Oswald Returns


As callous as it may sound, I just wanted everyone to leave. Huddled up in the foyer, I kept to myself while everyone else waited in the grand hall for the inevitable news.


“He should have never listened to you!” Aunt Faye shouted. She was already dressed in black garb with a veil, her mascara dribbling down her cheeks. “Look what you’ve done! Everything’s squandered away!”


My uncle recoiled in his seat, becoming a small ball on the sofa. “I-It was a good investment at the time—”


“Horace, you’re an idiot!”


Ignoring Aunt Faye’s screeching, my father poured himself another glass of wine. His tie was loosened and hair disheveled. Despite the best efforts to put on a proper poker face, his eyes sunk deeper into his lids in exhaustion.


My aunt dabbed her eyes. “Now what are we to do? We can’t withdraw any of it from the bank! Why that old coot Roosevelt can’t just fix it, I haven’t a clue!”


Mother ushered my sisters out of the room, sparing them headaches. After seeing them off, she returned with another plate of small, triangular sandwiches, offering one to my eldest brother, Norwood. The teenager took it with a gracious nod. Second-youngest Reuben plucked one off the serving platter as well, scarfing it down with one hand and covering his ears with the other.


I watched rain plink against the glass from my spot near the front door, darkness shrouding all but the faint glistening of street lights. The grandfather clock chimed for 11 o’clock—much later than I was used to at the time. Leaning my face against the window, I saw two additional lights glow through the haze, coming to a halt right behind Horace’s vehicle. More people? I thought. Who could it be?


A car door slammed, and footsteps marched through the dreary weather, crushing puddles as they went. I stood to answer the door, waiting for the iron knocker to clap.


Instead, I was met with a gust of chilling air and a man towering over me. On the shorter side, he made up for his lack of torso with his elongated limbs. He stared down at me, scowling past his long nose and burying his eyes with his oversized brows. Immaculately dressed, he wore a tailored suit with an equally refined top hat. Gloves covered his hands, clenching an ebony cane. He was blond like I was, thin like I was—who was he?


“Which one are you?” the stranger asked.


“Morris,” I said.


“Who?”


“The youngest one?”


The man rolled his eyes, muttering, “Another goddamn kid?” He stepped inside, his legs threatening to trample me if I refused to move. After shutting the front door, he handed me his hat and gloves, revealing gold rings decorating his fingers underneath. “Don’t scuff that.”


“Who’s at the—” My brother Norwood stopped upon seeing the man. He glared, shoulders raised. Behind him was a curious Reuben. The eldest stepped forward. “You’re that crazy—”


Whap! The cane struck him upside the head, causing the teenager to stumble.


“Don’t address your elders like that, boy!” I dared not intervene—what was a ten-year-old to do? Reuben fled, abandoning his sibling to alert the others. The stranger tossed me his walking stick, storming past my concussed brother for the grand hall. I followed.


“Dad, someone broke in and beaned Norwood—” Reuben clammed up, staring at the man.


All across the room were wide-eyed relatives, accompanied by gasps and shrieks. Uncle Horace could’ve made a fantastic contortionist with how small he made himself, his face fading into a chalky white.


“You bastard!” yelled Aunt Faye. “How dare you show up at a time like this—” My mother pulled her back, shushing her. The room stood still, afraid to invoke the well-demonstrated wrath of the stranger. Dad sat his wine glass down in favor for the bottle itself.


“Oswald!” he said through a forced smile. “Who’d you murder for that get-up?”


“Where’s the old man?” Oswald asked, leaned into a hunch.


“Have a seat! We were just—”


“Where is he?”


My father sighed. “Upstairs to the left.”


As our visitor made his way to the staircase, my pipsqueak of an uncle sprung from his seat and stood in his path, his chest pushed out. “He can’t take any visitors—”


The stranger leered. “I could recoup the money you lost by harvesting your organs for the black market!”


With my uncle shrinking, Oswald rushed past him and up the stairs, the group parting out of his way.


Aunt Face whipped her bony face towards my father. “Don’t let that madman in!”


“Toss him out, Sly!” my mom said, smacking his arm.


“Don’t fret so much!” He waved their worries aside. “I’ll go talk to him. Reuben, grab my pistol.”


As my brother scurried off, Dad waltzed up the steps, bottle in one hand and his other arm slung around Uncle Horace.


“Wait!” The coward thrashed in his grip. “I don’t want anything to do with this—”


His brother grinned. “Shut up and help me with this mess you made.”


They went up together, moving faster when the doctor shouted. Once they reached the top, the medic was thrown out by the stethoscope wrapped around his neck. He toppled to the floor.


