“Sammy, I shit myself.” Henry crawled over the boulders into our shooter’s nest at the abandoned quarry.
“Got a towel and some baby wipes in my bag, Henry, let’s get you out of those pajamas and clean you up.”
“Think they figured out I’m gone?” Henry shivered in the cold air, age spots circled his arms and hands like human tree rings.
“Probably. The ditch where we pushed your wheelchair wasn’t deep, but no one will look for you here and by this afternoon it won’t matter, will it?”
“Just couldn’t do it anymore, Sammy. Should have just done what I wanted to before you talked me into going there.” Henry made a pistol with his fingers, pointing to his head. A hard cough racked his naked body, bending him over in pain. “Thanks for taking me past the cemetery.”
Shit crusted in the folds of his butt, down his thighs and under his scrotum. “Back there at the cemetery, Jakub Borkowski?” I wet the towel with water from my canteen, cleaning the backs of his legs.
“My Uncle Jake, good man.”
“I noticed he died sixty years today.”
Henry glanced down at me. “Sammy, I picked today because of him.”
Henry wormed into a flannel shirt and faded grey corduroys. I eased him into a chair facing the quarry and the tree line. His breath short, hard bursts smelling of cinnamon cough drops.
“Uncle Jake was a janitor at the school, back then sweeping floors about the only job people like us could get, let alone a Polack with a harelip. People, kids at school, never said anything about his lip treated him just like everyone else. But one kid wouldn’t let it go, every day the little bastard rolled his lip up pretending to speak Polish sweeping an imaginary broom in front of Uncle Jake.” Henry shook his head. “My uncle was the kindest man I ever knew. At our dinner table, Uncle Jake would ask God’s blessings on that little bastard, to forgive him for bullying my uncle.”
“I’ll start a fire.” I said shoving twigs and twisted newspapers in the pot-bellied stove.
Overnight, snow dusted the abandoned quarry and this morning heavy, grey clouds darkened the sky. Granite boulders cut from this quarry floated on barges down the Erie Canal building town halls and college libraries across the Great Plains. Years ago, Henry and I framed a shooter’s nest at the north end hauling chairs and a pot-bellied stove over the boulders.
“I got us some good cigars and Kentucky whiskey just like the old days.” I handed him a cigar and sat a bottle on the boulder in front of us.
“Thanks, Sammy, for everything.” Henry tilted his head back, inhaling deep like tobacco lovers do.
We sat quiet enjoying the warmth of the stove and the kick of the whiskey. The nest smelled of cinnamon, smoke, and shit.
“That boy who bullied my uncle, saw him years later.” Henry began talking slowly, sipping whisky between thoughts. “Uncle Jake had been gone for years. I got his old job at the school used the same broom closet. My aunt and I were in Kaminski’s Grocery, she leaned on her cane whispered in my ear ‘That man looking at radishes, he’s the one your uncle used to pray for.’ She spoke Polish so he wouldn’t understand.”
“My God, Henry, what did you do?”
“Uncle Jake taught me to shoot out here at this quarry, just like I taught you. Remember the rule never point a gun unless you mean to use it? Pointing words can be just as deadly as pointing guns.”
Henry crossed himself and mumbled a prayer. I didn’t know if the prayer was for his Uncle or for the man.
“My aunt and I watched him select a bunch of radishes, dropping them into his cart, he walked past us. I smiled, said, ‘Good Morning, Sir.’” Henry leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Best shot I ever made, better than a head shot at twenty feet.”
I poured us a second round of whiskey. In the tree line, crows gathered on snow-covered branches, black notes scoring white sheet music.
“Talking about those days made me think about Donnie.” Henry turned to me. “He was something, wasn’t he?”
“Would have been sixty-two next month.” I said. “Same as me.”
“Sixty-two, damn.” Henry seemed surprised, swirling the whiskey in his cup. “Good boy,
Donnie. A bully got to him, took his life.”
“Noon, like you planned?” I asked. Henry planned his escape from the nursing home down to the moment he pulled the trigger here in the nest. He was a tidy man, a good janitor, who liked things neat and in their place.
“Why, you got somewhere to be?” Henry chuckled, punching me playfully on the arm.
“Remember that day, some kid threw up all over the school library you sent me to the wood shop to get more sawdust? I’ll never…”
“Donnie’s been dead a long time.” Henry interrupted.
I flinched at Henry’s bluntness. “Prom weekend, forty-five years.”
“Didn’t think he had the guts to do something like that, did you? Slashing his wrists, damn…” Henry shook his head.
“I sure as hell didn’t, believe me.” I handed Henry a bologna and cheese, dropped a handful of chips in his lap. “Fixed us some lunch.”
I stroked the fire, sparks and smoke heated my face. “There’s something I want to say before you…”
Henry wasn’t listening staring across the quarry at the tree line, whiskey cup inches from his mouth. “Donnie used to come crying to me limping down the hallway dragging that bad foot, arm flapping like a broken wing. God, he was a mess, but a wonderful, God-made mess, why he…”
Henry stopped talking, took a long pull on his whiskey, handing me the cup for a refill. “God must have been watching out for the boy who bullied him, never got caught.”
I reached for the sandwiches. “Made us a couple each. Want another?”
“You were always there, Sammy, you found Donnie’s sneakers hanging from the gym rafters, pulled his pants from the bathroom trash can, shared your lunch when that son-of-a-bitch glued his lunch box…you were always a step or two behind the son-of-a-bitch…strange isn’t it, how I remember those things?”
“You told me to tell you when it was almost noon. You want to start getting everything ready?” I picked up Henry’s duffle bag.
“You do it. There’s a box of shells there in the bag. Load two in case I miss.” Henry laughed pressing his forefinger against his temple. “Then put the bag here on my lap, please.”
Henry lit another cigar. “Going to smoke this one real slow.” Henry coughed inhaling the cigar. “Damn, these things will kill me.” He laughed. “Say, that girl on prom night…”
“Susie.” I hesitated. “Maybe not. Don’t remember for certain.”
“Donnie found that note in his locker…,” Henry turned, stared me in the eye, “… said that girl….”
“Fire needs some wood.” I started to get up.
“It’s fine, sit back down.” Henry gripped my shoulder, holding me in my seat.
“…said that girl, Susie, wanted to go to the prom with him. He showed it to me, peed his pants he was so excited. Had little cupids and arrows and smelled of perfume, can see it like it was in my hands right now. You remember her, don’t you?”
“She was in our English class.”
“After it was all over and Donnie was buried, the next week that girl came looking for me. I was waxing the back hallway, damn buffer was acting up on me, can see her now standing there waiting for me to get up from working on the buffer.”
Henry tightened his grip on my arm. Puffing harder on his cigar, smoke burned my nostrils.
“You know what she told me, Sammy?”
“Well, I’m not sure…”
“She was crying, said she was always nice to Donnie, helped him with his books and things like that but she didn’t dance, her folks were Baptists or some church that doesn’t believe in kids dancing. She wasn’t going to the prom. Now, who would have figured?”
“Can’t imagine…not going to the prom.”
“Well, after she calmed down told me how she heard a car stop in front of her house that night, looked out the window and here comes Donnie struggling down the sidewalk wearing a white tux and carrying a whole bunch of flowers. She didn’t know what to do so she stayed in her room while her father answered the door. Now, who would have figured?”
“Well, she would have been surprised, I guess. I wasn’t there…”
“Donnie’s standing at the front door, that lop-sided smile, his head bobbing up and down, you know how he got when he was excited, like some wind-up doll, remember how he was, don’t you? Said her father walked Donnie back to the car, spoke to his parents, helped Donnie get in the backseat. Now, who would have figured?”
“Must have been hard on Donnie.” I said.
“The girl said she stood at her bedroom window, Donnie looked up at her and waved. He waved till the car turned the corner. Now, who would have figured?”
“Henry, I want…”
Henry reached inside his bag pulled out the gun. “Now, who would have figured?”
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