A Life Lived

Chapter 2

By Dabeagle

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When I left the office around six, things were pretty well set for business as well as storm. We moved the cars to one side of the lot so there would be a spot to plow and move the cars to. The newly sold car was in the garage to keep it nice and ready for the customer to pick up the next day, and Annabelle said she'd look at the Volvo the next morning. I headed over to the grocery store and sighed, apologizing to Daisy that she couldn't come in.

I grabbed a cart and went to get things done quickly, scanning the registers as I passed by. Fiona was working again, but they had a skinny boy on the next register. He wasn't all that cute, but he was a damn sight better than Fiona. I grabbed a roast and a pair of rotisserie chickens – one hot, one cold – so I could have dinner and so could Daisy while I popped the roast in the slow cooker for the next day.

As I approached the register, the skinny fellow was gone and it was just Fiona. Left with no other option, I got in her line. Fiona is one of those people who can't help but to talk. Some people have a gift with gab, where their patter is amusing or comforting. You can speak with some people and be surprised at how much time has passed when you finally notice a clock. Those people are quite rare in my experience.

Fiona, on the other hand, had the disease technically known as diarrhea of the mouth. Rather than the gift of gab, she had the gift of prattle. Useless, inane, talking-to-hear-her-head-rattle prattle. Today she seemed to be in fine form. I'd often wondered if other people who ran register requested to be kept as far from her as possible or maybe hoped for a noise machine to be placed between them. Something that played white noise or the sound of rain – anything to block her out.

“Oh, my daughter is the best mother! She really gets discipline in on those kids, and you know you have to! It doesn't matter what people say, you know. I was paddled as a kid and look how I turned out.”

Clearly paddling the wrong end of her, considering how much she flaps her gums, I thought.

“That's good to hear. People are afraid to pop their kid when they need it. It teaches respect,” the woman buying groceries replied, nodding her head as if giving an 'amen'.

“Oh, her kids respect her something fierce, let me tell you! No lip! It doesn't hurt having an officer in the house, of course.” She giggled like it was her job. “Maybe have to cuff the little monsters!”

Sometimes people will do something and say 'The devil made me do it'. I don't ascribe to that; I don't blame the devil for my impulses or lack of control over them. It's my own bile, thank you very much, and some people need it more than a spanking.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Would you give her her damn change so the rest of us can go home tonight? Hah?” I asked.

Fiona wrinkled her nose at me, and the person in front of her took her receipt and moved out of the lane, looking over her shoulder at me. It wouldn't have been polite of them to thank me, but I hardly think I deserved that look.

“Just have nothing nice to say, is that it, McKenzie?” Fiona asked.

“That I want to pay for my things and go home rather than listen to your gossip about how nice it is that your daughter beats her kids?”

“You're rude,” she said, scanning my items. “I'm proud of my daughter and how well behaved her children are. Maybe if someone had disciplined you then the idea of being polite would occur to you.”

“Yeah, yeah. I'm sure sunshine comes out of her butt, and at night it's moonlight.” I tipped an imaginary cap. “Your parenting is the cause, I'm sure. Can I have my receipt now, please?”

She pressed her lips together and handed me the paper, and I plucked my items from the end of the counter, balancing them as I headed for my truck. Daisy was sniffing with hungry curiosity as I placed the items on the back seat, acting like she was thinking about jumping in the the back for a personal inspection.

“You can wait 'till we get home, missy,” I scolded her lightly. All the way home her nose was in the air, sniffing the good smells from behind her. Once home I pulled some of the dark meat off the bird – her favorite – and mixed it with some kibble in her dish. Then I set about filling the crock pot – celery, onion, carrots and a few chopped potatoes with some bouillon cubes – and set it to cooking. After microwaving a can of green beans, I was ready to sit down with my chicken.

My living room had two chairs and a love seat. I bought the second chair more for balance in the room, not expecting that anyone would be using it with any regularity. Daisy alternated between the chair and love seat, depending on her mood, so really two-thirds of my living room was for the dog. I turned on the TV to something I'd been watching and tried to eat in peace, but that wasn't possible with Daisy.

Hounds are good smellers and trackers, but beagles are in another class. They have over a thousand percent better sniffers than humans, forty five times more scent receptors than humans, and she always knows when I still have food left that she'd be interested in – which was all of it. So typically I'd end up sharing my dinner with her, because who can say no to that face?

After dinner I went upstairs and pulled on some sweatpants and put my slippers on. Daisy knew what I was doing and was content to wait for me downstairs. Back downstairs, I joined her on the couch and stroked her silk-soft ears.

“Life isn't fair you know,” I told her. “Your life should be so much longer than mine. People like to say about other people, that when they die their god called them home. And when they die young they say that particular god wanted them back a little sooner.” I sighed. “I have no use for that. Too many awful people in the world, too few souls like yours, little girl.”

She shifted to her side and pawed at the side of her face, encouraging me to work on her ear. As I obliged her, I continued.

“I wonder sometimes about the life you've had with me. What I could have done better. Goodness knows you deserved more. I'm not sure if you'd have liked having kids or at least another person around to beg from, but I figure you've ingratiated yourself into the town so much you get plenty enough extras.”

She let out a grumble, burrowing her nose between my leg and the seat cushion.

“But tonight there will be noise outside, so you'll have plenty of chances to bay at things that aren't there, so there's that.” I rubbed her belly, and she rolled over onto her back to give me better access. “One thing I can say is that it's not fair and not right. Your life shouldn't be coming to a close, even if you don't know it yet.”

She was taken by a small coughing fit, but as is the way with dogs, when the fit was over, she acted as if it had never happened. Sometimes I'm envious of their ability to live in the moment. As humans we understand that we have to think ahead and plan, guard against the future and do our best to be ready for anything. In her world there was nothing but belly rubs, snacks and car rides, and that was a good thing.

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I woke slowly, disturbed by the sound of the wind picking up outside. Wind has a bad habit of whining like a loose power steering belt when it whips past a building. A sudden gust made a few windows rattle a bit in their frames. I guess the weather people guessed right about the wind, anyway. Daisy hopped down and stretched lazily, coughed and then headed for the back door.

“Better get that done with quick,” I told her as I opened the door and walked out onto the little back porch with her. I reached back in and flipped the light on so I could see a bit better while she put her nose to the ground and looked for the prized spot that she'd choose to pee on. I crossed my arms and looked out into the night, not yet seeing any snow but definitely feeling the cold cutting through my sweatshirt. I squinted and suddenly there it was – the white shit, swirling and dancing in the light from the porch.

Snow is bullshit. It's like sand. You clean your whole car off, open the door and some magically appears and drops in on your seat. Always on your seat. It sticks to everything, and it's entirely inconsistent. Sometimes it's wet and heavy and snaps tree branches that bring down power lines, and sometimes it's lighter than air and covers the world like a dirty sheet at a motel in Idaho. Plus it serves no purpose. Just rain and get it done with.

It was light snow, probably not enough to accumulate, but it was early yet. I called to Daisy, and true to form, she pretended we weren't acquainted. I clapped my hands and stomped my feet, calling to her but it was no use. Grumbling I went back inside and closed the door, looking out the window at her while she ignored the wind and twisting snowflakes in favor of whatever scent she'd caught. I shivered and decided to put some water on for a pot of tea to warm up with.

After putting the kettle on the stove, I went in the living room to shut off the TV and bring my leftovers to the kitchen to put in the fridge, then I got my box of herbal tea bags down and some sweetener. Just as the kettle started to squeal Daisy scratched at the door – perfect timing that one. I moved the kettle and switched off the burner then went and let her in.

“Finally had enough?” I asked her. She glanced up at me, likely hoping I had something to eat, coughed and then went to her water dish. It was empty, and she started digging at the bottom as if that would cause it to fill. I guess it does work, since I pick her bowl up and fill it when she does that. I got a cup of tea ready and took it back into the living room, where I picked up a book of crossword puzzles I was working through and looked to see where I'd left off while my tea steeped. Daisy came out, sniffed in my direction and then hopped up onto the love seat to stretch out.

