The Graduation

The Graduation


Alan A. Spanswick.

(A short story or perhaps a play)

As he put on his pajamas he wondered whether it would be tonight, he felt sure it would happen soon and a gut feeling told him he was getting closer.
Bernie Woodford was sixty five years of age, an only child whose life up until now had by his own definition amounted to nothing, and his appearance only helped confirm this belief.  He had what could be described as an “Ebenezer Scrooge” look. He was short and scrawny, his hair long and unkempt at the back and sides, which only tended to exaggerate the large bald patch at the front.  His complexion was sallow confirming his general bad health, and the stubble on his chin was proof that he only shaved just once a week. The few clothes he had took on an undressed, unwashed look, there was no doubt by any standard that he was a very unattractive person. At school, he had been discouraged from taking part in any sports by a stipulation from his mother, who believed with the early death of his father, that he had been born with a hereditary heart defect, confirmed in part by the family doctor.  This did not endear him to either his class mates or teachers, and he went through school without making any lasting friends or reasonable grades. After leaving school he found employment with the post office, where he had passed the last forty years sorting mail, again without making friends or marrying.
Bernie lived alone on the second floor of a three story apartment building.  The top floor was occupied by an elderly man that he rarely saw or heard, while the owner a Mrs. Jones, an elderly lady, lived on the ground floor below.  His only apparent contact with her was when on the last Friday of every month he would pay his rent. His apartment also echoed his disappointment with life, being furnished with unhappy effects left to him by his parents, mixed in with items purchased locally from a used furniture store.  He had not since moving in twenty years earlier, changed either the wallpaper or paint inherited from the previous tenant.

