Wilbur and Charlie
The light blue pickup slid sideways as it turned onto the old dirt road, dust rose, the gravel pinging and rattling against the rusting fenders like a July firework show. Charlie couldn’t see that well, the setting sun was in his eyes, his cataracts were bad, and his glasses had fallen to the floorboards, too far for him to reach from his driving seat. He righted the truck after the curve, narrowly missing Wilbur, who was waiting for him at the end of the road. Wilbur yelped in fright, shook himself and limped on after Charlie as the truck pulled away. This happened just about every day.
The truck ground to a halt in the yard at the back of the house and when Charlie turned off the key, it coughed, spluttered, and shuddered more violently than usual causing Charlie to hit his head on the glove box as he bent to get his glasses off the floor.
“Dammit,” he swore as he touched the sore spot on his head and dropped his glasses back on the floor again. Wilbur by now had caught up with the truck and was sitting patiently by the driver-side door with a canine look that could have said, “I’ve seen this movie before.”
Charlie was kneeling on the torn bench seat, feeling for his glasses on the floor. Specks of daylight were peeking through the worn carpet where the metal beneath was beginning to rot away. Once found, he clutched his glasses in his right hand, stretching out his left foot he pushed open the door. Crawling out of the truck backwards, his butt in the air, he once again narrowly missed hitting Wilbur, this time with his feet, as he slid his six-foot frame to the ground faster than expected.
“Dammit,” he swore again, as he hit his bad knee.
Sensing this was not a day for his customary pat on the head and a gruff, “Good dog,” Wilbur gave up watching and headed for the house. He was a mutt, or a Heinz 57 as Charlie liked to say, his face showing his Labrador ancestry with those soft, brown eyes. Wilbur’s body, once powerful and solid muscle, was now showing the slight flab of old age in his belly as he limped away, his right rear leg being the cause of the hobble. Charlie limped behind him; his left knee was acting up from when he’d hit it getting out of the truck. From behind they looked like a couple of old sailors rolling along on their unsteady sea-legs, one to the left and one to the right.
Charlie shook his head as he looked at the house that he’d lived in for nigh on 80 years. It was old. With its peeling paint and curling tiles, it looked ancient and frail. “Hell, it’s beginning to look like me, or I’m starting to look like it,” said Charlie aloud to himself. “We’re all getting old, Wilbur. I’m old, the house is old, truck’s old. Hell, the truck’s just about had it. When did we all get so old together?”
This was way too many words for Wilbur to handle so he just sat down, wagged his tail and put his paw behind his right ear as if to say, “I can’t hear you so well, I’m getting old too.” This made Charlie smile and with a noise, half a grunt and half a sigh, he gave Wilbur his customary pat on the head, and slowly headed into the house. The radio was playing softly, causing his heart to jump as he thought for an instant that Ellie had come back and was sitting, listening and sewing in her rocking chair.
“Dammit,” he said as he rubbed the knot on his head where he’d bumped it in the truck.
Then, “Double dammit,” as he remembered why he’d gone into town in the first place; for his prescriptions which he’d left out in the truck. He did a sort of stuttering shuffle, almost a soft-shoe, as he took half a step towards the radio to turn it off, changed his mind, stopped, took half a step back, turned around and trudged out the kitchen door, back down the steps, and out to the truck.
The smell of old, burnt oil still hung in the air and the old truck was not yet done creaking and moaning as the engine cooled down. Charlie grabbed the bag with his medications in it, took his hat off then leaned with his arms on the side of the truck as he looked out across the pasture. The afternoon breeze had come up ruffling his sparse grey hair as he watched it tickle the leaves in the trees down by the river. For as long as he’d lived here, which had been all his life, this was one of his favorite views. Charlie was born and raised in this house, on this land, his land now, and as his mind drifted backwards, he could faintly hear his pa hammering on something in the barn and his ma singing along to the radio in the kitchen.
“The radio, dammit. Gotta turn it off,” he said. “When did my memory get so bad?” He laughed out loud as he answered himself, “I can’t remember.” He chuckled about this, all the way up the back steps. Charlie had always talked to himself. As an only child, he had learned the art of amusing himself. Long days spent alone out in the fields on the tractor with no radio, and you grew to be your own commentator and comedian. He would even imitate the voices on the radio. “Ya don’t need no experts with their fancy words and their clever ideas out there in the fields where it’s all as simple as ABC and the birds and the bees,” he would explain to Ellie when they sat together at the end of the day.
“Better fix these soon.” He made a mental note as he climbed up the warped wooden steps and into the house, through the kitchen. Charlie wasn’t heavy, about two hundred pounds with a slight belly, but the weathered boards creaked under his weight. He was about to turn the radio off when he recognized the George Jones tune playing and he stood and listened for a while. When the song was over, he just stood there, his mind blank, staring off into nowhere. He abruptly turned off the radio when a loud, jarring commercial brought him none too gently back into the present.
After feeding Wilbur, making his own dinner, and cleaning up after himself – he was fastidious about washing the dishes and putting them away, his ma had taught him that – he went outside to sit on the porch. Years ago, he had dragged their old parlor couch out there so that he and Ellie could sit comfortably side by side and watch the night creep in and the moon come up. The old porch swing was just too hard on aging bones and besides, it was no longer safe.
With a grateful sigh, Charlie sank into the couch and lit his cigarette. This was his special time at the end of every day when he awarded himself one cigarette and one shot of bourbon after supper. It was his only treat since Ellie had passed away, she would never have allowed it when she’d been around. When Charlie had finished his cigarette, Wilbur, who didn’t like the smoke, curled up on the couch next to him and with Charlie’s hand resting on his best friend’s head, they both fell asleep gently snoring as, in the distance, the tree frogs began their nightly noise.
Stay tuned. There is more to come
What can you say that hasn’t already been said about dreams?
Poems, plays and books, both fact and fiction, have been written. Movies have been made; thousands of songs have been written. Hell, I bet ten songs are being written about dreams right now. Philosophies have formed, movements have been born and laws have been changed because of dreams. Lives have been saved and lost because of dreams. Everybody dreams, not everybody remembers. Some people read dreams while others never open the book. Dreams can terrify, dreams can inspire, dreams can just disappear.
‘Wilbur and Charlie’ was born of a dream. I simply had a dream of a pickup truck turning onto a dirt road. That was it, as simple as that.