When John Weldon opens a door that should have remained shut.
“Mr. Weldon, don’t be so silly,” Katherine said. “It’s our money to share—you sent it home, and I saved what I could. Go into town and buy yourself some new things and maybe a gift for Willy.”
For the past month Weldon had avoided walking in town alone. The druggist was there. “Won’t you come along?”
Katherine said she was tired and looked at him with such trust. Weldon went with the best of intentions to buy underwear and a gift for William, but his mind raced on a track all its own. After the underwear, his feet dragged behind the conversation in his head. Weldon brushed against people as he tried to convince his body to move toward a shop with general items and toys. He tried to make his feet go towards a window decked with lovely things for his wife, but the bell clattered behind him as he closed the door on that part of his world and trudged grimly up to the polished counter. I’ll just get a bit of something . . . just in case. I won’t use it. Anyway I know I can stop . . . I did these last weeks. The conversation in his head never changed.
“May I help you, son?” a prim looking beanpole of a man with a booming voice asked.
Weldon nearly jumped from his skin.
“Sorry to startle you. May I HELP you?” the man repeated impatiently. His wife had just sent over his midday meal and it was getting cold on the counter.
“I’m in the army.” Weldon glanced around at the tall shelves of plenty. “I’m bringing things back for the boys and . . . well, um, some medical things for medical purposes.”
“Are you an army surgeon?”
Weldon pulled the hair behind his ear. Why hadn’t Kate come with him today? The druggist stood in his crisp white apron, clicking his pencil on the rich oak counter top.
“My apologies, it’s j-just that w-we will be far out in Arizona, and I thought . . .”
The druggist leaned forward like the straight hand of a clock and beckoned Weldon closer. Not a soul was in the store. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of, boy. You served your country well I’d say and still at it,” he whispered. “My son, he fought with the 2nd New Jersey Infantry. Shot right through the eye. Lucky not to have lost the whole pumpkin; but his head gives him an awful lot of pain sometimes. The other eye is throwin’ in the fiddle now too. It’s natural; the doctors say . . . call it some kind of sympathy for a good eye to go out with the bad one like a matched team of horses. It’s natural for you to want pain relief. What did they give you?”
Weldon hesitated. He knew that he could have whatever he wanted . . . Katherine or the morphine, but the morphine was right there for the asking. “Morphine, laudanum . . . but I’ll take anything like it,” he blurted out. Weldon clenched his teeth shut, but the words had already bolted and the clocks hands had turned to deliver him in a timely fashion back to where he started.
“How much will the ‘boys’ need out there?” the druggist asked.
Taking out his money, Katherine’s money, the change from the underwear, he placed it on the smooth wood. The druggist brought Weldon his cure-all in pill and liquid form . . . in case the necessity arose.
Once on course there was no turning back to the house on Tenafly Road. Like the stops on a train that were not his—his new familial bonds tugged, but not enough to change from his chosen destination. Next time Weldon would choose a different stop, but that was next time.
Almost willing pain back into his leg and side for the excuse Weldon needed, he tramped for miles out over the hills of prosperity and comfort, where supper bells tinkled and lamps awakened to the coming night and on up north of Englewood where only the foundations of dreams had yet been built. Stone breastworks, the beginnings of country palaces, lurked beneath last summer’s overgrowth and the fallen leaves of autumn lay victims of life’s economy, of growth and recession.
Up to the edge of the world he stood where the living earth gave way to the stone beneath it. The Palisades afforded Weldon a view of the world; he was but one small speck in this huge country. What difference would it make if he disappeared from it for just a while? Weldon hung his legs out over the edge. He had thrown away his syringe and would have to find another so he took the pills and waited for escape.
Rain began to fall and settle over him like a blanket of memories. Weldon lay back on the sturdy edge of the world and dreamt of cornfields—the green corn he stole in childhood and later in the army. The late summer cicadas, dropping like flies after their final symphonies rose and fell. Weldon dreamt of hunger again in the cabin of his youth while surrounded by fields of plenty—his father’s fields, his fields. The spring of ’64; May and blossoms on the trees and no retreats with Grant and fighting even harder and finally the whole thing over for him on the ground like thousands of others—a different kind of symphony—men like flipped over insects; moving limbs getting them nowhere—intensely alive to their dying, but with no lovely final chorus.
Weldon hadn’t moaned or screamed; he listened and waited. Waited for God. At first he detected no angels on the battlefield. He stayed still and that feeling he had been hoping for came and almost took him over—peace and comfort—but Weldon had been saved and brought back to his life with just one more problem to take care of. It was too much and unfair.
Now in the pelting rain he was still ravenous—more pills—and comfort and rest. The God he had watched for had never come. There were promises, but it was the drug that delivered.
PART ONE HERE
PART TWO HERE
PART THREE HERE
PART FOUR HERE
PART FIVE HERE
PART SIX HERE
PART SEVEN HERE
PART EIGHT HERE
PART NINE HERE
PART TEN HERE