Chapter Fourteen

The Peanut, The Pee and the Puke

Afew moments pass with no conversation then Eli notices Parker is sliding left and right in his seat.

“You are acting weird Jim. Even weird for you. What are you doing?”

Parker responds, “Well my butt has been itching for the last twenty minutes and with all this gear on I can’t scratch it. It is driving me crazy. I need to get up and walk.”

“Well, luckily I don’t think we have far to go, but I will start another conversation to occupy your mind. How long have you been married?”

“Almost three years,” Parker responds.

“How did you meet?”

“Well it was a very strange way to meet anyone. It was about eight years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. It all started with a peanut on the sidewalk. I was seventeen and walking down the sidewalk in Birmingham with my friend Schultzie. Since we were little we were always daring each other to do stupid shit. I spied that peanut on the sidewalk and says, ‘I dare you to eat that peanut.’ Just like that Schultzie picked it up and popped it in his mouth. ‘What kind of a

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stupid dare was that?’ he says. ‘That was too easy.’ I says, ‘Well you know this neighborhood. At night the bums always pee on the sidewalk here. I’ve even seen them cover one nostril, lean over and blow their snot out right on the sidewalk here too. For sure that peanut had remnants of pee and snot on it.’ Just like that Schultzie pukes on the sidewalk. I almost bust my gut laughing. He stood up when he finished puking and looks at me. Then I says, ‘Oh yeah, then there’s puke on the sidewalk too.’”

Eli laughs loudly and admits, “I just got a mental picture of that and it is really funny. Especially the puke on the sidewalk line. Perfect timing!”

“Yeah, I’m laughin’ up a storm and Schultzie was already as green as an Alabama tree frog and when I said that he puked again. After a minute he came out of it then got pissed. He says, ‘Me pukin’ is not funny,’ and hits my arm as hard as he could. I didn’t care ‘cause it was just so funny how he suddenly puked. So I says, ‘Well, at least you got rid of the peanut. Can we go now?’ We continued down the sidewalk and pretty soon there was a guy up ahead on a tall stepladder working on the streetlamp. Schultzie says, ‘I dare you to walk under the ladder.’ So I says, ‘What kind of a dare is that?’ Schultzie says, ‘Cause it’s supposed to be bad luck if you walk under a ladder.’ I says, ‘Well, I’d sooner walk under a ladder than I’d eat a peanut off this peed snotted puked sidewalk.’ He says, ‘Shut up about the pee and snot already. Are you going to walk under the ladder or not?’ I said, ‘Sure just watch me’ and I walked up to the stepladder. Next thing I know I’m laying on the ground and I am coming to with this beautiful girl knelt down over me brushing broken glass from my hair. I says, ‘What happened?’ and she says, ‘You should know better than to walk under

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a ladder. The workman dropped the globe from the streetlight on your head.’ I looked at Schultzie and we both started laughing. I looked back at her and says, ‘Who are you?’ ‘I’m Linda,’ she says, ‘And what’s so funny?’ I was pointing at Schultzie and told her, “He just got done saying its bad luck to walk under a ladder that’s why it was funny. The she said, ‘That’s not funny, it’s stupid.’ Then me and Schultzie laughed some more. So that’s the story of how I met Linda.”

“This is weird Jim. I had told you that most of the things my father told me made no sense. Then in two successive days I see examples of one his axioms that I didn’t understand.”

“Now I am the one that doesn’t understand. What are you talking about? What’s an axiom?”

“It’s kind of like a statement of a rule for how something works. In this case how fate works. My father stated this one as ‘The paths of two objects already in motion will be nudged to intersect by the ripple of a pebble that Fate caused to drop at a precise moment.’ In this case he is referring to motion through time and he explained it like this, ‘At birth humans are set on a path and Fate guides the turns in this path through life by the nudging with the tiniest of happenings. It is that plus freedom of choice plus intuition that will make your life turn out the way it does. It is your intuition that tells you whether this is a safe or dangerous turn in your path. It is your freedom of choice to select or resist the turns prescribed by Fate.’ Anyway the event of that peanut falling from someone’s hand to the sidewalk was one of these events that caused you to meet your wife. I met the girl at the ballroom last night because of a pencil falling and I she will be my wife as soon as I get back.”

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“All that is a little tough for my mind to get a grip on, Eli,” Parker confesses. “Let me think about it for a minute.” A few moments pass as Eli can almost see the gears turning in Parkers mind. Parker’s face squints a little as we can see that something is coming to light. Then Parker announces his discovery, “I was the one that made you meet that girl last night, not a falling pencil.”

“Yes, that part is true. But the circumstances that caused me to be in Atlantic City yesterday were set in motion months ago by a pencil that fell from its perch above my ear while I was working in a shoe store back in my hometown.”

“Wait a minute! A pencil in a shoe store?! Okay, I gotta hear this story. Tell me what you are talking about.”

“Oh, but this is a really long story, Jim.”

“I don’t care, what difference does it make? Tell me!”

Eli remains silent while he ponders complying with Parker’s order then says, “Hey, do you feel that? I think we are slowing down. It’s about time. I can’t wait to get out. We are packed in here like sardines.”

“Yes, I feel that and yes I can’t wait either but quit trying to change the subject. I’ll give you a list of reasons why you have to tell me. One, we’re just sitting in this car. Two, you’ve got nothing better to do. Three, I don’t believe you. Four, if you want me to, you’ll have to tell me. Five, you’re full of shit. Six, you’re ugly. Seven, my butt itches, I can’t scratch it and I need the distraction. Eight, …..”

“Alright, alright, stop. I give!” Eli laughingly exclaims as he caves in. He decides to leave out the band and quilting stand fabrication and for the second time in as many days he relates the story of the Great Amos & Andy Pencil Fiasco. A few months ago this

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experience was the worst thing that had ever happened to Eli. In fact, up until yesterday he had blocked it out of his mind. But now he willingly shares his story. As soon as he gets to the part about Mrs. Hanson stuck in the chair it gets the same response from Parker as it did from Mayme. As she is flinging Eli and Jerry around the store Parker is laughing loudly and then Eli notices the guys in the seats to his left have leaned in and are also laughing. The guy on the outside is yelling at the other two to, “Shut up, I can’t hear the story!” Eli looks at the soldiers next door and pauses his chronicle of the events of that fateful day. For a moment, he considers stopping the tale because of the eavesdroppers but the eager and happy looks on their faces caused that thought to immediately pass. Instead he allows for the laughter to subside at those moments when the volume might interrupt his listeners’ attention. This abridged but more honest version ends with Mrs. Hanson popping out of the tubing and flying through the doorway. Laughter being contagious, everyone within earshot is guffawing. Now, in relating an experience he had previously been ashamed of, he was feeling pretty proud of himself, and after the laughter has diminished he smugly announces, “That is widely known in Iowa as the Great Amos & Andy Pencil Fiasco. Mrs. Hanson has a lot of friends and to avoid being ridden out of town on a rail I immediately took off to Des Moines to enlist. That’s how I come to be sitting in this rail car at this moment.” Everyone laughs again as they slowly retreat to their previous positions while obviously discussing Eli’s anecdote.

“Well, you are certainly the hit of the party,” Parker observes after he and Eli are left alone again. “That was funny, is it really true or did you do some embellishment?”

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“Well, it certainly wasn’t funny when it happened and every bit of it was true. I was in a lot of trouble with the store owner. I assumed Mr. Hanson would be coming for me loaded for bear.”

“Have you asked your mom or dad if he ever came gunning for you?”

“I felt so terrible that until yesterday I had successfully avoided thinking about The Fiasco,” Eli admits then continues, “so in my letters I have never mentioned it and when I went home on leave nobody talked about it. I don’t know if that means it’s all blown over or if my family thinks it is too bad to bring it up.”

“Well, for blocking it out of your mind you certainly told it like it was fresh in your memory. I still think you must have made it up.”

“A truthful story will reveal no hesitation in its narration,” Eli asserts as if it is some adage from old. “Besides that I just told the whole thing to Mayme last night so it is fresh in my memory.”

“I take it Mayme is the woman I sent you over to see at the ballroom.”

“I guess I didn’t tell you but, yes, Mayme is her name. She had told me a story that reminded me of Mrs. Hanson so I told her about The Fiasco.

“Well, thanks for telling your story. I do get what you are talking about. I’ll be trying to think if your dad’s axiom applies to anything else in my life now that I know about it.” A few moments pass then Parker asks, “I saw you pointing at me when you were with her. What did you say about me?”

“I told her you were one of the rare complete ass-holes,” Eli chuckles then adds, “I shouldn’t tell you this because it might go to your head but I told her you were my only friend in the group that I

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was with. Oh, and she told me to thank you for sending me over to her.”

“Yeah, well, I guess it turns out I had a role to play in the grand scheme of things,” Parker observes then with a grin he says, “Even if it was for a shit-head.”

The train has come to a crawling speed as a sergeant enters the car from the opposite end from Eli and announces very loudly, “Heads up! Eyes and ears forward!” He pauses for a moment then continues, “When the train comes to a stop, stay put! Don’t move until I come to get you.” The sergeant then proceeds through the car, kicking the booted feet that are in the aisle as he goes through the car, passes Eli and exits the rear.

“I’m ready to get out of here,” Parker declares. “But, this ride certainly went better because of our conversation. So thanks for that.”

“When the war is all over and if you ever get to Iowa I want you to meet my family.”

“How would I find you?” Parker asks.

“That’s an easy one. Just get to Fayette, it’s a small town so just walk up to anyone and ask about Eli Bailey. Be ready to block any punches though,” Eli jests.

“Thanks also for promising to speak to my son about me.”

Eli turns to Parker and says, “For sure I will come to Birmingham when we get back home. Not to see your son but to see you because nothing is going happen to you.” He pauses for a moment, then continues, “We don’t have any complete assholes in Iowa so if I want to see one I will have to come there.”

“Yeah, well don’t bother to come ‘cause they don’t allow no corncob hicks in Alabama,” Parker jabs back as the train has just rolled

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to a stop. A couple minutes pass in the almost silent car as there are very few discussions taking place. The car makes a jerk and the train seems to start moving the other direction. “That is weird, why would we be going the other way now?” Parker wonders.

They both fall silent as the train gains a little momentum but then the acceleration stops and we are slowly rolling backwards. The vision of Mayme with outstretched hand returns to him. Eli wonders how long he will be at war and if this vision will diminish over time. It brings him heartache but at the same time he thinks he would suffer more if it would fade. His thoughts return to the dance and how much fun he had with Mayme.

A couple minutes of silence pass then Parker moans, “Are we ever going to get out of here?”

Eli chastises, “Be careful about wishing time away. Remember we aren’t going to a picnic here. I am sure sometime in the very near future you will be wishing we were peacefully sitting here and all you had to worry about was scratching your butt.”

“Yeah, you are right. Thanks for reminding me. In fact I am going to close my eyes right now and enjoy the itch.”

Eli also shuts his eyes and retrieves the image of Mayme again. His thoughts linger on non-specific memories of the night before. Random images of Mayme appear as if he is thumbing through a photo album. The image of her looking up at him while sitting at the table holding his cap out appears and he chooses to hold that one. Eli’s meandering thoughts are interrupted as the train jerks to halt again.

Quite a few minutes pass as the whole car remains in conversational respite. Eli opens his eyes as the sergeant bellows from right next to him, “Attention! Everybody wake up and listen.” This

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causes a simultaneous sound of bodies rustling throughout the car as he startles almost everyone. The sergeant then thunders as he walks to the other end of the car kicking feet out of the way, “Everyone! Gather your gear, follow me through this door and exit the car. After you are out you will see a line of men to your left. Fall in and proceed to the awaiting ferry boats.” He then steps back into the gap between the cars and watches as the men funnel by.

Eli straps his helmet on, rises and, as with everyone else, grabs the only things not already strapped to him, his duffel bag and rifle. He puts the rifle sling over his shoulder and makes his way through the car. He passes the sergeant who is watching everyone pass through with his back to the door of the rearward car. Eli steps down and out onto the concrete platform. He is looking to the right to see how long the train is and almost runs into a post. He turns left and runs a few paces to fall into the line of men. He recognizes Booth a few men ahead of him even with his back turned to him. The line of men comes to a sudden stop so he feels free to pause and begins a slow right turn to survey his surroundings which brings him nose to nose with Parker who yells, “Hey let’s get going, Bailey.” Eli does an about-face and jogs a few steps to catch up with the line of men who in a moment have already moved ten feet. Shortly, he enters a building and sees a sign that says “Weehawken”. Eli has never heard of that name and wonders if it is the name of the town or the terminal. The line of soldiers he is in continues moving slowly but does not stop again as it proceeds straight through the building so he does not get a chance to look around at all. Still under the roof of the building they march aboard a large ferry. There is a stairway to the upper deck but the men split and take either side as the lower deck still has available room.

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Booth has chosen to go left so Eli leads Parker to the right side. As the space on this deck fills each man stops and drops his duffel as do Parker and Eli. There are no benches or chairs as it is standing room only. Although Eli has a few men between him and the outside railing he can still see another ferry as it is pulling into the adjacent berth. Like watching dominoes fall Eli can see the men sit down on their duffels as the sighting of one triggers the next. Parker sits but Eli has chosen to not sit. Parker insists, “Hey, Eli! Take a load off and sit down,”

“I just gained unfettered visual observation. If I sit I’ll lose it.”

“Well, okay then. Whad’ya see that’s so great?”

Eli teases, “Well, okay then, I see something I’ve never seen before.” Eli decides to not tell Parker what he sees just to irritate him.

Parker is looking up at Eli in anticipation then threatens, “You better tell me what you see or I’ll stand up. Then there will be two of us standing up looking out there. Everyone will think there is something worth seeing and then they are all going to stand and you will be all fettered up again.”

Eli laughs and then concedes, “I can’t argue with your logic Parker. I can see the Hudson River and Manhattan. I have never seen them before. There are ships everywhere. Big ships! This is a busy river.”

“That’s not good enough to make me get up.”

Eli can also see the Empire State Building but doesn’t mention that to Parker. Instead he responds, “Well good, because I don’t want you up. Really, Parker, there isn’t that much to see but it is just in my nature to always absorb my surroundings. I’m always thinking I’m going to miss something.” As he finishes that sentence Eli can hear the

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engine rev up. “Wow, they loaded fast,” Eli comments but Parker seems to be somewhere else and doesn’t respond. Slowly the ferry pulls away from its slip and Eli watches the ferry terminal diminish as view of the horizon increases. Eli turns to face his friend, “Hey Parker,” he says loud enough to be heard over the engines.

Parker looks up, “What?”

“I’m going to go over to the railing. If I leave my gear here will you watch it for me? I just want to take in the sights.”

“Go ahead. Knock yourself out. I’m not going anywhere until we all do.”

Eli looks down as he weaves his way through the men sitting on duffel bags. When he reaches the edge he looks at the brass railing for a moment before placing both hands on it. He raises his eyes.

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