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Old Mr. Fowler

This short story was an exercise I did for myself. I gave myself an hour to write a phone conversation. About a fourth of the way through, I realized the time period was a bit ambiguous. So, the first 1/3 of the piece seems like it could be today, but then I got the feeling it was set at the dawn of the telephone era.

I don't know....

Anyways, here it is:

“Hello?” he answered into the phone.

“Is Henry there?” came the gravelly, unsure voice of the aged man on the other end.

“Henry? No one here by that name.”

“Is this little Tom Spade?”

“Yes. May I ask who’s calling?”

“This is John Fowler.” A ghost from the distant past.

“Mr. Fowler?”

“Yes, son.”

“Wow. It’s had to have been fifteen years, at least.”

“Seventeen.”

“Golly.”

“I’ve been gone for a long time.”

“You can say that again.”

“Well, I’ve been back now a week and I can’t seem to find anyone I know. They’re either dead or gone. I happened to see your ad in the newspaper for your shop and thought you might be able to point me to your father.”

“I wish I could, Mr. Fowler. But, truth be told, my father and I haven’t spoken in quite a while. I’ve heard he moved out of the state, but I certainly wouldn’t know how to get a hold of him.”

“You haven’t spoken to him?”

“No, sir. We had a bit of a falling out and sort of went our separate ways.”

“How long has it been since you talked to him?”

“Oh… Nine, maybe ten years. We stopped speaking shortly after he and my mother separated.”

“Your parents separated?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why? I mean, if you don’t mind my asking.”

“Lots of reasons, I suppose. Chiefly though, I think it was money. I think he loved money more than anyone. She was the sort to spend it freely, regardless of how hard-earned it was on those she loved, not realizing that the money was the greater love for him.”

“Did she tell you that? Your mother?”

“To tell the truth, sir, I never really talked to her about it. Frankly, I never really speak to her about much of anything. Over the years I simply surmised as much. But where have you been all these years, Mr. Fowler?”

“Abroad. Here and there. I don’t expect you to understand, but I had to leave the world for a while. Now I’m back and trying to pick up where I left off and it’s been so terribly difficult…”

“Everyone wondered where you’d left to. It all seemed so sudden.”

“Hmmm…”

“Most people thought you must have died. You didn’t write or call.”

“It was for the best. But it does bother me that things changed so much in my absence.”

“That seems quite selfish to run away for the better part of twenty years and expect everything to be the same when you get back. People change, Mr. Fowler. But I imagine you knew that.”

“Sometimes you know a thing and still hope it’s not true. And it seems as though you’ve changed into a respectable young man. You have your own business, you seem respectable and well-off. Your father would be proud of you.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure. My success doesn’t profit him.”

“Perhaps you’re being a bit cynical. Or maybe, perhaps, you’re right.”

“Perhaps.”

“Since I’m in town, would you care to join me for coffee sometime? We can catch up properly.”

“Well, I am quite busy with work…”

“I understand, no time for old friends of your parents.”

“It’s not—“

“—It’s alright.”

“We could do it next week…?”

“No. I’ll be long away from this place this time next week. Truly, you’ve made me realize there really is nothing left for me here.”

“I might be able to break away this afternoon, if—“

“No. I insist. Your work is important, I understand that. Thank you for speaking to me as long as you have. If you do happen to speak to your father again, you’ll tell him that I was looking for him, yes?”

“Mr. Fowler, I can’t see that happening. But, if by the grace of God we happen to run into each other and he’s gotten over himself and I’ve, by some miracle, been able to get over myself, then I’ll be sure to mention it.”

“Thank you. That is all I ask.”

“It’s all right. I suppose it was good talking to you, Mr. Fowler.”

“It was good speaking with you as well, Tom. You’re a good lad.”

Tom hung up the phone and was struck by the absurd and unlikely nature of the call he’d just received.
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