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 32: Foul Ball
“No. No more!” Ivory blubbered as a flashback plunged him into sudden panic. In his mind he saw “Foul Ball,” the Japanese prison camp guard, move into his pitching position.
The prisoners had nicknamed the short, pudgy, malicious guard “Foul Ball” because of his sadistic interest in baseball. Ivory had been called to batting practice, where he was forced to take on the unbearable Ofuna crouch, where he was forced to stand on the balls of his feet, knees half bent, arms extended over his head, as he waited for Foul Ball to pitch a baseball at him.
Then, and only then, was he allowed to try to catch the ball. If he moved before the ball was airborne, he would be beaten. If he fell, or otherwise moved out of the crouch, he would be beaten.
This was Foul Ball’s fourth pitch. The first had given him a close shave. The second he had caught in his bare hand. His little finger, swollen, wasn’t broken, but he hadn’t the flesh or the strength in his hands to catch it again. It was the same finger that he had injured the last time he had been called to “batting practice.”
The third pitch had driven into his forehead, stunning him. Now as he waited for the next pitch, his vision swam, his undernourished legs shook beneath him. He begged, “No more,” knowing he would be punished for being weak. Punishment came at the end of a bat. Foul Ball wound up and let loose a fast ball...
Ivory woke. He fell from the wheelchair, crawled frantically on his one leg, then curled into a ball, hands over his head, to protect himself from the beating that would come.
He flinched when Dr. Fryback bent down and gently touched Ivory’s hands as if soothing a frightened dog who, while whining and shaking from fear, could turn, lash out, and bite without warning.
Slowly, tenderly, he separated Ivory’s taut fingers, aware that his patient was caught on a treacherous tightrope from which he could fall back into the dark memories lurking in his subconscious. Or he could reach out to his helping hand to firmer ground.
Each staggered breath represented a thousand days of captivity, a thousand nightmares, and the repressed memories of the men who had suffered alongside him, been dead and buried, stripped of all hope and what little remained of their dignity.
Fryback was second-guessing. Working with patients suffering from war neurosis was a new science; no one had any real expertise in it. But the cause — the horrific experiences men suffered in war — was nothing new.
Homer’s Odyssey described the psychological travails of Odysseus, a recent veteran of the Trojan Wars, who was returning home. His problems included flashbacks and survivor’s guilt. The symptoms included restlessness, aggression, depression, memory impairment, sympathetic overactivity, concentration impairment, phobia and suspicion.
Ivory, who was weeping before him, was much like Odysseus, or so Dr. Fryback suspected. Odysseus had no helping hand, as Ivory had now, if he would accept the help. The degradation and horrors he had suffered as a prisoner of war would be with him every day for the rest of his life; nothing could change that. He might manage to live with his neurosis and the mighty ghosts that haunted him.
“Ivory, it’s Doctor Fryback.” He leveraged two of Ivory’s fingers and gently lifted. “You are home, son, safe; no one here will hurt you. The camp, the guards are all in the past. Foul Ball is dead. Send him to Hell, where he belongs. He can’t hurt you anymore. Ivory... it’s only a bad dream.”
Ivory flinched, and started to recoil, at the sound of a door closing somewhere nearby.
“Ivory, don’t go there,” Doctor Fryback said with as much reassurance as he could muster. He squeezed the fingers he held in his hand. “Ivory, it’s only a dream.”
Somewhere, Ivory had heard those words before.
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith