First Night: The Conflict Between Hope and Cynicism
Story by Dr. Lee Brazil
Foreword and Epilogue by:
Written by Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved
December 17, 2019, 8:15 A.M.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
Lee did not sleep well. He woke early. He sat on the edge of the bed and stared out at the ocean. What to tell Liz? Maybe Jennings and “Howdy Doody” would find someone else to be their delivery boy. Maybe he could avoid them in London. They hadn’t asked him to do anything yet. Maybe they wouldn’t. Lee could wait to tell her later. There. Lee had talked himself out of saying anything to Liz, which he had done many times before. But he caught himself this time. He knew that this was not the best way to handle things with Liz. It would be hard. She would ask a dozen questions, as she always did. But he would tell her. He would tell her about what had happened. What might happen.
The two always had breakfast together at least once a week. They had been going to the same diner for years. The place was busy, as it usually was. The diner walls were lined with toys that Gail collected with a passion starting in November for the Marines “Toys for Tots.” Louie, who had opened the diner with his wife Gail after he had gotten back from Vietnam, was at the grill. The two were a strange combination. He was tall and thin; Gail was barely five feet. She was always smiling and talking; Louie seldom said a word to anyone outside of the kitchen.
Lee and Liz took the last table. It was near the front door. Liz was debating whether or not to sit at the counter because of the draft near the door. But Lee sat down. Liz stood for a few seconds, but gave up and joined him.
The waitress came. Julie. She knew them. They were regulars. “The usual?” she said. “Coffee, two eggs over easy for you,” she said looking at Lee, “with bacon and raisin toast. And for you, tea, two eggs poached with rye toast, hold the butter. Right?”
Lee nodded and smiled.
“Remember,” said Liz. “Hold the butter.”
Liz made a few comments about the packing she still had to do. Lee smiled and nodded but said nothing.
“Lee, what are you thinking about?” Lee still didn’t respond. “Lee, we’re on vacation,” said Liz, trying to get Lee to look in her direction.
“You’ve been looking forward to this. What’s going on?”
He continued to avoid her eyes. “Oh, honey, I’m fine. Fine. I just have a few things on my mind.”
“Well, that’s obvious. You kept mumbling in your sleep last night. I couldn’t make out what you were saying.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Just a little confused and worried I guess.” Liz continued to stare.
“Jennings showed up in my office yesterday.” He looked away and waited, but not for long.
“Jennings? Oh, no!” Liz exploded and Lee grimaced. “What did he want? I thought we were done with him. Aren’t we?”
Lee noticed that the couple sitting at the table closest to them had turned to listen to the conversation.
“Liz, please, I’m not sure the other people here are really interested.” Although they obviously were.
“Well, I thought so, but he said he might need for me to do him a small favor.”
“Small favor?” said Liz, raising her voice again. “Those guys don’t deserve any favors. Large or small. They owe you and our daughter and me.” Liz’s voice was growing even louder. Lee noticed that his neck and face were feeling quite warm and assumed that they were growing redder by the second. He made another effort to calm Liz.
Lee leaned in, lowering his voice. “I know, I know, Liz. But they still have the upper hand.” He paused. “I have no doubt they would use it.” There was silence.
Liz aware of the risk of being overheard followed Lee’s cue. “So what’s this small favor?” her voice a step above a hush.
“He wants me to pick up something in London and deliver it to someone in Paris.”
“Great,” Liz said, rolling her eyes. “The first time we’ve been out of the States, just you and me since I don’t know when, and he wants you to play Federal Express?”
“Look, I don’t like this any better than you do.” Lee paused again. “But we will just have to see what happens. They will contact me in London if they still…”
Liz interrupted. “Can Joe…”
Lee cut her off. “No, no. We don’t need to get poor Joe involved in this again.” Joe was Lee’s attorney and close friend. “We’ve created enough of a problem for him. Last time they almost got him disbarred.”
Lee took Liz’s hand. “Look at me. Let’s just see what happens.” And as if on cue, their meals arrived and the routine of their life continued for now.
