Winner of WDC inspirational quote contest
|This story won the WDC Inspirational Quote Contest. The quote that was to inspire the writers was "April comes in like a fool, spewing flowers everywhere."
Death of a Hero
My deathbed has been waiting for me since the day I was born, out there fixed in time and space. My random meanderings through life have served to change none of this. Every step and misstep, that I have taken faithfully brought me closer to that inevitable end.
When I finally get here, I find myself surprised.
Somehow, I thought it would be different.
I had imagined a hospital room with tubes and pumps keeping me alive until all hope is lost and the plug pulled. Me, a shriveled up old man eating my final meal of green Jell-O as family members stand around, some crying dutiful tears, others checking their watches wishing they were somewhere else. All very touching and appropriate.
Not like this. Not on the floor of a seven-eleven with my life's blood flowing towards the Cheetos display. With a thirty year shelf life, they are marked down to move quickly.
And where did all of these flowers come from. I can see them everywhere. The air is filled with their scent as they whirl around me.
There are other views from where I lay. Moving my head slightly, I can see old wads of gum stuck under a shelf. Years of effort. Each wad presented to me as a unique dental signature. They make a colorful montage of goo; every morsel a history untold; not so different from myself. No bard would sing about my valorous episodes as I float off in my flaming Viking funeral boat.
Not this time around anyway.
Looking directly overhead, I could see the bug equivalent of me. Little dots count the number that failed to heed the words "Don't go into the light!" Do bugs think about death?
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see people. There is the arm of the store clerk hanging over the counter. We would meet each other soon enough...talk about old times. "Remember the time in that store?" I would say. "Stop it, man. You're killing me," he says. Then we would both have a big laugh.
Interesting thought, I think.
A woman is down the aisle next to the motor oil. She seems to be crying hysterically. I know how she feels. You should never buy auto supplies in a convenience store.
Suddenly, there is Leon. He's leaning over me gently; giggling as he shakes my shoulders.
"Come on, Bobby. April Fools. That's right. April Fools. I get it. Let's go back to the park."
But, the flowers...they want to take me elsewhere.
It all started about three hours ago.
Chub sent me a text saying the guys were heading out to River Road that evening and it's my turn to get the booze. Not a problem. The college dude across the street was twenty-one. I give him the money and he buys the beer, less his cut of one six-pack.
A quick visit revealed the potential benefits of proper prior planning. You see if I had bothered to check, I would have seen that my connection's summer break had ended last August. It was now April.
Time for Plan B. I borrowed my dad's truck and headed down to the town square. I would try and hook up with one of those loser high school dropouts that seemed to hang around town waiting for their life to somehow take a turn for the better. Typically less reliable but worth the risk.
I got lucky right away. Steven Housman came by in his Camaro. The girls at school thought he was hot. I could see through the car to the reality of his situation. A beer gut was already being formed on what was once a quarterback's frame. Those glory days were long gone.
Anyway, I gave Steve a twenty and he was off to get the beer. An eternity later, he comes cruising by, drinking what looks to be my Budweiser.
"Steve!" I yell out. "What's the deal?"
He comes back with "Don't you know what day it is, you idiot?"
"Tuesday?" I venture, not quite certain.
"It's April Fool's day. Thanks for the beer Fool!" He speeds away, tires squealing for that extra cool loser effect.
So I am now down to my last twenty dollars. No room for failure. No more playing the April Fool.
Then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. April Fool!
I would get Leon to buy for me. He had to be at least thirty.
Leon was a mentally handicapped guy that lived in a shelter by the church although he mostly hung out around the park. I had known him for years. I think I may be one of the few people in town that even knows his name. Most just look right through him not wanting to acknowledge that he is even there.
He was sort of simple in the head. Rumor had it that his dad hit him in the head with a board when he was three. I think maybe he was just born that way.
I started by walking the park perimeter. I finally spot him over in an open area behaving in his normal abnormal manner. From the curb, it looked like he was picking things up off of the ground.
As I got closer, he looked up and saw me, a big grin crossing his face.
"Bobby! Bobby! Boy, it's sure good to see you! Gosh, this has been such a great day!"
"What's up Leon?"
"Gosh, yes, Bobby. I have been picking flowers. Lots and lots of flowers. You know April showers bring flowers. Gosh, yes."
I didn't have the heart to tell him he got the saying a little wrong. But I had to ask about the flowers.
"Leon. I don't see any flowers."
"Sure you do Bobby. Here ya go!" and he handed me what appeared to be a big bouquet of air.
