Super Sensitive To Sound

This story was posted 9-14-19 by Simon Webster at Cabinet of Heed. It’s a cool site. Check out this link to see my story and those of others. I’ve also posted it below.

Super Sensitive To Sound

“Alan, help me,” Jeremy panicked, pleading with his eyes, beseeching. “I’m scared.”

I reached for my lover and held him before turning to Janet our hospice caregiver, “Could you please give us a moment.”

She, like me, knew the end was near. She nodded and quietly left the room, the bedroom Jeremy and I had shared for over thirty years. Even though he couldn’t hear me, I whispered in his ear, “I’ve got you, my love. You’re not alone.”

He squeezed me tightly, kissed my cheek and then closed his eyes, body relaxing. I could barely feel his faint heart beat, but it was there. He was still with me.

Jeremy used to be, in his words, “Super sensitive to sound.” When I first met him, he was wearing headphones and my immediate thought was that he was just some weirdo living in his own world, listening to baroque music or something. I was wrong.

“Here’s your package,” I said, handing him the large envelope, ready to run off to my next delivery. He removed the headphones and said, “What?”

I repeated myself, starting to get irritated. The courier service paid me to make deliveries, not waste my time trying to explain the obvious. “Your package?” I stated.

“Oh, yes, thank you. Thank you very much,” he said, politely. “I really appreciate it.” He smiled at me with bright white teeth. He had a thin build, close cropped beard and hair, piercing blue eyes. Physically, I was attracted to him right away. “I’ve been waiting for this.”

I was suddenly curious. “What is it?” It felt like a manuscript of some sort.

“It’s a rough draft of a novel.” He smiled shyly. “I’m an editor.”

I was intrigued. I loved books and reading. I was still in college, working on my PhD in literature and writing my thesis. We got to talking (courier quota be damned) and immediately hit it off. Six months later I moved in and we’ve been together ever since, nearly thirty years.

Now this.

I must have held him for an hour. Janet stopped in often to check on us. “Just stay with him, Alan. He needs you.” She didn’t have to ask twice.

The room was peaceful and quiet, far different from the world Jeremy was accustomed to living in. He heard everything exponentially; noises I took for granted drove him up the wall. He heard the refrigerator running at night even though it was in the kitchen and we were in bed upstairs. He heard normal sounds like traffic in the street or an airplane flying overhead ten times louder than normal people, and the noise gave him headaches. Bad ones. Nowadays he might have been called autistic. I don’t know about that, but I’ve always felt he was unique and quirky and I loved him all the more for it.

He wore the headphones to dampen noise and they worked well, but a few years ago we went on a picnic in the park near our home and I convinced him to take them off. “Just try it, Jeremy,” I said, “Give yourself a break. Listen to the world the way it really is.”

He cautiously removed them and listened. Birds were singing and children playing on a swing set were laughing. A boisterous pickup game of basketball was going on nearby. Even though I knew the noise was painful for him, I could tell he was entranced, mesmerized. After a few moments he grinned and spread his arms wide. “It all sounds beautiful.”

He started wearing his headphone less and less after that. Even though he still got headaches, he was determined to live life to the fullest. “To listen to the sounds of life,” was how he put it. By the time the tumor had riddled his brain he’d ditched them completely and was learning to live with his painful headaches. He never complained. He was incredibly brave. Now the tumor had robbed him of the ability to hear anything. The irony was almost too much to bear.

I felt him stir in my arms. I sat up and looked. His eyes were open so I massaged his shoulders, “How are you doing?”

He smiled. Now completely deaf, I could tell he was reading my lips. “I can’t hear you, but I’m doing all right. Hold me some more.”

I did.

Maybe we both drifted, lost in old memories, but suddenly he was gripping me tight. “Alan. Alan!” he called out. He had tears in his eyes.

I held on. Tight. “I love you,” I told him.

“What?” he asked, holding me close.

I yelled in his ear, “I. Love. You.”

“I love you, too,” he whispered.

We embraced with all the passion of our lifelong love for each other. In a little while his breathing slowed and his heart beat faded. Then, with one final exhale, he passed on.

When I felt him slip away I screamed, “No!” Then, again, “No!”

Thankfully, Janet gave me a few minutes before she came in and together we took care of what needed to be taken care of.

An hour later she left me alone one last time and I sat on the bed with Jeremy. Outside, in spite of my sorrow, I could hear the laughter of children playing and the melodic songs of birds singing, sounds in the last few years Jeremy had been listen to and learning appreciate for their own beauty.

Those sounds suddenly gave me an idea, one last joy we could share together. I went to the window, opened it wide and let the noisy world drift in, filling the room to overflowing. I went to the bed, sat down and took Jeremy’s hand, leaned in close and whispered, “How about if we listen to those sounds of life one more time? Just like we used to?”

And together we did. They sounded beautiful.

 

Advertisements

The Parachute Jump

This story was posted on Potato Soup Journal on 9-14-19. I posted a link to it at the end the story.

The Parachute Jump

To this day my brother Will still shakes his head and says that he can’t believe my friend Davey and I threw him off a cliff. “My god, Ronnie, what the hell were you thinking?” Or something to that effect is what he generally says whenever the occasion comes up. Which is a lot, believe me, because it’s a pretty good story.

We’d been playing in the backyard of a home that was being built across the street, and the landscapers had dumped all the extra dirt and sand over the edge off a precipice that dropped down to Nine Mile Creek fifty feet below. Telling him how much fun it’d be, Davey and talked five year old Willy into letting us lift him by the hands and feet and swing him out over the edge. It was easy to do, after all, because he was six years younger than us, not to mention that he weighed only about thirty pounds, so light I’m surprised he didn’t float away.

Well, he certainly didn’t float. He dropped like a sack of cement after I counted out, “One. Two. Three,” and then said to Davey, “Let him go.” And we did.

I still can’t believe I did that to my brother. Neither can Will, although He’s always been a good sport about it. Even that day, after I’d jumped over the edge and slid down the embankment to make sure he was okay, he said, “Wow. I felt like I was flying.” He wasn’t joking. Or even mad. Or hurt, thank god.

But I’d learned my lesson. I was his older brother and he trusted me. A year or two after the cliff incident our parents got divorced and life for us became complicated. Will and I learned to depend on each other to survive, and we continued to stay close even after he moved to Arizona when he was twenty while I stayed in Minnesota.

So when he called from his home in Lake Havasu City and said he had a favor, I was more than willing to accommodate him. “Sure. What’s up?” I asked.

“Well, you know my fortieth birthday is coming up, right?”

“Yep. Next month on the thirteenth. Why?”

“I want to celebrate it in a special way.”

“Cool. What do you have in mind?”

“Well, you know I’ve been taking sky diving lessons.”

“Yeah…?” Hmm, I felt a clutch in my gut. Where was this going?

“I’ve just passed my test so that I can do tandem jumping. I want to do my first jump without an instructor to be special. I want to do it with you. On my fortieth birthday.” There was silence on the line. Then, “Ronnie? You there?”

I’d dropped the phone. Over the years I had developed a nasty fear of heights. I’d kept it to myself so Will had no idea, but the thought of jumping out of an airplane made me nearly sick to my stomach. Add to that, skydiving while being strapped to my brother, well, let me tell you, that’s recipe for disaster. I could barely climb up to the roof of my one story home without getting nauseous. My hands began sweating and my heart started pounding, adrenaline racing through my veins. Jump out of a plane? I couldn’t do it. Not on my life, or anybody else’s life for that matter.

But then I thought, wait a minute. That was a BS way of looking at things. He was my brother, after all. Maybe I owed him something for throwing him off that cliff so many years ago.

“Yeah, I’m here,” I told him, trying (probably unsuccessfully) to keep the resignation in my voice to a minimum, “Parachute together you say?” I heard the words come out of my mouth, quivering with fear, croaking like a frog with laryngitis.

“Yep,” Will said, his excitement palpable. “It’ll be fun.”

Fun? No way, but, like I said, maybe I owed him. “Okay,” I told him, trying to catch my breath, calm my rapidly beating heart and keep the rising bile at bay, “I’ll be there.”

So I flew the redeye to Arizona that next month and on the day of Will’s fortieth birthday we went up in a single engine Cessna out of Havasu Airfield near the Colorado River, about ten miles from his home in the foothills above Lake Havasu City. Will was a jet ski racer. He was also a successful businessman who owned and operated Havasu High Speed Sports, a small company that specialized in modifying jet skis for competitive racing. Sky diving was one of many of what I’d call his extreme hobbies, mixed in with mountain climbing, white water kayaking and running triathlons. Jumping out of a plane was kid’s stuff to him.

“You’ll love it,” he told me during takeoff. “It’ll be a piece of cake.”

A piece of cake? That I didn’t know about, but I did know one thing, it’d be something. Turns out I was right. It was something, and it was way more enjoyable than a piece of cake. In three words – I loved it. We went out at thirteen thousand feet and free fell for about one minute. I thought I was going to die. I’ll be honest. I kept my eyes closed the whole time and tried to concentrate on not throwing up into my safety helmet (successfully, I might add.)

But after the chute opened, man, I’ll tell you, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before in my entire life. First off, I opened my eyes. That helped. I could see for miles and miles in every direction. We had radio communication through our helmets and Will talked to me the entire time. I don’t remember much of what he said, all I know is that the experience of floating through the air in a harness strapped to Will’s chest was unbelievably amazing. I actually felt like I was a bird. Or dreaming. I was neither and I was glad because it was real, and it was incredible.

At one point I wondered if maybe Will was paying me back for that day so long ago when me and Davey threw him off that cliff. If he was, that was just fine with me. I know I deserved it. Besides, who cared, anyway? The entire jump was thrilling.

We drifted though the sky for maybe fifteen minutes before landing. Once on the ground we got out of the harness and were gathering up the parachute when Will turned to me, grinning like there was no tomorrow. “What’d you think, big brother? Pretty awesome, right?”

I didn’t have to think. I grabbed him in a bear hug, a hug that was more than for just that moment, but also for that day on the cliff so long ago and for all the years since, and for how much he meant to me.

“It was fantastic,” I said, literally fighting back tears. “Unforgettable.”

“I glad you feel that way,” he said, smiling, hugging me back. “Maybe we could do it again. If you’re up for it that is. Believe me, it’s way better than getting thrown off a cliff.”

Yeah, I’ll bet.

I didn’t have to think. “You’re on,” I told him. “I’d jump again with you, again. Anytime.”

“Good,” he said, checking his watch. “I’ve booked us for another jump at noon.”

“Great,” I managed say. I hardly felt queasy at all.

 

The Parachute Jump by James Bates

First Step

My new story was just posted on CafeLit. The link below takes you right to it. I also posted the story below it. I hope you enjoy it!

https://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.com/2019/09/first-step.html

First Step

A black hole, that’s what it felt like. Depression sucking the life right out of him. He hated it, tried to fight it, but lost the battle that morning and ended up lying in bed unable to move, feeling sorry for himself and missing them both.

An hour or so later the phone rang and he forced himself to pick up. It was his son.

“Dad, it’s been a while. I miss not talking to you. Can I take you for coffee?”

Yes or no? Decision time. Leave the comfort of his bed, or be a father to his boy? Drown in his own sorrow, or set a good example for his son. In the end it was Jake’s voice that did it, just the jolt he needed. “Please?”

“Yes, I’d like that,” he said, clearing his throat and forcing himself to sit up. “I’ll see you…when?”

“I’ll pick you up in an hour. I’ll drive.”

“That’ll be good, Jake. See you then.”

He hung up and took a long moment to collect himself before thinking, I’ve got to get dressed. He looked at the door leading from his bedroom. It seemed like a long way, a long dark tunnel.

He swung his feet from the bed to the floor and got ready to stand. One step at a time, he told himself, one step at a time to climb out of the depression he’d been mired in for the last six weeks, ever since his wife and daughter had been killed in that car accident.

He struggled to his feet, stood shakily and steadied himself. He might be depressed, but at least he could walk. He lifted his foot, put it down and stepped tentatively forward. Then he did it again. He wanted to take a shower and get into some clean clothes and be ready for when his son arrived. It felt good to have something to look forward to. He took another step. He had a long way to go, but at least it was a start.

To Jump Off A Cliff

On July 30 of this year my 100 word story, To Jump Off A Cliff, was posted on The Drabble. They did a nice job with it. Copy and paste the link into your browser to see it:

https:/thedrabble.wordpress.com/2019/07/30/to-jump-off-a-cliff/

“Jump off a cliff?” My wife was incredulous. “Thirty feet into a river? Are you nuts?” “No, I’m brave,” I tried to reason with her. “No, you’re an idiot,” she countered. “It’s just a bunch of macho BS.” Back and forth we argued, neither of us giving in. But she was adamant. And she was definitely right, I conceded, on the day I jumped, as I fell through the air, and the water rose up to meet me to slap me hard, so I wouldn’t forget.

Brotherly Love

My story, Brotherly Love, was posted at The Literary Yard today. I thought they did a great job presenting it. You can check it out by clicking on this link. Enjoy!

Please check the link:

 

Brotherly Love

We were walking home at sunset from the neighborhood rink, skates swings from the blades of our hockey sticks. Little Eddie was eight years old, younger than me by three years and smaller by a head and a half. He was revved up after the game since it was the first time he’d gotten to play with ‘The Big Kids,’ as he called us, so he was excited and talking a mile a minute while I ignored him, thinking about Christmas coming up in two days and wondering if our parents would call.

The temperature was near zero and we were getting cold, so I did something I never should have done. I had us take a short cut across the big pond that formed one edge of the boundary to the trailer park where our grandparent’s double wide was parked. The ice had recently formed, but I figured it’d save us ten minutes, so why not take a chance, being as cold as we were.

Cold but thirsty. We were eating handfuls of snow as we shuffled along, and I was watching a dozen or so crows flocking to roost in dead tree on the shoreline a hundred yards away, when suddenly the ice made a sickening sound and started to crack. I immediately thought of Eddie. If we broke through he’d be toast. He wasn’t the strongest swimmer in the world.

I put my hand out, “Stop.” I commanded, and for once my brother obeyed me. I was about to say, “Don’t move,” when suddenly the ice gave way and we plunged into the frigid water, sticks and skates flying. Eddie held onto me while I grabbed for the edge, but the ice kept breaking away until I lost my hold and slipped off, pulled under by the combined weight of our waterlogged clothes. We sank down, down, Little Eddie clinging to me in terror, bubbles streaming from his mouth. I thought for sure we were done for when miraculously my feet hit the mucky bottom.

The water was so muddy all I could see was opaque light from the hole above, but I figured we had a chance. I held Little Eddie tight, squatted down and then extended my legs fast like two pistons, shooting us upward. We broke through the surface, coughing and gasping. I tried to tread water, but my boots were so heavy I soon became exhausted. Worse, I started to lose my grip on Little Eddie, so I tightened my hold on him and slung my other arm over the edge of the hole, but the ice broke and we started to sink again. Panicking, I kicked my legs as hard as I could to stay afloat, breaking through more ice before I finally found some solid enough to support us. I hung on for dear life completely spent with no idea what to do next.

It was then I heard Little Eddie whimpering. He had turned his cold, wet face into my neck for warmth or comfort or both. He was even more terrified than I was. His raw fear jump started my will to save him. With a sudden surge of energy I didn’t know I had, I kicked and pushed and shoved with all my remaining strength until I was able to lever my nearly frozen brother up out of the water and clear of the hole. He lay panting and coughing while I hung onto the edge, fighting a losing battle with the unrelenting cold.

Slowly, Little Eddie began to revive until he was able to roll over and look at me, ice crystals forming on his wet clothes. “Rick, are you all right?”

“I’m freezing to death,” I told him, my teeth chattering. “You need to get help.”

“Won’t we get into trouble?”

These days, when we talk about that night, my brother’s statement always makes us laugh. Back then, though, our situation was too dire to be even remotely funny. I swore, “God damn it, Eddie, run and get help. Now. Fast.”

