Color my World

“If you want an interesting party sometime, combine cocktails and a fresh box of crayons for everyone.” -Robert Fulghum

(My sister is traumatized at losing her favorite crayon.  So this is for her.)

**********

In Owen’s world, navy blue ruled over all.  The other colors were meager pebbles in the mighty ocean of navy blue.

The blue jeans that he wore in his self-portraits were navy blue.  The ocean, the sky, the bird, the mailbox, the rays shooting out of alien spacecraft; they all had to be navy blue.  Even the goldfish.

crayon-clip-art-4T9ERzjTE“But Owen”, his mother would inquire, “why is the goldfish blue?  Shouldn’t it be, just maybe, a little more orangey?”

“Mom”, Owen protested as he rolled his eyes.  “The goldfish is in the blue lake.  That makes it blue.”

“Okay, but why are the rocks at the bottom of the lake grey and the leaves at the bottom green?”

“I’m drawing Mom”, was Owen’s reply.  His mother did not understand his artistic choices.

As it goes with all favored crayons, the navy blue had seen better days.  Even with Owen’s reluctance to share his cherished possession (“No!  You get cyan.  I’m using navy blue.  Use coral or sumthin’.”), the crayon had still lost its point long ago.  What had once been a peak or a point was now worn down to a very obvious nub.  The tip was as blunt and round as Owen’s chubby fingers.  Often, his mother would call him to dinner, interrupting his latest landscape, and find that he had just as much crayon on his hands as on the paper.

The wrapper was torn down to half its original size.  The dozens of other crayons towered above navy blue in their cardboard container.  Yet Owen’s loyalty to his treasured selection remained.

In front of him was his greatest masterpiece.  Owen scribbled in the finishing touches.  A few streaks here or there made their way to the tabletop.  In a flurry, Owen filled in the last blank spot and beamed at his work.  Two blue cars racing in front of a blue sky, around a blue lake as they passed a blue house and approached a blue stoplight.

He wiggled out of his plastic play chair.  The blobs of flesh that covered his legs and arms jiggled as he slid over and stood up.  With his artwork in one hand and his precious crayon in the other, he ran to the kitchen to show his mother.  His chin, tummy, and limbs all jostled and bobbed as he bounded across the carpet.

Then, just before entering the kitchen, an obstacle appeared.  On his over-stuffed pillow (navy blue, of course), Charles Barkley lay sleeping.  His jowls rested on his front paws while his hind legs jutted out.  Barkley knew how to use his massive frame to occupy floor space.  And laps.  And yards.  And the backseats of cars.

dog-sleeping-RcgELQ-clipartOwen had not been running to pet or play fetch.  Owen had been running to encourage art appreciation.  In his zeal, he did not notice Barkley.  But his legs did not miss tripping over the hind legs that were blocking the kitchen doorway.

Part flying, part tripping, and part flying, Owen was flung into the kitchen.  He bounced off of the linoleum, falling short of a wooden chair, and found himself at his mother’s feet.

“You okay?”

Owen nodded, more confused than anything.  He looked at his hands.  His artwork was crumpled, but otherwise fine.  His other works had survived far less.

“Whatchya got there?”  His mother kneeled down, gently took the paper from his fluffy hands, and smiled in appreciation.  “Shall we put this on the fridge with the others?” Owen’s mom pointed to the already cluttered refrigerator door and started searching for a free magnet.

It was then that Owen looked at his hands.  His eyes got wide.  Panic set in.  What should have been his mighty navy blue crayon was now a fragment of its former self.  He looked around and found another chunk of blue a few feet away.  The force of the fall and the surprise of the event had caused his thumb to snap the crayon in half.

Owen’s mom turned back to him and saw him waddle towards the crayon piece.  He very quietly, very slowly, picked up the crayon bit.  He looked at each hand.  First he observed the left one with the crayon still in part of a wrapper.  Then he looked to the right one, stubby on the top, jagged at the bottom.  A confused look loomed large on his furrowed brow.  Back and forth he moved his neck, his eyes getting wider with each turn.

“Sweetie?  It’s only a crayon”, his mother tried to reassure him.  “It will still work fine.”

Owen did not hear his mother’s words.  A thought had entered his mind.  An unbelievable idea.  A notion that changed his world.  The thought swirled and built in his brain.  It burst out of his mouth in a mighty exclamation.

“I have two blue crayons!”

“Why yes”, his mom said with a smile.  “I guess you do.”

“You wanna color with this one?”  Owen offered up what had been the bottom half of his crayon, holding his left open.

“Maybe in a bit”, his mother answered.  “I need to finish this up.  Why don’t you go put that one in a safe place for now?”

“Okay!”  Owen ran back to his coloring table, joyfully plopping the navy blue crayon chunk in its cardboard slot, secure amongst the other crayons in the box.  He then grabbed another piece of paper, more excited than ever about all he could draw with twice the crayon power at his disposal.

A Suitable Attraction

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

A Suitable Attraction

We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.” -Fydor Dostoevsky

Pic from Wikipedia

Celeste watched as the water fountain rushed almost to the point of over-flowing.  The brim of the stone-walled bowl tried to contain all the demands that were forced upon it, but the supplier just sending more and more liquid its way.  Celeste decided that the splashes that occasionally hit the ground were not the bowl’s fault.  The poor fountain was simply overworked and overtaxed.  She knew how it felt.

In forty minutes, Celeste was to give a presentation to her supervisors and decision makers.  It was her job to persuade everyone in the room that the funding they were considering allowing her would make their company more profitable.  Celeste was mostly concerned about the extra staff that the money would pay for.  She was doing the work of three people and wanted to share it with at least one other.  The problem was that Celeste wasn’t very successful at singing for her supper.  She had tried to hire support staff for several years and this was the first time that the board had shown signs of willingness.  If she failed this afternoon, Celeste would have to wait at least another year to ask for help.  She would never last that long with the work load that had in mind for her.

That was how the woman in her mid-twenties found herself at the park.  It was only a five minute walk from work and Celeste appreciated the congenial nature of the area.  Women who couldn‘t have been much older than her walked by with their double-wide strollers while talking on their phones.  An old woman walked an excited dachshund on the leash.  Behind the hunched over woman with the purple hair and the excitable pup came a man with bony arms, a loose plaid shirt, and a John Deere cap that was too big for his pale head.  He smiled and waved as his wife called for him to catch up.

Even the squirrels were friendly.  Most of the creatures would scurry away and hide in a garbage can, but one had learned from its years spent in the park.  It stood in front of Celeste, its head cocked to one side.  Celeste stared at the squirrel.  The squirrel looked back patiently.  Celeste blinked.  The squirrel munched on something in its mouth and took a step closer to the woman’s feet.  Celeste held out her empty hands, palms open, showing that she had no treats.  The squirrel squinted.   It seemed annoyed at Celeste’s lack of people food and then ran off to climb the closest tree.

Underneath her dark blue jacket, a small watch lay comfortably on Celeste’s right wrist.  She slid her sleeve back and checked the clock.  She wanted some time to prepare a few sections, but she also desired to be outside enjoying the park for as long as possible.  She brushed a small cluster of crumbs off her suit pants; the residual bits fell and mingled in the tall blades of grass.  She saw with relief that her white blouse was still clean and crisp and her straight blonde hair was free of leaves and tangles.  Celeste was a picturesque executive, properly poised and attired to take charge of the meeting room.

Of course, the situation wasn’t meant to last.

Celeste saw the unexpected variable in her lunch break as it barreled towards her.  She only had time to cry out, “Watch it!“  After that, Celeste was knocked backwards by a bike messenger.  She felt herself being lifted into the air.  A second or two later, she came crashing back down to the ground.  If Celeste had been in control of the situation, she probably would have liked to land on the soft patch of grass that was only inches away.  Instead, she collided on the concrete at the base of the fountain.  She slid along her bottom and felt the concrete and rocks scratch up her posterior.

“I’m so sorry!”  The bike was hastily tossed aside and the operator leapt to his feet.  “I didn’t see you, and there was this kid running in front of me so I had to veer so I wouldn’t… oh man.  I’m so sorry.”

“Ow”, Celeste replied.  She struggled to her feet.  Her hands had been scrapped by the impact, but most of the injury was to her bottom.  “Ow, ow, ow”, she repeated as her injured muscles protested and complained with each movement.  Even with the biker’s hand helping her up, she still felt the pain shoot along her body.

“Are you okay?”

Celeste raised herself to her full height.  Her jacket had scratched cuffs so she took it off.  The blouse had held up remarkably well.  Okay, Celeste thought to herself.  It isn’t ideal, but the top works without the jacket.  She adjusted her white gold chain necklace and freed the lingering strands from their awkward perch in front of her nose.  I can fix this, Celeste reasoned.  The sound of children laughing around her woke Celeste from her confidence boosting.  Now the small ones were pointing as they giggled.  Worse, they were pointing at her.