Before I could say a thing, he saw the confused look in my eyes and burst out laughing. "I got you, Bobby. Gosh, yes! I got you. April Fools!" He started to dance around clapping his hands.
I had to marvel at Leon. He didn't have a thing in the world to be thankful for and yet...he is probably one of the happiest people I know. It was as if his limited mental abilities didn't include an awareness of the realities that so many of us "normies" find to worry about.
At the tender age of seventeen, I felt that Leon was possibly the finest person I knew.
That made what I was about to do particularly distasteful.
"Leon. How would you like to do me a favor?"
"Gosh, yes, Bobby. I can do you a favor that is for sure."
"If I give you some money, will you buy me some beer?"
"If Bobby gives me some money, I will buy some beer. Gosh, yes. I can do that."
So we head off to the store. Leon is overjoyed at the idea of helping me out. He thinks I am the smartest person in town. All the while, I'm thinking that I cannot possibly sink any lower. I am committed to this path for now, but I silently vow to never to do this again. This would be a one-time event.
All the way to the store, Leon is pretending to pick flowers. He somehow knows the names of what he is collecting. This invisible one is a daffodil. There are some invisible daisies. He goes on and on all the way to the store. How he knew so many flower names is beyond me.
We finally get there and Leon is bursting at the seams. He has to pull his April Fool's joke on the first person he sees. Just then, a group of gangbangers come be-bopping out of the store. They were pushing and shoving each other as their pants hung down, well below their waists.
"April Showers bring flowers!" he says handing the nearest dude an invisible bunch of something. "April Fool's!" He yells out laughing and clapping his hands.
"Hey retard. You da April Fool. Now get outta my face." The banger is un-amused and gives Leon a rough shove.
Leon is temporarily confused. A hurt look crosses his face. He does not understand cruelty. Like I said, it's outside of his mental envelope.
What do I do while this is going on? I maintain your basic low profile. For the moment, I was not with the retard. Never saw him; didn't know him. I just walked by on into the store.
What a coward.
The event lasted a moment but it stuck to me like glue. My face was burning with shame. Here, I was asking him to do something illegal and he agrees without question. He trusts me. And now, he is accosted in front of the store and I simply let him take it.
It's now official. I hate myself.
Nowhere to go but up. My head fills with things I should have done or should have said but it is too late now. The bangers are gone. It's just me and the tube-o-chips I was pretending to inspect as Leon wandered back down the aisle towards me smiling broadly.
He had resumed his game of picking flowers. "This is a great store. There are flowers everywhere." He has forgotten all about the beer. He probably forgot about that moments after I mentioned it to him. He just came along because he wanted to be with me, his friend.
It would be so good to be the person Leon thinks I am, not the person I seem to have become.
Then it hits me. No more of this crap! Right there at that moment, I changed. There would be no beer; no party on River Road. No more taking advantage of my friend. No more standing by while bad things happen to good people. I simply did a moral about face.
It felt good. I felt good about me.
A moment later, the world went into slow motion.
I both saw and heard the gangbangers reenter the store. There were two of them. The big one had a gun.
Without so much as a "Hand over the money" he put four slugs into the clerk who bounced back into the slushy machine and then staggered forward with a look of complete surprise on his face. He finally fell forward across the counter.
"Sheeeet Bro! What the hell are you doing? We just wanted to rob the place and now you have gone and put us in jail for life. I am out of here!" the backup gangbanger had apparently elected to reevaluate his alliances and fled through the front door.
The heavy swung the gun around to take a shot at his fleeing ex-accomplice when his eyes fell on Leon.
"Well if it ain't the retard with the invisible flowers. I ain't never shot no retard before" and with that, he swung his gun up and fired twice.
Like I said; the whole thing was in slow motion. I could almost see the slugs as they ripped into the clerk. I knew before he said a thing, the smaller one would flee. I also knew in that instant, that the shooter was out for blood and Leon was a big target.
I moved before the gunman did. I threw myself against Leon; shoving him aside just in time.
I never felt a thing.
I saw the shooter turn and flee as the candy display flew past my vision. Peanut M&Ms; I love those things.
I hit the floor with a silent "whoosh" instead of the thud I had anticipated.
The flowers had cushioned my fall.
They were everywhere. All types of flowers. I could see and smell them.
The last thing I saw was Leon. He had the biggest bouquet I have ever seen.
"Come on, Bobby. Gosh, yes. Let's go! "
My bed and I had finally met. Gosh, Yes.