“In all my years . . . ” he grumbled, stumbling to his feet. The two continued past him and went inside, and I watched from the doorway. Once on his feet, the doctor cursed about insufficient wages and stomped back downstairs, passing Reuben on his way up. My brother passed the pistol to my father, then rushed back to the rest of the family.


Inside the bedroom, a preteen Milo sat with Grandma at her dying husband’s bedside. His bored slouch was interrupted when Oswald barged in.


“Holy shit!” Milo said, “It’s you!”


Grandma smacked him upside the head. “Don’t curse, Jonathan!”


“It’s Milo—” he forced his attention back to the man. “Shouldn’t you be locked up in an asylum?”


Ignoring the mouthy runt, Oswald grabbed a chair and scooted up to my grandfather’s bedside. Grandma stared. Only after several seconds did her eyes light up.


“You! You rude child!”


“Quiet!” the stranger said. He glared at the old, demented woman, fingernails digging into his knees.


“Milo,” said my father, “take Grandma downstairs.”


The kid stood up, glancing at the mysterious man before turning to Dad. “Did you see him chuck the doctor out—”


“Milo. Now.”


“Fine! I’m going!” He tugged the old woman along, walking at her slow, shuffling pace. Her eyes never left Oswald until he was out of sight. Once in the hall, she smiled again.


“Jonathan, did you pick up the butter?” she asked.


“I’m not—” My brother sighed. “There’s butter in the kitchen.”


“Wonderful! I need that for the bake sale tomorrow.”


“There’s no bake sale, Grandma.”


Back in the bedroom, the stranger leaned over my grandfather. The two had to be family, their scowls identical. Face flushed with choppy breath, his elder growled.


“I told you,” said Oswald.


Grandpa gripped the sheets.


“Now who’s the one that’ll die penniless—”


“You’re still no son of mine—”


“Good!” The supposed madman lept to his feet, knocking the chair over. “What an embarrassment that’d be!”


“You won’t see a cent when I die—”


“I don’t need it! I’m not a goddamn leech like the rest of them!” His eyes burrowed into Dad and Horace. Still drinking his wine, my father didn’t flinch.


My uncle, on the other hand, grew red. “I’m no leech! Sly’s getting almost everything! Just because he’s the oldest! It’s not fair!”


“No,” said my father, “it’s because the old man lost a wager.”


Oswald squinted. “What are you talking about?”


“Before Dad shoved everything into stocks, I told him to freeze my portion of the inheritance. If he made ‘millions,’” he glanced at Horace, “then I’d be stuck with the share I had.”


“You did?”


“Yep. Old man wouldn’t listen to me, either.”


The stranger’s fist unclenched. “At least someone in his family has some brains.”


“Why not share it?” asked Horace.


My father took another swig. “Why? So you can blow it all again?”


The pipsqueak fidgeted. “I won’t do that—”


“No, you won’t, because you’re not getting any.”


“That’s not—”


“Shush. Adults are talking.”


“Just as mindless as the old man,” said Oswald.


“You’re a rotten bastard!” my grandfather shouted, hand on his chest. “Would’ve been better off if you weren’t born!”


His black sheep of a son whirled around. “How about a deal? Admit I was right, and I’ll take care of all your debt.”


Grandpa gritted his teeth. “I’d sooner die.”


“So be it.”


Oswald propped the chair upright, taking a seat. He and the rest of the room waited in silence, Horace glancing at his watch every so often. My father finished his bottle. The sick man gasped for air. Five, six, seven minutes.


Raindrops trickled down the window, thunder rumbling in the distance. The stranger remained still as a gargoyle. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen. They waited.


The gasping stopped. After one last sputtering cough, my grandfather’s hands drooped and his eyes rolled back. My father moved over, grabbing the sheet and pulling it over the body. Once he took in the moment, Oswald stood up and left the room, ignoring both me and the frightened, sweaty Horace. As Dad took care of what remained, I watched my newfound uncle from atop the stairs.


He said nothing. Storming past the sea of evil eyes, he didn’t even glance at my gunshot-wielding mother. Out the room he went, down the long corridor and through the front door. Still holding his belongings, I scampered after him.


I caught him just as he reached the car door’s handle, stopping only when I called to him. Oswald turned, frowning at the likes of me.


Ignoring this, I held up his items. “You forgot these.”


He grabbed his hat, gloves, and cane, looking between me and his possessions. He tossed them into the limo. “What’s your name again?”


“Morris.”


“Why’d you bother bringing these out?”


“I didn’t like Grandpa either.”


He paused.


“Goodnight, Uncle Oswald.”


“ . . . Goodnight.”