“Oh, man”, the biker replied.  “Uh, your pants… well, they didn’t make it.”

Eyes widening, Celeste reached for her backside.  Where the dark fabric had once covered, there was now only undergarment.  Horrified, Celeste reached lower until she discovered that, much like the pajamas in Norman Rockwell paintings, the seat of her pants was now a flap that exposed that precious area below the waist.  Even the loose material was torn into strips.  Celeste threw her jacket around her waist and tied the sleeves in front of her midsection.

“That’s great.  Freakin’ great.  Son of a dadgum, mother-lovin’, horse poop pile of squat.  Crud.”

“I really am sorry”, the biker apologized yet again.

“You!”  Celeste turned upon the man intent on having a focal point for her anger.  “You did this!  You and your bike with no brakes and your no-steering!  What the sam hill!”

“I’m so sorry!  I didn’t do it on purpose, I swear!”  The man took off his helmet and revealed a pained expression.  The embarrassment and shame on his face was as clear as the skin on his shaved head.  “What can I do?”

“Do?!  Do?  There’s nothing to do.  I have to give a presentation in…”  Celeste paused to look at her watch.  The result horrified her.  “Twenty minutes!”  The torment of it all was wearing on Celeste.  “There are no clothing stores in a park!  I have people to impress!  What am I supposed to do?”

“Uh, I know where you could get some new pants.  Or maybe a dress.  I guess it would depend on you.”

Celeste’s brown eyes which had previously been fully visible in excitement and frustration now slammed into thin slits of determination.  “Don’t you dare mess with me.”

“I would never…  Look, I just live in that apartment right over there.”

The woman followed the man’s finger and saw a small three-story brick building near the border of the park.  It was nothing fancy, but it added a quiet charm to the open area.

“I’m so happy for you”, Celeste replied.  “Congratulations on living nearby.  How does that make it better?  You have a mall in your apartment?”

“No, a closet.”

Strange and worrying notions started to swirl around Celeste’s head.  She began to back away slowly from the man she had been focusing her anger on.

“No!  It’s not like that”, the man laughed.  “I live with my sister.  She’s about your size.”

“So, you don’t just keep a closet full of women’s clothes in your room.”

“No.”

“You aren’t some weird guy that injures people and then lures them back into your abode so that you can lick their hair or wax their fingernails?”

“What?”

“There are people”, Celeste defended.

“Where?  Where are there people like that?”

“I saw a special on it.”

“Like a news broadcast?”  A smile was introducing itself to the man’s otherwise bare face.

“Not exactly”, Celeste responded.

“What exactly?”

“Okay, technically it was a movie.”

“Uh huh.”

“On HBO”, Celeste said quieter.

“Got it.”

“But it said it was based on true events!”

“They all say that”, the man replied with a laugh.

“I guess they do”, Celeste said begrudgingly.  She shrugged.  “All right, so that may have been a little paranoid.  I’m sorry; this whole thing has thrown me off.”

“No, I’m the one who’s apologizing today.  You’re allowed to be cautious.  But the offer still stands.”

Celeste considered her options.  Either way, she would have to get back to work soon.  If she passed up the offer, she would have to go back dressed like…  Celeste didn’t know what she was dressed like, but it wasn’t someone with the authority to hire more staff.  Without more suitable attire, there really was no point in attending the meeting.

“All right.  I’ll head to your place.  But I have mace in my purse!  Any funny business and you’ll be the one looking for help.”

“Understood”, the man said as he jogged towards the building and motioned for her to follow.  “Despite the initial onslaught you incurred, I really do bring tidings of peace and good will.”

“Sure”, Celeste said as she picked up the pace and thanked her shoes for being flats.  “You’re a winning example to the U.N. for how to exude warmth and decorum.”

The biker pulled his keys from his pocket as they ran up to the front door.  Without pausing, he threw his bike to the curb and bolted up the flight of stairs with Celeste matching him step for step.  At the top of the stairs, the man made a quick right and then unlocked the door.  He waved Celeste inside.

“Welcome to our home, sorry for the mess, no time for the tour now”, he yelled as he opened a door.  “This is Jamie’s room.  She’s out of town.  Pick something you like.”

“Your sister’s going to understand all this?”  Celeste slammed the door shut, not waiting for a reply.

“She won’t be home for another week”, the biker called through the door.  “Besides, she owes me two months’ rent.”