I filled in a few words, then put the puzzle down and slipped on my blue light glasses and started looking at cars for sale on my phone. Bad enough I did it at work all day, but it was game over when I found out I could do it on my phone. That's why I needed the blue light glasses – otherwise I'd stay up all night. As it was my tea was starting to cool by the time I remembered it, and I slurped while I scrolled through the ads.

Eventually I set the phone aside and went back to the kitchen with my cup, tossing the bag into the garbage and the cup into the sink. I looked out the window over the sink and thought about Brian again. When we'd been friends he'd stayed over at my house often enough. I was so stupid; I had no idea how to act around him – I just wanted him with me, no consideration of what came after that. One of those times when you can only appreciate the outside and you wouldn't know what to do with the inside if you knew it was there. I recalled the day we'd been going somewhere and he'd been changing in my room. I walked in before he was done – in fact I got a view of his behind I still remember, bent over as he was to pull his shorts up. I'd made some noise and covered my eyes, but I was laughing a bit and wishing for nothing more than for it to have been okay to have not covered my eyes.

When I moved my hand a moment later, figuring he'd had enough time to pull them up, he'd kind of wobbled around on one foot and now I was seeing him from the front, still hunched over. I spent many teenage nights thinking about what I'd have liked to have had happen right then. I sometimes wondered if my desire for him had come through enough that he recognized it for what it was. We'd had a mutual friend, one who had been friends with Brian before I was in the picture. Sometimes I'd say something to this other friend, something unusual I'd noticed about Brian, and once or twice he'd said something like 'you talk about him like he's your girlfriend'.

I still wonder, sometimes, if that other 'friend' had said something like that to Brian. If that had started him down the path of putting pieces together that I wouldn't admit to for a few more years. It shouldn't matter. Doesn't – how could it? Yet, some nights, it still came back to talk to me. I'd ask myself questions I had no answers for and speculate, thinking about a straight boy who wouldn't have accepted my advances anyway, no matter how smooth or clumsy they may have been.

In the living room Daisy coughed again, and I was drawn back to the present. Glancing at the clock I was surprised it was nearly midnight. I guess Brian – at least his teenage self – will always have something of a hold on me; enough that I can still lose time thinking of him. Enough that I can still touch the longing I had, that I can still feel the teenager inside of me – who no doubt still wonders what the hell happened that he's inside this old fart now – who thought he was in love with Brian. I don't know. There was lust, no doubt, but I think I did love him too. Maybe not the deep abiding mature love that most adults would point to, but an immature, all encompassing fire that reaches across decades and makes me feel young again for a time. Daisy's claws clicked on the linoleum as she entered the room.

“Ready to go night-night, Daisy?” I asked her. She ignored me and went to the door, tilting her head and then shoving her nose to the bottom of the door where it met the floor. She sniffed hard. “It's just the wind, girlie,” I told her.

She took a step back and grunted, coughed and then let out a bay at the door. There is something both heartwarming and annoying about the bay of a beagle. Especially late at night when she got insistent that there was something outside.

“Daisy, really,” I said, rolling my eyes at my dog. She glanced at me and then bayed at the door again. “Okay, go into the yard! See for yourself!” I opened the door and she bounded out into the swirling snow, baying. Good things no neighbors were close. One thing about her, she'd never let the weather stop her from whatever she was interested in. Some dogs won't go out if it's raining or whatnot, but not Daisy. Rain, shine, sleet, snow – she was the US Postal Service in canine form.

“Daisy! Come on, let's go to bed,” I called out. I squinted against the snow, absently noting the sudden accumulation – probably due to the wind driving it. A gust carrying snow blocked my view for a moment, then cleared for the briefest glimpse, and I thought I saw something spill over my fence.

“The hell?” I muttered. I moved toward the edge of my porch, but I wasn't convinced I'd actually seen anything. There was a snowball’s chance in hell anyone would climb my back fence on a normal night, let alone in the middle of a snow squall. Daisy bayed again, and I called out to her, grumbling and promising myself I'd not go out in the snow in my slippers to get her.

There are things that happen in life that your mind can't process immediately – like seeing Brian in all his naked glory. My mind couldn't process it in real time and so I just kind of went on auto pilot. But then, later, you wonder how you processed anything at all. That was what happened then – a figure came stumbling out of the swirling snow, wearing shorts and a tank top. My mind couldn't make sense of it, and for a moment I was as frozen as the snow. But then a soggy foot covered in a sock mounted my back steps, and I was face to face with a shivering, skinny boy of about 12. His thin arms were crossed over his chest, and he was shaking.

“What the hell? Come inside, come on! What are you doing out here dressed like that?” I demanded, ushering him through the door. Daisy came in after him, sniffing his legs as she went.

“I'm sorry,” the shivering kid said. “I'm hungry. And thirsty.”

“Cold, too, I'll bet. Well, let me warm up some tea, and I'll get you a blanket,” I said, heading to the living room and pulling the throw off the back of my chair. As I returned to the kitchen, my mind lurched into motion – perhaps prompted by years of looking for small details on cars like rust or bubbling paint. Small things about this boy caught my mental eye, and my mind was now ready to try processing a few things.

The thinness. The dark circles under his eyes. The tape on his wrists and ankles, just above the sopping socks. The thin shorts, wet, and the thin beater.

“Okay. You get wrapped in this. I'm going to get you something warmer to wear, and you can change out of those wet things – but kid, what the heck are you thinking? Why are you out in this storm?”

He looked at me with large eyes, something some kids just seem to have. Quietly he said, “I was hungry. And thirsty.”

I sucked on my teeth a moment. “Wait here.” I headed back to the living room and grabbed my phone, dialing 911 as I headed up the stairs to find some sweats to put on this rail-thin kid.

“911, what is your emergency?”

“This is Colin McKenzie out on Taborton Road. I just had a young boy show up on my back porch. He's looking for food. He looks malnourished and was out in this storm in shorts, socks and an undershirt.”

I headed back down the stairs while the dispatcher confirmed the address that was coming in over their computer, and then she started asking details about the child. I put the phone on speaker as I entered the kitchen.

“Kid, this police officer is going to get you some help. Go ahead, officer.”

“Son, what's your name?”

“B-Bailey Nola. Please don't tell my dad. He's a sheriff. I need food. I'm really hungry.” With that tears started to well up in his eyes.

“Don't worry,” the dispatcher said, speech slowing for a moment. “This will go to the state police. I'm dispatching the trooper and an ambulance.”

I turned the stove back on and handed him the sweats. “Bathroom is right in there. Go take your wet things off and put these on.”

“Yes, sir.” He took the sweats and turned obediently, shoulders slumped.

I took the phone off speaker. “Officer, I think this kid was abused. He has duct tape on his wrists and ankles. Whatever you do, keep that sheriff in the dark.”

“Understood. The trooper is ten minutes out. The ambulance may be a bit – there was an accident, and they are heading to that first.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

“Let's just stay on the line until the trooper arrives.”

I put the phone back on speaker and grabbed a cup for the kid, then set about putting some leftovers together so he could eat. He came back out into the kitchen.

“Sir. What do I do with the wet clothes?”

“Just leave 'em in the sink. I'll wash 'em in a bit.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Stop calling me that. Nobody knighted me,” I grumbled. I turned, and he was looking at me with his wide, wet eyes again. My heart melted a little, and I walked over to him, putting a hand on his thin shoulder and guiding him to the kitchen table. “You just have a seat, and I'll get you some tea and food, and while you eat I'll get some socks.” I squatted a bit to look him in the eye. “No one's ever come through a snowstorm to eat my chicken before. You must have heard how good it is, huh?”

His eyes got a little bigger, and he shook his head. The microwave dinged, and Daisy coughed and then led the way to the food with her nose.

“Don't let Daisy fool you. She's eaten her body weight today, no matter what she tells you.”

I put his plate and silverware down and then grabbed his cup, put a tea bag and sweetener in and added water. As I turned I saw him waiting for me. I wasn't sure why he'd wait – he was hungry after all. I set the cup down and he clasped his hands together as if in prayer and looked at me.

“What? Eat, kid.”

“You're not leading me in grace?”

I raised an eyebrow. “None of that here. Just fill your belly.”

“Yes, sir,” he said and slowly picked up his fork, as if sure a reprimand was coming.

