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Contemporary Creative Nonfiction Inspirational

Paula met Stephen outside the ER on his release.

“Hey Sis…”

He walked stiffly and groaned when they embraced.

“You okay?”

“Fine. A little sore from the fall, but… nothing broken…”

They walked to her car. His clothes hung loosely.

“You’re too skinny, Stephen. Don’t you eat?”

“All the time. You cook for me. My metabolism’s efficient. So sue me.”

“You can’t keep doing this, Stephen.” He kept quiet. “What, this the fourth time?” The door lock clicked and he climbed in. “I hope this knocked some sense into you…”

Connecting the seatbelt took some effort. He suppressed a groan.

She looked at him. “You good?”

He nodded and looked ahead. She exited the parking structure and pulled into traffic.

“I did some research. There’s a skilled nursing facility with some openings. Not too expensive.”

Stephen looked out the window.

She glanced at him. “Did you hear me? They’d keep you safe.”

He sighed. “Would that mean I’d have to give up walking tight-rope, flying trapeze, eating fire?”

“It’s not funny, Stephen. You could have died.”

“Tell you what, drop me here. I’ll walk.”

“I’ll drive you. It’s easy. I’m going this way.”

“Easy isn’t always the best. Need exercise.”

“This is faster. You should rest.”

“I’ll save you the time and walk.”

Paula stopped at the curb. “I’ll walk with you then.” They got out. She clicked the lock and then shook her head.

“What?”

“Nothing. I’ll have to walk back.”

He waved and moved away. “I’ll be okay.”

She rushed to catch him. “Wait up. I want to talk.”

They walked a few blocks. Never great, the neighborhood had declined over the years. Stepping gingerly, their walk became a syncopated dance.

Stephen said, “Watch your step.”

“Tell me about it. Don’t people clean up after their dogs?”

“It’s not from dogs.”

“Sheesh!”

They walked some more.

Paula said, “You were a mess.”

“You mean from the fall?”

“Still are.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You never let anyone guide you.”

“Am I a horse?” She looked at him. “Why should I give up my freedom?”

“Everything’s a trade-off.”

“Not true.”

“You could have nice things. A nice place.”

Stephen adopted an attitude. “Please… If I let you beat me, can I have a stereo?”

“Your own worst enemy. What you need is a learning curve.”

“Because I won’t submit to people’s stupidity?”

“You have plenty of that yourself.”

“For instance?”

“No one can reach you.”

“I forget to charge my u-phone.”

“It’s an I-phone.”

“Short for ‘I-O-U-phone.’”

“It’s free.”

“Hoo boy! More free stuff. The government giveth. And the government taketh away.”

“Everyone needs a phone. Twenty-first Century, calling Stephen…”

“Yeah, so Cheryl from Donkey Squat, Iowa, can call, fretting about my expiring extended vehicle warranty.” Paula laughed. “Since I don’t own a car, I don’t see the point.”

“I need to reach you.”

“Ah, so it’s about your needs?”

“I worry, Stephen. You’ve had more than a few health run-ins. What if something serious happens?” He shrugged. “It did.”

“Look, I’m a responsible adult. I’m not homeless. I pay my bills…”

“True.”

“Is this about… that county home to protect me from myself? Short leash? Lock me in a box at sundown? Do they give me a ‘sell by’ date?”

“You could live safe, and have your needs met.”

“If they have so much space, why don’t they house the homeless? I have a place.”

“It’s for your own good. I’m worried about your health.”

“I’ve already got too many hooks in me, kid. And I don’t look good in bubble wrap.”

They came upon a café with makeshift, outdoor seating.

“Coffee?”

Paula looked askance. “You buying?”

“Of course. Think I’d invite you, and not pay?”

She secured a patio table, while he went in. He brought her a cappuccino and a scone.

“Ooh, thank you!” Paula stirred sugar into the foam and sipped. “Your kids have money.”

“So what?”

“They could help.”

Stephen scowled and shook his head. “They have their lives. They don’t know me.” He leaned in. “I bet they wouldn’t recognize me if they walked by right now.”

She scowled in disbelief. “What would you do if I stopped cooking for you?”

“You don’t have to cook. I’d get by.”

“You want me to stop?”

“If you want. That’s cool. You’re busy.”

“But I like cooking for you. It’s only a couple days per week.”

“Then what’s this about?”

“Just wondering how things might change.”

“Do what you want. I’m not begging.”

“But do you like it?”

“You’re a good cook. Stop fishing…”

“I don’t know you. Where do you go for days at a time?”

“You writing a book?”

“What if I am?”

Stephen laughed. “I don’t know… Meet a friend. Go to the river.”

“And fish?”

“Hell no. You think I’d eat fish from that trashy river?”

“What do you do there?”

“Sit, soak my feet. Watch the birds.”

“You soak? In that trashy river?”

“The herons amaze me. They soar so effortlessly.”

“Soak in a tub, or a swimming pool… not the filthy river.”

“Paula, do you know the difference between a dog and a wolf?”

“Tell me.”

“Chains.”

She shook her head. “I don’t get it.”

“A wolf may be scruffy and under-fed. But he comes and goes as he pleases.”

She paused and smiled as his meaning dawned.

“Ahhh, I get it now. The folks would order you ‘go to your room.’” She imitated his attitude. “And you’d hold your head up… ‘I’m going anyway.’”

He laughed. “You remember… Why hang out with them?”

“Was it all the moves?”

“Didn’t help. Never felt settled, or home. Perennial new kid. Nothing permanent. Everything I had, might disappear when I blinked.”

“I see that.”

“Like when they took Pooch. Middle of the day. I come home and my dog is gone. My dog! I hadn’t done anything wrong.”

“He was a good dog. What was that about, anyway?”

“They took him… no explanation. What was that? BS-101?”

“If he was too much trouble, they should have told you how to train her.”

“Like they knew anything about training. I’m their crowning achievement. Look how I turned out.”

Paula protested. “What about me? I’m not cheese whiz.” They laughed.

“I try to keep it simple. Only want what can’t be taken away. If it can, it’s not really mine.” Paula nodded, unsure. “Embrace the eternal.” He pushed his empty cup away. “Another?”

She shook her head. “Thanks, Stephen.”

“Thanks for picking me up, Sis.” He stood. “I’ll walk you back to your car. Watch your step.”

“Yeah, speaking of dogs…”

They laughed as they strolled back through the dusk.

February 08, 2022 16:55

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6 comments

03:15 Feb 16, 2022

Wow! Your writing style is amazing! And just the way everything flows, and the humour and seriousness mixed together was wonderful. I very much enjoyed this story!

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John K Adams
03:22 Feb 16, 2022

Thank you Phoenix. Both for reading and for sharing your impressions. I love it when something I write connects with a reader. Your words mean a lot to me.

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03:29 Feb 16, 2022

No worries!

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03:43 Feb 16, 2022

How are you, John?

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John K Adams
05:06 Feb 16, 2022

Everything is good. How are you?

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05:59 Feb 16, 2022

I had a rough time at school today, just a lot of stress, but I'm all good now :) Wow, I've never had someone message me on Reedsy at this time because most people I know on here are from India or the US. Haha, my timezone is very different. I'm also a day in front of America lol

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