Celeste made sure the door locked and then set her eyes on the closet.  The first things that met her eye were swimsuits and exercise gear.  The articles of clothing would certainly make an impression on the older, male members of the board, but not in the way that she would like.  Brushing past bathrobes and sweaters, Celeste started to get frustrated.  She had ten minutes.  All she wanted were dress pants.  Something resembling professionalism would be great, but she wasn’t finding anything close.  Next up came what she could only assume were bridesmaids dresses.

“Doesn’t your sister ever wear work clothes?”  “I mean, what is with her closet”, Celeste yelled to the hallway.

“She’s a swim instructor”, the man replied.  “We don’t really go for fancy too often.”

“Well every once in a while wouldn’t hurt!”  Celeste almost stopped to consider if she could make a wedding party-reject work, but she continued digging.  Finally, at the back of the closet, she found it.

A tan dress hung in the closet.  In contrast to the gaudy and skimpy clothes around it, the dress was a true standout.  Even in a department store, Celeste would have picked this sleeveless dress.  It was work appropriate, yet elegant.  The shoulders were covered and there was a square cut to the neckline.  The folds and lines hugged the waist casually; not in a confining or suggestive way.  The hemline appeared to reside just above the knees and allowed for brisk walking, which Celeste would need on her way back.

“It’s pretty quiet in there”, the biker called in.  “Does that mean you found something?  Or have you taken to sneaking her television out the window to your accomplice?”

“No”, Celeste answered back.  “I’m actually just trying to get this mattress out the window without opening it all the way.”  She tossed her purse aside yanking off her skirt and blouse as she kicked her black shoes aside.  Her eyes locked in on the hanger which she quickly removed.  She pulled the dress over her head and thanked whatever power above that the dress wasn’t strapless.  Somehow, someway, this perfect dress fit Celeste like it was made for her.  She kicked her shoes back on, grabbed her purse, and threw the door open.

The biker who had been leaning on the opposite wall stumbled to stand up.  “Uh… wow.”

“Zipper”, Celeste demanded as she walked towards him.

“What?”

“Zipper!”  Celeste lifted her hair above the base of her neck and pointed to the back of the dress.  “I need you to help me with the zipper.”

“Oh, right”, the biker said as he moved closer.

Celeste stood impatiently waiting for the final stage to be complete.  Nothing happened.  She was about to turn around when she felt the biker’s hand rest clumsily on her right hip.  Celeste swore she heard a gulp of nervousness from behind her.  The other hand slowly raised the zipper up to its topmost resting spot.  The right hand remained on her hip.

Celeste turned, putting her hand on the biker’s.  She stopped for a moment, facing him, and enjoyed the half embrace of his arm.  “Thank you”, she said kindly.  “I’ll bring your sister’s dress back after my work day.  She’ll never even know I borrowed it.”

Running towards the stairs, Celeste heard a voice call after her.  “I really wish you wouldn’t”, the man replied.

“What?”  Celeste stopped at the foot of the stairs and looked up.  “Why not?”

“You… I… you can’t bring that dress back to my sister.”

Celeste looked at her watch impatiently.  Only six minutes remained.  “Of course I have to.  Why wouldn’t I?”

The biker started to hurry down the stairs, his hand rubbing anxiously on his shaven dome.  “I couldn’t take that.  My sister in that dress; she’s pretty enough.  But you?  I… I’ve never…  Look, that dress wouldn’t be right for her.  Not after the way you wear it.”

“So”, Celeste said cautiously, “I look okay?”

“Stunning.”

“Professionally stunning or corner of Third and Boston at two a.m. stunning?”

“Oh, the first one.  I’d sign whatever contract you’re negotiating.”

“I actually don’t deal with…”  Celeste stopped herself.  “Thank you.”  She looked at the stranger for the first time and took him in.  “In all this craziness I don’t think I ever got your name.”

“Bryan”, he replied.

“Well, Bryan.  If you won’t let me give back the dress then maybe we could go to dinner.”

Bryan stood stock still.  “After all I did to you, you want to go to dinner?”

“Why not?  The first part was an accident.  A painful one”, she said as she rubbed her bottom, “but an accident nonetheless.  Ever since then you have been the perfect gentleman.  Going out of your way to help me, apologizing the whole time; it isn’t something most people would do.”  She stepped forward and rubbed her hands on his head.  “And I like bald guys.”

“Seven?”

“Seven”, Celeste said as she pecked him on the cheek.  “I’ll meet you here”, she called out as she burst out the door.

