Man in the Middle

17 May

Lake Erie looked calm and even to the two seniors viewing it through the wide picture window of their spacious home in Bay Village.

“I realize how much you love your grandson, Harold,” said gray-haired Mary Kean in a warm, quiet tone. “We had only one son, and now we have one grandson to carry on the family name and heritage.”

Her husband, thin but muscular, had served as a Cuyahoga County Judge for over a decade until his recent retirement from office.

“Jerry had success as a law school student,” he murmured thoughtfully. “Now it’s up to himself to make a place for himself in the profession of law. That will not be easy, even for a judge’s only grandson.”

Both seniors fell silent, unwilling to say a word about the father of young Jerry, their unmentioned son named Arthur.

It was his grandmother who urged Jerry to go and see his father so as to present a personal invitation to the graduation celebration set to be held at the Bay Village mansion of the Judge.

“I have no idea where in the Cleveland area he may at present be living,” replied the grandson in the grand family room facing the lake shore.

“It shouldn’t be hard to find him,” advised Mary. “As a city worker in the Finance Department, his address must be on record in the government offices somewhere. Just ask around and you’ll get an answer to your question.

“The invitation should be brought by you in person, I think.”

Jerry leaned forward in the sofa chair he occupied. “I guess none of the family has had contact with him since my mother passed away.”

Mary frowned. “I broke contact with my son at the time of the awful divorce. He had little interest in his only child, you. My husband and I took over more and more responsibility for the two of you. Then you were left alone, and your grandfather and I were really all you had left.

“Arthur is my son, but he was wrong in every way. I have never forgiven his terrible behavior, and he knows it.

“That’s why you are the only one who can talk to him and invite him to come here when we hold the party for you, Jerry.”

The latter thought for a short while. “All right. I make an attempt to see him.”

The son located his parent in an old apartment complex in the suburb of Cleveland Heights. Arthur Kean, middle-aged and balding, was surprised who stood at his door. “Come in, Jerry. How many years has it been since we saw each other last?”

Once the two were seated in the small, disorganized parlor, the short, pale city employee began to question his only child.

“How are you doing, my boy? I understand you are going to law school. Is it difficult? I myself was never a very good student at anything. Your grandfather always said that I never was willing to apply myself to anything that was too hard. Do you think maybe he was right? I hope you are more like him that like me, Jerry.”

The latter interrupted his father’s rambling. “I am about to graduate and get my law degree, and I want to invite you to come to the celebration party.”

“Will it be at the house in Bay Village? I haven’t been inside it for a number of years, you know.”

“That’s Grandmother’s plan. She thought it up. All their friends and my own set will be there. It should be a pretty sizable group that shows up.”

Arthur stared intently at his son. “Do you want me there? That’s all that counts in my mind.”

“I would be mighty proud if you did,” declared Jerry. “Do you have your own car?”

“Yes, and I’ll make it. By the way, how are your grandparents? How is their health?”

“Comparatively good, considering their age.”

A brief silence followed. Then the son excused himself and left after telling his father the date and time of the party.

Harold Kean brought up a delicate subject at breakfast with his wife the following morning.

“I’ve been thinking about the estate a lot, Mary.”

“The estate?”

“Ours, my dear. All the property and money we’re going to leave behind when we go.”

She looked across the table at him with a heavy frown. “You are considering disinheriting our son, Arthur?”

“It’s not a new idea. Ever since the divorce, then her sudden death, I’ve wanted to make a change and make Jerry our sole and only heir. But that is not an easy subject for two people like us bring up and decide. So, I’ve delayed the inevitable for years, up to now. My hope has been that our grandson would quickly marry and begin a family, but it hasn’t happened yet.

“Nobody can predict what the future might hold, but we can’t hold off and delay forever. You must know that, Mary.”

She turned her face and eyes away from him for a time before replying.

“Let me think about the matter, Harold. At least till after the party we’re giving for our grandson, Jerry.”

They said no more on the subject that morning.

The Judge made several telephone calls that morning concerning a matter of great family importance. He succeeded in receiving confirmation of a coming offer of a position in a prominent Cleveland law firm to his grandson.

He then called Jerry and asked him to stop at the mansion in Bay Village sometime that afternoon.

When the young man entered his grandfather’s book-lined study later that day, Harold Kean wore a radiant smile.

“Sit down, my boy. I have some very good news to tell you. It is going to make you a happy law school graduate.”

“I can guess what it might concern,” muttered Jerry with anticipation.

“Yes, it has to do with your future professional career. Of course, you must first of all pass the Bar Examination, but I am sure that will provide no obstacles to what is then in store for you.

“The law firm where I began, which my own father helped to found in the early twentieth century, will be happy to give you a starting position on their legal staff. You shall be starting at the bottom, of course, but it will be a position that holds a great deal of promise for the future.

“Think of this: you would be carrying on a Kean family tradition that goes back a number of generations. You will have a lot of good will on your side. I am speaking of important family connections, you understand.”

“Thank you so much, sir,” responded Jerry. “I am overwhelmed by what you have done for me in this regard.”

All at once, the Judge frowned. “It has always been a wound to me that your father did not go into law, or accomplish very much in any way. Let me go so far as to say he was never much of a father to you.

“He was the greatest disappointment of my entire life.”

Harold looked down at the top of his mahogany desk.

Jerry said good-bye and departed for his apartment in Cleveland.

Arthur, over the years, received periodic telephone calls from his mother that she kept entirely secret from her husband.

Mary called her only child late in the afternoon when she was certain that he would be home from work.

