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A Brief and Fading Shadow

By Valerie Bradley-Holliday


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A Brief and Fading Shadow

Beige is the best word to describe Nathan Wester’s life.  At the age of 33, Nathan had everything a person could want.  Money, cars, a fine home, and a job he didn’t even need.  Like most of his MBA colleagues, Nathan had invested heavily in the stock market.  Nathan’s uncanny knack for numbers and his unwavering ability to pick aggressive stocks that succeeded had turned him into a wealthy man.  Nathan worked because his father worked, and his father before him and his father before him.  He worked because it was expected.  But unlike his colleagues, who sent him postcards from places he had never seen, Nathan led a mostly sedentary life that took him back and forth to work daily.  On weekends, the highlight might be a round of golf.  Yes, Nathan’s life was beige.  Nathan’s only real risk out of his tame existence was the little red sports car he bought on a dare from a friend.

Nathan nicknamed his car Cisco Red.  Cisco Red was taking him to the greatest adventure of Nathan’s life.  Unknowing, Nathan allowed a warm smile to cross his face.  He turned his head upward to catch the sun’s rays on his face.  With the top down, he felt like a bad boy trying to catch the wind.  No, running a race with the wind.  But, it wasn’t long until Nathan’s timidity slowed the car to a crawl just below speed level.  With the action, he thought he would trade Cisco Red, an obvious death trap, in for a sensible and less obtrusive car.

            At the Savings Shopping Mart, a storm was building.  Mather Verigan was a volatile man.  In the backroom of the store, Math, what he was called here by his store colleague, was a husk full of hatred and resentment.  A brief and fading shadow of the man he was before he got the job at the grocer as a stock-boy.  Math had attended to Yale University’s joint M.D. and Ph.D. dual degree program.  His interest was human biology, medicine and scholarly disciplines relevant to medicine.  Math’s primary goal was to become an academic physician with a faculty position in basic science within the school of medicine.  He had been in his sixth year when tragedy struck.  Beads of sweat start to dot Math’s face as he remembers the nightmare that ended his brilliant medical career.

His residency program that had provided opportunities replete in research and biomedical science ended in disaster when the chief of staff at his clinical residency was found to have committed insurance fraud.  As a medical student, Math had overseen some of the labs done by the clinic and noticed some seemed to be prescribed more frequently then seemed necessary.  But he didn’t seem to think it was totally out of the realm of possibility and certainly didn’t deserve report since his supervisor’s reputation had always been above board.  But now in hindsight, Math could kick himself for his stupidity.  There were definite reasons why he was always asked to supervise the labs and when the court notice came he knew why.  Although, the court found his supervisor guilty on some other charges, they couldn’t make the false lab work completely stick.  The outcome is his Medical Supervisor got a lesser fine, no sentence and retired to the Bahamas.  And Math’s career was over.  Dreams of being a professor and doing research for the National Institute of Health evaporated like the light steam over the cup of coffee he held in his hand.  With hot tears, Math hurled the cup at the wall and picked up his rifle.  Math set in the back room, with the door to the outside heavily sealed with a soldering gun and barricaded.  He knew no one could enter that way.  Math sat and waited.  He waited for someone like Nathan.

            The mild irony of the buttoned down man in his cool car did not even register a second look from anyone.  Nathan noticed though.  Sometimes, he longed for the adventures of his friends.  Some, like Jayden, had even invited him to go rock climbing in India.  Jayden explained that the area was arid and carrying water would be their greatest challenge as most of the rocks were only about 25 feet and good practice rocks for beginners in Tughlaqabad.  Then if Nathan and he wanted they could hang out and tour Delhi.  Jayden had explained to Nathan that he might leave him back in the city for a few days alone so he could do a more challenging climb of the rock face in the Aravalli hills to test his own capabilities as an experienced rock climber. Nathan was so excited at first that he shook like a young puppy dog.  He began putting time, effort and money into getting ready for the climb taking most of his instruction from his more experienced climbing friends.

Nathan had even taken classes at the local college to prepare but at the last minute bowed out leaving Jayden frantically searching for another climbing partner.  In his search, he decided to place an ad for an experienced climber.  In placing the ad, Jayden had met Bina Amita Raj.  Bina was a most beautiful woman.  She had been adopted and grew up in America.  At the time Jayden met her, she was planning to return to India to volunteer in a women’s self-help organization for poverty alleviation.  With that chance meeting, Jayden’s disappointment at Nathan’s bowing out dissipated but Nathan’s actions did not go without a consequence.  Since that time, word had gotten out that Nathan was a non-participant and the invitations stopped all together.  Nathan stopped his mind from wondering because his eyes were beginning to sting from the longing for change and the need to resist being indolent.  After a glance over at his Savings Smart coupons lying in a clear, zipper patch on the car seat next to him, Nathan made his way through the parking lot traffic to find a parking space close to the grocers.  Nathan’s mind misted over again when he thought briefly of his ex-wife Michele and wondered where she was.   He stepped out of his reverie just in time to avoid slamming into a parked car.  How had he arrived at the store so soon?

            Nathan thought: I am just going to buy a few things.  I am so scattered brained it is better that I go home and just rest.  I’m not really needed at the office.  Needed at the office, he had to chuckle to his self.  When had he ever been needed anywhere?  Thus, Nathan walked into the store completely oblivious to his surroundings.  He didn’t take notice of how incongruent the store’s emptiness was with the time of day.

            Not more than five minutes ago, clerks, store managers and customers who could manage to escape Verigan’s notice ran out as soon as they spotted the gun.  Alarms were out of the question, as Verigan had dismantled them and thoroughly cut the service on all the phones.  Even cell phones were no use because Verigan had sat up some kind of scrambler.  What entered some store managers’ minds, especially Sam Granger, was why in the hell had he teased Verigan.  Calling him Math, making fun of the fact that he had been a medical student and pointing out how Verigan had ended up.  Yeah, with someone like Sam on top running the show.  Sam chuckled with a dry, ironic laugh that sounded more like a cough.  He rubbed his pounding head where Wester had smacked him hard with the butt of his rifle.  Wester warned Sam that if he tried to call out, he would knock out every one of his teeth.  So, Sam kept completely quiet locked in his back office or sealed as Wester put it since whoever tried to get him out would have to cut a hole in the door itself.  Yeah, Wester was sly and mad.  Nathan walked into this store’s situation clueless.

            Nathan was completely disarmed when a gentle voice from behind him asked, “is there something that I can help you with?”    

In his mind, Nathan half expected a mild-mannered clerk, what he saw when he turned to face the person was Mather pointing a rifle straight at his nose.  That’s when Nathan snapped to attention.  He looked past Mather into the almost empty parking lot except for a handful of cars.  He sensed his immediate danger as keenly as a person smells the ozone before a big rainstorm.  He froze.

            A big smile broke across Mather’s face.  Nathan noticed that the man’s eyes were red.  Had he been crying? 

“Hello, my name’s Mather and you are?”

“My name is Nathan, Nathan?  My God,” Nathan thought with panic, “I can’t remember my last name.”  In his reverie, he half whispered his dilemma out loud and was greeted with a deep laugh like slow rolling thunder. 

“Do you think it matters today?  I tell you what, you seem like a good chap, do your grocery shopping on me and I’ll let you go.  There is one condition though.” 

“What’s that? Nathan asked incredulous. 

“I want you to talk to me about your life, I want to find out why you find life so interesting that you feel it is worth another day of your existence.” 

Nathan was visibly trembling and his lip quavered.  Nathan was so frightened he was afraid that he might soil himself.  “Are you, are you going to kill me?” 

Another slow, rumbling laugh came out of Mather.  “No,” Mather shook his head. “Get going, I hope that you have a lot to buy,” Mather lowered the gun and prodded Nathan in the chest.

            Nathan late out a small gasp.  His mind was racing with panic.  In a fix like this, what would his friends do?  Nathan recalled that his friend Jayden had encountered thieves in Delhi and recounted how he had to negotiate with them for his own release by convincing them that he was more valuable if kept alive.  Nathan figured that Mather was not interested in money.  What could he do?  Nathan turned around and began to shop.

He grabbed a box of detergent down off the shelf and threw it into his cart. 

            Mather said, “well, that is an interesting choice and what a bargain.  From your choice, I would say that you are a frugal gentleman and from your clothes I would also say very wealthy.  Am I correct?”  “On both accounts,” Nathan said curtly, “afraid to say more for fear of where this conversation would take him.”

            “Not much of a talker are you?  Mather responded, “Well, I am not impressed with this conversation Nathan.”  Mather nudged him with the gun, “I intend to be impressed.”  Nathan looked into Mather’s gray-green eyes and knew immediately that he didn’t dare start begging for his life as that would probably be the end of an uneventful string of years, years that although boring Nathan held onto viciously.

            Then a grand scheme came into Nathan’s head.  I can just recount things that Jayden did.  Mather doesn’t know me.  If it is interesting enough maybe he will let me go.   If not, at least I will have lived that much longer.  Nathan only saw the stage performance of Shaharazod once but he felt that he now had a distinct sense of what that character felt.  Telling stories with no ending at night just before the King slept in order to stay alive another day, providing a soap opera tale for the king who threatened to kill her as he did with every one of his previous wives.    Nathan tried to explain top-rope rock climbing that he learned in class but found that Mather’s attention quickly dwindled off which startled him. Nathan began relating Jayden’s exploits as his own.

            Nathan, choking on his own spit from deep fear, said that one time he had rock climbed with only a pike.  “At one point I slipped almost three feet before my boots caught the tip of a ledge and I was able to catch my pike and balance myself.  From that point on, I never once worried how I would get down.  I only focused on getting to the top.  I figured the rest would take care of itself when I got to the top.  Going down was much easier.”

“How did you feel when you slipped?” Mather asked bluntly. 

Nathan stammered, “I felt like I do today?” 

Mather, chuckled with his now signature grumble of a laugh.  “Look man, I told

you.  I just want to hear what you got to say and then you are free to go.”


            Nathan decided to chance a question.  “Why are you doing this?” 

Mather’s brow wrinkled for a moment in deep thought.  He regained focus. “I am searching for some meaning to this miserable excuse for life.”  Mather dug in his pocket and pulled out a much folded and smeared piece of paper.  He handed it to Nathan.  “You don’t have to read the whole thing man.  The just of it is, I was a medical student.  I was a fine medical student, a scientist, and researcher.  I had promise and it was robbed from me because the jerk I worked for wouldn’t take full responsibility for his actions.  He dragged me down with him.  The only difference is that he was at the end of his career and close to retirement with what I found out earlier to be a generous nest egg.  I, on the other hand, was an overly zealous student willing to do what it took to get a good education.  I am not talking about cheating or bucking the system.   I am talking about working beyond what is expected.  I am talking about true service learning, as well.  One day of the week, with my rigorous schedule it was all I could manage, I went and provided health services at a homeless shelter—pro-bono.  It meant so much to me and that was swept away with everything else.”  Mather paused for a long moment.  Choked with emotion, he went on.  “That incident did not just break my career; it broke my spirit.  I was a student.  An ‘embarrassment’ to the school, I was expelled and I could not afford a lawyer to defend me.  I was forced to quietly leave.  I did not even have benefit of a hearing.”  Nathan looked at Mather’s large watery eyes and felt choked up himself.  Nathan thought: Mather had really put himself into his life.  What had he personally done?

            Nathan knew the answer.  He had purposefully tried to remain uncommitted.  Even Michele, who he had once promised his heart to, had become disappointed in his lack of dedication to her or anything for that matter.  Before she left him, she told him that she felt like a toy, like his car outside.  She told him that she would have rather been some man’s trophy wife because at the very least she would have stood as a symbol of his success.  No, she said, she wasn’t even that to him, just a toy because he thought he should have one.  A toy, just like the gizmo that sat on his desk with balls that clank together in continuous motion, a pointless amusement that could easily be overlooked and ignored.  Nathan never said a word.  Michele left his life just as easily and quietly as she had come.  That’s when Nathan knew that Michele had been right.  At this very moment, something powerful and wondrous struck his mind; he missed her, longed for her and regretted having been so ignorant, so unresponsive.  If he got out of this, he would just have to call her, if only to hear her voice.

            Nathan was jolted out of his reverie with a slap to his face that stung his eyes.  Mather said in a voice deep with emotion, “man have you been listening to anything that I have said?” 

“Yes,” Nathan responded and proceeded to relate back what Mather had told him. 

“Then where in your head were you man?” Mather asked. 

“I was thinking of Michele,” Nathan said and a quiet sad tone. 

“Your wife?” 

“Yes, she left me.” Nathan dropped his eyes to the floor.  Nathan could barely hold back tears. 

“Man, that is rough.”  Mather patted Nathan on the back, “Do you have kids?”  “No, never had a chance.”  Nathan thought of his little niece, Jenny, her hands so chubby they looked dimpled.  He saw her sparkling eyes and recalled her voice as she called him, Uncle Natty. 

Mather said, “Yep, that is rough and here I am putting you through this because of my misery.”

            “Well, if you keep on having those exotic adventures you are bound to find someone else.” 

Nathan managed to squeak out, “I want Michelle,” before he broke down uncontrollably.  Mather brought Nathan a chair, a cold pop and a box of tissues, which soon became wadded, globs.  Nathan finally was able to calm down although he started shaking uncontrollably all over again.  He simply couldn’t stop. 

Mather reached up and felt his forehead.  “You are burning up!”  He went away and came back with a thermometer and some ibuprophen.  “Take these,” Mather wrapped his coat around Nathan.  “Wow, you have a fever of 102!  Look, I’m done.  I am sorry I put you through this. Calm down, I am going to call for help and get you out of here.”  Mather then went about getting communication back on.   Mather went and shut off the cell phone scrambler.  He came back and handed the rifle to Nathan. 

“Look Nathan don’t shoot me.” 

Mather showed him a cell-phone that he was holding and dialed 911.  “Look, I am a trained medical student and I have a very sick man here.  I haven’t at all acted responsibly, in fact, I have acted like a common criminal and I deserve to be treated as such.  Please get here as soon as you can, oh yeah, I also have a store clerk locked in the back office.  No one else is here.”

            The police came and arrested Mather.

            Nathan was very sick and had to go into the hospital.  Thanks to Mather’s actions, he recovered quickly. Because of Mather’s actions Nathan dropped the charges.  Because of Mather’s life, Nathan hired a lawyer to represent Mather.  Although, the attorneys were never able to get Mather back into Medical school, they did get him reinstated to the science program and he now teaches at a local community college and acts as a health advocate for people at the homeless shelter.  Nathan arranged a meeting with Mather to talk with him about where their lives were going.  Mather told Nathan that his life now was not quite what he had envisioned.  Mather also told Nathan that he helped him regain his dignity and walked away but not before he gave Nathan a bone-crushing hug.

            Nathan did call Michelle and found out that life isn’t like the movies.  Yes, she was seeing someone but decided that she would meet him over coffee.  Nathan called up his friend Jayden, who talked to him on the phone like they just stopped seeing each other yesterday.  Nathan planned a tame adventure with Jayden to Jamaica on a cruise ship.  It was not exactly high adventure but it was a beginning.  Today, cocoa would describe the color of Nathan’s life and like cocoa his life is a rich taste waiting to be savored slowly








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