Title: Service for Two
This story is part of the Glimpses of Ben Series.
Martha Fraser watched the staunchly taught back of her 17 year-old grandson as he stood at the graveside of his grandfather. Her small form had long since become a dwarfed figure when she stood anywhere near the boy. Her son, Robert, stood beside the boy in full dress red serge holding his back just as rigidly taught and straight. She held her own hands clutched in a vice grip hold on her purse. She had no idea that mourners standing behind the small family group noted that her own back was just stiff and rigid as those of her son and grandson. Martha was deeply aware of a need to grab the boy and comfort him and be comforted by him in turn. She knew tears were filling her eyes, spilling forth from the new, dark void in her heart where George had always been. When the sound of dirt falling into the grave rang sharply in her ears, she finally let her tears begin to fall. She wasn't crying for herself or for George for she knew in the deepest recesses of her heart that George would never truly leave her. Her tears were for the boy in front of her who had been so close to his grandfather.
The village minister patted the boy on the shoulder and turned to say something to Robert, he then made his way to Martha. He'd leaned over and touched Martha's shoulder and looked into her eyes. He'd said all the usual things ministers say to recently bereaved persons, though he knew she wasn't hearing him. Finally, he'd turned away and faced one of the largest gatherings of people he had seen at a gravesite in his long career as a minister.
The faces of the young and old on the people that were standing out in the cold told the story of George Fraser's life better than any eulogy ever could. The good Reverend McCracken pulled his coat around him a little tighter to hold out the cold and lifted his head to announce that the Fraser family had invited George's friends and neighbors to their cabin.
Several hours later, Martha watched the last of George's mourners leave their cabin seated deep in the warmth of George's favorite chair. Some of the village women had already cleared away the mess that serving that many mourners a warm meal had created in the small kitchen. A few of her friends had straightened up the main room even as mourners filed from the cabin. She knew Benton and Robert were in the cabin. She knew she was not alone. But silence filled the cabin around her, a silence she had never heard before. It was if George's absence had sucked part of the life right out of the very cabin walls. Martha felt safe and warm in George's chair, as if he had left a bit of him deeply in its fibers for her to feel. She began to relax and leaned her head back into the chair wishing as she did so that her head was resting on George's shoulder once more.
While the boy was changing out of his one good suit in the cabins bathroom, Robert Fraser finished filling his duffle bag and looked around his son's room. He was painfully aware of being a stranger in his own son's room. He couldn't change that though he dearly wished he could turn back the hands of the clock and do something about to change that feeling. He was a stranger in this room. He desperately wanted to learn whatever skills or language he needed to be a citizen in Bentonland, but he was well aware of the fact that he just might be too old to learn what he needed to know.
He wandered around the room looking at the mementos that made up Ben's life scattered about the room. He saw Ben's compass hung securely on the wall by his hat over the backpack on the floor. He saw the map his father had lovingly drawn for Ben when the boy had learned to navigate in the woods alone. Robert chuckled at the memory of the letter he had received from his father about the compass and the boy's travels around the property.
He noted that Ben had several pictures placed importantly on his desk. He took the few steps needed to stand close enough to the pictures to see them and found his shoulders drooping at the site of them. One picture was of a small puppy sitting happily on its haunches next to a huge bowl of water. He remembered that puppy. It had been Ben's first dog. He had to chuckle again over the maneuvering his mother had done with Buck Frobisher to install that little scamp of a pup in Ben's arms after Caroline died. He quickly brushed the thought of Caroline from his mind. Now was not the time to get maudlin. He fingered the frame around the puppy and smiled. Some of the pictures were of the woods and had obviously been taken from a child's eye point of view. Again he grinned. The last picture on the desk was of George and Martha Fraser standing with an 8 year old Ben. They were all grinning widely at the camera. Robert remembered the day well for he had taken that picture. He wondered why their smiles seemed larger than he remembered them but had no clue to the fact that those huge smiles at been aimed directly at and for him and that when young Benton looked at the picture he saw not only the images of his grandparents standing behind him but the image of his father as he had taken the picture.
The doorknob turned and Ben entered the room with his suit already neatly on a hanger. When he noted his father's duffle bag nearly ready to close the smile that had started to form on his lips faded away. He turned to gaze at his father and caught a fleeting sight of Robert Fraser's fingers lovingly touching his father's features in the picture on the desk. Ben's chest tightened as he stood watching his father and wishing he could remember those fingers ever touching him that way. The boy closed the door gently behind him and walked quickly to his small closet and hung the suit up. He made just enough noise to get his father's attention and then walked over to stand next to his bed where the open duffle bag waited.
Robert dropped his fingers from the picture on young Ben's desk and turned abruptly to face the boy. "Nice room you have boy." He looked quickly around the room memorizing its contents and the look on the boy. He marched stiffly over to the bed and began closing the duffle bag. "You test soon for your finals, don't you?"
"Good. Good." Robert closed the duffle bag and slung it over his shoulder. "Take care of your grandmother boy."
Ben rushed back to the bedroom door and opened it waiting for his father to pass through the opening. Robert marched out in military style leaving his son to either follow him or stay in the room.
Robert settled the duffle bag on the family kitchen table and then retrieved his heavy winter wool coat and Stetson from the hooks by the cabin door. He placed the Stetson on top of the table before he pulled the coat on quickly over his shoulders and let his fingers do the buttons without looking down. He hefted the duffle bag back onto his shoulder and walked over to his mother where she sat in his father's favorite chair. He bent and placed a soft kiss on her gray hair and stood back.
Martha looked up at Robert as he stood so fine and rigid before her. Her eyes smiled at him, but neither said a word. Robert nodded a farewell knowing that if he tried to say something to her he would find his lips stiff and wooden and the words caught in his throat. He opted for silence and turned on his heel. He grabbed his Stetson off the table and walked to the door. He had plopped the hat on his head and grabbed the doorknob. He looked over his shoulder at his son then nodded his head and left.
When the door closed behind Robert Fraser, his son stood in the middle of the room listening to the silence. The boy wanted to rush off after his father and grab him and bring him back to have another person in the silence of the cabin. But the boy took one look at his grandmother seated in his grandfather's chair and rushed over to fall on his knees at her side.
Martha put her hand out and touched the boy's dark head of curly hair and smiled. "Did I ever tell you about the time your Grandfather and I met?" When the boy shook his head, she laid her hand against the side of his face and began the story of that first meeting so many years ago.
Martha talked for what seemed hours to boy. She painted a portrait of George Fraser that brought the man's loving gray eyes in to focus in the boy's mind. And when dusk came over the cabin, Martha Fraser found that she had told Benton more than she had intended. For while she had talked of his grandfather and their life together before and after Ben had come to live with them she also had forgotten she was actually talking to the boy and had included some of his own exploits and George's reaction to them in her tales.
When Martha Fraser finished talking, the boy kneeling at her feet began to cry. Martha leaned over and pulled him to her. "He loved you and he loved me. Never forget that Benton." She held him away from her and smiled. "He loved your father just as dearly though they often didn't see eye to eye, specially about you. Dry those eyes boy, bout time we got ourselves up and made some dinner."
The boy scrambled to his feet and wiped his eyes and watched his grandmother sail valiantly over to the kitchen where she pulled down out two plates and cups from the kitchen cabinets. Ben hurried over and took serving ware from her hands and began to set the table as she turned and opened the refrigerator. She looked over her shoulder at the boy setting the table so seriously and grinned. She looked ceiling ward and whispered, "We did good George."