The Concept of Conscience
Max Skinner listened to the message while she drove them to the hospital. Something inside of him provided a constant itch to return the call but what would he say? That he was on his way back? He weighed the options and analyzed the results. After pursuing Mara all the way down here what would leaving now tell her?
She could feel stress from him.
"Was it an important call?"
He answered at once. "No, its nothing, I'll deal with it later." That's that. He put the phone away and resigned himself to his fate. He'd made a shit load of money over the past months, enough to live on for a long time but was it ever enough with Max? Now there's the rub.
She didn't trust his response at all. Max may have been a wheeler dealer in the markets and a hell of a liar when the situation called for it but his transparency was evident under the current circumstances. She wouldn't pry though; there were other things to contend with.
"I hate coming here." she bemoaned. "I hate seeing my father like this. He doesn't even know who I am anymore."
Max had no memory of his parents but he did know of his uncle Henry. He couldn't imagine how he'd have dealt with seeing him after he started to fail. Ludivine told him how she'd taken care of the old man prior to his demise and in a way Max thanked God he didn't have to remember him that way. It would have enhanced his guilt.
'I'm sorry." he responded with all sincerity, "There's nothing to be done?"
Mara shook her head. "He's had a massive seizure and he's on life support now. It left him deprived of oxygen for too long. Why he had to go off on that bloody horse of his alone I'll never know. If he were just.....
She held back a little sob. "Sometimes ...I swear he can hear me because his eyes seem to follow me across the room but the doctor assures me that he's just a shell. There are times when I wish he'd died instead of hanging on like this." She stared ahead at the road blankly as she spoke. "I can't just pull the plug on him. I'm not able to make that decision."
"At least you haven't abandoned him." Max's conscience ambled forefront. He did have one after all but it was quickly sequestered as his blackberry sang out again. It had to be four AM in the states, he thought as he recognized the New York phone number. He put the phone back in his pocket without answering it.
Mara pulled the vehicle into the hospital parking lot and found a spot. She sat behind the wheel for a moment and gathered her courage. Not a day passed when she didn't visit him but it never got any easier for her. She remembered seeing him laughing as he galloped the big sorrel down one of the alleys between the vines. He was a vibrant man with a good healthy Joie de Vivre but in one fell swoop he became as inane as the grapes he tended.
"Come on, love." Max nudged his head toward the hospital entrance. "You're not alone today."
She did manage to smile at him and in a few moments they were walking hand in hand to the long term care wing. The staff had become used to her daily visits and they greeted her with their typical "He's doing well today, Miss" and "G'day Miss McKenzie. You're father has some color in his cheeks. His eyes are open again." It was all window dressing.
Mara stopped at the door and drew a breath before she led Max in to her
fatherís room. She nodded her head as if to say she was ready to herself. Her
demeanor changed completely as she strode up to the bed.
"G'day daddy," She bent down to kiss his cheek. The man's eyes were open and fixed forward and there wasn't a flinch from him as his daughter went on.
"I've brought someone to meet you. Daddy, this is Max Skinner, The man I told you about. Max this is my father, Martin Mackenzie."
Max wasn't sure how to act. He said the first thing that came to his mind if for no one elseís benefit but Mara's. "How do you do, sir?"
Mara reached for Max's hand and brought him up to her fatherís side. "He hears us. I can feel it. Right daddy?"
The sound of the respirators rhythmic aid was unnerving to Max. Did Henry endure this kind of end alone? Tubes and wires were connected to monitors and pumps which forced fluids, drained fluids and kept records of it all. It frustrated Max deep down that there was something here he couldn't solve. All of the money in the world couldn't reverse time and why hadn't he realized it sooner?
"Max is going to help me with the vineyard, daddy. Isn't that great? You don't have to worry about anything except ...getting better." She poured some water from his bedside pitcher into a basin picked up a small sterile sponge from the bed table. Mara used it to moisten her fathers oxygen dried lips. She tended to him by moving his fingers, hands and arms. It made Max wonder again, did Ludivine care for Uncle Henry with such tenderness and love? Would there be anyone to care for him God forbid...perish the thought.
