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A December Faded

DC Martin

11 Mar, 2012 08:39 AM

A December Faded
by D.C. Martin

We must take hold and embrace the cold and bitter embers of the Decembers that we’ve made, for the January scars we wear will surely never fade.
-Nightmares and Daydreams

The FM knob had broken twice on the Zenith AM/FM Tune Master that sat next to the bed on a walnut colored nightstand. Among the pill bottles and various medications it towered in buzzing magnificence, reminding me of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I picked up the radio and took a long and piercing look at the band selector knob. The superglue had not held; the knob looked as if it would crumble in my hand. I grabbed it between thumb and forefinger and gave it a turn. I was reminded of my favorite children’s cereal when I heard, Snap, Crackle, and then Pop. The knob disintegrated in my hand looking up at me in utter surrender.
This was now a Zenith AM Tune Master.
I rolled the dial right then left looking for an agreeable station, a Spanish-speaking talk radio show was on, an oldies station was just signing on, and Politics Today was squawking about something negative going on in the Middle East. I decided to scroll back a ways and see what was up next on “KOLD the oldies station that rocks the nation”. After a few brief commercials, I heard the DJ announce that the next hour would be filled with our favorite holiday numbers. I set the volume to its lowest yet still audible setting and sat staring at it for a minute.
Rockin around the Christmas tree by Brenda Lee was the first big hit of the morning.
I took a seat next to mom on the bed, careful not to disturb the IV that ran from the plastic drip bag supported above her on a metal pole and into her arm.
She looked so thin, I wondered if that was due to the sub-par food that she was being given or to the cancer that ate away at her from the inside. She was asleep, eyes fluttering quickly beneath their lids, watching us run and play perhaps in a field that had long ago grown over with the weeds of time. My brother Jack and I had always kept mom busy, always getting into something or another. We were never bad in the classical sense, no crime spree or arson incidents. We did shave the neighbors cat once, without permission of course, we thought that a Siamese Longhair would look interesting shaved to resemble a lion. We had on two occasions been brought home by the local sheriff’s deputy for throwing rocks at the Anderson’s dog, an old vicious gray and black mutt that would never fail to try to eat our bicycle tires as we rode past him on the way to the local mini-mart after school. Several times, he managed to catch my tennis shoe in his slobbering mouth, once he even broke the skin. I had peddled as fast as I could to get back home, and you could hear me yelling a mile away as Mom sprayed Bactine into the wound. I think I must have passed out from the pain because the only thing I remember after that disinfecting and traumatic experience is Jack pulling on my arm as I lay on my bed and him yelling and yelling that I was going to miss the start of our favorite show Space Quest 3000.
Jack had passed on almost 4 years ago at the tender and virile age of 28. A lifelong motorcycle rider, Jack loved his 1979 Harley Davidson Electra Glide and took every opportunity available to spend some time on the road. He had spent most of that fateful day riding with a group of friends up around Bearclaw Mountain, the rain had started to fall that afternoon and with the sun racing down behind the mountain peaks, and it was starting to get dark. At the next roadside stop they had all pulled over to say their goodbyes and each go their separate ways, Jack lived about 10 miles from the mountain and was one of the first to leave that day. He said his goodbyes, see ya laters’, and took off down the twisting mountain road towards Hwy 42 leading towards home. The rain had been falling in a mist for the past hour or so and the road was oily and slick. He never saw the truck that ran the stop sign, he barely heard the tires squeal on the wet pavement, I hope he hardly felt the bumper of the truck strike his right leg, and I pray he didn’t hurt too long when the truck crushed him and the bike against the 4ft guard rail. Jack was a good man, about to be married, about to start his own business with his fiancés father. Jack was my brother; I guess he still is, wherever he is. However that was 4 years ago and here I am now 34 years old sitting on a bedside in a hospice care facility watching my mother waste away from the ravaging disease known as the big C. The yellow wallpaper is supposed to brighten the room I guess, but to me it just makes things seem so false; fake painted on sunshine that gives me the urge knock holes in the walls. Perhaps that would make me feel better, but I am sure that it would just upset mom as well as the staff on duty here. Oh, in case you don’t know, my name is Bryan Mays. I am a 34 yr old mechanic. I have part ownership in a little garage and auto restoration shop in downtown Cleberg. I am not married nor, do I have any children. I was until about a month ago dating a young lady that worked as a waitress at Hawkins Grill. She found something better that was not on their menu or mine, and took the next bus out of town. I do not blame her; there is nothing in this town that could show much promise to a 25 yr old beauty like her with dreams as big as the night sky. I am considered by most of the town as a clean cut guy, or at least that is what Mom has said to me on numerous occasions. She would always go into her spiel. “Now Bryan Alfred Mays, I don’t know why you don’t get yourself back in school, you are known around this town as one heck’uv a guy, why just the other day I was talking to {insert any old lady in towns name here} and she said you were just the nicest young man” She was always on me about that type of stuff, trying to set me up on a date, or get me to take a class at the local Jr. College. I guess that is the stuff that good Mom’s are made of, wanting the best for their kids, no matter what their age. I had resisted of course at least on the Jr. College thing, for Pete’s sake, I am a 34 year old balding pudgy mechanic. I am too far past my prime to go trying to jam any new knowledge into my brain, let alone sit in a class full of people nearly half my age. I took the sponge out of the dish on the bedside table and dabbed the damp surface of her forehead, she had been running a fever the last few days and it had me pretty worried. The doctors had sent her home almost 3 months ago and told us to make preparations that the end would be coming soon. I had asked how long, and one of the young doctors had advised me that she would not see the New Year. Hey, what the hell do they know, I mean its December 19th and we’re still here, She’s still fighting, I have already thought about our new years eve party, I’ll decorate the room with a few banners and maybe we’ll have a sip of champagne. I mean what can they say. No, don’t give her that, it might kill her? Well, we will cross that bridge when we get to it. I just want to sit here a while before I have to be in for work. I come by most mornings and check on her, usually before my busy day begins. I wind up my shift at the garage usually by five and try to make it over here to have dinner and maybe watch a little Wheel of Fortune with her. For a while, there she was beating me quite regularly at guessing the puzzles, but in the last couple of weeks, she has been just too tired and semiconscious to get the answer out in time. I replace the sponge and am just about to get up when the door opens. Nurse Ragsdale, head nurse of the night shift at Whispering Pines walked into my mother’s room. “Oh hello Mr. Mays, I wasn’t aware that you were in so early this morning.” Her perfect smile radiating out at me, making me want to vomit, how can she smile at me as if everything in the world is just perfect? “Yeah, I came by to check on her this morning, just a little more worried these past few days than usual.” I said. “Well you can rest assured Sir that your Mother is in the best hands while you’re away,” she added. I responded with my usual ungrateful gratefulness and said the obligatory “Thank You” She spoke again, “I’ll just check her vitals and be out of your way in just a minute” She moved towards my Mom’s bed, offensive smile still bathing the room like a searing spotlight. After a few pokes, prods and pinches, she was finished and said “There you go, all done, have a good day Mr. Mays” she said as she walked away from the bed and gently closed the door. I suppose I should not feel the way about the nurses here as I do, I mean after all they are here trying to help. I guess it is the fact that they are helpless to stop what is happening to my mother that leads me to such anger whenever they come around. I decide to sit in the chair for just a minute to rest my eyes and clear my head before heading off to work. I lay back on the pleather recliner and think of the time in the apple orchard behind the trailer house we rented that summer when I had climbed the tree to the very top. I could not have been more than 9 years old. I had started climbing without the thought of getting back down, but once I was at the top I froze, Jack tried to coach me down, even though he was younger than I, he always seemed to be the big brother in our relationship. He coaxed, and coached, coddled and coerced me to get down one limb at a time; but I was just too scared to move. Finally, after all his efforts failed he left to go find mom. I sat in the top of that tree for what seemed like hours, though it could not have been more than 45 minutes. I was yelling at the top of my lungs before I saw Jack and Mom come ambling their way through the trees towards me. Mom yelling at me to shut my mouth or I would have the whole neighborhood running to see the monkey in the tree. I remember she was so young looking and so strong and athletic. She climbed the tree about halfway to the top and managed to get me to grab hold of her hands and together we climbed to the ground. SAVED, I remember thinking, I was so happy, but my ear was not so lucky, it caught the brunt of the verbal barrage as we walked back to the trailer, Jack was nodding and adding his little bit to her sermon, “Mom, I told him not to do it” he would say. God I miss him, God I’m so tired, I miss them both, though Mom is still here with me, it feels like she’s already gone; just a minute to close my eyes, if just to let the tears go away. Just for a minute that is when I felt a stinging in my arm, I looked down just below the rolled up sleeve on my left arm. I could see something moving underneath the skin, a wriggling black mass, then another just below that towards my wrist on the inside of my arm. I started to feel the cold wave of panic in the pit of my stomach. What the hell is going on I thought. I moved to touch the squirming thing beneath my skin and as my fingers came close, a furry leg burst through my arm and like a flood black hairy tarantula like spiders came crawling out from inside me. I screamed, the blood flowed from the wounds as the spiders just kept crawling out of my arm; they scrambled about my lap and up and down my legs. I tried to move to get up out of the chair but my stomach started rumbling and I could feel that I was bloated and filled to the back of my throat with these dreadful creatures. I started gagging and coughing trying to dislodge the insects. I coughed extremely loud and forceful, though as scared as I was, I worried that I’d upset mom in her weakened condition, I looked over at her with abject terror on my face, and as my eyes caught sight of her, my heart seized in my infected chest. Mom was a giant spider lying in the bed, her body composed of thousands of tiny arachnids.
There was a searing flash, I opened my eyes; mom had turned on the bright reading lamp next to her bed and was asking me in a weakened tone, if I was all right. Apparently, I had dozed off to sleep and was having one hell of a nightmare. I was sweating and still a little shaken up, I managed to give a brief smile and apologized for waking her. I rose from the chair and went to her bedside. I sat down where I was sitting earlier and asked if I could do anything for her. She smiled and said she was fine, just seeing me brightened her day. I bent over, kissed her on the forehead, and told her that I loved her. She held my hand gently between both of hers, the IV acting like a grotesque marionette string hanging from her arm. “You better get to work honey, you’ll be late,” she said. “I know mom, I’m just about to go,” I said. I bent over and kissed her forehead again and got up from the bed, I said, “I’ll be at the garage if you need anything, just have one of the nurses call ok?” “I know, I know dear, go on and have a good day, I’ll be just fine until I see you tonight,” she said. I told her I loved her as I backed out of the room gently closing the door. I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus echoing gently on the transistor radio. Each time I left that room I wandered to myself if it was the last time that I would see my mother alive. I made my way through the mucus yellow hallways and out of the sliding glass doors towards the parking lot. Finding my truck keys in my jacket pocket, I fingered the ignition key to my 77 Ford Ranger and started the truck. It rumbled to life and I sat there waiting on the heater to kick in, thinking about life. Its funny how sometimes things can turn out just the opposite of how you imagine life to be. The heater kicked in and a blast of Luke warm air came pouring from the floor vent and the broken shutter of the dash vent chattered from the warm breeze. I put the truck in gear and backed out of the space, still thinking about life and those dreadful spiders.

