Chapter II (2)
Two peas in a pod
“Wake up. Wake up,” Charlie thought he heard someone say.
He opened his eyes and realized no one was there, it was Wilbur’s peculiar bark and not someone’s voice that had woken him up. It was morning and Charlie was still sitting outside on the couch on the front porch.
“Dammit,” he said as he tried to move his neck which was as stiff as a rusty hinge.
“Why didn’t you wake me up, dog?” He asked the empty space next to him. Wilbur was still barking somewhere round the side of the house. As he’d grown older, Wilbur had stopped barking at every critter that was foolish enough to cross his territory, so Charlie knew the intruder was probably human. “Dammit dog, quit that awful racket, will ya?” He tried to yell but his voice was morning hoarse and his words didn’t carry very far. Putting his fists either side of him, he tried to push himself up off the couch. His skinny old backside made it about a foot off the cushion until, with a groan he fell back down.
His whole body was stiff. He wondered, if he did manage to get up off the couch, would his body straighten up, or might he be stuck, bent over as if his body were sitting in a chair but standing up?
“Gosh darn it.” He thought perhaps a change of cuss words would help him get up. He tried again and made it up two feet when a car horn started blaring which startled him and down he fell again. “Dammit to hell,” he said, reverting to his tried-and-true cussing. The blaring of the horn got Wilbur even more excited, and he doubled his barking. “So much for a peaceful morning and I ain’t even had my coffee yet,” muttered Charlie.
Charlie was getting irritated and with one last effort born of anger and frustration he managed to get up off the couch and slowly righted himself. His neck was stiff, his back was sore, and he wondered for a moment if his legs were going to work. They did, but his knees protested painfully and loudly. Charlie wondered who was out there in a car making all that noise. He didn’t like people arriving unannounced, another rule he’d learned from his ma and pa and one that had stood him good stead all these years.
It couldn’t be family because, knowing how he was, they’d have warned him they were coming. He wanted to see who it was, if only to shut Wilbur up, but he didn’t want to be seen. It could be one of those pesky church women who were always bugging him after Ellie had passed on. At least they’d stopped bringing him chicken soup. So, tentatively at first, and then more surely as the stiffness wore off, he made his way through the house to peek out into the backyard to see who was there.
There was a car there alright with Wilbur in his best guard dog pose, front legs firmly placed either side of his once muscular chest, standing by the driver’s side door preventing whoever was in the car from getting out. Charlie couldn’t see who was in the car because of the sun and he didn’t recognize the car. They all looked the same to him these days.
There was a time when he knew every make and model of every car and truck, even some of those fancy foreign ones, just by the front grill or the shape of the body. His pa would test him on it when they went out for drives, and it became one his favorite car games. Charlie would study for it too, looking at all the new car ads in the local paper. ‘Course there weren’t as many cars back then as there are now but still, it was hard to tell the difference between one make or another, either foreign or American made.
Also, you knew the person by the car that they drove. If, for instance, a green Buick Skylark pulled up to the house you knew it was Old Billy Wright coming to visit, and the whole county knew Brad “Baldy” Beasley, the bank manager, drove the only Caddie around. But the black car in Charlie’s yard was unknown to him. He didn’t recognize the make, or the model and he couldn’t see who was inside. There was no license plate on the front so he knew it was out of state.
Wilbur’s barking was giving him a headache. He’d have to see who it was as they obviously weren’t going to go away.
Charlie shuffled out of the back door and called Wilbur to his side. The dog stopped barking and lay down at the foot of the steps growling, sort of, under his breath. “Good boy, Wilbur,” said Charlie. “Let’s see who this is then,” he said as the car door slowly opened.
“Is the dog okay?” asked the stranger protecting herself behind the open car door.
What a stupid question, thought Charlie, asking how Wilbur was.
“Who wants to know?” He asked the stranger.
“Hi, I’m Lynn…Linda. Are you Charlie? Charlie Stone?”
“Who wants to know?” Asked Charlie again.
“Er…I’m Linda…er…Linda Ashcroft, but everyone calls me Lynn,” replied the woman who was starting to look a little uncomfortable.
“Do I know you?” Asked Charlie. He wished she would get on with it. He hadn’t been to the bathroom yet and he was busting to go but didn’t want to leave this stranger alone on his property although she didn’t look too threatening.
“No. I’m aunt Elizabeth’s niece. I…” but before she could get any further Charlie cut her off.
Charlie’s bladder was protesting painfully, it needed relief right now. For a moment he didn’t know what to do. If he didn’t go now, he would wet himself which would be really embarrassing although it might scare the stranger away. Nope, he had to get to the bathroom right now. “Look,” he said, not quite knowing what to say. “I just woke up and I’ve…I’ve got to go.” With that Charlie abruptly shut the screen door and left.
Lynn didn’t know what to do either. At first she thought, how rude; typical country folk. Then she put two and two together. He was old, he’d just woken up and had to go to the bathroom. This made her chuckle which caused Wilbur’s growling to increase in volume which in turn made Lynn retreat to the inside of her car for safety.
After what seemed to Lynn an inordinately long time, must have really had to go bad, she thought, Charlie reappeared at the back door. It looked like he’d brushed his hair, straightened out his wrinkled clothes and perhaps washed his face. These were all positive signs to Lynn as she got out of the car again. By now, with all this up and down and being scared by the dog, she too was hearing the bathroom call.
Wilbur stood up and growled.
Charlie said, “Quiet.” And Wilbur lay back down.
While Charlie was emptying his bladder, his mind had been filling up with all kinds of thoughts. Waking up more fully, he now realized that the Elizabeth that this Lin-Linda was talking about was his Ellie. No one had called her Elizabeth for a long, long time. Charlie had almost forgotten that Ellie was short for Elizabeth. So, this Lin-Linda woman was related to Ellie, she was family. That made a difference. Family was family.
Charlie peered at the young woman trying to find a family resemblance, but the sun was playing hell with the cataracts in his eyes and he’d never met much of Ellie’s family. It was unwritten law, however, that you welcomed family into your home and shared your hospitality. Although Charlie didn’t like this custom it was deeply ingrained within him, and he had to honor it.
“You’re family, right?” Charlie asked.
“Well, you’d better come on in, I ain’t had my morning coffee yet. Cain’t function right without it. You want some?” He asked and extended out his arm in a welcoming gesture.
Lynn closed the car door. Looked at Wilbur, looked up at Charlie and then back down at Wilbur. Charlie got the idea and reluctantly hobbled down the creaking back steps, stood by Wilbur and told him to stay. Then he said to Lynn, who was nervously moving forwards, “He won’t hurt you. Put your hand out so he can get to know you then you’ll be okay.”
Lynn cautiously advanced and it seemed that she and Wilbur came to a stalemate each just as unsure of the other. Charlie brought her into the kitchen and sat her down at the table while he busied himself with making coffee and feeding Wilbur. By now, Lynn really had to go to the bathroom. She looked around for any sign of one but nothing stood out. She was nervous about using the potty in a strange house but she really had to go. Summoning up her courage and swallowing her embarrassment she asked if she could use the bathroom.
“If you have to,” said Charlie over his shoulder.
Well, of course I have to, else I wouldn’t have asked, thought Lynn but she politely asked where it was.
Charlie thought it was funny that first he had to go pee and then she did. We’re like two peas in a pod, he thought to himself and that cracked him up. He was still chuckling when she came back. He was about to share his new joke with her but the look on her puzzled face made him hold his tongue and nobody spoke a word.
When Lynn returned, she wanted to wander about, get a feel for the place but then decided that would be impolite so she sat down and watched Charlie putter for a while and then looked around the dated country kitchen. She noted that even though the cabinets were old and worn, everything was spotless. To her surprise and relief, the bathroom too had been very clean. This, to her, was impressive for an old man living on his own.
When the coffee was made and served, Charlie sat down opposite Lynn and just stared. Everything about her said city girl, her clothes, her hair, the way she talked, and outside of TV he’d never been this close to one before. Charlie estimated she was about 5’ 10”, neither fat nor skinny, although her legs were a bit on the heavy side. She was pretty in an innocent sort of way, with short black hair and sparkling green eyes. These eyes fascinated Charlie and he spent some time looking into them until it made Lynn nervous, so he looked back into the dark depths of his coffee mug.
Nothing was said for the longest time until suddenly they started to speak at once.
Lynn said, “I…”
Charlie said, “Well…”
They both stopped, each waiting for the other to continue, which of course neither did. And another stalemate was reached. Charlie waited because he thought he should let the guest, especially a female one, speak first. Lynn waited because Charlie was older and therefore had the right of say, so to speak. Finally, Lynn resumed talking because she felt that if she didn’t they could sit all day silently like this and although unusually patient for her age she didn’t think she could survive a marathon silence contest.
Chapter III (3) will be coming shortly.