The Garden, Chapter IV

Charlie began the next morning early and hungry.  He rarely needed an alarm, as he had always awoken early, eager to begin what the day would bring to him.  Lately, he had begun his days only because he couldn’t make the decision to end them.  Nevertheless, he still usually began them early.  Today Charlie woke up  earlier than usual; the sun only beginning to shove daylight westward before it as it began to creep towards the horizon from it’s hiding place in the east.

Charlie arose from his sofa and got dressed.  “I’ll have to replace that pair of pants” he thought as he pulled some jeans out of the laundry basket that still sat in a corner since his evening at the laundromat.  He thought about fishing his pants out of the dumpster and giving them a good washing, but quickly dismissed the thought.  The foulness resting in that trash bag and the pain which had produced it were things that Charlie would be happy to leave well behind him.

Charlie realized that he was hungry – really hungry.  It had been a while since food went into his stomach, and his stomach was letting him know of it’s displeasure with that state of affairs.  He poked around in the refrigerator and found two eggs and little else.  In a cupboard was the half-empty box of instant oatmeal packets.  On the stove, in the coffee pot, was the day-old remnants of yesterday’s coffee, which had been nasty when it was fresh and had only gone downhill from there.  Charlie made a face at the thought of anything that he had available and decided to look for something better outside the cold walls of his apartment.

As he turned to leave the kitchen and ultimately the apartment he sensed, maybe for the first time in a very long while, that his home didn’t need to be so cold.  The open window was letting cool, damp air in, as it had been doing for most of spring.  Walking over to the window, Charlie gave it a pull downward.  It didn’t budge.  “Nothing good happens without work” Charlie remembered hearing somewhere, and he gave the reluctant window a good yank.  After breaking free from its accustomed resting place the window slid downward, coming to a stop against the bottom sill.  “That’s better.  Now for some breakfast.”

Charlie had just been paid a couple of days ago but it was not a large amount of money, so he knew that he should be careful with his small pool of cash.  Leroy’s Downtown Cafe was only four blocks away from his apartment and was affordable, so Charlie fired up the engine of his truck and prepared to drive there.  Then, thinking about the nearness of the cafe and the earliness of the hour, he decided that he would walk instead.  He turned the engine off, returned to his apartment to get a jacket, and then began to walk the short distance that separated him from his morning meal.

Leroy’s was a tiny cafe on Main Street that had been slinging hash since the shipyard workers built the liberty ships that helped win World War II, and maybe longer.  The entire cafe was only a few feet wider than Charlie’s garden plot, with a row of tables running along the wall to his left and the counter along the right.  The place was already busy.  Most of the tables hosted men going to work at the port or the railroad yard.  At one table sat an elderly couple who might have been eating here since those liberty ships rolled down the ways, and in the back sat a youngish-looking man who appeared to be homeless at a table near the swinging door which led to the kitchen.  He had a steaming cup of coffee and a plate of eggs and bacon and hash brown potatoes in front of him, and Charlie wondered if some act of kindness had produced breakfast for this throw-away bit of humanity.

Charlie’s mind wandered to the homeless man who had spoken to him the evening before.  “It’s just that life is precious.  Warn’t yours to throw away” he had said, and “Death be a part of the drill – – – you aren’t the first boy, black or white, what life’s put a big-ass whuppin’ alongside yo big melon haid.”  Charlie knew that he had heard some wisdom there, and wished that he could buy that derelict sage a breakfast.

Two stools were open at the counter and he sat on the one closest to the door.  A plastic-covered menu was tucked behind the napkin holder at the back of the counter.  Charlie plucked it out and scanned the breakfast offerings, which were pretty standard.  The waitress, a middle age woman on the thin side, with chapped, red hands, lines produced by age, care and hard work beginning to crease her face, and a gravely voice that spoke of too many cigarettes, came to take his order.

“What’ll it be junior?” she asked.  Charlie wondered about the “junior” thing.  She was probably close to his age.

“I’ll have sausage and eggs and potatoes.”

“How d’you want the eggs?” she asked.

“Just keep ‘em off the floor” Charlie thought.  “Over hard” he then answered.  Best to cook the snot out of those things and kill anything growing in them.

The waitress didn’t ask what kind of toast he wanted, and Charlie suspected that it came only in white, white and white.  He was right.  In little more than ten minutes a steaming plate of food appeared on the shelf of the window that separated the dining area from the kitchen.  The waitress, exchanging banter with the regular customers, poured a refill into the mug of the homeless man in the back and then brought the plate down to where Charlie sat.

He was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food, and wolfed it down with gusto.  The coffee kept coming and Charlie was grateful for the improvement that it represented over the hog swill that he routinely boiled up in his own kitchen.

“I haven’t seen you in here before, honey.”  The waitress was standing in front of Charlie and talking to him.  Several of the other customers had hurried off to begin their morning shift and the cafe had emptied considerably.  “You new in the neighborhood?”

Charlie had grown rusty at the art of making small talk, and wasn’t prepared for this.  He stumbled over his words for a moment and finally answered “No, I’ve lived a few blocks away for a couple of years.  I usually eat at home.”

The waitress eyed Charlie’s thin frame; the way his shirt hung on his shoulders.  “Looks like you could do with a little more eating out then” she said, and then laughed her hoarse smoker’s laugh, followed by a short, barking cough.  “How about I throw in a donut for you?  On the house.”

Charlie’s immediate reaction was annoyance.  He could take care of himself, thank you.  But the kindness in that damaged voice and the gentle friendliness that radiated from her own thin body and face tempered that thought.

“Sure” he replied.  “As long as you let me buy one for you.  You could use a few pounds yourself.”

The waitress’ jaw dropped a fraction of an inch and then she laughed with a warmth that could still shine through the years of insult that the cigarettes had imposed on her larynx.

“What’s your name, honey?” she asked as she brought Charlie his donut and her own on a separate plate.

“Charlie” he replied.  “And yours?”

“LuAnn.  You’ll have to excuse our informality around here.  If you like eating on a production line you’ll have to go somewhere else.  We’re sort of like a family here.  Maybe not exactly a “Leave It To Beaver” family, but we get on as best we can.”

Charlie was quiet for a moment.  This random interaction with another human was pushing his comfort zone.  LuAnn was open and friendly though, and did not seem to be poised to pry or judge, and so Charlie relaxed his guard ever so slightly.

“I don’t have much of a family, Leave It To Beaver or otherwise.”

“Well, I’m sorry to hear that” LuAnn said.  “I hope there’s nothing too bad behind it.  Life can be a trial sometimes.  But it can be a blessing too.  That’s how I look at it anyway.”

“I haven’t seen a lot of the blessing part lately” Charlie said.  “How has it been a blessing to you?”  It’s none of my business and all, and don’t answer if you think I’m sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong.  I just don’t know if I could pick out a blessing if I saw one in a crowd.”

LuAnn looked like she grasped at last that she was sitting with a lonely, troubled man.  “Wait a minute” she said, and then went to grab a high stool.  She placed the stool across the counter from Charlie, poured herself a cup of coffee, and then sat down.  ‘It’s good to take a load off of my feet” she said.  “Them poor old dogs down there are barking.”   LuAnn laughed at her own metaphor and Charlie had to grin as well.

“Well, let me see where I should start.  My old man Duane is home right now.  He’s pretty well crippled up from having a big roll of paper get away from a forklift and almost crush his leg.  You’d think that paper would be light, huh?  Not a big, tightly wound roll of it, I’ll tell you.  The doctors saved his leg, but it doesn’t work so well anymore.  We had good coverage through the Union and the company didn’t want a big lawsuit, so our basic needs are pretty well taken are of.  I could be a widow, or he could be completely laid up, but we’re neither of those things.  That’s a blessing.

“And over there.” LuAnn nodded in the direction of the homeless-looking man in the back.  “I won’t mention names or relationships because a person’s entitled to their privacy, but he served in the Army in Iraq.  From the outside he looks like he came back in one piece, but something got left over there.  I got no idea what he seen over there, but he just somehow couldn’t fit the pieces back together when he got home.  He’ll go in the back in a while and do a little work; scrub up some pots or mop the floor and such.  Ain’t like he’s an employee though.  We don’t know if he’ll be here tomorrow.  But all the same, he got home, or most of him did anyway, and there isn’t a mean bone in his body.  If you ask him for that old coat he’s wearing, he’ll take it off and give it to you.  And the folks at the V.A. have a counseling program that he goes to sometimes.  We hope that it helps, and we just keep thinking of him as sort of family too.”  He’s a blessing to us, in his own way.

LuAnn stopped speaking for a moment and her gaze rested on the disheveled figure at the back table.  “What is he, or rather who is he?” Charlie wondered.  “LuAnn’s son, or the son of Leroy?  Maybe he’s just one of the many throwaway people who could be seen sleeping in a doorway or bumming a cup of coffee at a downtown church on Sundays.  Well, he’s somebody’s son, and he’s lucky to have this ‘family.’”

The door behind Charlie opened and closed and three men in dirty work clothes came in and took their seats around a table.

“Shift change” LuAnn said.  “Gotta go to work.”  Then she added  “You know what?  You are a blessing to me today.  I missed out on my cigarette break but I got a free donut and a chance to sit down out of it.”

“Those cigarettes will kill you, you know” Charlie told her.

“Yeah?  Well, something will kill me sooner or later.  Might as well be them as anything else.  Been nice talking with you.  You come on back, you hear?”

LuAnn went around the counter with the glass coffee pot in hand and advanced to the table which hosted her new customers.  “‘Morning boys” she said as she began to fill their mugs with coffee.  “What’ll it be today?”

Charlie finished his donut and drained his mug of coffee.  He laid a generous tip under the lip of the plate and waved at LuAnn as he walked over to and out through the door.  Outside the cafe the sidewalks were bustling with people going to work or home after a long shift at night.  Charlie walked to his truck, climbed in and started the engine.  He drove to the shed and secured the tools that he would need that day, and as he dug for the keyhole saw that he would need for making cuts in the drywall that he would be applying he saw his gloves in the bottom of a box.

The gloves made Charlie think of the rock that he had promised to break up, and that in turn reminded hm of the safety goggles that rested in a drawer back in his apartment.  He stowed as many of his tools in the cab of the truck as would fit and then returned for the goggles.  Leaving tools in the bed of his truck, even for only as long as it would take to enter his apartment and return, invited theft.  Having secured the goggles Charlie returned to the truck, and this time he looked down on the seat and saw the safety belt.  “This is getting to be a habit” he chuckled to himself, and snapped the two ends of the belt together.

Charlie went about his work that day with the same efficiency that he always did, but today he did so with a little more energy, and enjoyed a little more satisfaction with what he had accomplished.  He pointed out to the homeowner a design flaw that would have the shower door hitting the toilet if it was opened all the way, and offered to either move the toilet or order a different design of shower door, as she chose.  He told her that he would do these changes at no additional cost, although it would take an extra day or two to make whatever adjustments that she desired.

The grateful homeowner thanked Charlie profusely for pointing out what would have been a very messy problem after the job was finished, and she showed her appreciation by paying Charlie half of what remained to be paid to him for the job.  By the end of the day, the bathroom was ready for tile and the installation of the toilet, sink and cabinet.  Charlie would return the shower door that the homeowner had picked out and replace it with the one that would actually work in her bathroom.

Charlie gathered his tools and loaded them into the truck, and and after returning the shower door and ordering the new one he headed straightway towards the garden.  To his relief, nobody was there.  Charlie exited the truck with his goggles and gloves, grabbed his sledge hammer from the cab of the truck, and went through the gate and into the garden.  He went first to his garden and saw with satisfaction that all of his plants had survived the several days that it had been since he had last been there.  Finally, he walked over to where the boulder still lay.

“I should just roll this beast to the fence” he thought, but quickly gave up that plan.  It was just to damned big.  Besides, he had promised that he would break the rock into pieces, and that was exactly what he was going to do.  Putting on the goggles and gloves, Charlie picked up the hammer and gave it a good swing.  The ten pound steel head of the hammer came down and a couple of rock chips few off into the air.  Otherwise, the rock looked untouched.

“Hrummph,” Charlie grunted.  “Gonna be a tough bastard, aren’t you!” Charlie swung again, and again chips flew, one right past his ear.  The rock remained otherwise unaffected.  Charlie felt some competitive juices begin to flow.  “Oh, so that’s how it is eh?”  he addressed the rock.  “It’s just you and me now!”

Charlie swung away again and again, banging into the rock and gouging chips and eventually larger pieces from the stubborn stone. He was so focused on his mission that he didn’t hear the tires of a van pull up onto the gravel just outside the gate.  Charlie was completely unaware of the arrival of Walt until he caught movement in the corner of his eye.  He looked up just as Walt was approaching him.

“Well, I’ll be damned.  I’ll be washed, ironed and starched.  I didn’t believe that you would would really do it”  Walt said as he walked up the path carrying a bucket full of tools.  “Welcome back, Pilgrim” he said with a John Wayne accent.

Charlie almost bristled at this vote of non-confidence, , but he couldn’t ignore the reality that, now that Walt was there, he was actually a little bit glad to see him.  And it HAD been several days since he had made his offer, and only last night he had come close to fulfilling Walt’s prophecy completely.

“Yeah”  Charlie responded.  “I did it just to piss you off.  And really; ‘washed, ironed and starched?’”

“I read that in a book somewhere.  Can’t remember where.  Anyway, like I said, welcome back.  Rachael will be glad to see you.  She kept saying that you would come back and I kept saying that she’s crazy.  I still think she’s crazy, even if she was right this time.”  Walt laughed at that and walked over to his plot, where he fell to working on something and ignored Charlie for the time being.

Charlie didn’t pay much attention to Walt either.  Instead, he went back to attacking the rock with renewed vigor.  The pressure from Charlie’s assault was beginning to take its toll on the rock, and shortly after Walt left him Charlie gave it a good whack and a large chunk fell away from the body of the stone.

“Hah!” Charlie roared out.  “Hah! Hah! Hah!  Take that you big, hard, S.O.B.”  He jumped around the rock, waving his sledge like a lance in a war dance.  Walt looked over at him and then came over to have a look.

“Well done, young man.  That’s whittling it down to size.  You want me to take a crack at it and give you a break?”

To be honest, Charlie didn’t want a rest, but the look on Walt’s face was somewhat like that of a little boy who wanted to play too.

“Sure.  Help yourself.  That big bugger is wearing me out” Charlie lied.

Walt began to wail away at the rock, with less force than Charlie could muster and with less effect, but nevertheless with more energy that Charlie would have expected from such an old guy.  In fact, Charlie began to be glad for the break.  He pulled up a chair from under the canopy and sat while Walt swung away at the rock.  Walt managed to separate several large flakes from the rock before he turned the project back over to Charlie.  Walt took up Charlie’s place in the chair and began to talk while Charlie kept at the rock.

“I was going to water for you until you came back,  If you came back, that is.  You’ve got a good start to a respectable garden there.  I’d hate to let it go to waste.  You tell me if you get tired of taking care of it.  It won’t be much trouble to add it to my own.”

Charlie wanted to say something nasty in response, but bit his tongue and simply kept pounding at the rock.

“You’ll produce a lot of groceries in that dirt; more than you can eat.  I’ll know what to do with them if you’re just going to let it go to pot.  I grow most of this stuff for the food bank.  They get all sorts of canned stuff and boxed stuff, but nobody else is bringing stuff like this.”  Walt swept his hand across the garden.  The idea of Walt giving food to people who needed it surprised Charlie, but he kept up his hammering.

“A lot of people don’t want fresh vegetables” Walt continued.  Charlie could sense that Walt didn’t always need two people to have a conversation.  “But some people do.  Some were raised eating good food and simply can’t afford it.  A box of junk can be cheaper than a bag of carrots.  I tell ya.  When I take a box load of produce into the food bank it’s gone by the next day.  All of it.”

Charlie finally put down the hammer for a minute and addressed Walt’s revelation.  “I’m surprised that you are so involved in other people’s problems Walt.  I thought you just took care of yourself and let everyone else take a flying f—-.”  Charlie pronounced the ‘F’ in his final word but didn’t complete the profanity.

“Yeah.  Pretty much I don’t give a flying fuck what somebody thinks about me.  Or what ANYBODY thinks about me, for that matter.  What you see is what you get.  That doesn’t mean that I can’t give one if I want to though.  Shit, I came over and helped your sorry ass in the garden, didn’t I?”

Charlie grinned at that.  “Yes, I suppose you did.  And thanks again for that, by the way.”

“Don’t mention it.  I feed stray dogs too.  No, man,” Walt continued, “I grew up in Seattle and we had plenty to eat, but my father always made us finish all of our dinner or there’d be the devil to pay.  ‘I’ve seen people starving in China, eating the garbage that we’d throw away’ he was always saying.  And he did see it, too.  He was in World War II and served in the Pacific.  He was a Squid; a Swabbie.  That’s why I joined the Army.  It was my little rebellion.  Pop had been in the Navy, so I would go into the Army.  I can’t remember all of the times that I crouched in some stinking fucking shithole while the Cong threw all of the shit in Ho Chi Minh’s arsenal at me, and thought about Pop floating through his war with three hot meals a day and a clean bunk to sleep on.”  Walt chuckled at the thought.

“Anyway, while I was there I saw what Pop had talked about.  One day I was eating a hard boiled egg.  Now I only liked the yolk, and so I peeled the egg and then pulled off the white part and dropped it on the ground.  A Vietnamese woman saw that and picked the egg white up.  She looked my right in the eye and asked if she could have it.  I said yes, of course.  She brushed off some of the sand and dirt and ate it right down.  I swear that the look in her eyes said ‘You miserable, spoiled bastard.’  I felt like a turd in the punchbowl.  I bought all of the hard boiled eggs that vendor had and gave ‘em to her, and she thanked me for them like I had given her the ability to shit gold.  I’ll never forget that look in her eyes though.

And you know what?  She was right.  We piss away more stuff in one year than most of the people in the world will see in their entire lifetimes, and that bothers me a lot.  I’m not a rich man now, but I do all right and still do better than most people in the world.  I get a partial disability from the fed because of the wounds I got in The ‘Nam, a pension from twenty five years as a janitor with the school district, and some Social Security.  The eagle shits on me a little, but it’s enough for me to get by OK.”

“The eagle shits on you?”  Charlie queried.

“Yeah.  That’s what we called payday from the Gubmint when I was in the Army.  I guess it just stuck with me.  A lot did.  I’m still trying to get rid of some of it.  Anyway, I’m good at growing food, and that’s one thing that I can do to help.”

Charlie returned to pounding on the rock as Walt continued talking about the garden, politics, the price of rice in China, and whatever came to his mind.  After a few minutes Charlie brought the hammer down and the rock split nearly in half.  Walt bounded out of the chair and gave Charlie a high five.  Charlie was breathing heavy from his exertions and said nothing.  After looking at the broken rock for a minute he looked up at Walt and said “They let you work around kids?”

Walt didn’t miss a beat.  “Yeah.  Hard to figure, huh?  I cant stand the little shits, so I did as much of my work as I could when they were in class.  Early on, one smart-mouthed prick almost got my mop handle shoved up his ass and broke off, and I did my best to avoid ‘em after that.”

Charlie constructed a mental image of that exchange and laughed out loud at it.  Walt chuckled too, satisfied that he had gotten a rise out of old sourpuss Charlie.

“You going to do any more on that rock?” Walt asked, and Charlie nodded in the affirmative.

“This bigger piece should be split again, and then I’ll call it good.”

A few more swings of the sledge produced the split that Charlie desired.  He and Walt carried the now-manageable rock pieces to a pile next to the fence and congratulated each other.  Charlie then returned to his plot and began to pull up weeds that had sprouted since he’d last been there.  He was fully engaged in that task and hadn’t noticed that Rachael had arrived at the garden.

“Thank you for taking care of that rock for me” she said, and Charlie jumped a little, startled out of his thoughts by her voice.

Charlie stood and replied “Oh, it was nothing.  I enjoyed taking out my aggression on it.  And Walt helped too.”  Rachael looked in Walt’s direction with doubt showing all over her face.  “I suppose you didn’t think that I would return either.”

“No, not at all.  Walt suggested that, and I disagreed completely.  I was quite certain that you would do what you said that you would.

Charlie felt a little glow in his soul at hearing those words.  With Walt he had shared victory over the stubborn rock.  Much male grunting and sweating and many physical blows had gone into conquering that foe.  From Rachael he now heard affirmation; he had said that he would do something and she had believed him.  She took him at his word, and he had rewarded her trust. This was something that he had not felt in a while.  In fact, he couldn’t remember when he had really felt it before.  Certainly, he had followed through on promises before, but it had never had the impact upon his mind then like it did now.  Perhaps Charlie needed to have a reevaluation of much of the life that he had once taken for granted before he would be able to clearly experience the feeling of a promise made and a promise kept.

Charlie’s thoughts had led to a pause in the conversation, and he clumsily tried to reignite it.  “So, are you get getting here from work?”

“Yes.  It’s been a long day.  I’m looking forward to getting my fingers into the dirt.”

“You probably can’t talk about your work, can you?”  Charlie asked.

“No” she replied, “I can’t.  And to be honest with you I don’t want to.  It isn’t all gloom and doom, and there are times when I really get to celebrate kids getting victory over some really awful things.  But even then, they couldn’t be getting victory over something unless they were down in an awful mess.  I’m not complaining; this is my choice to pursue this profession, but it can be a pretty heavy weight sometimes, so I’m glad to put it down and do something fun, like play in good clean dirt.”

“Yeah, I guess I know a little about carrying a weight” Charlie said.  He thought about telling Rachael about the bridge the night before, and how her voice and face, and that rock, pulled him back from the edge. Then his demons began to clutch at him one more time, and he struggled to shrug them off.  “I’m glad that I have this to come to also.  Changing the subject, do you have a cat?”

Rachael was startled by that but then laughed.  “Why, yes.  I do have a cat.  Why do you ask?”

“No particular reason” Charlie answered.  “Well, actually, I was imagining you and Walt relaxing.  Relaxing is not something that I do well.  I could just see Walt sitting at a bar alone, or with some crusty friends like himself, lifting a beer, and I saw you with a cat in your lap and cup of tea, reading a book.  I was just letting my mind wander.”

Charlie thought of himself with a book and a cat and a cup of tea.  The idea made him chuckle, but the chuckle died and early death.  His mind turned to the cold, cheerless apartment in which he existed but didn’t live.  The demons of his shattered life crawled back from behind the screen where they had been pushed by the rock and his promise to break it up.  They were not shouting of his hopelessness in the same manner as they had been the night before as he leaned over the railing of the bridge.  Instead there was the unmistakable hiss of the lying serpent of pain that they had hung around Charlie’s neck like a lead weight; a hiss that said “Relax?  Hope?  Peace?  Normal?  Who are you kidding?  Who the hell do you think you are to deserve those things?”

Rachael saw the smile vanish from Charlie’s face and her instincts, bred of her hours counseling children in traumatic situations, kicked in without having been consciously summoned.

“Charlie, I don’t know what you’re feeling now.  I can’t know it.  I can’t get into your head, or be you.  What I can see though is that you have a good and kind heart, and something doesn’t want you to know that.  I’m not trying to be your shrink here, and I don’t mean to pry.  You’re struggling with a lot of stuff but you don’t have to let the stuff win.  You don’t need to relax like I do or like Walt or anyone else does. You should just cut yourself a little slack and find something to do like to do and do it for no other reason.  You can’t turn your mind off, but you can turn it to something good.”

Charlie’s eyes were becoming moist and he thought “Oh, shit.  Not again!”  Then he said “That’s not easy to do.  It’s like anything that I try to do that’s healthy causes the memory of my – situation – to just rise up lie a wave and drown me.  I feel even worse than before.  It’s sort of like trying to move forward only confirms my failure.”

“Well, that’s a big, fat lie, Charlie” Rachael said softly but emphatically.  Charlie flushed as she said it.  “Not that you feel that way.  It would be more surprising if you didn’t.  It’s the thought itself that’s a lie.  Either you’re lying to yourself or someone else is, but its a lie all the same.  You’re not as guilty as you think you should be and you deserve a rest from all of that baggage you’ve been carrying.

Oh, shoot.  Look at me.  It’s like I’m still at work!  I’m sorry Charlie.  Like I said, I don’t mean to pry and I’m not your counselor, although I think one would do you a lot of good.  You’re a nice person, whether you can accept that or not, and you don’t deserve the beating that you been giving yourself.

That’s it.  Session’s over.  Thank you for taking care of that rock for me.  I’d like to return the favor and help you with these weeds.”  Rachael looked around Charlie’s plot at the fresh crop of weeds that had popped up in the several days since he had last been to the garden.  “You’re bringing down our property value” she said with a smile.

Charlie was tempted to decline Rachael’s offer, but something in the simple kindness of her bearing and the truth that inhabited her words drove his demons back behind their screen, where they could lurk and plot their revenge for this, their setback.  “I would be grateful for the help” Charlie said.  Rachael reached out and touched Charlie’s elbow with the very lightest brush of her fingertips and smiled, saying “I’ll start in that corner.”

The human warmth of that touch reminded Charlie dimly of something he might have felt long ago.  Was it when his mother had lifted him up after a fall, brushed the dirt off of him and kissed a reddening knee?  Or was it the memory of Maureen, when she tried to comfort him with a touch as he stood back many feet away from the hole in the lawn of the cemetery where his daughter was being lowered to rest?  He had not been able to walk up to the grave, to look within and see the casket; the dirt being replaced over it.  Maureen had touched him, and he felt the tenderness of it, but it had been like cool drink of water intended for a thirsty man which had instead been thrown onto a grease fire.

Charlie had not reacted well then, and the memory of that was one of the demons that even now sought to worm its way back into the open and take another pound of flesh our or Charlie’s heart.

Charlie shook that thought off.  Rachael’s touch was only of kindness; one human in a good place comforting one human who was not.  Charlie chose to accept the comfort.  Smiling, he turned to the opposite corner and said over his shoulder in Rachael’s direction “I’ll meet you in the middle.”

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