|Woe & Wonderment
Author: MeredithGreeneWriter PM
Megan Tembler's had cancer as long as she can remember. When her parents die, her only living relative is her grandfather Ron, a curt retired Marine. Unable to continue medical treatments, Megan settles in to greet Death. But Ron steps out of his comfort zone to help, placing in her hands a reason to continue on: his '42 Martin guitar. Formerly Notes of Life.Rated: Fiction T - English - Family - Chapters: 14 - Words: 78,072 - Reviews: 49 - Favs: 11 - Follows: 13 - Updated: 03-20-13 - Published: 05-29-12 - id: 3027117
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"Making room for the loves ones in my life was the best job I ever did." Author Unknown
"I don't know what we're gonna do about the closet," Ron said.
Megan stood by his side in the empty spare room. Bereft of its furniture, the space looked less like a cramped office and more like a potential bedroom. Her grandfather leaned into the tiny reach-in closet; it seemed smaller to him the more he looked at it. The two boxes of clothes he'd helped Megan pack in Colorado came to mind-not to mention her bedstead, dresser and other items. Ron scratched his head and scowled at the four by six recessed space with its one shelf across the top. "Folks needed less space in the fifties, I guess," he mumbled. Megan bit her bottom lip a little.
"I don't need all my clothes," she said, mentally going through her outfits and picturing which she could give away. Her grandfather snorted.
"Don't get all drastic on me," he quipped. "I'm just tryin' to figure out how to maximize this space. Gimme a minute."
Bringing out a tape measure from his back pocket Ron noted the dimensions of the closet and glanced at the ceiling, muttering to himself. Megan did some calculations of her own and suddenly understood his dilemma; her furniture would not fit in this space, let alone her clothes. She wondered if she could hang up a hammock instead of her big cherry bed... or maybe a little loft bed could be hung up by the ceiling.
"If I really wanted to do this right," her grandfather said, eventually. "I'd knock out that wall, and expand this room-and the side of the kitchen-out closer to my property line fence. That'd give us a good eight more feet that-a-way. "
Megan's eyes widened as he spoke.
"That sounds like a lot of work," she ventured, glancing up at Ron. He nodded.
"We'd need permits... and a crew of workers, or a whole... squad." One corner of his mouth hitched up and tiny crinkles formed in the corners of his eyes. "I'll be right back." Megan opened her mouth to ask, but her grandfather was already down the hallway.
Standing on tiptoe, she could just barely see out the window. The top of the tall side-yard fence could be seen roughly twenty feet away. She closed her eyes, imagining the tiny room with eighty square feet of additional space. Maybe with a slightly larger window as well. Megan opened her eyes again as her grandfather's footsteps sounded out in the hallway. He seemed pleased with himself as he re-entered the spare room.
"I raised a flag," he stated. "We'll see if anyone spots it." He grinned at his granddaughter's puzzled expression. "I know its a lot of work and trouble, but I've been wantin' to expand this tiny place for awhile... and I want a real kitchen. Got a call from the movers early this mornin'. They got delayed in Nevada. Car trouble-so they said-so we got a window of two days. I say we take it." Ron glanced down at his granddaughter. "You gonna be OK around all the dust and stuff?"
Megan looked him square in the eye.
"Certainly," she said, mustering what bravery she felt. "I can hold the measuring tape for you." Ron laughed out loud. The sound filled Megan's ears. She smiled widely, feeling able—in the moment—to take on all the dust and rubble that this house could throw at them. The glimmer of merriment in her grandfather's eyes seemed to smooth out the stress lines in his face, if but briefly. He patted the top of Megan's head and handed her one end of the measuring tape.
"Alright, take this end to that corner and hold it still. We got our work cut out for us."
THE DOORBELL rang two times, in quick succession. Ron opened his front door and grinned. A slightly overweight man in his late thirties stood on the doorstep, his sunglasses perched on his tanned forehead. His crisp blue polo shirt bore a white logo and the words Corlis Construction; faded paint-speckled blue jeans and boots rounded out the man's clothes.
