JULY 2009


Two Departures
By Sam Gridley, May 11, 2009

Each weekday morning when Dermot’s father left for work, he’d reach down to where the boy’s head drooped over a cereal bowl, ruffle his hair and mumble a slang farewell: “Later, kiddo,” or “Seeya, champ.” One day it was different. The boy finished breakfast and wandered into the living room to watch his mother and father loosely hugging at the front door. Setting out on a business trip, the man hefted his suitcase and called across the room, “Goodbye, Dermot.” The phrase, uttered through a tight grin, had such an oddly formal ring that Dermot cocked his head in surprise. When his father failed to return, joining instead a new family on the opposite coast, the words hardened in his memory like a thin layer of cement.

Skip ahead twenty-seven years to a morning when Dermot’s live-in girlfriend Celeste stands at their apartment door with a carry-on slung over her shoulder. She is interviewing for a prestigious residency in a hospital 853 miles away (exact distance courtesy of Internet maps), and they have quarreled not about this subject, but around this subject, for the past two weeks, with the dispute so entangled in other matters that for much of the time he has lost track of the issues. As her glance angles up at him from under finely tilted brows—an expression that suggests a bemused take on her own irony—he briefly sees what she does: an unshaven, unshowered, slightly overweight academic holding a lukewarm mug of coffee that has slopped onto the sleeve of his tartan pajamas. An impulse moves him to beat her to the punch: “Goodbye, Celeste,” he says, with what he supposes is polite, forgiving affection. She nods, loses the ironic tilt, starts to speak and checks herself, and slips out the door.

Dermot returns to the kitchen. Above the sink a small window overlooks a courtyard where forsythia branches curl under a thin layer of ice. He has a sudden image, or fantasy, of his mother looking out a window like this. A flick of movement catches his eye, but when he tries to make out the bird or squirrel, nothing appears. With a jerk of the wrist Dermot pitches his coffee down the drain. “So long, kiddo,” he mutters, and heads to the bathroom.

Sam Gridley’s fiction and satire have appeared in more than thirty magazines and anthologies, both in print and online. A founding member of the Working Writers Group in Philadelphia, he has received two fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, and several honors from magazines. He currently resides at Gridleyville.com.