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What Wasn`t His

by TheGodfather 

Posted: 08 January 2005
Word Count: 3498
Summary: I've taken out the previous bold section so that new readers are not influenced. I think the title says it all, but perhaps I must have the characters explain more.

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U N T I L then Ray had never thought about life. Instead, he had plodded through his mind, strolling along the beaten path past the noise that cluttered anything outside his tunnel vision focus, ignoring what might be in the corners, what must be lurking, lying in some niche that might let him know what life held in store for him if he ever stopped to notice.

Falling on Ray as he made his way between the lines of the crosswalk, the California rain was letting him know that it had just enough water to wet the roads and raise the oils from the asphalt and annoy the drivers enough to slow down for a change. No one stops though, their minds continuing to drive through streets of nothing to places of inconsequence.

“Californians can’t handle the rain,” Ray thought. He watched people flock into stores with chairs - cafes, coffee houses, and bookstores - all full, and walked around the store fronts and gazed into the havens from the rain filled with people all busy with something.

He took a drag on his cigar and held it for a moment, feeling its warmth. The mild patter of water fell on his blue jacket and slacks and his plaid golf hat around which the gray prickles on the back of his head stood up, saluting that morning’s hair cut. He thought about Emily who was sleeping at home. He had left her in bed because he couldn’t sleep, but he thought about her now, forty years next month.

“Forty,” he thought. “They’ve been good years.”

A lot was changing for him. Their anniversary was almost here. The boss had talked to him on Monday about the possibility of his training someone to replace him when he retired. He turned sixty-three this year, long ago reaching the crest of the hill and seeing the downward home stretch.

Like so many other young bucks who asked for the hand of their woman before they left for the war, he could not help but feel different, speculating that he could be the only one alive who still enjoyed his wife. Emily Gene Carter had been her name when he fortuitously snatched her off the market, her auburn curls long since replaced with white wisdom, experiences that other wives might have learned but only the wife of a doctor could fully understand, the long hours, the urgent pages, the long nights alone in an empty bed that he usually made warm. He expected that she might have rolled over by now wondering where he was for a moment and falling back into slumber.

“She’s going to die any day now.” No one else was out in the rain, so he tried to convince himself further. “She is. She’s well past the due date the doctor’s gave her.”

The grisly reality of the inner monologue that he mumbled while walking in the rain made itself apparent upon his return home. Emily lay in her bed holding the phone that was once held to her ear or was still on its way there. Her mouth gaped halfway open as if she were going to attempt to speak some comfort or goodbyes to Ray. Not a victim of the could-not-believe-its, he did not call the paramedics but rather undressed slowly and climbed into bed beside her, mapping her hip and back with his hand, a familiar feeling.

Not until he stood before the gravestone at the burial after the family had left him to himself did he grasp the reality of his situation revealed to him through the words engraved there - Emily Gene Walters (1939-1999) and Ray Marshall Walters (1936- ). His hyphen did not seem fair carved next to her hyphen, not fair to her and entirely not fair to him. As he stared at the newly-placed granite slab that would grow moss soon enough like the other memorials, the hyphen made little sense to him, yielding no apparent value before what seemed to him a useless remainder of a life.

Later that week, Gary, their youngest son, his youngest son, visited the house to help Ray put into boxes as many of her belongings as would fit.

“How are things, Dad?”

He looked up at his son in acknowledgement but gave no reply.

“Where would you like me to start?”

“In the office. I’d like this stack here to go into boxes first.” He pointed toward the corner by the bookshelf that now showed considerable gaps that used to contain and assortment of Josephine Tey and Danielle Steel novels and a couple of bookends carved into wooden turtles. Emily had always resisted the urge that seems to plague middle-aged women of knick-knacks and collectibles that regularly line shelves and counters around households and sought refuge in the world of words, stories of people who lived lives of meaning beyond her meager existence and understanding. At least that is how she described herself.

Others knew otherwise. Her grandchildren, on occasion, saw her careful gray curls appear to them as a halo of sunlight. Gary had seen it twice. Once as she had met him outside his kindergarten graduation and walked toward him with outstretched arms announcing an approaching hug and squeeze. The other was only a few months ago on the temporary stage at California State University San Diego where she stood and faced us in the audience as she received the doctorate she had worked on for so many years.

Gary looked up at Ray. “What are you going to do with your time now?” There was much to be learned by Gary regarding the etiquette surrounding the death of a person’s loved ones.

“Are you kidding me with that question?”

Perhaps the question was too forward, ignorant, pointed, but it had enough of something in it to chill the air and cause Ray to stumble for a couple of steps before hurling a couple of books to the floor and pause with one hand on his hip and the other rubbing the back of his neck as if feeling for the entry wound of the source of his sudden pain. He knelt slowly and reassembled the books he had thrown, grabbing a couple from packing boxes they had made their way into and putting the entire stack of Tey into the appropriate box.

He slid the box along the carpet toward the other Tey books through a trail of black ants.

“Damn ants. I’m tired of them coming in here uninvited. Don’t they know this is my house?”

The anger in his voice was not entirely the cause of the ants and their inveterate intrusion, a fact that was obvious enough but appreciated to help cut the tension caused by Gary’s ignorant question.

“Always walking across my floor, going somewhere, to a crumb I left on the counter, some water in the shower, a small piece of chip next to the coffee table, in the trashcans. Even in the freezer. You know that? I found a trail of dead ants going into the freezer. What could they possibly want in there?”

“It’d be another thing if you could invite them in when you wanted to.” Gary joked, trying to bring back a more workable mood to the room. “Hey ants, here is something you can take. Make sure you’re gone in ten minutes though.”

“Now that just about sounds like the worst idea I’ve ever heard. Why would I ever want any of them in my house? I don’t even want them outside in the trash cans because they get all over my hands and pants when I take the trash out to the curb for the trash man. No, I just want them to stay where they are wherever their own land is.”
Gary had given up and returned to the books which he finished boxing in just a few minutes.

“Anything else, dad?”

“No, I think you’ve helped enough today. Thanks for coming over. I think I’m getting a headache.”

They left the room through different doors, first Ray down the hall to the medicine cabinet to find something for the pain in his head then Gary, after a moment alone to shake his head at the whole sequence of events, deciding to leave through the front door.

Ray returned to the room to find Gary gone. He shook his head at the door and made his way to the bedroom to figure out what exactly he was going to do with Emily’s clothes. He was not like what he imagined some people were like when a loved one passes away, leaving all their belongings exactly as they had left them in a pristine monument to the past and their inability to grapple with the reality of their absence. He considered himself more realistic, down-to-earth. He had thought about selling the house and buying a smaller condominium when faced with the daily duties of housecleaning and yard work at his age and for a purpose that was beginning to elude him.

Grabbing a section of Emily’s blouses, he lifted them from the bar in the closet and carried them to the bed, repeating this process until her side of the closet - shirts, pants, skirts, dresses, and sweaters - was in a dozen or so stacks on the bed. He stared at them for a moment, his shoulders sloped and hunched under the weight of so many years. He could smell her again in the room just as he used to be able to know her presence from her familiar wild clove perfume. He held up one of her black knitted sweaters still in its hanger and buried his face in it, taking a deep breath through the aged fabric, and beginning to weep. His sloped shoulders rose and fell in spasmodic rhythm with his sobs, sitting on the edge of the bed behind him and falling backward into the uncomfortable bed of hangers and cloves.

“What am I going to do with my time now?” He thought. He lowered the sweater from his face to his chest and stared at the light fixture above their bed that he had forgotten to fix. His thoughts continued, “Why would God take her from me? I knew this was coming, but I never thought about this part of it.”

He lay there awhile and then directed his attention to the dresser by the closet, across the room from his dresser under the window that, when open, looked out onto the front porch. He pulled out the top drawer, a drawer that he looked in only when putting away folded laundry. Although married to Emily forty years, for some reason he had never been able to allow his mind to look at the contents of her drawers, which he deemed her own private territory. He wondered if she knew that and what other things she died not knowing about him, things which were stuck with him now, most likely never to be shared with anyone. “Oh Emily,” he gasped.

The top drawer contained her underwear, day-to-day articles on the left and thongs and g’s that she had not worn in at least a decade in the back right corner. Remembering how he always enjoyed seeing her in them, he was struck out how disturbing and out of place they seemed there in the drawer now. He retrieved a trash bag from the hallway pantry and tried as best as a single man could to dump the contents of the drawer into the trash bag. He thought better of himself, finally setting the drawer on top of the pile on the bed, transferring the remainder of the contents into the bag, and restoring the drawer to the dresser.

Her bras were in the next drawer down. He jerked back a bit for some reason when he saw them all, laid out orderly on top of each other. He pulled a nude colored one from the top of the stack and held it in front of his chest, imagining Emily wearing it once again, as the phone startled him. He quickly placed it in the bag.


“Hey, Dad, it’s Debbie.”

“Oh, hello.” He remembered how he had begun saying ‘greetings’ after Emily had first recorded it on their answering machine. He thought about how he laughed when he had first called home and heard the machine.

“Are the plans still on for this evening?”

He wracked his brain trying to remember what plans. “Yeah,” he said without a clue as to what the plans were.

“Great. The kids have been talking about it for weeks. What time should Gary and I bring them over?”

It all returned to him, the memory of the plans for Friday, the situation with Gary earlier that afternoon, and the high regard he had always had for Debbie. Gary had found a woman he did not deserve like the story about the poor man who found an enormous pearl while diving. He hoped she did not ruin Gary the way the pearl ruined the man.

“Any time is fine. I’ll start pulling out their sleeping bags here in a minute.”

“Great. We’ll drop them off in an hour or so. Our plane leaves at ten this evening, and we fly back in Sunday afternoon.”

“It all sounds like fun.”

S A T U R D A Y evening, Ray put in an animated movie for them to watch together in the living room, where he had decided to leave most everything the way it was. A door to the left of the television connected to the kitchen, decorated floor to ceiling with white and black tile that Emily had been so excited to see Ray install over a year ago. Through the hallway to the right you could reach the bedrooms and connect back up to the kitchen, making the house suitable for two people but considerably vast for only one.

The kids were sprawled out on either side of him, Laurie sitting in the recliner to his left and Ben lying on the couch next to him with his head on a pillow on Ray’s lap. Laurie, only 10 years old, looked like she had stolen her mom’s eyebrows, chin, and almost everything in between. Perhaps her light hair would darken as she grew older. At 6 years old, Ben’s stocky build, not fat but muscular, already reminded him of Gary. He had not always felt this way, but Ray wished he had received more of Laurie’s genes.

Ray reclined his portion of the couch for the movie but promptly fell asleep, a habit he had developed in the last decade during home movies and did not wake up until hours later after the television had gone to soft white noise. Making out the 10:43 in neon green on the VCR, Ray slowly lifted Ben’s pillow from his leg to let himself out and returned it softly to the couch. He adjusted Ben’s blanket to cover his feet and tucked it in around his body. Already in her pajamas, Laurie slept bundled and soundly in the recliner.

Ray could hear the soft pitter patter on the outside of the windows calling him to come for a walk. He enjoyed walking in a soft rain. He took pleasure in the renewing element of the rain on his face as he walked into it, the small explosions on his cheeks and the pavement and the cars as water collided with the thirsty world. Ray needed only to grab his overcoat and inaudibly closed the door on his way out.

The kids fast asleep, Ray had some time to himself, to the thoughts that had been waving their hands in front of his mind’s eye all day. For the most part, he desired to ignore them, the harmful, regressive thoughts. He thought about the hyphen again, that lowly dash on his headstone that marked a life he still had to live. Somewhere in life’s humdrum he had lost a focus he used to so clearly have, to make a difference in the lives around him, to have some lasting impact on the people he cared for most deeply. He wondered if he had done that for Emily, if he had been a source of joy in her final days. For minutes he could only remember thinking about himself, Emily lying at home while he was at work or with friends or family.

