Wilbur and Charlie

Chapter IV (4)

Mr. Ed

Getting to know someone is like learning to drive a car. Either you get the hang of it straight away or you jerk forward in fits and starts. First the gas pedal; too much gas and you lurch forward. Then you stomp too hard on the brake pedal and are thrown back and forth in the seat. You then stab at the gas pedal and jerk forward once again, all the while desperately trying to keep the car moving in a straight line. Finally, you learn how to apply the right pressure on the pedals and you’re off for a smooth ride until the next new challenge sets you back again.

So it was with Wilbur, Charlie and Lynn getting comfortable with each other. It seemed like a long time ago, to Charlie since he and Wilbur had gone through the same learning process. Now they rode steadily along together in a familial cruise control. Today, Wilbur and Charlie were taking those same learning steps with someone new and although this new person seemed nice enough. Charlie was not an entirely comfortable passenger on this new journey. The same was true for Wilbur; if Charlie was uneasy, Wilbur was too. Throw a pebble into a calm pond and watch the ripples disturb the water.

Something had happened, however, down by the river at Wilbur and Charlie’s special place. A small, unspoken connection had been made and the first fence had been climbed. There was an easing of tensions, muscles were relaxed, Lynn seemed to be walking more loosely. Even Wilbur must have felt it as he walked comfortably between Charlie and this new person.

Charlie told Lynn how Wilbur had got his name.

“After Jake had been killed, it was like there was a hole in our lives. Ellie and I had felt that before when William, our son, had died. That had been more like a crater than just a hole.” Charlie paused for a moment or two and Lynn knew better than to ask another question. Charlie blew out some air and continued. “It just so happened that when Jake died Frank’s bitch Rosie had just had a litter. Talk about timing, eh? Frank, who owns the next farm that butts up to mine, gave us one of the pups. It was just the right medicine for Ellie. She was like a mother hen, just a-cuddling and a-coddling this baby dog. Damn near spoiled him, if you ask me.

“Of an evening, we’d sit on the front porch and Ellie would take that dog in her lap, cuddling it and talking to it in baby talk. It was a bit strange, but I was happy that Ellie was happy. She hadn’t been quite the same since William had gone.” Charlie paused again. He stopped walking as well, turned and looked back at the river for a moment or two.

Lynn felt bad now and said, “You don’t have to if…”

Charlie cut her off. “No, it’s okay. I haven’t told this story in a while; it makes me smile to think of Ellie when Wilbur was a young un. Well, she’d be cuddling the pup, talking to it like a baby and I’ll be damned if the little fella didn’t talk back to her. And he almost sounded human. Ellie said, ‘He’s just like that talking horse.’ ‘What are you talking about woman?’ I asked her. ‘You know that one on TV. The one that says, Wilbur,’ says Ellie. Well, right then, just as Ellie says, ‘Wilbur,’ kind of imitating that talking horse on TV, the little puppy barks and wags his tail. Ellie and I look at each other, we laugh, and we know that we have a name for the dog.”

“Oh,” said Lynn, feeling a little foolish. She’d never heard of a TV show about a talking horse. “Wilbur, was that the name of the TV show?” She asked.

“No, it were Mr. Ed. Before your time, I think,” said Charlie graciously.

Another pause. 

Wilbur, tired of reacting every time he heard his name, only to be ignored, had gone off ahead out of earshot.

To Lynn’s surprise, Charlie took up the conversational reins again. “Now, young lady, I ain’t much good with kinfolk; who’s related to who and who’s a cousin and what a niece is. I know what grandparents are, and I can stretch to aunts and uncles but anything past that and I’m lost, especially since I don’t have any brothers or sisters. Earlier, you said you were my Ellie’s niece. Right?” 

Lynn was about to reply but Charlie continued. 

“I’ve been struggling with it, but a niece is the daughter of a brother or sister, right? I’ve been thinking and I reckon I do know enough to know that you are too young to be my Ellie’s niece. So, who are you?” 

“You’re right, Charlie. Can I call you Charlie, or would you prefer Uncle Charlie or just Mister Stone?”

“Charlie’s fine.”

“Okay, Charlie. I’m actually Aunt Elizabeth’s, Ellie’s, grandniece.”

“That would make you whose child, exactly?” Asked Charlie.

“I’m the daughter of Ellie’s sister’s daughter,” explained Lynn.

