Let me preface this by letting you know I was never good in school. I know that probably comes as no surprise to you. I dreaded going and my grade’s were a good reflection of that. I’m one of those guys that have a hard time sitting still. You can add failure to listen to instructions on that list as well.
I have always wanted to be a writer. ( READ APRIL 6 BLOG) No really go read it now then I will continue………………………………
OK read it? Then I can skip ahead here. As the classes went on at UCLA I was set back by two revelation’s. First I noticed that I was actually learning something. Mind blowing huh? The teacher was explaining certain way’s to approach writing and it actually made sense. We read a book called “Bird by Bird” which also provided me with a few usefull tools. Now for something really odd. I not only showed up for every class early but I did the homework. I even found myself giving a shit about what the teachers and class member’s thought about some of the stories I had written. Whoa this is new I was actually for this brief moment in my life a good student. Ya I know it’s crazy.
The final assignment was issued and we were told to write a story that included conversation’s between two people. It also must be under 8 pages. It was the under 8 pages part that proved to be the challenge. I decided I would write a story that would not be about rock n roll,excessive lifestyle’s,biker’s,zombies or girls gone bad. I wanted to write a story that the class would read and never guess it was by the greasy haired dirtbag in the corner.
Using the tools I had absorbed in class I started banging away on the Mac keyboard. I even spent a little extra time on spelling and grammar, which if you have read anything by me you know is about as important to me as a snow shovel.
Several hours later I had written what I thought was a pretty good story. The only issue I saw was that it was not the required 8 pages but 16. First thing I did and this was not taught in my class was make the borders wider. I was down to 15 pages. I know it was meant to be double spaced but 1.5 will go unnoticed. I was down to 14 and had to take this story that I was very proud of it and begin to perform surgery. I removed character’s and scene’s. To me it felt like I had Rocky Road and turned in Vanilla. I now give you my final story for my first ever College course
“What’s your final decision Mr. Davenport ?”
The old man paused. He didn’t like Ken, but he was the only available salesman on the car lot .Slicker than grease he thought. He didn’t want to part with his faithful truck but he needed the money.
“Is there a way you could go up to $750?” The old man gave one final plea.
“Look, Mr. D.” Ken put his hand on the old man’s shoulder the way a parent would when speaking to a young child. Earl Davenport was not a young child. Earl was 67 years old yet his sickness made him seem much older. He wore an old pair of blue Dickie overalls, faded and spotted with yellow paint drips. The white T-shirt Earl wore was stained on the collar from the sweat of many years spent in the humid afternoons in Wylie Alabama. Earl felt the muscles in his heart tighten up .His gaze drifted downwards. He put his thin wrinkled hands into his pocket trying to ignore the oncoming pain.
“Look Mr. D I can do $650 cash right now I wish I could do more.
“$650 will be fine” Earl said admitting defeat “But I will need a ride to the Safeway and then home” Earl made the requests sound like demands as if it were part of the deal.
Chris Watson was 19 years old and had worked at Wylie Chevrolet for 2 years . If boxes needed to be moved it was Chris’s job to move them. Clean out the restroom at the dealership Chris was on it. Chris also drove the shuttle when a customer would drop their vehicle off.
“Good afternoon Mr. Davenport. Where ya heading?”
Earl cautiously lifted himself into the passenger side of the shuttle van. He had just sold his only source of transportation, which meant he had lost a portion of his freedom. His heart had felt like it was on fire yet he found a way to smile at the boy 3 generations younger than him.
“I’m sure Ken Burman told you I have to make one stop to the Safeway.”
“Safeway it is Mr. Dav.”
“Please sonny call, me Earl,” he interrupted with a slight grin and a wink.
The Safeway in Wylie was the only supermarket in town. Chris followed Earl down the aisle pushing the cart. Earl squinted as he looked for the most inexpensive soap, detergent, T.V. dinners, canned soup and milk.
“My father told me you were a great High School Football Coach. One of the best.”
Earl smiled and turned his attention to Chris. “Your father was Ron Watson,one heck of a linebacker. You know even back in high school he was quite smitten with your mother.” Earl paused as he approached the frozen meat section. He reached for a shiny black packet of hot dogs that had the inscription Elite Gold Pure Beef Hot Dogs. It seemed out of place in Earl’s shopping cart with all the discounted generic brands.
“I’ve really got to get a moving. Red isn’t used to me being away so long.”
Chris seemed puzzled. Red had not been brought up in the past and he wasn’t sure he ever knew anyone in Wylie named Red.
As the two approached the check out line, Earl put both of his hands in his pockets. He pulled out a small stack of fresh dollar bills and handed them to Chris. Earl continued to forage through his pockets. A crumpled ball of paper was pulled from the back pocket of the faded jeans and Earl started to slowly open the wad up as if he were breaking apart an orange. Earl placed both the wrinkled pieces against his pant leg and rubbed his open hand against the paper in an attempt to flatten it out. Chris began placing items from the cart on the belt. He saw the crumpled pieces of paper Earl was working and noticed the bold red letters on both sheets. FINAL NOTICE.
Melanie the 40ish cashier at Safeway did her best to keep a Colgate smile attempting to ignore the urgent message on the much over due power and water bill.
“ How are you Mr Davenport ? I haven’t seen you for around”
“How are ya Melanie ? Can I get a $212 money order and one for….”
Earl’s face tightened as he tried to read the small print that had faded on the bill after being in his pocket for weeks. “Uhhh 87 dollars.”
Melanie began to process Earl’s money orders and continued to ring up his groceries. “That will be two hundred and ninety nine dollars for the money orders and, with the groceries, we have a total of three hundred fifty six,sixty six”
Earl motioned for Chris to give him the cash he was holding and Earl counted out 4 crisp one hundred dollar bills which he handed to Melanie. While waiting for his change, a bolt of pain raced through Earls body. He felt the vice tighten on his heart. Earl inhaled trying to mask any discomfort. He closed his eyes and clamped his jaws.
“Mr. Davenport, are you O.K.?” Chris moved forward towards Earl in case he fell backwards, Chris wanted to make sure he would catch him.
“Of course I am. A little heart burn I guess.”
Chris pushed the cart through the parking lot and loaded the groceries into the back of the van.
“Do you know that Pharmacy next to the Dairy Queen?” Earl asked
“I know it well. They carry the flea medicine for my aunt’s cat.”Chris smiled but also was concerned about the discomfort his new friend.
A small bell rang as the two walked into the Kenner Pharmacy.Mr. Kenner was behind the counter busily working on the computer. When he saw Earl Davenport he stood up quickly.
“Earl Davenport, how have you been? I thought I would have seen you weeks ago. I was almost going to send the medication back.” Mr. Kenner turned and began looking through a series of plastic tubs lined up on a shelf, each marked with a series of letters. He pulled 3 containers and placed them on the counter.He picked up the smaller of the three,
“This right here is Palladia. This is for the cancer but I believe this is for Red correct?” Earl nodded.
“The other 2 are for your heart, Digitalis and the Ace Inhibitor.”
Earl interrupted attempting to wrap this conversation up in an abrupt but polite way “We’ve gone through this before. I know what they are. What’s the damage?”
“Well, the insurance will help quite a bit with the Digitalis and Ace Inhibitor. You only have to pay 35 dollars for both, but you know insurance won’t cover the Palladia for Red. it might be a good idea to get your medication and…
“How much is it?” Earl didn’t want to hear the advice Mr. Kenner was going to give.
Mr. Kenner set the bottle down with the others. “The Palladia will set you back two-hundred dollars and that’s only for 3 weeks”
The money from selling the truck was the only money Earl had. “I better just get the Palladia today”
“Are you sure Earl you really need to make your personal health top priority”
Earl nodded looked down at his trembling hands and handed 2 one hundred dollar bills to the pharmacist.
“Don't forget Mr. Davenport, we are looking at some harsh weather approaching.” Kenner warned Earl as he handed him his change.
The Lake Chevrolet shuttle van turned right off Route 78 and pulled down a gravel road that was simply marked with a rusted sign marked Dogwood.
“It’s about a mile down this road Chris”
The van slowly navigated the bumps and holes while passing several small homes partially hidden behind the thick Dawn Redwood Trees. A light refracted off the water of a small lake that made Chris squint. Earl shuffled up in his seat and pressed his nose against the passenger side glass window of the van. Like a child outside of a bakery Earl stared through the glass. As more of the lake became visible the corners of his lips began to inch upwards as a very small but visible smile began to form.
Lost in his gaze of the still water and gentle swaying of the cat tails. Earl’s mind began to drift back to the way it used to be.
The cool wet sand on the banks of Dogwood Lake felt good smooshing between his toes. “RORF RORF RORF” Earl quickly turned to see the bloodhound leaping wildly as he failed in catching one of many white butterflies in his mouth. It was a futile attempt, and one that had been tried for countless hours on countless days. All of a sudden the dog would drop to his belly, stealthy as a ninja then spring into action jaws snapping wildly as the butterflies circled his head. “Don't you think it’s time you gave up?” the not so old Earl hollered. The dog’s head cocked quickly right with his ears following shortly after. He began to run. Even though the Bloodhound is one of the more intelligent breeds the slow motion gallop with the two long ears flopping in every direction make the breed seem a little goofy. When he had finally reached Earl he failed to reduce his speed, resulting in a collision dropping both to the ground. Earl laughed like a tickled child “What is wrong with you Red?’ Red began licking Earl’s face with his long wet sloppy tongue.
“Is it this the house right here?” Chris startled the old man.
“Yes, that’s it ” Earl gathered his belongings then started to pull the few remaining bills from his pocket.
“That wont be necessary Mr. Davenport it really was my pleasure,” Chris smiled and meant every word. Chris had become attached to the old man and felt pity every time he attempted to mask the pain in his heart. “Now you be careful. They say it’s tornado season again,” Chris called out as Earl exited the van and walked slowly towards his small brick house.
Earl opened the door and entered the living room. Tarnished gold trophies lined the shelves. Switching on the light produced an amber hue to the wood paneling. Earl set down the 2 bags from the grocery and stood still for a moment. For 11 years the routine never swayed. Red would be waiting at the front door before the keys entered the tumbler.Today, and the 27 days prior Red did not greet the old man at the door. Earl dragged his feet as he walked towards the bedroom clutching the small white bag from Kenner Pharmacy. Next to the bed was a blue flannel blanket and on that blanket an old Bloodhound. Red lifted his head slowly as if it weighed 1000 pounds. Cancer had been attacking the cells of the dog and Earl knew each day it was getting a little worse. “It’s ok Red, I’m here for you.” His knees cracked as he crouched next to the one that knew all his stories, the one that would spend countless days chasing white butterflies at Dogwood Lake. Earl extended his hand and began to scratch between Red’s ears. The black droopy eyes slowly closed enjoying the bliss of the old man’s touch. Earl reached into the small white bag and pulled out the container with the Palladia. His hands trembled as he attempted to unscrew the white plastic top. Earl lifted Red’s head, pushed the jowels aside and inserted the Palladia into his mouth. Red struggled at first, but swallowed the pill.“That was twenty five dollars, so start feeling better ok ol’ buddy? Oh yeah I’ve got a surprise for you.” Earl started to rise to his feet but the searing pain returned. This was much stronger than the six episodes he had earlier. Earl leaned to one side as he dropped down to the floor. Both hands tightened up into fists. His jaw locked and he gritted his teeth. Red lifted his head and stared at Earl with concern. Earl remained on the floor for several more minutes, then grasping the end of the bed and the mahogany dresser he pulled himself up.
He was carefully cutting pieces of an “Elite Gold Pure Beef Hot Dog” in the kitchen. Several branches from a Dawn Redwood tree scratched and clawed at the window aggressively as the wind began to blow. Earl shoveled the dissected pieces of hot dog into a small ceramic bowl. Earl returned to Red and once again kneeled down on the floor
“Look what I got for you buddy, Elite Gold Pure Beef Hot Dog. $7.50 for a bag of dogs. Is that absurd?’
Red lifted his head just enough to vacuum up the pieces of hot dogs. The old man reached up and grabbed a pillow from the bed. He adjusted himself so that he could lay next to Red . He placed his hand on the dog’s belly and could feel the labored beat of his heart. Earl began to scratch Red’s chest. “So I had to sell the truck today. Yes, I know we both loved that truck. I met a decent fella too, named Chris. You would have liked him” Red drifted into a deep sleep followed by Earl. Even the strong winds that howled through the evening failed to wake either of them.
It hit sudden and it hit hard. It was called the biggest tornado to hit the South and it landed at 2:33 am. The funnel cloud flicked homes and cars as if they were pesky gnats. Towns that flourished with small shops, a post office and school, were all reduced to piles of wood and twisted steel. The carnage doubled as the tornado attacked Birmingham then Tuscaloosa. In 36 hours 67 people had been killed and thousands left homeless. The beast obliterated the small town of Dogwood from the map.The homes that dotted the lake vanished. Even the mighty Dawn Redwood trees had been discarded like used tooth picks. Chris heard the report on a portable radio which left his stomach feeling like it was filled with bleach. “The small town of Dogwood had no survivors.”
Earl awoke face down in a grass field. He slowly rolled over and was temporarily blinded by the sun. He was confused. He sat up and found himself on the banks of the Dogwood Lake. The sky had never been so blue. The smells of the Dawn Redwood, never sweeter. A sound in the distance made him spring to his feet. With the agility of a 19 year old running back Earl began running through the waist high crested wheat grass zigging and zagging through the daffodils. Earl was ambushed as the Bloodhound pounced on him knocking him over. Earl lifted his head in disbelief “RORF RORF RORF.”
The rest of the day Earl gazed at the sun’s reflection on the lake. Occasionally turning his head to see Red bouncing through the daffodils failing in every attempt to catch a white butterfly.
Chris made the morning coffee for the customers at Lake Chevrolet. He paused as he read the headline of the Wylie Weekly.
Dogwood Devastated Local Football Coach Killed in Tornado.
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