Lester Talbot And His Magic Eye
Lester Talbot rocked amicably on his wood-plank porch with his trusty Winchester resting lightly across his lap. He held a plug of chewing tobacco in his bulging right cheek, not bothering to use a spittoon, just hocking the excess juices from the corner of his mouth onto a slick, black-stained spot in the corner of the porch. He’d taken up chewing after he’d quit smoking, just like he’d taken up smoking after he’d quit drinking his homemade shine at the request of his late wife, Patsy, who’d told him the shine had made him ‘ornery.’ In hindsight – now that he’d sobered up – he’d tend to agree with her.
“Wiley, come on, boy,” Lester called to the old hound who dozed close by in the evening heat. The ancient dog stood, hind legs trembling, but his tail wagging like a pup's. Wiley's still got a few years left in him. Lester bent to scratch the animal's muzzle. He'd lost too much with his wife’s passing last year to think further. “You and I, boy, we'll stay together, won't we?” The tail wagged harder.
He looked out at his garden; plump with sweet straw, dapper in a pair of discarded overalls and a torn chambray shirt, the scarecrow stood vigil over the vegetable patch. The hours spent re-stuffing and stitching the straw man had left Lester's good eye strained and aching, but it didn't matter. The old scarecrow, reborn, looked fine and new and worthy of his garden. Lester scratched his head, puzzling over his handiwork. Something was still missing, but he wasn't sure what. Oh well, he decided, it would come in time.
Lester stood up and ambled into his orchard. Bruise-purple plums hung, ripe and enticing; peaches and nectarines blushed under the sun's gaze. Dominating the orchard was the old peach tree, the one he and Patsy planted when they took the place over. It was twenty feet tall, its gnarled limbs heavy with fruit and, as Lester studied the weighted branches, he wondered if he could do the canning this year. He didn't know how, but he couldn't let the crop go to waste, either.
He eased his old bones down to rest in the tree’s shade, and Wiley settled beside him for a snooze. Late afternoon sunlight danced and dappled on his knees and he stretched his arms long above his head, relishing the feel of the rough bark against his back. A breeze rustled through the tree, dropping a fat peach into the grass. Smiling, Lester hefted the fruit, feeling its weight, then bit into it. Juice squirted and ran deliciously over his lips. In the distance, he heard a childish shriek of laughter and frowned, his mood broken.
Those kids better learn to leave my trees alone. He wiped juice from his mouth with the back of his hand. They had no right to steal his fruit, no right at all. Since the first ripening two weeks ago, they'd been nothing but trouble. They'd even climbed his fence once; he'd caught them in the act, and threatened to tell their parents. Their damned parents stole from me when they were kids, too. Kids… you just can't trust them. Patsy had, he realized now, shielded him from most of it, somehow keeping the youngsters out of his sight. Several times, he'd suspected she'd given them some of his fruit, but he didn't ask her, didn't want to know, because he couldn't be angry with Patsy, even if what she did wasn't right in his eyes.
The giggling, goading voices drew nearer and slow fury oozed over him. As he stood, his hands clawed into fists. There was scuffling at the fence, snickering whispers, and Lester took a few steps toward the sounds. His face set, he silently waited.
He heard a boyish grunt and saw the fingers snake over the fence-top. Blond hair appeared, then a pair of squinting green eyes, which slowly widened as they focused on the old man.
One of the younger ones – that much easier to scare the crap out of them. Lester grinned like a Jack-o-lantern, and the boy shrieked before disappearing with a gratifying thud. “We're gonna getcha, old man! We're gonna getcha!" screeched a mocking adolescent voice before a herd of sneakers stampeded away down the sidewalk. He just grinned and stood up to go back to the front porch, settling back into his rocking chair. Wiley lay down nearby, letting out a long tired sigh before dozing off again. Lester looked out at the garden again, smiling and reminiscing.
He had lived in the small, Indiana farmhouse all of his life, having been born in the upstairs bedroom. Tragically, his mother, Elsie, had died giving birth to him. He and his father, Lester Senior, had kept on living in the house together all those years in memory of Elsie. Elsie had been buried in the back yard under an old elm tree. Every Sunday after church, Lester and his father had picked flowers from their front yard and placed them on her grave.
This evening, Lester was thinking back to a night in his youth when he’d been out under the street lights playing with his new BB gun. His father had told him to be careful with it; he didn’t the Sheriff on his back over a broken window or such. Once Lester had the shiny new BB gun in his hands, though, temptation had taken over and he’d ended up aiming at the street light and squeezing off a shot just for mischief.
The BB pellet had ricocheted off of the light and struck Lester in the right eye, and a next door neighbor, hearing his cries for help, had rushed him to the hospital in the next town over.
When his father had arrived at the hospital, the attending ER doctor had informed him that he couldn’t save the eye. So a few weeks later, Lester had walked out of the hospital with a brand new, shiny blue glass eye. The problem was, they’d made a mistake; his left eye was green, and they didn’t match. But he seemed not to mind all that much – seemed to love his new eye – regardless of the color difference. As a matter of fact, over the years following the accident, the glass eye had proven to be quite a conversation piece.
Even Lester’s wife, Patsy, God rest her soul, had considered his glass eye sort of an interesting part of his personality. Whenever he was happy, laughing and smiling, the glass eye seemed to gleam like a Sapphire. Now, at the age of sixty two, his shiny blue eye gleamed as brightly as ever – or even more so. As he looked out over the street tonight, noticed one of the neighborhood boys, Billy Russell, riding his old, ancient bicycle down the street. He smiled as Billy waved.
In the distance, he heard a childish shriek of laughter and frowned, his mood broken. Those kids better learn to leave my garden alone. He wiped juice from his mouth with the back of his hand as his tightened his grip on the Winchester again until the sound of Billy’s voice broke his train of thought. Billy is a good kid, he thought. Not like these other little juvenile delinquents.
“Evening, Lester,” Billy said with a big smile, although Lester couldn’t ever figure out what Billy had to be happy about; Billy and his family, God bless their souls, were dirt poor, couldn’t afford a new bike for his birthday, so his father had fixed up an old one he’d found at the local dump. Lester called out to him in the semi-darkness. “Hey, Billy boy, how are you this fine evening?”
“Just fine and dandy as candy,” Billy replied, walking up the steps.
Lester’s face beamed as he smiled upon Billy fondly; he’d never had children of his own, and had become quite close to Billy. “Want some fresh lemonade?” he asked.
Billy’s young face furrowed into a frown, and Lester couldn’t recall ever seeing age lines in the face of a ten year old until now. “Well, I would, but I better be getting this old bike home before it falls apart – or it gets pitch dark, whichever comes first If I come home too late after dark, my pa will tan my hide.”
“Hogwash,” Lester said, motioning to Billy to join him on the porch. “Come up here for a second, I want to show you something I think you’ll find mighty interesting.”
As Billy took a seat in Patsy’s old rocker – Billy was the only person Lester had ever let sit in it – Lester said, “Billy boy, can you keep a secret?”
“Keep a secret about what?” Billy asked, skeptically. Lester had told him some mighty tall tales over the years, some of which Billy had a hard time swallowing.
Lester leaned in close and whispered. “Just answer me; can you keep a secret?”
“Sure, I guess so.”
“Good boy. Now, have I ever told you about my magic eye?”
“About your what?” Billy said, seeming intrigued by the conversation now.
Suddenly Lester’s eyes narrowed in the failing evening light. He tightened his grip on the Winchester as he spotted two boys sliding down the embankment that enclosed his house from the east. Upon seeing him sitting there with the gun in his lap they high-tailed it away as fast as they could. “My magic eye,” he repeated, watching the boys fade from sight, “have I ever told you about it?”
“Well, about fifty five years ago, when I was about your age, I had a bad accident.”
“What kind of accident?”
“I shot my eye out with a BB gun.”
Billy looked mortified. “For real?!”
“Unfortunately, yes, but since the day I got my new eye” – he pointed at the blue one – “I’ve been able to perform magic with it.”
Billy leaned back in the rocker and studied Lester’s face. “Aw…you’re just pulling my leg, aren’t you? My dad does that sometimes too, like when he told me that the moon was made of green cheese.”
“No, really,” Lester said, leaning in to whisper again. “This is how it works; a person can look into my glass eye and think about someone or something they want to see, and it comes true.”
“Really?” Bill said with utter fascination. “No joke?”
“No joke, Billy boy. Want to try it?”
“Sure!” Billy leaned closer, gazing directly into Lester’s blue eye. After a few seconds, it began to shine so brightly it was almost blinding.
Then, in the middle of the brightness, a vision; it looked like a photograph of a brand new shiny bicycle. Billy smiled at the vision before him and closed his eyes.
“Billy?” Lester said, breaking Billy’s train of thought. “Billy, you can open your eyes now.”
“I’m afraid to,” Billy said, and a single tear streamed from his right eye. “I’m afraid it won’t really be there.”
“Open your eyes, Billy. Trust me.”
Billy reluctantly opened his eyes to see a brand new, shiny blue bicycle with all the latest accessories included, even a tail light. Tears of joy began streaming from both eyes now as he stood up and began clapping his hands. “Oh, Lester! For me, really?!”
“It sure is, Billy boy. But remember, it’s our little secret, okay?”
“But what will I tell my mom and dad?”
“Just tell them I got it for you as an early birthday gift, how’s that?”
Billy grinned. “Okay! Well, I better get home before my dad worries about me. Thanks again for the bike!”
“You’re very welcome,” Lester said, as he sat watching Billy pedal away into the darkness. As he watched Billy fade away, whistling a happy little tune to himself, a tear of joy streamed from his eye, too.
An hour later, upon entering the house, Lester put the gun into the foyer closet and walked into the parlor, where he and Patsy had spent so many nights together, eating some of her delicious homemade cookies and sipping fresh lemonade. Lester still missed those days, and missed her dearly, too. The good memories then the twinge of pain and then the numbness; it was strange how the two sensations seemed to walk hand-in-hand when their very existence together had to be some sort of mistake.
He tilted his head back and said her name only once, remembered the eager twinkle of her voice and the way it would send shivers through his blood with only a single word. He closed his eyes and tried to taste the sky. The stars radiated with a ginger tinge, their echoing drone a momentary distraction from the pool of pain in his heart.
He walked over to the china cabinet and removed their old wedding album and pulled out an old photo taken on their wedding day. Patsy looked so beautiful in her long, white flowing gown and pearls. A gasp of desire and longing escaped his throat as he held the photo closer to his face, closing his good eye. The photo began glowing brighter and brighter until the brightness seemed to engulf him then suddenly faded.
He turned around, opening his good eye to Patsy standing there, dressed in her wedding gown, tears of joy filling her eyes as well. “Darling,” she said, stepping closer, “I’ve missed you so much.” Her face resembled a reflection in a silvery misted mirror...ghostly, but beautiful.
“Ditto,” he said, with a gleam in his magic eye.
“You stole that line from a movie, didn’t you?” She said, jokingly.
“I won’t tell if you won’t.”
“Your secret is safe with me.”
He held out his arms. “May I have this dance?”
The old phonograph in the corner began playing their favorite song as they began slow dancing together. They couldn’t remember the name of the song – it had been forty years since the first time they’d heard it – and Lester stood staring at her unearthly beauty in awe, knowing she must be a ghost but not caring. Her lips, opened like a partially bloomed flower were infinitely desirable as Lester leaned in close for one last kiss before she would vanish with the daylight. She hugged him now, her face nestled against his chest. He smelled of grocery store brand cologne and bath soap. It was a smell, no matter long she might have had to go without it over the last year, would always stick in her mind. It was his smell, and his smell only, and she savored it as much as she did his company.
“I better go now,” she said, reluctantly pulling away from him. “It’s the rules.”
“I know,” he said, choking back tears. “But there’s always tomorrow night, right?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“I promise. And remember this always; if the world should break in two, until the very end of me, the very end of you, we’ll still be together, just me and you.”
“Ditto,” he said, as the heavens above them burst into a haven of pink and green and she opened her mouth and words he could not understand fluttered from her teeth like butterflies caught in the grasp of a hurricane. His vision caved into an avalanche of quick blurs and voices. She floated away from him, past the ample purple clouds in the distance and into the twin stars dancing beyond the moon. He closed his eyes and watched her tiny frame dissipate into a pale convergence of ice and snow.
Suddenly her voice, like a whisper on the wind, said, “I still love you.”
Watching the magnificent light show above, Lester blinked away a tear and whispered, “I know.” His words were foggy and wispy, as if they could dissipate into the air before he could breathe them in. “I still love you too,” he said, to the vision of surreal beauty that still haunted his mind. As insane as her loss made him feel, it was his reminder of life.
Copyright © 2015 David Boyer