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Location: marengo, il, United States

Monday, February 21, 2005

Rescue Me

The telephone rang mid-afternoon. Outside, strong gusts of wind blew, causing the bare limbs of a willow in the front yard to whip and sway southward. Alone in the house, I picked up before the second ring. A chill coming from the north cast shades of light and dark along the inner wall of our living room, and a cold voice on the line spoke,

“This is Billy’s Tavern. Anyone there know Otho?”

I laid my magazine among the clutter on top of the television cabinet.

“Otho is my uncle.”

Subtle shadows of winter danced about the room, marking the beat of tinny music coming from the receiver while the gruff tone of voice continued.

“Can you come down here and get him?”

Mother had gone shopping. Both girls were off somewhere, and since dad had his door shut for a nap, I took his car and drove downtown to the far end of Broadway.

Trash blew in swirls along the curbed brick street. Faded storefronts lined both sides of the north end, indifferent to the bright sun, staring blankly at one another as I cruised by. Most sat closed, emptied of trade during weekends. A small neon sign arched across a single plate glass window of the one and only lively spot.

From where I parked at the curb, I could sense the smell of apathy. The wind sang an unfeeling song as I pushed my door hard against it, and I got out as if to challenge some nameless enemy. Leaning into his assault and crossing the sidewalk, with the black stain of a doorway in sight, I could taste bitterness and the frustrations that waited inside. It rode out on the wavering strains of a jukebox to greet me as a hardhearted friend, uncaring and callous and as cold as the day.

The click of a cue ball sounded above the loud music as I stepped inside the place. In dim shadows near a back wall, shapes sat huddled at scattered tables. A glow of half-lit glasses shined above a dark wood bar to my right. Behind it, an unworried man busied himself as I approached. On the floor in front of the bar, curled around the base of a barstool, lay the lonely form of Otho, quieted and resting for a change.

No one cared as I shook him. I felt the unconcern of the whole room as I roused this broken man, while unemotional life continued to flow around the two of us. A man three stools down looked straight as he tilted back his head to take a drink.

Otho mumbled something when I shook his shoulder.

No one said hello. No one said goodbye as he and I staggered across the floor. No one offered a hand when I almost lost him, bending under his weight. The wind didn’t mind that he stumbled, nor did the brilliant sun outside. The cold red bricks of Broadway turned from us unsympathetically as I heaved him into the back seat of dad’s car, and the trash blowing down the avenue had not a care, but his own frail mother, living out her final years in the little trailer behind our house did.

I managed to take him there, somehow, but I don’t recall the last fifty feet of our journey together.

13 Comments:

Blogger Gone Away said...

Really wonderful piece, Harry. The atmosphere and description are perfect, just right for this memory. And, of course, now you've told us a bit more about Otho, we hunger for more...

9:06 AM  
Blogger Harvey Young said...

This is one of those stories where the vivid description paints pictures that make us see the scene and feel the atmosphere. "Otho" was one of my uncles and so the memories are made even more clear by your description.

Great story, and wonderfully told.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Jay said...

You really know how to paint the sadness into a picture.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Ned said...

This is beautiful, every detail, every nuance so finely brushed in, so deftly added, layer upon layer until all our senses are engaged in the scene. This is one of your most moving vignettes.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Gone Away said...

I'm sorry, but I have to comment again. Everything that people have said so far is true, Harry. This really is a beautiful piece, a jewel in your crown.

You said to me that people would think Otho mean. Not a bit of it. You wring our hearts with this Otho, you give no excuses, you say nothing of circumstances, but you wring our hearts.

Damn, you're good, Harry.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

My humble thanks to you all. Otho has a few more things to say, hopefully. Harvey, where did such a name ever come from, and isn’t it just a delicious sound? Jay, I could describe this one as a wet-on-wet watercolor, but I hate confessing these things. And now Ned has me wishing I’d titled it Fugue in Tones of Blue and Gray, the artist she being. Actually, Gone, I was a bit worried about me sounding mean, but managed that okay this time.

10:06 PM  
Blogger bumpy_beth said...

you truly have a God given gift.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Jeni said...

Hello Harry, I found your blog a while ago so I was particularly pleased to see the comment you left. Thank you. I'll be back!

10:33 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

Coming from one such as you, Jeni, I am most honored by that. May I pass along your site to a select few?

11:56 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

He's good like that, Beth.

12:34 AM  
Blogger Hannah said...

This one actually made me cry. The smell of apathy was so damned descriptive. Thank you, Harry.

2:03 PM  
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