Two Blind Men and a Fool
by Sherman Smith
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Earl Crier wakes screaming from nightmares in which his ship sinks in the Arctic in World War II. He has survived but is now blind. He takes refuge in music and in the kindness of Stella. Meanwhile, other veterans return, and their most serious wounds are not always visible.
Chapter 13: Where Does One Begin?
Exhausted, Earl slept briefly.
He dreamed of pleasant days, back in Kentucky before the war. In dreamlike reality he saw endless rolling hills of green under an intense blue sky. The hills rolled by until finally his vision settled on the country club where he had worked when he was a younger man and all the world lay before him.
In his mind’s eye he was there just as if it had been only yesterday, serving drinks to the beautiful young women who sunned themselves by the club’s poolside. They were rich and sensuous, and off-limits to the staff, except for a daring vixen who chanced an adventure with a man below her social class.
His dreams were not usually filled with dark, haunting memories of war and death. His were often enough filled with pleasant thoughts of what life had been like when he had his sight. And always there was music. The music in his head came in waves of color and light. And then a black curtain would drop, he would wake, the music would stop, and he was back. That was when the fear came, when the black serpent drew near, bringing with it the unforgiving dark.
The hospital was quiet, with fewer screams to shatter the night.
Earl remembered the party and chuckled. Yes, sir, that was all right. Careful not to disturb Ivory or Brooks, unable to find his slippers, he padded barefoot back to the day room anticipating a replay of some of the tunes from the night before. On his terms this time, of course.
Ivory lay on his bunk unable to sleep, confused by a whirlwind of emotions he desperately wanted to sort out. He just couldn’t get hold of one. It was kind of like trying to read a book upside down and backwards. Nothing made any sense. Yet, he hadn’t felt this alive since his first days in China.
He had grown up in a small dusty town in rural Texas where the Depression had been deep, the work hard, the view desolate. He had sought adventure and found it in the Marines, where he had been sent to mystical, crowded China, far on the other side of the world. He had wanted adventure and had gotten it. Then came the war. He felt his heart race, but couldn’t run from his thoughts. King Earl the Bastard had been right. It was time to stop feeling sorry for himself and get on with living. He owed that much to Sergeant Ware.
He heard Earl rise and thought about saying something. What? Where does one begin? He started to say something, but Earl was out the door before he had a chance.
On his way to the day room Earl couldn’t help but think about Brooks. Maybe, just maybe, he might have the guy wrong. Forget it, that he can whistle up a storm doesn’t change the fact that he is an insufferable prick. Earl reached the day room door and found the knob. It was locked. His hands found the cold metal as he rattled the chain, the padlock, cold, heavy and unyielding.
“What the hell is this?” He rattled the chain again as he wondered if he had taken a wrong turn somewhere and was at the wrong door. He mentally recounted his steps. No, this here is the door to the day room, and it’s locked tighter than Dad’s gun closet.
“Hey, Henry, Stella, someone, what the hell is this?” He rattled the chain vigorously and kicked at the door. “Damn, that hurt.” He hopped on one foot while reaching for his stubbed toe, then fell flat on his ass. “Damn it!” he cursed. Someone’s going to pay for this. He felt the cold on his bare ass and had to laugh at the mental image of himself sprawled out in his hospital blues.
Sleepy voices rose from the ward across the hall. Earl’s laughter, followed by explicit expletives, could be heard across the hospital. Small groups of men began to appear in the hallway. Few spoke, none offered to help; they knew trouble when they saw it.
“Mr. Crier, I’ll see you in my office.” The voice belonged to Herbert Mann, the hospital administrator. Elroy took Earl by the elbow and pulled him none too gently to his feet. Elroy had a smell Earl knew well: the stench of bad booze oozing from his pores. “Get your hands off me, you goddamned storm trooper!” Earl demanded as he tried to pull away from Elroy’s almost painful grip.
“I said that we will speak in my office. Elroy, bring him along.”
One man booed and then another as Elroy manhandled Earl towards the elevator. Mann stood facing the elevator door, ignoring the protests as he waited for the door to open. Next to Elroy, the administrator looked somewhat like Charlie Chaplin, with a pot belly, thinning gray hair, and a mustache too full and dark for his facial features. A comical character, feared by most, who stood back unwilling to lend a hand.
“Someone get Stella,” a voice called out.
“Too late,” another answered, “the bastard fired her as she left the party. Henry Akita, too.”
The elevator door closed as Earl weighed those words. Fired?
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith