Here’s a short story that is more an exercise in writing dialog than anything else. Please let me know what you think.
The tops of the trees snap to and fro as the back-half of the cold front makes its way through the hollow. The multiple layers of thin grey clouds fly across the sky like a dogs coming through the gate into a dog park. It is a cold spring and he pulls the wrap a little higher on his neck so that his ears are protected.
“Don’t want no dang earache,” he says to no one in particular as he adjusts himself in the rocker.
“What?” answers one of his companions.
“Don’t want no dang earache,” he says it loud enough to be heard over the whine of the wind around the edge of the porch. Still, he knows Roger’s hearing aids won’t help him, so he leans over to his right, “earache, don’t want no earache from the wind. Used to get them all the time when I was a kid. Get out in the wind and by evening I’d have an earache. My momma used to put warm baby oil in them to help but they hurt like all get-out. So, now I’m in my second childhood I don’t want to get an earache from this wind.”
He knows Roger can’t really hear him because he is becoming profoundly deaf, but he had developed the habit of talking to Roger as if he could hear just because he didn’t want to be frustrated into quietude because Roger couldn’t actually hear. But Jerry had heard him. There was nothing wrong with Jerry’s hearing. His legs wouldn’t work right but there was nothing wrong with his hearing.
“You can’t get an earache from the wind. That’s the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard.” Jerry is simply performing as they have come to expect him to; he is the home’s resident atheist and expert of all things, or that’s how he wants to be known; mostly they just think of him as a lonely man without family who needs attention and gets it by being a contrary curmudgeon.
“Hell, don’t listen to him, he’ll argue that the sky isn’t blue if you let him.” Phil, to Jerry’s right, also pulls his throw, with the military logos on it, tighter round his shoulders.
“Well, the sky isn’t blue, Look at it!” Jerry is in good form, It’s grey and white and over to the right there it’s almost black.” He points to the receding cold front off to the east. “Not blue at all and even when you say it’s blue it isn’t, it’s just the refraction of the light through the atmosphere.”
No one had ever been able to convince Jerry that refraction created color and that the blue they saw was the color of the sky. After the Army Jerry had become a scientist and somewhere in those intervening years an atheist. They knew he couldn’t have been an atheist when he was in the Army because he had been in combat in Korea and nobody who had ever been in combat was truly an atheist. Most every soldier in combat is a contract specialist trying to arrange some sort of deal with God to get himself out of the madness unhurt. He would promise to do this or do that. Of course, if he came out unhurt he attributed it to skill or luck and he promptly forgot the bargain he had made with God. Anyway, that’s the thought running through John’s mind as he considers the squad of veterans seated on the porch of the Junius T. Rutherford Veterans’ Home.
“Don’t matter what color the sky is. What are we having for lunch?” Phil’s two-hundred-fifty plus pounds crowds the arms of his rocker. One of the aides will have to help him stand, unsticking the sides of his belly from the rocker’s wide armrests while trying not to have Phil overbalance and take the two of them to the floor.
“Pork chops, green beans, Harvard beets, and apple sauce,” Steve, whose scooter is at the right-end of the line of rockers and wheelchairs answers Phil’s question.
“What the hell are Harvard beets?” Steve continues. “Beets with bachelors’ degrees? He asks.
“Na, Harvard beets are those sliced beets that are pickled and come out that dark reddish purple. If you like pickles, you’ll like Harvard beets. Phil obviously knows his food stuffs.
“No, I meant why do they call them Harvard beets? Did Harvard invent them? Is Harvard the first place that served them? Why do they call them Harvard beets? Enquiring minds and all that.” Steve has moved them away from what would come next when Jerry went into his long explanation of refraction and blue skies.
But Jerry tries anyway, “You know how refraction works don’t you…”
“Hey,” this from the almost deaf Roger, “Wait, I know the answer.”
“You know the answer to why the sky is blue? Jerry is frustrated. They always let him tell them why the sky is blue.
Maybe it’s the wind or the cold but Roger is hearing much better today. “No, well yes, I know the answer to why the sky is blue, God we all know that, you’ve told us a least a hundred times but, No, I know the answer to why they call them Harvard beets.” He pauses tugging up his throw from where it’s fallen down the back of the chair.
“Well, go on then, why do they call them Harvard beets.” Phil is thinking more about eating them than addressing them properly, but he challenges Roger. “Why?”
“Because they’re Crimson.” Roger’s answer is short.
“Because they’re Crimson? What kind of an answer is that?” Steve isn’t sure he’s going to buy Roger’s answer.
Roger now has the attention of the group, even Jerry seems not to know anything about the beets. “Look, back in the days when there weren’t that many colleges and most of the action was happening on the East Coast everybody had mascots, you know the Yale Bulldogs and the Princeton Tigers, Brown Bears and the Dartmouth Indians. Well the only school that didn’t have a mascot was Harvard. They called themselves by the color of the uniforms they wore. The Harvard Crimson. Well the beets are the same color as the Harvard uniforms, crimson so the people started calling the beets Harvard beets.”
As simple as it sounds no one on the porch is ready to dispute Roger’s explanation as there is a collective ah that makes its way down the line of veterans. Roger looks down to his right and then to his left at John and satisfied he has made his point takes another bite of the apple he had pocketed from the table in the lobby. It is a Fuji, nice and crisp. It cracks as he bites into it.
“That an organic apple?” John asks.
“Don’t know. Why do you ask?” Roger answers between crunches.
“Well you know they don’t radiate the organic apples.” John explains.
“Radiate, why would you radiate an apple? Phil looks at Jerry as if the scientist should know. He does.
“Well, there are several reasons,” Jerry is glad to have the floor or at least the porch again. “To help preserve freshness. It can slow the spoilage process but if that’s a Fuji apple it could be to keep other growers from stealing the seeds and cultivating the same apple as competition to the grower who grew that one. Irradiation kills the cells in the seeds and if you plant the seeds they won’t grow.” He pauses, as if he’s going to go on, but he can’t really because that’s all he knows. He was after all a chemist not a botanist.
“Well, that’s interesting,” Roger says, having heard not a thing Phil said because the hearing aids picked up the crunching of his jaws over the sound of Phil’s voice. But it was one of Roger’s little tricks for making people think he was listening to them. He nodded his head. “Yessir, that’s interesting alright.” He takes the last bite from the apple and holding it up for all to see he pronounces, “APPLE CORE!!”
“Of course, it’s an apple core.” Jerry isn’t sure why Roger needs confirmation, but he’ll perform his assigned function in the group and affirm that what Roger is holding is, indeed, an apple core.
“No, no,” Roger is animated, “APPLE CORE!!” He again holds the apple core aloft.
John gets it but even in his second childhood doesn’t want to be pelted by the core of a just eaten apple. He reaches over and pulls Roger’s hand down.
“He wants someone to yell ‘Baltimore.’ Didn’t you guys ever play Apple Core – Baltimore?” The quizzical looks down the line answer him.
“So, somebody eats an apple and then holds the core up and yells, APPLE CORE!! The first to yell ‘Baltimore’ then gets to answer the next question, ‘Who’s your friend?’ He names his friend and the holder of the core throws it at that friend.”
“Not much of a game if you ask me.” Steve isn’t having any and Phil gives a head shake side to side and mutters a “Tsch, tsch.”
Roger is crest-fallen hopping someone would have named Jerry because that’s about as far as he could throw the core but now, he’s stuck holding the core out in front of him.
Once again, the wind is the only disturbance of the hush on the porch until John, looking, as are all the others, at Roger’s apple core asks,
“Did you ever think how like a man that apple core is?” No one answers so he continues. “You know we start out a bud and then properly cultivated we grow and finally we’re a full fruit with aroma, taste and so on. Then life uses us up like someone eating the apple but at the end even all eaten we possess the ability to add to the continuation of life in that our knowledge provides the seeds for the generations to come. We may be old apple cores, but our seeds will continue after us.” He is proud of his metaphor and thinks it might merit some acknowledgement, but all are silent until, finally, Steve leans forward in his scooter and looks down the line at John.
“Very philosophical, very deep and I wish it was true, but I have to remind you that everyone of us has had multiple X-rays and MRI’s. I think that means all our cores have been thoroughly irradiated.”
The collective sigh is emphasized by the agreeing nods down the line and even the wind laments the loss of youth as it moans its way around the corner of the porch and down the gravel drive.