The Power of Two, a short story inspired by life
Some day, you may find yourself travelling in the South West of England, through the beautiful county of Devonshire to be precise. Well, if you ever do, you may venture on the A 379 coastal road between Exeter and Teignmouth. Coming from the North, you will reach the small town of Dawlish. As you leave Dawlish, you may, or maynot notice, on the right side of the road, a place called the Dower House, Bed and Breakfast. Actually, I hope you notice the place as I just spent six months of my life battling the local authorities in order for them to let me put up a sign visible from the road, to try to attract some more business. I wouldn't go as far as to say I won the battle, because 164 days of bitter fighting with a bunch of homo sapiens vulgaris ignoramus will never qualify as a victory in my books, and I have much more important things to worry about. But the sign is up. That's all we asked for !
So. if you find yourself in the neighborhood, the Dower House would be a good place to spend the night. You could also have your evening meal there, because the food is as good as the accomodation is comfortable. I know ! I own the place, and my wife Karina is the best cook this side of Exeter. My name is Andrew Coldstone. Karina and I moved to Devonshire some three years ago now, with our two children, Nigel and Caroline. Nigel is twelve and Caroline will turn eight next month. Before coming to Dawlish, we lived on the east side of Manchester, in Glossop, close to the Peak District National Park. Karina and I had good paying jobs in Manchester, a wonderful large house, his and hers brand new car, and all the bells and whistles. A lot of this is gone now. We sold the house and used the equity to purchase the Dower House. Both new cars have been replaced by an older Land-Rover Defender as a family car, which I normally use, while Karina inherited an older than dirt Mini Clubman. We moved South for the superior quality of the air, and the better, warmer weather. So, if you ever are in the area, please do stop by, because we need all the income we can get. We need all the money that can possibly come our way, because no matter how hard we try, we are still struggling.
See, our son Nigel has leukemia and the most optimistic estimate doesn't allow him more than six months to live. Right or wrong, we want him to be as healthy and happy as possible for whatever time he has left. So, we won't spare any expense. We live in a constant state of downright terror. All of us ! Nigel knows everything about his condition and the ineluctable outcome. Caroline knows she has shared her last Christmas with her brother. And Karina and I just cannot cope with the fact that our little boy, the flesh of our flesh, the fruit of our love will leave us so soon. Life is f.....g unfair if you ask me ! Excuse my French ! Our way, as a family, to try to deal with the situation, and I'm afraid we're not very good at it, is to stay close to one another, and that we do. None of us can show his or her real emotions in the presence of Nigel, so I hate to confess this, but we do hide to cry. Sometimes, we cry alone. Sometimes, two of us pair up and cry together. On rare occasions, that we all hate, we all cry together. That is our life, this is our responsability, this is our daily grind.
Two years ago, my father Jeremy moved in with us, and his endless help is precious. Despite his 64 years of age, he handles a lot of tasks around the house. He is constantly painting something that needs to look better, and he's the one who put up the damn sign by the side of the road. Karina cooks for the guests and handles all the houskeeping by herself. As a girl, she went to a cooking school in Paris for two years, and boy does it show ! She can also pick up the proper wine to accompany any dish. As for me, I keep the wheels turning, working twelve hours a day. I manage our finances, or more exactly the lack thereof I should say, and team up with Dad for all the maintenance work on the house and the always breaking down vehicles. The children have pets. First, there is Bessie, a two years old chocolate colored female Labrador. Nigel and her are joined at the hip, inseparable. Then we have Fuzzy, an overgrown and overweight cat who likes to spend as much time as possible in Caroline's room, when he is not stuffing himself in the kitchen. Bessie and Fuzzy are not the best of friends, and go to great lengths to stay out of each other's way. Outside, we have Gunther and Patrick, two young sheep of yet undetermined sex who contribute to keep the grass down to an acceptable level. And finally, there is Cadichon. Cadichon is a Shetland pony, Nigel's dream since he was a little boy, and about a year ago, his grandfather broke the piggy bank so Cadichon could enter our family. I had a specialist in Exeter manufacture a special saddle for Nigel, a safe one that keeps him up straight and safe on the pony, as he is so frail and weak. I, myself, rigged up a contraption to carry his bottles of oxygen, right behind the saddle. And everyday, weather permitting, our son rides his pony for about an hour all around the property, acompanied by at least one of us. But most of the time, we all go with him.
Unfortunately, all these things cost money. A lot of it! So, if you ever drive by, please consider staying with us for the night. Karina will cook her Lancashire hot pot, and prepare her famous cheese cake, the one with slices of tangerine on the top. We have six guest rooms, all with their own en-suite bathroom. We even have a small conference room that can accomodate up to twenty people, should you ever consider having a seminar here. When we moved South, Karina and I took gigantic paycuts.But we wanted to spend all the time possible with our children. Both of them are home schooled, by the way. When you are faced with our situation, the time to do anything you want to do is NOW. There is no procrastinating, the clock is ticking, there is no time, and any wasted minute is our loss forever. And that's how we live our life, everyday as of today.
