And the Pines Pleasantly Whispered

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: May 01, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: May 01, 2019



And the Pines Pleasantly Whispered

The five of us were chasing the setting sun, which kept on rolling down and down towards the horizon. It ran quickly before us to merge with the earth somewhere far ahead, unreachable. In fact, “chasing the sun” paints a picture of a racing sports car on a desolate highway, which is incorrect, especially given the sluggish speed at which we were moving. I was driving slowly, taking into account the cars around us, and the speed limit on busy North street. We were just dragging on rather than rolling, but the level of excitement among the company inside the van was high and the atmosphere chaotic, with the windows down all the way and of course, the booming music.

“Johnny cut down on the volume,” I cried, trying to yell over Freddie Mercury, who was singing that he was just a poor boy who no one loved.

Johnny grinned and pressed the sound control button, lowering the volume slightly, and then slightly increased it again, then a little more until it was the same as before. I reached out and turned it down myself, but that wasn’t to Johnny’s liking.
“Watch what you’re doing, Jimmy Page! Don’t turn down the music.”

“I told you to cut it down. And I’m not Jimmy Page. Who am I, Johnny?”

“You’re my father,” he said after a moment of reflection.

“No. Try again. What is my name?”

“Robby. You’re Robert!”

“At least he got it this time,” Todd, the other caregiver, said. The two of us were responsible for Johnny, Ken, and Eddie, who were “special” people. For the past six months, I had been working in an organization that looked after people with developmental disabilities and mental illness. The three were entrusted to Todd and me.
The three guys were dying to go to the nearby gas station where they sold soda at a discount. With their stipends, they could buy a drink and a pack of chips a couple of times a week. The relief from the monotony of living in their house was welcome for our charges, and after just five minutes to the gas station, the strangers they could meet there was a real adventure. However, it was a true headache for me. I still did not feel confident about being responsible for clients outside the house, especially when the experienced evening manager was not around. I also did not trust Todd—I’d caught him smelling of marijuana, and he didn’t care much about anything except his guitar, which he brought to work from time to time.

“No,’re Alex Rodriguez. And you’re driving very fast,” Johnny said.

“I’m driving with thirty miles per hour. This is not fast.”

“No, you’re driving too fast,” Johnny repeated, and he reached out, trying to increase the volume on the radio again, but I anticipated his movement and put my hand on the volume control button. Johnny frowned. I did not love him when he was in a bad mood. He watched me for a while with his right eye, his left looking straight ahead, and turned his face—which at present was a little sweaty—toward me. Apparently, though, Johnny had decided not to get angry after all. He turned towards the window, his short-cut hair ruffling slightly in the wind. After a moment, he turned back to me and, before I could stop him, put his hand on the volume button. With his most appealing smile, he pleaded:

“A little louder?”

I relented. “Ok, but just a little,” I emphasized. Again, the music blasted but at least it was not so loud as to threaten my eardrums with the immediate danger of being perforated.

“What a pussy,” I heard someone from the back.

“Excuse me?” I said loudly.

“Why do you allow this cretin to do whatever he wants?” It was Ken.

“Fucker!” Johnny retaliated.

“Everyone relax,” I shouted. “Stop cursing. Ken, apologize to Johnny.”

“I’m sorry,” Ken mumbled.

He says this quite often because he has a problem with inhibition. I know it annoys him that Johnny is sitting in the front and controlling the radio. Actually, they don’t like each other very much at all and we try to keep them apart. They are in close proximity only in the minivan and when sitting at the same dinner table. And that’s a good approach. Johnny screams and shouts, throws objects around sometimes, and once chased the chief manager around the yard, but I don’t think he’s physically very strong. Ken, on the other hand, is not that tall but is strong and weighs 250 pounds. Further, because of his illness and problems with impulsivity, he curses constantly. Sometimes I think it’s good we keep the two of them apart. If Ken lost control and went after Johnny, he’d have no problem at all rolling right over him and us, caregivers, too if he wanted to.

Except for his impulsivity, Ken is a pretty nice guy and is twenty-three-years-old. Johnny is thirty-six, while Ed, sitting in the rear in the minivan, is forty-eight. He is thin, presentable and looks like your uncle who loves to get drunk, chatter and give unnecessary advice. But appearances are deceptive. Ed is a quiet one. He rarely tells me anything but the usual, “Oh, I’m fine. Are you okay?” and “I love you, Robby.” Todd was sitting in the seat behind me. He’s twenty-years-old, wears glasses and has a big nose that he probably likes to stick in other people’s business, although I have no proof of that.
We arrived at the gas station. I parked and before I could write what time it was in the documentation, the “boys” jumped out like a gang of robbers who intended to mop up the unsuspecting gas station, or at least that appeared to be the case. We went in with Johnny singing like Freddy, or at least trying to, and Todd and Ken arguing that Ken must refrain from buying too much sweet stuff, as he has no money in his account and has to pay attention to his weight as well. Ed followed them, and I brought up the rear, trying to keep my people in sight.
The customers at the gas station were curious about us, but gave way timidly, just like the Red Sea must have parted for Moses. Johnny deviated to the left and right from the path and shook hands with the people around him, “You’re Mick Jagger, aren’t you? Hello, Bill Clinton...”

Ken was already in front of the candy bars and was taking a big pack of Snickers. Todd looked at me and shrugged, “I told him.” Ed was standing next to me, looking straight ahead. I followed his gaze and saw a boy of 5 or 6 staring at him. Ed smiled at him and waved at him to come over and the boy stepped forward. His mother, seeing where he was going, panicked, and took him by the arm. She pushed him aside as if the child was ready to jump into the road in front of a car.
“But why?” the boy asked loudly, and the mother, giving us a wide berth, continued to pull him behind her. In her hurry, she had forgotten her purchases at the register and had to come back. I looked at Ed. He followed the woman with his eyes as she and the child got in their car and left. Then Ed filled a cup with Fanta from the soda machine and took a packet of chips.

We went back to the minivan. Johnny was crafty and sat in front again, but Ken wouldn’t have it this time.

“Fucker,” he shouted and opened, then slammed Johnny’s door with all his strength. I thought the door would break off its hinges. I trembled with horror as I thought Johnny might be hurt, but fortunately, he was all right.

“Fucker, bastard,” Ken kept shouting. The people inside the gas station and those in front of the gas pumps looked at us curiously.

“Come on, calm down, Ken. I promise you the next time you can sit in the front,” I told him in what I hoped was a placating tone, trying to defuse the situation.

“That idiot always sits in front. I’m sick of it. You’re still taking his side,” Ken bellowed.

“Not true. Tomorrow, when I’m going to the recreational center, I’ll leave a note for you to sit in front.”

At last, Ken calmed down, got in the minivan, and sat behind Johnny. Todd looked at me and shook his head. Then he got in too, and we headed for home. We were all silent. Even Johnny was silent most of the way. He knew he had made Ken mad and maybe he was a little scared. He knew very well that there was an agreement that the one who sat in front going somewhere should sit in the back on the way home. We reached the house on Kenneth Street where our clients lived, and all piled out of the minivan. Once in the house, Johnny started looking for a book about John Kennedy.

“I left my book in the car,” he told me.

“You did not, Johnny,” I answered calmly, but I was not calm at all, wondering if Ken would explode again.

“I told you I left it there,” Johnny insisted. He was ready to go to his room, but with that, he decided differently and went in the opposite direction. He ran and bumped into Ken, who was behind him.

“Idiot!” Ken yelled, staring at Johnnie menacingly.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Todd said, standing between them, “calm down.”

“So, what if I don’t calm down?” Ken said, pushing against Todd’s body so that he slid back under Ken’s weight. I intervened.

“Really, Ken, it’s all right. Relax.”

“Are you telling me to calm down? Come on, let me see you? Everybody here; I’ll punch you all out. Come on, let’s see you,” Ken screamed, poking a finger in my chest, looking up. His face was inches from mine. I could feel his breath. Keeping calm, I paused and wondered what to say to calm him down.

“Hey, what’s going on down there?” Saving us from further escalation, Karen’s voice floated down from the second floor. She is the evening manager and has a definite influence over each of our clients. She had been with them much longer and had a way with them.

“You fuckin’ bitch,” Ken shouted up, and then amended, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” He turned around and started climbing up the stairs.

“Karen,” I heard him say, “could you give me some pill against the hate? I’m very angry.”

