Mel is an Elysian Fields resident, one among many who wander. He’s no better or worse than any other and certainly wasn’t perfect in life. His popularity is based on listening and an ability to type in total and utter darkness. Many come to him, some with an excuse, some wanting to finish what they’ve left undone. Others believe they have an ax to grind and discover it’s something quite different. I suppose as his favored transcriber, I can tell you, Mel’s only motivation is to pass these stories along to you.
I waited for the appointment too long and had to run for the head. Did you think those pesky “nature” things were in the past? Wrong. Too much Mexican at the canteen and I can barely make a twenty-minute interview session. At least the midnight, stand-up trips every hour on the hour have fallen by the wayside.
Today was especially important to me. I know from my communications with Ollie, he’s posted some cathartic missives about running the road of life, hoping to find relief. Apparently, this appointment was someone cited in a short tale and I wasn’t sure he’d like what the other guy had to say. The dead, you see, have a certain brutal honesty to them. Dying must strip away the veneer of earthly niceties, although, in all honesty, I haven’t noticed a difference in myself. Maybe that’s why Nurse Rachet left her computer for me. She always heads the other way whenever I come around. Death is such a mystery.
When I made it back to Nurse Rachet’s desk, he was there.
“You’re late,” he said, anger in his voice. “I thought we agreed to meet at five.”
“Well, like they used to say back in the life, it’s five o’clock somewhere.”
He didn’t laugh. I’d forgotten that some residents still take themselves seriously. We are dead, after all.
I said, “Sorry, sorry. I had a little reaction from last night’s dinner.”
“Okay, “ I said. “Go ahead.”
“Well, the reason I’m here is that Ollies’ got it all wrong. What a mope. What he wrote about me sounded like he was crying in his beer. For Christ’s sake, that guy just slays me sometimes. What’s he whining about anyway?”
I heard the heavy breathing and stomping of feet and waited, but it seemed to be my turn to speak.
“You may need to give the guy a break, Eddie. I didn’t know him on the other side, of course, but I don’t think he impugned your character with his post. If anything, the blog post was more a lament.”
“That’s not the point, Mel,” Eddie said, terseness clouding his words. “He waxed all moronic about the old days, drive-ins with the top down, dances we went to. About how he and Janice were usually last on dance floor-finalists, but he’d quit so he didn’t show me up. Yeah, he was okay, but I mean, what the hell. His mom made him take lessons. The swim coach didn’t like it, but there you go. I don’t understand why the hell he’d bring that up.”
Eddie finally got to it. “Ollie even talked about my old ’59 Ford convertible … and taking Janice home when his rattletrap broke down.”
Again with the stomping.
“I didn’t do anything with Janice. I mean, she might … well, maybe we both kissed. Some. A couple of times. But we didn’t let it go too far. I happen to know he took Susan Lancaster to McDonald’s after band practice. And, in my car when I was away on vacation. He never told me about it.”
“Why do you think that was?” I asked.
“He was embarrassed, just like me. Sort of cheating, you know.”
I said, “You were both kids. What did you know about love?”
“We’re not talking dating and love, Mel, come on. Your question should be what did we know about loyalty. And, we both knew a lot, actually. He knew some things that would’ve got me canned when we were rooming in Buffalo after senior year of college. That was my first real banking job, you know. I found out one of my supposed friends at the branch was pumping him for information at Shakey’s Pizza.” He stopped and laughed. “While I was pulling an internship that launched me into the millionaire’s club, he was making pizza’s at night and driving a dump truck in the daytime. He needed one more credit to qualify for the Marines, so he had to go back to school. I remember thinking the guy was a idiot. There was a war on, you know. People were dying.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I remember.”
I heard him shuffle, then sniffle. “God, I loved that guy. When I got the big C, I didn’t want to call him. He called me, you know. Just to catch up. I didn’t tell him. He would’ve come running even if we hadn’t seen each other for thirty years. I couldn’t take that.”
“Shouldn’t that have been his choice?”
“Yeah, and that’s what I regret the most. Our time together in good times, kid times was also healthy times. Nothing hurt. We could fall out trees, swim in the lake. We were so strong, young, virile.” Eddie sighed heavily. “Not strong enough for me to join up though. I got Sharon pregnant so we hurried a shotgun wedding and I got a deferment. I just couldn’t face him after that.”
I said nothing.
“Do you know he used to call me from flight school? He’d even call when he got back from overseas … all in one piece, by the way. Sometimes, I’d be asleep. Seems he didn’t care about time zones. He just wanted to talk … to me. He’d be a little drunk but he was always happy. He was still my ugly buddy, he’d claim. Then I up and died before I could tell him I was his ugly buddy, too.”
I knew tears were falling.
“Ah, crap. Now, look what you made me do.”
“You want to know something, Eddie?”
“Somehow, I think he knows that.”