I aimed the Ranger towards Main St. and started the morning route towards Amazin Auto Repair. To some who do not know any better, they might think the name of my little establishment is a bit egotistical; however, it comes from the humblest of places. Like I said before, my name is Bryan Mays, my business partner is a 56 yr old African American fellow named Jimmy Zinn. Evidently, his father’s father was tied in with some German ancestry somewhere down the line. Never the less, Jimmy is definitely a one of a kind. I do not know what religion he was raised under, but around the age of 17, Jimmy decided that he was Jewish. He immediately started reading all the literature he could find on the subject and has not missed temple in the 12 years that I have known him. He is tall, thin and speaks with a southern accent. The look of his eyes can be quite disturbing due to their placement on his face. Some might say they are too close together, others may say they are beady or even reptilian. I think that Jimmy is just an intense man, and though he has a laid back southern way about him, his internal spirit and his external looks combine with his relaxed southern way to bring three separate and powerful traits together that just seem paradoxical. When I started working here the place was known as Craig’s Garage it was owned by the uncle of the famous football player Roger Craig. Apparently, it had been in the family for years and the building was in quite disrepair. I started working 4 days a week just cleaning up and performing oil changes and such. I just wanted to work part time to learn a trade and possibly keep some pocket change on hand to assist Mom and Jack with the rent. Jimmy had already been here some time and I will never forget the day we met. Mr. Craig showed me around the small two bay garage and was instructing me where the brooms and mops were kept. I was looking around taking it all in as eager as can be, when in walked Jimmy Zinn. His hand all bandaged up with white gauze. The end of the gauze was stained red and looked to be oozing blood. Mr. Craig dismissed Jimmy with but a glance and went on explaining my duties at the garage. When he had finished he left me to look around on my own and instructed any questions that I might have be directed to Jimmy. I walked around for a minute making mental notes on the location of the sink, break-room, eyewash station and bathroom. It was in the break-room that I found Jimmy unwrapping his bandaged hand on the break table. I walked in and said, “Hello, my name is Bryan, you must be Jimmy” He held out his damaged appendage and said, “ NO, I must be in pain, now get the hell out of here and leave me alone kid”. I looked shocked and ashamed at the same time, how could I have just barged into this mans rest area and jammed my perfectly functioning hand in his face and expected him to shake it and feel its perfectly balanced number of digits without seeing the handicap of his own hand in his minds eye. I might as well have went in and started screaming, MEET THE FREAK LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, COME SEE THE 2 FINGERED BEAST, SEE HIS RAW AND BLEEDING PHALANGEAL STUMPS JUST 25 CENTS. I slumped away and bowed out of the room, “I’m sorry for bothering you Sir” came out of my mouth as I exited. “Wait up son” he said, “Hell I’m sorry, you don’t have anything to apologize for, you were just being polite. Come on back in here I’d like to meet you”. I walked back into the room looking a little shy and worried. “You sure Sir?” I said. “Yeah boy, get in here,” he stammered. The pain was obviously intense. I walked all the way into the room. He looked up from his chair and said, “Hello, my name is Jimmy and you are?” “Bryan, Sir, Bryan Mays” I responded. “Well it’s surely nice to meet you Bryan, Lord knows we need some help around here from time to time” He looked around the room as he was speaking suggesting the tidy room was less than tidy. “Well, I intend to do my best Sir.” “If you don’t mind Sir, may I ask what happened to your hand?” He went on to tell me that just a few days prior he had been working on a 1958 Plymouth Fury, changing an alternator belt when all of a sudden the engine fired up and caught the last three fingers on his hand in the pulley. He explained that the damage would not have been nearly as extensive if he had not jerked so violently tearing the fingers from the sockets. Due to him not having any health insurance the doctor on call at Cleberg General did not attempt to reattach the digits, he simply sewed the wounds closed and sent Jimmy home. I was somewhat sickened at the site of the bleeding wounds but toughened up in the presence of my new coworker so as not to appear squeamish. “Wow, I said that is some story, how long till you are healed?” I inquired. “Well the doc says at least 3 months maybe longer if infection sets in.”
