January Bloom: "Special Neighbors"
Many thanks to my neighbors in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for inspiring this month’s flash fiction story titled Special Neighbors. I moved there in the1970s, first time living on my own, and spent five years with the kindest of people.
“Hi, how are you doing? How are you feeling? Have a good day?” the smiling nineteen-year-old man always shouted at the locals passing his house to catch the 7:17 bus for work.
“That chatter box drives me nuts,” Randall thought, while watching the groundhog-day scene from the living room of his working-class Baltimore row house across the street. One time, Randall overheard a few ladies of his generation talking outside about feeling sorry for the parents of that special one because they’d probably have to take care of him forever. He hadn’t given it much thought.
After returning from Viet Nam in 1973, Randall moved back into the house where he’d grown up. He’d gotten a factory job after the war, but his inside demons and outside rages got him fired. Doctors deemed Randall eligible for disability. He took it. That was 37 years ago. Now his reclusive life included no small talk or social time.
Today was Thursday, the only day of the week that Randall ventured outside. By 7:45AM, the chatter box was gone, and the block was devoid of humans, so Randall prepared to leave. He buttoned up his frayed wool coat, grabbed his cane, and slipped a plastic shopping sack in his pocket. Randall descended his stoop and walked to the convenience store, hoping to make it back with his weekly rations before the sleet picked up. He didn’t.
Back home, the slick stuff had smothered his stoop. He lost his footing on the ascent and tumbled down sustaining bruises and sprains – no breaks. A familiar voice cut through the wind.
“Hi, how are you doing? How are you feeling? Not having a good day? I’ll help. I’ll help.”
“I’m okay, I’ll be okay, I just want to get up,” Randall said at the same time chatter box slipped his arms under Randall’s shoulders and raised him with the strength of one of Randall’s soldier buddies who had succumbed in ‘Nam.’
“What’s your name Mister? My name is Billy. I live over there,” Billy said, pointing across the street with one arm and supporting Randall with the other.
“It’s Randall. Thanks Billy, I’ve got to get inside now,” and Randall got his keys out.
“Okay. Mr. Randall, I can do those steps for you” I have a shovel, my very own shovel. Be right back.” Billy hurried across the street and returned with a large spade.
“Watch me Mr. Randall.” Billy cleared Randall’s stoop with seven strokes.
“Thank you. Thank You Billy.”
“Sure, Mr. Randall. I’m going now. Tomorrow is a new day, it’ll be nicer. Bye.”
“Yes. Maybe,” Randall said to himself as he watched Billy go, and stifled a smile.
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