Friday, February 11, 2011

week forty-four: end of the line, doc

End of the line, doc.

The pamphlets had made the place seem so nice; so quaint. On the cover was a happy old couple amidst spring flowers. On the inside were words which told of how great an institution the place was. Rose Grove Retirement Home looked nothing but promising. The sugar-coating alleviated any guilt that the old man's children bore for putting their father in such a place. Even the home had looked poor, their guilt would not have lasted log. For they visited very little.

Lenny Perot had been living at Rose Grove for nearly fifteen years. In these years, he had seen the staff go from loving and attentive to apathetic and tired; even more so than their aging patients. For the first few years, the family visited Lenny quite frequently. It was always nice seeing the grandkids. And the staff paid Lenny a bit of extra attention. But over the years, the number of visits thinned and Lenny faded into everyday routine for the staff. His life grew lonelier and lonelier.

With loneliness came boredom. In his room, there was a television, but that served only to annoy Lenny. The shows were either too bleak or too white-washed happy. The news was sensationalist, making everything out to be much more that it was. And then the journalists spent their time propagating an agenda rather than fact. They made the world too dark and horrifying a place. And then the crime dramas glorified the worst in humanity. But the worst were the reality shows and the games shows, which flashed brights lights and plastic smiles. Nothing was ever real. What is real?

The only other things in the room were the bed and the rocking chair, which sat by the window. Fortunately, the window was well-placed. It faced directly at the sunset. It became one of Lenny's favorite things to sit in his chair and watch the sun died away. Lenny could not help but think of himself as the sun disappeared. There was very little time left for Lenny Perot and he knew it.

All there was left to do was to wait....

And this agonized him. He could not help but feel that there was something left to do, something to take care of. But what? He had said goodbye to his family long ago. They still came by every now and then, but Lenny had let them go in his mind. His friends had vanished. There was nothing left to do. But life went on unresolved with death threatening to leave it this way. Lenny prayed that death would come soon to end his torment.

One of the reasons Lenny spent hours watching the sun set from his rocking chair was because this was how he wished to die. He longed for the beauty of the day to fade with him. He longed for his last sight to be one of the few reliable constances in his life. When the last glimmer of orange light vanished from the sky, Lenny closed his eyes. He hoped that each breath would be his last. He was ready.

And suddenly, he heard a loud noise coming from the hall. It was a slowing beat and a hiss; a sound Lenny knew all too well. It was a train. But there were no rail tracks near Rose Grove. There was no logical or sensible reason why a train be heard at all. Lenny first instinct was to ignore the sound, but curiosity overtook him. From his chair, Lenny forced his body to its feet. The old man slid on his robe and slipped to the door.

When he opened the door, he found himself standing on a train platform. The retirement home was gone. It was replaced with a great steam engine train, much like the kind Lenny had worked with for many years. As he looked over the great steel beast, he felt some of his youth returning. For more than thirty years, Lenny had worked at a train station much like this one. He had started at the bottom and eventually became the station manager. It was his life for so long. But why was it back?

Lenny stepped up to the train and looked it over. Never had he seen an engine so flawless. There was no rust or corrosion. There was no dirt or dust and the engine sounded as if it ran without a catch or hitch. Lenny had known hundreds, if not thousands, of trains and none were like this one. There was so much right about it, but he had never seen a train quite so wrong. Unlike every other engine, this one seemed so unreal; something was amiss. Lenny could not place it.

“Ticket?” A voice asked from behind.

Lenny somehow knew to reach into his robe pocket and sure enough, there was a ticket. He turned around and handed it to the man. He was dressed as a regular train conductor, wearing a navy uniform and a laughable hat. The attendant reminded Lenny of many men he had known before... but there was nothing remarkable about him.

“Hop aboard,” the conductor said flatly. “We'll get going soon.”

“Where are we going?” Lenny asked as he walked over to the first passenger car.

“Only places you've been,” the conductor replied as he hopped onto the train engine. “Hop on; I have a schedule to keep.”

Lenny did as he was told. The inside of the car was fancy, but regular. He took a seat and looked out the window. The train lurched ahead. The vista outside was plain and unremarkable; one Lenny knew he would forget.