Celeste sprinted across the grass to her office building.  She had four minutes until the meeting officially started.  She thanked her paranoid nature for setting up the meeting room before her lunch break.  The breeze blew her hair about, but Celeste paid it no mind.  She was enjoying herself.  She might not be a great health buff like Bryan’s sister, but she enjoyed a run now and then.

Celeste couldn’t help but grin.  She was going to own that room.  She was going to show how confident she felt and it would come across in her presentation.  The men and women that she answered to would see how well-thought out her plan was and give her the staff she needed.  Her office rose into view as Celeste covered the distance quickly.

At the street outside her work, she made sure to pause for any oncoming cars or bicycles.  Seeing nothing to impede her travel, Celeste darted across.  She was already getting excited for her victory dinner that evening.

A Single Gesture

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

A Single Gesture

The Impartial Friend: Death, the only immortal who treats us all alike, whose pity and whose peace and whose refuge are for all–the soiled and the pure, the rich and the poor, the loved and the unloved.” -Mark Twain

Early in the morning, as the moon floated overhead and had its personal space intruded upon by loose clusters of wispy clouds, Scott saw his bus approach.  Every once in a while, Scott would burst out of his home, scurry to fit his keys to the lock, and then run for the door.  More often than not, this resulted in Scott arriving for the bus five minutes early, so he had recently adopted a different policy.  He would take his time and hope that the bus was not going to be too early.

The usual boarding routine was observed.  Scott stood back and let the somber man enter first.  Always carrying an overstuffed backpack, the somber man also carried a temperament that was determined to overcompensate for the compact man’s lack of height.  Scott had decided long ago that if getting a seat first was that important to the serious commuter, he could go ahead and have first rights.  Scott only wanted a quiet spot with a reasonable amount of elbow room.

Entering the bus, Scott greeted the usual driver with his standard greeting of, “Morning”.  She replied in kind as she reached for the long handle and pulled the double doors of her bus shut.  Scott put his loose and ratty backpack on his lap and did his best to encourage his sleepy frame to sit up straight.  The bench seats were built at a stern angle, but Scott’s back often answered the call of the slouch.  For the first few miles at least, Scott tried to adopt something resembling correct posture.  If nothing else he felt he should be in top form when he passed that one intersection.

Scott wanted to close his eyes and begin his quiet time of thinking things out and mentally preparing his day.  Yet he knew that the park and ride stop was still to come; followed closely by that certain intersection.  Scott’s peace would have been short lived anyway, for the park and ride group were numerous, and therefore a bit disruptive to the environment of stillness that often accompanied the moving vehicle.

Seven people mumbled greetings to the bus driver and swiped their cards or crammed their grimy bills into the pay-box.  The woman once again reached for her hefty door handle.  She gave one last look across the dimly lit parking lot.  She had been on the route for a while and knew what to expect.  Sure enough, as if responding to her greatest fear, a large woman came huffing and bustling towards the vehicle.  Her clothes and her bags leapt and jostled about as she did her best to arrive before the bus’s departure.  She almost fell as she threw herself in the door and tried to climb up the two steps.  The handrails congratulated each other on an excellent job helping out this Jane Doe in her time of need.  The driver greeted the woman with a simple, “Good morning”.  The large woman, still gasping, expressed her thanks for the professional person’s patience.

Watching the woman stomp down the aisle, Scott noted the presence of her items.  Everyone on the bus seemed to have their own way of packing for the day.  Some folks carried two, if not three carriers with them every day.  Scott did his best to keep his load light; sometimes transporting nothing more than what would fit in his pockets.  Middle-aged workers had swapped out simple satchels for backpacks with wheels.  Scott made mental judgments on those items based on his mood.  There were days when he shook his head in sadness, and others where he only wondered what had happened to the world so that backpacks needed to have their own wheels.  And of course, there were the phone addicts.  A large portion of the commuters didn’t put down their phone the entire trip.  Very rarely was there a phone call this early in the morning.  If there was, the rider could be assured that several heads would glare in that person’s direction.  Many times the phones were used to check e-mails or websites before work, but before sunup it tended to be the music-listening option that was most popular.  Scott had never been one for phones.  He figured if he was allowed to let his brain relax while he went to work, he would take the opportunity.  There was enough overstimulation in his life already.  He preferred to relax.  That calm time would have to wait a moment though, for they were passing the intersection.

Scott looked at a certain spot on the road, put his fingers to his forehead, saluted, and then very quietly said, “God speed, darlin’.  God speed.”  The bus wouldn’t stop unless the light demanded it, which was rare.  Scott watched the spot at the intersection pass by his window, and then he closed his eyes and went about his day.