That was 12 years ago; I swear that man can do more with his crippled right hand than most mechanics can do with both of theirs. Of course, I stayed on and worked my way up the chain, learning this and that, from Jimmy and Mr. Craig. I learned how to overhaul an engine, rebuild a carburetor, some bodywork here and there, mostly pulling dents and working with Bondo. Jimmy was a master mechanic and I rarely heard of anything that he could not fix. Mr. Craig started coming in less and less as the years went by; his health had been failing even before I had arrived. It was difficult to tell on most days in the beginning due to his sullen and downright pugnacious behavior. Then about 3 years ago, he did not show up for almost a week and when he finally did come in, it was to let us know that he was retiring. He must have lost 30 lbs in the last 2 months that I saw him. Turns out he had been living some time with Cirrhosis of the liver and was diagnosed terminal by the medical experts up in Turnstow. A few months after his last visit, we got word from his sister that he had passed away. She had been coming in twice a month to give us our paycheck and to pick up any paperwork that needed to be signed by Mr. Craig. She gave us the bad news and then hit us with even worse news. She planned to shut down the garage; we would have to find new work somewhere else. Jimmy and I talked it over, he had put away almost 20 thousand dollars over the years and I had socked away almost eight myself. We discussed an even partnership and decided to apply for a small business loan. After speaking with the bank and talking things over with Mr. Craig’s sister, we came to an agreement of $55000 for the whole kit n caboodle. I was able to come up with a couple extra thousand dollars, Jimmy put in 10 of his own, and we closed the deal. We spent a little more on a new set of tools and some paint for the old place we renamed it Amazin Auto Repair from combining my last name and Jimmy’s and boom we were in business. In the beginning, I had hired a young lady that worked 3 days a week after she got out of high school to do the books and reception work. Eventually, taking over all those duties myself to help cut costs. Things worked out well and we have had steady paychecks ever since.
I took the turn into the parking lot behind the garage and turned off the engine, the ranger sputtered and shivered as I was getting out of the truck. You would think that the vehicle of a top-notch mechanic would run a little better than it does. I just have not had the time lately to put her in the bay and see exactly why she is acting up. It could be her age, it could be the carb is mistuned, who knows. I’ll get to it when I get to it, right now I need to get to working so I can pay this months mortgage on the garage. I have been missing a lot of work these past few months and really leaning hard on Jimmy, I’m sure he understands that I am under a lot of pressure with Mom and even if he didn’t he’d never say a word about it. I feel the guilt though and I promise to work over when all of this nonsense is done, if for no other reason than to give him the chance to take that fishing trip he’s always talking about. I walked through the open bay door into the shop area, there was a 1997 Ford Mustang up on the lift, its drive shaft dangling loose underneath, a drop light hanging from the exhaust pipe clearly exposed the rough edges of the broken driveshaft. I could see Jimmy in the break room getting another cup of coffee. I walked towards him fully intending to get a cup for myself. As I approached him I could see that he was swaying a bit, kind of like he was drunk. I put my hand on his shoulder and said. “Jimmy, you ok?” he jumped as if I had startled him, his Perot for president mug dropped from his hand and shattered into a million H. Ross Perots all over the floor. We both moved our feet back as fast as we could dodging the hot joe as it splashed onto the oil stained tile floor. “Jeezus H! Bryan” he said, “You could have given me a heart attack.” “Well, you were looking like you were about to fall over and I thought you needed some help.” I exclaimed. “If I need help, I’ll ask for it, just been having more dizzy spells than usual that’s all.” He had a blank look in his eyes as he spoke to me. I looked at him in those vacant eyes and said. “How long have you been having these dizzy spells?” He rolled his eyes and looked at me, “what you gonna start worrying bout me now?” “Aint you got enough to worry about with your ma and all, without throwing an old man onto your pile?” He said in his raspy southern accent. “Yeah, so what if I am, and so what if I do?” I said. “we been friends and business partners for a good while now, and you’re the closest thing I got to family since Jack passed on, so I’ll be damned worried if I want to, and carry on all I need if it means getting you looked at.” I admit I must have let loose a little more than I was intending to, because I had never seen Jimmy look at me that way before. “Ok, he said, I reckon I understand a bit, mans got a reason to tend to the things that he calls home. I’ve been feeling a bit unsteady for about 3 months now, ever since I had that bout of heat exhaustion out behind the shop; when I was digging in the scrap parts pile for some sheet metal.” “It comes and goes, I’ll be alright.” He said. I looked up straight into his eyes and said “Jimmy, I want you to get to the Doc over at the clinic and let him take a look at you, it might be something serious, I know what you are gonna say, but I care about you old man and I want to make sure you’re gonna be alright. I won’t take no for an answer ok?” He looked at me and could tell I was serious, “Alright, Ok, Fine, I’ll get checked out first thing Monday morning, suit you ok worry wart?” he chuckled as he said the last couple of words. It was just the levity we needed, I patted him on the shoulder and stepped around him to get to the coffee pot. I poured a large Styrofoam cup of black coffee to the brim as the old commercial used to say and resting the cup on the table, I grabbed a small broom from behind the door and swept up the pieces of broken mug from the tile below. Padded the coffee with a few paper towels, grabbed my cup and then headed to my office. I was about 30 days behind on the latest invoices and needed something to get my mind off Mom and the newfound situation with Jimmy. As I made my way into the one room office upstairs I could hear Jimmy banging away on something, no doubt not the least bit worried he might overdo it and have another spell. The day passed on like many before it have, nothing too exciting. Jimmy finished banging on what he was banging on around lunch and had what looked like a content look on his face as he stuffed the pimento cheese sandwich in and out of his mouth. We barely spoke that afternoon, I finished the paperwork that had been camping out on my desk and Jimmy was sweeping up the floor as I waved goodbye and headed out to the truck. I fished the keys out of my pocket and paused to look around the empty parking lot. There were only three cars parked in the small lot behind the garage. It seemed that the grayness of the day had almost brought the town to a standstill; somehow transforming the small populace into one of those black and white framed photo’s you might see in a small town Doctors office. I got in behind the wheel and fired the old girl up. She spat and sputtered again in protest of the frigid air, though it was only in the low 30’s, we both knew it wasn’t the weather that made her groan, it was age. I put the transmission in drive and made my way out of the alleyway between the garage and the super savr grocery store. As I was heading towards whispering pines to see Mom, my thoughts turned to Jimmy, why had he not mentioned his dizziness to me, why are some people so stubborn and full of denial. Sure he was getting on in years, but it was nothing to think that with a little medication he would be right as rain again. I suppose I’ll figure all that out with time, I mean, when I start to get his age or even the age Mom is, maybe things will be the same for me. I hope not, I hope that if I have learned anything from all of this it’s that when you need help, you get help. I found the parking lot of whispering pines mirroring the same gray photogenic quality that the garage parking lot had. Three cars sat cold and still, their shivers only in my mind as I glanced over each one, the mechanic in me sizing them up. All imports and all at least 10 years old. Maybe some future business looking my way I thought as I walked up the short cement walkway towards the automatic doors. Once inside I waved to the young woman at the nurse’s station. She was on the phone in heavy conversation about something that required intricate hand gestures on her part. She nodded at me as I went past. Getting to Mothers room I noticed the door slightly closed, I knocked lightly and made my way in. She was in the bed, beads of sweat on her brow. I spoke softly not sure if she was sleeping or just resting her eyes. She opened her eyes and attempted to smile at me as I came closer to the bed. “Evening Mom, how are you feeling?” I asked. “Just peachy” she murmured weakly. I sat down on the side of the bed, the room was cool, and a small oscillating fan was at work on the table next to recliner across the room. I took the cloth from the nightstand table and dabbed the beads of sweat from her forehead. Her eyes closed she asked me how my day was and if I’d eaten yet. I told her that nothing new was going on at the garage that it was business as usual. I didn’t mention the conversation with Jimmy. She and Jimmy had always gotten on really well, and she had come to think of him as another son. Though only a few years older than Jimmy, she never failed to fuss over him if she thought he wasn’t eating enough or was working too much. I told her that I wasn’t hungry, that I’d get something at the diner on the way home. She smiled that sleepy, weary smile again and said “ok”. I asked if she’d like anything and she said she was just so tired, and wondered if I could just sit there awhile until she fell asleep. I told her of course I could and as I got up from the bed I felt her hand on my wrist. She grasped it so lightly I almost didn’t feel it. “I love you Son,” she said. “I know Mom, I’ve always known, now close your eyes and get some rest, I’ll be right here.” With tears welling up in my eyes I bent over and kissed her forehead as I always do and went to sit in the recliner next to the fan. The Field and Stream I had been reading in a previous visit lay on the table beside the recliner. But before I could even find the place I had stopped reading the last time I was in here, I looked up and she was asleep. I rose from the chair, took a long look at her frail body beneath those blankets and quietly left the room. As I passed the nurses station, again I waved and again the young nurse nodded towards me and smiled, still gesticulating her telephone Kung Fu against an invisible opponent, fully rapt in conversation. I walked out the sliding doors and fired up the Ranger. I entertained the thought of dropping by Hawkins Grill and picking up something to eat, but the idea of food just made me want to run the truck off the road and into a tree. GOD, why could I not do anything to save the people I loved? Why was I still here, why was I continuing to breathe. I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t want to sleep, breathe, walk, talk, or run. I wanted to just cry, to have my brother, my mother, hell, even my father wherever he happened to be these days; just wanted us to be together and safe. I didn’t even look towards the diner as I made my way towards the garage. I didn’t’ want to go home, my one bedroom trailer didn’t seem like a place that I wanted to be tonight, the house was a mess, I had not paid the cable bill in two months and it was surely cut off by now. I decided that the best place for me was the garage, I’d kick back at my desk, go over some figures and spend the night on the broken down couch in the break room.
As I pulled into the parking lot behind the garage a large gray cat ran out in front of the truck. Slamming on the brake, I narrowly missed making a kitty cat pancake with the right front tire. I pulled completely into my space and got out of the Ranger, ticking and popping from the heat of the engine the truck sounded upset as I looked around for the cat, I figured he was long gone, out chasing a warm place to sleep or even a warm mouse to eat. But there he was behind some trashcans bawling his eyes out. I stepped closer and could see that he was tangled in something, what at first looked to be a large spider web turned out to be some fishing line and he had unfortunately got himself hooked on an old lure and tangled up in the backlash. I tried to get him out as he thrashed and hissed, but he was bound pretty well. I said “hold on little guy.” And went around the front of the shop, letting myself in, I went to the toolbox and found the retractable razor knife that we kept on hand for utility purposes and went back around to the rear of the building. I could still hear him crying and the rattle of trashcans against the brick exterior of the building as I came into the alleyway. When I got to him, he hissed and let out a pathetic yowl. I put my hand on his side to hold his feet out of the way, partly for his protection and partly for mine. I popped the blade on the razor knife and cut the fishing line from around his legs and back. Holding down on him firmly I then took the lure between my fingers and worked the barb from the skin of his rear leg. He yowled and bucked, I knew it must have hurt like hell, but in just a few twists it came free. He yowled again and hissed, and no sooner did it pop loose, did he jump up and scramble away into the night. I smiled, I had done a good thing, even if it was just an old alley cat, it felt good to be able to save something at least. I turned away from the garbage cans and started walking back towards the front of the building. On my way I noticed that several flakes had begun to fall from overhead. It didn’t snow that often in this part of the state, but when it did, it was a sight to see. Everything whitewashed fresh and opaque, like the first draft of a Norman Rockwell painting. The statues in the town square covered and ambiguously solemn in their posture. The kids making snowmen on their lawns, the rackety clink of snow chains going down our humble main street. Yeah, I liked the snow, it was gonna be a white Christmas if we were lucky. I bundled up my leather jacket and zipped it closed around me. Walking through the front door of the garage and up the stairs, I thought it was a good night for a hot pot of coffee. I went into the break room, set the pot on automatic, and cranked on the tube. There was a holiday movie playing about a young man and his desire to obtain a BB gun. His imaginary adventures were the stuff of comedic genius in an attempt to persuade his Mom and Dad to buy him the rifle. I had seen it a few times but it always made me laugh. I took a seat on the couch, watched, and waited for the coffee to finish. I must have been more tired than I had known, because the next thing I heard was the slam of the front door. It was daylight and Jimmy was already in for work. The coffee pot was full to the top of the pot and still hot as could be. I jumped up, not wanting for some prideful reason to let Jimmy know that I had stayed there all night. He walked in to the break room and looked me up and down. “You been here long?” he asked. “No, I said, just about 34 years.” I said with a half smile on my face. He didn’t find the humor in my answer and said “if you are gonna sleep here nights then you’d better remember to close the God damned front door, there was 2 feet of snow coming in the front entrance and your truck is nothing but a white lump.” “OH, Yeah, I had a late night” I said, “well, at least you got some coffee made, think I’ll have a cup.” He added. “Go ahead, pour me one too,” I said. “I’ll go get the snow shovel and get that doorway cleared.” I went and got the shovel from the closet and began to relocate the melting snow from the doorway to the sidewalk. After about an hour I had cleared the entire front of the garage and finished off 3 cups of coffee. Jimmy was busy putting a new fan belt on a Grand Am when I decided I’d break out the old gas heater from the storage shed out back. Jimmy yelled “good idea, my hands are like icicles over here” I went around back and grabbed the small portable heater and propane tank and lugged it into the bay next to the Grand Am. Hooking it up and getting it started was no small chore, the connection nozzle was corroded and didn’t want to tighten down too well. I grabbed a pair of channel lock pliers and torqued on the nozzle. It tightened down enough to seal the leak and the heater blazed to life. Within a few hours and several cups of coffee the Grand Am was good to go and Jimmy and I were ready for a game of cards. We had been playing for several years when things got slow, and with the new fallen snow, things were gonna be slow until the street plows got out and about. I was just setting up the card table when the phone rang. I picked up the receiver and said “Amazin Auto Repair.” “Mr. Mays?” the voice asked. “ Yes, this is Brian Mays, how may I help you?” “Sir, this is Nurse Ragsdale from Whispering Pines, it seems your mother has taken a turn for the worse during the night, you might want to get down here.” I dropped the phone to the floor, Jimmy was looking at me wide eyed, “its Mom” I said, “I got to get down there” He immediately reached into his pocket and threw me his keys as I was already heading out of the break room. “Here take mine, yours is buried,” He said. I turned to catch the keys and as they met my hand, my leg met the space heater, I fell flat onto my back on the cement floor. “Damn son, are you ok?” Jimmy yelled. Getting up I said, “Yeah, I’m fine, got to go, I’ll call you when I know something.” He said ok and that he’d keep things running here, I yelled thanks as I bolted out the door. I was out of the garage and halfway to Whispering Pines before I even realized I was doing close to 50 miles per hour on sheets of ice. I slowed down to about 30, yet still praying 100 miles per hour that Mom would hold on till I got there. 5 minutes later I was literally sliding into the parking lot of the hospice center. I parked the car crossways in the lot and ran through the sliding doors. Nurse Ragsdale was there at the nurse’s station. “Mr. Mays, Dr. Hunter is in with your Mom right now,” she said. I jogged down to my mother’s room and walked in, an older man, named Dr. David Hunter was standing over my mother looking into her eyes with a penlight. “What’s the story Doc?” I asked. He turned towards me and I could tell from the look on his face it wasn’t good. “Son, I’m afraid the time is very near. If there is anything I can do, help you with any arrangements please let me know.” I started to cry, I mean, heaving sobs as he put his hand on my shoulder. He left quietly as I stood there sobbing and looking at Mom, watching her laying there helpless. I went to her bedside and held her hand, it was cold and limp. Her eyes weren’t fluttering beneath the lids like they usually do when she’s asleep. I sat there, stroking her hand, talking to her about the time we went snow skiing, and how I had knocked out my tooth when I had fallen. How I kept poking it back in the empty hole every time she came around, afraid that I’d get in trouble for letting it get knocked out. I don’t’ know if she heard me or not, but the constant beeping rhythm of the electronic pulse let me know that she was still with me. Nurse Ragsdale came in and brought me some coffee and a small stool that I was able to push up next to Mom’s bed. It had been almost an hour since I got there when Nurse Ragsdale came bursting into the room and said. “Mr. Mays, I’m sorry to intrude, but there has been an accident downtown, apparently your garage has caught fire Sir.” “What?” “I moaned, what are you talking about?” “Your garage, your business Sir, its on fire!” She repeated. I got up from the stool, and made my way down the hall, it was true the local television station was on the scene and it was on the small TV there in the nurse’s station. I ran towards the door, “watch my mom,” I yelled over my shoulder as I headed for the car. I slid in the car and fired it up, wasting no time I headed straight for the garage. As I came towards the town square I could see large plumes of smoke rising into the sky, I saw flames licking at the brick of Amazin Auto Repair. The conflagration roaring with delight as it ate away at my livelihood. I prayed that Jimmy was alright, that he had made it out. As I brought the car to a stop behind the large fire engine that was pumping thousands of gallons of water into my building; I noticed an ambulance was parked just up the street. I sprang from the vehicle and ran towards the ambulance and the two police officers standing next to it. Breathless, I said, “Jimmy Zinn, Where is he, is he alright?” The men looked at me and then at each other, “Mr. Mays?” they asked. “Yes, that’s me, is Jimmy OK?” I asked again. “Sir, we’re sorry, but Mr. Zinn didn’t make it out in time. Apparently there was some sort of gas leak and an explosion started the fire. We think he was trapped in the back part of the building when it started. We are so very sorry.” That was it, it was me, I did this, when I tripped over the heater, when I fell down, my leg must have loosened that corroded nozzle on the propane tank. I fell to my knees in the snow, screaming, tears and pain poured from me for the second time that day. Screaming and yelling, “I’m sorry Jimmy, GODDAMMIT JIMMY, I’M SO SORRY” The policemen picked me up to my feet and helped me to the back of the waiting ambulance, limp in their arms from grief they carried/dragged me towards the flashing red light on top of the ambulance. I thought for a minute that they were some kind of sick twisted son of a bitches, and that they were gonna show me Jimmy’s burnt body lying in the ambulance. However, they just wanted to hand me over to the paramedic so he could give me something to calm me down. I pulled away from them, told them that I had to go, that I had to get back to my dying mother at Whispering Pines. They offered to drive me, giving me the usual spiel about how I was too upset to drive. Calmer now, tears still flowing but not as fast, I said I was ok, that I would be back in a few hours to answer any questions they might have. They agreed and said for me to stop by the station when I left the hospice center today. I climbed back into Jimmy’s car, the Star of David hanging from the rear view mirror. I sat there for a few minutes, my head on the steering wheel just sobbing and thinking about Jimmy, why had he been killed, what had I done? I looked up and saw one of the officers coming towards the car and decided if I was gonna leave I had better do it now, he was waving at me as I was backing out of the square. I pretended not to see him as I put the car in drive and headed out towards Whispering Pines for the second time that day. As I pulled into the slot, I made sure to park the proper direction this time and came to a complete stop before jamming the transmission in park. I walked into the lobby and from the look on Nurse Ragsdale’s face, I could tell that something else was wrong. “Mr. Mays, Sir, I’m sorry to tell you this, but your mother has passed.” At first I didn’t quite believe what I was hearing, thinking that she must be some really sick bitch to say something like that