As if he wasn’t pelting along behind me.
All I could think was Sam, Sam, Sam. He’s a flight risk. We’ve considered documenting him. He seems to be settling down, so we haven’t gone through with it, but, Sam, Sam, Sam, when that doorbell rang, I wished we hadn’t dithered and delayed.
I barely looked out before I threw open the door.
Some guy in a hunting cap said, “Does Lawrence Wainright live here?” That may not be the name. The name isn’t the point. Suddenly my brain went all Clockwork Orange.
You just shot my adrenaline through the roof about my kid so you could ask about your hunting buddy? Next do you beat us to death with a phallic sculpture?
Scott said, “No. The last people were the Krings, so there hasn’t been one for awhile.”
The man said, “I’m Robert from down the street, and I’ve got a 90 year old man in my truck. I found him sitting on the curb back there said he was trying to get here to see his friend Lawrence.”
My emotions careened in another direction, back into that land of mother panic, but now with overtones of my two and a half years dead grandfather. “Oh no,” I said. “Can you get him somewhere safe?”
We all looked out to our driveway. “Oh shit, he’s out of the truck.”
I said, “Fuck,” and whipped around looking for shoes in the dark. I found Scott’s first and handed them over. “You’re better dressed for this than I am, honey.” He was not. “I’ll find a phone so we can call 911.” He headed for the curb with Robert.
While I ran for my phone and jerked on a pair of shorts, I had time to worry about Clockwork Orange again, and that poor teacher in Vermont. It was five AM, after all, not yet first light. We could barely see to that curb. What if the man standing there was hale, hearty, and holding a crowbar? What if they were attacking Scott? What was to say that we hadn’t entered into “The Most Dangerous Game”? (If the current events thundering around inside my brain didn’t get me, then I was surely going to die of literary allusion.)
I went back out with a bit more trepidation. “Should I call?” I asked. I already had 9-1-1 typed on my screen.
“What we really need is a phone book,” said Scott.
He came in to get some shorts on and find the thing, and I didn’t go out. Scott grabbed the first phone book in the drawer. “He says his name is Buddy Hall, and he lives down the street at 590.”
The first phone book was a Yellow Pages, which, when he realized it, sent Scott cursing back inside again. I found the right book, but I couldn’t find a Buddy Hall. Scott and I both went out this time, as I had added a bra to my ensemble and felt reasonably confident that our lives weren’t in danger. (Which didn’t stop my in-head commentator from suggesting that this might be exactly what these crazy people were waiting for.)
I needn’t have worried. When Scott and I got there, the man’s name had changed again. Now he was John W. Hall, and he lived at 620. Third name, third address. And he was an old ninety just then, standing tall and hunched, with wispy hair, a raspy voice and no teeth in. I handed Scott my phone (just in case they actually found him in the phone book) and went inside to find Scott’s cell and dial 911.
Jesus. I write a story about a kid nearly drowning and the next day lose my son in the aquarium. I write a story featuring Aunt Charlo at her most kooky, and the confused neighbor makes an appearance. Dangerous thing this writing business.
By the time the police arrived, we were on address number six, but we had established that the man was John W. Hall, nicknamed Buddy. We brought him and Robert in and learned their story. Robert got up early and headed out hunting. (And his gear certainly attested to his truth.) As he drove through the neighborhood, he saw Buddy sitting on the curb. He pulled alongside and rolled down his window. John said, “Help me. I fell and I can’t get up.” Robert coaxed him into the truck, and that was how they landed on our doorstep.
The police found John’s correct address (650, so close, but then, we knew from his slow walk he couldn’t have come from very far) and called the home phone. Nobody answered. They drove by and found the door open and the place deserted. John volunteered out of nowhere, and in the third person, “He lives by himself most of the time, except when he has these little flare ups.” It sounded like he was reciting from a script. He reminded me of Caroline when she was in the worst of the autistic echolalia at age 2.
I brought him coffee, and the police checked a database of some kind. (Alabama has a registry for at-risk senior citizens.) They said he lived alone (confirming John’s odd account), but located his son living halfway across town and said, “He’ll be here soon.”
“Well that’s a relief,” said John. “My wife’s going to kill me. Last time I pulled this, she about went out of her mind. This is the second time I’ve gone and done this, now.” At first, nobody said anything. We weren’t sure if his wife was alive to kill him or not. We never did find out.
But then, Robert said, “Well, I’ll come in first with my hunting dog and distract her.”
Scott said, “Have you got antlers lying around in the car? Carry those in first and you can mount them above the fireplace. Say John bagged a buck.”
Robert said, “Well, it’s turkey season, but I guess we could drum up some feathers.”
The police left, and Robert, Scott, and I made awkward conversation while we waited. Periodically, John would interject something, and it seemed like the longer he stayed, the more cogent he became. (“I just tripped over my own two feet. Nothing there for me to fall over, and still I went down.”) Like maybe we were dealing with a drug interaction of some kind addling his brain, rather than outright senility or Alzheimer’s.
Sam came in and stalked across the room. “You woke me up,” he said. “My job is to wake you up.”
Until Sam entered, John sat on the couch, half sipping his coffee, looking around the room, making odd conversational contributions. It was so obvious that he was looking for something, anything familiar to tell him a friend had once lived there.
But when Sam came in, John suddenly became animated. “Why don’t you come right over here and sit with me!” he invited. Sam chose instead to finish his lecture about not getting enough sleep. It sounded remarkably similar to what I tell him every morning. Then Caroline arrived, and once more, John’s whole face lit up. “Come give me a hug!” he said.
Caroline never refuses a hug. She wrapped her arms around him tight, and he closed his eyes and swayed with her. And then Sam, jealous because big sister was getting the attention, decided to go next. He literally threw himself into John’s arms, so hard I feared he would knock he old man backwards.
But John withstood the blow. Clearly, he still retained some of his physical strength. And he embraced my son with his mouth opened wide in a smile, eyes closed, holding on like my kids were bringing him back to life.
His son arrived. John was clearly glad to see him. The son seemed embarrassed. He acted apologetic. And I wanted to say he didn’t need to be. I wanted to say that we all have parents. Scott’s and mine are comparatively young, in their sixties and seventies. This is a long way in our future. But someday, they may be that old man, sitting on a stranger’s couch, wishing to just go home. Someday, we may be that old man.
But I couldn’t think of those words. My four hours of sleep were closing over me like a heavy fog, and I was feeling less than fully lucid myself. So instead I wished John well and watched him ride away in his son’s car, firm in my resolve that tomorrow, I’m baking him some cookies.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.