The day passed quickly. Final packing, a call to Dru, a somewhat compulsive round of checking the house to see what was turned off, turned down, locked before leaving. Lee checked the front door three times to make sure it was locked.
The drive to Portland went quickly, as did the flight to Boston. Checkin and security in Boston went smoothly. It was a beautiful day.
The plane to London was packed. Every seat filled. Thank God, they weren’t in the middle. Lee took the window seat. Liz liked being on the aisle. She could talk to whoever might be occupying the other aisle seat or who might stroll by for a chat. And today’s guest in 7C was Ms. Politically Correct 2019, a soccer mom — Lee thought they still called them that — from the Cape, who, after polite introductions, launched into a discussion of private versus public education. Lee groaned, politely smiled, and dove into his book while Liz joined the debate.
Their daughter Dru had gone to a private school for her high school years. Lee had always had some mixed feelings about that — well, not that mixed; mostly negative. Lee and Liz, the great advocates for public education, had given in to their daughter. The transition back to Maine had been a sudden one and not one of Dru’s choosing. Lee had moved the family back to Tennessee when Dru was three. But after ten years of fundamentalism and right-wing politics, they were ready to return to Maine. Lee went back to his Maine practice, and Liz retired from social work and went to art school, something she had always wanted to do.
They had put Dru into the private school because it was small and, in truth, they thought helped with the transition. They were right. After the first year, she loved it and she wanted to stay and did. The school was a bastion of liberalism, and after living in the South for many years, Lee had to admit it was refreshing, at least at first. But he also felt it was a bastion of some hypocrisy. During a fundraiser that the school had sponsored for some poor Indian tribe in South America, the discussion had turned to ways of raising additional money for the cause. Lee’s suggestion about taking the children out of private school for a year and putting the tuition they saved into the cause had not been, to say the least, well received. This was a group that definitely did not know how to take a joke.
Late afternoon became early evening. The sky was dark, but the air smooth. As the hours passed, conversations faded. Liz closed her book, one of those English mysteries she loved, and put on her eyeshades. The woman across the aisle was also settling in for the night.
As usual, Lee couldn’t sleep. He seldom could on airplanes. The World Health Organization materials from the workshop he was to attend in Paris weren’t holding his attention. For Lee, long flights, just like long showers, were good times to think. They were time markers for Lee. Their last flight to Europe had been with Dru, a trip to Paris for her sixteenth birthday. She had loved it, and so had Lee and Liz. Since then, the years had seemed to fly by. Lee had had a long life. Considerably longer one than some of his childhood friends who had died at the ripe old age of nineteen in Vietnam. He had much to be grateful for. As part of his personal campaign to practice gratitude, which he had decided to undertake while he was in detention in Boston, he had gotten involved in doing public education activities. This involved leading discussions about the change process. There was no question the country needed a good dose of resilience, but bouncing back from the last few years was, to say the least, a challenge. The failure to change things enough, the economy, healthcare and the war, and to do this as quickly as people expected, coupled with racism, had almost done in the previous president. And America’s unrealistic wish list was in the process of taking the present one down. But from the discussions that Lee had with his community, he began to believe that, just maybe, people were becoming more realistic in looking at both what they had, what they should feel grateful for, and what really needed to change — realizing that it was themselves that they had control over, not the other guy, and that they could change their world by changing themselves.
It also seemed to Lee that people were finding again one of America’s core values, caring for your neighbor, not just for you and yours. At least he hoped this was what was happening in the country. The new voice on the political stage, Senator Clayton, had a message of change similar to other politicians, but what was different was her focus on the individual. Her words sounded to Lee a lot like those of Jack Kennedy. Instead of asking, as Kennedy had, “not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” Senator Clayton would say, “It is not all about you; it is about us.”
Lee was finally starting to feel drowsy. He thought of another flight with Dru when she was sixteen, that is, sixteen months. They had flown to Toronto to visit Liz’s family. Dru had slept most of the way on Lee’s lap. Lee pulled the blanket up to his chin. He crossed his arms remembering how warm she had felt lying on his chest. He dozed off.
When he woke up, the sky was lighter. People were starting to stir. They would be landing at Heathrow soon, around 9:00 A.M. London time.