It took a couple more blocks, passing an aged Methodist church with a steeple and two vagrants in a vacant lot with a sign announcing new buildings were going up, for him to remember the hours he spent bathing her with sponges and rags and changing the bed sheets. “She knew I loved her” invaded his brain, charging his emotions. It is strange how it only takes one more lamp to be plugged in for someone to be able to see everything so much clearer.

He returned to the front porch feeling refreshed and ready for sleep. He closed and locked the door behind him and hung his keys on the far right hook on the rack by the door. He noticed immediately that Ben and Laurie were no longer asleep in the living room. A chill of worry dented his otherwise composed armor. He walked slowly, more or less sidestepping toward the door to the kitchen. He had no reasonable excuse for walking the way he was except for not seeing the children where he expected to find them, asleep.

He turned the light on in the kitchen. Finding no one there lightened his walk for some reason, giving him some relief to his unfounded fears. Entering the hallway from the kitchen, he turned left toward the light switch one door down. A figure larger than him grabbed his arm from inside the first room, stepping into the hall and turning his arm behind his back, the impervious grip no doubt belonging to a man. His shoulders were shoved down toward the ground, hunching him over, and he was forced into the bathroom. When the man finished binding Ray’s wrists behind his back, he pushed Ray face first into the bottom of the bath tub and flopped his legs over the side. Ray could not remember ever having been in such a painful position.

He heard lights flick on in the back room and muffled squeals emerge immediately perhaps sensing that help might be near.

“You two make sure to stay quiet in here.”

Ray heard the man reenter the bathroom.

“I’ll be gone in a few minutes, old man. Don’t give me any trouble, and I won’t give you no more.” There was a moment’s pause, during which Ray could feel the man glancing over his position. “You hear?” He yelled. He expected Ray to answer but did not wait long enough for Ray to muster so much as a grunt before he left.

Ray could only see a few inches in front of his face and could not turn his body at all. Never having been this close to the bath tub, Ray now noticed the grime, hidden only by distance from his declining vision. A trail of ants weaved its way from small porthole window down to the drain. His hatred for ants exacerbated his situation, adding to his feeling of pointless existence. What did it matter anymore, his being there for the family, his fighting it out, his participation in the community, his living without Emily? His body crumpled upon itself a bit, and he groaned.

All at once he understood. Life had leased him a lover for a time. He began to question if anything in this life was truly his or just on loan from the bank in the sky. Ray thought, "I have I owned things that really weren't mine." He saw things at that moment as futile to try to keep yet deserving of enjoyment.

Only here for the water, the ants would disappear soon after the rain, leaving things exactly how they had found them, but this man was here for something that wasn’t his, something priceless that belonged to loved ones. For a moment he thought only about his grandkids and how he had heard their stifled cries earlier. That meant they were probably unharmed, a thought which left Ray with some comfort amid the dark situation. What would Gary and Debbie feel about him? He should not have left the children alone at night. The fault belonged to him, and he knew it. He wondered who would find them. Surely the man would not let them loose before he left, not a man like him.

Ray returned his gaze to the ant trail and managed a small smile, appreciative that the ants that were still coming down the trail with the others would undoubtedly follow them back to where they came from, leaving him alone.

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Comments by other Members

Becca at 09:51 on 09 January 2005  Report this post
Hello God.
There were some perceptive passages in your story about being old and losing a partner. I liked the ants section a lot, and the fact it ended with the ants too; the idea created a frame around the story and linked in with the intruder.
The story seems to be divided between the death of your MC's wife and the intruder, and I couldn't see any connection between the two, so I was left wondering quite what the story was about, or whether perhaps there are two stories in here? Or if there is connection between the death of his wife and the intruder I've missed it?

It's called 'What Wasn't His', a great title, and the section about the intruder has more action in it, and is connected with the ants. So to re-shape the story a bit, (which I felt it needed to become sharper and more focussed), I thought a good starting point would be 'Gary looked up at Ray.' And perhaps the theme of the story, (what wasn't his), could be made stronger, .. it's an interesting theme. To bring it back round to the MC, maybe he could have a sense of something in his own life 'that wasn't his'.

darkstar at 19:31 on 09 January 2005  Report this post

Like Becca, I'm left wondering at bit what the story is about. The bit up until the intruder works very well on its own as an examination of dealing with the death of a loved one, and was very sad and well written. I didn't quite get the bit with the intuder however.

I liked the ants. My mother fights an ongoing war against ants, so that rings very true.

Some typos, and nitpicky bits

You put quotes round the thoughts in the fifth para, but there's no need to do that as it's not speech.

Emily Gene Carter was her name when he fortuitously snatched her [/i[

had been her name

she received her doctorate she had worked on for so many years.

This would flow better as the doctorate


Becca at 06:54 on 10 January 2005  Report this post
Hi God,
The new link does sharpen the theme, but if the theme were woven in all through the beginning in a subtle way, it would then make more sense of the intruder, .. along the lines of nothing 'belongs' to anybody.

Nell at 08:09 on 10 January 2005  Report this post
Hi Godfather,

This is a subtle story. I read it yesterday but hesitated to comment since my thoughts were similar to Becca's. Reading again this morning I see that you've picked out the central idea in bold, and this certainly makes the point, but as using bold in this way is not really an option when submitting work I think you need to make the theme clearer. Ray's feelings are rather beautifully observed and shown with his speech and actions, but I couldn't imagine the man you've described in your story leaving the children, and was shocked at that part. Likewise I felt that hearing their stifled cries and supposing them unharmed was assuming more than anyone would have assumed in that situation. I did notice a tendency in your writing for overstatement and overlong sentences that IMO it would be helpful to be aware of - one example below. A careful edit and polish would tighten the piece and perhaps reveal the central theme making it difficult to miss.

Falling on Ray as he made his way between the lines of the crosswalk, the California rain was letting him know that it had just enough water to wet the roads and raise the oils from the asphalt and annoy the drivers enough to slow down for a change. 'Falling on Ray..' seems odd - what else would the rain do?



I've just read your summary, which I missed on the second reading. Have you actually added the part in bold? If so it's probably enough.

TheGodfather at 14:46 on 10 January 2005  Report this post
Thanks everyone for your comments so far.

Nell, yes, I have added the section in bold since Becca and Darkstar first responded. I put it in bold so they could find the part I had added and not have to reread the entire thing. So you think that with that part added (and the bold removed of course) that the story is tied together? I conscientiously weaved the theme throughout, but if it isn't apparent enough, I may have to add some 'comments' earlier on. Your thoughts are welcome.


darkstar at 19:58 on 11 January 2005  Report this post
It works a lot better now, with the bit that you've added. It seems to make sense more, and there's definitely a clearer link between the two sections. I'm not sure about Ray thinking the kids are OK though - unless he's using the hope as a way of trying to convince himself that things aren't as bad as they might be.

Hope this helps


Account Closed at 10:42 on 14 January 2005  Report this post
I loved the first part of this story which I'm reading for the first time today - the sense of loss of a loved one actually had me in tears, and I was right with Ray throughout and how he was feeling and coping.

For me, the intruder story isn't part of the first story - when I came to it, I have to say it shocked me out of my empathy and out of any sense of the narrative - I think the intruder part might belong in another kind of story? I wonder if it would keep true to the underlying theme of sorrow and loss if Ray found something in the drawers which showed that his wife had a part of her life she couldn't share with him - not necessarily something nasty, just a small thing, as every couple has small secrets - and that can somehow be "what wasn't his"?

Like Nell, I don't for one moment believe a man like Ray would ever leave his grandchildren alone.

Anyway, this is just a personal view - the actual writing is marvellous!



Nell at 08:02 on 24 January 2005  Report this post
Godfather, I missed your question, so sorry for not replying. Yes, I think the added part is probably enough, yet I still can't quite believe that he'd leave his grandchildren.


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