Crime writer and fellow blogger D.S. Nelson has offered another terrific story prompt – this ‘photo of the tarot card ‘The Fool.’ Thanks so much, D.S., for the inspiration! Here is the story that came from it:
A Fool’s Errand
‘I’m not selling!’ Marcus said. He glared across the kitchen table at his son, leaning forward for emphasis.
‘I don’t get it,’ Todd said. He ran an impatient hand through his salt-and-pepper hair, looked away, and looked back at his father. ‘I just don’t see what the big deal is, Dad. You know you could make a fortune selling this place.’
‘You mean you could make a fortune! You know you get everything when I go.’
‘That’s not fair. You’re the one who was talking about a condo, and I think it would be a great idea. You know keeping up with this place is hard on you.’
‘That’s my problem. Besides, I got a kid comes over to cut the grass, and Lori comes in to clean once a week. The rest I can do.’
‘So you won’t even think about it?’
‘Not a chance.’
Todd shook his head a little. He’d known this was a fool’s errand from the beginning. Still, at least he’d tried. The thing that bothered him the most was that his father thought he was pushing the matter out of greed. Of course Todd would be glad of money. Who wouldn’t? But he really was concerned, too. The old man was in his late seventies, and beginning to slow down.
Tired of arguing, Todd got up from the table and walked over to the kitchen window. Through it, he could see the flower beds his father had cultivated so carefully over the years. ‘You’re really attached to this place, aren’t you?’ he finally said.
‘You could say that.’
‘All right, look, I have to get to the office. But we will talk about this again, OK? Skye’ll call you later about dinner this weekend.’
Marcus nodded. He liked Skye; she and Todd made a good couple. And he was glad for the change of subject. ‘Sounds good.’
Todd and Skye got there at six that Saturday. After everyone had greeted each other, Marcus said, ‘I’m going to bring up a bottle of cabernet.’ He half-rose from his chair, but Skye put up a hand. ‘I’ll get it. Basement, right? Left side?’
‘That’s right,’ Marcus said. He was a little relieved, truth be told. The basement stairs weren’t as easy as they used to be.
A few minutes later, Skye came back into the living room, a bottle of wine in one hand, and a cigarette lighter in the other. ‘I thought you were a non-smoker,’ she said.
Todd saw the change in his father’s face. ‘Where the hell did you get that?’ Marcus snapped, but he wasn’t convincing. His pale face and tightened jaw gave him away.
‘I was getting the wine, and I saw a big spider. I went to kill it and found this on the floor under one of the wine racks. Almost missed it, actually.’
‘Probably the guy who fixed my hot water heater last month. Here, I’ll throw it away.’ Marcus reached out a hand and Skye gave him the lighter. Todd was no expert, but it looked like it’d been in the basement a lot longer than a month. Marcus put it in his pocket and then gestured towards the wine bottle. ‘OK, let’s see if this is as good as it’s supposed to be.’
The next morning, Todd stopped by his father’s house on the way to work. He hadn’t been able to shake the feeling that there was something very wrong. Skye had tried to reassure him. ‘You know how your dad is,’ she’d said. ‘He’s stubborn and he keeps things to himself. He probably used to smoke and doesn’t want to admit it.’
That must be it. Still, just to be sure, he wanted to talk to his father again.
When Todd arrived, he saw Marcus working on the flower beds. He walked around towards the yard gate. Marcus didn’t hear him coming. He seemed intent on whatever he was doing. Todd opened the gate and walked quietly towards his father. He got close just in time to see Marcus drop something into a hole he’d obviously just dug. It was the lighter!
‘What are you doing?’ he called out.
Marcus started at the sound of his son’s voice. He straightened up as quickly as he could and brushed the dirt from his hands. ‘Just – just some gardening,’ he managed to say.
‘With a lighter? Come on, Dad!’
Todd kept a steady gaze on his father. He watched the fight slowly drain out of Marcus. Suddenly he looked like the old man he was getting to be. ‘You wouldn’t understand,’ he finally mumbled.
‘Try me,’ Todd said. He took Marcus’ arm and the two walked back into the house, where they sat down in the kitchen. Todd poured a glass of water for his father. Marcus took a sip and then began. ‘I never wanted anybody to know. It was years ago, anyway. You were at college. Remember I talked about buying into that electronics company?’
‘I think so.’
‘I decided to go ahead with it. Not too much, just a few thousand. I wanted to see how it’d do before I invested a lot.’ He took another sip of water and went on. ‘But then I found out it was a money-laundering operation. So I wanted out. But Dennis – he was supposed to be my business partner – wouldn’t listen. Said I had to stay in. I tried to get him to change his mind, but that was a fool’s errand. He came over one night. Wanted me to put in more money. That was a fool’s errand, too, and I told him that. He – he didn’t care. Wouldn’t leave. Then he started to threaten me. That’s when – well, when I did what I had to do. I never meant to, honest to God. It just happened.’
Todd sat silently. He thought about the carefully tended flower beds. And the lighter. And his father’s choices. ‘You know, Dad, maybe selling the house can wait.’