The sun woke me up the next morning, like it usually does. I was about to jump up off the couch, and rush to get ready to walk to the Diner. Trying to remember if I had any clean clothes (dark blue t-shirt and jeans of course, my work clothes), I looked at the clock, and realized I needed to hurry.

Then I remembered… It was sunday.  The Diner wasn’t open.

Then I remembered… Bill…

Then I remembered that my head didn’t hurt around him…

I didn’t know what to do…  I cried softly just a while longer before I got up off the couch.

I did change my clothes, but realized I would need to run a load of laundry at some point today. I just sighed. I walked into the bathroom, got a fresh piece of twine, and re-did my tight pony-tail. That is one of the few things I can do that I enjoy. Well, it helps my head hurt the least, anyway. And for a few minutes, I fell back into my zombie food service worker life… The light was off in the bathroom, and I just stared off into the distance, into the blackness, dazed maybe, for a while…

…Then I heard pounding outside the back of the house. I remembered Bill was in one of the apartments back there, the one with a bunch of wood and nails scattered all over the floor. I wasn’t worried. I decided to do what I normally do on sunday mornings (really, what Edna and I used to do) — go for a walk in the field out back. I usually walk slow and dodge snakes and cactus plants. And I usually don’t have much of anything to think about, well, except maybe shoving away…

I walked out the back door of the house, heading to the little apartments to check in on Bill. My angry head stopped hurting… right… away… I tried to ignore that. Well, his door was open, still I knocked. No answer, so I peeked inside, then gasped loudly. The whole apartment was clean, really clean, including the bathroom! I was so amazed. And the wood was all moved. And it looked like he had found some blankets, sheets and pillows somewhere, and had actually slept on a bed of sorts. Well, he got an A for motivation and hard work in my book. That little apartment looked very nice.

I was about to wonder where he had put the wood and stuff, when I heard more pounding in the apartment next door. I peeked in the open door there too. I found the wood; it was neatly stacked against the wall in this other apartment. Bill was in the middle of the room, pieces of wood scattered around him, building something I think. He had found some tools from somewhere. He finished pounding on the piece he was working on, then noticed me right away.

“Oh, hi Maude. I…” he started slowly.

“Bill, the apartment next door looks amazing. You did a very good job cleaning it up.” I stopped there because I didn’t know what else to say.

It was quiet a minute, then Bill offered “I hope it was ok that I put the wood in this next house. I can clean this one up too, but I needed a place to store all this perfectly good wood.”

“Bill, that’s fine” I said quietly. Bill normally talked quietly. I appreciated that. Loud noises hurt my head. Well, again, I was around Bill, and realized that even his pounding didn’t hurt my head at all, right now. Well, it wasn’t a fluke, anyway. I fought back tears again…

It was awkwardly quiet briefly. Bill was still kneeling on the floor, obviously in the middle of building something. “Bill, I am going for a walk in the fields.” I said this much, then I laughed and it didn’t hurt. “It is sort of a sunday tradition for me.”

As soon as I stopped, he said quietly, clearly concerned. “Maude, this desert is crawling with poisonous snakes. You need to be very careful. I could…” His voice trailed off before he could finish.

“I am usually very careful” I said as I smiled. “I walk around in the fields a lot. I should be fine.” I said this calmly, hoping he wouldn’t notice my tears. Well, this was all true… well so far… Unless maybe I had… what did that girl say… a death wish? I don’t know…

I turned to leave, and he said quietly “Well, yell if you need anything.”

I was soon walking in the field. Well, this time I had tons to think about. I was quickly deep in thought, and even brushing away tears often, as I walked very slowly… The relief from my pain around this stranger, how do I handle that? I had no interest in any other man right now, definitely not a salesmoron. And the men in town — most were either unhappily married, and/or drunks, and/or drug addicts who didn’t like to work. Well, I just had no… Bill wasn’t any of that. He was a hard worker, considerate, and so driven to put others first. How can I just be his friend? And how far do I push to give him work to do? And… I wanted him close, if only so my head didn’t punish me — how selfish… I just didn’t…

I heard a fast rattle… In this desert, that was a very BAD sound. I had heard it tons before, usually right before Edna… Looking down as I walked, I realized… Maybe four feet in front of me, a coiled up rattler… Head up, tongue out, rattle up too, wagging fiercely….

I just screamed. I kept screaming… I was sure I would be dead soon. I would probably die in the same ambulance that Ed had died in… This seemed so unfair to me… I… What had I… I didn’t, couldn’t move… Crying fiercely, I kept screaming more… It hurt my head a LOT… I just waited for that rattler to bite me…

I heard a noise behind me, and the rattle abruptly stopped. Tears streaming down my cheeks, I tried to look, but quickly realized… I turned around immediately to run away…

…and ran straight into Bill… He gently swept me up with one of his arms, and held me up tightly to his chest while he walked us both slowly backwards, away from that snake. I was a mess anyway, and did a terrible job of helping. Bill was mostly carrying me… Bill stopped maybe ten feet away from where I was standing before. Then I looked back… The snake’s neck was wrapped around the end of a plank of wood. Slowly, he managed to get out from under it, started up his rattle again, and slithered clumsily away from us.

I was still up against Bill. Nothing hurt… I grabbed his white t-shirt with both hands, clutching the fabric of his shirt in my fingers, buried my face in it, and just cried. That didn’t hurt. Crying hard didn’t hurt my head… For the first time… I cried buckets… I am not sure how, but Bill managed to walk me back closer to the farm house. Standing there, as I clutched Bills shirt, and he held me up, as he hugged me, I cried deeply, for a long time… I realized that he was crying softly with me too, not that it mattered. Well, it did matter, to me…

I guessed it was noon when I realized that I needed to calm down. The pain that gushed out through my tears seemed to me to be far worse than almost getting bit by a rattlesnake. It surprised even me. Except that… All that stuff I had pushed… And I hardly knew Bill, but had cried on his chest for maybe 2 hours… because… my head… didn’t… hurt…

Wiping away tears, I tried to apologize. “Bill, I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to… And thanks for rescu–” That’s all I could get out, and I couldn’t keep going. I was still a mess, and had to work hard to avoid crying again.

Bill smiled, tears still falling… Then he asked quietly “Should I put you down yet?”

I wasn’t thinking. “No, I mean ye– well…”

Bill sighed again, then helped me back down on my feet. I didn’t want to back away. In fact, I wanted to hug him again and never let him go. I don’t know.

After maybe a minute of silence, Bill said quietly, not really to me, I don’t think “Well, I am glad I can help someone, at least…”

Almost pleading, I said “Bill, you saved my life…” and I started crying buckets again. He pulled me to his chest, again, and I cried some more… Then I calmed down again, maybe an hour later. I wanted to cry like that the rest of the day, I don’t know. But my crying slowly tapered off. Then he helped me stand up again.

“Thank you, Bill” I said quietly.

“Thank you, Maude” he said quietly back.

We just stood there awkwardly for a few minutes. I guess I wasn’t too sure what was happening, I mean between us. But, I didn’t want it to stop… ever…

Bill broke the silence. “Please take me with you on your walks from now on.”

I smiled at him. “Ya…” It was quiet for another minute or two. I didn’t even care. My head didn’t hurt. I had cried for a few hours on this man’s chest. I felt tons better. And I didn’t even want to move.

“Can I finish building my bed?” Bill asked tentatively.

I smiled at him, and I think he realized that was a yes. I followed him back into the apartment that was his work-shop I guess, and watched him build. He had found a rusty saw, a broken hammer for the nails, and an old tape-measure. He did the rest himself. I sat down in the doorway, and watched him build for a while. And him pounding nails into the wood didn’t hurt my head, at all… After maybe half an hour, he was hefting a bed frame of sorts up on its side. It looked sturdy. I got up and moved so he could move his bed frame into the apartment next door, his room. He said soberly while moving it “Sleeping on the floor here in snake country is just not a good idea.” I was really thankful for his bed all of a sudden. I had not even thought about that.

By the middle of the afternoon, his bed looked like a bed should. It was up off the floor, with a decent mattress, sheets and blankets and a pillow. Bill swept the floor of the apartment one more time, then stood back to view his handiwork. He said quietly “Maude, thank you… I really mean that. Since I can remember, this is the most amazing place to live…” I was about to say something, but he continued “I hope I can make it up to you, somehow…”

I really wanted to say “You already have…” but I couldn’t make those words, any words come out. So, I surprised myself, walked up to him, and kissed him quickly on his cheek, above his scraggly gray beard. We both blushed. But I didn’t regret what I had done, not for a second.

Still blushing, even through his beard, Bill said quietly “Maude, you can do much better…”

No way… I refused to let that go. I said back, also quietly “Not likely.” Then I smiled.

And, I guess I should have expected this. After he was done blushing… “Maude, I am not trying to…” I guess he couldn’t finish.

I smiled again, then took a slow, deep breath. My head had not hurt at all since I wandered back to see what he was doing this morning. And he had rescued me from a deadly rattler. Then I cried out hours of pain on his chest as he held me up… I said what I felt. “I think we both need each other’s help.”

Bill smiled. I can’t explain how that made me feel. But right then I realized that leaving him tonight, even to walk the maybe 50 feet to the back door of the farmhouse, then to my couch, that would be hard. I scolded myself, and said inside that I should be thankful for what today had already held. I really was. For the first time since I could even remember, I think I knew what peace was. I had felt it today.

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1. Maude: Meanderings is copyright 2017 by Shysage.

 

 

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