Of What Do You Dream? Chapter Two

With pen and spiral notebook in hand, I set off to try to scribble my first meaningful story.

I spotted a victim sitting on a park bench, took a deep breath and boldly walked toward him.  With no embarrassment or apologies, I sat down right beside him, introduced myself, and asked his name.  He extended a weathered, age-spot covered hand and said, “my name is Henry Nathaniel Bealer, but you can call me Hank.”  I think he was a little startled by my impertinent intrusion at first, but slowly warmed to my presence.

It didn’t occur to me that he could be a serial killer waiting for his next innocent victim, nor did it occur to me that he might just want to be left alone.

Looking at my paper, he asked, “what have you got there?”  I lied when I told him that I was a writer.  He asked, “do you write for the newspaper, or a magazine, or are you hoping to write the great American novel?”

I shrugged and said, “I just write about ordinary people.  You know, it’s so normal for people to pass each other on the street and just walk by, without a hello, or a nod, or even a glance.  If people would just try to get to know people, they might find that they’re interesting.”  I sighed and said, “of course, they might also find out that they’re skunks.”

Hank appreciated my humor, I think and asked what I would like to know.

Most likely showing that I was clueless as far as writing, but hoping to fake my way through, I said “just tell me about yourself.”

Hank leaned back and began talking, almost as if he had forgotten that I was there.

“Well,” he said.  “When I was a youngster, I was nothing but trouble.  I’d steal candy from the local neighborhood store, shoot BBs at birds and squirrels, set the toilet paper on fire in the school bathroom…and my favorite thing to do was break off the antennas on cars.  My poor Mother almost lost her mind, and my Father wore out many a hickory stick on my caboose.”

Smiling, he said, “when I finally got out of school, my Father took me down to the local Army Recruiting Office, and gave me a choice.  ‘Sign up or get out’.  I didn’t want to sign up, because there was a war going on.  I knew that I wouldn’t be drafted because I was the sole surviving son but I also knew that my Father wasn’t going to put up with my foolishness any longer.  I did a bit of whining, telling my Father that I didn’t want to go to some foreign land to get my head blown off, but the look on his face told me that if I didn’t do what he said, he would probably end up blowing my head off himself…so I signed up.”

“Thirty-eight weeks after boot camp, I got to ‘Nam’ and it was the doggonest thing.  They made me a medic.” He lit a cigarette and apologized.  “Something I picked up in ‘Nam,” he said.  “Never could quite kick the habit.”

He stared ahead and said, “anyway, I imagine I saved a few lives over there, but there were so many that I couldn’t save.  Sometimes I wondered if I could have saved more, if I had gotten to them sooner, or if I had done something different, but I’m not sure it would have mattered.  I just watched the life drain out of them.”

He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “you’d probably think that after seeing all those horrible injuries, and all that death, I would want to put that behind me.  Instead, I became fascinated with death.”

“Anyway, I came back in one piece, and decided to go to medical school.  I think it was the only time my Father was proud of me.”  With a twinkle in his aged eye, he said, ” I guess after what I put them through when I was young, they thought I’d most likely end up in prison, ‘doing life without parole’, as the song says.”

He said, “I didn’t go to medical school to cure people, or help people, or save people, nor was I interested in giving closure to families.  I went to medical school to study death.  I became a specialized Forensic Pathologist.  Any fool can see a bullet hole in a brain or a decapitation and determine the cause of death.  It was the sudden, unexplainable deaths that intrigued me.  So that became my forte…finding the unfindable…answering the unanswerable…defeating the unknown.”

“It became an obsession for me.  I never had time for a wife or a family.  It was all about work.  Most nights, I wouldn’t even go home.  I stayed with the bodies.  I guess you could say they were my only acquaintances…not that I cared about them.  I didn’t care about them at all.  They were just bodies.  And someday, that’s all I’ll be.  Just a body laying on a cold steel slab.”

I found those words chilling.

Almost gleefully, he said, “I remember the first time I made the usual ‘Y’ cut into the chest, removed the organs one by one, weighed them, measured them and under a scrutinous eye, looked for any sign that might have caused their death.  It was exhilarating.  Determining their last meal ranged from the mundane to the ridiculous.  One man’s last meal was about two pounds of common dirt.”

“Dirt?” I asked.  “Yes, dirt,” he said.  “There’s a disorder called Pica.  It’s when people eat bizarre things.  Most of the time, it won’t kill you, and eating dirt didn’t kill this particular person.”

“Were you always successful in finding the cause of death?” I asked.

“Most of the time, yes,” he said.  “We’ve all got an expiration date stamped on us the day we’re born.  Sometimes cruel fate steps in and hurries up the process, but sometimes death just happens and there’s no reason, except the old adage, ‘it was just their time’.  Not everyone has the gift of length of years.”

Hank might have been a little strange and maybe even a little scary, but he was by no means “ordinary.”

Although I had only asked a few questions, it was time for the most important one to be asked.

“Hank,” I said.  “Of what do you dream?”

He sat there with his head down, and I could hear the regret in his voice as he said:

“I dream of touching the living.”

 

To be continued____________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of What Do You Dream? Chapter One

I am no one special.  People don’t recognize my name or my face.  I’m just one of many travelers, wandering the Earth in search of some kind of meaning…some way to leave a mark or make a difference…or perhaps, just be remembered.

I’m not extraordinary, but I have known someone who was.  Her name was Lovely Summer Snow.  She was my maternal grandmother, but I called her Granny.

Granny was born in the late 1800’s.  Her parents were Benjamin Walker Snow, a lover of the sun and warm climates, and Edna Morris Summer, a lover of cold weather that nipped at your nose and chilled you to the bone. They were an unlikely pair, but were completely devoted to each other.

When Granny came along, the first words out of the doctor’s mouth were, “isn’t she just lovely?”  At that instant, Edna decided that would be her name.  Lovely.  And she would combine her maiden name with her married name, creating a sort of oxymoron.  “Lovely Summer Snow.”

Occasional, playful teasing about her name didn’t bother Granny and she grew into a fine, confident woman who was fiercely independent, and wise beyond her years.

I remember as a young child, and as a young adult, Granny had a presence about her that put me completely at ease, yet could at times, rendered me almost fearful…the kind of fear you feel when you know you have disappointed someone.

I never knew my grandfather.  He died before I was born, and Granny never re-married.  I don’t think another man could have ever filled his shoes.

In her younger life, Granny had been a teacher, and in her later life, there were lessons still to be taught.  Proper grammar was an absolute for her. She would rather be put to death than hear a sentence end with a preposition, and I believe a dangling participle would have sent her on a murderous rampage.

I learned to never ask, “where are you from?” and if I had ever dared to ask where something was “at,” I fear I would have been torn apart by wild dogs.

I guess you could say that Granny was a bit of a snob when it came to grammar etiquette, but actually, she was a lover of words.  She was a lover of books.  She was a lover of writing, and could string words together like a fine tapestry.

I used to marvel at the sound of her voice as she read the poetry and stories that she wrote.  Her words flowed like a fine wine gently trickling from a crystal carafe.  It was almost majestic.  The characters in her stories were described in such vivid detail, you would almost expect them to jump from the page and say hello.

I always envied her talent.  It almost seemed to come too easily to her. Maybe envied is the wrong word, and if I were being honest, I think the proper word might be resented.  I resented that she didn’t pass her writing talent to me.

I can compose a sentence, but lacking any semblance of imagination, I could never author the magnificent prose that she so easily created…but I will write.

I have no illusions of my writing ever being published or featured in a magazine.  My stories won’t be about scandalous liaisons between an actor’s husband and the nanny, or a high profile public figure who gets caught with a prostitute.  My stories will be about real people.  Ordinary people…like me.

I will talk to them, write about them, and ask the one question I will forever regret having never asked Granny.

“Of what do you dream?”

 

To be continued____________