Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Four Hundred and ten: Work to do

CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED and TEN

“What could happen?” Celia asked in a whisper.

“What could happen? Are you kidding me?” Sam thought, but did not say. After a lifetime of loving Celia, he knew better than to argue with her about this.

Like some stupid movie, the vision shifted into a montage of horror. Visions of Celia vomiting blood until she had to get transfusions at the hospital where the ER doctors told her that the pregnancy was killing her. Sam begged her to terminate, but she insisted. Day by day, Sam was sure he was losing her. The first trimester ended, and they told themselves that they were through the worst of it. At four months, the child could press against Celia’s uterus. At five months, Delphie moved in to their house so that she could communicate encourage the child not to kill its host, his beloved wife. At six months, Celia was on bedrest, and Delphie was in the bed with her.

Their entire lives fell to Sam. He was husband, father, and corporate chief. Because this baby exaggerated their poverty, he often bid jobs only to do the work himself late into the night. Countless times, he picked Valerie up at school to bring her to a worksite where she sat on his lap “helping him.” He started jobs the moment he was able and worked until the city forced them to shut down at Denver curfew, 10 p.m.

When Celia was awake, she was white face, drawn, and barely able to speak. As soon as the clock clicked over to six months, they were in the ER at least once a week. Celia could barely create enough blood to keep herself alive, let alone feed the creature growing inside of her. They gave her drugs to help her make her own blood, but it wasn’t enough. The home nurse gave her uncountable pints of blood. Everything Celia ate, she threw up. She had lost so much weight that she look like she had a serious eating disorder.

What could happen? Seriously?

Somehow, by the grace of someone — probably Delphie — Celia survived long enough to get this baby to full term. The macabre delivery started the moment she was wheeled into the hospital. Sam was pretty sure he blocked out the worst parts of it. He just remembered that there was a lot of blood and screaming. Delphie passed out somewhere into their tenth or eleventh hour. Finally, the doctor put Celia out and took the parasite by cesarean. Because Celia was in such a bad way, the doctor dumped the baby in Sam’s arms and the person his entire life revolved around, Celia, was rushed away.

“But …?” Sam had started to ask.

“We’re taking her to surgery,” the doctor said, as they ran past him with Celia.

Only then did Sam look down at the child in his arms. He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting.

Not this. No, not this beautiful, emaciated, exhausted child. The baby’s eyes flittered as if they wanted to open. Unable to even make that effort, the baby simply touched Sam’s face with his bloody hand and broke into a smile. As if he’d been fighting for a long time, the tiny child fell sound asleep in Sam’s arms.

Sam began to weep. He had not wanted this child. He’d begged Celia to terminate the pregnancy. He’d hated this creature that was killing his whole world — Celia.

In this moment, Sam felt as if the universe or God or Goddess or whatever, probably Delphie, had given him this child, his son. He was overwhelmed with a profound love. In this moment, he swore he would protect this child from any injury. He would defend the child even if it took his very life. Knowing the child would be a weirdo — how could he not be? — Sam swore to teach his son to pretend to pass as normal.

The nurse returned a moment after Sam had made his promises. The boy had wailed when she took him away from Sam.

“He has lungs on him,” the nurse had said. “Probably misses his mommy.”

Sam was so overwhelmed that he could only nod. He watched the nurse as she took his son away from him. Feeling someone close, Sam looked down to see Delphie.

“He’s perfect,” Sam had said. “I don’t know what I expected.”

“You didn’t know,” Delphie had said, with a laugh.

Sam had scowled at her and Delphie had laughed harder.

“He is your child, your soul’s request,” Delphie had said. “She had him for you.”

Sam dropped to his knees in the hallway of that hospital and cried his eyes out. Delphie stayed with him. When the nurse returned, she told them that the baby was small and needed a warming blanket and food. Because his mother was so sick, they had taken him to the nursery. Then she asked:

“Was it a hard pregnancy?” the nurse had asked, looking from Sam to Delphie and back to Sam.

Delphie had laughed.

The vision spun through the days of Sam and Jacob’s life together. Walking. Running. Football practice. Crying over the Rockies seasons. Bikes, motocross, motorbikes, ATVs. Track. Sex. Ultimate Frisbee. Hunting in the freezing fucking cold. Sports on television. Cheering at Bronco games. Girls. Crawling. Cars. They laughed and cried together. Jacob picked up a hammer when he was less than six months old. During the summers, he apprenticed to become a carpenter like his father. They were close, honest to a fault with each other — they were father and son.

Jacob was the missing piece in their lives. Valerie continued to be smarter, kinder, and more beautiful than any of them. Celia healed from their pregnancy to build the largest woman owned construction company in the state. She started the Marlowe School, which won award after award.

If Sam could have imagined a perfect life, he was now living it. Celia was happy. Sam was happy. Delphie lived with them. And their children grew.

And then, as if a bill for all of that happiness came due, Celia got sick.

Like a precious crystal bowl, everything broke apart.

Valerie drifted away. Celia forced Sam to marry Tiffanie and her endless problems. Delphie stayed close to Celia, which led to buying the monstrosity of the Castle. When Celia and Delphie weren’t there, Jacob and Sam worked on the Castle. Jacob found the birch room and Sam made it perfect for Celia. Sam never lost Jacob, even for a moment, since the doctor had dropped him into his arms that day at the hospital.

“Until now,” Sam said out loud.

In his heart, he knew that if he didn’t do something he would lose Jacob forever. His heart seized in his chest. That was simply not happening. Not on his watch.

He opened his eyes and he was back on the deck outside the medical offices. He sensed that it was nearing morning and cold. The fire was large and warm. He looked up to see the grandmother standing next to him.

“Too practical,” the grandmother said.

“I am who I am,” Sam said.

The grandmother nodded.

“What do I do to save my son?” Sam asked. “I’ll do anything. Anything for him. I always have.”

“Always?” the grandmother asked.

“Have I always been a perfect parent?” Sam asked. “No. I have done what I could do when I could do it.”

“I believe you,” the grandmother said. “Let me ask.”

The grandmother walked over to the Native American’s working on his son. Sam nodded to Rodney and Akeem who were drumming now. He saw Mike bring a load of firewood to the deck and felt like he should help. Before he could get up, he glanced at Valerie.

She was sound asleep with her head down. She had always looked like a bird when her head was down like this. Sam grinned at his wonderful daughter, and then caught a glimpse of Blane.

Blane was on his knees rocking back and forth. His face was wet with tears and he was groaning in agony. Sam glanced at the grandmother. He knew she would tell him not to go to Blane, but Sam couldn’t help it. Blane was the miracle child of different parents. He’d suffered so much before coming to live with them. Sam hopped up and went to Blane. As he’d done with Jacob when he was little, Sam wrapped his body around the young man. Blane fell over with his head landing in Sam’s lap. Sam only had to stroke Blane’s hair and the vision started again.

He was standing in the pale orange next to an enormous pumpkin colored lake. If he didn’t know better, he’d think it was filled with some kind of orange soda. He knew he should know where he was, but Sam had no idea. It had something to do with Delphie. He bent down to look in the water.

No fish.

In fact, as far as the eye could see, there was nothing alive here in this weird place.

Still, he knew why he was there and what he was supposed to do there. He picked up a rock and nodded. He could use this. He set off toward a tall dead tree. He pushed, pulled, and pounded on the tree until it fell. He dragged it back to where he’d been standing. He set off toward another dead tree. Not as tall, and a lot deader, Sam easily tipped it over. He dragged it back to where he’d been standing. He left the tree there and set off for another tree.

“How am I going to cut these things?” Sam asked out loud.

Since no one was there, Sam had no trouble talking to himself out loud. Sam had spent a lot of time outdoors when he was a child. His family had lived in a house, well more like a tar shack, outside of Leadville. When he was fit enough to work, which was rare, his father had worked in a mine. As soon as Sam was able, he’s spent his days in the wild looking for meat to feed his drunken father, exhausted mother, and, eventually, four younger siblings.

His mother had done other people’s laundry. That’s how he’d first met Delphie. She had been like a pet to that evil Levi. His mother used to tell him not to judge, but Sam had hated the man with every cell in his body. Celia had been in his class at elementary school. He’d loved her the first moment he’d set eyes on her. She’d loved him too. He’d gone to school every day just to see her.

He had learned about being a carpenter at career day at school. He’d been pretty sure that he could make enough money to support Celia as a carpenter. He asked the carpenter for a job from the carpenter before the class was over. By third grade, Sam was cleaning up the carpenter’s shop, hunting for food, and going to school. It was a full day, but it was Sam’s life. He had never known anything else.

Sam wondered what his father would think of this place, and laughed out loud. He pushed down the next tree and brought them back to sit with the others. Oddly, when he returned the trees had been trimmed and cut into six fit logs, the exact size of logs he needed. He leaned down to check and saw a male beaver. The beaver gave him a nod and started to work on the tree Sam had just set down.

Not one to let weirdness get in the way of work, Sam shrugged and went to get another tree. He was dragging another tree back when he heard someone shout his name.

Sam!

Sam turned toward the sound. He saw Blane was standing on a low hill about a mile from him. Sam waved the young man in his direction.

Jacob!” Blane pointed to the weird orange lake.

Sam stopped short.

“What?” Sam asked.

He waved Blane toward him.

“I can’t!” Blane yelled and pointed to the sand.

Sam pointed to where he’d stacked the trees. Blane gave an exaggerated nod. Sam dragged the tree to where the beaver was hard at work.

“What …” Out of breath, Blane panted, “ … the … hell?”

Blane gestured to the beaver. Sam shrugged.

“Best not to ask,” Sam said. He turned to the beaver, “Do we have enough?”

The beaver nodded.

“Enough for what?” Blane asked.

“We’re building a raft,” Sam said.

“A raft?” Blane asked.

“I got here and saw a lake,” Sam nodded. “What do you need on a lake?”

“A raft?” Blane asked with a grin.

“Exactly,” Sam said, as he inspected the cuts made by the beaver. He nodded to the beaver. “I didn’t realize Jacob was in there. Any idea how he got there?”

“I think he was trying to help me,” Blane said.

“With what?” Sam asked with a scowl.

“My self-loathing,” Blane said and shrugged. “I think. I don’t really know. I just assume because … well …”

Sam gave Blane and understanding nod. He pointed. Valerie was sauntering down a hill toward them.

“What are you going to do about that self-loathing?” Sam asked. His voice wasn’t unkind or cruel. As always, Sam was very matter of fact. “You have a problem. It’s affecting people around you. What are you going to do, son?”

“I … I …” Stammering, Blane flushed bright red.

“You know,” Sam knelt down to the precisely cut logs, “my father was an alcoholic. He was never cruel. He just loved alcohol more than anything or anyone else. My brothers, including your father, were willing to give up every inch of their lives to the altar of alcohol.”

Sam looked up at Blane.

“I’ve always admired the way you’ve taken your addictions,” Sam said. “You’re a real hero. You can see it in your boys’ eyes. Tink, too. They thrive because you’re clean, sober, present, and trying to live your best life. You’re my hero, too, because you were able to do something that most of the men in my family have never been able to do.”

“You’re not an addict,” Blane said.

“I never started,” Sam said with a nod. “I was too scared of becoming an addict. Plus, I had Celia. She was better than anything I could imagine that alcohol and drugs could give me.”

Blane smiled.

“You’ve found that kind of love, and, when you get rid of this, you find a lover, too,” Sam said, indicating to Blane’s surprise that he knew that Heather was not his lover. “But first, you’ve got to let go of this thing that drives you.”

“What thing?” Blane asked.

“You simply cannot forgive yourself for being left by your mother,” Sam said. “You believe it’s your fault. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t feel the exact same thing. I am not.”

Scowling, Sam leaned back on his heels. He was silently trying to figure out what to do next when a rabbit came up with a bundle of cord in its mouth.

“Nice,” Sam said. With his hand out, Sam leaned over and said, “Thank you, sir.”

He took the cord from the rabbit. The rabbit let him pet its head. Sam held the cord up to Blane. By that time, Valerie was drawing near.

“I’m just saying: ‘What could you have ever done that would make someone leave you?’” Sam asked. He was so focused on the cord that he didn’t see Blane gawk at him. “I mean, this was clearly their fault. Their problem. Their addiction or whatever. It wasn’t something you had anything to do with. I mean, really, Wyn is older than you were when your mother left you at the hospital. Is there anything he can control?”

Sam nodded and started lashing the trunks of trees together with the cord. Blane gawked at his back.

“Or maybe, well, probably, really, she was doing what she thought was best for you,” Sam said. “Leaving you was loving you. Things would have to be pretty bad, and I’d have to love you more than there are words to express to set you down in a safe place, to walk away from you. Even now, when you’re a grown man, standing around with your hands in your pockets, when there’s work to do.”

“Give me a moment,” Blane said, in the humor of someone who’d worked with Sam for years. “You’ve completely blown my mind.”

Sam chuckled and continued working.

“What’s going on?” Valerie asked. “Dad’s working and you’re just standing around? How is that possible?”

“He just blew my mind,” Blane said.

“He’s good at that,” Valerie said. “What did he say?”

“That I need to deal with my self-loathing, right here and right now, to save Jake.” Blane gave the easy answer.

“That’s not mind bending,” Valerie said. “You know how Jake is. He wants to help, to fix messy things.”

Valerie shrugged.

“You can’t imagine how hard he’s worked to fix me.” Valerie gave Blane a soft smile.

“What worked?” Blane asked.

“For me, I had to forgive him for … well, not fixing me, I guess,” Valerie said. “It was completely irrational. By forgiving him, he was able to forgive me. More than that, he was able to forgive himself.”

Valerie nodded toward the lake.

“I assume that the fabled Sea of Amber,” Valerie said.

“I think so,” Blane said at the same time Sam looked up.

“Oh, is that where we are?” Sam nodded. “Huh, it looks … uglier than I thought.”

Blane and Valerie chuckled at him. He shrugged and went back to work.

“So how did Dad blow your mind?” Valerie asked.

“He told me that someone would have to love me a hell of a lot to leave me,” Blane said. “You know, as a child.”

“I’m sure that’s true,” Valerie said. “I think about myself. Where would I have to be to take Jackie to the hospital and leave her there?”

“What about now?” Sam asked. “What would it take for you to let go of Blane now? Leave him and know that you’ll never see him again?”

Valerie scowled to keep from crying.

“That’s how I feel, too,” Sam said. “I’d have to love him so much and things would have to be so bad with me that …”

Sam shook his head and looked up at Valerie.

“I couldn’t do it,” Sam said. “You?”

“No.” Valerie shook her head.

Sam nodded to Blane, who didn’t respond.

“Who do you have to forgive?” Valerie asked in a soft intimate voice.

“My mother,” Blane said.

“Who else?” Sam asked without looking up.

“Myself,” Blane said. He didn’t bother to keep from crying. “You’re sure?”

“That your mother had to love you fiercely to leave you?” Sam asked. “I don’t love you that much.”

“I don’t either,” Valerie said.

Blane was silent for a while.

“I need to turn this,” Sam said. “Val? Blane? Can you help or are you still busy with your ‘blown minds’?”

Sam waved his fingers in front of his face making Val and Blane laugh. He pointed to the end of the raft, which Blane picked up.

“When we turn it,” Sam said to Val, “you need to use the cord to fasten the other side together. You know how?”

Nodding, Valerie picked up the cord. Blane and Sam turned the raft over and Valerie threaded the cord through the logs. When she was finished, Sam gestured for Blane to set it down. Sam grabbed stabilizing logs and set them on the raft. He held one end while Blane held the other. Valerie knelt down and thrashed them to the raft.

“Work goes so much faster …” Sam started.

“When you do it together,” Blane and Valerie said with him. They laughed.

“Now,” Sam said. “I’m going to head out there, but …”

He stood up. Valerie and Blane stood up with him.

“I think you’re going to have to go in to get him, son,” Sam said.

“Because I’m expendable?” Blane asked the first thing that shot out of his heart.

“Not a chance,” Sam said at the same time, Valerie said, “How could you think that?”

Blane shrugged and looked down. Valerie hugged him tight. Sam put his hand on the back of Blane’s shoulder.

“I don’t know why you have to go in,” Sam said. “I just know it has got to be you.”

“I know why,” Blane kissed Valerie’s cheek and let her go.

“Why?” Sam and Valerie asked in unison.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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