|SHADES OF DARKNESS by George E. Brummell
Excerpt from Chapter 25
I flipped open my watch. Twenty-five past ten. It was too late to call clients to see if they knew someone I could hire to drive me to visit veterans and agencies. I decided to go to the lobby and ask the bellhop if he knew someone who might be interested.
I grabbed my cane and headed out the door. Which way was that elevator? I almost let the door close but then remembered I had not increased the TV volume, a way of helping me find my way back to my room. I also placed the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the outside door knob. The room numbers were painted on the doors so I wouldn’t be able to feel my way back.
I stood outside my room for a few moments, listening for the telltale “ding” of elevators. Hearing nothing, I chanced left. A short hall came to a dead end. I turned, stepped to the opposite wall, and felt my way along until I came to a connecting corridor near my room, apparent by the volume of the TV.
A door closed behind me. "Good evening, sir," a male voice said. “I’m from Room Service and I just delivered food to Room 459. Where are you trying to go?"
I explained my predicament and he suggested I go to the restaurant and ask for Lola, who he thought might be available and appreciate the extra money. Lola was up for the challenge. "I sure can use the money. Sure, I'll do it. Besides, it sounds like fun and you're sorta cool. There's a lot of snow out there. Can you handle going to them houses in all that white stuff?"
"I was five years in the Infantry, camped out in many places and under all kinds of conditions. I can handle just about anything, and that includes you."
Lola, who was black and had an Alabama accent, chuckled shyly. We made our plans and I headed back to my room. As soon as I stepped off the elevator and turned the corner, I heard music from my door. Next time I'd turn the volume down. At least I didn't get lost.
Lola called at seven o’clock the next morning to tell me she would be in front of the hotel by eight-thirty.
I phoned the first veteran, got directions to his house, and recorded the instructions on my new toy, a microcassette recorder. After a room service breakfast, I went down and stood inside near the entrance. Lola rolled up on time, tooting her Road Runner horn. Her little car was like an oven inside, and smelled sweet from the fruity cologne she wore.
"Very comfortable," I said, settling in to the seat. "We’re going to National Street first. Do you know where it is?"
"Of course. I know every house on that street." Within a few minutes we were there. She guided me by voice through the drifts to the front door.
"Come on in!" said Mister Brock. The house stunk of dog shit and damp dirty clothing. Brock was a World War Two veteran, sixty years old. Like most of the men and women I would meet, his blindness was due to aging—macular degeneration. Also, like so many other blind veterans, he lived alone. His house was paid for, with insurance money from his wife's death, and he received a small pension from the VA.
I stumbled over some shoes just beyond the entrance. Unopened mail, a tee shirt and other objects cluttered the living room floor. He showed me where the couch was by beating on its cushion. I pushed away a shoe box, a pair of underwear, and a 33 rpm record.
Brock could barely find his way around in his own home. When I asked for a glass of water, he ended up in the bedroom. I tried to convince him to go to blind rehabilitation. He needed it. If he had gone, maybe the house would have been in better order, and he could have found his chair when he returned with the glass of water. Brock was impressed that I came into the house alone through all the snow. I continued talking to him about blind rehabilitation, and I felt triumphant when he agreed to go to the rehabilitation center.
I told him that a sighted person could escort him at no charge on the Greyhound bus. I also explained the Talking Book Program of the Library of Congress. He was especially pleased to learn that he was entitled to a thousand extra dollars a year in his pension.
It was time to go. I dug out my veterans' list in Braille from my brief case and asked for the phone.
"It's the kind of phone you turn. I usually call and have the operator dial for me," Brock said.I assured him that the rotary phone was not a problem for me to dial, and showed him how I did it. I put his right index finger in the zero slot.
"Count the holes from the zero forward or from the one backwards." But I could tell he wasn’t interested in learning. I guess he liked talking to the operator.
I took the phone back and called the next vet, recorded directions to the vet's house on my recorder and headed for the door.
"Where you going? You're not leaving yet, are you? I ain't told you about Normandy," Brock said, moving slowly toward me.
"I really would like to talk longer, but I got to go." He took my hand and shook it vigorously.
When I got outside, Lola hollered, "Over here, baby!"
The day went quickly and efficiently. I visited five more vets. One was a retired sailor from the Korean War era who was blinded a decade after he was discharged. "My ex-wife urinated for days into a container, then mixed lye with the stinky stuff, cooked it, and threw it in my face while I was asleep."
"Damn! That’s crazy. Why did she use piss?"
"Piss has more impact than water, so I've been told. It worked on me," he replied bitterly. "A ten cent pistol, she called it." I couldn’t tell if he was making it up or not, but either way, he was clearly a paranoid schizophrenic.
"Listen," Charles said, crying, "my mother's coming back to get me. Don't you hear her coming through the wall? Don't you hear her? Damn! You gotta hear her!"
There wasn't any one coming through the wall, only sounds of people walking past the front door of his apartment.
"Yes sir, I hear her," I said. "Let's not disturb her. Let her come in." A long pause, then he started laughing wildly, stomping his feet and clapping his hands.
"You're all right! I like you. You understand."
After a day with Lola, and a little bit of flirting, she returned me to the hotel. I undressed and hung my suit up. The room seemed noisy. People outside sounded like they were in the room with me. I heard their voices and footsteps. I turned on the television just as the phone rang.
"Hello, Mister Brummell? This is Sarah at the front desk.” She giggled. “I don't know how to tell you this, but I think you need to put something on or close your drapes." She chuckled some more. "You have quite a few admirers looking in on you."
"My goodness, yes! I'll do something about that." I quickly hung up and turned my back toward the fan club. I stood there for a second or two, wondering what to do. I decided to back over to the window. I bumped into a table, then a chair and knocked it over. I nearly fell. By then I was really disgusted, and I could hear people laughing at me. They probably thought I was drunk.
I turned, faced the window, and tapped on it while looking for the draw cord. Someone, a crowd pleaser, tapped back and several outbursts of laughter followed. At least I was wearing my clean white jockey underwear.
"The show's over!" I yelled and pulled the cord. I was afraid I would run into some of those spectators in the lobby, so I had dinner alone in the room.
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