John R. Guthrie
“Listen, Doc, I even used to have to close the trailer windows before we went to bed so the neighbors wouldn’t hear when she got excited. I was afraid they might think something was bad wrong and call the cops. But Doc, that surgeon up at VA, he got the cancer, but he got my nature too, just like he said he might.”
“Oh, my. How do you feel about that, Earl?”
He took a deep breath, sighed and said, “I dunno, Doc, I just dunno. Muriel’s something, Doc. When she gets going, oh, boy! But now….”
He was silent for a moment. Behind him the steady click, click, click of the wall clock was audible as the seconds were swept away. Aged, wizened, alert, sat on the end of the exam table in Dr. Christopher Jaques’s family practice clinic. His shirt was off, the skin of his torso a pale and loose-fitting garment. He had his favorite cap on, one emblazoned over the bill with a fouled anchor and gold embroidery proclaiming, “U.S. Navy – Minesweepers – Korea.”
He leaned toward Doctor Jacques, lowering his voice. “I just can’t think about going around Muriel any more now.”
“Earl, sounds like you need to talk with her. Faking an erection’s next to impossible.”
“Talk to her? Doc, you just don’t understand. She’s young, just started drawing her Social. She’s a good-looking woman; got a shape, you know,” he drew a coke bottle in the air, “and she’s really BIG on top He held his hands before his chest to indicate melons. He took his cap off and brushed his hand through his white hair, hair which was full despite his years. His knobby fingers kneaded the back of his neck.
The wind from the Smoky Mountains to the north of Austerity sighed as it gusted around the corner of the clinic. Thoughtful for a moment, Earl’s blue eyes, washed out and pale, looked at the exam room window where a cold rain rattled against the panes and bled slowly downward.
He continued. “I’d been by myself nineteen years until I met Muriel. My kids live all the way across the county. My daughter called from Oregon two years ago to borrow some money. She was in some kind of trouble with the law. Besides that I hardly ever even hear from her or her brother either. Too busy, I guess. Maybe I wasn’t all that great a dad. So I mostly hung around home. But then I met Muriel over at the VFW. Things sure changed then.”
“Muriel’s mighty important to you, isn’t she Earl?”
He nodded, face downcast. “She is…was. My boy in Los Angeles, he’s Mr. Big now, has his own company selling fancy plumbing fixtures to rich people out there. He came to my place, just walked in one day a month or two after I met Muriel. I hadn’t seen him in nearly eight years. I cut the TV off and we both sat down on the couch.
“He said, ‘Dad, I had a trade show in Atlanta, so I just took time off to come and see you while I still could.’
“I said, Well, thanks, I guess.
“He kept on talking. ‘You been all by yourself since mom died. I can help you get into Holy Angels Assisted Living Facility if you come out to LA. You sign over your pension check and Social Security to me, I’ll take care of any difference. You wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. Lots of old people out there. I could get rid of that clunker you have outside for you and this trailer too. We’d be flying toward LAX quick as greased lightning.’
“Know what I said, Doc?”
Dr. Jacques shook his head. “No Earl. How’d you react to that?”
“Doc, I stood up and said, Holy Angels my sweet ass! In case you forgot, Son, I served 23 years in the United States Navy, bosn’s mate first class! At Wonsan, my boat got blown out from under me. I got a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. They sent me to the hospital in Yokosuka. When I got straightened out, I took 30 day’s leave. I stayed at Tokyo Kate’s House of Pleasure and Bar for 27 days in a row. Actually, if I gotta go anywhere to die, I’d rather go back to Tokyo Kate’s. How’s that sound, Son?
“He says, ‘Frankly Father, it sounds disgusting. Anyway Tokyo Kate’s was over 50 years ago. We have to be realistic.’
“I was already stepping toward the door. I said, you gotta be realistic, Son. Holy Angel’s were few and far between in the minesweeper fleet. Listen; I gotta go.
“’You gotta go where, Dad?’
“I got a date.
“Date! Make yourself at home, Son. There’s bologna and beer in the fridge. Bread’s on the counter.
“He says, ‘Why’re you leaving now?’
“I says same reason I went to Tokyo Kate’s. ‘Cause I’m horny as a seven-peckered billy goat.”
Earl and Doctor Jaques laughed out loud at this, Jacques pumping his fist into the air.
Earl continued saying, “Then I went on out the door. But once she finds out that I can’t even…”
Doctor Jacques said, “Yeah, Earl. It’s tough to think about, isn’t it? But maybe this story’s not done yet. Sometimes, things in a relationship can get a lot better even though things are tough right now. Level with her, Earl.”
That particularly severe winter in Austerity ended abruptly as frigid blasts give way to warming breezes. Jonquils and crocuses emerged like Lazarus from their earthen graves. Dogwoods and azaleas bloomed forth, vamped out in all their springtime finery.
Sitting on the end of Dr. Jacques’s exam table once more, Earl rebuttoned his green short-sleeved gingham shirt. Doctor Jacques said, “Earl, you’re sounding good. Looking good too. Blood Pressure’s 130/85.”
“Doc, I feel good. Lemme tell you why. Muriel came by my place right after I saw you last. I was lying on the couch, watching the Jerry Springer show. She came right in. Boy, was she pissed!
“She said ‘What the hell’s wrong with you, Earl? I’m not good enough for you any more? You haven’t even been over to the VFW!’
“So I just faced up to it and told her. Muriel, it ain’t you. You know the surgery?’
“’Of course I know. What about it?’
“I looked at her kind of shame-faced and said, Muriel, after that surgery, I can’t do a thing any more. Know what she said, Doc?”
“What did she say Earl?”
“Then she said, real soft and easy, ‘Earl, Sweety, look at me! When I had my surgery, they took everything out. I haven’t felt a thing down there for 27 years.’
“I said, but you were so, so excited.…
“She said, ‘that was just for you, Earl. You’re still the only man in my life, all the man I need or want. I hope you still want to be my man.’”
Earl paused here, brow furrowed, then nodding rubbed his chin and thought a moment, then said, smiling, “Now ain’t she something, Doc? Ain’t she really something?”
Dr. John R. Guthrie practiced family medicine in the Smokey Mountain foothills of Appalachia for years. As an adolescent he was a U.S. Marine infantry rifleman and later served as a physician in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He lives in Southern California and is a writer and social activist.
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