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       Miles to Go, p.5

           Richard Paul Evans
 
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  I laughed out loud. “No, I think I’m about done.”

  She grinned. “Why don’t you go back to the living room. I’ll do the dishes, then I’ll be in.”

  “I can help,” I said.

  “You should stay off your feet. Besides, it will only take me five minutes.”

  “I want to pull my weight around here.”

  “I’ll make you a deal. As soon as you can walk around the block, I’ll work you into the ground.”

  “That’s incentive,” I said.

  “I’m a great motivator of men,” she replied.

  I was able to get myself up, though I did have to push up from the table. While she did the dishes, I went to my room. My bandages were itching a little and I pulled one of them off to inspect my wound. It was a little red around the stitches but didn’t look infected. Just then I heard children’s voices.

  “Trick or treat!”

  I leaned my head out my door. “Sounds like you have visitors.” Surprisingly, Angel didn’t answer the door.

  I replaced my bandage then shuffled out to the couch. A few minutes later Angel walked into the front room with a bowl of miniature candy bars. She quickly opened the apartment door, set the bowl on the floor and then shut the door again.

  “You know what’s going to happen, don’t you?” I said.

  “What?”

  “Some kid’s going to take the whole bowl.”

  “Have a little faith,” she said, walking back to the kitchen.

  “I have faith,” I replied. “That’s what I would have done.”

  “I’m just about finished,” she said, ignoring my comment. “I just need to pop some corn. You can’t properly watch a movie without popcorn.”

  A few minutes later she came out with a sack of microwave popcorn. She inserted a disk into her DVD player. “If I had been thinking ahead, I would have rented number eighteen for tonight.”

  “What’s eighteen?”

  “Alfred Hitchcock. Psycho.” She switched off the floor lamp, grabbed one of the pillows from the couch, then lay down across the floor in front of the sofa.

  “You’re sitting down there?”

  “I like sitting on the floor. Feel free to own the couch.”

  I lay on my side and hit the button to start the movie.

  It was past eleven when the movie ended. Angel stood up and turned on the lights. “That was good.”

  “I forgot that Richard Dreyfuss was in that,” I said, “a very young Richard Dreyfuss.”

  “And Suzanne Somers and Cindy Williams. That movie launched a dozen sitcoms.”

  “What’s next on the list?” I asked.

  “It’s supposed to be City Lights.”

  “I’ve never heard of it.”

  “It’s an old Charlie Chaplin movie.”

  “A Charlie Chaplin film,” I said, happy that one of his movies was on the list.

  “It’s considered one of the last great silent films. And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy to find. I ordered it online, but it hasn’t come yet.” She went to her front door and opened it, stooping over to pick up the candy bowl. There was still candy inside. “You were wrong. There is hope for the next generation. Have a Milky Way.” She threw me a miniature candy bar.

  “This is the ultimate spin,” I said.

  “What is?”

  “They cut the bar to a fraction of its size then call it ‘fun-size.’ There’s nothing fun at all about a smaller candy bar. It’s all in the spin.”

  “Just like life,” she said.

  I nodded. “Just like life.”

  She walked back to me. “I’ll help you up.” She took both of my hands, leaning back to pull me up from the couch.

  I groaned as I stood. “Getting up is always the hard part.”

  “Can I get you anything before bed?”

  “No. I’m good. So what are you going to do when you finish watching the one hundred movies?”

  She looked at me with a strange expression. “Then I’ll be done.” The way she said it struck me as peculiar.

  She smiled. “I’ll probably be gone to work by the time you get up, so I’ll just leave breakfast ready for you. Don’t forget to take your pain pills with food, and I’ll put the Saran Wrap in the bathroom.”

  “Saran Wrap?”

  “Remember, you’re not supposed to get your bandages wet. Norma said no baths for at least a week, and when you shower you should cover your bandages with cellophane.”

  I nodded, impressed that she had remembered.

  “She said it works best to just wrap the Saran around your body a couple times. It’s not a big deal if your bandages get a little damp.”

  “You’re a very good nurse.”

  “I do my best.”

  I shuffled toward my room with Angel by my side. When I got to my door, I turned to her. “Thanks for everything. You’re more than a good nurse, you’re a good person.”

  She looked into my eyes with a light I could not read. “I wish that were true,” she said, then disappeared into her room.

  CHAPTER

  Nine

  Today I made it to the front walk. I don’t know if I should be happy for my achievement or depressed that I consider it one.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  Angel was gone by the time I woke the next morning. She left a note for me on the kitchen table.

  Breakfast in oven to warm. OJ in fridge. Please turn off oven. I’ll be home around five.

  Have a good day, Angel

  I walked over to the oven and, with some effort, leaned over and opened the door. Inside was a square pan with what looked like a baked omelet—a frittata, I guess it would be called. She didn’t need to go to so much trouble, since I’d be just as happy with a bowl of Wheaties.

  I turned off the oven, grabbed the pot holder she’d left on the counter, and brought out the pan. She had already set the table for me, and I dished the frittata onto my plate and placed the pan on top of the oven. I got my pain meds and orange juice (which she’d poured into a glass) and then sat down to eat. The egg-thing was delicious.

  After breakfast I went into the bathroom to shower. A box of Saran Wrap sat next to the sink. I took off my clothes, wrapped the cellophane around my torso twice, then turned on the water.

  I felt the water for temperature, then stepped into the tub and let the water wash over me. It was the first shower I’d had in days, and I closed my eyes, and let the warm water cover my body. I stood there for minutes.

  Drying myself off wasn’t easy, and it took me nearly fifteen minutes to get my clothes on. I had already discovered that tying my shoes was nearly impossible, so I loosened the laces, then dropped them on the floor and slipped my feet into them. When I was finally dressed, I walked to the front door. I didn’t have a key to the apartment, so I checked to make sure that the apartment door wasn’t locked, then slowly walked to the building’s front door and opened it to the world outside. The street was quiet, garnished with a few smashed pumpkins.