“Phew, that’s one too many daughters for me to figure out. I’ll have to think about this,” said Charlie, half to himself. They were now back at the house. Charlie looked up at the sun and said, “It’s darn near dinner time. You hungry?” He asked Lynn.

Now Lynn was confused. It was way too early for dinner. Dinner was a night-time meal. Charlie had to explain to her that dinner was around noon and supper was at night. 

What do they call breakfast? thought Lynn. 

Then Charlie said, “I wasn’t expecting company, but I’ll see what I can rustle up.”

“I have an idea,” said Lynn. “Why don’t I buy you lunch, er dinner, in town? I saw they had a restaurant as I drove through.”

Charlie laughed, “It’s more of a diner really. But lunch would be grand, thank you. Give me half an hour while I shower and put on some clean clothes. Meanwhile, make yourself at home and if you need anything, please help yourself.”

They went inside and Charlie disappeared for a couple of minutes and then returned carrying a big book. “This is Ellie’s old photograph album with pictures of her kinfolk and such. Thought you might like to look through it while I get ready.”


Chapter V (5)

Running from the law

They made quite a handsome pair as they walked into the diner, she with her city clothes and those emerald eyes and he with his still rugged although age-worn face. Charlie didn’t quite know what to do with himself. He hadn’t felt this way in a long, long time. He was both embarrassed and proud, self-conscious yet feeling a bit cocky, to be seen with such a “pretty young lady,” which is how he would later describe her. It was Saturday and the diner was busy, just about every head turned when they walked in. He knew most of the people there. Trixie, behind the counter, gave her usual greeting of a big smile and, “Hi Charlie,” followed this time by a big wink. Charlie felt his neck and his cheeks get hot and he hoped that Lynn didn’t notice the wink. A couple of his friends were at their customary corner table, and they just stared as if someone famous had just walked in. A table full of old women, stopped talking, swiveled their heads like a gaggle of geese, then quickly put their heads together and started whispering loudly.

Charlie darted a quick look at Lynn’s face to see how she was taking it and she was grinning from ear-to-ear. She knew exactly what was happening and was loving every minute of it. Just for the hell of it, she hooked arms with Charlie as they made their way to the only available table which was dead center in the middle of the room. There was a lot of elbow nudging going on all around them. When they were seated Lynn leaned across the table and said, “Looks like you caused quite a stir walking in here.”

“I think it was you who done the stirring,” replied Charlie with a smile. “I’m sorry if they’ve made you feel uncomfortable. We’re just a small town where everybody knows everybody’s business. You’ve probably given them something new to talk about for weeks to come. They should be thanking you.”

“I haven’t had this much fun in a long time,” said Lynn. “Is the food any good in here?” 

“Depends on what you call good,” answered Charlie honestly. Although he was enjoying Lynn’s company, he was starting to become aware of the differences between them. Not just their ages but she was a city gal and the gap between their lives seemed to be widening rather than closing. It had started on the drive to town.

Charlie had gotten all spruced up. He’d shaved, put on his best jeans and a clean, checked shirt. When they got outside Lynn said brightly, “I’ll drive.” This made Charlie stop dead in his tracks. To cover up his shock he busied himself with giving Wilbur some fresh water. Then he walked slowly towards the car. There were a few firsts and nevers coming up on the horizon for Charlie, and they wouldn’t be the last.

He had never been driven by a woman before.

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in a car. He had always driven a truck.

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been a passenger in any vehicle, except perhaps a school bus.

He never wore a seatbelt and was asked to do so as soon as he got in.

Charlie even had difficulty getting into the car, every part of him protested.

When Lynn started driving, she drove way too fast for Charlie’s taste. He kept pumping his right foot on a non-existent brake pedal at every bend in the road. Out of sight, his right hand was gripping the edge of the seat for dear life. When Lynn talked, which she did for most of the ride, she looked directly at him and not the road.

Charlie would have been relieved when they got to the diner, but his relief was overshadowed by his concern about how he was going to get out of this car with the least amount of damage to his pride and his body. And to top it all, the car wasn’t even Lynn’s, she’d rented it for the drive, she’d said. He’d never rented anything before and the sheer extravagance was mind boggling.

Despite all the new experiences being thrown at him like one of those machines that throws baseballs at batters, Charlie was getting to like this young woman. He wanted to close that gap that seemed to be widening between them. Now, waiting for their food to arrive, Charlie thought he’d better find out a bit more about this new person in his life.

“So, why are you here, Lynn?” To an outsider, Charlie could seem to be blunt and tactless. Charlie just liked to get straight to the point, he didn’t like to beat around the bushes.

Once again, Lynn felt that the tables had been turned on her. For an instant, she was taken aback by the frank question, but quickly decided that she appreciated the direct question. It was one of her own interviewing techniques. “I needed to get out of town for a while,” she said.

Charlie leaned forward and spoke softly, “Are you in trouble?”

Lynn chuckled and said, “Oh no. Nothing like that, although you could say I was running from the law.”

“What?” said Charlie, getting both concerned and confused again because Lynn was all smiles and joking and the law was after her.

“Oh, no, no, no,” said Lynn quickly, realizing that she was scaring Charlie a little. “I was just joking. I’m not a fugitive or anything. I’m an attorney. We just won a big case, and I needed a break. I wanted to get out of Dodge for a while. See, that’s why I said I was running from the law.” 

“Oh,” said Charlie with a wry smile. She’d got him with one of his own tricks, a joke, and he’d missed it. He’d forgotten the steps you had to take when getting to know someone for the first time. To him, it was like learning to dance and he was a lousy dancer. Part of him was excited and another part was impatient, wanting to cut the BS and get straight to the point. “Okay, but why here? Didn’t you know Ellie was no longer with us and I’m not really related to you, at least not by blood?”

“That story is a bit longer,” she said and was saved from going any further when their food arrived. Charlie had ordered a chicken-fried steak and she, to be safe, had ordered a salad. They couldn’t mess that up too badly, she had thought. She was wrong. There wasn’t much chance of conversation while they were eating. Charlie was totally absorbed in eating his food. He didn’t gobble his food down and he wasn’t sloppy, he just gave all his attention to the art of eating, if there were such a discipline. Lynn had the feeling that he was probably like that with everything he did. The self-helpers would say he was “at one with the universe” and they would pay good money to learn how to do that. Charlie did it naturally and Lynn envied him that.

Over coffee, Charlie was amazed to learn that Lynn had been driving around for 3 days, alone. He didn’t think that was safe for a woman on her own.

“Oh, I stayed in big name, chain hotels, I was fine,” she stated matter-of-factly. Charlie didn’t know what one of those was and he didn’t ask.

“I’m booked in at the Sunset Inn here in town,” she added.

“What?” Charlie sputtered with a mouthful of coffee. “The Sunset Inn? That ain’t safe. You cain’t stay there.”

“I already did, last night,” said Lynn a bit defiantly.

“That’s not the place for someone like you,” stated Charlie as he called for the check. “It should be called the ‘Midnight Inn’ not the ‘Sunset Inn’, ‘cos that’s when they do most of their business, especially of a Saturday night. We’ll swing by there and pick up your things, if they are still there, and you can stay at the farm.”

Lynn was now bristling. She didn’t like being told what to do, especially by a man and especially one she didn’t know very well. “Now wait a minute. You can’t tell me what to do and what if I don’t want to stay at your place? How do I know I’ll be safe at your place? Last night the room was clean, a bit old, but not trashy. The place was a bit noisy, but it’s just an old-fashioned motel in an old-fashioned town. I’ll be alright, thank you very much.” And she slammed her credit card down when the waitress brought the check.

By now the whole diner was listening to their conversation. Charlie had never been so embarrassed, and Lynn couldn’t give a damn. Charlie leaned forward and lowered his voice. It seemed as if the whole place leaned in towards them to hear better. “We may be simple, old-fashioned people but those people there at the motel are simply bad people from the city. There’s drugs, prostitutes and god knows what else goes on down there. This ain’t no time to pull a Benjamin on me.”

The crowd around them was all nodding their heads along with Charlie’s words.

Lynn slashed her signature across the credit card receipt, got up and stomped off to the bathroom. Out of the corner of his eye, Charlie saw Miss Anderson, the schoolteacher, get up and follow Lynn into the ladies’ room. He’d never had an argument with a woman in public before. He didn’t know what to do with himself. He had half a mind to go and wait outside but thought better of it, so he just sat there feeling like a prize idiot with the whole diner looking at him.

“Dammit,” he said quietly to himself. “Serves me right. Pride comes before a fall.”

Eventually, Lynn and Miss Anderson – everyone in town called her, “Miss” and not the modern “Ms.” – came out of the bathroom together. To Charlie they looked like old school friends as they exchanged a few words before Lynn paused at the table, smiled and they both walked out of the diner. The door had hardly closed when the whole place erupted in noise as everybody started speaking at once. Dammit. This kind of gossip would last the town a whole year, thought Charlie.

Not a word was spoken as they got into the car and Lynn drove straight to the Sunset Inn. She stopped by her room and very quickly was loading her bags into the car. Then they stopped by the office. Even from outside, Charlie could hear their raised voices. Lynn came out with a triumphant look on her face, and she drove them back to the farm, by way of the grocery store.


Thank you for reading my story. If you like it, please recommend it to a friend.

Several people have asked me why I only post one chapter at a time. My reply is that I like the old-fashioned format of installments which, it strikes me, is very much akin to a modern day TV series. Just think, one day soon you’ll be able to binge read the whole story.

Until next week.

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Wilbur and Charlie

Chapter III (3)

A tea-party with rabbits

“Thank you for the coffee, it’s delicious,” was Lynn’s opening gambit. It fell as flat as a cornered king. Time for a different approach, she thought.

Behind her deceptively innocent face, and those beguiling emerald eyes, Lynn Ashcroft had an extremely astute mind, and she knew how to use all three to their best advantage, when necessary. Growing up, they had become Lynn’s survival tools, keeping her protected in the solitary and predatory world in which she existed. As she matured, these gifts became valuable assets in her chosen profession. There was one other survival technique that she had mastered, and one which she practiced on an almost a daily basis, mostly at work. She was able to separate her feelings and emotions, to stuff them away in different compartments in her mind and then continue to objectively focus on the task at hand without the distraction of emotions. 

At thirty years old, Lynn was an attorney, a rising star in the field of child abuse and welfare. She was neither bitter nor old enough to have become cynical, she was simply good at her job, knowing when to be compassionate and caring with the innocent and when to be tough and uncompromising with the guilty. Sitting across from Charlie now, who was taciturn to say the least, Lynn decided to use one of her interviewing techniques to get him to open up. A mentor had once told her, “If you get them talking about what interests them, like their kids, or sports or fishing, then they’ll relax and maybe open up a little.” It had worked on more than one occasion, so Lynn tried it now.

Looking at Charlie, with an innocent smile on her face, Lynn asked, “So what’s Wilbur’s story?”

This completely threw Charlie. Where the heck’s this gal coming from? he thought.

“What?” he said. “I thought you were here to talk about family, Lin-Linda.”

And what kind of name is Lin-Linda? It sounds like Ling Ling, the name of the woman who runs the Chinese place in the next town over. But this Lin-Linda don’t look Chinese. All sorts of questions were running through his mind when Lynn interrupted them.

“My name’s Linda, not Lin-Linda, but I go by the name Lynn. It’s a long story,” said Lynn, who was starting to lose her famous patience.

“Oh,” said Charlie nodding, not understanding at all. He abruptly stood up, poured himself another cup of coffee, nodded at Lynn’s cup. She shook her head, no. “How about we go outside?” He continued. “It’s a nice morning and I need to clear my head.”

“Okay,” said Lynn who felt that the tables had been unexpectedly turned on her. “Could I have a glass of water please?” She asked. Charlie gave her one and they went outside to the front porch. He looked at the couch and remembering this morning’s struggles decided against sitting there. Lynn too glanced at the dirty looking couch and chose an uncomfortable looking plastic chair next to it.

Another long silence ensued.

“Wilbur would be about 13 now.” Out of the blue, Charlie began talking and Lynn relaxed a little in her chair. She was a good listener. Hearing his name, Wilbur came trotting up onto the porch and lay down at Charlie’s feet, sensing a delightful story about to be told. “He’s a good dog, aren’t you boy,” Charlie said as he nudged Wilbur with his toe. Without moving his head, Wilbur looked up at Charlie with those big brown eyes and slapped his tail just once on the boards.

Whump.

Another lengthy silence occurred while Charlie sipped his coffee and looked out over the front yard and then back at Wilbur at his feet. Lynn was about to say something when Charlie started up again. “We got him when he was just a pup. From Frank across the way, after Jake had died.” 

Another long pause.

This is going to be a long morning, thought Lynn. Charlie was not the most riveting storyteller that she had met. In this, she was quite mistaken, for in town amongst his friends at the diner or just sitting at the courthouse square, Charlie was known for his humorous stories. Lengthy, yes; entertaining, certainly. Friends would goad him into relating tales that by sheer repetition had almost become legends. Each telling differing slightly from its previous version.

Lynn shifted in her uncomfortable chair and Charlie looked into those eyes briefly, quickly looked away, stood up and said, “Let’s go for a walk.” Then he looked at Lynn’s feet to check what she was wearing. Ah, tennis shoes, thought Charlie. Good. “Me and Wilbur always go for a walk about this time, while it’s still cool. Come on boy,” he said to Wilbur who trotted off ahead of them instinctively knowing the path that they would take.

“Okay,” said Lynn and they set off down a tree-lined path between two fields. The air was crisp and fresh with just a little early morning bite to it, but it was the light that Lynn noticed. She was struggling to find the right words to describe the almost crystal-like clarity of the light when she realized Charlie was talking again.

“…run over by a car. Ellie was devastated but it hurt me the most. Jake was the best sidekick I ever had.”

“Forgive me, but I’m having a hard time following you,” said Lynn. “I take it Jake was another dog?”

“Yup,” replied Charlie.

“Is that what happened to Wilbur too?” Asked Lynn.

“Huh?” Said Charlie.

Lynn tried again. “The limp. Wilbur’s limping. Did he get run over too?”

“Nah,” said Charlie. “That were old Benjamin.”

Oh, for heaven’s sake, thought Lynn. I feel like Alice in Wonderland, falling deeper and deeper down the hole. Next, we’ll be having a tea party with rabbits. Out loud she asked, “And who might Benjamin be?” 

“Oh, old Benjamin was the mule we had,” replied Charlie who was also trying to keep up with the twists and turns of this conversation. If she’d stop asking so many questions, I could get on with my story, he thought.

Lynn squeezed her eyes shut for a moment and thought, You had to ask, didn’t you? She must have spoken out loud because Charlie asked, “What?” But Lynn kept right on thinking, who calls a mule Benjamin and, come to think of it, who names a dog Wilbur?

By now they had come down to the river. Charlie threw a stick for Wilbur who ignored it and went wading in the shallows. It was obviously a special place for the two of them, the ground was well trampled. To Lynn it had the feel of a favorite spot. Charlie, bent his head backwards, closed his eyes and took a deep breath, savoring the air. Lynn looked at him, perhaps for the first time since they’d met, and saw the peace of the man and she envied his serenity. She understood now why he was quiet; he was merely calm, at one with this world and his place in it. And this was his territory.

Suddenly, Wilbur growled and raced past Lynn so quickly that she could feel the air ruffle the legs of her pants. She turned just in time to see the white tail of a rabbit disappearing round the corner with Wilbur in hot but lame pursuit. The chase didn’t last long and was unsuccessful on Wilbur’s part because he came limping and panting back round the corner and flopped himself down at Charlie’s feet, his bright red tongue hanging out of his mouth. 


© John Longbottom 2021


More next week. Thank you for following the tale of Wilbur and Charlie.

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Wilbur and Charlie

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.

“Dammit.”

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.

“Dammit.”

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.

“Dammit.”

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.

Lynn nodded.

“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.

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Wilbur and Charlie

Chapter I

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


Dreams

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.

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Nothing in particular

Spring is here, the weather is a bit warmer and I’m finally released from a long cycle of enforced “light duty” due to several minor procedures. I can finally get outside and enjoy working in the garden with the added bonus that my breathing and stamina are improving. The yard work uses another side of my creativity hence I haven’t been as active with this website or the podcasts. I’ve also been writing more so, be on the lookout, for you never know what might come flying by, a psalm, a prose piece, a poem or a podcast (how’s that for alliteration?). Thank you for visiting. Come back and we’ll have a cup of tea.

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For My Birthday

There was a time, a very long time ago, when I didn’t think I would make it past 30.

I did, and laughed about it.

There was a time, a long time ago, when I didn’t think I would make it past 40.

I managed to squeeze by it, and smiled ruefully about it.

There was a time, when I had made it past 50, that I no longer thought about how far I would make it.

Until…

There was a time a short while ago, when I very nearly didn’t make it any further.

I did and I’m grateful. That was one birthday ago.

Now here comes another birthday.

For this birthday, I have set up a fundraiser on Facebook for the American Cancer Society. It is their work and funding of research that has transformed me and thousands of others from cancer sufferers to cancer survivors.

Please give what you can. Even $1 can make a difference. Here is the link to the Facebook fundraiser:

https://www.facebook.com/donate/922359821938989/

Thank you from me and thousands of others.

Love & Peace,

John

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