"Jim," Ron called out, opening the screen door. "Glad you could come out on such short notice." The man called 'Jim' hesitated for a moment but stepped into the house nonetheless.
"The shortest," he said stiffly. "I got three other jobs going this week." Unfazed by the man's cold tone Ron shut his door with a patient nod.
"I appreciate your time, like you appreciated my meticulous attention to detail on your truck restoration." He looked out the front window and whistled. "Man, she still looks good." Jim's stern expression relaxed, slightly. "Wouldn't ask if I wasn't in a bind," Ron continued. "I've got two days to knock out this wall, extend the eaves and get it framed. I got someone else to run the electrical and put up the drywall."
Jim heaved a sigh and brought out a smartphone.
"Show me whatcha wanna do. Don't know if I can spare that many guys for two days, though." Ron grunted in approval, leading the way back to the spare room.
"I may have a few more guys comin' by from the base," he told his guest. Jim seemed heartened by this information as he followed Ron out of the living room.
In the kitchen Megan stood by the sink, drinking a cup of ice water. She saw the men walk by and turn down towards the spare room. After a minute she hovered by the doorway. Her grandfather stood a few feet from the tiny window, gesturing at the wall while the stranger took pictures of the room with his camera phone.
"Code says I gotta be ten feet from the property-line fence, so let's stick with that," Ron told the man. "Just this side of the house, though and extend the roof."
"Shit, Ron..." the stranger shot back, shaking his head. "Why the hell you do need this done now?" Megan's eyes widened a little but said nothing. "That's asking a hell of a lot in two days, even with a squad of marines as back up. If they show up, that is." Megan noted that her grandfather did not seem concerned in the least.
"I'd wouldn't say things like that on this job," Ron said good-naturedly. "May find the wrong people overhear it."
The stranger glared at the wall, his forehead lined in concentration.
"I'll pull some guys, head to the yard and be back in a couple hours," he responded. His tone spoke of irritated resignation, Megan thought. "I'm guessing there's plumbing all through that wall by the kitchen... probably knob and tube wiring on top of it all. I don't wanna even think about what may await us in the attic..." He muttered several sentences under his breath as he studied the screen of his phone.
Chuckling, Ron looked at the door. Seeing Megan standing there he sobered a little. He beckoned for her to come closer. "Jim?" The stranger looked up from his phone. "This here is Megan, my granddaughter. Megan, meet Jim Corlis... one of my clients."
"How nice to meet you," said she.
Jim looked down in surprise at the little figure, standing at Ron's side. "She's living' with me now," Ron explained. He gestured at the space. "This'll be her room." Something seemed to click in the visitor's brain. Megan saw him look from her face to her grandfather's. His expression softened a little; he even gave a half-smile.
"Well whatddya know," he said after a few seconds. "I see why you's want this wall knocked out a bit, then. My girls' closet is bigger than this room." Ron nodded, his thumbs resting in the pockets of his jeans. Jim looked at the window again, all vestiges of frustration leaving his expression. "Ok... I may know a few more guys I can call." He peered out the window again looking up and down the property line fence. "I think you need a bigger window here, maybe two. And a skylight; its awful dark in here. Might as well do it right... gonna pull the roof out this far anyway." He stood back and looked a Ron. "Alright, show me the kitchen."
Their visitor left a few minutes later, armed with measurements and a bevvy of digital pictures. Ron showed him out with Megan still following in his shadow. Silently she soaked in the intriguing information floating in the air. It seemed to her like they were speaking another language altogether, but somehow the construction jargon translated into work about to get done. She trailed her grandfather out the front door, unwilling to miss even one sentence.
Jim's truck stood on the driveway. Its paint job gleamed bright electric blue in the late morning sunshine. Ron nodded approvingly at the shined chrome of the bumper and mirrors.
