The bottle sat on the table within arm’s reach, enticing, beckoning. Andrew stretched out his right arm toward it, then withdrew, tucking the hand under the left upper arm. That was all he had there, an upper arm. In the car accident on an icy road over two years ago, a transport had slid over the line and destroyed his life. His wife and little girl had died instantly but he survived with multiple fractures and a left arm so crushed the doctors had to amputate above the elbow.
He licked his lips. His tongue kept sticking to the roof of his mouth and his eyelid had developed a persistent twitch. He knew the bottle on the table didn’t really vibrate but it pulsated in synch with his heartbeat, tantalizing him with the desire of sleep and peace. He thought he could be stronger than the bottle but maybe he didn’t want to fight the oblivion it promised. He couldn’t bear the mental anguish.
The first year following the fatal accident was a nightmare of pain, grief, and tortuous convalescence but during this last year he had been void of most physical discomfort and just existed on empty. The doctors warned him to cut back on the pain medication, but nothing mattered. He didn’t use it that much. The beer and liquor kept him in a hazy never land. Only when he flirted with a comatose state could he bear the remembrances of his precious family. The nights of dark and somber thoughts were the hardest.
Damn that summer sun bursting through his eyelids. His head must have cracked open by the way the thing screeched. Andrew had forgotten to shut the blinds the night before when he passed out from the exhaustion of depression and drink. It sounded like he’d left the television on as well and he lay sprawled sideways in the bed wearing smelly clothes from two or three days ago. Who was counting? Oh hell, another day to struggle through. He buried his head under the pillows but it was impossible to drift back into the black void of forgetfulness. With a grunt, Andrew eased out of bed, holding his head with his one hand. He kept his eyes squeezed shut and staggered into a few walls before he made it to the bathroom and then found the kitchen. After brewing a strong pot of coffee, he carried his cup out onto the back porch to sit on the steps and stare with bleary eyes at his messy yard, overgrown with grass and dandelion weeds.
“Hey, Mister, Sir? Ten bucks to mow your yard, plus that patch in front by the driveway?”
Andrew glared at the scrawny boy in faded jeans and torn shirt. “This is my back yard kid and you’re trespassing. I can mow it myself.” The boy looked disappointed. Andrew frowned and surprised himself by asking. “How old are you, kid?”
“I’m almost ten but I’m strong, Sir.” The boy scuffed his cracked runners in the long grass. “If you wait much longer it’ll get too long for your mower.”
“What’ll you do with the ten bucks, Boy?” Andrew slugged back his coffee. “Buy cigarettes and drugs?”
“No Sir. My little brother has asthma. He needs new puffers to breathe better.”
“Sure Kid and I believe you. What’s your name?”
“Jacob, Sir and my brother is Joshua.”
“Wow, and your mother and father are Mary and Joseph, right?”
“Huh? I have no father. My mother’s name is Sally Ross. She works days at the corner donut shop. It’s close for her to walk cause we don’t have a car. Grandma stays with us.”
“Did your dad run off then, boy?”
“No sir. He was killed by a drunk driver, three years ago.”
Andrew stared down at his feet. Nice going, Andy. He wiped his hand over his unshaven chin, then looked back at the boy. “Don’t call me sir. It’s Mr. Currie. I’ll give you twenty bucks for a good job, kid—uh, Jacob.”
“Oh no, that’s too much, Sir, Mr. Currie. Unless you have other jobs you want me to do?” The boy’s eyes glanced at the empty sleeve of Andrew’s shirt, which he kept pinned up above the absent elbow. “I could help with chores or cleaning up.”
“Maybe you could help me clean out the garage, Boy. I’ll use my old truck to haul stuff to the dump later.”
It was a cool morning, but after working for a couple of hours Andrew flopped his butt down on an oil drum, sweating the alcohol out of his system. He stunk. “Whew! You’re killing me, Jacob. Slow down.” He gulped in air to fill his lungs and reached in his pocket for money. “Here’s a ten. Run down to your mom at the store. Get me a large black coffee and yourself a hot chocolate. Bring us each back a big fat donut, any kind.” He frowned at the boy. “If you want, ask your mom for permission to come in my truck to the dump. You can help me unload.”
“Yes, Sir.” The boy skipped down the driveway and then raced along the road to the store. He returned at a slower pace, balancing the two drinks and the bag of goodies. He handed over the bag, then eased the hot coffee out of the carrier. “Mom found us the biggest donuts cause we’re working hard. She knows your house so I can go to the dump in your truck.”
They worked well together all week. The boy only accepted twenty dollars every day no matter how much they accomplished.
“Next week it’s supposed to get really hot, Jacob. You could help me clear out the basement. It’ll be cooler down there.” Andrew fell into a deep sleep every night with the unaccustomed physical activity. The companionship of the small, talkative boy helped too. This combination of the kid and the work kept his morose thoughts away for hours at a time. Andrew had worked for a newspaper before his accident, writing articles about the places he visited. He was flattered when the boy quit chattering to look at him with enchanted eyes, hanging onto every word of the stories Andrew told him of his travels to different countries.
“What are you going to do when everything’s cleaned up?” Jacob asked.
“Why do I have to do anything? I have a disability pension, Boy. I can just sit around.”
“That’s boring, Mr. Currie. You talked about working at a newspaper office.” The boy grinned. “You travelled a lot and I liked the stories you told me. Why don’t you write about them so other people can enjoy them too?”
The idea tugged at Andrew. It appeared that not all his dreams had fled. “Hell, Kid, I can only use the computer with one hand. It makes typing slow and difficult.”
The boy frowned. “You could talk in one of those machines, Mr. Currie, if you got real busy. It’d be okay to type slow, if you needed to think what to say.”
“When did you get so smart, Boy?” Andrew’s heart flipped when he thought of losing the lad’s company. “If I do that much writing, Jacob, I’ll need you to stop in and critique my work.”
“What’s critique mean, Sir?”
“It means you need to read my stuff and tell me when the story’s boring or if I missed some important information. It’ll help with your geography lessons when you go back to school.”
Andrew fell asleep that night thinking of his travels. There were ways he could enrich the tales, bring to life the different countries he visited. He still had the connections to find out about the current demand and the appropriate publishers.
By the end of the following week, the work was completed and the house and yard were spotless. Andrew ached all over but it was a good ache. Now he was hot, tired and thirsty. He trudged to the fridge and pulled out a cold beer. His first thought was that it would help him sleep though he didn’t need it for that anymore. He was full of lemonade, drinking with the funny kid all day and he could enjoy a beer without needing another one.
Andrew flopped down at the kitchen table with his drink. He frowned at the large bottle in center place on the small table. It meant nothing, held no more power over his thoughts. He sighed, rose and picked up the bottle of pain pills that was his planned escape route. With a shake of his head Andrew shuffled down the hall to the bathroom where he flushed all the pills he had hoarded down the toilet. No longer did he need to seek oblivion from a life of hell. The pain and loss of his beloved family would always be part of him but Andrew knew that at last he was beginning to heal.