Tom Flaherty

Long before the margins of morning arrived to the sun slowly rising to burn off the fog that caped the thin peninsula, Tom Flaherty had already stolen from his bed only to make coffee and toast whole wheat bread in the toaster.  The clock over the kitchen table read four-forty.  Coffee made, bread toasted and buttered, Flaherty sat down at the table, to read yesterday’s San Francisco chronicle, for today’s had not yet arrived.

Starting from the front page, he found nothing to warm his heart, to turn his mind, to diminish his increasing cynicism.  Disgusted with the ongoing politics of the country, which he ascribed to a left-wing conspiracy, and the incompetent government bureaucracy of the city-state that was San Francisco, he turned to the Sports section of the paper.

It was that city-state he had escaped five years earlier, with his wife, Ciara, to the pocket hamlet of Moss Beach, another unsubstantiated suburb strung out like a bead on a necklace that connected Pacifica to Half Moon Bay on Highway One that paralleled the craggy capes and pebbled beaches of the great Pacific Ocean.  In the city, Tom worked as a draftsman for Barrington, a large engineering firm that plowed and trimmed the earth on six continents.  Tom would be a full civil engineer if he hadn’t dropped out of Texas A&M his last semester before graduating.  While Tom slaved over blueprints all day, Ciara worked patiently across the city, tendering fifth graders into becoming literate citizens at St. Bridgette’s Catholic Elementary School.  The move meant that he and his wife would have to commute thirty miles or more to their respective jobs in the city every day.  And to do so meant crossing Devil’s Slide, a cliff rising above the highway on a fault line that often spewed mudslides across the highway, causing detours that took an extra hour to get in and get back of the city, as bulldozers ceaselessly scraped the dirty mud and rotten muck back down the mountain.  Thinking that the two of them had escaped the atrocities of urban plight, Tom and Ciara were wearying of the property taxes, the criminal creep from the city, the lack of community, and the distant commute into the metropolis’s steel and glass chasms, its rows of tenements, its soulless arteries of asphalt.

An hour passed before Ciara rose.  Coming into the kitchen, she strode over to where Tom was sitting and kissed his forehead, the hair just beginning to recede despite the fact that Flaherty was now fifty-six, the same age at which his father died.  “Good morning, Darling.”

Without so much as asking she made Tom breakfast, frying two eggs sunny-side up, along with two strips of bacon, toasting two slices of wheat bread.  She delivered her fare to the kitchen table, without a word from Tom who consulted the Farmer’s Almanac for advice on what flowers to plant this time of year.  Ciara picked up the paper and read it.  When he had finished his breakfast, he deposited the plate in the sink, leaving it for Ciara to clean up.  Pouring himself one more cup of coffee, he went into the living room and turned the television set on to catch the impending atmospheric conditions from the immutably merry weatherman.  He could do without the histrionics.

That day, Tom mowed the lawns, trimmed the shrubs, watered his beloved Bonsai trees, and planted geraniums he bought at a flower shop in Half Moon Bay.  This being Saturday, he was in no rush, as he showered and shaved in order to be in time for his AA meeting in Pacifica.  He went alone.

Close to a dozen showed up at Ed Anderson’s house for the meeting.  Being a bachelor, Ed hosted more than his fair share of the meetings.  Arranged in a circle in Ed’s basement den, the dozen sat in folding card table chairs, smoking and drinking stale black coffee in paper cups.  “Hello, my name is Tom Flaherty, and I’m an alcoholic.”  Hello, Tom, the men responded.  “I have been sober now for nine months and ten days.”  He went on to tell the group that today he had taken care of his lawn and his garden, and what weighed on his mind.  “I’m getting horribly tired of living in the suburbs.  I’m tired of the congestion; I’m tired of the crime; I’m tired of the exorbitant taxes.  I need to find someplace new.”  Tom prattled on for a few more minutes, touching upon politics he failed to comprehend.  After an hour of commiserating souls pouring out their feelings, they spread out along the peninsula in their cars knowing they’d meet again the following weekend.

Not two months later, in the late spring of the year, Tom and Ciara took one of their long distance trips, this one to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.  While they both loved the natural beauty of the national parks and the surrounding peaks and valleys that seemed as boundless as smoke, Tom appreciated the isolation and the stolid independence of the inhabitants of the West.  Enchanted by the Kalispell Valley outside Glacier National Park, Tom, impulsive as always, sought out a realtor, in the end buying nine acres of land, with their life savings, thirty miles outside the park, in the small hamlet of Big Fork.  The acreage afforded a spectacular view of the Mission Mountains, still fringed with snow to the east, the sea of lodgepole pines exacting the earth, except for a lake that protruded upon their property.  Standing on a small knoll overlooking the lake, Tom said, speaking to Ciara.  “This is where we’ll build our log cabin.  We’ll take early retirement and build the place, Ciara.”  Daunted by her husband’s penchant for headlong adventures, Ciara at first wary of the shift of winds in her and Tom’s mission to get out of the city that held them.  But Tom could not cease in his praise of the glorious valley where they had found a patch of the wilderness as different from the environs of San Francisco as one could get.  But before, they could move, they had to sell their house in Moss Beach.  Having bought their modest dwelling for a little over seventy-five thousand dollars in the early seventies, they sold it for over three hundred thousand in the heady days of the Bay Area economy of the nineties.  Tom, giving two weeks’ notice to Barrington, and Ciara finishing her last semester of teaching at St. Bridgette’s, together they gathered what un-pawned treasures they wanted to keep and made their exodus to Montana.

Having built their log cabin paradise within the wilderness, they found that their curtailed pensions could not support them.  Ciara found that teaching in the Kalispell Valley paid less than manning a cash register at McDonalds.  In the end, Tom found a job as a part-time draftsman in the copper mines west of Salt Lake City and Ciara a job working for Southwest Airlines handling ticket sales.  Renting an apartment in the valley of the Faithful, they established a schedule: two weeks of work in Salt Lake City and a week in Big Fork.  On those long drives, Tom switched to the radio to Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing pundits who beckoned to him in the political and social wilderness.

One week, instead of driving to Big Fork, they drove to western Colorado to see Ciara’s sister, Catherine, and her husband, Bob, who were more of a liberal bent being Eisenhower Republicans and Kennedy Democrats.  The night of their arrival, after eating at a local steak house, they sat around their in-law’s living room, that looked out over the Grand Valley.  On the wide screen TV, turned onto CNN but with the sound turned off, the impeachment of the Democratic President was playing out.

“Katy, you don’t still support that sleazy son-of-a-bitch, do you?”

“He’s still my President, if that’s what you mean?”

“He’s a crook; one as bad as they come,” replied Tom.

“He’s been a good president.  Look at what he’s done for the deficit.  Look what he’s done for racial equality.”

“Katy, you’ve got to get with the program,” Tom cackled, smiling sardonically.  “In Washington the politicians are all crooks.”

Fuming, Catherine said nothing.  Tom continued pleading his political views, each statement further inflaming her.  Finally she said, “You don’t seem to have a lot of empathy for someone who’s had their own problems.”

“I’ll forget you said that Katy.”

Tom and Ciara left for their motel room early.  In the morning they left for Big Fork.

Not a year later, Ciara died unexpectedly of a blood clot.  Finding a woman who’d been widowed twice, Tom made her a widow once more when he passed peacefully in his sleep.  She made a handsome profit on the sale of the log cabin.



By Joseph Dylan