"I see you've been takin' good care of her," he stated, folding his arms over his chest. Jim nodded and opened the driver side door.
"You better believe it," he replied. "I'll call from the lumberyard. Should be about an hour."
A loud, deep honking noise attracted their attention. Joe and Ron both turned towards the sound, just outside Ron's front gate. A large vehicle rolled up, unlike any Megan had ever seen. It looked like a SUV on steroids; wide and flat, its bore a mottled paint job with tans, browns and lighter hues of each, all swirled around unevenly.
Glancing over at her grandfather Megan relaxed. He seemed to be expecting them. Smiling broadly Ron went over to his truck and hit the opener for the gate. Slowly, it slid to one side. Jim Corlis took the opportunity to get in his truck and back out of the driveway. Once the contractor was gone, the larger vehicle rolled up the driveway and stopped by Ron's truck. Megan recognized the driver-Sargent Ellis; his friendly white grin showed even through the dusty windshield. A door opened on the other side of the vehicle. Lt. Descher leaned partway out the door.
"A little bird told us that you might need some reinforcements," he drawled. Megan though he looked amused.
"Bird's got good Intel," Ron returned. "Thanks for the show of force." Ellis turned off the engine of the hum-v and got out.
"More than a show, sir," he said genially. "We're here to do some damage!" Ron allowed himself a smile.
"I'll put that energy to good use," he said. "contractor just left for supplies, but we can start the demo now. I got plenty of tools and lunch is on me." Ellis nodded and opened the back passenger door, taking out a rucksack and a pair of gloves.
Descher stood by Ron's truck, looking appreciatively at its shined black panels. He leaning over slightly to look in the window.
"This is one of the finer Fords I've seen in a dog's age, Tembler." Ron's eyes glimmered a little at the compliment.
"Thanks," he returned. "She was my first." Descher grinned.
"And you never forget your first, do ya'?" At this Ron grimaced and cleared his throat. Descher leaned back to look around the veteran. He spied Megan standing nearby; she appeared to be still studying the giant vehicle. Descher shrugged apologetically at Ron.
"Any more boots on the way?" The older man asked, gruffly. "Need to know how much bbq to cook up later." Descher's smile returned.
"You know how it is," he replied. "R&R makes 'em scatter. Two more answered my call; should be here any minute. If not they'll find themselves cleaning latrines come tomorrow." Ron grunted approvingly, inwardly pleased. He'd not expected any.
"I appreciate it," he said. "Lemme show ya what I got in mind." Descher followed after his host, giving a polite nod towards Megan as they passed.
"Mr. Descher," she said. The lieutenant smirked.
"Miss Tembler," he returned in a tone of mock formality. Ron opened the front door and ushered his two guests through.
"Now don't you go driving away in that thing," Ellis said, looking back at Megan with a smile.
"I won't," she told him. "I can't drive for another three years." The man chuckled as he went inside, shutting the door behind him.
The three men nearly filled the tiny spare room to capacity.
"I can see why you called," Descher said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "How many days until her things arrive?"
"Two," Ron told him. "Van had to be repaired in Vegas." Ellis shook his head, clicking his tongue loudly.
"Uh uh, I don't buy that for a second," he stated, folding his arms over his chest. "Myabe in any other town. Betcha one of 'ems in jail." Ron cleared his throat.
"Don't care to know. It gives me a bit more time to get this done." Ron reached forward, drawing on the wall with a thick black pen. "Electrical's here, so try to avoid it until I can get it cut and capped." Ellis grinned and rubbed his hands together in anticipation.
"Understood. Hope you got a sledge hammer 'round here." Ron grinned.
"I've got more than one," he said.
MEGAN STOOD in the sunshine on the driveway for some minutes. In her mind she drew a visual comparison between her grandfather's truck and the mottled beige behemoth next to it. While the hum-V was impressive in sheer girth—the its overall impression of power-she preferred the slowly curving flanks and quaint appearance of the classic Ford. Still, she wondered what it would be like to ride in the larger vehicle.
"You wouldn't be able to park in one parking spot," she mused. She imagined her grandfather trying to find a parking spot in the local grocery store, lumbering down the aisles, only to drive over a few other parked cars and settle on top. She chuckled softly.
"Not many folks find the Hum-V funny," came a man's voice. Megan sobered immediately, directing her eyes over to the speaker with deliberate restraint.
A tall figure stood by the open gate about twelve feet away, dressed in faded blue jeans and a brown t-shirt; sunglasses and a baseball hat covered most of his face. Megan looked at his shoes. Worn, brown boots met her eye styled similarly to those her grandfather wore... and Descher... and Ellis. The man's remark on her amusement came back to mind.
"The vehicle itself did not make me laugh," she stated, looking at the men's face. She saw twin reflections of herself in the shined surfaces of the sunglasses lenses. "I was imagining my grandfather driving one of these to the grocery store."
After a moment one corner of the man's mouth hitched up.
"I see," he returned. His eyes seemed to turn towards the front of the house, but Megan could not be sure.
"You're one of Descher's men," she ventured. "I saw you on the Hercules." The man let out a soft snort. He still had not walked in past the gate.
"Did you?" The man spoke the phrase somewhat quietly, like more of a statement. Megan nodded, still watching his face.
"You have distinctive ears," she told him.
The newcomer surprised her by smiling, widely. He took off his glasses. Amused green eyes looked at her from under the brim of the baseball hat. He looked much younger than Ellis or Descher, though Megan could not guess his age. The seasoned look in his eye seemed to counteract any suggestion of youth.
"I guess that can't be helped," he said after a few moments. "Is your grandfather here?" Megan nodded.
"I'll take you to him." She turned towards the front door. Without a word the man followed, several feet behind her.
Noise permeated the house. Sharp banging and crashing noises rang out from the direction of the spare room. Above the din Ellis' voice could be hear distinctly, singing a military marching song; Descher's voice chimed in at intervals. Rhythmic bangs sounded out in time to the lyrics. Megan found her grandfather in the kitchen. He sat at the small table, measuring and drawing on a large, thin piece of paper. Getting his attention with a wave, she pointed to the newcomer, hovering just outside the kitchen doorway. Ron looked him up and down before standing up.
"You must be Corporal Durgess," he called above the racket. The younger man shook his head.
"He'll be by later," he returned. "Gunnery Sergeant Collier, sir." Stepping froward, Ron extended a hand towards the sergeant.
"You can drop the sir, gunny," he said. "Just Ron is fine... and I won't ask if you're pleased to be here. I appreciate the help all the same." Collier allowed himself half a smile.
"What can I get started on?"
"I got a dumpster comin'," Ron told the younger man. "Should be here any minute. We'll need all the demo mess carted 'round the side and chucked into the dumpster, nice and neat."
"Can do," Collier returned promptly. "I'll re-park the hum-v out of the way." Ron nodded in appreciation.
"Good thinkin'," he said. "Pull it in close by the garage, if you can. There's cold water and ice here whenever you need it. Food's on me. Got gloves with ya?" The sergeant took a pair from his back pocket. Ron gave him an approving grunt. "Better get that hum-v moved then." With a nod Collier silently exited the kitchen.
Megan looked at her grandfather's face. He seemed to be enjoying himself. She wondered what sort of soldier he'd been, to warrant the level of respect and camaraderie complete strangers felt necessary to bestow upon him.
"I'll wait to ask my questions when its raining," she thought. Inclement weather, in her experience, tended to make more time for things, like questions.
"You OK?" Ron asked her. His granddaughter looked up at him with a curious gaze.
"Yes, thank you," she replied. "And yourself?" Ron hid his laugh in a cough.
"Yeah. Could use a hand getting' his marinade together, though." Megan saw a long, shallow ceramic dish on the kitchen counter with several bottles of dark liquid lined up next to it, along with a few heads of garlic.
"What is marinade?" she asked, intrigued. Her grandfather did not hide his chuckle.
"You soak meat in it," he explained. "Makes it taste good. Come on... I'll show ya."
JIM CORLIS and his crew arrived-two hours later-with three trucks piled high with supplies. The contractor lost no time getting started. He and his men unloaded short stacks of lumber on one side of the driveway-away from the vehicles-along with heavy bags of cement, boxes of nails, and screws, power tools and big plastic buckets that looked well-used. Megan watched all the activity through the big front window, sitting motionless on the cushioned nook, her knees drawn up to her chest. Descher caught sight of her from the hallway. He studied the slight figure for a moment before heading back to the kitchen.
Ron stood at the counter, scrubbing his way through a large pile of potatoes. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Descher lean against the kitchen doorway.
"I am pleased to report that the wall in your bedroom-and that of the spare-are down," he said casually. "And just in time, from the looks of things. The civis have arrived. They've started digging some kind of trench out there... somthin' to do with football. Didn't quite catch what the man said." Ron grinned at this.
"Footings," he said. Turning off the water, he set the cleaned potatoes aside. "They'll pour cement four feet down, for the new walls to rest on."
"Gotcha," Descher returned. "Should be a vast improvement."
The backyard door opened. Collier stepped through, pausing to wipe his feet. The young man's clothes were covered in drywall dust and small bits of shattered stucco. Descher grinned at him. "You're getting' a full day outta our youngest member," he said, to Ron. Collier nodded at his lieutenant; his gaze went right to a large metla bucket full of ice and bottled water.
"Help yourself," Ron said, without turning around. "Hot out there today." Collier didn't have to be told twice. He sat down at the table and cracked open the cold plastic bottle of liquid, draining half of it in just a few seconds.
"It's hot here every day," Descher mused aloud. "But its a dry heat, not so oppressive as where I'm from. Lord have mercy it can get miserable in summer there..." He glanced over his shoulder, down the hall. "Your young charge seems adept at stayin' out of everyone's way."
Ron gave him a sidelong look before turning back to his counter.
"Yes, she is," he stated. "Kinda has to. If someone bumps into her she could be goin' to the hospital." Descher nodded understandingly.
"Seems interested in what goin' on. Suppose you'll be looking for a tutor for her." Ron shook his head.
"Nope. She already graduated high school," he said, opening his refrigerator. "Diploma and everything." At this Descher's eyebrows rose. Collier looked up at Ron in surprise.
"She's gotta be only... what eleven?" the younger man asked. Ron nodded.
"Close. She's twelve. Got the gift I guess." Ron glanced towards the kitchen doorway. The hall was empty. "She told me God made her smart to make up for the cancer." Descher chuckled, his smile slowly returning.
"Well I guess that would make sense," he drawled. "Either that or nature is—as I have suspected for some time—overly fond of lacing her bourbon with tragic irony." He studied the back of the aging veteran's head in silence for a moment. Collier slowly screwed the cap back on the empty bottle in his hands.
"Seems like too much tragedy, for someone that young," he said, looking at Ron. The veteran cleared his throat.
"Sure hope nobody's a vegetarian," he stated, gruffly. "Got ribs in soakin in jack daniels." Descher let out a short laugh.
"The man knows how to change a subject. Whatever you throw on the grill will be fine by us, Tembler." As he spoke the backdoor opened. Collier pulled it closed after him. Descending the short stairs, he pulled on his gloves. A cool breeze began to blow, rustling the leaves in the humungous tree overhead. Looking upward, the young man's eyes took in the pale gray-green colors of the leaves, appreciating the deep shadow they threw. Turning, he looked critically at the wooden steps and the back of the kitchen.