There were people that wondered what Scott was doing.  They questioned his gesture and they felt uneasy at his waving when there was no one visible outside.  One or two folks slid to a seat further away.  Scott largely ignored them.  He had his reasons and that was enough for him.

Several years ago, the quiet bus stop had been a hubbub of noise and activity.  The city in all its wisdom had decided to spend a year and a half redoing the roads.  The lanes became a little wider, and the trees and grass that had been growing quite well had been ripped out and replaced with new grass and new trees.  Scott didn’t really see the point to it all, but he had long ago accepted the wisdom of the phrase, “And it came to pass”.  He let the construction companies toil away, using his tax dollars for a project that someone had thought was necessary.  Scott assumed that life would return to normal.  Except for one person, that hadn’t been true.

It had been a typical weekday.  A non-descript worker, someone Scott had never met, rode the early afternoon bus.  She probably liked getting home a little before the rest of her family.  The woman might have enjoyed avoiding rush hour traffic and having a bit of “me” time to run errands or straighten up her household.  Scott would never know.

What Scott was certain of were the events of that Tuesday afternoon.  Shortly after the bus had pulled away from that intersection, the woman had crossed.  She answered the summons of the white-light man who benignly assured her that all was well.  The woman stepped into the street and walked through the intersection.  Scant seconds after she had entered, a truck joined her.  The several-ton construction truck had turned right on a red light, which would have been entirely legal had there not been a small group of pedestrians in his way.

The collision occurred the only way it could.  The truck and all its mass came crashing into the people.  A short time later several victims would be admitted to the hospital, but one person would never be fully discharged.  There would be no front door to her house, no sliding doors at a hospital for her to limp across; the last doors that the woman would ever walk through were those double doors on the bus.

Scott felt that someone should remember such things.  There was a memorial stone on the side of the road after all.  The city had realized the tragedy of the event once upon a time, even if they had forgotten about it now.  Certainly the woman’s family hadn’t forgotten.  Scott felt that he could use the reminder to himself.  When he was driving, it served as constant prodding to always follow the rules, especially where traffic lights were concerned.  For the times when he was a pedestrian or a bus rider, Scott tried to remember that one never knows what comes next.

People could stare, people could whisper, but Scott didn’t listen.  He closed his eyes as the intersection faded away into the distance.  He had paid his daily tribute, and he didn’t need the approval of other people to tell him it was the right thing to do.  He simply knew that it was.  With that, as it did each morning, life went on as best as it could.

Put on Hold

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Patience is a virtue; that means not everyone has it.” -Unknown

Put on Hold

Kevin sat in his small brick box, completely bored by his prospects.  This had been his life for the past five years.  In front of him were six gas pump units and behind him were six more.  He sat in his little glass aquarium, four windows allowing every customer to see any movement that he made.  Even when the weather was nice, the giant roof that encapsulated the gas station kept him from feeling any element of nature, be it rain or sunshine.  Over the years, he had contemplated quitting every single day.  The problem was that he needed to stay here or his life would never get better.

Many a time he had tried to explain the situation to people, but he never thought that anyone would believe him.  It had all started in the hospital.  Numerous wires and tubes had been running from his body to different machines and displays.  The morphine drip had been cut down drastically since the operation.  His face had been a beaten mess of purple hues and aching muscles.  But what had bothered him the most were his legs.  The formerly perfect limbs which Kevin had spent years enjoying were numb.  Every now and then a phantom feeling had shot out for his attention.  Yet, when he had reached to scratch his foot or turn his legs, he hadn’t felt a thing.

The semi-truck had done a ruthlessly efficient job.  Kevin had been crossing the intersection; the white-light man calmly had glowed to convince him that all was safe.  Halfway across, Kevin had noticed the truck.  It had honked and the driver had waved maniacally.  For the fleeting moments that Kevin had glanced inside the driver’s cab, and from the police report that came later, it had been clear that the driver had lost control.  The truck couldn’t have stopped.  Kevin tried to get out of the street in time, but he hadn’t a chance.  The semi barreled through the intersection and slammed into the front of a delivery truck with Kevin pinned in the middle.

Every time that a medical professional or friend had stopped into Kevin’s room, they had expressed that it was a miracle to be alive.  No one else would have survived being caught between those two massive vehicles.  He was supposed to feel blessed that he had somehow lived.  His legs, not surprisingly, were another matter.

If his legs had once been two strong oak trees, they were now more akin to sawdust.  From his hips to his ankles, every single bone had been broken.  As Kevin overheard one doctor tell a nurse, “There isn’t a single piece of bone left that’s bigger than my finger.”

