Two Blind Men and a Fool
by Sherman Smith
|Table of Contents|
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 19: I’m Not Nuts
Brooks sat alone in his hospital room, waiting for his poker pals to show up. Playing five-card stud with Self-Pity and Desperation is not for the faint of heart. The last time he had played and called their bluff, he had drawn two deuces wild and lived to tell about it. Perhaps today he would have better luck.
He shook his head in bemusement, then spoke aloud, needing to hear the sound of his own voice. “I’m not nuts, at least not yet. Yes...” The word was long and drawn out. “I talk to myself and from time to time I even answer. Sometimes my mouth just starts talking and it takes my mind a while to catch up. A little talk never hurt anyone, and it’s a hell of a lot better than raging at Mr. Dark. I do try to carry on the other end of the conversation; no sense being rude.
“Now if I were to start singing in three-part harmony, that would be a whole different kettle of fish. You see, I’ve got this permanent reservation at the No See Motel, and from time to time I’d like to get a fix on whether I’m awake or only dreaming. It’s not easy, and that is the damned truth. But at least for the moment I’m keeping my head above water.”
He ran his hand over his cheek, then up to his forehead, the coarse bandage never ending. He gave a short bitter laugh and shook his head in exasperation. He then shifted his weight as he let out a sudden bark: “Earl, you pompous bastard, where in this big black universe did you get off to?”
He heaved a dramatic sigh. “You were always trying to do me one better. You dreamt in all the colors of the rainbow — or was that another crock? Me, I was never a big dreamer, at least not since I was a kid. I always dreamt in black and white. Now I don’t get the white.” He sat silent for a moment in the deep velvet of night with neither the stars nor the moon for company.
Brooks had begun talking to himself shortly after being left alone in his small, forbidding hospital room. He never thought he would miss Earl. They hadn’t liked each other from the first moment Stella had made them roomies. Now they shared uncommon bonds: the black that was all-consuming, music, and their loathing for each other’s company.
“Earl,” he continued to speak aloud, “one thing I do know is that you are not out there selling pencils on some damned street corner. No, sir, you’re playing the piano, right as rain. What galls me is that you’re out there singing up a storm and I’m stuck here in this pit.” And then he added, with an odd catch to his voice: “God bless you anyway, you annoying egotistical prick.”
The grumble in Brooks’ belly interrupted his thought. He was having a hard time adjusting to the tedium. Somehow ‘tedium’ fell short of any relevancy once he had lost his sight. “I know Tedium, he’s a fair-weather pal of mine. Hah! You’ve got to watch out for the guy. He’s a crooked son-of-a-bitch who will turn on you soon as you’re not looking. He’s a chameleon.
“One moment you think you’re in the doldrums or caught in a ho-hum moment, you’re bored and can’t quite stifle a yawn, and then to your chagrin you find out that it’s just good old Tedium paying his respects.
“You just never know when or where the bastard will show up. I’ve known him to lurk in the bottom of a cold cup of coffee or come wrapped in a pack of Camel cigarettes. Hell” — Brooks gave an incredulous laugh — “you meet up with Tedium often enough you learn that he’s not the enemy. He’s a pal. Old Tedium is one hell of a drinking buddy.”
Brooks had been lucky. He and Tedium had met mostly on safe ground. Brooks had not spent long weeks at sea sweating in the stinking hulls of ships, playing cards, and telling lies about the girls back home, while waiting for orders to storm a worthless beach in sheer terror.
“It’s a sad commentary,” he remembered saying to Tedium, “when a human being prays for instant obliteration versus the agony of lying on the sandy beach with a limb blown off or your guts ripped out as you scream for a mother who carried her own pain when she brought you into the world.”
Brooks never had to look out from behind a thin plexiglass windshield at forty-five hundred feet as thousands of rounds of ack-ack exploded around him while the bombardier dropped a payload of fire bombs on Dresden, burning the civilian population. Many a soldier knew Tedium, and they knew that as soon as the shooting started that Tedium would abandon ship to wait for his pals at the nearest pub back in merry old England.
“Yes, sir, old Tedium is a real squared-away guy.” Brook’s sigh was antagonistic. “Like I said, Old Tedium is a fair weather... fraud.” He paused, taking the opportunity to contradict himself while he reflected on where he had spent most of his war.
He had been a Special Services Officer shepherding Hollywood’s elite to entertain the troops in the rest and recover staging areas, to relieve them of Tedium’s odd sense of humor before sending them back to the thrill of war.
The truth was that Brooks hadn’t really been needed. He had been nothing more than a glorified bellhop with officer bars. Hello and welcome to London, Mr. Hope. I’ll see that your luggage catches up with you. General Ulysses Fatass would like you to join him for drinks at five.
He had never had enough rank or pull to be able to socialize with the high and mighty, and boy did that burn him. Most of the war, he and his pal Tedium were regular fixtures at the Crooked Billet, a pub off Southborough Lane in Brambly, where Brooks played a little piano, with Tedium lifting one more pint for those about to go out and do great deeds and die trying.
He had been the life of the party until 9:15 Sunday evening, November 19th, 1944, when the bar took a direct hit from a Nazi V-II rocket. His face, his sight, and his future were blown away. After that, it hadn’t taken long for Brooks to take a personal dislike for his old pal Tedium.
Tedium moved in like an unwanted in-law who yammered at him, saying nothing, just yammering on and on. “What could you possibly offer me that is worth the price of remembering? Get the hell out of here, yah good-for-nothing bum,” Brooks swore as Tedium offered him a cigarette, which Books couldn’t smoke with his face blown away.
Slowly Brooks began to develop new friends and listen to the wise council of Mr. Dark, Self-Pity, and Desperation. If you played your cards right and ignored their slight of hand, you just might buy that losing hand. “Say goodnight, Gracie. Goodbye, Tedium. I won’t say it’s been nice knowing you.”
Brooks sat alone, his sole companion Mr. Dark. He wet his lips as the craving for a strong drink answered the growl in his stomach. “We have a visitor,” he said with a dry chuckle. “Our old pal Tedium has come to pay his respects. We were just talking about you. Let’s have a drink for old times’ sake. Dammit,” he swore as his belly growled in agreement, “I want a Tennessee bourbon, make it a double.”
There was a slight hiss as he pushed his breath through his teeth and the hole in his mask. “Ssssss... NOW!” He slammed his fist down on his knee. Where the hell are we going to find one? he thought in frustration. He brought his hand up to the woefully small mouth hole in his bandaged head. How can I drink without looking like a pitiful fool? This thought was followed by a dry chuckle. “Without ruining my mascara.” He laughed aloud.
His old pal Self-Pity came in with a freshly shuffled deck and whispered sweet nothings in his ear.
Since Earl had been kicked out, and Ivory had disappeared, and Henry and Stella had been fired, Brooks’ narrow world had spiraled into a dark bleakness that was beginning to suggest that there was nothing left worth living for. “I will not go quietly into the night,” he exclaimed with a poor imitation of a British accent. “If I have but one life to give, then I choose to drown in a vat of bourbon. Tedium, old pal; Self-Pity; Mr. Black, you guys game? Say, where’s Desperation? Never mind, he’ll show up in his own good time.”
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith