Harold’s Day Out
by Meg Whitefeather
part 1 of 2
In that in-between place where not much grows and no one knows anyone except maybe the grocer and the mailman, if there is a mailman, life exists. It’s there that time crimps together in a sort of holding-place and the very ground beneath one’s feet feels too light.
The narrow house on the narrow street in the narrow town was home to Harry. At least it was today.
Harold: a glorified form of Harry. And Day, no less. Harry Day. The name rolled around his brain along with the million other pieces of the puzzle, and not a few missing. Was he bullied as a kid with a name like that? Did they call him Harold or Harry?
August 23, 2014. It was there on the calendar, x-ed with a small red mark in one corner. Would that be today? Muncie Indiana Bank & Trust spread across the top in bold black letters. He ran his hand over the smooth paper surface and stopped to stroke the poppies next to the photo of the building. He traced a finger over the A, U, and G. Smooth.
He shifted his weight and cringed at the pain in his leg. Then he reset his cane to steady himself. The floor sounded when he dropped it down, toc. He loved wooden floors, especially those with a good sound-propensity when hit with a cane. Toc toc toc.
It was an accident — he remembered that much — and a bad one at that. Funny he could remember some things but not others. No, not funny... frustrating.
He willed to forget that memory, purge it from his past: the grind of metal on metal, the deafening crash, the squeal of tires dragging on for what seemed like miles through locked brakes, shattered glass falling around his head, in his eyes, like razored raindrops from a midnight sky, and the blood-splashes of bright red blood on the seat cushions and dashboard — across the ceiling — dripping off his chin in a crimson stream, by the time the paramedics arrived. They had rushed him to the hospital, he recalled. He had worn an oxygen mask on the way. There were scars.
He had once thought blood turned brown after a while, but it was still red the next day when they took photos of the car. Red like the Chiefs jersey he used to wear to those few games he actually attended in Kansas City. He remembered that too; he could never bring himself to wear that shirt again.
His leg had taken 12 pins and 78 stitches, and he had the nodules to prove it. And the pain, the never-ending pain. He’d lost someone.
“Chuck the cane. In a few months, you’ll be good as new.” Of course they also said the recovery would depend on him, on retraining the leg to hold his weight. But the pain was too bad, and he needed the reminder. In some sick way he needed the pain.
The house was smallish, beige, and too roomy for just one person. The walls echoed. It was an oft-used phrase with big empty houses; now he understood it, even in this little place. He tapped his cane once more; it echoed.
In front of him was a moderately worn oversized recliner in a not unappealing brown, and a plant stand with three distinct and unrecognizable species of plants. He shivered. Was he supposed to water the things? Not much for furniture.
And there were doorknobs. White doorknobs. Harold nodded. They would do.
A set of stairs scraped up the back wall, stairs leading to an upper story. He leaned and clomped, leaned and clomped, toc toc toc, until he reached the bottom step. No left-hand rail. He adjusted his un-caned left arm, spread his fingers, and pushed against the left wall while leaning against the right-hand rail, cane scootched against his body. This would have to do.
He lifted one foot, then the other, and winced when he bent his right knee. Push, lift, slide. The narrow passage was perfect, the pushing wall within reach. At the top, he let out a long full breath and turned to view his progress. Twenty-five steps. The descent would be quicker with a rail to hold.
He faced two doors, one on the right and one on the left, behind which presumably lay two rooms. He opened the first. A small room with green shag carpet of 1970’s American vintage. Familiar. But no furniture. He shut the door and it closed with a sort of suction sound, as if the room was tight and sealed. The doorknob was dark brown.
The larger room was, well... larger and occupied most of the upper floor. It too was devoid of furniture except for one cane-backed rocking chair facing the sole window on that long west-facing wall. But the floor was wood. This would be the bedroom. The doorknob was an antiquated silver color.
Harold clomped to the window and viewed the street. It was grey asphalt like all streets, with a white stripe down the middle, and it ended not far from the house. A street only about fifty feet long. It terminated abruptly, neatly, as if the town had run out of money and stopped building it. If he walked to the end and looked over, would he be faced with a dark sinkhole of nothingness or a four-inch drop to maneuver around with his cane? He had to find out. Later.
Out beyond the short road to the right — it was north, if the hazy speck of brightness on the horizon was any clue — a patch of gravel stretched to a wavy tan area: sand dunes. Harold smiled. When was the last time he’d sunk his toes into honest to goodness sand? He curled his lips at the cane. No, no sand dunes for him.
Directly across the road a fog hung around what appeared to be other houses and a generous flock of trees, but it was all too distorted. He squinted. No, it was no use. He’d have to check that out too. Later.
Harold jerked up on the window but it didn’t budge. The latch. He flicked it open and jerked again. No good. He pounded his fist on the window moulding and jerked a third time. Pound, jerk, repeat. He did that three more times. He’d have to find a hammer.
Clomping to the closet, Harold opened the accordion doors and found everything he’d need to stay comfortable, at least for the day: a pillow, blanket, fan, and a pair of stylish Ray-Ban aviators. He slid the shades into his hoodie pocket.
A single pair of pants, two shirts, underwear — briefs, not boxers — he was glad for that, socks, and a pair of Nike runners. He sneered; not likely to be wearing those anytime soon. His previously ambivalent mood lifted slightly at the sight of stuff — his stuff. He could always sleep on the floor.
The trip back down the stairs was uneventful. He nearly missed a single step, but quickly recouped his balance and finished without further incident.
Harold eased himself into the recliner and linked his cane over the closet doorknob next to him. A book lay on the floor beside the recliner handle; he picked it up and dusted its cover. Anne Bronte: a Biography. No way. Not a biography about some broad he’d never heard of, written a hundred years ago by another broad he’d never heard of. There were two other books he’d seen here, and he hoped he’d later come across a hidden stash poked away in a cubbyhole somewhere, a stash of real books.
The gold lettering on the sea blue cover stood out. Striking. He had an eye for design, and this one intrigued him. He rubbed a finger along its finely turned edge, and poked his finger down on the somewhat sharp corner, once, twice. The pages were crisp and white, almost new, or at least little read.
The printers had used a pleasing font, and the chapter heads were more modern than archaic. He settled in to read. The leg hurt anyway, and, after all, what was a few pages? He broke away for a quick glance at his cane, and found it still hooked over the doorknob of the small closet next to the loveseat, within reach — always within reach. It was a white doorknob.
At the end of the first chapter, Harold sighed. Oh, for a book like Heroes Die or some other bawdy blood-filled tome — he’d pay money for that — but there wasn’t a trace of anything like that around. Back to Anne, and before long he had finished.
At the beach, three strolled leisurely along the water’s edge, laughing, talking, alternately nodding or shaking their heads, depending on the topic of conversation. Right now it was Harold.
“Let me go first,” said the first. “He’s reading, and his mind will be ready.”
The others agreed. He was reading, and that was the important thing.
Harold flinched when a fly landed on his hand, and the fly hopped over to the book on his lap. It was a fly, of all things — the first living moving breathing thing he’d seen since he got there, however long that had been. He didn’t shoo it away, for he longed for company.
In his reverie moments before, a woman had stood before him, waved him on toward the sand, the beach, but he couldn’t make out the words she mouthed. She reached down and scooped a handful of water, splashed it on her lightly clothed body again and again until she was dripping wet with drops that shimmered and shone in the bright sunless air. He didn’t understand, but still enjoyed the mini-dream. He was lonely and even an apparition in a dream was welcome. Even a fly was welcome.
Flies. Flies and food. How long had it been since he’d eaten? Days? Hours? Yet he wasn’t really hungry, but he could stand a glass of water, more to wet his lips than anything.
Clomping across the floor, cane in hand, Harold leaned against the only sink in the house and turned the faucet on. It didn’t appear old, yet still it creaked, and out gushed pure clear water, the sweetest he’d ever smelled. Did water have a smell? He’d smelled bad water and seen rusty water, but this was neither.
He snagged open a cabinet, then another. One lone glass. He yanked it out and held it under the faucet until the water overran it, wetted his hand and filled his air space with the scent of a mountain stream. He was glad for the good things he remembered like mountain streams, and he was glad for sweet smelling water.
He lifted the glass and let the water trickle down his throat — every taste bud doing a little jig in the process — down his throat, into his esophagus. He drank and drank and drank as if he had just walked a hundred miles on desert sand in longjohns, overalls, and a wool jacket. Without a cane. It was a bittersweet moment: the water and no cane.
The water revived him. His mind cast back to warm sunny days at a beach, with a woman beside him, a woman he loved, children he loved. A blanket was spread on the sand, a picnic basket, sand toys, an umbrella. Nearby laughter and the shriek of children jumping into the shallow frigid waves near shore. A touch, a soft hand, red full lips that were anything but dry.
The dripping of the faucet brought Harold back. He reached over and snugged it tight. The greyness of the day closed in again, and he considered the love-seat and the book. Not sure what else to do, he grabbed his cane and clomped back to sit. He wouldn’t risk the stairs again so soon.
The one with the overcoat and long brunette hair stopped and faced the others, as much as one apparition can face another. “He didn’t take it; stayed too long and still didn’t take it.”
“Do you have another suggestion, Woolf?” asked Sylvia.
“Yes. I suggest I do what I’ve been told I should never do, for fear of losing my chance to leave here.”
“It hasn’t gotten to that point yet, has it?” asked Acton, the one who tried to influence Harold through thirst.
“No, but I fear it quickly will; it’s been three long centuries. He’s in desperate straits, and if we don’t hurry, the loop will close,” Woolf continued.
“They’re all in ‘desperate straits’.”
“The Circle of Emptiness is closing, Sylvia. I sense the darkness.”
“Then you must do it.”
Harold settled back in the loveseat, with no desire to read, drink water, or even shoo a fly away. Another book was close by, but it seemed too much of a bother to grab his cane, stand up again, and scramble over to get it. So he sat.
He even considered doing away with that pesky fly, the thing that kept buzzing around his head as though he were a pile of elephant dung, and he still might. He was tired of it, tired of the noise, tired of the bother. He would kill it once and for all, lonely or not.
So Harold unbuttoned his shirt and slipped it off, then rolled it into a firmly padded swatter, and waited. Just as he was about to take a dead-eye shot at the landed pest, a knock at the door. He had never had a knock at the door that he could remember. He didn’t have neighbors that he knew by name, so he puzzled at the knock.
Copyright © 2013 by Meg Whitefeather