“We already gave you a pill earlier, Ken,” she reminded him.

“Fuck you...I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’ll go to my room to calm down,” he said. I heard the way the door to his room slammed shut. All right. Now I had one less problem. I helped Johnny find his book. It was in the chair in front of the TV where he usually sat. He sat there and stared at the screen, leaving the book on the floor in front of him so he could keep an eye on it.

I thought that we would have a lot to write about the event later—who did what, why, etc. My main concern, however, was to calm down. Ken cursed regularly, but this was the first time he had threatened me physically. Something inside me told me they were just threats, but my hands were trembling from the adrenaline nonetheless. And where the hell was Ed? He had disappeared somewhere during the commotion. I finally saw him out through the window. He was at the end of the backyard, sitting on the table beside the fence under the big pines. Typically, the yards in the neighborhood did not have high fences, but ours did so we didn’t bother the neighbors and perhaps because in that way our clients would not wander off. Presently, I figured that it was all calm in the house and I thought I’d go hang out with Eddie and relax a bit.

“Todd, call me if there’s anything.” Todd, who had crashed in an armchair in front of the TV and was eating a small container of yogurt, nodded to me. I left the house and approached Ed slowly. He sat, looking straight ahead, sipping his soda from time to time.

“How are things, Eddie?” He just looked at me for a moment, and then looked straight ahead again.

“Can I sit by you?” I asked, and without waiting for an answer, sat down on a chair beside the table. Now he was looking straight at me.

“Is everything alright?” I asked again. Ed shrugged. We kept silent for a while. The sun was setting behind the house and it was getting dark. The shadows merged and turned into a single amorphous mass that emanated a chill.

“I love kids very much,” Ed said bluntly. I looked at him, surprised.

“That kid at the gas station. How his mother pulled him away from me...Am I so scary, Robby?”

I thought a little and said,

“You’re not scary, Ed. None of you is.”

“Well, Ken is a little scary,” Ed said, grinning. “He’s a little wild.”

Then he leaned toward me slightly, adding:

“I’m a little bit too, ain’t I not?”

“Nobody’s...wild,” I said in confusion.

“Then why are people afraid of us...always stepping back...or pulling their kids away from us.”

I didn’t answer. He paused and then something in him seemed to break:

“I hate to be in this house, Robby. It’s like a prison. They treat me like a little kid in here. Do this, do that. They’re supposedly not afraid of us, but they’ve got us shut up here and let us out only with an escort...Sometimes I think of running away.

I was surprised by this talkativeness but also worried about Ed’s admission that he was thinking of running away.
“Eddie, listen to me. You have no idea how good it is here. You have your own house and your own room, you go to work in the morning and back to the activity center, and the staff here take care of you. We’re not your guards; we’re here to help you. You don’t have to run away.”

“I just wanted to give that little boy a candy, but his mother was so scared.” Eddie went on after a while and drank his soda.
It made me wonder. Why were “normal” people, like that woman for example, so afraid of a tiny man like Eddie?
Sometimes I felt guilty that I also had been afraid of Eddie before I got to know him better, got to know each of them better. Sometimes one has to be sensitive and know how to behave around our entrusted residents, but it isn’t necessary to be afraid of them. I didn’t tell Eddie that. If he knew what I was thinking, would he feel better? I doubted it. I said instead:
“Some people are scared of their shadow, Eddie. You can’t judge all people by a few of them. Here I am sitting in front of you, and I’m not afraid.

Eddie looked at me and smiled.

“Are you feeling better now?” I asked him. He nodded.

“Oh, I’m fine. Are you okay? I love you, Robby. Sometimes, you know—not—but still, in most cases...And you know—I don’t want to run away. I was just joking.”

I smiled and patted his hand. Still the same old Eddie. Some door within him had opened and then slammed shut again. Whatever was floating in the air, whatever rebellions had arisen in our little “family” had been quenched. At least for now.
The two of us stayed there for some time, sitting at the table at the end of the yard in silence as the night advanced, and the tender breeze shook the branches of the pines slightly, making them pleasantly whisper.


The End

  The story which you just read is part of a collection of twenty stories called As a Firefly in the Night on

© Copyright 2020 Robert Ratman. All rights reserved.

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