“Are you comfortable, sir?” The same voice from before asked.

Lenny turned to find that it was the same man from before, except this time he was dressed as an attendant rather than a conductor. “Yes, yes, I am,” Lenny replied.

“Well, good. So, what's your name?”

“Leonard, but you can call me Lenny.”

“How about Doc? Can I call you Doc?”

“Doc?” Lenny's mind bounced. He had not been called that for many, many years... not since....

The train stopped. “We're here, Doc,” Lenny looked back tot he attendant to see that his outfit had changed again. His garb was that of a Marine, the kind Lenny had fought with back in the second World War. The men in his platoon all called him Doc because Lenny was their medic. No one before the war and no one after the war called Lenny Doc.

Lenny looked out the window and saw darkness engulfing a marshy jungle. He knew instantly where he was and he whispered it, “Guadalcanal.”

“Yeah, we're here,” the Marine said. “You need to disembark.”

“I- I don't want to go back there,” Lenny protested. “I never, ever want-”

“You have to, Doc. You have to settle this,” the Marine insisted.

“No, I won't.”

“Well, yeah, you will,” the Marine said as the train suddenly vanished. Lenny found himself standing among his old platoon. They hid in the dark, doing their damnedest to keep quiet and out of sight from the Japanese patrols. “They can't hear you, they can't see you.”

“Why am I here?” Lenny whispered as he heard the low thunder of distant explosions. All of the soldiers were afraid, scared. Death was just around the corner. Lenny looked around them and finally found his younger self. This was a scene Lenny knew all too well.

In the fray of war, Doc's platoon had become separated from the main group. They lost themselves in the pitch black night knowing full well that Japanese soldiers swarmed the area. They had skirmished several times, each time resulting in someone being shot. First it was Peters, then Mitchell. Their last battle went better than the other two. No one had died, but Rowlette had been hit in the leg.

“Sarge, he's losing a shitload of blood,” the younger Doc said. “I can't stop the bleeding.”

“Quiet!” The sergeant shot back. He kept his rifle at the ready.

“Sarge!” Doc insisted. “He needs help!”

“Shut the hell up!”

“We have got to get him out of-”

Gunfire erupted. Their sergeant took four bullets before dropping dead. Old man Lenny could do nothing but watch as his platoon struggled for their lives. Two more men fell. Doc took cover. He should have been more aggressive, but he had been trained to stay alive. He was the medic. He was important.

“Why are you making me see this?” Old man Doc asked of the conductor.

“You've always had regrets about this moment, Doc,” the conductor answered flatly. The chaos of the battle meant nothing to him. “You need to watch and accept what happened. None of this was your fault.”

“I shouldn't have been so loud!”

“You were helping your friend; your comrade.”

“He had lost so much blood... he wouldn't have made it!”

“Your sergeant was a coward to hide in his hole.”

“I shouldn't have been hiding....”

“You did the right thing. Accept it. There's nothing that you could have done to change this.”

“But- but-”

“The Japanese had been following you. You would have ambushed regardless.”

Old man Doc sighed. The scene continued.

“Fuck!” One of the younger Marines exclaimed. “You think we got 'em all?”

“I don't know,” Doc shook. Rowlette was dead. So were Sarge and the others.

“Only one way to find out,” the young man grumbled as he stood up. “Hey you Jap bastards! I'm over here! Shoot me!”

Nothing happened.

“Guess we're good,” the young man grinned.

“Grab their dog tags and let's get the hell outta here!”

Old man Doc gulped as he saw his men moving at breakneck speeds. He saw so much fear and the courage that hid it. Eventually, Lenny came to respect every single man in that platoon.

“All aboard, Doc,” the conductor said.

“Huh?” Lenny turned to see that the train had reappeared behind him. Without really thinking about it, he stepped up into the passenger car and took his seat. The conductor, who had changed back into the attendant, sat across from Lenny. Lenny asked, “Where are you taking me next?”

“I don't know.”

“Are you doing this?”

“No, you are.”

