Two Blind Men and a Fool
by Sherman Smith
Chapter 37: Changes
When you are blind, time is damned elusive. Earl marked his time by the usual sounds of the world around him. Delivery men on their regular rounds. Henry’s tea ceremony when he first rose in the morning. Gibby’s assorted noises when he arose stiff and tired, not having slept well; he never did.
“Old bastards like me don’t sleep well or long,” Gibby would grumble when asked about the start of his day. Earl learned early on to stop asking.
Early afternoon came when Brooks staggered from his bed, which he rarely did prior to noon, usually closer to one o’clock. Stella came around five; her smell and the sound of her voice brought the promise of a good evening.
Now all that had changed. Henry had left for medical school three days ago. He had gone with few words, a brotherly hug, and a final handshake. Earl felt the mixture of sadness and relief in Henry’s voice when he wished them all well. When the door closed behind him, the room fell deathly quiet, the only sounds the monotonous tick-tock of a clock and Gibby’s labored breathing.
Then, for a brief moment, from out on the street, came the sweet sound of Henry’s clarinet as he faded from their lives, playing for the last time Stella by Starlight. It was as if some of the heart had left the room.
Earl had not thought about it then, but Stella had not been there to see Henry off. When he tried to add the days up, Stella had not come around for six, perhaps eight days. That was when Earl tasted the saltiness of his own tears and wondered if Stella had deserted him. It wasn’t just Henry’s leaving that had changed the atmosphere, it was something else, something the damn clock punctuated with each tick: all was not right and might never be again.
Gibby had started sleeping late into the mornings. Once he was up, he was mostly silent, holding back his anger, no matter how many glasses Earl broke or drinks he spilled.
Brooks, on the other hand, had begun to rise early, tinkering earnestly on the piano, while trying to draw Earl into conversation he really did not want. Five o’clock came and passed, then eight, ten, and closing time,
Earl listened to the clock tick. Time was becoming elusive, and it scared the hell out of him.
* * *
“You got a forwarding address for Henry yet?” the postman asked, as he dropped a stack of bills on the bar.
“Haven’t heard word one,” Gibby groused. He picked up the bills, opening the first one. “You’d think the guy would be a little more grateful.” He looked around the room at all the things that needed doing. Things he had neither the time nor energy to do anymore. He knew that Henry was not coming back, but he couldn’t seem to get around to putting the Help Wanted sign in the window.
Earl, with a little help from Brooks, had transformed the old bar into a happening place. Word was out that there was a blind bartender in town, and that he could sing the socks off Sinatra. He brought in the cash-paying customers night after night. Gibby couldn’t keep up with it, and as each day passed he seemed to get farther and farther behind. He was tired, and there was no telling him what to do or not to do.
“Ouch.” The postman winced. “You’re being a little hard on him, don’t you think? If it hadn’t been for Henry, you wouldn’t have found Earl. Without Earl, this would just be another run-down bar in need of a neighborhood drunk. Now it’s a cash machine.”
“Don’t I wish,” Gibby said, and he tossed the rest of the bills, unopened, into a drawer.
“Where is Earl?” the postman asked as he searched his mailbag for something.
“He’s back in the kitchen, breaking something.”
The postman laughed. “Well, tell him I said hello... Oh, I almost forgot: I have a letter for Henry. There is no return address, so until you get a forwarding address on the guy, this here is what they call dead mail.”
“That must be Earl,” the postman said as he turned towards the door.
Gibby tossed Henry’s letter into the drawer with the bills and turned towards the kitchen door. “Christ Almighty, Earl, I’m going to have to raise the prices around here just to pay for the damage. You’re like a bull in a china shop. A blind bull.”
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith