Part 3 9-13-09

John had taken the news pretty well, all things considered. Charlie had managed to get a copy of the patient file sent up to DC for review by his friend’s wife. She drew the same conclusions as the local MD.

 

“Charlie, for all practical purposes, your uncle’s better off getting treated in Lexington. Chemo’s going to be the same whether here or there and at least he’s close to home. If it were my dad, I’d say just stay put.”

 

 

 

 

“You’re what?” Ruiz sounded incredulous. “Can’t you hire someone or something?”

 

“No.” Charlie was irritated; he reminded himself that he was probably just overly sensitive right now. “I’ll be down here no more than three weeks. They need me to manage the farm while my uncle’s getting treated. Look, will you please just check my mail and forward it on?”

 

“Yeah, ok. What did the office say when you told them?”

 

“What could they say? It’s Emergency Family Medical Leave—I’ve got the time,” it annoyed Charlie that he felt defensive. “I can’t just abandon my mother down here to face this alone. You’ve got your whole family in town,” he continued, “It’s just me—there is no one else. Besides, I can do some telecommuting,” he added. “I saw an internet café in town.”

 

“Well, at least there’s that,” Mike answered. “I know you’ve gotta help them; but don’t they realize they’ll get better care up here and that being away could jeopardize your promotion?”

 

Charlie sighed; Mike’s concerns were the same running through his own head.

 

“Good luck, Hammer. Come home when you can.”

 

Charlie knew his absence would create headaches at the office and a domino of delays for his cases, but it couldn’t be helped. He needed to be here; it wasn’t forever.

 

 

 

 

 

“Mama?” Charlie tapped his pen impatiently on the kitchen table. Three days of the typical home routine was enough—he needed to move. “Mama?”

 

From somewhere down the hall Jeannie answered, “What dear?”

 

“I’m going out. I’ve gotta buy a new bed for the cabin; my back can’t take it anymore.”

 

Jeannie popped her head out of the laundry area. “Why don’t you just sleep in the guest room? We’ve got a nice foam mattress in there.”

 

“I hate twin beds. I’ll take John’s truck.”

 

“Whatever you think, dear.”

 

John’s Chevy was over twenty years old; he needed something more reliable, but had refused to upgrade explaining that they couldn’t afford it. Charlie climbed inside and sat there, breathing in the deeply familiar scents of dirt, fertilizer, and sweat. He reached down into the cup holder and fished out the keys, his eyes spotting a faded photograph lying beneath some fliers stashed under the dash. Pulling out the bent photo, Charlie saw a studio portrait of him and Jeannie taken some 25 years earlier. He smiled, recalling how awkward he felt in that day in Sears, defiantly wearing his skinny shiny silver tie that he refused to remove despite his mother’s pleading. Jeannie wore a printed corduroy dress with a bow tie under the chin. Mother and son’s eyes sparkled an identical blue. Charlie wondered how often John had stared at this photo over the years.

 

Charlie recalled the day he realized that John was in love with his mother. It was over Christmas break, his first year of law school, when he finally looked around enough to pay attention to somebody other than himself. John had insisted that they drive all the way to Roanoke to purchase the fabric Jeannie had been coveting; she wanted to make a tablecloth that would match the pillows she’d cross stitched in the parlor. Charlie considered the entire exercise a waste of time—he knew perfectly well that John didn’t care what tablecloth was used for Christmas dinner, but John was determined to get this. As he watched John present the fabric to his mother, he recognized the look of immense pleasure cross his uncle’s face at Jeannie’s expression of joy. It was then he saw it. Few things could generate that look on a man’s face other than the joy he felt at pleasing a woman. From that day on, Charlie swore to himself that he’d never let the right girl slip away from him as a result of inaction or neglect, never mind he nearly already had.

 

Shaking his head, Charlie turned the keys in the ignition and eased the truck down the potholed road. While the farm looked exactly like it had when he was a boy and as it had over the previous four generations of Witchell farmers, Charlie was aware that the surrounding area was changing. Since his initial arrival after John’s collapse, he hadn’t had a chance to look around town; it would be good to have this time alone. He pulled out on to SR 42, admiring the recently widened road, the black, tar top coat still shiny and surprisingly redolent. Along the fifteen mile stretch to Rossberg, Charlie couldn’t help but marvel at the signs of change:  where once there was an abandoned barn, now there appeared a modest home, with a neatly mown lawn in front.

 

“Who in God’s name would spend the dough to live here?” he mused. Pardy had mentioned that Red Forrester and Jeff Mosby were cleaning up down at the landing—about two years ago, the Wahonsett had been highlighted in the Post’s weekend getaway magazine and ever since things had been picking up. Charlie recalled his mother mentioning that Rob Cutler had moved back from San Francisco with his partner to open a B&B. “He’s a homosexual now,” she whispered. Charlie half smiled as he recalled those high school days when Rob was the only one of their group not to have a girl. He was glad that Cutler could come home again and be who he was. Progress was a good thing; he’d need to give old Rob a call.

 

 The truck turned left into town and familiar sites greeted him: Dixie’s Supermarket looked as it always had. The empty lot next door was still used for softball games. The First American Bank mascot had been updated, as had the exterior of the post office. Things were sprucing up more than he recalled when his gaze fell upon Foye’s Taxidermy and Gun Shop—some things didn’t change. Foye’s had been there for as long as he could remember.

 

Charlie looked at his watch: 8:15. The Mattress Palace wouldn’t open for another 45 minutes. He drove along Main Street, surveying the variety of storefronts, most still closed. His thoughts drifted to the DOJ—images of the desk jockeys settling into their areas, checking emails and the ubiquitous office memos, attorneys frantically printing up last minute briefs for court, doing the people’s business. He stopped at the single traffic light and impatiently tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. The light turned green and he moved forward. On the right, in front of what had formerly been Waggy’s Garage and Tire Shoppe, he saw something new: the sign read JumpStart Café—WiFi accessible. “Yes!” he exclaimed. He pulled into a diagonal space in front and shut off the engine.

 

Strains of the Indigo Girls greeted him before he opened the heavy, glassed-in door. The small café had about 10 tables and the requisite, battered loveseats in the corner. He inhaled deeply—the odor of freshly ground beans wakened his senses. “Ah,” he sighed, “real coffee.” A German Shepherd lifted its head and looked at him.

 

“May I help you?” Charlie smiled as a woman came out from the kitchen, wiping her hands. She looked to be in her early 40s, wearing embroidered jeans and a v-necked black t-shirt, with an apron tied around her waist.

 

 “I can’t believe an Internet café has opened in Rossberg.”

 

“18 months now,” she answered. “Rover and I kind of like the place.” The dog stood up and began wagging its tail.

 

Charlie put his hand out for the dog to sniff. “I’m Charlie Witchell.”

 

“Hi Charlie. I’m Andy Buehler—the owner of this fine institution. What can I get you?”

 

Charlie savored the rich scent of coffee beans, noticing the pennants and old crew boat mounted on the wall. Photos of whitewater kayakers hung in spots along the walls. DC was filled with coffee houses, only most of them offered trendy tables and uncomfortable chairs, the latest techno house music pulsating through the walls. He preferred the solid wood tables scattered throughout the cafe. “Large coffee.”

 

She offered him a mug and pointed to the dispenser area.

 

He handed her a bill. “How many folks use your Internet?” he queried.

 

“A lot of the college kids use it when they want to escape from campus,” she explained, pushing her hair behind her ears.

 

Charlie admired the woman’s tanned arms and athletic build. “You a kayaker?”

 

“Uh huh,” she replied, rubbing her arms. “The runs ‘round here are great. You?”

 

“It’s been a long time,” he answered, sipping his coffee. “You know, I’m glad you’re here, but I’m surprised a place like this can make it. I grew up in Rossberg and wouldn’t expect too many of the natives would be willing to pay for coffee like this.”

 

“It’s mostly the kids,” she nodded. “They hang out here a lot. Plus, outdoor recreation has grown fast in the past few years, so we get a lot of tourists passing through.” She wiped down the counter. “So, what about you? Are you just passing through?”

 

Charlie sighed and drained his mug. “I’m not sure,” he replied. “I live in DC but had to come home for awhile.”

 

Andy looked thoughtful. “DC, huh? I used to live there, too.” The café door opened and a group of cyclists walked in, their expensive ten speeds resting against the porch railing. She returned to her place behind the cash register. “Well, Charlie,” she said. “Nice to meet you. Come on by if you decide to stick around.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The doorbells chimed as Charlie pushed open one of  the double glass doors to the Mattress Palace. A bored looking man wearing a red polo shirt with a bed embroidered on the breast pocket looked up from his paper. “Can I help you?” he asked.

 

The air conditioned cool of the store surprised Charlie; condensation collected at the corners of the street facing windows. His eyes scanned the stacks of plastic wrapped mattresses leaning against every available wall. “Yes,” he replied, walking towards the desk. Charlie winced as his back protested last night’s accommodations. “I need to buy a bed—one with a really firm mattress.”

 

“All our inventory is on the floor,” the salesman gestured in a large circle. “You came at a good time,” he said, folding his paper. “We’re having a two for one sale until the end of the week. Why don’t you look around and try out a few —only, no shoes on the mattress.”

 

Charlie wended his way around the various displays as fragments of Celine Dion ballads drifted across the showroom, the salesman silently following him. He stopped at a display of a simple headboard and box spring mattress. “This here is our most basic model,” the salesman explained. Charlie awkwardly lay down, careful to suspend his feet over the bed while the salesman stood over him. “Firm enough,” Charlie observed.

 

“Why don’t you try this one right here,” the salesman gestured to the next display over. “This here is our Beauty Queen Sleepy Time mattress,” he explained. “You’ll feel like you’re sleeping on a cloud.” He paused, caressing the bright brass headboard. “The ladies always go for this one,” he winked.

 

Charlie forced a smile and stood up. “No, I think this first one will be fine, thanks.”

 

“But we have many more models,” the salesman protested. “Let me show you the one made with NASA approved material.” He pointed towards the front window where a massive bed encased in sheets covered with firing rockets was showcased.

 

Charlie shook his head. “This will be fine, thank you.”

 

Disappointed, the salesman shrugged. “You’re out at the Witchell place, huh?” he asked, looking out at John’s beat up old truck. “You Jeannie’s boy? I heard John had a heart attack. How’s he doin’?”

 

“He’s been better,” Charlie shrugged.

 

The two men stared at one another. Disappointed by the lack of information, the salesman grimaced. “Well then, thanks for shopping the Mattress Palace. Rest easy,” he added.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“This way,” Charlie pointed as he and Pardy maneuvered the old mattress onto the truck bed.

 

“You takin’ that thing to the dump?” Pardy asked. Charlie nodded. “I’ll ride with you—I’ve got some old tractor tires that John hadn’t gotten ‘round to gettin’ rid of.”

 

“Ok.”

 

The men sat in silence as the old truck jostled along the entrance road, which wound its way along the back part of the farm. Charlie craned his neck to look down onto the Wahonsett, flowing below. “What’s going on?” he asked pointing across to the other side of the river where a survey team was at work.

 

Pardy shrugged. “I seen ‘em out there once or twice before,” he answered. “Reckon’ it’s somethin’ to do with the College—they own the property.”

 

“Is the College expanding?” Frowning, Charlie tried to estimate how much property damage might occur if dorms were constructed so close to the farm. John had mentioned a couple of instances of having to shoo wannabe partiers off the back forty—the last time, the teens had responded aggressively. He’d need to check the zoning regs for this part of the county. There were increasing numbers of cases where school boards were filing actions against long standing farms, complaining about farmyard smells or pesticide drift that were part of what was necessary to run a farm. Urban encroachment was forcing a lot of small farmers out of existence.

 

Pardy shrugged. “Maybe. I dunno.” He shook his head. “In some ways, it might be just as well if John sold the farm. I mean, don’t get me wrong, farmin’ is what I do and I’m grateful for the work, but it’s hard to make a dollar these days. I keep expectin’ John to let me go—the margin’s been gettin’ tighter each year.”

 

“Really?” John had never mentioned this to Charlie; he hadn’t stopped to think about it much, preferring to assume things were fine.

 

“Yeah, it’s gettin’ bad,” Pardy continued, as the truck eased over a large pothole. “It seems like every time we turn around, there’s more regulations and environmental hoohah. I don’t know how John puts up with it for as long as he has—I know he tried to fight some of it with the Farm Service Agency last year but lost. Reckon you helped him out.”

 

Charlie frowned. Neither John nor his mother had mentioned any of this to him. He could have made some calls and found out what was going on—usually regs of this sort could be structured so as to grandfather in preexisting farms under a certain size. Charlie vaguely recalled John mentioning needing to go to the courthouse for something, but he had never bothered to ask for details. Whenever he called—which wasn’t often—he had been too busy telling them about his life. A hot flash of shame swept across him.

 

“Yeah,” Pardy sighed. “John seemed pretty disappointed by the result. He cancelled his order for a new truck and mentioned that he might need to cut back on my hours, but that was the last I heard of it. And now with his health problems and all.” He looked out the window. “It’s a good thing you’re here, though I know they’re real sensitive about not disturbin’ you, so please don’t tell ‘em I said nothin’.”

 

“Deal.” Charlie pulled the truck up to the dump entrance gate and paid the fee. Two scrawny teenagers appeared from inside a nearby trailer and hauled the refuse out of the truck bed. He could hear the tv blaring from inside– one of those outrageous teenage soaps which commanded such an enormous following of viewers who grew increasingly discontented with their own lives, believing what they saw was reasonable.

 

Silently, the men headed home.

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One Response to “Part 3 9-13-09”

  1. Steph Says:

    is there something missing in between paragraphs 3 and 4? See- I am reading this in case you did that as a test….

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