Some Angels are Boston-bound

Submitted into Contest #40 in response to: Write a story about two people who meet and become instant friends.... view prompt

4 comments

Kids

After a long morning of panhandling on Main Street in the town of Cornwall, Massachusetts, I gave up. All I’d gotten was three dollars and a few pennies and even a condom packet that a couple of kids tossed in my cup, giggling like hyenas. When they left, I plucked it out and left it on a nearby bench. I wouldn’t be needing it anytime soon.


It was time to give up my dreams of starting a new life in a new city with the love of my life. Wearily I went down downstairs to wait for the Boston train. A gray-haired man in a tattered suit lounged comfortably on the first bench. As I approached, he looked up.


 “Fine morning, isn’t it? After all that rain.” He had a deep rich voice that reminded me of James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader. I could almost hear him saying, “Luke, I am your father.”


“Yeah.” I shrugged off my heavy pack and set it down between us on the bench.


“That’s some load you’re carrying, son. But I see you’ve got the muscle.”


“Thanks.” Strong back, weak mind. That was me.

“Here, sit down,” the man said. “I won’t bite.” He smiled, and I saw that he was missing some front teeth. “Even if I did, it wouldn’t do any good.”

I sat down and asked, “Have you been waiting long?”

“All my life.”


I stared at him stupidly and he broke into rusty laughter. “Never did find the right woman. But the train is coming in about fifteen minutes.”

I had to chuckle. “Okay, thank you, sir.”

He said with a wry grin, “Not many folks call me ‘sir.’ I’m Jake Edwards.”

“Joseph Beck.” We shook hands.


There was a used newspaper on the bench. On a whim, I picked it up and flipped to the classifieds. Maybe I could find some work in town. I didn’t really want to go back to the farm. Problem was, I didn’t have much hope of charming anyone with my soaked, muddy clothes and beard stubble. I peered at the “Help Wanted” pages.


Despite my vast experience on a farm, there wasn’t much I was qualified to do. I didn’t see any jobs that required milking a cow, mucking out stalls, driving a tractor or pitching hay. Maybe if I were Jesus’s daddy Joseph, I could churn out furniture in order to put bread on the table. But you had to have a knack for that as well.


“Looking for work, son?”

“Maybe.”


Mr. Edwards said, “You could try Hamilton Hospital. I used to be an orderly there. You could get a job in Transport.”

I looked at their listings but didn’t see anything except “phlebotomist,” whatever that was, and a lot of openings for nurses.


He went on. “I was a combat medic in ‘Nam. We’d go in for the wounded guys, pull ‘em to safety under fire, go back for more.”

I said, “Thank you for your service, sir.”


His dark face lit up. “Well, that’s nice to hear nowadays. Back then, the war was pretty unpopular. People called us ‘baby killers” when we came home.” He shook his head. “All war is wrong, Joseph. Especially now. All these countries have nukes. We need to get along or we won’t survive.”


I leaned back against the wall. The last twenty-four hours had been the worst of my life, even more than years of schoolyard bullying. I had grown a thick skin for most of that. Then I’d finally opened up and let myself love someone, and she threw my love back in my face. What a fool I’d been! I closed my eyes and replayed the previous night.


 After hitchhiking all the way down from my uncle’s farm in Essex, Vermont, I had slogged through mud and rain to Noelle Fisher’s house. “House” was a relative term. It was a white wedding cake of a mansion, blazing with light. You could have parked a Lear jet in the driveway.


I had first met Noelle in high school. They called it an “alternative” school for gifted kids and “special learners.” I have a talent for art, so that’s my gift, I guess. But I’m wicked hard of hearing and wear hearing aids, so that makes me a “special learner.” Two for the price of one. Noelle was one of the gifted ones. She looked like a Renaissance princess with her flowing red-gold hair and sea-green eyes. She was fluent in four languages and had gone to Swiss boarding school. In French class, she wrote brilliant science papers – in French – and dreamed of becoming a doctor practicing medicine in Third World countries.


Her weak subject was calculus, but I’ve always been handy with numbers. So when I was asked to tutor her, I nearly fell out of my seat. Would I ever! Even though I was clumsy and nearly tongue-tied around her, I made her laugh with goofy drawings on the pages of our notebooks. Her smile was like sunlight, and sent heat all through me. Sometimes I had trouble sitting still, if you get my drift.


We all graduated and went separate ways. Then Noelle happened to show up on my Uncle’s farm with her mom, after seeing a sign for Aunt Bea’s homemade pies. I drew a sketch of her when she wasn’t looking and gave it to her. She loved it, and that smile of hers made me nearly melt in a puddle at her feet. When she left, she gave me her address, and we started writing to each other. Actual pen-to-paper writing, for years.


 When she invited me down for Christmas, I threw my stuff into a pack and headed south. But it was only a dream. She had a big brawny lover, a kidney doc who could have ripped my liver out.


I stood there at her door, dripping mud on her marble floor as she gave me a regretful smile. “It’s so nice to see you again, Joseph. But…”


“Okay.” Why had she invited me? I was crushed, but managed to get out of there fast.


Now I sat in the station, staring at a spot on the pavement. I heard a sharp buzzing in my ears, like an angry fly. It grew louder, pulling me to my feet. I stared down at the shiny rails below. The buzzing filled my head, maddening me with pain.


Just end it, Beck. Once and for all. I pawed at my head like a wounded animal. One more step. One…more…


A hot wind whooshed at me and something slammed me to the ground. I tried to get up but I was pinned down on the concrete and couldn’t move. 


“No!” I roared. “Let me go!”


The Boston train rattled into the station and rushed by without stopping. I’d missed the train AND I was still alive. Nothing was going my way.


Gradually the noises stopped, and I tried to raise my head.


“Not yet, Mr. Beck. You just take it easy for now.” Darth Vader – no, Jake Edwards, sat stiffly next to me, one long-fingered hand spread on my back. My body felt as heavy as a fallen log. I closed my eyes, exhausted.

“Let me up, Mr. Edwards. Please.”

“You won’t jump?”

“I won’t jump.”

As I got up, I howled with pain as pins and needles shot through my legs.


 “Take it slow, Joseph. I learned that in combat. Never make a move until you’re ready.”


At last I struggled to my feet. Mr. Edwards said, “You think you’re gonna be all right?”


I nodded, and my eyes started to leak. Who was cutting onions? I wiped my eyes and tried to keep from crying. He smiled.

“Joseph, you just take it one day at a time, all right? You’re gonna make it.”


I managed to stammer, “Th-thank you, Mr. Edwards. For everything.” Including my life. I’d never believed in angels, but I did that day.

May 01, 2020 15:30

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4 comments

Zilla Babbitt
14:11 May 14, 2020

Here for the critique circle:). This is so sweet! Heartfelt and full of emotions. I love that you bring Noelle into the story, a kind of bittersweet backstory. Good character building. One thing I would have liked to know is how Joseph ended up on the streets. He is smart, apparently good looking, and has an artistic talent. But... he is begging for pennies on Main Street. I know Noelle had something to do with it, but I think a sentence or two explaining how he fell so far would make more sense. Good characters and dialogue. Keep ...

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Mae Stroshane
08:46 Oct 07, 2021

Thanks for your insightful comments , Zilla! This is actually part of a novel, so I should adapt it more clearly in short story form. Joseph had quit his job to go to Noelle, thinking she loved him. When she says they’re only friends, he is crushed, since he had given up everything to be with her. I should add that in. Great advice!

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Deidra Lovegren
15:14 Sep 30, 2021

Angels in the crossroads -- love it! (Especially after a broken heart.) Love the characterization. :)

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Mae Stroshane
08:39 Oct 07, 2021

Thank you for your kind comments, Deidra! We seem to share some church experiences. Some are quirky and funny and others can be painful and trying. I can’t wait to read more of your stories!

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