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 23: Family
Stella stayed late, almost past her welcome, if that were possible. The truth was that she had not felt this close to friends or family in a long time. She did not have any living relatives, and her adoption of this oddball crew came without question or reservation.
Gibby reminded her in many ways of her father, a man whose heart had given out too soon. Henry she had taken under her wings at the hospital, and had liked him from the start. He was courageous, smart as a whip, a guy with depths of compassion and who, despite his abilities, had to prove himself time and time again. She would never forget the compassion in his eyes the first time he had met Ivory Burch. “Take it easy fella, it’s only a dream.”
Sweet Earl, a gentle man who could bring tears to her eyes one moment or make her want to dance the next. She loved his stories, his music, and surprisingly enough his lack of sight. For some reason it brought out in him some qualities she had never connected with a man before. The man was a puzzle, and she was drawn to him.
“Sorry, kids,” Gibby said, “we’ve got to wrap it up.” He looked at the clock wishfully. It was close to three in the morning. “I’m not getting any younger, and neither is the morning. Henry, we’ll clean up what’s left before we open tomorrow.
“Earl, keep it down. You’re like a goddamn rooster crooning. Just when I think I’m finally going to get some shuteye, there you are, crooning away. If we were nearer Chinatown, they’d string you up and make soup out of you.”
“Not just yet,” Stella said with a surprising level of motherly authority. “We’ve got one more thing to do, and I can’t let it pass. Earl, you stink. You smell like stale beer, old socks, and cigarette smoke. There’s another stench, but it would be unladylike to find the right description. Is that outfit you’re wearing the same one we got you at the hospital?”
Earl lowered his head, sniffed, brought up his shirt sleeve, and sniffed again. “Sorry. Between the bleached bar rags, spilled beer, and tobacco smoke around here...”
“It’s not your fault, Earl. You arrived here with barely a dime in your pocket and one shirt to your name.” She looked at Gibby and Henry, opened her palm and snapped a finger. “Your tip jar, gentlemen, all of it. We are going to buy Earl some decent clothes.”
Gibby started to protest.
“I’ve got thirty bucks,” Earl said as he searched his pockets.
Henry handed over the tip jar, which was reasonably full of change and one-dollar bills, then pulled out his wallet, which was thin. He had not yet been able to get a replacement check for his stolen wages, not that he ever would. Nevertheless, he took out a couple of dollar bills and added them to the pot.
“Jesus, I’m surrounded by saints and millionaires,” Gibby grumbled as he opened up the cash register, grabbed a few bills, counted them out, and tossed them onto the counter in front of Stella. He scooped up Earl’s thirty bucks and stuffed it back into Earl’s shirt pocket. “Earl,” he said with a fatherly gruffness, “that is all the dough you have between Heaven and a rock and a hard place. Someday you may need it. Put it somewhere safe and keep it there, okay?”
Stella counted the cash and added a few bills of her own, then turned to Henry. “I’ll drop by Accounting tomorrow, when I’m at the hospital, to see if they’ve been able to do anything about replacing your paycheck.”
She thought about that. She had better give Rose, in Accounting, a call first; that way she might be able to avoid another showdown with Mann. She needed to find out what time Elroy came on duty. After what had happened in the elevator, she did not want to be within shooting distance of the bastard. She gave Earl an appraisal. “Everything fit all right?” she asked. “Give me an honest answer.”
“The pants are a little tight on the inseam,” Earl answered.
Gibby threw up his hands. “I’m going to bed. Good night.”
Stella got up, stopped at the door, turned and said to Earl, “Do a girl a favor and take a long hot bath. You’re a bit ripe.”
“Sponge bath?” Earl suggested with a puppy smile.
“Sure,” she answered with a mischievous lilt. “Henry, help the man out.”
“Come to think of it, a hot soak would feel right nice. Henry, do we have a tub around here?” Earl asked.
“Upstairs,” Henry answered.
“Good, now use it,” Stella said. “If not, I’ll see that you do.” She said as she closed the door behind her.
Henry locked the door. “Sounds more like a promise than a threat.”
“That crossed my mind,” Earl answered, and he played a few chords of Stella by Starlight. “Henry, would you mind setting up a hot tub first thing in the morning?”
“No problem,” Henry said. “Get some shuteye. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
“It just might take more than one bath to get me smelling right,” Earl said as he played a few keys at random. “See if you can find me some bubble bath.”
“Bubble bath?” Henry asked as he left the room.
“That’s what I said.”
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith