Charles was a big kid now. Twenty something. Outgrowing successive wheel chairs. Club footed, with God-given neural and cognitive impairments, he was a savant with a clean and bothered soul. Father long gone to Timbuktu. Mother unfit. Now, in these formative years, he’s in the “care” of the godparents. Whom God would never have chosen.
My wife said to me “You go and see Charles. You help him.” I’m on a three hundred mile business trip, and his given address is another hundred from there, but I go. We used to be friends with his mother, until she fell apart and left him to his fate. I’ve not seen him for twelve years. It’s in a sad town, made more sad by a dirty spring. He lives up three flights in a pockmarked apartment building with rusted iron fire escapes in the back.
As I pull up to park, there’s an old man in his undershirt, leaning on the railing of his iron balcony. He takes the last puff of his smoke, and flicks the butt in my direction. With the tilt of his head and the slow point of his finger, he draws my attention to a curious scene in the far corner of the lot: It’s night over there, and a crappy looking house trailer sits leaning to one side. It’s missing a wheel, and chunks of wood and board have been shoved under the axle. A rusty red pickup pulls up in a fast hurry, and an old guy and his grandson get out. They quickly roll up a replacement tire and begin jacking up the trailer. The tire is too big. It’s touching the wheel well, but they bolt it on anyway. Grandpa grabs an axe from his truck and chops away at the plastic around it. And off they go, farting black smoke into the afternoon glow. The wheel breaks off before they get to the first light. Police are waiting.
I walk around to the front entrance. In the terrazzo lobby, there’s a block of mail slots. I find what I’m looking for: “A. Merrick- 313”. The elevator has a piece of paper taped to its door: OUT OF ORDURE. It looks like it’s been there a while, showing fingerprints and the legend “Fix the fucking thing!” I think What the hell, he’s in a wheelchair. How the hell do they get him up and down stairs?
I make it to the door, smelling various culinary delights on the way up. The peephole is missing its peeper, and through the hole I see an iris with a somewhat enlarged pupil. “Who are ya, eh?” says someone in the voice of Marge Simpson. I’m Mack. You don’t know me, but we were friends with Charlie’s mother. Does he still live here? The door opens, and there stands the spitting image of Margaret Atwood in a sweat stained sun dress. “Yah, yer right, I don’t know ya. And it’s Charles to you. Whaddya want?
Just to see him a minute. It’s been a few years. “Hey Charlie! You got a visitor!” “And, by the way”, she says to me, “I am Charlie’s fucking mother now”.
There’s a floral chair in the living room’s corner. In it sits a nicotined man with shiny pants and a fedora. “Day to you” he says. Then I hear a squeaking and a creaking as Charlie wheels himself out of a side room. The boy has become the young man. His eyes still pierce, belying his slow and diffident manner. I know in an instant that he recognizes me, but I can’t make out his expression. I read years of regret in his gaze. Anger and helplessness. On a blanket in his lap, there’s a bowl of soapy water and an antique double edged razor. Chicken pox of toilet paper dot his face. His chair has two different wheels: an original one, and a bicycle tire crudely attached to the other side. They almost match in height. Almost. Then I notice that these bastards have plenty of smokes and some unopened forty ouncers of Johnny Walker black sitting on their mantlepiece.
to be continued…..
next chapter is at https://secret-lifeof.com/2019/02/04/twenty-three-a-dream-of-brokenness-ii/