Author: Suzanne Borchers

The back rows of mourners had risen to pay their respects and shuffled toward the old man lying in the casket. The front rows consisting of family and their close friends squirmed a bit waiting for the line to proceed past. Soft musical selections moved the line toward the exit. Averted eyes glanced to meet in condolence, while an occasional hug disrupted the line.

He lingered in the shadow along the back wall. He pushed himself forward to be the last in line before the first rows stood. Sooner than he expected, he faced the lifeless figure. Gazing on the wrinkled visage, his thoughts traveled backward in time.

The tape began when he first met the weeping boy. “I am your new stepfather. Would you like to work on an electronic project together?” The boy’s tears subsided as he placed his hand in the stepfather’s hand.
Days of instruction and mutual social learning with quiet laughter produced a machine to make feathered lures for their new adventure in fishing.

In the rough wooden rowboat, they threw their lines into murky waters that contained no fish but which brought intimate conversations and contentment to the stepfather and his stepson. Clouds passed overhead. The stepfather rowed, until years later when the stepson powered the oars.

Time passed.

His stepson left him behind and entered the academy to voyage beyond home and planet. The stepfather hugged him, and was surprised to not have the words to say goodbye—just a hug.

For years, during the short leaves, they sat together and the stepfather heard tales of romance and travel. The medical leave was the hardest one. Would his stepson be able to pursue his dream with only one arm? Would the implant work successfully? Each day, the stepfather nursed his stepson back from the brink of despair toward optimism. Finally, they shared a hug goodbye until the next leave.

Whispered conversations brought him back to the darkened room.

“How long do you think it will stand there?”
“Surely, now’s the time to junk it.”
“No longer useful.”
“Hasn’t been for years.”
“Why did they keep it around?”
“Who knows?”
“The old man insisted on it.”
“Well, great grandfather is dead and he doesn’t have anything to say about it anymore.”
“Can you believe it’s still standing there?”
“Almost like it could feel sadness.”
“That’s absolutely absurd.”
“We’ll stop by the recycling plant when we can finally get out of here.”

The stepfather focused his attention on his stepson. Was he truly an imposter? He was overwhelmed by emptiness. His electronics smoldered and burned. His shoulders shook as his memory saw the unlined face of the boy. He would never see his stepson again.

“Push it away from the coffin.”
“Turn it off first.”
“When it falls, kick it aside for discarding later.”

The stepfather heard. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore. He stepped away from his stepson and waited by the exit.