Josh Iger was not your average guy. He was a fourth generation Barrelyton man, so he was a townie, sure as it rained on Easter. Make the mistake of sitting near him at the bar or just looking at him friendly-like and you’d hear all about it soon enough. A fire sparked in his eyes when he launched into his tales. Townies shook their heads over their beers, murmuring sadness for Bill Iger and Josh’s mother. When Marion passed, Josh didn’t visit or attend the funeral. “She’s not my mother,” he’d explain, as though to a child. Josh lost a bunch of sympathy round about then.
It wasn’t for want of trying. Everyone tried to have sensible talks with him through the years. “You look like your mother, Josh,” they’d quietly say. “There’s not a lick of sense in arguing.” A few pointed out, “Even if you were adopted, you couldn’t be loved any better.” All of which was certainly true. However, from the age of ten, he held firmly to the belief he was adopted. Sometimes he claimed he was stolen. His parents became “Bill” and “Marion” overnight. Bill could get plenty riled about it, but Marion never lost her temper.
“We love you, Josh,” she’d tell him. “So long as you always remember that, the rest doesn’t matter.”
One crisp autumn day, Bill Iger raked leaves from Marion’s grave with his fingers. He leaned a bunch of the yellow roses she’d favored against the headstone. Shaking, he fiddled with the buttons on his suit coat. He always showered up and dressed nice on their anniversary. Bill blinked hard when it came to him this would be their last. A glance at the empty space beside Marion’s name on the headstone broke him. He tried not to stumble on his way back to the truck when tears washed his vision.
It was getting on to 6:30 when Bill heard the rumble and squeaks of Josh’s truck coming down the dirt road. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Meeting Josh on the porch, Bill held the screen door wide for him. “Glad you came, Josh. Wasn’t sure you would.”
“Almost didn’t, Bill. Drove past the turn a few times.” They stood in silence for a long moment.
“Come on into the kitchen. I’ve got a casserole ready.” Bill waved toward the doorway.
“I’m not staying long enough to eat,” replied Josh.
Bill hesitated. He stuffed his hands into his jeans pockets and pressed on. “Son, I found a box of papers and photos. I think it best if you see it.”
“I’m not your son. What do I want with a box of papers?” Even after all these years, it was like a body blow to hear it. Bill coughed into his bandanna, coughed so hard Josh got him a glass of water. It soothed things, his throat and his mood.
“Thanks. Look, let’s go into the kitchen anyway. I need to sit down.” Bill ignored the chairs in the front room and led the way. They stopped by the big chopping block in the center of the room and stared at the box on it.
“That’s the one. I’ll go on over to the table, give you some privacy.” Josh’s jaw was set, his eyes narrowed a bit. Bill sat gratefully. Josh’s attention was consumed by the box he had yet to touch. Bill secretly popped a small tablet under his tongue. Hope lurched in his chest when Josh opened the box, pulling out pages with both hands.
“The years on these. I drew these before preschool?”
“You did. She kept everything she could. Didn’t want to let a minute pass without a memory of it. There are photos, too.” Bill’s heartbeat filled his ears. Just as well Josh went through the box silently.
Then came the photo. Josh froze as he stared at it. He turned and spat, “This? This is why you got me over here? You think a photo of Marion with a newborn baby is going to convince me?”
Bill gripped the arms of the chair against the pain. “That’s not Marion, Josh. That’s her sister.”
Josh dropped into a chair. “Marion’s sister died when I was a baby. Why are you showing me this?”
“Teresa’s doctor warned her giving birth could kill her because of the diabetes. Well, she got pregnant. She asked us to raise her baby if she didn’t make it. That photo was taken a few minutes before she passed on.” Bill went silent, as much for himself as for Josh. While his son stared at the photo, he said in a quiet tone, “We’d already made the arrangements. You were our son within three hours of your birth.”
Josh’s face turned a mottled red. “It’s true! You aren’t my father!” He shoved the photo in Bill’s face. “You thought telling me the truth would change things? You’re a fool, Bill. A fool!”
Bill could see Josh’s mouth working, but his hearing was again blocked by his heartbeat. Suddenly he was on the floor. He heard himself groan as pain ripped through him. “… ambulance… Bill Iger’s house… hurry…” Josh’s voice was nearby. The heartbeat in his ears was quieting.
“Bill, hang on. They’re coming. Just stay with me. Bill? Come on, stay with me.” Josh’s voice cracked. “Dad? Don’t go, Dad…” The words went straight to Bill’s dying heart. He floated away, carrying peace to share with his Marion.
© 2011 JC Rosen
This story was inspired by a pair of prompts I wrote a couple weeks ago and posted on Twitter’s #storystarters. Whether you write them or use them – or both! – they’re a great way to get the creative juices flowing.