by Tony Lindsay
It was once a beautiful sun porch. In its day breezes could be felt from the east, the west and the north. The house faces the north. It was said his great, great grandfather built it facing north because he found comfort in gazing upon the North Star. Family legend says he followed it up from Mississippi to his freedom.
Currently no eastern or west winds blow through the sun porch. The east and west window screens were replaced with plywood. The only screen on the porch is the half screen in the security door. Glass blocks have replaced the screens that once faced north.
Behind the glass blocks in an old wicker chair atop the loose floorboards of the porch sits Simon Johnson. Simon or Slim as his neighbors call him is in his first good mood in over five years. His last good mood came during his senior year in high school; the night of homecoming. He was the manager of the football team and after the home coming victory the players invited him out to drink and for the first time they treated him like a player instead of the towel boy. It was a good night for Slim.
Today’s good mood however out weighs the one of yesteryear by a landslide. Slim’s good mood today is in response to a check for one hundred fifty thousand dollars. The accompanying letter explains the check as payment on a life insurance policy from his father’s death. He wasn’t aware that his wayward father had died but the news of his death didn’t stop the good mood brought on by the check.
For the past two hours Slim sat in the old wicker chair grinning at the check. One hundred fifty thousand dollars could make right so much that is wrong in his life. This much money could free him of the responsibility his mother left him with.
The first thing he would do if he could get free would be to move to Chicago and get lost among the hundreds and thousands of people that live there. He wouldn’t need much living by himself, only a one-bedroom apartment in a neighborhood with a busy nightlife. He knew how to live fugal he’d learn that this past for years and besides there had to be many janitorial, restaurant and or carwash jobs in the city. All he would need would be a little income to supplement his windfall.
The big city is the place for guy like himself, a quite guy who minds his own business. Twice a year for the past two years he has been able to slip away to Chicago for weekend stays, thanks to the consideration of his lifetime neighbors.
Two years ago an elderly Mr. and Mrs. Langston suggested that he let his brother stay with them for two weekends out of a year “It’s the least we could do Slim,” Mrs. Langston had said, “we suggested the same thing to your mother but she was a dedicated soul and wouldn’t leave your brother’s side.”
Slim didn’t hesitate to accept the offer. On these weekend trips he rents a transient hotel room in the red light district. He spends his weekend with the first prostitute that approaches him. He is grateful for the assertiveness these city women display because if it were left to him to speak first his needs would go un-serviced.
The alarm on his wristwatch is beeping three and a half hours have passed since Jesse’s last cleaning and changing. Slim looks down at the stack of freshly powdered adult diapers that he keeps on the side of the wicker chair. He usually responds quickly to beep of the watch but today . . . he just stares at the stack of diapers with the insurance check between his fingers.
Slim looks down at the check; Jesse’s name is not on it. The check reads ‘Pay to the order of Simon Johnson’. No mention of his brother Jesse Johnson. He had not thought of Jesse when he thought of moving to Chicago because Jesse was the reason he couldn’t move there or anywhere else. His brother has been in his sole care for the past three years since their mother’s death. Before her death her life revolved around his younger brother now Slim felt his life revolved him.
His father left two years after Jesse was born. Slim was eight years old. He remembers the day clearly. He was sitting on the bottom step of the sun porch waiting on his mother to take him to church. His mother had spent the morning fussing about his father not coming home the previous night. His father pulled up to the curb in his white Pontiac and called him over. Slim ran from the step to his father hoping for a ride to church in the new car.
“Boy” his father said “you my son I don’t know what that thang is in the house yo mama be dotin’ over all I knows is you is mine and I’ma always take care of you. See ya around boy.” After that day he only saw his father on his birthdays and Christmas. And after tenth grade he never saw him again.
Slim folded the check and slipped into his shirt pocket. He reached down grabbed a powdered diaper and stood. Jesse’s room is at the rear of the house across from the bathroom. Exactly sixteen steps from where he stood, he knew the exact amount of steps because out of boredom he often made the trip with his eyes closed.
He’d anchored Jesse in the armchair earlier. His mother didn’t like him to tie Jesse to chairs but Slim tied him down for safety. If Jesse’s back wasn’t secured he would lean over. Slim had brought the armchair in from the living room and put it next to Jesse’s bed.
Jesse’s life in Slim’s care was spent either in the bed, the tub or the chair. Occasionally Slim would take him out to sit on the sun pouch or to the front yard but as far as Slim could tell Jesse couldn’t tell the difference from the sun porch or the tub. The same inanimate expression would remain on his face.
A doctor once told his mother that there was a fifteen percent chance that Jesse would respond to stimuli later in life. Because of that fifteen percent chance she refused to put him in a home. “The good Lord can work with fifteen percent,” was her quite chant. It was this small hope that caused her to make Slim promise not to put Jesse in a home. Today with his mother dead and the check in his pocket the promise seems minor.
For years Slim had wondered what were the real chances of Jesse ever responding to anything and if he did respond what would it be a flinch to a rub? When Slim enters Jesse’s bedroom he notices the light on the dehumidifier blinking. The unit is on the side of the bed one first sees when entering the room. Slim reaches down and pulls the bucket from the bottom of the unit. He steps across the hall to the bathroom and dumps the water in the toilette. His mother was wrong Jesse belonged in a home years ago. Back in the room he slides the bucket into place. The dehumidifier hums on.
Even the home-aide nurse that comes once a week told Slim that Jesse’s care would be better in a home. In a home he would see a doctor weekly and certainly a doctor would notice signs of improvement before Slim. Slim agreed but the home cost was beyond what his mother left in trust for him and Jesse. And even with state aide Slim would be expected to kick in six to eight hundred dollars a month for a home and he simple couldn’t afford it before the check. Now with the check he doesn’t want to afford it.
This check was from his father for him and the one thing he was certain of; it was all going to spent by him on him. He tossed the diaper on the bed and walk around to Jesse. This morning Slim had dressed Jesse identical to himself, in a pair of gray sweat shorts, a tee shirt and a pair of thick footy socks. He slid his hand into the shorts and down the back of Jesse’s diaper. It was dry.
“Darn it, sorry about that Jessie.” He forgot to give him his afternoon fluids. The squeeze container is still on the nightstand full. He grabs it from the stand and leans Jesse’s head back. He slides the tube gently to the back of Jesse’s mouth and slightly squeezes the container.
Watching the fluid line he says, “No I can’t afford to send you to the home.” Slim lowers the container and pulls the tube from Jesse’s mouth. Looking at his brother’s face he sees his mother. She spent her life taking care of Jesse. “Not me mom. I can’t.” He tightened the knots on the chair straps and walks back up front to the sun porch.
He sits in the wicker chair and the loose floorboards of the porch creak. He pulls the insurance check from his shirt pocket. One hundred fifty thousand dollars this was less than what was left in trust to him and Jesse by their mother but it is windfall nonetheless. The trust, suppose the trust and the check was all his then he could live well in the city without working a menial job. He sat back in the chair and imagined it so.
He saw himself walking down a busy city street dressed in a flowing white linen outfit but even dressed well he still waited for the prostitutes to approach him but the ones that approached him were voluptuous and curvaceous and instead of taking them to a small transient hotel room he took them to a hotel suite complete with a whirl pool and champagne on ice. It was a rap music video that played in his mind and he was the star. He no longer drove the station wagon his mother left him, in his minds eye he had a new SUV with twenty-four inch chrome rims. Yes with the trust and the check he could make a lot happen. Maybe he couldn’t buy a new SUV because a new SUV cost as much as what their house was appraised for but even a two-year-old one would be better than the station wagon.
Slim sat up in the wicker chair. The house was appraised for seventy thousand dollars. If Jesse was in a home and he moved to the city they wouldn’t need the house. He could sell it and the station wagon. If he sold the house and took only half the trust he could afford to put Jesse in a home and move to the city. Freedom was possible. Slim stood from the wicker chair smiling. A life where he was only responsible for himself could be had. He put the check back in his shirt pocket and went back to Jesse’s room.
In the corner of the room next to the closet is Jesse’s wheel chair. Slim hadn’t had Jesse on the sun porch or sitting in the front yard for a long time. Today he suddenly felt like being outside in the yard with his brother. He transferred Jesse from the armchair to the wheelchair easily. He doesn’t bother to strap Jessie into the wheel chair. His thoughts are on the check, selling the house and the whole trust fund. What if all this was his?
When Slim opens the door of the sun porch he sees Mr. and Mrs. Langston out on their porch enjoying the evening air. They wave. Slim returns their waves and shouts, “Evening.”
Mrs. Langston returns the greeting with “Good evening Slim it’s good to see Jesse out.”
“Yes ma’am I thought he might like to catch the last of summer we’re going to sit in the yard a while,” he shouts across the road.
Usually Slim wouldn’t leave Jesse’s sitting in the doorway of the sun porch but today he lets him sit at the top of the stairs and usually he would engage the brake on the wheel of the chair but today he doesn’t push down on the lever that digs into the rubber wheel of the chair.
Today he is thinking of a two year old SUV, white linen clothes, music video females and a whole trust fund.
Usually Slim would never walk away from the chair leaving Jesse sitting at the top of the stairs but today he does. And usually he would never step on the end of the loose plank by the door because it would cause the other end of the plank to rise, the end at the top of the stairs. Today his foot rests on the plank. Mrs. Langston screams before Slim does.
Slim makes an honest effort to grab the handles of the wheel chair but the chair with un-engaged brakes rolls quickly once the plank rose up. It’s two flights of stairs leading up to the Johnson sun porch. Jesse remained seated the first six steps of the top flight but the slightly wider step at the beginning the second flight toppled his chair and sent him tumbling twisted down the last six steps. It wasn’t until his head got to the pavement that his wheel chair forced his body over to an angle that caused his neck to snap.
The snap is heard all the way across road by Mr. and Mrs. Langston who are hurrying to Jesse’s aide. Slim has slung the wheel chair aside and is on his knees next to his brother. Mr. Langston is behind him. “Don’t move him Slim! Emily go on in and call ambulance!”
Slim checks for Jesse pulse and feels none his hand goes from his brother’s wrist to patting his own shirt pocket for the check. It’s still in place. It’s not his brother he sees twisted at the bottom of the sun porch steps but his freedom. The tear he sheds is not a sad tear.