He scrambled to his feet, and even though his clothes were beginning to freeze solid like icy boards, he ran like I’d never seen him run before.

I’ll never forget waiting for him. Night had fallen completely and the temperature had become dangerously cold. My body had lost all feeling. My waterlogged boots and clothes threatened to drag me back under water at any moment. I passed into and out of consciousness as hypothermia took over. I wondered if I’d ever see my little brother again. With our parents both in prison for years to come, he was the closest family I had. Grandpa and Grandma did their best, but it wasn’t the same without Mom and Dad. Little Eddie…Well, he was my brother. We were family. We needed each other.

I finally passed out for good. I was slowly freezing to death when I thought I heard a voice. Was it my imagination? Probably. Then, I heard it again. What was going on? I forced my frozen eyelids open and saw Little Eddie. He’d returned with a neighbor who had called the police. But my little brother hadn’t waited safely off to the side like a prudent person would have done. Courageously, he had edged back onto the ice and laid himself out prone, extending his hand to me, “Here, Rick. Grab on.” Through the fog of my near unconsciousness, I followed his instruction. I reached for my brother and felt him grasp my hand.” I’ve got you,” he said. “Hold on.” And I did.

Behind him the neighbor was yelling at him to get away from the hole, but my brother ignored him. I couldn’t move or respond, but it didn’t matter. Little Eddie held my hand, whispered words of encouragement and stayed with me until help arrived. That’s what counted. Me and him, brothers to the end, safe and together. It was the best Christmas present I ever received.

 

 

Sketching Snowflakes

Even though this story was posted here in January of this year, Potato Soup Journal did a nice job posting it on their site. You can check it our here:

Sketching Snowflakes by James Bates

Sketching Snowflakes

Back then, back when he was just a gangly kid and before he became an artist, I felt I had a job to do – teach my son to be better at sports than I ever was. I’d been a second string jock during high school so on the day Joey was born I vowed to teach him how to play football, baseball, basketball and hockey better than I’d ever been able to. My underlying thought was that maybe one day he’d become a superior athlete, someone I could be not only proud of, but could also brag about to anyone who would listen. You can imagine my horror (or maybe not, but let me tell you, it was real) when Joey, try as he might, proved to be even less athletically gifted than his old man.

He was nine years old when, after pre-season hockey tryouts, the awful truth finally reared its ugly head. Joey dejectedly skated over to where I’d been watching from behind the boards and said, “Dad, I’m sorry, I really am. I’m trying, but those other guys are just way better than me.”

One look at the fluid motions of the other kids on the rink, skating comfortably backward better than Joey could ever skate forward, and I had to finally admit it – my son was not now, nor would he ever be, a hockey player. Which was his best sport. Football, baseball and basketball? Forget about it. The reality of the situation was painfully apparent. Joey would never be the star athlete I once imagined he’d be.

I swallowed my disappointment and put my arm around his thin shoulders, hugging him a little. “That’s okay, son. Really. Let’s head home,” I told him, trying to man up, along with beginning to adjust my game plan for him. Now that sports were out of the picture what could I get him interested in? Chess, maybe? Cribbage? Orienteering? I drew a blank. None of them sounded too exciting.

I went into the locker room with him while he changed out of his gear. When we sat on the bench, he unzipped his equipment bag and I saw a notebook.

I pointed, “What’s that?”

“Oh, nothing,” he shrugged. “It’s just my sketchbook from art class.”

“Art class? You’re kidding.” I hadn’t a clue. Having trouble drawing a stick figures, myself, I’d never once imagined he’d enjoy anything like painting or whatever.

He grinned, “Yeah, Dad, for my drawings. Here, let me show you.” He opened it. “Lately, I’ve been sketching snowflakes and winter scenes. I’m thinking about maybe using them for cards for the holidays. Tell me what you think.”

He lay the sketchbook on my knees and went about getting changed. I paged through his drawings, each one more impressive than the previous. He’d used what looked to be a pen and ink to create intricate snowflakes all with six pointed tips. Each one was unique and amazingly detailed. The snowflake sketches were followed by a series of charcoal drawings of winter scenes, mostly landscapes in the country, some with farmhouses, some with people, some with animals. One even had a horse drawn sleigh. He’d used colored pencils to make the scenes come alive with subtle tones of greens and browns and reds and blues. To my way of thinking they were utterly charming and made me think of those Currier and Ives calendars.

I turned to him, “Joey, these are amazing. How long have you been drawing like this?”

He laughed, “Ever since I can remember, Dad. Since I was a little kid.” Then he was quiet for a moment before adding, “Mom kind of got me started.”

Oh. Gail. My wife and Joey’s mother. She’d passed away four years earlier when he was only five. In many ways we were still coping.

I looked at him seriously. “These really are wonderful, son,” I told him.

“Thanks, Dad,” he said as we stood up to leave.

He grabbed his heavy hockey bag, hoisted it over his shoulder, tilting to the right a little under its weight, and started for the door. I held his sketchbook in my hands, aware that I was holding something special, something that really was what my son was all about, not just some sad, preconceived sports fantasy of his father’s. I suddenly had an idea. “Hold on a minute.” He stopped and I took the bag from him. (It really was pretty heavy.) “How about if on the way home we stop at Blick’s Art Supply and check out what they’ve got, maybe get you some supplies. What do you think about that?”

Joey picked up his hockey stick and looked at me questioningly. He knew how much I loved sports. “You sure, Dad?”

“Yeah,” I said, biting a metaphorical bullet, “Looks like we’ve got an artist in the family.”

Joey grinned as we walked to the car. His step seemed lighter, somehow, like a weight had been lifted, and I don’t just mean the equipment bag. It was good to see him so happy.

Next to the art store was a sporting goods exchange. We parked and while Joey went inside and looked around for art supplies, I went next door to see if I could sell his hockey equipment, which I did. Then I hurried next door to met him. But before I went inside I stopped a minute, looked through the window and watched as he perused the aisles, happily caressing the paints and brushes and sketchpads and canvases. He seemed in another world, one that he felt comfortable in. Natural.

I headed for the front door. Once inside, I’d get him to show me what all the art supplies were used for. Maybe I’d buy him an easel or something to get him set up properly for his art work. He was a good kid. I guess I had a lot to learn. It was time I started paying better attention.

Swing Dancing

Swing dancing night at the Long Lake Retirement Home. “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing,” sang the singer. Jerry could dig it as he sat off to the side in the community room, watching. ¬†One of the orderlies had a boom box set up on a card table and was playing dance music from the thirty’s and forty’s. It was the best. In his memory Jerry could picture a long ago nightclub filled with sweaty bodies dancing up a storm, cigarette smoke swirling and the band wailing to the big beat of the drums and the thumping rhythm of the standup bass. He tried to contain himself but he couldn’t.

When the next song started he turned to his wife. “Let’s go cut the rug, Alice,” he said, standing up and reaching for her. “Let’s get on that dance floor and show them how it’s done.”

He grinned as she took his hand and stood with him, smiling. How wonderful she looked tonight, she in her blue and white checked poodle dress, looking like she was born for this, jitterbugging and jiving with him. Swing dancing. What a lucky man he was. He smiled, thinking this must be what heaven was like.

With Alice by his side, Jerry hurried out to the floor ready to dance like there was no tomorrow, ignoring the fact that it’d been fifteen years since Alice had been with him. Fifteen years, since she’d passed away from a valiant battle with ¬†cancer. But tonight that was all forgotten.

The crowd watched awestruck as Jerry pivoted onto the floor and began jiving to “In The Mood,” by Glenn Miller, dancing up a storm, a smile as wide as the key board of a piano, as energetic as the wailing of a saxophone. They watched him there on the floor, lost in his memory of those long ago days, swing dancing across the floor with Alice, the love of his life, together again the way it should be, never wanting the music to end.

This story was posted on CafeLit, 8-11-19. You can view it here: https://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.com/2019/08/swing-dancing.html?spref=fb&fbclid=IwAR2O30py5TkDljUOUz-yqiUQcMpDbEP53NUZuxtU9cSoxRQl1WlgbLkHCCQ