“I'll get those socks.” My mind swirled as I ascended the steps, wondering how people could be so cruel. I mean, I don't like kids as a general rule. Messy, noisy, selfish little shitbags that turn into noisy, smelly, ignorant, greedy adult shitbags. People like to wax nostalgic about how kids are truth tellers and innocent and blah, blah, blah. They have brains. Needs, wants – the same things that motivate others, and they use the tools they have, consciously or not. I'm sure those big eyes of his have worked for him in the past.

I plucked a pair of wool socks from my sock drawer – a gift from someone, I think, who thought they were being nice. I'd never worn them. Thick socks feel weird on my feet, and I don't walk around in just socks, so...not very useful to me. But they could warm up a kid's feet.

Daisy was seated next to the kid, not begging but looking up at him and letting out small coughs while the boy's fingers were coated with chicken grease as he ate as if I'd change my mind.

“Slow down. It's dead. You eat too quick, you're likely to throw it all up,” I told him. I squatted down and rolled up one of the socks in my hands and held it out. “Stick your foot in there.”

He shifted on the chair and did as I'd told him, and I pulled the sock up his thin calf, then repeated the process with the other foot. “Okay. Back to stuffing your face.”

I saw lights outside splashing through the windows, and I went to the door, opening it as the trooper climbed from his car. He was a mountain of a man – tall, wide and probably intimidating as hell if you were on the wrong end of him. He reached his fingertips up to the edge of his hat as he ascended my porch steps.

“Evening, sir. I'm here on a 911 call about a young man?”

I help my phone up. “Okay, he's here.” I hung up on the operator. “He's a walking twig,” I told the trooper. “Someone hasn't been feeding that kid.. He's got duct tape on his ankles and wrists like someone restrained him. I have no idea if he needs restraining normally, but I'm pretty sure that's not how you do it.”

The trooper gave me a grim look. “Has he showered or anything since he arrived?”

“No. I just gave him some food. He's in the kitchen now, eating. I gave him some clothes to wear – his wet stuff is in the sink. Shorts, beater and socks – in this!”

I backed up and let the trooper in, then escorted him to the kitchen. “Kid, you have company.”

The trooper pulled a chair out and sat down, doffing his hat and giving the kid a smile I wasn't sure law enforcement was allowed to have.

“I'm Trooper Cooper. That's right, go ahead – make fun of me now and get it over with,” he said with a grin.

The boy's lips twitched, but I don't think he quite dared. He looked to me, and I nodded to him. “Tell him what you told me.”

He looked back to the trooper and said, “ I was hungry. And thirsty.”

“Was there no food or drink at home?” the trooper asked gently, more gently than I'd have credited his big frame with being able to produce.

“I'm on restriction. For my chores. No food, no water for two days. Three if I cry.”

The trooper’s face hardened, and I ground my teeth together.

“And how many days ago was that? When you got in trouble and weren't allowed to eat? How many days has it been?”

The boy shifted on his seat and fiddled with a chicken bone. “I messed up my chores.”

“It happens,” the trooper said agreeably. “But how many days since you had anything in your belly?”

The boy reached up and scratched at an eyebrow, then realized he'd just gotten chicken grease on himself. I grabbed a paper towel and gave it to him. He wiped his brow and then glanced at the trooper. “I cried.”

The trooper licked his lips. “So three days?”

The boy nodded.

The trooper pulled a small pad from his front shirt pocket and clicked the top of his pen. Opening the pad he swirled the pen tip in the air as if trying to think where to start writing, then he made a few scratches on the paper. He glanced at me and then back at the boy. “So I'm told your name is Bailey?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And Bailey, my friend Colin, here, says he saw some tape on your wrists and ankles? Can you show me that?”

The kid worked his mouth a moment and then pulled back the sleeves of the sweatshirt, revealing the stretched and dirty tape – some edges ragged as if chewed through. He looked at the trooper uncertainly and then pulled up the cuffs of the sweatpants and pushed the top of his socks down to reveal what was left of the tape there – one side nothing more than the dirty residue of the adhesive.

The officer pulled his phone out and asked the kid to sit still while he took some pictures of the tape. “We'll have to take a few more pictures, but we can do that at the hospital.”

“I'm not sick,” the boy said quickly.

The trooper leaned back a bit in his chair. “Bailey, what happened with your chores that you got punished?”

Bailey looked back at him, slowly moving the sleeves back down over the tape. “I forgot to rinse the dishes really good before they went in the dishwasher.”

“Now see, I had to wash dishes as a boy. I hated it. Hated. You know why? Because I'd always splash the water from the sink on myself, and it always looked like I'd just peed my pants. You know what I mean?”

The kid rolled his lips in to cover his teeth, maybe to hide a smile. If so, that was a good thing.

“So sometimes I’d rush, and I'd stand back from the sink and I'd hold the dishes far away, like this,” he said, holding his hands out as if dangling something at an arm's length. “And I'd drop the dishes sometimes. My mom would get so mad she'd ground me. You know what grounding means for me? It's getting sent to my room, maybe no dessert. Today with my daughter, I take her phone and her tablet. What happened to you? That's not right.”

The kid looked back at him quietly, big eyes focused.

“So we have to go to the hospital. We have to check you out and make sure you're in good shape – not just that you're okay now, with our friend Colin McKenzie here, but we need an actual doctor to say you're okay. Does that make sense?”

The kid cleared his throat. “Yes, sir.”

“Okay then. I'm going to go on ahead.” He stood and looked at me. “I'll meet you at the ER; ambulance is tied up with a double car mishap, I'm told. I'll call ahead, and then I can get a formal statement from you and Mr Bailey, here.”

“Me? I'm – uh. Yeah. I mean, sure.”

He put a hand on my shoulder and steered me toward the front door, and it was an act I wasn't very happy with. I shrugged him off, but...respectfully. If there is such a thing.

“Mr. McKenzie, this is going to be a bit complicated. Deputy Nola – Bailey's dad – is, shall we say, known to us. Not as an abusive guy, but he does have a reputation. Now, this boy came to you for help, and given his father wears a badge, he's not really going to trust me. The last thing in the free world I want to do is put this boy in the back of my cruiser and add to his distress.”

“Well,” I said with exasperation. “Yeah. But. It's a kid...I'm not...kids are....”

“Yeah, they are. All that and then some, but this is one of those things, sir. It's vital to him, I think, that this works out – especially if his thin face is any reflection of the ribs I expect to see when the doc examines-”

We both turned at the sound of the kid throwing up on my kitchen floor. I told him not to eat too fast. “Daisy! Don't eat that!”

“See you at the ER,” the trooper said, heading out the door.

“Shit,” I grumbled as I went into the kitchen and pushed Daisy from her sniffing of the kid’s mess. “Hold her collar, please? Don't let her eat that. Are you okay, or do you feel like you're going to throw up some more?”

“I...think I'm okay. I'm sorry!”

“Me too,” I said with a sigh. “First person to show up to eat my chicken throws it back up. What will my neighbors think?” I asked him with a little smile. I scraped up the vomit and threw it in the trash before I grabbed some paper towels and then sprayed the floor with cleaner both to sanitize things and to help get that sour smell of vomit from the air.

“Okay. Let me see if I have some old boots you can slip into, and we'll go see the doc, okay?”

“Do I have to?” he asked in a very small voice.

I sat down in the chair the trooper had been occupying and I sighed. “Well, I think we do. See that trooper...he'll come back if we don't show up. He was pretty big and, hey, I think I could take him in a fight but...you know. I don't want to embarrass the guy, you know? So it's probably better if we go over there so he doesn't cry, right?”

I know very little about a lot, and the lot I know is very little. The little gremlin looked back with confusion, but a slowly blooming smile then transformed him into something utterly adorable. It's the problem with children. They're messy, smelly, noisy and occasionally divine.

“So...we're going because we don't want him to cry?”

“What? You don't believe me? Look, you saw him – he's huge. I bet when he cries it's not little tears,” I told him. “I bet it's like...water balloons dropping from his eyes. Splashing everything. It's embarrassing. You don't want that, do you?”

The edges of his mouth turned up just a fraction. “No, sir. I don't want that.”

“Okay. I'll put some tea in a to-go cup and find those boots.”




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