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“I’m Sorry”

​ SHORT STORY CONTEST 2018: 11th CHOICE 

The day was black and thundery. Angry roars erupted from the heavens. Through the eyes of Eitan Gross, however, there wasn't a cloud on the horizon. Friday was always perfect because Friday was "father's day", and this particular Friday was going to be doubly perfect because it was his tenth birthday. His mother had suggested a party, an idea that he had received with abundant enthusiasm. The problem arose with the very first name on his list. "Please let us include Daddy", he implored. Quietly but firmly his mother refused. He knew there was little point in arguing, he recognized the resolve in her voice.

It was hard for him to understand this grown-up world where the two most cherished people in his life chose to live apart, with a gulf of hate and bitterness between them. He only understood the aching pain which caught in the back of his throat, a pain which hurt more than any physical infliction that he could imagine. Before they separated, when he lay in bed he would hear them arguing downstairs. He didn't want to listen, but an inner compulsion would drive him from his warm bed to the top stair of the landing. There he would sit, shivering with cold and fear. To rationalize the fear was hard for a ten-year-old child, he merely sensed an impending doom.

Until their separation he had lived in hope. Especially one night when he saw them kissing. He heard their car draw up outside the house, and he scrambled out of bed to watch them from his bedroom window. He saw his father, a strong handsome man, as he helped his mother out of the car. As she stood on the pavement she stumbled, falling into his arms. For a long moment he held her, before gently kissing her on her cheek. She smiled at him and they walked down the path holding hands. Eitan returned to bed visualizing a vista of happiness extending far into the future. Sadly the vista began to cloud within days when a bitter argument erupted without warning or reason. Life was a perpetual mystery to him. Love and hate seemed to walk hand in hand.

If his tenth birthday had been enjoyable, his eleventh was wretched. The divorce was finalized and here he was, looking plaintively out of the window of their new apartment. He could have liked it, but he hated it because it didn't include his father. Still, today was his birthday, and his father's car would turn the corner any second now. He glanced at his watch: it was one-thirty. At two o clock, he was still sitting there when his mother said "Perhaps you ought to phone him in case he has forgotten". "He would never forget a Friday even if it wasn't my birthday" he retorted with obvious hurt in his voice. She reproached herself, why must she continue to take out her bitterness on Eitan.

Eventually he dialed his father's mobile. "He isn't answering, so he must be on his way". He returned to his position at the window listening to the rain pelting down on the glass, creating a pattering sound just like scampering mice. The minutes dragged like hours and he became more and more agitated. He just could not believe that his father, the idol of his life, could forget.

He heard the phone ringing and his mother answered. He listened with anticipation as his mother spoke in monosyllables. A cold shiver suddenly gripped his body as he saw the color drain from his mother's face. She replaced the receiver with trembling hands and tears in her eyes. She walked slowly over to him, put her arms round his shoulders and pulled him gently on to the seat next to her. "Something terrible has happened. Your father has been in a car accident". "He's not hurt," he pleaded desperately. "I'm afraid he is". "Not badly," he cried, his voice crumpled with fear. She held him tightly. She hated inflicting such suffering on him, but there was no way to soften the devastating words. "It's worse than that," she whispered. "He's been killed." To him the words were like a tornado tearing through his body. "He can't be!" he screamed hysterically and ran upstairs to his bed. He buried his head under his pillows to close out the cruel merciless world. His mother tried to comfort him but there were no words to alleviate the weight of his grief.

Gradually, the black days turned to grey as Eitan tried to shut out his anguish. His mother presented him with a puppy, a beautiful golden retriever with large sad brown eyes. Eitan felt an immediate affinity to the dog and from that day on they were inseparable. He named him Ricky and he was sure that the dog understood his grief and was saying "I'm sorry" to him. He became Eitan's lifeline. He had boundless energy and gradually instilled in Eitan the same enthusiasm for life. The pain was still there but was gradually being anesthetized.

Eitan even resorted to mischief. His mother was hosting a teachers' meeting. The idea came to him as he was giving Ricky a new brand of dog biscuit. He glanced over at the plate of biscuits his mother had prepared for her guests, and a sudden smile stretched from ear to ear as a delicious idea formulated in his mind. In a trice, he had rearranged the plate to include some of the new dog biscuits.

