Two Blind Men and a Fool
by Sherman Smith
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 10: Soul-Sucking Dreams
Earl sat on the edge of his bed tapping his cane repeatedly on the floor. For three days and nights he and Brooks had made no progress in connecting with Ivory Burch.
Ivory lay sullenly on his bed, his eyes wide open, rarely blinking, as he stared at the nothingness of the plain white institutional ceiling. The room was officers’ country, he wasn’t an officer and didn’t want any part of it. It had been the officers who had ordered him to surrender. He had been trained to fight, then ordered to lie down like a whipped dog. And where he had been dogs were treated better. The shame would always be with him.
He didn’t care, not any more. He had died months ago back in the jungle, but God had forgotten to take him. Ivory felt he had no right to go on living, but he lacked the courage to do anything about it. And so he waited. In time he would fade away to oblivion, finally to answer the last roll call with his lost company. Reporting for duty, Sergeant Ware. Sorry I’m late.
His new roommates, officers, were both blind, nosy and noisy. They never shut up, bickering like two old women. When they were not talking, one would whistle or the other sing, it didn’t matter what time of day or night.
The only good thing was that he hadn’t had the nightmare in three days. Everything would be just fine now, if those two blind fools would just leave him alone. One, a Captain Brooks something or other, was the worst of the two: a puffed-up Army washout whose head was wrapped up so tight it reminded him of an oversized egg.
The shorter of the two was either talking or singing. It was better when he sang, because when he talked he didn’t have anything to say worth hearing. He didn’t act like a high and mighty officer, but this was officers’ country, and the first thing Ivory had learned in the Marines was never to volunteer and never to trust an officer. I’ve got one good leg, Ivory thought, and if either of them gives me any more grief, I’ll kick the hell out of him.
The one who sang, tapped his way towards him. “It has been three days now without so much as a howdy-do. I consider that to be impolite, then I decided that you were just the shy type and didn’t mean no disrespect.”
He extended his hand towards where he thought Ivory should be. “Friends call me Earl.” There was a long silence as Earl’s hand wavered in the air. “We were introduced by Stella. You remember her: a nice gal with a sensuous smoky kind of voice; head nurse around here.”
He pulled back his hand. “Hell’s bells, you are a rude son-of-a-bitch aren’t you? Well, that’s going to change right now.” He pounded his cane forcibly on the floor. “Enough of this self-pity crap,” he said accusingly. “You think you’re the only poor son-of-a-bitch around here who came out of the war with a raw deal? Hell, and damnation, what do you think war is? Look at Brooks over there, talk about a raw deal. Son, you don’t know the half of it.”
“What?” Ivory rolled his tongue around his mouth to clear out the crud and cobwebs. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Cut the crap, Marine. Who do you think you are, the lone survivor? Life is tough, then you die. Only thing is that you are still alive. What are you going to do about it? You didn’t crawl out of hell’s cesspool to die of stupidity in a VA hospital, or did you?”
The next thing Ivory knew, the blind man whopped him on the top of his head with his cane. “What the hell was that for?”
“There, at least now I know you’re still breathing,” Earl said. “You’ve got to help me out here, son. I’m blind, not deaf or dumb, and I won’t be taken for a fool.”
“The hell you say,” the other blind man said.
“Shut up, Brooks. If I think you got something worthwhile to say, I’ll declare it a miracle, and go to church on Sunday. Don’t hold your breath for long on that one.”
Earl raised his cane as if to strike Ivory a second time. Ivory slid back, leaving the cane to threaten plain air. “Now you listen close, Ivory. I can call you by your first name because believe it or not I intend to be your friend. You listen real good, because if I have to tell you this twice, I’m going to be needing a new cane.
“Let us assume for the time being that I am the center of the universe. In doing this, we’ll skip innumerable boring stories, which includes anything Brooks has to say, sagas of heroism, ballads of tragic love, the rise and fall of empires, whatever. Let’s hurry forward to the only tale of any real importance.”
He stopped for a moment and brought the cane down to his side. Smiled, then cocked his head and pasted on a dead-serious face. “You and me kid, right here, right now.” He stopped and listened to Ivory breathe. “There is no story, good or bad, that does not touch the truth, even if the truth is uglier than sin. I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you mine if you’ll tell me yours. If it helps, I’ll even go first.”
“Go to hell!” Ivory spat. “I’m not interested.”
“Dreams,” Earl roared. “Soul-sucking dreams that draw you down like quicksand. No matter how hard you try to crawl out you’re stuck in its foul muck knee-deep. The problem is, you’re in head-first. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll trade you horror for horror from my nightmare, then you try to do me one better. The loser gets to buy the drinks.” He took off his dark glasses showing the angry red scars still healing.
Ivory shook his head. A single tear appeared in his right eye. “You don’t want to know, so piss off, okay?”
Brooks abruptly stood. “Out of that rack, Marine, and stand to attention. I’ve had enough of your crap,” he barked.
Thattaboy, Brooks, Earl thought. Show the kid what kind of asshole you really are. “Feel free to ignore the man, Ivory. He’s blind, dumb, and tone-deaf.”
Henry was listening just outside the door. It sounded as if everything was going as Stella had planned. Earl and Brooks were going to push Ivory to the edge, to get him fighting mad. Henry was there to make sure things didn’t get out of hand.
When he heard Brooks order Ivory to stand at attention, Henry entered the room. Ivory swung his lethal glare from Brooks bandaged, faceless head to Henry’s yellow-brown Japanese-American face. Henry could tell by Ivory’s eyes that if given a gun Ivory would not hesitate to pull the trigger. He ignored it.
“I bring gifts,” Henry said as he placed a brown paper bag at the foot of Earl and Brook’s beds. The third bag he placed on the center of the room’s only table while deliberately keeping a safe distance from Ivory, whose fists were clenched and visibly shaking.
The rattle of glass drew Brooks’ attention. “What do we have here?”
“Something I know I’m going to regret: four pints of Old Charter whiskey,” Henry said as he opened the bags. Then he passed a bottle to Brooks and Earl before uncapping his own. He wasn’t comfortable giving booze to Brooks, but this wasn’t just about Ivory. Brooks was in need of a major morale boost. Good booze rationed was far better than Elroy’s cheap hootch in unlimited supply.
Henry placed the last bottle deliberately on a table across the room. “Ivory, if you want some, you are going to have to get up on your one good leg to get it.”
He turned back to Earl and Brooks. “Guys, you can thank Stella for this. The two of you are a hit in the day room; your music may be the best medicine we have around here. However, your mostly bare bottoms hanging out of your hospital blues don’t make the grade. So here you are: new civvies. I hope Stella got the sizes right. You’re going to have to dress yourselves, no help with the buttons and bows.”
He looked at his watch. “Think you can get it together by evening chow? Why ask? Even if you put your clothes on inside out you’ll still look a lot better than you do now.” Careful not to give Ivory any clues of his Stella’s plan, he left without further word or encouragement.
Ivory sat expressionless with lips tight as stone, which of course left no impression with Earl, who could only sense the man’s attitude. “Knock it off, Marine!” Earl gave him a second rap on the head with his cane.
“OUCH!” How the hell does he do that? Ivory thought, The bastard can’t see me, but he nails me every time.
“I don’t have to see to know that given the chance you would like to carve Henry Akita into dog chow. Henry is no 4-F draft dodger; he’s earned his stripes and then some. Henry’s got his story just like you and me. He was a medic with the 442nd, the all-Nisei Regiment, in Italy.
“The ‘Purple Heart Battalion’ went into the field in Italy with 1,432 men. Less than a year later they were down to 239 infantrymen and 21 officers. Not many medics made it out alive. Too many good men died in that war, all good Americans. Why? So you can sit here and feel sorry for yourself because you came out alive. Life isn’t fair, and there’s not a man in this place that doesn’t know the truth of that.”
A funereal silence filled the room as Earl stood silent his cane wavering within striking distance.
“Thanks for the history lesson. I lost every man jack in my outfit,” Ivory snapped. “Call him whatever you want. I know what I see. He’s a goddamned Jap. He don’t belong here. It just ain’t right. ” The anger brought a flush to his parchment cheeks and enough adrenaline to make him antsy. He rose, slipped on his one slipper, grabbed a towel and slid into his wheelchair. “Come on, Sarge,” he grumbled as he picked up the remaining pint and rolled out the door with thundering anger, “this place stinks of Japs and Jap lovers.”
Earl almost had to bite his tongue when he heard Ivory talk to a man who wasn’t there. “Brooks,” he said in a low voice, “did you hear—?”
“What?” Brooks had a narrow attention span, and his mind was focused on his pint of good whiskey.
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith