Excerpt (unedited) from “Roy Rogers Rides Again”

“Painting for a Stranger” Progress Report 2
January 12, 2019

[Author's Note: This story is about the well-intended decisions that a mother makes for her child's well-being, and how sometimes those decisions lead to a lifetime of hurt for both mother and child. As of this date, March 2, I haven't concluded the first draft. As usual with my writing, I'm not entirely sure what the end will be. I'll know it when I get there.]

Friday afternoon, Clay parked the car and walked wearily through the lot to the rear entrance of the bank. He was exhausted, both physically and mentally. The week at his mother’s home in Medford had been the toughest week of his life. He was completely drained. The emptiness he felt was made worse by the dreary January day in which the sun had given up trying to pierce the clouds and winter fog that chocked the valley.

One more major task on his list for today. Then there was tomorrow. And it would be all be over.

Clay entered the bank and was pleased to see that there wasn’t a line at the counter.

“Good afternoon, how can I help you?” said the woman behind the counter in a professionally friendly tone.

“I’d like to close an account please.” Clay presented a check book, savings account register, his driver’s license, and a file folder.

“I’m happy to help you with that,” said the clerk automatically before looking at the documentation in front of her. She tapped on the computer keyboard to access the account information. Then, she opened the folder Clay had given her. Inside was an official-looking certificate. “Do you wish to close the checking and savings accounts, Mr. Austin?”

“Yes.”Under the circumstances the question seemed moronic, but Clay figured the clerk had to ask. After all, his name was on both accounts along with his mother’s.

The clerk told Clay the balance in both accounts before asking, “Do you want a check for the balance, or can we transfer the funds for you?”

“A check will be okay.”

“This will only take a few minutes, Mr. Austin. Please help yourself to some coffee.”

The clerk pointed to a credenza in the bank lobby holding several coffee canisters. He didn’t want coffee. He wanted something much stronger. Besides, he doubted the coffee was fresh being this late in the day.

Clay made himself comfortable in the seating area of the lobby. Banks tried so hard to make their lobbies warm and welcoming. They wanted you to feel like you were in the home of a favorite uncle or something. At this bank the effort fell short. Clay felt he was in the waiting area of a discount dentist.

What a week! It had started last Friday when he got a call that his mom had been rushed to the hospital. She was in intensive care. He spoke with her on the phone. She was cheerful and only complained that her feet were so incredibly cold. However, Clay could tell by her slurred voice the cheerfulness was from morphine, not that his mother was in great spirits. He didn’t want to tire her, so he said goodbye and promised to call her the next morning. After all, this wasn’t the first time she’d been rushed to the hospital only to be discharged later.

The next day, as soon as he woke, he called the hospital to talk to his mom. A nurse answered the phone.

“Oh, Mr. Austin I’m so glad you called. We’ve been trying to reach you. I’m so sorry. Your mother passed at 5:15 this morning.

And just like that the only person in the world who loved him, was gone.

Now he sat in a cold bank lobby after a week spent making funeral arrangements, packing her things, listing the home for sale, and cancelling utilities. A week punctuated daily by tears as memories of his loving mother and childhood flooded his mind.

There was the time when little Clay was six years old. A syndication of the 1950’s Roy Rogers show was on cable TV and Clay never missed watching an episode. After every show, Clay would strap on his toy cap gun, place a little cowboy hat on his head and reenact the episode for the next hour or so.

The Roy Rogers show was sponsored by a local dairy called Darigold. One week they announced a promotion. Get a free Roy Rogers Deputy badge for just two box ends from their butter package.

Clay was very excited when he heard the news. A real Roy Rogers Deputy badge! Wow!  For the next week he pestered his mother daily about the badge. He had to have it.

Finally, his mother gave in and one Saturday together they drove the 12 miles from where they lived with Clay’s grandmother in Ashland to the Creamery office in Medford. Little Clay squirmed in the front seat of the car anticipating the shiny badge that would soon be pinned to his shirt.

His mother parked the car right in front of the Dairy’s office in downtown Medford. She told Clay to wait in the car for her. Clay never took his eyes off the front door of the Creamery. He knew when she came out that door she’d have Roy Roger’s badge in her hand. He waited and waited. Time stood still as he continued to look up through the Chevrolet’s window to the Dairy’s door.

Mommy was going to bring him a Roy Roger’s badge.

“Mr. Austin. Your check is ready,” announced the bank clerk.

In the blink of an eye Clay was transported from six years old to 30. He stood and slowly walked to the counter, not really wanting to receive what the clerk had in her hand.

She handed him the check and some paperwork to sign. After which she returned the savings books, check book, his driver’s license and the file folder containing the death certificate for his mother.

In a daze Clay walked out of the bank’s front door, not remembering he had entered through the back entrance. When the cold afternoon air greeted him he came out of this trance and looked around disoriented. Where did he park? He couldn’t remember. He looked to his left down the street. Nothing familiar. Where on earth did he park the car? He looked to his right. The car wasn’t in sight, but a sign caught his eye.

Up ahead, just one-half block from where he stood outside what used to be his mother’s bank, was a building with a weathered sign that read Darigold. Below the sign was a simple door that didn’t look like it had seen much use lately. It was the very same door little Clay had watched intently so many years earlier waiting for his mommy to come out with the Roy Roger’s Deputy badge.

Clay stood on the sidewalk, legs trembling, tears streaming down his face. Twenty-four years ago his loving mother drove 12 miles to get a Roy Rogers badge for her little boy. Now her son was standing on the same street after cashing out her bank account. Tomorrow was her funeral. Sunday he’d return home. Alone in the world for the first time.