A few weeks ago, the five of us went to Exeter for the annual antique fair. Even though it was quite an expedition, as we had to pack Nigel's wheelchair and oxygen apparatus in the Land-Rover, it was a good day for everybody and the weather was beautiful. As I was pushing Nigel's wheelchair (I just made the last payment on the damn thing) through the fair, he spotted a table where there was an old California license plate on display, a black one with yellow lettering. He was all excited by his discovery and wanted to have it to put on his bedroom wall. So, I pulled my wallet, happy to fork the ten pounds asked for it, but the seller, an older lady, had seen the expression of joy, as well as the too pale, too skinny, too sick face of our little boy, and she shook her head negatively as I handed her the bill, while gesturing with her hands to signify she wouldn't accept my money. Then, she asked us to wait a minute, and she went to her car, and came back with another American license plate, this one from New-York. She handed it directly to Nigel, and he was ecstatic. I'll tell you, it's little things like this that restore my faith. Not my faith in God, that's long gone and unlikely to return, but my faith in people, my fellow human beings, who will always rise to the occasion and show goodwill and kindness. There was no place to hide to cry, so I bit my lip so hard I actually made myself bleed. Nigel couldn't get over his new acquisitions and at night, he was so excited that he had a terrible time going to sleep. The whole clan was surrounding his bed, the bed he most likely would die in, for the nighly ritual of saying good night. Suddenly, Nigel said to me :
- "Dad, wouldn't it be nice if someday I could have a plate like that from each one of the fifty American states ?" All I could think to say was :
- "I'll see what I can do, Nigel !" Thinking to myself : two down, fourty eight to go !
Late that night, I went on the internet and looked up one of those sell everything used websites, but the prices asked discouraged me, and the supply was very limited. I thought of placing an ad in the New York Times or the Washington Post, but that would take time, and time here, is something we don't have the luxury to have. Around three in the morning, as I was turning in bed, incapable of falling asleep, I finally saw the light : Jay ! Jay as in Jay Leno, the television host of the American late night show ! It suddenly made sense to me. I mean, the man collects classic cars and owns over a hundred of them. And he hosts a show that has millions of viewers every night. If I could convince him to say a quick word live on the show, Nigel would get his collection of fifty license plates in no time. And in time !
So, I immediately drew a letter and addressed it to Jay, C/O his network, Burbank, California, USA.. I clearly stated our mailing address and explained the situation to the best of my ability. I had only one shot at this so I needed to be convincing. Even though we do not get the channel broadcasting Jay's show in our house, a lot of people in the UK do. So, I never doubted that if my daring plan worked, I would hear about it one way or another. I was right ! About a week or so after I had mailed my letter, Karina and I received a telephone call from a man in London who had seen the show where Jay Leno told our story and actually asked people to send license plates our way. The man also said that Jay was holding a plate in his hand, which he had signed on the back, and that he had said right there, live :
- "Nigel, this will be in the mail for you tomorrow morning, so hang in there little Buddy, OK ? From the very start, I had a gut feeling Jay would be the one who would do do something to help. See, I had read his book "Leading with my chin", a long time ago. In his biography, he tells the story where, while he was in high school, he drove a convertible car that had no top on it. One day, while he was in school, there was a big storm and, from his classroom's window, he could see his parents covering the car with a tarpaulin. And he concluded the tale by saying :
- "That's the kind of parents I had". I had always thought of this as a beautiful tribute to his parents, and over the years, I never forgot his book that had touched me. And that's the kind of parents Karina and I wanted to be too...That night, Karina and I made love. For the first time in two and a half years ! We made love passionately, completely, sellfishly, lovingly... and twice !
Shortly after that, our family became pretty much a celebrity on its own for a short time. A televison station came down from London and did a ten minutes segment about Nigel's story. I was told it was broadcast all over the UK. But more importantly, shortly after Jay's show, small packages and large envelopes started to arrive at the house on a regular basis. From everywhere too! From the UK and all of Europe, from the US of course, but also from China, Russia Canada, Japan, etc. We even received license plates from places like Guam, South America, Mexico, Andorra, Monaco. I mean, the response was truly unbelievable. Caroline was put in charge of sorting the plates on arrival, and writing the names and addresses of the senders, so we could mail thank you notes.
My dad Jeremy hung the plates in Nigel's room as they arrived, and in no time at all the four walls were entirely covered. Jay Leno's personal plate, the autographed one which had been sent through a next day air service, was the only one to find its place on the ceiling, just above Nigel's bed, as he wanted. These were happy times, despite the sword hanging above our heads. The happiest of us all was Nigel, having fulfilled his dream. Karina and I wrote a four page letter to Jay Leno to thank him for his invaluable help. In all, 2564 license plates were received.
Is it related or not, our little boy lived for two months over the most optimistic prognostic, and that alone was worth all the gold in the world to us. Children are supposed to outlive their parents, not the other way around. We haven't changed anything. His room is just the way it was on the last day of his too short life, only empty. We still have Cadichon the pony : we can't find in ourselves the strength to sell it, so he'll probably die of old age, with us. So, Caroline just started riding him. Bessie the dog took it very hard. Everyday, she goes take a nap on Nigel's bed, waiting for him to return. As for the rest of us, the humans, life goes on, it has to. A life that has been shattered forever and will never be the same without our darling boy...
copyright 2012 by Austinhealy, his heirs and assigns.
Florida, October 2012
- Ode to a once adored girl, a romantic remembrance
Can the first two lines from the lyrics of a song inspire a story? Let's find out...