to find the best suited words, “drunk beyond the pale of any drunkard I’d ever known. And liquor ain’t legal here is it?”

“Not anymore, it ain’t. The temperance movement got into Wilson’s head. He banned everything. The store clerk still has connections, though. Dobbs must pay dearly for it.”

“I assume so. He-didn’t want to see me. He realized it was me. He started rambling about me not coming back. At the end of the war. He was drunk but he was right. I feel like I failed them. All of them. Things would have been different if I had come back.”

“They would be,” Eli began to say, changing his tone lower, “but Father would’ve still reacted the same.”

Charlie stopped him and grasped his shoulder. “What do you mean? What’s going on? You seem downtrodden.”

“I mean I had a future, brother. I love you, Charlie. We all do. But when you left, Father wrote you off as dead. The minute they sent Lonnie Colton back here in a box, he thought you had the same fate. Sometime after that, Father started taking me to the factory. He showed me how everything worked. As I got older, I started to realize what he wanted.”

“He wanted you as the next heir.”

“That’s right. And if I became the new ‘black-sheep,’ the mantle would go to Elizabeth. For the first time, Father actually paid me any attention. He showed compassion and consideration. Something I haven’t felt….since Mother died. Since he shut out his light to everyone and barricaded himself in Bonaventure. I had purpose in his sight. Purpose, Charlie. Real, rich, uncanny purpose. Something everyone wants. I wanted it and got it. But, you came back. Now, I am nothing in his sight. I am the ghost in the shadows of his progeny. I don’t know what to do now.”

Charlie felt his pulse slow. He felt a wallowing bulge in his throat, growing and growing. Why was a father like this? That he would throw his children out of place when things stir up and prospects are risen? In this case, him coming back. Returning from the depths of the desert, from the war and chaos, from the dry, cracked mouth of the Sahara.

“Eli,” Charlie spoke, somewhat speechless, “I can’t be sorry enough. I didn’t want it like that. Know that, please. Whatever you do, always remember that. I love you and your sister and I can try to put up with Father. Truth be told, I don’t want work from Father. Truth be told, I don’t know what I want. After seeing everything changed, my old friends hollowed away by haunting memories, and my Father advocating for a choice I don’t want to make, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know. But I do know one thing: you will inherit, I promise you that. You and Elizabeth. I believe Father and I have something to talk about.”

Rebecca and Elizabeth, attempting to cook while trying not to be frazzled about Charlie, heard the door open suddenly. They looked through the kitchen door to see the form of weary eagerness and the figure of discipleship enter. One strode behind the next, reaching their goal in the study. The women followed in their footsteps to see the confrontation. Because no confrontation is truly like the arguing and slandering of a father and son at war with themselves and each other. Father didn’t not see the hurricane coming and no time to protect himself from its gust of wind and water.

“Father,” Charlie started, “how dare you throw your children away when I return! How dare you assume that I want to work for you! You think I returned for you or money or work! Honest to God, I came only for my siblings’ sake! I didn’t want to come here and see you! But I did! You were setting up Eli for success. And he enjoyed it! But the moment the prodigal returns, you treat him as if he was the pigs the prodigal fed! I don’t want the businesses, the money, any of it! I only ask for you make Eli succeed and that you love him and Elizabeth!”

Charlie was somewhat out of breath when he stopped his tirade. His face was bright red and he was angry as a stepped-on mouse . Father was white in the face. But he knew as well as everyone else that this had just been warming up. The orchestra was about to play their opening piece. Father’s feature flushed red with blood.

“How dare you, you despicable, ungrateful, and reckless idiot! Have I taught you nothing? Have I not taught you respect for your elders? Have I not offered to send you to the finest schools? Oxford or Cambridge? Have I not offered you the finest clothes? The finest of everything money can buy? And you stand there, an unsavory character, and order me around in my own household!”

“Me ordering you around is something I picked up from you. You’re the one who expects people to do something the way you want them too and if they don’t, you punish them and shame them and disinherit them! I believe in rules and democracy but I do not believe in dictation!” Charlie exploded.  

“Aw, so you assume I’m a dictator? You know, son, I wished you had stayed in the desert. For the peace of all concerned, I wish you had!”

The Intermission had begun. That was enough to silence the pair for a few brief moments. Sweat was now trickling from Charlie’s crimson head. Father remained in his chair.

“It’s paradise in the desert, Father. It’s like no other place in the world. The vast sands seem barren and dry. But they teem with life. The air is so wonderful. The water, though scarce, is sweet. And truly, compared to the hell you put me and my siblings through, I would love to have stayed there. But the desert is not all good. Every Garden of Eden has its snake. The desert is cursed with death of many millennia. And I had no exception. The experience was still the same. Do you have any idea what I’ve been through, there?! I lost every friend I ever had over there. They all got killed. Massacred! Sliced up into little pieces or shot to death. The desert and its people took from me every friend I had. Those who weren’t killed died on the inside like Phil or was scarred like Paul. That one battle at the oasis wiped us all out. That battle took from me many dear friends. It took from Pauly his brothers and leg. From Phil, his sanity. From Harley, his charm. From Jim, his will to live.

Charlie paused. He seemed to be far off. Away. As if he had immersed himself in that one day.

“I can still hear the screams. Their screams. Their pleas for help. Crawling wounded on the desert floor like blind moles. That battle made us something new. Something we couldn’t be proud of or ignore. How dare you, Father. How would Mother feel of you treating your children, your flesh and blood, like pawns that you could away and black sheep you could slaughter and not care about?!”

