Lily stood in her dark apartment looking out at the snow in the small backyard between the alley and house glistening in the moonlight. The quiet felt good after nearly constant social interaction all day and late into the night. The impromptu potluck that had started out as a simple way for people to gather for an easy meal had gradually evolved into a full-blown social event. For several hectic hours there’d been a nearly constant flow of food, music, news and talk on the first floor of JJ’s home. Then, thankfully later than the weather advisory report had estimated, snow began falling in earnest and people gradually returned to their homes. The makeshift walkway made of boards, cardboard, plywood and house siding was now being stacked onto the porches in order to keep it from disappearing under the new snow.
Yesterday she’d tired herself out mentally with studying and working ahead on her coursework. Today had been unexpectedly satisfying concerning the never-ending neighborhood assistance work. It had worn her out physically and mentally by the time they’d put JJ’s home back to rights after the potluck. Throughout the evening she and Sarge had met up several times, but only in passing as she moved from one task to another: washing and rewashing plates, checking in with the crews, updating information about current needs, passing out boxes of food, clothing, baby items and children’s toys. While she’d been changing out the food dishes at the potluck she had noticed that he and Anton appeared to be keeping company together in the way of men and wondered what to make of it. Whenever she’d observed him during the course of the evening it seemed he was always in paying attention mode as if he was literally reading the people around him like people did books on tape. She’d been grateful that he hadn’t come pestering her for attention when there had been so much to do.
Only when Sarge finally came through the apartment door, having finished stacking the boards on the porch after refusing to allow her to help him, did she think about turning on a light. He sat down on the red rug to remove his boots as she flipped the light switch. “Hey, leave it off if you want. There’s plenty of light coming in from the windows.”
“You sure you don’t mind?” She hoped he wasn’t just being polite as she did not really did not want to leave on the artificial light which entirely changed the room’s atmosphere and its connection to the world outside the windows.
“I’m sure. It feels good in here after all the people and music. Smells nice too, sort of like the pine trees in the park but way better.”
Lily quickly turned off the lights. “Hey, Little George sent over some pants and a couple of shirts that might fight you close enough for a change of clothes. Loose is better than tight, right? That is if you don’t mind wearing someone else’s clothes.”
Sarge laughed a little while unlacing his boots. “I have five brothers. While growing up there was nothing but someone else’s clothes. From the looks of Little George, my belt should keep things decent. Mine definitely need at least a rinsing out after today. It’s very considerate of Little George to share his threads.” Boots off and on the mat, he remained seated on the rug as he looked up at her. “How are you?”
“Me? Oh I’m okay. It’s been a busy day.”
“And night.” It had not escaped Sarge’s notice that Lily had been perpetually in motion the entire evening. Only briefly had he wondered if she was avoiding him. Observing Esther, JJ and several other women and men also constantly putting forth the same efforts to keep the food tables and the first floor rooms generally in order, passing out cardboard boxes with items to meet specific individual needs, talking with and taking notes from nearly everyone who put in an appearance, he quickly realized she was doing what she normally did on such occasions. He looked past her to the windows where he could see that the snow was falling harder and thicker now. “Has Mother Nature gone loco or what? ”
Lily perched on the couch’s arm. “It would be easier to put up with if there was at least some sunshine. The constant grey sky day in and day out is depressing. Five brothers. That’s a lot of ‘guy’ under one roof. Any sisters?”
Sarge shook his head, rose from the floor and went to the windows. “No sisters. How about you?”
“Just one brother.” Now bitterly regretting having brought up the subject of siblings in an effort to learn something more about him, Lily searched for a way of immediately dropping of it. Just thinking about her brother Peter threatened to push her beyond exhaustion to a crying jag she didn’t want to have. Trying hard to suppress a sudden surge of memories, she struggled to remain in the present. Clenching her hands, she worked on refocusing her mind by watching Sarge leaning against the radiators to look upward at the night sky.
“Ever feel like you’ve been grabbed by aliens and dropped into an alternate universe, Lily?” said Sarge.
“Every goddamned day.” Having spoken aloud without intending to, Lily covered her mouth with both hands to stop herself from saying anything else.
Hearing the anger in her words and the strain in her voice, Sarge turned around. “Hey, Lily. What’s wrong?” Even though he’d never before seen the frantic expression he now saw on her face, Sarge knew it wasn’t a portent of good things to come. When he carefully moved towards her, she shook her head, hands still over her mouth, meanwhile sliding off the couch arm onto the cushions.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that.” Lily said quickly as Sarge sat down near her on the couch. She took a deep breath, held it then slowly exhaled. “I’m okay. Just too much snow. “
“Yeah, too much snow. Do you want me to go get Rosa?” Unsure of himself and what to do, Sarge sat very still watching Lily trying to regain her composure.
“No, don’t do that. Don’t bother Rosa. She doesn’t need anything else to do. It’s just been a very very long day.” Thinking she had herself under control, she pushed her hair behind her ears and tried to smile at him. “Just nerves.”
“Nerves? Am I making you nervous? Uncomfortable? I don’t mean to if I am. I could go over to Anton’s place and crash there if that would help. Just say the word.”
Lily shook her head vigorously. “It’s not you. Really it’s not.” She rubbed her forehead hard while deciding how much she wanted to say. “Actually, now this may sound strange. But I mean it actually it helps with you being here.” She wiped away a sudden tear. “I just need, I need to not think about the snow. Okay? You being here has kept me from thinking about snow too much. This isn’t making any sense to you, is it?”
“Not much. Yet. Keep going. Why shouldn’t you think about the snow?” Sarge glanced out the window at the new falling snow.
“It reminds me of home. Especially now with all of it making everything look like not here, but like there. Like I remember it.” She took another deep breath and let it go. “Remember it is all I can do. I can’t go back . . . can’t go back home because it doesn’t exist anymore. Not the way it was anyway. Here definitely feels like another world. Yeah, it’s exactly like I’ve been grabbed by aliens and dropped in another universe. ”
“I understand that. It’s how I’ve been feeling the last couple of days. But in a good way.”
“I bet. A crazy woman feeds you soup, and after that everything goes topsy turvy.”
“Hey, I ate that soup totally of my own volition.” Sarge hesitated. “Where is, was, home, Lily?”
“Where?” She laughed a little. “Nowhere. It was in the middle of absolutely nowhere; in Alaska, near the Canadian border.”
“Do you mean like in the wilderness? No city? No town?”
She nodded. “No city. No town. Nothing to find on a map. Just some people living together like they had for a very long time.”
Lily stared out the windows. She thought about going through the contents of Sarge’s coat pockets with Esther and why she’d given into doing that. She looked back at the man patiently waiting for her to talk or not. “A Stealth Bomber happened. Didn’t know what it was at the time. Not until quite a long time afterwards. But that’s what it was. Three of them flew overhead. One had a technical malfunction and dropped a bomb. Right there in the middle of absolutely nowhere a bomb falls on a village so tiny no one ever put it on any map. What are the odds of that? Tell me, what are the odds?” She snapped her fingers. “Just like that thirty-three people are gone. With all the rest of nowhere for a bomb to fall on by accident, one fell right there. Is that crazy or what?”
“That’s definitely in the insane not probable odds category.” Sarge decided against asking any of the questions that were quickly coming to mind. Though she’d relaxed considerably while talking, now in the dark room with only the light of the moon reflected off the snow delineating her face, her raw grief was starkly evident. He followed her gaze out the window for a moment as he considered his next move. Deciding being practical offered the best route of action, he stood up and moved to block her view of the windows. Offering her both his hands he spoke to her in the tone he used with his brothers’ children. “Come on. It’s way past your bedtime, Missy. There’s a down quilt with your name on it waiting.” When she tentatively put one hand and then the other in his, Sarge gently pulled her to her feet. “That’s it. Up we go. Since you’ve been such a good girl today, I’ll tell you a bedtime story.”
“Oh really? Do I get to pick which one?” Lily let go of his hands as they turned together towards the bedroom.
“Sure. Which one would you like to hear? The Three Pigs? Red Riding Hood? Peter Pan?” When he uttered the last, Lily gasped, then, as her knees buckled, grabbed hold of his shirt to keep from falling to the floor. Sarge reacted by catching her around her waist with one arm. Feeling her struggle to regain her feet and fail to do so, he adjusted his stance, slipped his other arm under her legs and lifted her up.”Okay, well so much for that.idea. You have definitely played way too hard today, little Missy.”
One hand clutching the back of his shirt, Lily pushed lightly against his chest. “I’m okay. You can put me down. Just need some sleep.”
Instead of putting her back on her feet, Sarge decided to carry her into the bedroom. “First you need to reach the bed then comes the sleeping. Here we go. Okay, toss or drop? Which do you prefer?”
“Huh? I have no idea what you mean. Just put me down already.”
“’Just down’ sounds like a drop to me” With that, Sarge leaned a little over the bed and let her fall out of his arms onto it. Feeling along the wall in the dark until he found the switch he turned on the small wall light. She stared up at him.
Lily whispered, “Sarge, Peter will never grow up.”
He nodded. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s the point of Never Never Land. Some people never grow up, no matter what their age.”
Lying in the middle of the bed where he had dropped her, Lily shook her head slowly from side to side. “Not them. I mean, my brother, Peter.”
Sarge carefully sat down on the bed next to her. “Oh the shit that comes out of my mouth at the wrong times. What are the odds, Lily? What are the odds?”
“Oh I’m too damn tired to work that problem in my head right now. Can I get back to you with the answer in the morning?”
“Better yet, how about drawing me a map?”
“A map of what?”
Sarge tapped lightly on her forehead. “Of all the minefields in there so I stop making things go Boom boom!”
Lilly laughed softly. “You’re funny, Sarge.”
“If you say so, I must be.” He watched her try to keep her eyes open then give up and fall deep into a hard sleep.
Breakfast Special, #17, Never Hook a Gift Fish In the Gills https://47whitebuffalo.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/breakfast-special-17-never-hook-a-gift-fish-in-the-gills/