Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Enter the Lion

Somewhere laughter erupted, as if someone had just told a joke.

It was raucus, frat house laughter, exploding loudly and then fading into Boston-accented commentaries on whatever the hell was so funny.

It was familiar laughter. Ted opened his eyes to see where it was coming from. The mist in the room began to lift and Ted saw three shadowy figures. Two were over six feet tall and one was shorter, and their foreheads nearly touched as they leaned toward each other. One of them -- Ted wasn't sure which -- was about to tell another joke.

"Hey," Ted said.

The three straightened and turned to face him.

"Hey, yourself," said Jack, flashing his teeth. Joe and Bobby smiled, too.

Ted blinked his eyes and stared at the three grinners.

"Where -- what --?" Ted said. "Am I --?"

"What's wrong, hot shot, don't you read the Globe any more?" asked Joe, whose starched white Navy officer's uniform glowed with a blinding light.

"Kennedy Dead at 77," said Bobby, reading from a paper that suddenly materialized.

"Liberal Lion of the Senate, symbol of family dynasty, succombs to brain cancer," Jack recited.

"Brain cancer," Joe said. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph."
Ted began to catch on. "I knew when the priest came it was getting close," he said. "Am I --?"

"A 'malignant glioma' for God's sake," said Jack. "Christ, you always did do things the hard way."

"Us, we never saw it coming," said Joe. "A bomber explodes ..."

"A couple bullets in Dallas," said Jack.

"A .22 round to the head in Los Angeles," Bobby shrugged.

"Couldn't have been easier, old man," Joe said. "But a 'malignant glioma'? Jesus."

Ted looked around. "Is this heaven? Where's Dad?"

The three older brothers exchanged glances. Jack glanced down at an invisible podium, like it was a press conference and he was searching for a misleading answer.

"This isn't heaven," Bobby said. "More like the narthex."

"And we haven't seen Dad," said Joe.

"Remember, we all predeceased him," added Jack. "But if he came through here, we didn't see him."

"Mother is up ahead of us,"clarified Bobby. "And Eunice and Jackie and John Jr. -- all of them."

"But we haven't seen Dad," repeated Joe.

"We don't know about Dad," said Jack.

Ted stared at his brothers, and they stared back at him.

"You all --" Ted started. "You all look good."

Bobby snorted impatiently, the way he did when he was reading convoluted Justice Department memos.

Of course," he said. "So do you."

A mirror appeared in front of Ted. He did look good. The gut was gone, the jawline was firm, the hair was dark brown.

"Damn," he said.

"It's a fringe benefit," said Joe, stepping along side Ted to share the mirror. Joe examined his teeth and smoothed his hair with his palm.

Ted turned away from the mirror and extended his hands toward his brothers.

"So what's next?" he asked. "Why are you here?"

Jack placed his hands in the side pockets of his sports jacket. "We are here," he said, "to honor you."

"Welcome me to the other side?"

"More than that," said Bobby.

"We're here to pay our respects," Jack said. "Dad had big ideas for all us boys, and you transcended us all."


"Yes, you. Joe was relieved of the burden early, but I was president and Bobby became a civil rights icon. But you went so much further."

"So we're here as your honor guard," said Joe. "You were the greatest among us."

Ted couldn't stifle a laugh.

"Damn," he said. "I could have used this respect when you were pummeling me in touch football."

"You hadn't earned it then," said Bobby, frowning.

"That was then," said Joe. "This is now."

Bobby began to sum it up in lawyerly fashion.

"Because of you, this country stands on the verge of universal health care," he said. "You were responsible for more legislation that became law than any of us: in civil rights, voting rights, education, labor justice, immigration reform. You pushed George W. Bush to implement 'No Child Left Behind.'"

Jack added, "You pushed this country to oppose apartheid in South Africa. You pushed for peace in Northern Ireland. You forced the U.S. to stop sending arms to the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. You opposed this country's entry into the Iraq War."

Jack looked down at his feet. "I wish you had pushed me a little harder to get out of Vietnam," he said in a low whisper.

"But you were the man," Joe said. "You are the Kennedy future generations will remember."

"If they mention us at all," Bobby said quietly, "we'll be referred to as Teddy's brothers."

Jack and Bobby and Joe exchanged glances.

"I can live with that," Ted said.

The four were silent for a moment. Teddy cleared his throat.

"What's next?" he asked.

"Time to move on, old man," Joe said.

"We'll follow you," said Jack.

"Let's go," said Bobby.

The three older brothers stepped aside and pointed the way to a shaft of light.

"Okay," said Ted. "Let's go, then."

"Any last minute instructions before we go?" asked Joe.

Ted scratched his head and smoothed his dark brown hair.

"Yes," he said, stepping forward. "The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die."

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