"This place needs a deck," he said, to himself. To the right of the kitchen he could see the civilian crew busily trenching their footings; not far away huge gaps could be seen in the side of the vintage house. The contractor stood nearby measuring trench depth with a long wooden stake. Clear plastic drop-cloths spanned the openings in the house-to deter excess dust and debris from getting inside. Collier spied Ellis' large frame through the plastic. The man held a framing stud up with one hand, plying an electric drill at the top with the other. Stepping forward, Collier moved towards the debris pile once more.
Sitting by the front window Megan watched three workers mixing concrete. Two men split open the tops of cement bags and carted them over to a large mixing machine, run by a portable generator. The deafening racket permeated even the thick stucco of the house, making the window vibrate. One worker shoveled in sand and alternately squirted water into the mixture from the garden hose. Every once in awhile they'd shut off the mixer, tip it forward and pour the thick, gray matter into empty wheel-barrows. These were carted off out of sight around the house, and then the whole process would begin again.
Behind the workers sat a tall, wide dumpster; pieces of broken lumber and jagged pieces of chicken wire stuck out of it.
"It must be getting full by now," Megan thought. She saw Collier come around the corner again, heading towards the dumpster. Three pieces of lumber were balanced on his shoulder, heavy pieces of broken stucco and wire still attached. As he got near the dumpster, the man hoisted them upward and over the side. The jagged edges of the wire caught his shirt and part of his shoulder however, momentarily pinning him between the heavy load and the side of the dumpster. Pain piercing his shoulder, Collier tried slowly moving to one side; the pain increased. Weighing whether or not t simply jerk backward and bear the consequences, he heard someone clear their throat behind him.
"I can help you disentangle the wire," came a young girl's voice. Out of the corner of his eye Collier glanced towards the house corner. No one was visible; the cement workers were too busy with mixing to notice him.
"Ok," he said.
"I'm right behind your shoulder," Megan said in the way of warning. Collier gave her a quick nod, letting out a grunt as pain shot up his neck. Standing on top of a prone cement bag, Megan stood on her tip-toes. She could see where the wires had dug into his shirt. A small, dark stain began forming around the end of one. Biting her lip, Megan grasped the wire and pulled back with all her strength. Collier winced, but held up the lumber teetering over the side.
"You got one of them," he said over the cement mixer's noise. "Can you reach the others?"
"I think so," Megan replied. She pried first one and then another from the twisted cloth of the t-shirt, careful to avoid the sharp edges herself. One more pull and the shirt was free of the wire. Collier hefted the rest of the piece over the edge of the dumpster.
"Thanks," he said, taking off one glove. He gingerly felt the back of his right shoulder. "Got sucker-punched by hundred-year old wire." He inspected his hand; the palm bore a dark red smear.
"I'm certain my grandfather has a first aid kit," Megan offered. "You might get tetanus." Collier let out a soft snort of laughter and gave her a sidelong look.
"It's not bad," he told her. "Thanks for your help, though." He looked at the front of the house. "Better get back inside, before some of that wire grabs you as well." Megan blinked at him, wondering if she was supposed to laugh. She turned around instead, carefully stepping over the cement bags. Collier watched her slowly make her way around the lumber and tools. The man at the cement mixer turned off his machine. The silence thereafter felt almost as deafening as the noise.
"If I must with thee dwell," Collier called out. The workers looked at him for a second then turned back to their work. "Let it not be among the jumbled heap of murky buildings..."
Her back to the sergeant, Megan smiled. She waited to answer until she was almost to the door. Turning her head, she met the man's gaze across the yard.
"Keats." Collier could barely hear her voice, even with the machinery off. "His ode To Solitude." The girl's silver-colored eyes stayed with his for just a moment, before she turned and disappeared into the house. Her gaze seemed to impart understanding of the long-deceased poets sadness. Keats had died young as well. Tuberculosis, if he recalled right.
"What a waste," he thought, shaking his head. He didn't agree with his lieutenant."There's nothing ironic about a dyin' kid." Walking back towards the job site he returned to work, one hand feeling his shoulder.