Writing a short story. Threw this in there. Edit recommendations appreciated.
“Back in the day when I was just out of high school, I worked at a home for the mentally and physically screwed up. There would be ‘bout twenty to thirty people in there at a time, an’ it would be me an’ two others, changin’ bed sheets, makin’ food, walkin’ them to their daycare program. This was in Kansas, mind you son; not the most progressive place back then.
Anyways, it was dark an’ dirty, and there was one small TV on that shone cartoons from mornin’ til the lights flicker’d on the big black walls behind them in the dead of night. We kept that goin’ so half a them was occupied, because the other half was so God-damned bad that we had to hol’ ‘em up just so they could use the toilet, or we’d bring the food from the plate to their mouth. I swear son, the dishes were piled forty high an’ forty wide in the sink ‘cause we ain’t never had the time nor care to wash ‘em.
There was a man livin’ there about thirty years older than me, but with the wits of a nine year old. His name was Tom, an’ he was a real nice feller. His parents dropped him off when be became too big fuh them to feed and take care of, so we brought him in and did our best.
He was able to walk aroun’, but always tripped and fell on the cracks of the sidewalk, or was cuttin’ his hand on a knife while eating his food. Always got a bandage aroun’ at least three parts of his body, God bless him. I got to know ‘im pretty well while I was there; fun guy with a kind soul. He’d love to dance around the home, even tryin’ to get the wheelchair people to get up and move, and they ain’t dance in years.
Well, he got old as all men, good and bad, tend to do, and with his condition, his heart got weak and his mind slowed to an ant’s crawl. Eventually he had to stay in bed ‘cause his body couldn’t keep up with his spirit, no how no way. I fed him the most often out of everyone; his favorite meal was beef and potatoes; that Dinty Moore from the can. I asked him if he wanted it warmed up, but he always said that he wants it room temperature in the can. Odd feller, I tell yah.
One day, it was late at night an’ real windy, the type of wind that keeps you up at night, and I was puttin’ them all to bed. When I finally got to Tom, I asked him if he was ready to sleep. He didn’t really answer me; kept lookin’ away out the window. I ‘member it was raining that night. Rain an’ wind, scared the holy hell outta some of those people.
I waited a bit. ’What’s wrong?’ I asked Tom.
Still no answer.
‘All right, you don’t gotta talk to me, but I still gotta put you to sleep.’
He turned back over and faced me, and I swear to God, I had never seen anything sadder in my short, know-nothin’ life.
‘I don’ get it.’
‘What don’ you get, bud?’
He went silent on me again. I couldn’t tell if it was the mental thing he had, or if something really was bothering him.
I asked him again. ’Hey Tom. What’s wrong?’
He took his time to reply. I heard a few people shuffling around in the hallway, stirrin’ because that’s what they do. But we were by ourselves in Tom’s room, us and the wind and a few candles that went out when the wind came through the wooden walls.
‘James… am…am I dyin’?’
I have to tell you, son, I didn’t know what to say. I had no idea what to say. An’ I loved the kid, but God damn it, I mean, he was dyin’. Dyin’ real quick. He didn’t have long, and he and I could see it in my face.
‘Well, we all are, Tom. That’s just how life goes.’
He stared at me, breathing heavily like he always did. Like he did after dancing, or after walking up the stairs to the roof to try an’ get a catch of sun. His chapped lips moved aroun’, as if he was going to tell me that he was finally ready to sleep or that he had a cat when he was a child that would dance around with his mom in the yard and his mom loved that cat until the day she died. He tol’ me ‘bout that cat who knows how many times.
I stood over his bed, waitin’. Son, I tell you right now, when a man like that asks you a question like this, well, you can never give the right answer to a dyin’ man.
‘What was this for?’
‘What was what for?’ I asked him.
‘I know I’m slow. I know I’m u-ugly…’
‘Tom, stop that. You ain’t ugly.’
‘Fine. But I live here, and I don’t have the smarts to have a job. I know that.’
He started sobbin’ in a way that my older brother sobbed when my father got in a car accident out in Front’nac and lost his vision and couldn’t tell left from right, red from blue, up from damn near down.
‘I still don’t understand what you’re sayin’ to me Tom.’
‘Why was I even born? What was the… what was the… ‘
He struggled to find the words. You let the man find the word. Don’ give no man the word that his mind might grab outta thin air, or then he ain’ never gon’ learn. Keep that in mind for your kid.
‘What did I even do here?’
I tell you right now, I couldn’t even speak. I had a difficult time balancin’ my resolve with my almost uncontrollable urge to break down in front of the boy. What do you say to ‘im? What do you say to a man or a boy or whatever the hell you’d call ‘im, when you don’t even have the God damned answer?
‘James, where’m I gon’ go?’
‘That’s somethin’ I don’ know, Tom. But all I know is that you’re goin’ someplace good. I swear. I swear to you.’
‘How’d you know?’
‘ ’Cause you’ a good man. I know that for a fact Tom. Don’ be scared now. You ain’ goin’ no where.’
Tom rolled away from me. I felt like he hated me for not knowin’, and I really couldn’t blame him. The man was scared, and he knew the doctor comin’ an’ goin’ to his room more than anyone else, takin’ his temper’ture, checkin’ his heartbeat with the watch and lookin’ at us. God damn, did we not hide it well, not at all.
He did pass away a few weeks after that. We held a funeral for the boy, all the way down in Kansas City where the rest of his family was buried. His relatives strung them fancy wreathes around his grave and cried and wailed, ‘How could you take this man from us, God? Why?’
I’ll tell you, they never visited the sad sack once, but everyone loves to put on a good mourn now and then, I’d say.
I gave a speech for Tom. It was quick, to the point, tellin’ everyone how good a man he was, and everythin’ about his lively spirit. I didn’t say nothin’ about our conversation, as I thought that his God fearing family would be disappointed in him, as the righteous should always, always go t’ Heaven.
He was a damn good man. But to this day, I couldn’t tell you what the hell different I would say to him. Still don’t know, after decades of livin’ and comin’ nearer to my own time.”