While his mother served the drinks he managed to conceal himself at a good vantage point behind the door. He peered through the crack. Rivka, a square lady with matching face, was just extending her podgy fingers to grasp a biscuit. With glee he saw that it was one of Ricky's. He watched with eager anticipation as she took a bite. The fixed smile on her face gradually faded as she continued to chew. She swallowed with great difficulty, now looking positively pained. Eitan simply couldn't suppress his giggles a moment longer. A tacit silence engulfed the room as the poor teachers gulped and choked on the dog biscuits. "Eitan!" shrieked his mother as the awful truth dawned on her. "Come on Ricky, time for a walk," he whispered to the dog as they made a hasty exit, leaving his red-faced mother to offer floundering apologies.

The years flew by as his life took on a semblance of routine, with a daily visit to the dog park next to their flat. One day he noticed Ricky romping with a frisky Labrador. The Labrador had a beautiful sandy-colored mane, not unlike its owner, thought Eitan, as he glanced over at a slender young girl with long silky blond ringlets cascading to her shoulders. When he left the park he berated himself for not having the courage to speak to her. Each day he scanned the park, until eventually she was there again. This time he was not going to lose the opportunity to speak to her. Gradually the relationship developed between Eitan and Dana and they became an inseparable foursome with their dogs Ricky and Rosie. They spent an idyllic summer walking along the beach hand in hand, sharing an easy complicity and kinship. They even started making plans for a future together, after army and studies.

Once again, however, events steered his life on a different course.

It was his weekly visit to his grandfather, and as usual he asked the old man if there were any jobs he could do. His grandfather thought for a few minutes, then suggested that Eitan might like to start tidying out the spare room in preparation for a visitor. Eitan was putting away some magazines in the capacious chest when a delicate old newspaper cutting fell from one of the pages, fluttering down on its journey to the floor. It was the photograph of the dog which caught his attention. A puppy resembling Ricky was gazing sadly at the wreckage of a car. As he started reading a cry escaped his lips. He was reading the painful details of his father's accident. According to an onlooker, his father had been driving along when the dog in the back of the car jumped across him, momentarily distracting his attention. The car skidded on the wet road and veered out of control into the path of an oncoming bus. The driver of the car, Yoav Gross, was killed outright. The dog, according to the article, was intended as a birthday present for his son.

Eitan's eyes blurred as the unfallen tears turned his eyes to liquid. He did not want to call attention to this display of emotion, but the noise of his involuntary sobbing brought his grandfather in to see what had happened. Seeing the article in Eitan's hand he immediately understood. Eitan fell into a disquieting silence, clearly afraid of what would emerge once he began to vocalize his feelings.

As the weeks went by, a depression descended upon Eitan. Not only did he push Ricky away, he rejected Dana as well. He convinced himself that they were too young to have a relationship, since they were both about to be conscripted into the army. He was selected for an elite unit and threw himself into it totally. He was away for weeks on end, just grateful that his mother had Ricky for companionship, since he felt he was no longer capable of looking after him, physically or emotionally.

Finishing her army service, Dana travelled abroad. Eventually she met an Australian who persuaded her to build a new life with him in Sydney. However, after a couple of years she realized that she missed her family and friends, yearned for Israel, and was in a waning relationship. Accordingly, she headed home.

One day whilst out running, Dana found herself near the dog park and suddenly, as she stood there, all the memories of Eitan came flooding back. She had hardly given him a thought in years. As she was standing there, she suddenly felt something wet nudging her legs. She looked down and there was a golden retriever."Hallo boy," she said "you remind me of a dog I used to know." She headed towards her home, but each time she looked behind, the dog was silently trotting after her. "Go home boy," she said, but as she walked on, he just followed. Eventually she sat down on a bench and he put his head on her lap, looking at her with wistful brown eyes. She noticed his collar for the first time and looked at the name on the little disc. A cry escaped her mouth as she said "Ricky, you old dog, well, you certainly outlasted your friend Rosie." She wondered whether Eitan's mother still lived in the same flat, "Come on boy, let's go look." She set off in the direction of the flat with Ricky following. Then Ricky took the lead, looking back constantly as if to ensure that she was still there. When they arrived at the building, Ricky led the way up to the first floor with his tail thumping from side to side. With trepidation she rang the bell, and to her amazement the door was opened by Eitan. At first he didn't even notice her as he looked down at Ricky and said "Ricky, whatever made you bolt like that, you know you're not allowed out on your own." Then he looked up and could not believe the vision before his eyes. They were both overcome with emotion as they wordlessly clung to each other in a tender embrace. After that they were an inseparable threesome with Ricky always at their feet, until one day he closed his eyes for the final time. Perhaps he was thinking to himself "my work is done and hopefully Eitan can now forgive me". 

 

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Tuesday, 09 August 2022

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