She asked how he was, and he did the same concerning her.

“Jerry came to see me and he told me he is about to finish law school. I said that I was glad he would now have a good profession, and he invited me to come to Bay Village for a celebration party that is going to be given for him.”

“What did you tell him, Arthur?”

“I said I would be there, but now I don’t know if that was wise. I’m mostly worried about having to see father in the old house where so much happened in my life.

“It will, of course, bring back memories of the divorce and then the death of my mother. How can I not be saddened by just being there in the place?”

Mary Kean swallowed an emotion she felt. “You have to be here, son. You have a perfect right to be here with the rest of your relatives, despite all the sorrows that you’ve had to experience.”

Neither of them spoke for several long seconds.

“I believe that my son, Jerry, has always been more of a genuine Kean than I’ve ever been,” confessed her son. “I’ve always been the black sheep, at least for my father. He has treated me like a hard judge would, without forgiveness or mercy of any sort.”

“Don’t talk like that. Down deep, he loves you as much as I do. But something inside him has made it impossible to ever be kind or generous toward you.”

“I’ll make it to the party, mother. For your sake, I’ll come.”

The Judge arranged for a catering service to provide food, drinks, and three extra workers to supplement the household staff of two servants. The party was expected to have twenty-five guests present.

Jerry arrived early and went into his grandfather’s study to have a word with him.

“I will be highly happy tonight, as I know my own father would be if he were here with us,” smiled Harold Kean. “You are the one to take up and carry on a proud family tradition. I wish you the best of everything, Jerry.”

The latter smiled. “I hope that I can live up to your expectations, sir.” A sudden cloud threw a shadow into his mind. “My father said he would be here and I hope he acts the way that he should. I mean mostly toward you and Grandmother.”

“We can handle him, I am certain,” said the Judge with a soft sigh. “Now, let’s go into the drawing room and see how many of the guests have arrived.”

The early arrivals were not staying long, giving greetings and congratulations, trying the banquet table and the drinks, then making quick departures.

Grandfather, grandmother, and grandson seemed to be waiting the appearance of the relative who stood between the generations.

At last, Arthur walked in, his attitude one of being in a house where he had grown up and deserved to be treated with family feelings. He went up to his mother who stood in the middle of the large, long room and kissed her on the right cheek as she smiled at him with visible affection.

“Get yourself something to eat and drink,” Mary Kean told her only son.

From the interior doorway, the entering Jerry noticed that his father was hovering around the small bar where one of the caterer’s workers was mixing and preparing drinks for a few of the guests.

Is he going to cause some sort of scene? wondered both Jerry and the Judge, standing at his side.

The two stepped into the drawing room and Harold began to speak in a loud tone that seemed natural to a courtroom setting.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my distinct honor to present for your congratulation the newest attorney and law school graduate of our family, my beloved grandson, Jerry Kean.”

Clapping sounds arose from those guests standing in the room.

The one being honored beamed around, turning himself about to catch sight of all who were present. He stopped and stared when he saw his father with a drink in his hand.

Before Jerry could think of something to say to his parent, Arthur himself started to speak.

“Yes, indeed, it is wonderful to have one more Kean lawyer in our illustrious family. We have had a line of them, the highest peak being reached by my own father standing there at your side.

“Who can tell? Perhaps one day in future years you will also attain an exalted rank like our renowned jurist, your grandfather.

“We are very proud of you, but as your father I do not dare to take any of the credit for your successful completion of law school. No, I myself did not enter the family profession, for a simple reason. I lacked the character and the abilities necessary for joining a law firm the way that you will. I can explain my overall failure to one simple deficiency. I am not in reality a true Kean.”

An awkward pause lasted a little while. Was Arthur going to stop and quiet down? No, he continued his train of weird, uncomfortable statements.

“I must confess the fact that I have become an incarnation theorist. This allows me to understand why a person is what he is. I can now explain the core nature of a person’s personality by discovering who is their ancestor that resides within them.

“When I study my own family, I find these connections of reincarnation between the living and the dead.”

He turned his eyes on his son, Jerry.

“When it comes to you, my dear Jerry, the one who dwells inside you is the founder of our great legal dynasty, your great grandfather, the parent of your own grandfather, Harold Kean. He is the one you inherit your future career from.”

Arthur then turned his face toward his mother, Mary Kean.

“I must say this to you now, mother. I am not a true Kean, and never have been one. My origins lie in your family line, the Carneys.

“I have studied and asked about your grandfather. He was a tough immigrant saloon-keeper from Ireland who dabbled in small-scale politics and neighborhood rackets of various sorts. His reputation was a low one and most who knew him mistrusted him as a shifty operator.

“As the reincarnation of such a man, how could I ever succeed at anything or amount to very much?”

All at once, Arthur realized that he had said much more than he had planned or intended.

It was too late for him to mitigate the harm he had brought to his relatives.

All of a sudden, his father spoke in a ghostly tone.

“It was a pleasure to have seen you, my son. Why don’t you have something to eat and to drink?”

With that, the Judge turned around and hurried back to his study.

Hushed conversations started among the guests, as if the incident with Arthur had not happened at all. Best to ignore anything of that kind, everyone seemed to understand. Act as if no one had heard anything out of place.

Several women her age surrounded Mary Kean and asked about her flower garden.

Jerry went up to his father.

“I should be going,” mumbled Arthur, heading for the entrance door. “So long, my boy.”

The son escorted his father out of the drawing room. He doubted whether he would be seeing the incarnationist too often in future days.

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