They stayed with Martin for a couple of hours and just like every other day since his event, Mara bade her father good-bye with a promise that she'd return the next day. No wonder her estate was in such disrepair She and Max had talked very little on their way back but the silence was shattered several times by the unique jingle of the blackberry he carried. He finally shut it off all together.
It was later that night when Max tumbled into bed beside her. Neither one of them reached for the other, they were both bone tired and off in their own thoughts. Mara wondered what would happen now that Max knew she'd never leave but she'd not say much to him about it. She turned her back to him and uttered a soft "G'night, Max-a-million, before sleep took her away. Max lay awake for what seemed like hours. He was torn between what he thought to be an obligation to her and one he had to himself. He turned to his side and stared at her silhouette in the dusky shadows.
"You are a magnificent woman with more troubles than anyone should have to endure. I can't help you. I'm not good enough for you." His whispers were unheard by her but they echoed in someone's ears. Unable to fight it any longer, Max drifted off to sleep. It wasn't long before he felt the sun on his face and the smell of rich soil and vegetation filled his nares. His eyes were closed but he knew he was standing in the vineyards of his summer memories.
"What have you been up to you little shit?" The familiar voice startled him and when he turned he felt a hell of a lot closer to the ground. How old was he now, twelve?"
"Uncle Henry? Uncle Henry!" Max didn't recognize his own voice. It was higher, younger and he felt more alive than he had in decades. "How did I get here?"
"You never left this place, Max-a-million." Henry poked the boy in the chest and laughed. "It's been hidden in here for years. It's about time you opened your eyes. By the way, I'd like you to meet a college of mine." Henry turned and there stood a man that Max kind of recognized except he was vibrant and smiling. The big muscular bloke wore a blue chamois shirt that fit loosely everywhere but across his barrel chest. He had a head full of blonde hair and his eyes were a striking aqua color just like hers.
"Martin Mackenzie, this is my nephew Maximillian Skinner. Offer your hand to the man son."
"How so you do, sir." Max wiped his hand on his trousers and stuck it out.
"So we meet again, mate."
"Yes. We've met in the future. You've been sniffing around her." Martin turned his head to nod toward a little blonde girl who was saddling a Shetland pony. She was giggling with glee as the rambunctious equine tossed his head in protest against the bridle. "Come on, mate. This won't hurt at all. How else am I going to keep you in line if I canít get a bit in your mouth?"
"The pony's name is Max and my little girl rescued him from the slaughter house. She loves him dearly but he's not sure he loves her back. He loves his freedom too much but he doesn't realize who gave him his very existence. Unappreciative little fuck that he is."
Maximillian took a few steps toward the girl and he called out to her. "Just tell him the truth. Tell him how you feel and he'll settle right down for you."
She turned toward him and smiled. The color of her eyes matched the man that Uncle Henry introduced him too and Max realized who she was.
"Mara?" he called out to her. She nodded but just as she did the precocious little pony bolted away from her knocking her to the ground as he did so.
"Bloody hell!" Max shouted and he struggled to help her but his feet were locked to the ground. "Please, get up. You're not hurt. You can't be hurt. Get up!" He turned to Uncle Henry then to Martin. "You have to help her!"
Martin shook his head. "It's up to you now, boy. I trust you."
"No! You can't trust me. No one can trust me. Uncle Henry, tell him, please!"
"You have to grow up sometime, Max-a-Million. I'll always love you."
"Don't leave me. Uncle Henry...don't leave me.....No!"
His eyes opened and he blinked against the darkness.
"Max, are you okay? You were mumbling in your sleep. God, you're sweating. What's wrong?" Mara leaned over him to press her lips to his brow."
"Mara, love. I...I think I was dreaming. I'm not sure..."
"It's okay. You're here with me."
Just as she reached to turn the light on the phone at her bedside rang. Her eyes adjusted and she glanced at the clock before picking it up. Four thirty two AM.
"Hello..." her voice was full of fatigue as she answered the call.
"Miss Mackenzie. This is doctor Browning. I'm sorry to have to tell you this but your father passed away a few minutes ago. I am sorry my dear."
A beat passed before she responded. Her breaths were short and shallow and her hand began to quiver. "Thank you, doctor." was all she said then she hung up the phone. Max didn't have to ask her what it was about. He knew. He just held her tight and let her cry.
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