Before Doc could ask another question, the train stopped. He got up from his seat and off the car. The next place was unsurprising to him; unsurprising and actually comforting to see. It was his old train station, the one he had worked on for so many years. It was like being home again after a very long trip.

And then he saw himself. There was thirty-two-year-old Leonard Perot sweeping the deck. Old man Lenny looked over to the schedule to see that his younger self was preparing for a train due to arrive in half an hour. Everything had to be perfect. And Lenny worked very hard to achieve this perfection.

Suddenly, Lenny understood exactly why he had been brought to this point in time. The water tower, which rest just next to the tracks, made a loud cracking noise before almost instantaneously collapsing.

The other deckhand, Thomas, came rushing in screaming, “Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no!”

“Thomas, come on, let's try to get this cleaned up! There's still time,” Lenny said as he threw down his broom. There was wood, sheet metal, and water everywhere, but if they just get it off the tracks....

“No! No!” Thomas cried as he paced frantically. “You just don't understand!”

“What the hell are you talking about? We need to clean this up!”

“Oh, God! No!”


“Lenny, I'm done for! Done for!”

“Thomas, come on, help me-”

“It's my fault! Mine!”

“What in the name of-”

“I was supposed to inspect that tower; to fix it up and I didn't do it! I was lazy...” tears fell down his cheeks. “Oh man, I was lazy....”

“Thomas, we need to get it cleaned up-”

“No wait,” Thomas came to. “Don't tell the boss! Tell him- tell him that it was some kids or something... tell him it wasn't me! Tell him-”

“Okay, now come help me clean up!”

“What happened here?” The deep voice of Bobby Robbins, the station manager, asked.

Thomas' eyes shot wide.

“I asked you a question! What the hell happened here?”

“It was- it was these kids, they-”

“It was Thomas' fault, sir,” Lenny said. “He didn't do the work on the tower like you asked.”

“Oh, is that right?”
“Said so himself.”

“Well, Thomas, look at what happened. You may have just ruined us!”

“I'm sorry! I-”

“Sorry won't cut it!” Bobby yelled. “I told you to do that last week! And then you try to lie to me about it?! Unbelievable!”

“I don't want to watch this,” Old man Lenny said to the attendant. “I don't want to see this. I screwed up. I know.”

“You screwed up? Looks to me like it was Thomas who screwed up.”

“I should have stood up for Thomas, I should have-”

“You told the truth.”
“But he was fired!”

“He deserved it.”

“No, no-”

“You know he did. So why do you find so much pain here?”

“Because I did the wrong thing.”

“No, you did the right thing, but you were selfish. You regret this because your motivation was to take old man Robbin's job when he finally retired. And you did.”

“My whole career after that was because I back-stabbed a friend.”

“You would have been promoted anyway. And you hadn't gotten Thomas fired, he would have worked under you. You wouldn't have wanted that, would you?”

“No, I guess.”

“Then you understand. You did the right thing with the wrong motivation. You can't fix it. Just accept the outcome.”

“I can't.”

“Yes, you can.”

“No, it's just a-”

“You don't have time, Lenny.”

“What is your point here?”


“Are you just here to make-”

“End of the line, Doc.”

Lenny's legs suddenly gave out. He fell to his knees.

“You're dying. This is your last chance. Your last chance to make peace with yourself. Live you last moments in peace, Doc.”

Lenny dropped to the ground. He felt life escaping. “I can't-”

“You must. I'm begging you.”

The world changed. Lenny suddenly found himself on the floor of the retirement home. He had fallen off his rocking chair. Air refused his lungs. Light of life became black of death. He looked up to see the sunset disappearing. It was peaceful. Lenny realized then that the sun would set and there was nothing to change that, just as nothing could change the past. He was at peace with the coming night and therefore at peace with his coming death. The night was at peace was the day. Lenny was then at peace with his life, even with all of its flaws.

End of the line, Doc.

1 comment:

  1. You keep improving, I liked this one. Very moving.

    Caught just a few typos:

    "Even the home had looked poor, their guilt would not have lasted log." Even had the home*

    "It became one of Lenny's favorite things to sit in his chair and watch the sun died away." die*

    "He longed for his last sight to be one of the few reliable constances in his life." constants*