Kevin had to admit that the doctors had done their best.  Eight surgeries in three months served as proof that they had tried to help.  Still, the result was inevitable.  Kevin was not going to be able to use his legs ever again.  Kevin had just begun to process that truth when he received a stranger.

At first Kevin had thought the man was the hospital psychiatrist.  He had been told to expect one since he had clearly been through a traumatic experience.  But nothing about this man seemed reassuring.  Every aspect of the man, from his bolo-tie to the canary resting on his shoulder, was just a bit off.  His brown hair had a little too much grease in it and his fingers had a few too many veins visible.  When the man went to shut the door, Kevin sat up taller in his hospital bed.  The man then closed the blinds on the window and sat on the side of Kevin’s bed.

Kevin ran through the scene every day since it had happened.  The man had heard about the accident.  The man had pushed against Kevin’s legs.  Kevin, of course, hadn’t felt a thing.  It was the man who had shaken his head at the limp legs and uttered things like, “such a shame” and “if only there was a way”.  The man had then gone on to suggest that he could help.  Before Kevin could ask what he meant, the man had reached up and pulled the canary down in his fist.  Kevin had been shocked as he watched the man snap the bird’s leg.  Kevin still remembered the rage and his attempt to snatch the bird away and pummel this man in the face.  But the man had stood up too fast.  He had told Kevin that, “Despite what you have heard, everything that has been broken can now be fixed.”

Kevin had watched as the man pulled a syringe from his pocket.  He had placed the bird, limping about in pain, on Kevin’s bed.  He had then injected the bird with a shot and pulled the leg into its correct position.  Kevin had lain on his bed, confused, as he saw it happen.  The bird had chirped, tested its leg on top of the hospital’s bed sheets, then it had hopped about merrily until it flew to Kevin’s lap.  Kevin had been speechless.

The man had presented his case rapidly.  Certain groups had new technologies at their disposal.  There were ways to get a body’s genetic material to rewrite itself.  The man called it a “rebooting”.  Kevin was promised that he could have his legs back.  Kevin had been trembling with excitement, yet he had been wary about the man’s ethics.  “You didn’t have to hurt the bird”, he had said with his jaw set firm in anger.  The man had only shrugged and said something about, “having to prove it worked”.

That was how Kevin found himself in this gas station, day after day.  The man had given him a phone.  It was a typical, out of date cellular phone, but it only had one button.  Kevin had been told that he was in charge of this phone.  The man had gotten Kevin a job as the gas station attendant, but his real responsibility was guarding the phone.  Kevin had been instructed that every once in a great while, certain individuals would come and ask for the specific phone.  The phone only dialed the people that the man represented.  The phone was the only one encrypted to dial the number, so it was paramount that the phone be available to those that needed it.  And, as the man had warned, if Kevin ever tried to dial the number himself, the car wreck would look like a walk in the park compared to what they would do to him.

Kevin thought about that meeting every day.  The phone sat underneath the keyboard of his register, constantly taunting him from out of sight.  Kevin felt his gaze falling to his wheelchair.  It was parked along the side wall of his booth since there was not enough room for it and the wall of cigarette packs.  Kevin constantly kept on an eye on the wheelchair partly because he didn’t want it stolen, and partly because it served as a reminder of why he was there.  Once in a while a couple of kids would try to steal his wheelchair, but so far Kevin had been able to scare them off.  What scared him was the thought of never getting his legs back.

Kevin wondered if the man could actually do what he had promised.  Maybe the bird had been some sort of trick; perhaps even a robot.  It wasn’t like Kevin had poked under the wing and examined the bird.  However, there had been two occasions that made Kevin believe the story he had been told.  Over the past five years, two different men had coming looking for the phone.  They had both run up, bleeding or worse, and demanded the phone.  Each time Kevin tried to point them towards the pay phone and each time they had shaken their heads.  “No”, they said with angry voices, “THE phone.”  Kevin had given them the phone and watched as they had run away yelling into the device.  One of the men looked like he had been shot in the chest and Kevin thought he had seen the other with a gun tucked into his belt.  The next day the man Kevin had met in the hospital had returned and handed Kevin a new phone.  He hadn’t said anything, hadn’t offered any answers, he had only dropped off the phone and walked away.  Kevin had banged on the window, had demanded to know how much longer he was supposed to be stuck in this tiny booth with his life on hold.  The man, no canary in tow, had walked away dismissing Kevin both times.

