Friday, July 1, 2011

Crushed--Part I

When I saw Jake that morning, I didn’t know whether to speak or not.  How long had it been?  Since I’d seen him?  Ten?  Twelve years?  He wasn’t facing me, but what if he heard me?  They say when you lose one of your senses, all the others improve.  Pitch in to make up for the loss.
            I found out he was sick when I saw his name on a jar at the Exxon station at the bottom of the hill—Jake Wilhelm Medical Fund.
            I pointed to his picture.  “What happened to him?”  I asked the cashier. “To Jake?”
            The woman touched the jar lid tenderly.  Outlined his picture with her fuschia fingernail.  Sighed.
            “Poor sweet man,” she said.  “The big C.  Hit him like a tractor trailer.  But he’s a fighter.  He may be blind now, but he’s not dead.  He’ll beat it.  I just know he will.”
            I pushed a five into the jar.  That was ages ago. 

I used to walk past his house every now and then.  Whenever I got the notion I should start exercising again.  I’d raise my hand toward his house and whisper a prayer.
            “Heal him, Lord.  And give him strength.  Jenny too.  Please?”
            After a few years I started to wonder if maybe he died.  I should Google his name. See what comes up.  I never did.
            Then I saw Jenny at the grocery store.  In the produce section.  We stood right next to each other, picking out organic bananas.  She chuckled when I removed the adhesive strip and split an eight bunch in half.
            “I only need four,” I said.
            She nodded.  “I do the same thing,” she said.  “Otherwise they get all brown and spotty and—“
            “And then you have to bake banana bread.”
            “Not that banana bread’s bad.”
            I shook my head.  “I love banana bread.  I put coconut and chocolate chips in mine.”
            Her mouth o’d at the thought.
            I put the bananas in my cart and turned back to her.  “Jenny?”
            She pivoted in front of the green beans.
            “Do you remember me?  From our kids’ preschool?”
            She squinted.  “It’s Dana, right?”
            I nudged my cart closer to hers.  “Yeah.  How’s Jake?”
            Her right eye crinkled.  Her breath sucked in through her nose and sissed out slowly through her teeth.
            “Oh . . .  He’s hanging in there.  He’s with his best friend from college right now.  In Ohio.  I--  I needed a break.  They’re having a great time.”
            I smiled.  “That’s . . . I’m glad to hear . . . That he’s—“
            She nodded and reached into her cart.  Propped her fallen pineapple in the corner so it wouldn’t crash again. 
            I backtracked for raspberries.  Meant to tell her goodbye but when I got back to my cart, she was gone.  Up near the dairy case.

I spoke from the curb.  “Howdy, Jake.”  I considered telling him the top of his head was getting pink.  I didn’t. 
            He turned toward my voice.  “Say something else, but not your name.”
            I wrapped my dog’s leash around my wrist a few times.  Stepped into his yard.
            “I’ve always loved your house,” I said.  “My grandmother had a sleeping porch like—“
            “Dana.  Dana Martinelli.  From Kevin’s pre-school, right?”
            I tilted my head.  “Wow.  You’re good.”
            He swung his arm out to the right.  It brushed the camp chair beside his.  His hand searched for, then patted the armrest.
            “Sit.  Sit.”
            “Thanks,” I said, “but I’m walking my dog.”
            “What’s her name?”
            Jake snapped his fingers.  Whistled.  “Here, girl.”
            “Actually, she’s deaf,” I said.  “And old.  She’s fourteen.”
            “Drop her lead,” Jake said.
            I let go.  He kept snapping.  And whistling.  The sound was shrill.  Millie cocked her head.  Moved toward him.  Her nose brushed his hand and he found her ears.  “So soft.”
            “Yeah,” I said.  “I started walking her three times a day, back in March.  When her sister died.”
            Jake cradled Millie’s muzzle in his hands.  Thumbed her cheeks.  “Was she sad?  After her sister died?”
            I waited to see if my eyes would burn.  They didn’t.  “For the longest time, I didn’t tell her.  Wouldn’t let anyone say her sister’s name.  Finally I told her and she didn’t budge or flinch at all.”
            Jake nodded.  “’Cause she’s deaf.”
            “Exactly,” I said.  “Now she’s bonded to me. Has to be right beside me or else she's Moaning Myrtle.”
            Jake looked up at me.  In my direction, at least.  He’s so golden. And those eyes--  I can stare all I want and he'll never know.
            “You sitting yet?” he said. 
            I lowered into the chair.  Millie dropped to the ground between us.  Crossed her front paws in that lady-like way that always makes me smile.
            “So.  How’ve you been?”
            I twisted my hair up in a bun and leaned back to secure it against the chair. 
            “Oh, busy.  You know how it goes.”
            “Used to.”
            “Don’t be,” he said.  He touched his head.  Gingerly.
            “It’s burning,” I said.
            “Thought so.”  He pulled a canvas bag out from under his chair.  Rooted in it. Produced a tube of sunscreen.  Took the lid off. Dabbed some on his head.  He missed a spot.  A blob of white.  I made fists.  To keep from reaching out.  To rub it in.
            We were quiet there for a few minutes.  I tried to decide if it was comfortable or not.
            “So Jenny tells me you write,"  he said.  "She saw you read at the library.”
             I nodded.  “Yep.  Last fall,” I said.  “She was there?”
            “Yeah.  She said you’re good.”
            I wrinkled my nose and grinned.  “Aw.”
            He clasped his hands behind his head.  Arched his back.  Relaxed.
            “I’ve always loved being read to.”
            I leaned forward and plucked a blade of grass.  “Me too,” I said.  “I reckon most people do.”
            “I wonder . . . “
            I waited a minute.  “Yeah?”  I said, but I knew, thought I did anyway, what he’d say.
            “I wonder if you might . . .  read to me?” His voice rose on me.
            I twirled the grass with my thumb and middle finger.  Bingo. 
            “You don’t have to,” he said.  “If you’re—“
            “No,” I said.  “I can.  I will.  I like reading aloud almost as much as I like to write.”
            He smiled.  At the house, not me.  “Tomorrow?  Same time?”
            I glanced at my watch and stood.  One thirty.  “Okay.  I’ll come tomorrow.  With a story.”



Made me sad and happy all at the same time. And made me smile at the last part. Hope. This gave him hope and it's what we all need to get through the tough times.
Reading is the best thing you can do for someone who can no longer read.
Just about anything will do. It's the voice that matters, the nuances.
Enjoyed this a lot.
Blessings. B

writingdianet said...

Hey Barb: You're a writer. You know how it goes. This tale all began as a "what if?" It's not done though. Still needs a title and a Part II, maybe III. Stay tuned:)

Janet, said...

Loved the story Diane. One of my picture books started as a "what if?"


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