A Gentle Giant

Submitted into Contest #102 in response to: Write about a mysterious figure in one’s neighborhood.... view prompt

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Contemporary Drama Suspense

In Gratia Amicus Meus—George Davis

  He lived in our neighborhood, for as long as I can remember. For some reason, he liked me. Often when I was out playing, he would stand behind the chain link fence, standing erect and still. He never was much for conversation. Many times I approached him, talked to him without his not commenting, just staring at me with a slight grin. His long white, stained beard seemed to blow in the wake of his utterances, on the occasions, he spoke to me. 

  Most of the neighbors avoided any contact with him, and that was all right with him. He didn’t like most of the community. I was the only one he ever really carried on a conversation with over the years. 

  “I want you to stay away from that freak, Benjamin.” My mother was the only person who ever called me Benjamin. I went with the moniker, Benny, Benny Samuel Adams. And, by the way, my mother was the only one who dared call me by my given name. Anyone else knew I was well able to take care of myself in a fight. 

  Our neighbor, that freak, as most people called him was my friend; one of the few I had back in the day. Whenever school began I was sent to a private school in New Hampshire, fifty miles from my hometown, Bickford, Maine. Usually when I returned for school vacations and holidays. I would see him standing on his front lawn as if waiting for me to come home. His large hand would wave as my father’s Lincoln passed him on my way back to Bickford. 

  “That fool stands there every day, waiting for something or someone. He doesn’t move a muscle either. Like a stone sentinel, he stands erect and stares into space. He’s a sore spot in our bright neighborhood.”

  “Dad, he is just a lonely old man with no friends. He doesn’t do anyone any harm.”

  “Well, I want you to stay away from him. You heard your mother. I forbid you to associate yourself with that idiot. Is that clear?”

  “Yes, Dad, very clear.”

  “Okay then, it’s good to have you home, son.”

  “It’s good to be home, Dad.”

  After supper, I went outside. I looked down the street toward his house. He was sitting in an oversized Adirondac chair. He saw me and stood up motioning to come over where he was. Remembering my father’s strict warning, I just waved and went into the house, sad I wasn’t able to visit my friend.  

  “Okay,” Dad said. “Today we’re going up to Sagamore Lake for a swim.” I was thrilled. I spent many summer weekends at a rented cottage on that large lake. We water-skied, swam, and played volley ball with the two brothers next door. Tommy Lane, four inches taller than his brother Tim was an excellent player. Not so with Tim who almost always missed the ball to his brother’s chagrin. We played for hours and then raced to see who could get wet first. For that feat, I was usually the winner. I’d swim out to the raft in the middle of the water; dive from its canvas-covered deck. 

  One summer a few years ago, I met a sweet girl, Marnie by name. She was five-five, one-ten with deep blue eyes that twinkled when she smiled. A small turned up nose and chiseled chin made her appear to be of Native American descent. I met her in Turner’s Variety Store a quarter of a mile from our cottage. She was buying a six-pack of Pepsi. She smiled. I returned the smile and said, “aren’t you new around here?” 

  “Yes, I’m visiting my aunt and uncle on Vista Lane.” 

  “Vista, that’s the street our cottage is on. What a coincidence.” I wasn’t adept in the art of dating. I was only fifteen at the time and had never been serious about a girl. Well, maybe Martha Hicks, but that was puppy love. I was, for the first time in my life, in love with this beautiful goddess with the long, shoulder-length blond hair. 

  “What’s your name?” She asked. 

  “Benny.” 

  “Does Benny have a last name?” 

  “Er…yes, it’s Adams.” 

  “Well, Benny Adams, I hope we’ll meet again.” I’ll make sure we do. I didn’t see her for the next two weeks. One Saturday morning I walked up to Turners for a breakfast sandwich. Old man Turner made the best sausage, egg, and cheese on a plain bagel one could hope to buy. 

  “Good morning, Benny Adams.” The voice came from behind me. 

  “Well, hello.” It was Marnie. I asked her for her last name, and telephone number. She gave them to me: Shaw, 555-6767. 

  “What’s new with you, Benny Adams?” 

  “Not much. The summers pass too quickly for my taste.” 

  “Do you own the cottage where you are staying?” 

  “Actually, my father is buying it,” I lied. Though my dad had money. He would rather rent than buy, says, ‘I don’t want the trouble of upkeep. Let someone else have all the headaches.’ 

  “That’s nice. My aunt and uncle own their camp; they bought it when I was three. I’ve been coming here for years.”  

  “Where do you live when you’re not up here at camp?” 

  “I live in Missouri, in the Ozark mountains. It is paradise on earth. I fight my parents every year. I tell them I want to stay home for the summer. They are glad to get rid of me. I was an oops baby. My mother was forty-four when she had me.” 

  “Wow” is all I could say. I never heard of any woman having a baby past thirty-two or three; my mother’s age when I was born. 

  Marnie Shaw became Mrs. Benny Adams last summer. We were married in the Bickford Community Church on Main Street by Pastor Gordon Tripp. The reception was held at the American Legion with over one hundred guests. Marnie’s parents invited every member of her family and most of their neighbors. Marnie’s mother played director and organizer. We let her do her thing. We were too anxious to get on that plane and spend a beautiful, fun-filled honeymoon in Bermuda. 

  When we returned, we moved into an apartment over my parent’s garage, built for my grandmother Adams ten years earlier. She passed two years ago at the ripe old age of 102.

  I didn’t see much of him all that summer. I missed seeing him standing at the end of his driveway, waving to me as I passed. His absence was evident. I only saw him twice. He sat on his porch staring into the night. Deep down, I missed him. He was my friend.

  One night last week I was awakened by the smell of smoke. I could see the flames climbing the kitchen wall. I shook Marnie. “Get up, Honey…the place is on…” That’s as far as I got. The smoke and flames intensified. I passed out before I could wake my wife. I don’t know how long I was out. When I woke, I was on the front lawn, and the firemen were hosing down the garage. I sat up, looked for Marnie. Oh no, did she get out? I was in a panic. I could see lots of people, some in their pajamas gawking at the smokey but flameless apartment. 

  “Where’s Marnie?” I shouted. A fireman told me she was in the rescue unit. She’d swallowed a lot of smoke and heat, but he assured me she was all right. 

  I asked the fire chief what happened. He told me ‘Big Mike’ ran into the burning apartment and brought Marnie and me out. “Where is he now?” I asked. 

“I'm sorry, he didn’t make it. While he was lugging you down the stairs, he collapsed. He died of smoke inhalation. Our rescue people tried everything they could, but his lungs were too badly damaged. Before he died, he asked me to tell you, he loved you, and he’d see you in heaven. 

He was my friend for over twenty years, and I never knew his name. He never told me, and I never asked. 

  My father came over to the rescue unit where I was sitting with Marnie. “Son, that big lug saved your life, and Marnie’s. I’m sorry I ever called him a freak. I was wrong, son. He was your friend, and I forbid you to associate with him, and for that, I am truly sad.” I knew my father, and I knew when he was being sincere. Today, he paid homage to my friend, Big Mike.

  Marnie spent overnight in the hospital while I was checked and released. I was surprised, and at the same time, thrilled. There were more people at Big Mike’s funeral than Peabody Funeral Home could hold. The lines formed all the way down the driveway. In death, Mike was honored for his bravery by people, who in the past, would never gave him a chance to be their friend.

  I made a vow that day. I would place a single rose on his grave every year in remembrance of that gentle giant.

July 11, 2021 14:49

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