The nearest place to get food was in Antimony, not even a town just a bend in the road. I rode there under a canopy of yellow leaves and gray skies. The café side of the joint is separated from the tin can aisles by a one step up lunch counter. Old green linoleum with sides painted bright white time after time. I hung my motorcycle jacket over the swivel seat next to me.
When I spend time in small towns I like to get to know the locals on a first name basis. I often get the local price on everything from gas to bread. Jeri ask how I’d been as she poured my coffee. Jeri was one of those women every man likes to have a conversation with. She spoke is slow measured sultry tones. Dark hair framed her intense smile. She was fit and destined to always be beautiful.
I first saw Mr. Morse as he approached the third seat and carefully mounted it, his cane propped against his side. I guessed him in his late 80’s but bright and he carried himself with broad shoulders. His hair was crew cut. I recognized this old warrior as he ordered only coffee. I was trying to drive the chill from my bones and decide what to do next.
We talked casually of fishing for a moment. Mr. Morse told me that he had been coming to Otter Creek for a dozen or more years, since the death of his wife. He told me he once had a dog.
He then asked me how my day was. It is this question that often causes a shift in my conversations.
“I’m having the day of a lifetime Brother, but I have many of those. Sometimes I string them into weeks, months or years. I live a life other men don’t even know exists. I live a dream of my own making.” I spoke the truth.
Mr. Morse smiled broadly and extended his large hand. We introduced ourselves. A few people milled around on the grocery side of the business. We went unnoticed as I asked him what he did during WW II. He proudly told me that he had trained bomber pilots. He knew exactly how many to, 44. He began to describe the type of aircraft he flew.
I stopped him, “Mr. Morse could I ask a difficult question?” He said yes…
“Of those 44 men that you trained do you know how many survived their tours and returned home?” His crystal blue eyes flashed, I saw tears well up in his face.
He said, “No, I couldn’t… maybe half.”
Without missing a beat Mr. Morse began to tell me of the last moments of his wife’s life. She had been subjected to some minor surgery and he was with her in post-op. She suddenly and without warning suffered a brain aneurysm and died in his presence. In that moment He began his new life alone.
I expressed my sympathy for having suffered such a terrible wound. To have made it through the hard and scary part only to lose her when all seemed hopeful. Tears spilled down his cheeks.
We continued to talk. Someone walked past. We were in a bubble – just Mr. Morse and I – unseen.
He suddenly asked me if he should get a dog. He explained that he had a fear of dying and leaving the dog with no one. I told him to go to the nearest shelter and get the oldest dog they had. I explained to him that he was denying a dog the gift of his friendship.
His hand quivered as he pushed a crumpled dollar bill a quarter and a dime across the counter with one bony finger.
He patted my shoulder and mouthed his thanks as he left. I wished him well.
Later Jeri told me he got a fuzzy old dog.
© 2015, Michael Fulcher. All rights reserved.