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William J Neven

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Charley
By William J Neven
Thursday, January 20, 2005

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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As a man watches his son die, a neighbor adds to his anguish while a storm nears.

---- Roger swore he could smell him dying over the coffee, the air damned near as foul as he was.
---- “These wire monkeys are saying that Charley will be the worst hurricane we’ve had since Andrew,” he said, head-minding the set.
---- His son only looked out at some crooked-beak, white ibises as they strutted around the edge of the pond.
---- “Course as they say, Lane, you can’t believe everything you hear on TV. Now can you?”
---- Still nothing.
---- Ever since the accident that’s how it was. Of course, he did speak up once in a while though hardly ever made any sense. Repeated the names ‘Gloria’ and ‘Ernie’ a lot mostly. Was to be expected, Roger imagined. Besides, how Lane, alone, survived the crash was still a mystery to most everyone who saw what was left of their SUV.
---- Reaching past his son, he shooed away one of those jittery geckos from a nearby wall. He swore the cursed things were like having an infestation of cold-blooded mice.
---- Lane didn’t seem to mind them though. Just sat in his wheelchair with his belly sticking out from under an old Miami Dolphins tee shirt, holding a plastic cup you could still tell read ‘Steak and Ale’ on it which was half-filled with some cheap vodka and sprite.
---- And, yes, he knew he shouldn’t have bought his son that but – what the hell – the doctors said his liver was about gone along with his mind.
---- Figuring it might help to loosen his tongue, Roger turned off the TV and sat in a black, metal chair across from him.
---- But that’s when she started up as usual.
---- “Your crappy coconuts are falling in my yard again, Roger!” the ancient bitch screamed from the other side of the cringing screens.
---- That he had never killed her after all these years still amazed him since she hadn’t changed a bit since the first time he’d met her. Although she had been kind of cordial to him when his Wyla was still around. After she passed, though, it was like some of the mold around here had gotten into her brain.
---- Her sun-bleached and partially-toothless face appeared in the shadows beyond the door now, making her look like a swamp monster out of some Grade-B horror movie, before she squawked: “Are you listening to me?”
---- Hailed from The Bronx so that explained a lot about her, he figured, and claimed she was once a well-known artist. To demonstrate, all along the front of her mobile home she had carved out these little, elfish figures. They had skin as brown as her own with white wings that jutted up beyond their backs.
---- She called them her ‘angels’.
---- He called her ‘nuts’.
---- To add to his misery, she complained endlessly about his lone, coconut palm. True, its trunk did twist out so that its top came close to the roof of her place but he used to rise early each morning to pick up as many coconuts as he could. Problem lately was that, since he had to attend to Lane, she had started to retrieve them, herself. These she would dangle from wires inside her screened-in porch like a collection of shrunken heads.
---- “So what’s the matter with your boy anyhow?” she said as if reading his mind. “You didn’t tell him I was stealing these, did you? Cause you know they’re falling on my side.”
---- Not wishing to make an issue of that, he was all set to say that Lane’s staring had to do with his illness when the boy blurted out: “I just watch them die.” He shifted his blank gray eyes over to her. “Only three are left alive, you know. Just like before.”
---- “What are you talking about?” she said. When he offered no response, she held up the coconut to Roger. “Does he mean of these?”
---- He nodded though he really hadn’t noticed. He knew he should have but hadn’t.
---- “And only three are left,” he realized, following Lane’s gaze up beneath the fronds. He then bent down next to his son. “No, Lane. You can’t think like that. Coconuts aren’t people! Besides, what about the coconut palm? It isn’t dying.”
---- His son pulled back his bony cheeks and whispered: “That’s what they’re riding in, pops, so only the coconuts matter.”
---- At that, she set the coconut she had been holding down into his rock garden.
---- “Know what I think, Roger? I think you’re both crazy!” she said before she stalked off through the sugar sand and grass.
---- After she left, he brought the coconut inside and held it out to Lane. He could both hear and feel its milk as he jiggled it.
---- “I’ll tell you what, son,” he said with a wink. “Why don’t we eat this one? I bet that’ll show her what we think of that. Huh?”
---- He gave off a weary-sounding sigh.
---- “If it’ll make you happy, pops.”
---- With that, he took a machete from the storage shed, set the coconut down against a big rock outside near the pond and sawed through its tough, fibrous exterior.
---- “Here you go, Lane,” he said, handing him a chunk of its fruity, white meat. “I know this’ll make you feel better.”
---- Upon sampling it and then sipping its milk, though, his son said: “It’s like its body and blood. Isn’t it, pops?”
---- Electrified, Roger said: “Oh, no, son. That isn’t what it’s like at all.”
---- That’s when she let out a painful screech from her side of the yard.
---- “Another one of your accursed coconuts, Roger!” she hollered as a multi-wrinkled scowl formed across her face. She hoisted it up by its husky hair next to another angel she had been sculpting. “And this one almost killed me!”
---- “Don’t worry!” Lane called out to her before he could reply. “Only two are left alive!”
---- “Well, it’s a good thing that a storm is coming so that it’ll knock them off, too,” she in turn told him. “Otherwise, I’d have the association have you and your father both kicked out of here!”
---- “That’s okay because pretty soon they’ll all be dead,” Lane laughed back.
---- She twisted her head and squinted at him. When another coconut fell due to the building wind, she didn’t say anything.
---- “Maybe I could have the coconut supported some other way somehow,” Roger said to her, meantime.
---- “Wouldn’t matter, pops,” Lane said, now smiling up at where the last one precariously dangled beneath sloping fronds. “Because it’s time for it to die.’’
---- Later that night, after he had drawn the shutters, Roger could hear lightning crackling and wind slamming into the outer walls. The next morning, however, he was awakened by a different sound, that of a siren. Terrified, he stumbled into Lane’s room. As he did, his son motioned he open the shutters.
---- Not sure if he should, he raised them anyway, expecting the inevitable.
---- Instead, Lane said: “Why is an ambulance in front of Old Lady Newbury’s place?”
---- Peering out, Roger was surprised to see two paramedics bent over her. She was lying beside a ladder next to that accursed angel of hers.
---- That’s when his sights drifted up. Shocked, he could only think of crying out: “Lane, look. It didn’t die!”
---- His son gazed back at him with tired eyes.
---- “The last coconut!” he exclaimed, scarcely believing it, himself. “You see it?”
---- At that, Lane’s expression changed, a look of actual vitality forming on his face.
---- As the ambulance squealed out of their cul-de-sac toward I-75, the two for once smiled at each another.

---- After a few weeks, Lane returned to his old job up north. The last time he called, Roger was concerned because he had to tell his son that the association had ordered him to have the coconut palm cut down.
---- Much to his relief, Lane only joked that – if nothing else – it probably made Old Lady Newbury’s soul happy.
---- The day the crew came over and set it down, one of the workers said: “Hope you don’t mind, sir, if we lay the tree in your yard so we can back the truck in.”
---- “Actually, it’s really not on my side, used to belong to an old woman named ‘Newbury’. She died some time back while working on what she called her ‘angels’. She did wood carvings, you see.”
---- “Hey, then maybe that explains it.”
---- Puzzled, Roger grinned at him and asked: "Explains what?”
---- “I mean I didn’t really think it could’ve been done by Mother Nature,” the worker said. He pushed back the fronds and motioned at the top of the tree bark. “But it sure looks like a real coconut though. Doesn’t it?”

       Web Site: William Neven

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Reviewed by Robert Montesino 2/17/2005
A powerful & poignant story here Bill, you are not only a masterful story teller but you pen your pieces with the grace and ease of a real pro who has been around the block a few times...you obviously know your craft well. When I took a look at the 700 plus page novel I was more than just a little impressed! My only question...how long?
Reviewed by Sandy Knauer 1/23/2005
Outstanding work. I'm so happy to have read this.
Reviewed by A Serviceable Villain 1/21/2005
William,

Very emotive, powerful write ... descripted to perfection!!


Best regards,

Robert


Books by
William J Neven



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