The consequences of his miserable existence led him in becoming obsessed to discover just what purpose there was to him being here, and the search for the answer became his one and only objective in life. His quest resulted in him combing the shelves of all the local book shops and libraries in his vicinity, absorbing every written word on the subject, but failing to find an answer acceptable to him Bernie reluctantly turned to religion.  His lack of enthusiasm was derived that on the death of his father, with his mother’s conversion and subsequent zeal as a born again Christian, not allowing him to see, hear, or mix with anyone outside of the faith, which Bernie claimed played a large part in his unhappy childhood. Nevertheless, over the next twenty years he decided to study them all, from the old faiths through to the lunatic fringe cults, but once again failing to get the answer he so desperately sought.
In the years following Bernie became more of a recluse than ever, finally determining that there must be a supreme power that governed all, and ultimately that same power being aware of his utmost effort in seeking the truth would contact him direct.  It was also his opinion that the ideal setting for this encounter would be during the night, while he was asleep, and Bernie had already decided that when the question was answered, it was his destiny and appointed duty, to reveal his findings to the world. So where most people looked forward to the dawning of a new day, Bernie looked forward to the arrival of a new night.
Bernie shivered a little as he climbed into bed; the room seemed colder than usual which was odd, for he always kept the temperature the same winter or summer, never opening the windows for fear of catching a cold or worse, another leftover from his sterile upbringing. As the feeling of coldness subsided, Bernie’s attention returned to his nightly routine of ensuring that everything was ready and in place. He checked his watch it was 8pm, the exact time he would go to bed every night winter or summer. On the small bedside table was a glass of water to refresh him should he awake during the night, and next to that a small tape recorder on which after receiving the communication he could immediately record it, so as to leave nothing to memory. Satisfied with his preparations for the night, he turned off his bedside lamp, snuggled down between the sheets, positioning him self as he would every night, flat on his back with the sheets pulled tightly up under his armpits. He smiled as he closed his eyes, for this to Bernie was the best time of the day, before long he was fast asleep.
When the voice came it wasn’t what he had envisioned. There was not any fanfare, or blinding light, nor was it soft or gentle, but it was loud and clear. He was not sure afterwards whether he had been awake or not, but as the voice continued he felt all the disappointment and anger drain from him. He felt exhilarated, refreshed and young again. At least half an hour had gone by when the explanation he had waited so long for came to an end, and by then Bernie was a new person.  He sensed a whole new challenge ahead of him, one that he could hardly wait to get started on.  It was then that he noticed how bright and cheerful the room had become, reflecting in some way his new found happiness. Bernie, now feeling positive of his future, returned again to completing his task.  He picked up the microphone, pressed the recording button, and began to speak.  He finished recording, happy with the result, feeling that the voice in its deliberation had ingrained the message into his memory.  He was positive he had left nothing out, but just to make sure he rewound the tape and played it through again, congratulating himself as he did so, on a job well done.
Satisfied now with everything completed, he looked once again around his room, his home, how different it looked! He was more contented than he ever thought possible!.  He was also very tired.  He sighed loudly as he lay back down between the sheets making himself comfortable once again.  As the tiredness drifted over him, he reflected on all those years of false hopes waiting for this night to arrive.  But that did not matter any more, for the sheer joy he felt at that moment compensated for all the disappointments of the past. .“Thank you, thank you very much” he said aloud, at the same time glancing around the room as though expecting an answer. When none came he continued only quieter now,” What was the quote that actor Ray Milland was famous for, Yes, I remember!” he chuckled as he whispered ‘It’s only the downs that make the ups seem so good?” then still smiling drifted back to sleep.
After the last Friday in the month came and went, Mrs. Jones became concerned for she had never known Bernie to be late with his rent. She politely waited another day before knocking on his door. With no answer she used her pass key and let herself in.
The police were first to arrive followed by an ambulance. Bernie was found lying, as he always slept, flat on his back, the sheets pulled tightly up under his armpits. The medic thought he could be in a coma although he could feel no pulse. Mrs. Jones said how peaceful even younger he looked, much better than she recalled when they were at it a few days earlier.
At the inquest the coroner determined that death was due to a massive heart attack, time of death could not be established because of the delay in finding the body, but the coroners guess was close to midnight. A police statement confirmed there were no signs of foul play and that a tape found near the body, when played, proved to be blank. At this, Mrs. Jones sighed with relief!
Stan read the story through once again satisfied now with the final draft. “That should do it” he muttered confidently to himself as he sealed it down in a large brown envelope and a few minutes later found him in great haste, hurrying down the stairs of the apartment building.  On reaching the bottom he turned sharply to the right colliding with the front of Mrs. Edwina Jones the owner. “You are in a hurry this morning, Stan” her face now beaming at the contact. “How’s the writing going?” Stan’s face lit up in a huge smile, enjoying her response “It’s finished Edwina, it’s actually finished, so I’m just rushing off to catch the post. If I can’t get this published I might as well give up and find a job washing dishes!” “Really!” she replied, then both laughed, as Stan squeezing her arm affectionately quickly moved on, shouting a goodbye just before colliding with the front door of the building in his now frantic effort not to miss the post. “Oh dear!” she muttered, as Stan now struggling to his feet and limping slightly, managed another wave before continuing on his way.
Mrs. Jones was still watching with fingers crossed now,  as disappearing out onto the street and stumbling, narrowly missing with a quick apology, an elderly lady like herself, who dismissing the apology, took a unsuccessful swing at him with her walking stick. Edwina smiled again as he disappeared out of sight, feeling pleased she would no longer be witness to what other calamities might occur before reaching the post office.
He had moved in just days after poor Bernie died, close to a year ago now, and she had felt pleased to have found somebody so quickly, not having advertised the apartment beyond possibly her elderly tenant, not that she could record telling him anyway. But it certainly had been a welcomed relief, as coupled with her age and money being so tight, mainly because of the growing upkeep of the building, particularly the plumbing which had become prone to blockage, she could not afforded to have it empty for long.
She had spent on average two evenings a week with her new tenant, getting to know him quite intimately, in many ways strange as it may seem, he already reminded her of Bernie, although she could not put her finger on quite why, he did not resemble Bernie, he was younger, taller, happier, and with a full head of hair!. Poor Bernie!, she felt bad at not attending his funeral, even after phoning the morgue to find out what undertaker she should inquire with, the answer she got was to say the least vague, and rather puzzling!. Oh well she did try! The book that Stan had completed and was so excited about was not a favorite subject of hers, especially as she was aware at her age she was heading in a direction to probably find out, but she did feel that the finished draft he allowed her to read was certainly startling in its conclusions, but as she had told him, on the subject of religion and how he had described his strong conclusions as to the meaning to life, was quite certain to be an interesting read causing great debate amongst a large number of people. Her only criticism as a woman was that there was very little dealing with sex!
After Bernie’s untimely death, although he had never looked very fit to her, perhaps the baldness didn’t help, it really was so nice to be in the company of somebody now with so much energy, so alive and so virile!!.  It did startle her though, that during one of their most recent conversations, Stan had revealed laughingly, he looked so attractive when he laughed, how his mother had warned him against over excitement or stressful situations, due to her insistence that he had been born with a hereditary heart defect.  Dam!… Over the next couple of days this conversation kept coming back to her in an depressing and strangely frightening way, until it was dismissed with a self lecture of ” Don’t be silly Edwina, he is much more up for it than Bernie!”, then managing a dreamy smile continued. “Your imagination is running away with you, but…. I think I will enquire further just what did happen to Bernie’s body!, And then, after dismissing the idea altogether, rushed upstairs to add more makeup before Stan returned.

THE END (or possibly, just the beginning!)


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