Strange things happen to nice people.
There I’ve said it, but it don’t make it any less true, friends. I ain’t gonna argue here and now about how you measure niceness and all, you’re just gonna have to take my hand-on-my-heart word on that point. You see, me and my pals, sure are the nicest people to walk this part of Bucks County – maybe even further, but heck, if it just don’t stop things happening.
I guess the first kookiest thing to happen was when my grandmother lost that precious ring, the one that my grand pappy had given to her on the day she said yes to marrying him. Charlie (that’s my bestest friend) just turned to her and said, you’ll find it under that old leather chair your cat uses as a bed. And you know what? That was where it was. Well I’ll be, I kept saying to myself that day, well if that ain’t the darndest thing.
My first thought was that Charlie had put it there himself, on account he was always up to something or other. But then, as Charlie said himself, he’d never been up to that part of my grandmother’s house that held the cat’s chair. I don’t think he was lying, friends, I surely don’t. I guess Charlie had always been the weird one – well, weirder than the rest of us – which is a long way away from what folks call normal in these parts.
Charlie used to go by the name of Kenzo, The Magician when he was knee high to a real magician. Used to put on shows for us kids, even convinced us that he could make birds appear out of the air. Then one day, Danny, Charlie’s young cousin from his pop’s family, bust a finger when a brick fell on it. That finger couldn’t make up its mind which way it was pointing. Then Charlie took his cousin’s hand and placed it between his own hands. Danny said he felt real warm and when Charlie took his hands away, the finger was pointing the way it was meant to. I kid you not, friends. It was pointing as straight as the day is long.
Somewhere, at the back of my mind, I’m thinking the two of them had conjured this up between them (‘scuse my words) but that night, Charlie swore on my life that he didn’t do nothing sneaky. The look in my pal’s eyes made me know he wasn’t lying.
One day, not long after my birthday, I was playing in the yard with the hamster that my folks had given me. I can’t really remember what happened, but my mom called me for something and I turned to ask her what she wanted when Geronimo (the hamster) kinda made an escape right into the middle of the street. It was just as Mister Feeling’s horseless carriage was put-put-putting along (with Mister Feeling singing a really loud song from Don Giovanni) that he ran over my hamster.
I think it was my screaming that brought Charlie running – I must have been loud to hear it over Mister Feeling.
“What’s happened little brother,” that’s what Charlie always called me, on account that I was shorter than him.
“He’s killed Geronimo,’ I screamed.
Charlie went over to the flattened hamster and picked him up.
“No he ain’t, lookie here little brother.”
Sure enough, Geronimo was running up and down Charlie’s arm and nibbling his ear like he was at the peak of his life.
“I musta been mistaken,” I said to my pal.
“No you weren’t,” said Charlie, and he wandered off whistling to himself.
These strange things kept happening - but far enough apart that no one ever really joined the dots. I guess when folks would talk about Charlie behind his back, I would get real annoyed and punch anyone who said my bestest pal was weird. He ain’t weird I told them. My mom told me that folks like Charlie only come along once in a blue moon.
When we’d finished schooling for ever, I went off to learn how to be an artist and Charlie joined the army as a doctor or something. Apart from a postcard here and there, we kinda lost touch.
Then one day, not long after my dad started talking strange like, talking about things and people who weren’t there, Charlie turned up at the door.
“I’ve come to fix things,” he said and walked straight in the house without a hello or anything.
“Where’s Henry?” That was my dad’s name.
“He’s sick,” I said.
“I know he’s sick, I’ve come to help him.”
I told Charlie that my dad was in the back bedroom and that Charlie wasn’t to be alarmed. You see, my dad kinda liked to be by himself and be with the folks he said were in the room. I couldn’t ever see any of them.
“Just ‘cause he sees them, don’t mean they’re there. And just ‘cause you can’t, don’t mean they aren’t,” then Charlie started his whistling again, as if he knew something I didn’t. That wouldn’t have been difficult.
“We are such things as memories, that is all we are,” exclaimed Charlie. I asked him if it was Shakespeare who had said that, and he said it was him, then continued whistling.
I remember my grand pappy had said that Charlie was an ‘enigma’, which I thought was a monster like a vampire or something. But when I looked it up in the book of words, it said that Charlie was the kinda friend that no one could work out. Those were the kinda friends that I liked.
When Charlie came back down from my dad’s room, he just said that everything was fixed, that he’d meet me tomorrow on Main Street at three.”Don’t be late.”
As Charlie closed the front door behind him, my father was standing at the kitchen door, scratching himself.
“I could eat a horse,” that was what he said and he whistled the same tune that Charlie whistled, then my dad went in and cooked the biggest steak in the world. My dad never talked of people I couldn’t see, again.
Charlie never got real famous for anything, but folks eventually talked about him in friendly terms. Whenever someone had an illness or a doctor gave them little time to live, people would call on Charlie and sometimes things would get better and sometimes they wouldn’t.
“I guess the universe ain’t taking ‘no’ for an answer this time,” he’d say.
On the day that Charlie died, the whole town showed up. I was picked to say a few things about my pal, the enigma, but first I got the whole congregation to whistle Charlie’s tune (he would have liked that), even the reverend had to smile. On his gravestone I had them carve the words:
CHARLIE TURNER – ONCE, IN A BLUE MOON.
I reckon he would have liked that, too.
bobby stevenson 2015