One Hundred Seventy-Eight
by Jeff Brown
It would take longer than it ever had, but Marvin would take the walk anyway, starting from his house, down the steps and the drive to the old dirt road. He stopped at the old black mailbox with the house number and his last name on it: 316 Route 8, Dayshire. Marvin shook his head and then looked up the road toward the highway and then the other direction, toward the lake.
Marvin rubbed his bald head with a hand that was missing the ring finger to the second knuckle. He took a deep breath and began walking toward the lake, counting each step, not realizing he was doing so.
One... two... three... four...
It was a mental thing for Marvin, the counting was. He had been doing it since he was a child. He didn’t know when the counting had begun; he just knew he had been doing it since he could remember.
Sixteen... Seventeen... eighteen...
He counted the corners on objects and then the objects themselves: squares, circles, triangles, rectangles, octagons; the lines on notebook paper (all the lines on the front and the back of each page as well as the margin lines); the cars on trains as they passed by at a railroad crossing as well as the cars or trucks that he passed on the roads.
The number of times his blinker flashed before he made a turn was noted each time. Counting is what he did, mostly involuntarily.
Thirty... thirty-one... thirty-two... thirty-three...
For now, he counted each step he took. It was six steps from his front door to the stairs of his front porch; eight steps down; twenty-nine from the bottom of the steps to his mailbox. When he was a kid it was one hundred, seventy-eight steps from the mailbox to the old oak tree down by the lake where he would sit with a pole and a line baited with worms or crickets in hopes of catching a fish or two. Oh, to be young again; to be able to take so few steps to his sitting spot near the lake.
Fifty-six... fifty-seven... fifty-eight...
He was careful and very deliberate, placing one foot directly in front of the other one. Marvin watched his feet, as he always did, while walking the red clay road with its many rocks and pebbles jutting out of its surface.
Seventy-one... seventy-two... seventy-three...
An old abandoned trailer was to his left, its blue exterior dirty and faded. The boards to the small wood deck were cracked in some places and completely caved in at others.
The dirt road curved around to the left. Coming up the road was the Markle kid, a fishing rod in one hand and a green tackle box in the other. His clothes were dirty from the day’s activities.
“Hi, Mr. Dayshire,” he said as he passed by.
Marvin waved to him and then stepped off the road and onto a dirt path that cut its way through the grass toward the lake.
One-o-three... One-o-four. . . One-o-five... One-o-six...
Marvin passed another trailer to his right. It was in a lot better shape than the old abandoned blue one. Paul and Jenny lived there and have been for the past eight years. For a brief moment, Marvin recalled how the only people that used to live on this land was his family. Now, there were nine houses or trailers with people in them, lining the dirt road.
Marvin moved off of the path and walked by a line of boats. Most of them were old and no longer in any shape to be on the water. He ran his right hand along the side of an old pontoon boat that was rusting in various places.
He was on a straight away where the trees had grown up and formed an arch above the path. Leaves littered the walkway and continued to fall as the winter months were quickly approaching.
One-sixty-eight... One-sixty-nine... One-seventy...
It wasn’t too far now. The sunlight glistened off the water making every ripple like it was shining. He exited the path and woods and came to a clearing.
One-eighty-three... One-eighty-four... One-eighty-five...
The giant oak stood directly in front of him. Marvin smiled and took the last several steps.
Marvin sat down, carefully, making sure he didn’t fall. Settling back against the tree, he moved a little to his right to get comfortable and then exhaled loudly.
Two hundred and one steps, he thought. Not too bad for an old man.
He was tired and his breaths were deep and labored. Marvin looked out over the lake and the cove. People passed by on boats; some were skiing. There were a couple of children swimming across the way. Little Donald Markle sat on a tree stump with his fishing rod in his hands. Each boat, each person, was given their own number by Marvin.
The sun began to drop down, setting in the west; setting, as was Marvin’s life. The light of day dimmed, becoming grayer by the minute. The cloud’s brilliant blues were becoming pink and purple and, in some places, gold. The sun’s rays peered out from the gaps in the clouds, casting streaks of white and yellow light from the sky to the earth. To Marvin the rays looked like something out of an old science fiction movie, like beams that were going to teleport people upward to a better place. Maybe that’s what they were: portals to heaven.
He began to count the rays (portals) until the sun was too low to count them. It didn’t matter how many rays there were to Marvin as long as there was one for him; a portal to heaven.
As the day’s light ran away, giving way to the night’s dark cover, Marvin noticed the people were few and far between. He thought that maybe he should get up and take those two hundred and one steps back to the mailbox and then the twenty-nine steps back to the stairs. Eight stairs and six steps to the door remained and he would be home. Instead of getting up, Marvin remained sitting. Waiting.
He thought again of Mae, his wife dead these eight years. Ninety months; three hundred sixty weeks; Two thousand five hundred and twenty days; over sixty thousand hours. He counted them all, each one added to the growing numbers in his head.
A single tear traced down his face. He made a mental note of that as well: one tear.
He looked up to the night sky, the moon and the stars. They hung there, twinkling and winking in the darkness for all to see. It wasn’t long before Marvin was counting the stars.
One... Two... Three...
See how they twinkle?
Five... Six... Seven... Eight...
See how they shine?
Nine... Ten... Eleven...
Again, a Heaven he had heard so many times about came to his mind. Celestial beings and streets of gold; mansions and loved ones...
“Just close your eyes,” a voice said. It was soft, sweet and feminine.
Marvin looked around but saw no one.
The voice spoke again. “Just close your eyes.”
This time when Marvin looked out at the lake he saw them, the people; the ghosts; angels. Or whatever they were. They emanated a bright white light, illuminating the water.
Marvin turned his head slightly, cocking it to one side. He wasn’t sure if he was dreaming or if it was real, but they were everywhere. Men, women, children alike. Their faces were glowing; their eyes were deep black on the backdrop of their bright yellow faces. They looked almost like photo negatives come to life and swimming in the water. Motioning with their arms and hands, they waved to Marvin; for him to come to them.
They spoke with soft, angelic voices.
“Close your eyes,” they said in unison, as if they were singing to him, their voices carried through the cove by a cool breeze coming off of the lake. They were soothing and Marvin found it tempting to do what they said.
His eyes began to fell heavy, the lids threatening to clamp shut on him. He shook his head a couple of times, trying to shake away the cobwebs that were forming like a veil over his mind. Rubbing his eyes Marvin took several deep breaths, letting the cool of the early evening air fill his aged lungs. A weakness overcame him and he suddenly felt drained.
The people continued to call to him in a lullaby.
Marvin’s head drooped and his eyes began to close. Sleep was rushing in. At first he wanted to fight but he finally gave in to the steely claws of slumber.
When he awoke Marvin felt well rested. So well, in fact, that he thought he could walk back to the house in one hundred seventy-eight steps, just like when he was a kid. He was almost certain he could. He was almost certain...
Marvin turned in a circle, taking in his surroundings. It was still night and the ghosts or angels were still there in the water. And Marvin was on his feet, though he didn’t remember standing or moving away from the tall oak tree. It was then that Marvin realized he wasn’t standing but floating just above the water. He was surrounded by the glowing people.
As he looked at them, at their faces, he began to recognize them. There was Uncle Bug and Papa Earl; Mrs. Penny and both of his grandparents on his mother’s side; his son, Marvin Jr., whom he had outlived thanks to a drunk driver as were many friends and relatives. Mae, his wife of fifty-six years, was there also.
Mae went over to Marvin in a graceful movement, gliding on air just as she had done so in life. She embraced him with a long hug and then released him. She turned away and pointed upward. The stars’ lights were now casting beams down to the water. Marvin’s relatives and friends stepped into the beams and began to ascend to the sky.
Mae turned back to Marvin and smiled softly at him. Taking his hand she led him to one of the beams. They stepped in the light together and began to rise. Marvin felt no fear, just relief and joy.
The counting had finally stopped.
Copyright © 2006 by Jeff Brown