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 14: Where Am I To Go?
Earl’s toe throbbed like a son-of-a-bitch, and he did not need the distraction as he tried to get a sense of the administrator’s angst. He knew he was in an awkward position, and it wasn’t just his bare bottom in his hospital blues that sent a chill through him. He was vulnerable and he knew it. No chair offered, he leaned forward on his cane and mustered the best bravado he could find. “Did I hear right?” he asked incredulously. “You fired Stella? Why? Henry, let me guess.”
Mann motioned to Elroy with a flick of his hand. “Elroy, you know what to do, be quick about it.”
He then spoke to Earl without looking at him. He had dealt with Earl Crier before and found being stared down by a blind man quite unsettling. “Mr. Akita has been dismissed. Miss Tate — Stella — has been reprimanded and been given two weeks off without pay. I can assure you that if there was not an acute shortage of nurses, she would have joined Mr. Akita in the unemployment line.”
“You had no right—”
“That is where you are wrong.” His voice was condescending. “I have every right. I understand that this so-called celebration was your idea. Patients in this facility don’t have ideas. We have rules. Your opinion amounts to nothing. Elroy informs me that you have been a consistent troublemaker from the first moment you arrived here. That is going to change,” Mann said with a vindictive tone to his voice. “As of this moment you are dismissed from this facility.”
“You can’t—” Earl started to say, his anger rising, before he was cut off.
“I can and I have. This is a veteran’s hospital, and you sir, are not a veteran. You served with the Merchant Marine and are not entitled to veteran’s benefits. At the request of the United States Navy you were given temporary shelter and medical care in exchange for your silence regarding the incident and cause of your injuries, just as long as you obey the rules. The rules, as I see it, are what I determine them to be. On my recommendation the Navy has agreed to immediately terminate any agreement you might have thought you had.”
“I...” Earl stammered. He hadn’t anticipated this.
“Enough!” Mann ordered. “One more word from you and you will charged for your stay and required to pay back every penny for expenses incurred by the United States government. Do I make myself clear?” He plucked an envelope from an open drawer to his desk and forced it into Earl’s hands. “This contains your discharge papers and sixteen hundred dollars in cash, back pay owed you by the Merchant Marine.” He looked at Earl’s dark glasses. “Do you want me to count it out for you?”
There was a rapid knock on the door as it opened.
“Ah, there you are Elroy,” Mann said. “Elroy has been kind enough to collect your things. Everything is in the paper bag. After you have changed into your civilian clothes, you will be escorted to the rear parking lot, where a cab is waiting.”
Earl dropped his cane and the envelope as his clothes were forced into his hands.
“Where am I to go?”
The administrator turned his back and left without an answer.
“Get on with it, the meter is running on your cab,” Elroy said as he picked up the envelope, opened it and quietly pocketed most of the cash. “It’s your dime, pal.”
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith