The Mystery of Tears
by Jenean McBrearty
Fittonia Albeñas had only known Errol Davis a year before he died. She delivered hot lunches to him while he hibernated with Covid-19. Finally, he said, “This is nuts,” and invited her in for hot chocolate.
“Got any cookies Errol?”
“Baked ‘em myself this morning.”
Fine, rounded oatmeal-raisin jewels they were, too.
A week after Christmas, she got a call from his visiting nurse that he’d passed away. “I found your phone number scribbled on the back of a light bill,” she explained. “Are you kin?”
“No, I’m kith.” A cookie connoisseur, who finally caught on to cribbage well enough to beat Errol one out of ten games. “But you can send his ashes to me, if there’s no one else.”
Then she got another call, this one from his lawyer the day after, telling her there were matter to be discussed. Rutledge McGrue, Esq. woke her up at eight a.m.
“It’ll be a while. I have to take the bus,” she told McGrue.
“I’ll send a cab,” he said. Half an hour later she was at the Art Deco Grayson Building, seventh floor. Not heaven, but close.
“He changed his will on Christmas Eve. Any idea why?” McGrue asked, after a simple hello and a sit down order.
“Nope. I made lasagna and he made fudge. My kids had decorated his fake tree on Thanksgiving, so all we did was eat while he talked about how he went to midnight Mass when he was a kid. He never said anything about a will or dyin’.”
“He’s left you his house and fifty-grand, providing you go through his personal effects and distribute them generously.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means all the Davises are dead now, and you won’t have to pay rent or ride the bus as long as you crate up his stuff and give it to Good Will.” McGrue handed her one envelope containing a check, another containing three sets of keys, shook her hand and said, “I’ll take care of the deed transfer. We’ll be in touch. Good-bye.”
“E-S-Q spelled m-e-a-n-i-e,” she told Brenda over a hot fudge sundae from Mickey-Dee’s. “You want to go with me to my new house?”
“Hot-diggidy!” Brenda said as she looked around the four-bedroom, three-bath ranch in the curve of a cul-de-sac. Best friends had a right to see your good fortune before your boyfriend. “Fitty, are you sure this Errol guy wasn’t an angel?”
“I’m not sure about anything.”
While Brenda rushed in and out of rooms spieling a running commentary about how wonderful the windows were or how she could afford new carpet if she didn’t blow all her cash on a car, Fittonia walked slowly through the rooms and noted the things that defined Errol Davis.
He was a reader, for sure. The bookcases that flanked the fireplace had textbooks dating back to the 1950’s. Science and history books followed —three packed shelves. And then, near the bottom of the right-sided case, audio books took over. On the mantle were two cases for his glasses: one pair for close up and one pair for distance.
He loved music, too. Just like the books, the media collection was well organized; it covered 78’s, 45’s, LP’s. Cassettes, CD’s. There was whole section devoted to instrumentals. As for art, “I used to paint,” he told Fitty’s twins, Cee-cee and Buddy, on that last Christmas eve.
“You can have all the art supplies in the front bedroom closet. Maybe one of you is another Rembrandt.”
“You won’t believe it, Fitty —the ol’ guy had a hat collection! Come on …” Brenda dragged her to the master bedroom, and opened the closet door. On the shelf was a neatly spaced row of head gear from tam to turban. Straw, felt, leather, suede. “What’re these for?” Brenda wanted to know as she held up two round caps.
“The hard-shelled one is for horse riding. The other one … I don’t know. It looks like a old timey pilot’s hat. Raiders of the Lost Ark kind’a thingy.”
Brenda threw them on the bed.
That’s when Fittonia saw the little black book. Maybe it was an address book with names of people she should contact and ask if they wanted any of Errol’s stuff. That would be generous.
She opened the cover and saw the words Flight Log 1941 hand-printed in block letters. Underneath were columns of numbers under the headings of dates, distance, and verification. It couldn’t have been Errol’s. Was he old enough to have fought in WWII? She checked the funeral card: Errol Davis 1931-2021. He certainly didn’t look ninety. Did eleven-year-old boys fly airplanes back then? Maybe he looked older when he was younger. Her mother sure looked younger after her father died. As for parenting, she wouldn’t let Buddy near a plane if he made it to eleven. Brenda announced she was going to check-out the kitchen; Fittonia sat on the chenille-spreaded bed.
Her eyes moved to the last column. What kind of instructor wouldn’t have verified Errol’s age before giving him flight lessons? Pa. Pennsylvania, as in state of? Pacific Aeronautics? No. Pa as in Papa. A father-son thing that, judging from the dates, was almost a daily ritual. Except for Sundays. A hundred hours must have been some sort of milestone, as there was a big hooray! written after the total. The page after that bore the heading SOLO. Again, the total was a hundred hours, but it didn’t take eight weeks this time. Just five. Errol was flying every day, three hours a day. Maybe Papa didn’t know? Couldn’t be. There were his initials in the last column. She flipped to the last page.
Garrison Davis has completed 200 hours of flight training: Grumman F3F,
1936 Bi-plane, at East Field, San Diego, Calif. Army Air Corps Instructor:
Charles Davis/flight instructor. 4/15/1941.
Garrison Davis? Errol had a brother? Strange he never mentioned that. Beneath Papa Charles’ signature were the words: Gold Star Family: June, 1943.
Someone must have dripped a drop of water on the page. Two of the blue lines were wavy and faded.
Brenda was standing in the doorway when Fittonia looked up. “You’re really sad about Errol, aren’t you?” she said, and sat beside her friend.
“You expect old people to die. You don’t expect to learn a man’s father taught one of his kids how to fly. Maybe both. And yet … I think about Buddy and CeeCee not having someone to teach them how to do things. Maybe Charles Davis taught Errol how to horse-back ride.” She looked at the closet, with Errol’s hats arranged so precisely. Were they like his books and records, also chronologically ordered, stored away with little black books that held the stories of his life?
“I guess we ought to get started if we’re ever going to get through this stuff,” Brenda said.
“The boxes are ready to be filled …”
“I don’t feel like going through Errol’s stuff tonight. I think Buddy and CeeCee should help me. Maybe there’re things I need to teach them.”
“I’m not sure. It’s like something’s missing from our lives and Errol knew what it was.”
“He knew you needed money. You hit the jack-pot, Kiddo. You can make a mint off sellin’ this stuff. Lots of people love old junk.” Brenda put on the pilot’s cap and fastened the strap under her chin. “I couldn’t wear one of these for very long. Maybe I just have a big head. Speaking of missing things, where’s Errol’s computer? I’ll bet his electronics are top of the line.”
Fittonia wasn’t listening. She’d gone back to Garrison’s flight log. “I wonder what a Gold Star family is. Did they give out Emmy’s or Golden Globes to people for teaching their kids neat stuff?” She opened her purse and consulted her cell phone. “What’s a Gold Star family?” The answer was succinct:
A Gold Star Family is the immediate family member(s) of a fallen
service member who died while serving in a time of conflict.
Fittonia read the answer aloud. “The pilot hat belonged to Garrison Davis. He died.”
Brenda shed the pilot’s cap like her hair was on fire. “Do you think this is … was the Garrison guy’s hat?”
“He wasn’t wearing it when he died, Brenda.”
“Let’s go,” Brenda said on her way to the door. “I can feel the ghosts deciding if the living are keto-friendly.”
“I’ll meet you at your car.” Fittonia heard the front door close. Reading about a past event was one thing; holding a piece of it in your hand was another. How many pieces of the Davis’ events were in Errol’s house? She knew of three: The day his brother Garrison finished his flight training, the day his father recorded it in his log book, and the incontrovertible evidence that a live human being had shed a tear when the enemy killed a son and brother. Holy water. Like the Ganges River. Marty Robbins singing Cool Water. She and Errol watching a mirage of flowing water disappear in another dimension. “We’ll ride today, and at night we’ll pray … for water.”
She felt a tear welling in her eye. If she blinked, it would roll down her cheek the way all tears do. Quickly, she turned to the last written page of Errol’s little black book, held it under her chin, and blinked. She would add her tear to the little black history book. Like his brother, Garrison, Errol had given all he had to strangers in the war against loneliness. Perhaps he thought of her as a combat casualty, too. When the twins were older, she would tell them how a family of strangers in the last century provided for them in the 21st.