The orchestra finished and retreated backstage. Sweat rained down Charlie’s soaked upper half. He breathed like a bellows and look like a popped blood vessel. Father was whiter than a milk-bottle in winter. He was speechless through and through. There was no combatting, no arguing, no rebuttal that could somehow defeat what had just been spoken, or shouted for the most part. Father began again, staring at the photograph of the woman on his desk.

“How dare you bring your mother into this!”

“Some people need to be remembered in talks like this,” Charlie stated, more calmly this time, “Mother was the light of our lives. When she gone, you went into your shell, setting up barriers. Your life became your factory, only what you wanted to go out and come in did. Our lives with you changed so drastically when hers ended. Please, Father, by all that is holy, I-beg you, please. Give them every opportunity I had but didn’t want. Just because I didn’t want it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have it. They deserve it. Please, just please, give them this opportunity.”

The silence was beyond measure, beyond any form of being bearable. Charlie’s emotions has drastically changed. He was not as enraged, or not as much, than he was humbled in his father’s sight. That emotion would feel odd to anyone who had just witnessed the ferocity this man showed against his father with one long and messy tirade. Yet, he was humbled, nonetheless. Not for his sake but for his siblings. He was not one to beg but this was important to him and frankly there was no other way of going about it. He came to his father’s side, kneeling and looking directly into his old, tired eyes. The old man looked at him, then to the others.

“I….I’ll….I will give them this opportunity,” Father said wearily,“but on one condition: Charles, you must leave this household. You’ve shown me today that you are the same. That you are unchangeable. That in accusing me of being the dictator, you yourself have become one. A demanding, reckless punk who thinks that I’m going to give into everything say or else. And while I will give your siblings a chance you had, I will not tolerate the level of disrespect you have given me in my own house. I will not be treated like this. I won’t have it. You are no longer my son. You must leave and not return.”

Thus, the Laurel Symphony ended. Charlie, almost instantly, went to retrieve his things. In those next moments, a great soap opera began in the Laurel Opera House. One of the greatest arias was sung, accompanied by the voices of his siblings. He waltzed up the stairs, began to pack his things, and began the Exodus out of Bonaventure. There was truly a cry from Bonaventure that night, one of lament and sorry. Even the servants say they found tears on papers on Father’s desk. Charlie exited dressed the way he came. With a hat, a suitcase, and himself. He had no choice. It was his family’s relationship. Without him, his siblings could flourish. They could make names for themselves as the new masters of the trade. The new heirs of Laurel Industries, Laurel Hardware, Laurel Grocery, and the Laurel Factory. He, a teary-eyed old ruffian, a man of adventure, and a man of the desert, was leaving for what he believed to be a good cause. For what better reason than to leave for love and for the sake of one’s sister and brother? To this, no counter argument was spoken, for Charlie Laurel slipped away into the night and was lost by Awning, Indiana. Forever.

Fate is not that cruel, however. The servants at the Colton Mansion swore that towards the near hours of that morning, as their master, the insomniac Paul Colton stared out into the darkness trying to find closure, did in the form of a mysterious figure(s) that rose up out of the night. They claim they heard Paul and other voices speaking and a cry echoed from Paul. The fact that their master was talking for the first time since his return from the war was a shock, so they went to investigate. Yet, when they did, they found him alone and sitting quietly in his wheelchair. The servants always wondered who visited him, often citing, as they were superstitious, that his dead brothers visited him and brought him company. One servant thought that angels had visited him to comfort him in his internal struggles, as he did often face now that Charlie had returned, a reminder of the struggle in Morocco. Yet, whenever the servants asked about the night or brought up Charlie Laurel, he always smiled. As life progressed for the amputee, he began to talk more and more, much to the bewilderment of the town.

The younger Laurel siblings brought more fortune to the family than their father had ever dreamed. During the economic collapse, they spent much of their time offering services and trying to keep the town together. A second war came, much like the first. Eli was too old for combat, and helped by raising awareness for those who did. In those years, the Laurel Company prospered and helped the war effort the best they could. Both siblings had families and rose them the best way they could, using very few of their father’s teaching methods.

And of Father: he died. Two years after big argument between him and Charlie, he succumbed to a heart attack. As he was dying, he reportedly said, “I’m sorry about your brother. I didn’t mean to…” Once again, he never got to finish. He died and was buried with all the other Laurel patriarchs in the cemetery, donated by the Laurel Family.

Some time after Charlie left, a strange note was found in Rebecca Chamber’s boarding room. The owner of the boarding house, Mrs. Turner, went to awake Rebecca for breakfast. When she didn’t answer the door, Mrs. Turner, a Puritan woman, unlocked it, expecting to find Rebecca asleep or just ignorant of the knocking. As she was about to scold Rebecca for not hearing her, she realized she wasn’t there. Her luggage was gone, her clothes, everything. However, there was a note on the bed that read: Here’s my rent. Under the note, wadded up, was cash. Mrs. Turner soon realized that the window was open in the room. She looked out it, seeing two sets of footprints, in the somewhat muddy ground below. The prints were fresh, created just that night. She went downstairs, ignored most of her customers, and followed the prints. They led all the way to Reverend Filton’s house and from there to the train-station. Asked if he had visitors, Reverend Filton replied, “I should just put a sign out that says, ‘If the lights in my house are turned off, then I ain’t marrying nobody.’”

The End

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