Two Blind Men and a Fool
by Sherman Smith
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 54: Stella’s by Starlight
Earl sat at the piano playing nothing softly and gently.
Stella sat at the bar with her back to the door, struggling through the bills and paperwork she never could seem to get to during the week.
Stub busied himself cleaning and polishing the bar and everything in it. Sunday afternoons were usually quiet. This one was dead.
Stella had thought about closing the bar on Sundays, but what would they do? Since opening the bar, Earl did his best to avoid the outside world. She couldn’t blame him; the world was a big place, and she could only imagine how difficult it must be to navigate through it without sight. At least she knew where he was and that he was safe.
She wanted to keep him close, never wanting to risk losing him again. Still, she got bored, needing a little fresh air, a night out on the town, a picnic on Mount Tam, a walk on the beach. Last week she had escaped for a couple of hours by taking a ferry boat ride over to Sausalito and back.
She enjoyed the fresh sea air, the cry of the gulls, wind in her hair, laughter of children, and the view of the city she called her home, although she did not get to see much of it these days. She marveled at how much her world had changed, but to love and to be loved was all she really needed.
“What do you think about serving food on weekends?” she asked Earl. “We have a big enough kitchen. Nothing fancy, mind you, cheese trays, cold sandwiches, perhaps some soup.”
“Frah... Fry... fried... chic... chicken,” Stub threw in hopefully.
Earl knew where Stella was coming from; something was needed to stir up some business on days like this. He didn’t answer right away and thought it over. He heard Stub splash a little in the sink and couldn’t resist a playful tease as he played the first stanza of Stella.
As if on puppet strings, Stub’s arm flew up over his head, dumping the contents of the glass he had been washing. “Dammit, Earl,” he sputtered, more annoyed than angry. “I had me a pint glass of soapy water in my hand, and no slicker.”
Stub followed with his own laugh.
“The way I see it,” Earl answered, “if we were to serve food, we either have to go all out or not at all. Someone has to fix it. It has to be served, and someone has to clean up. If it’s not good, then why bother?
“On a day like today, it’s no big deal, but when we’re busy, we’d just be creating a whole new set of problems. We either have to sell enough of it to hire someone to take care of the mess full-time, or not do it at all. The kitchen is small; we’re not likely to do fried chicken with all the trimmings,” he added.
“How about the fried chi... chicken ju... just for us?” Stub volunteered.
“Stella By Starlight...”
“Dah...da... dammit, Euh... Earl!”
Stella laughed at their boyish behavior. “Earl, be nice.” Of course, she knew he was. A lot of people were pretty cold-hearted when they picked on Stub. In the short time Stub had been with them she was amazed at how well he took it.
Earl’s stomach had a mind of its own and grumbled. “Speaking of food, do we have anything interesting in the kitchen?”
“Oh, I think I can come up with something you’ll like.” Happy to push the bills aside, Stella got up and headed towards the kitchen. “Stub, we still have all the empty bottles. Will you please take them out to the alley?”
“Now is as good a time as any,” Stub answered as he dried his hands and followed Stella into the kitchen.
* * *
Elroy Hawks pole-danced on one of the side bars of the cable car as it clanged its way down the steepest hill. When one passenger complained, Elroy pitched his hat into the wind. When the conductor approached with a reproachful look, Elroy just did the same to the conductor’s hat. In his Woody Woodpecker voice, he sang a new Tex Williams tune:
If you ain’t a man with a lot of guts,
A doggone woman will drive you nuts.
You can’t trust one to the corner these days,
You gotta watch your doors or she’ll cheat you blind.
“That’s right, Stella, I’m back in town.” His maniacal laugh sent chills through most of the remaining passengers as Elroy took flight before the cops could be called.
* * *
Ivory Burch stood on his own two good legs. One could hardly notice that one leg was prosthetic. He had earned this day. It wasn’t that long ago that he had been shipped out to the Veterans' Hospital with pretty much a death sentence over his head. And he hadn’t given a damn.
Then a Jap, two blind men, and a nightingale came into his life. How would he ever really be able to thank them? It had been a long, hard, steep road he had to climb, and now that he had walked out of the hospital, he felt for the first time whole again. Well, as close as he could get.
He had promised himself that once he got out the first thing he would do would be to look up Earl, Stella, Henry, and Brooks and buy them all a drink. He never would have had the guts to beat this thing without them. It was hard to describe how he felt. Whatever it was, it was nothing short of exhilarating.
Ivory had heard about Stella’s new joint and given her a call. She had offered him a job on the spot. With guitar in hand, he was on his way. He blew out a loud shrill whistle as his hand went up and he practically stepped in front of the cab. “Taxi, right here.”
He gave the cabbie the address, then looked back one last time at the hospital. For a moment he thought that he could just make out a wave from one of the windows near where his room had been. “Sarge, you take care,” he whispered. “It’s not like I’m going to miss your sorry ass.”
Stand at ease, private. You’ve earned your liberty, he heard the sarge say. He could almost see the sarge smile — almost, because Sarge rarely smiled. “See you around, Sarge.”
* * *
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith