The Iron Writer Challenge 91
The Steven L. Bergeron Challenge
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Cassie Ray Clark
“Mr. Arbor, are you here?”
“Sorry. I was in the back sorting books. Can I help you, young man?”
“I’m Dan, from the resource office, here to see Mr. Arbor. I’ve been tasked with organizing the archives from the Carnegie Hall Library for the main office.”
“ I’m sorry but I’m afraid you’re a couple of weeks late. Mr. Arbor passed away a couple of weeks ago from prostate cancer. I’m Nettie, his assistant. Well, now the Librarian, since his passing.”
“Well, Nettie, it is a pleasure to meet you and I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Confused by her response and unsure of her ability to carry out the task with him he moved to leave. “I believe that we should reschedule, ma’am. How about you call….”
She interrupted “Oh no need for that. We can carry on just as you would have with Mr. Arbor. Please, you’ve already come all this way. We may as well have some fun.”
“Fun, well, I haven’t heard archiving referred to as fun before.”
“Well, I truly enjoy the archive room, Dan. Follow me please. I’ll show you the way.”
She was giving him the willies. Something about her was “off”. But he just couldn’t put his finger on it. But to keep from making waves he began following her down the hall, toward a large wooden door marked “Archives”. Upon stepping into the room, he realized it was dark. Much too dark, he couldn’t see a thing!
“Dan, hold on a moment, I’ll get the light.”
Then he felt a little burn in his neck, like a bee sting.
The next thing he knew he was waking up, groggy, dry mouthed, trying to focus his eyes. He thought maybe he was dreaming. Surely these sights before him weren’t real. He saw three other men seated at the table, all dressed in matching red and white striped blazers, red ties, red hankies in their pockets and white straw hats with red satin bands around them. Loooking down he noticed that he was dressed in the same hideous attire, but he was tied to the chair. The other significant difference was that he was the only man at the table still breathing! The others were very obviously dead. Dead! What in the world was going on?
Just as he began struggling, trying desperately to get out of the ropes, in walks Nettie with a huge smile on her face, an mp3 player and what appeared to be a very sharp razor.
“Just relax dear, there’s no need to fight and fuss. I told you, this room is for fun.”
“What in the world is going on here?” Dan asked.
“This my boy, is my “Beautiful Doll Barbershop Quartet”. I suggest you get familiar with them, as you’re my final beautiful doll. We just have to get you cleaned up first. Can’t have you looking a mess with all that facial hair, now can we?”
The last thing Dan heard were the lyrics to “My Beautiful Doll” playing as he drifted off for the last time….
“Oh! You beautiful doll! You great big beautiful doll!”
Jason T. Carter
I always had big dreams. I wanted to be famous, not necessarily rich, but I wanted people to remember who I was long after I was gone. But I never expected to be gone so soon, and never took the steps to ensure my legacy.
“You have prostate cancer.” To a thirty-seven year old man who still considered himself a kid, the weight of those words crushed my heart, my mind, and my dreams. All of my time on earth, wasted, always looking for something more.
“How long do I have?”
The doctor couldn’t look me in the eye. “Men your age are usually not even tested. I’m afraid it is far more advanced than normal. We can attempt chemotherapy treatments and surgery, but at this stage there is little chance of success.”
“How long, doc?”
“Six months to a year.”
My feet felt like concrete blocks leaving his office. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my family that day, or that week. But they knew something was wrong. I stopped shaving, and by the end of the week had facial hair that would make Billy Gibbons jealous.
The doctor gave me the address of a support group that met on Tuesday nights. That is where I met Steve, Dennis, and Franklin. That is where I met the men who would help me fulfill my dreams in less than six months.
The Cafe Europa at 7th and 57th, which sat on the corner across from Carnegie Hall, was where we got our big break. They allowed us to perform our act on the street outside, singing popular songs, Barbershop Quartet style. We called our group the Red & White Stripes. From Twisted Sister to Taylor Swift, we had a two-hour set list that stopped people in their tracks. Ironically, we did not perform any White Stripes songs.
Every night for five months we performed there, until we were discovered by the events coordinator at the Carnegie. Mr. Richards enjoyed our performances for a full week before he approached us about performing at the historic Music Hall. We were booked that same night, and on stage at Carnegie Hall a week later, performing to a sold-out crowd. Standing ovations, encores, Barbershop Quartet groupies—all of my dreams came true. I knew that the world would forever remember the Red & White Stripes.
I never recorded any of the music, but there are bootlegs floating around the internet, and several videos of our performances outside the Cafe Europa. They say once something is on the internet, it is there forever. My legacy would live on long after I died.
Bert tightened his upper lip as his wife, Emmaline, extended the razor. “That’s right,” she said. “Let’s get rid of your scruffy facial hair. You know you can’t start the day without a clean face.” The lime-scented wisps of foam disappeared as she stroked the blade gently along the gray stubble of his mustache and beard.
The chemo made her darling husband too weak to do this task for himself. Even though she knew he hated that he needed help, Emmaline leaned over the clean white sheets of his hospital bed and did it for him.
She ended up doing this because Bert was too proud in general. His father and brother died of prostate cancer. All his doctors warned him that family history dictated he get tested for the disease at age 40. Each year Bert said, “It won’t happen to me. That cancer has happened in the family enough. I’m not letting the doctor stick a finger up there to test me.” Emmaline had a terrible feeling Bert’s sense of security was misplaced. Now, as he was trapped in bed with the stage four cancer spreading throughout his lymph nodes and organs, Emmaline didn’t think it was right to say, “I told you so.” All she can do now was love him as she had for thirty-five years. The doctors said he didn’t have much time left.
She squeezed his hand and closed her eyes. She saw him as he was when he was young with his inky black hair and earnest blue eyes. They were were walking arm-in-arm on a cold, starry night as couple. It had only been a few months, and she was scared to tell him him much she already loved him. That night, before he parted her front steps, he sang her the song he would sing her almost every day in the coming years. She could still hear the shaky notes of his nervous baritone voice echoing through the night. “Let me call you Sweetheart. I’m in love with you. . .” He looked at her with the sincerity of someone singing at Carnegie Hall. She said, “I love you too,” and kissed him.
In his later years, Bert insisted his barbershop quartet include “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” on their set list. He knew the song was the fastest way to make his wife smile.
With tears streaming down her face, Emmaline focused on the labored rattle of Bert’s breath. She bent to kiss the top of his wrinkled forehead and said, “I’ll always let you call me Sweetheart. I love you.” Suddenly, the rattle stopped, and a look of peace came across Bert’s face. Emmaline knew he was gone.
We’re all listening to the same song, it’s just that some have lost the beat.
Seventeen blocks from the shelter. 28 degrees fahrenheit.
“Mom, there’s a man outside,” she said, breathless.
“Where?”Her mom pulled back the drapes, narrowed her eyes. A skinny, bearded man leaned against the fence, removed his knit cap and waved.
“Shut that door, this instant!” her mother said.
“He’s cold,” the little girl said.
“You stay away from him. Who knows where he’s been!”
“He can smell our turkey from way out there,” she said, smiling.
“I bet he can,” her mom said.
“He looks shivery. Plus, his mama used to make turkey too,…” the little girl started.
“There are plenty of places for people like that. Better call the police,” her mom said.
“He loves pumpkin pie and he’s from Memphis….” the little girl waved at the man through the window. He smiled back.
“Our company will be here any minute. I don’t want a nasty old beggar ruining Thanksgiving.”
On t.v., Billy Graham hosted a barber shop quartet at Carnegie Hall. Traditional Thanksgiving hymns filled the house, interspersed with ads for Prostate Cancer Drugs and nicotine patches.
A nation bowed it’s head.
Blue lights flashed. The police car pulled into their driveway.
The dirty man ran.
“Hey!” shouted the policeman. But he was gone. A scraggly, three-legged dog followed.
Toenails and hard-soled shoes dug into the cold November concrete until the desperate cadence faded from earshot.
“Thank you officer,” the woman called from the porch. The officer made his way to the house.
”Sure smells nice in there,” he said, removing his hat.
““You must be cold,” she said. “Would you like to come in?”
“No ma’am, thank you. I don’t think he’ll bother you again. Most of these guys are harmless, just a nuisance,” he said, looking over his shoulder.
“How can people live their life like that? It’s disgusting,” she said.
“Most are on the streets for two or three years,” he said.
“Thank goodness we have those programs so they can get back on their feet,” she said, tucking a lose hair behind her ear.
“Most leave the streets when they die, ma’am,” he said, replacing his cap.
“Is that man gonna die, Mama?” the little girl asked.
“Of course not, Sugar, he’ll find somewhere warm.”
Seven blocks south, the filthy, hungry man and the three-legged dog found a park bench.
The man bowed his head to pray.
“Lord, let me be ever thankful…”
Out of the torn backpack, he fished a half-eaten sandwich. The first bite was his, then he held the other half out for the dog,
bones and fur and warm eyes, judge of none.
The dog curled closer.
His only defense, hope. His only hope, the kindness of strangers.
Thanksgiving night was even colder now.
chilled with sorrow and hunger and regret.
Clouds slipped over the moon.
The dog beside him shivered.
Down the street, the little girl pressed her face against the cold front window and wondered about the man with the beard.
Her mother was sound asleep.