to me at a time like this. “Are you ok?” she said, “Do you want to sit down?” “NO,” I yelled, “I want to see my mother, where is she?” “Your mother is still in her room Sir, but they will be coming soon to take care of her for you, I’m very sorry” she spoke with her head turned at an angle towards me, I suppose to convey sympathy. “Fuck YOUR SORRY!” I yelled and ran towards my Mothers room. I opened the door and went in, the machines were off, and there was no sound and the young nurse that had been on the phone earlier sat in the chair across the room. I began to shake, it was as if all the snow in the town had somehow been transported to the pit of my stomach. I walked towards Moms bed and before I could get there I doubled over and vomited on the floor. The young nurse stood up and came towards me, about the same time Nurse Ragsdale came into the room with Dr. Hunter. They guided me over towards the recliner and had me sit down a minute. The sobs were uncontrollable at this point, I had lost my best friend and my mother within an hour of each other. The young nurse came in with a mop and some towels and was cleaning up the mess when Dr. Hunter looked at me and spoke. “Son, would you like for me to call anyone, family perhaps?” “No, I’m all that is left.” I said. “Well he said, the coroner will be here soon to take your mother downtown, would you like for me or one of the nurses drive you home so you can get some rest?” He looked at me with that same sideways tilt to his head that Nurse Ragsdale used earlier. “No thanks, I think I’ll drive myself.” I couldn’t bear to look at mom as I made my way out of the room and like a zombie ambled my way slack jawed through the doors and towards the car. I started the engine and must have been driving for a few minutes before I even realized that I was behind the wheel. I pulled over on the outskirts of town, not knowing where I had been headed, I had driven out past Highway 42 and stopped at the same roadside rest area where my brother Jack had last been seen alive. I got out of the car, dropping to my knees I looked towards the sky screaming, hot angry hate towards the heavens. I ran my hands through my hair, down my arms, hugging myself in the alabaster snow bank, running my hands down my thighs towards the ground. I felt something in my pocket, I put in my fingers and felt something metal and warm. I pulled it out, it was the razor knife from the night before, and popping the retractable blade I looked at it, watching the reflection of the snow glint off its honed tip in the noonday sun. Taking the knife, and laying it gently in the snow beside me, I stripped off my jacket and my shirt, there bare chested on the side of the highway, on my knees lost in the middle of an icy oblivion I picked up the knife and buried it deeply into the underside of my left forearm. The blood gushed in heaving torrents from the severed arteries in my arm, I took the blade and made an almost identical gash in my right arm. I clumsily dropped the knife into the now crimson snow, my grip all but gone from the damage of the severed tendons. I fell back into the bank. Shivering but not from the external cold. I had a coldness inside me that was infinitely more frigid than mere snow. As I lay here, the blood gushing out of my body, as the white of the snow, slowly becomes red, I wonder, did I ever have a chance? Was this how it was meant to be? I guess I’ll never know, As I lay here staring towards the sky, white flakes falling down around me. I can hear myself screaming, at the top of my lungs, I can feel my vocal cords struggle to maintain the pitch and volume of these maddening screams. All this red snow being covered over inch by inch by the cleansing and masking white flakes that fall around me, maybe this is all a dream, maybe I am still in the top of that tree, in that orchard of long ago, maybe Mom and Jack will find me. Yeah, I can almost hear them coming through the trees, Mom Yelling, “Hush your mouth, or the whole neighborhood will come to see the monkey in the tree.” Yeah, maybe, just maybe, this snow will keep falling, and who knows perhaps Mom, Jack and I will be together for the Holidays once again and maybe just maybe This Christmas will be a white one after all. The End

Tags: Death, Love
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kara says:
20 May, 2012 09:22 PM

Wow what a powerful story.....

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DC Martin says:
21 May, 2012 11:48 PM

Thanks Kara, so glad you enjoyed it.

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Kevin Blaine says:
27 May, 2012 05:47 AM

This was the saddest thing i have ever read in my entire life. I was so sucked in by this story it was insane. I love to write stuff like this and i would want to get advice from you. Please email me at

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Kevin says:
27 May, 2012 06:02 AM

Wow this took me like half and hour to read. It was worth it, it had me drawn in from beginning to end. I love to write stories like this and i would really like some advice. Please email me at

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DC Martin says:
28 May, 2012 04:32 PM

well thanks Kevin, very nice compliments from you. So glad you enjoyed the story.

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Hayley says:
06 Jun, 2012 06:07 AM

Wow this is such a powerful story. I'm in tears right now, it took my almost an hour to read, I couldn't stop reading. Such a great story.

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DC Martin says:
07 Jun, 2012 09:16 AM

Thanks Hayley, please feel free to print it out and share it with your friends. -DC

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