Kevin often considered his options.  He had sacrificed much for this lousy booth.  Weddings, dates, vacations; all had been put on hold as he had waited.  Maybe he should listen to all his friends and get fitted with prosthetics.  Kevin stiffened at the idea of losing his legs to two machines.  He wanted to run and jump again, but he didn’t want to lose half of his body to do it.  No matter how high-tech a machine was, it was still a chunk of foreign material to him.

More and more, the idea was growing on him.  Kevin was not made to sit in a tiny booth.  He was caught in the middle of some shady dealings that he had no control over.  He had no desire to be the operator that connected calls for some rather despicable individuals, no matter how important their “cause” was.  Kevin was tired of smelling like gasoline all day and every day.  He had long ago grown weary of selling cigarettes to people that were clearly addicted.  However, he wanted his legs back.

Kevin missed hiking.  He missed walking to work on nice days, “just because”.  How could he know when the man would decide Kevin had worked long enough?  What if the man decided to help Kevin out when he turned sixty and was no longer able to fully enjoy his legs?  How long was Kevin going to put his life on hold?  He didn’t know if he should have a little faith or if he needed to kick himself in the seat of his pants and get on with life.

Kevin wanted to be out in the world.  He didn’t want to be under the thumb of heartless thugs.  At the beginning of their arrangement, Kevin had been willing to wait.  That patience was eroding as Kevin considered all he was missing out on.  He started to think that when that third person eventually came for the phone, Kevin might not be there to hand it over.

Hospitable Bill

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Hospitable Bill

Saints of Mercy Hospital had an imposing figure that roamed quietly down the halls.  The first reaction people had towards him was one of awe.  The man, while thin in physique, stood well over six feet.  His dark brown skin and naked head reflected the florescent lights that buzzed in the ceiling fixtures.  The man’s head was large, his cheeks were sunken, and his default expression was one that tended to frighten small children.  However, the hospital was always grateful to have him around.

Bill, the tall man with a towering frame, was not an employee of the hospital.  He was a volunteer of sorts.  He had been cleared by the human resources department, but he didn’t have anyone checking in on him with any regularity.  By now, the staff knew that he helped in a way that they couldn’t coach or instruct.  Bill just had a gift.

ImageAs rumor around the hospital went, it had started about seven years ago.  There had been a fire, an earthquake, or a train crash, depending on who was telling the story.  Regardless, the staff had been overwhelmed with new patients.  Ambulances kept pulling up with their bright lights glaring through the windows while gurneys burst through the double doors as medical staff ran by spewing medical terms.  Men and women alike screamed with agony in the waiting room while doctors worked to control the seemingly endless injuries.  Panic was trying to force its way into each patient’s room.  It was as if the concerned loved ones in the waiting room could see the victims suffering through the walls and they were traumatized by the thought of it all.

As the doctors and nurses scurried from one injured individual to the next, Bill had been seen wandering around the hallways.  He had suffered a mild concussion and a white bandage with a red circle resided in the middle of his forehead; a stark contrast to his placid face.  He started sitting next to people in the hallways. 

Slowly, ever so gradually, a sense of calm started to take over the floor.  There were still dozens of people seeking medical treatment.  The broken bones did not get miraculously healed and the wounds were not sewn up out of nowhere.  But the attitude shifted.  Hope was restored with every person that Bill visited. 

Ever since then, Bill had done his best to find time to come in and just talk to people.  It was funny; from far away his boney features and great height were off-putting.  However, when he sat down next to someone on a plastic waiting room chair, or when he knelt down in front of a crying child, he became the most approachable person anyone could think of.  When a mother cried and told Bill about her teenage son who had gotten into a car accident, Bill sat there and took it all in.  A look of concern and understanding came across his face.  That same expression was comforting to the mother. 

When Bill did smile, which he tried to do with every person that he talked to, it took over the entirety of his face.  His bright teeth and his non-forced grin emerged on the bottom half of his face.  At the same time, his eyes lit up and shone with optimism.  

Bill let people take as long as they needed.  If a husband wanted to recount the forty-six years that his wife had been with him and how he wasn’t ready to lose her yet, Bill would listen as long as the man needed.  His patience and understanding were what made Bill so special.  He didn’t rush people, he didn’t try to fix things; he just tried to be there for them.  He made sure that if someone needed a shoulder to lean on, they could use his.

That is why there is a tall figure walking around Saints of Mercy Hospital.  He is there to remind folks that they walk their own path, but every once in a while, they come across someone who will help them shoulder the load.

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