  I had planned my rehabilitation as I lay in bed the night before. My first major goal was to make it around the block before the snow fell, which sounds ridiculously simple, but at that time seemed as daunting to me as scaling Mt. Everest.

  My first minor goal was making it up and down the front stair by myself, and my second was to make it all the way down the walk. If I hadn’t been in such pain, I would have laughed at the absurdity of my new expectations. Just weeks ago I made a goal to walk across the country. Today I would be thrilled to make it to the sidewalk.

  I grabbed onto the landing’s cold wrought-iron railing and took my first step down with my right foot, then moved my left foot to the same stair. Step. Repeat. Step. Repeat. Six steps. Unless they’re OCD, most people don’t count steps; they just bound up and down them as quickly as they can, but to me they’d become milestones.

  I was slow, but I made it to the bottom step with a minimal amount of pain. I was feeling pretty good, so I decided to
press on, hobbling down the front walk toward the street. When I reached the sidewalk, I surveyed the neighborhood. Angel’s building was in the middle of the block, and the sidewalk went about four homes either way before a corner.

  I felt pleased with my accomplishment. I had already achieved my first goal. I also liked being outside again. The trees had lost most of their leaves, and the air was brisk and portending the changing weather.

  The next week I would walk to the end of the street, and by the 14th, I would attempt to walk around the block—unless it snowed. Then it would be too dangerous. I couldn’t afford to fall.

  I turned around in a gradual process of steps, and for about five minutes I stood there looking at the house I now lived in. It was a far cry from the $2 million behemoth I’d been thrown out of, but I was grateful for it and Angel’s generosity. I wondered how long I would be here. I took a deep breath and then slowly walked back.

  Climbing the stairs was much more difficult than my descent, and when I reached the landing, I stopped and let the pain wash over me.

  As I stood there, one of the other apartment’s tenants, a young woman with long brown hair and a backpack flung over one shoulder, walked past me without a word but smiling as she went. I walked into the house and then the apartment and went back to my bed to rest.

  Angel arrived home a little before five. Something was different about her. She seemed distressed.

  “How was your day?” I asked.

  She shook her head. “A family of four was hit by a drunk driver. Everyone was killed except the father, who’s in intensive care battling for his life, and the drunk driver, who, of course, walked away unscathed. Actually, he ran away unscathed. He fled the scene on foot.” She looked at me with gray eyes. “Why is it that the guilty survive while the innocent die?”

  Sometimes it did seem that way. “I don’t know.”

  “If there is a God,” she said, “He has a foul sense of irony.”

  I had had nearly the same thought as I looked in the mirror the day of my wife’s funeral, but I was surprised to hear it coming from her. I guess I didn’t expect someone named Angel to diss God.

  “I’m making meatloaf for dinner,” she said, turning from me. “I just need to put it in the oven.”

  “Are we on for a movie tonight?”

  “I don’t know,” she said.

  She clearly didn’t want to talk, so while she made dinner, I went to my room and read. A half hour later she called and we sat together at the table. We ate a while without conversation. Suddenly, she asked, “How long do you think you’ll be here?”

  I looked up from my food. “Are you tired of me already?”

  “Of course not. I was just wondering.”

  “Assuming I’m in walking condition, I can’t leave Spokane until the roads through Montana and Wyoming are clear. That could be as late as April. But I could always stay somewhere else.”

  “No, I’d like you to stay.” She went back to eating. All of a sudden she asked, “Do you believe in an afterlife?”

  I thought the question a peculiar change of conversation. “Yes.”

  “Why?” she asked. “There’s no evidence of one.”

  “You don’t believe in life after life?”

  “I think that death’s just death. The grand finale. There’s no afterlife, no memory. Nothing.”

  “That’s a depressing thought,” I said.

  “For some it would be heaven.”

  “Heaven? To never see our loved ones again?”

  “It sounds tragic, but it’s not. We’d never know what’s gone. A person born blind doesn’t miss eyesight.”

  I just looked at her, wondering why we were having this conversation.

  When I didn’t respond, she said, “That’s what I hope for at least. Sweet oblivion.”

  After taking another couple of bites, I said, “I met a woman in Davenport who claims to have had a near death experience.”

  “Those people are crazy.”

  “She didn’t strike me as such.”

  “So you believe the Bible’s version of an afterlife with pearly gates and a hell with a lake of fire?”

  “Pearly gates and lakes of fire, no. But I believe the spirit and intellect live on, as do relationships.” I was a little surprised by the strength of my conviction.

  She seemed bothered that I didn’t echo her belief and her voice turned antagonistic. “What evidence could you or anyone possibly have that something exists past this life?”

  I set down my fork. “I’m not arguing with you. Truthfully, for most of my life I wasn’t sure what I believed, until …” I stopped, not sure of how much I wanted to share.

  She was looking at me intensely. “Until what?”

  “The day after McKale’s funeral I was considering taking my life. Just before I swallowed a handful of pills I heard a voice.”

  “What kind of voice?”

  “I don’t know how to explain it. I actually thought someone had spoken to me and I looked around the room. The voice seemed both to have come from inside me and outside me. All I know is that it didn’t feel like my own thoughts.

  “Then, after the mugging, just before the paramedics revived me, I had another experience. It was something like a dream, except I don’t think it was. It was much more lucid. I think I saw McKale.”

  “Your wife?”

  I nodded. “I talked to her. And she told me things.”

  “What kind of things?”

  “She told me that there was a reason we’re here on this earth and that there are people I am meant to meet. People whose lives were supposed to intersect with mine.” I looked into her eyes. “She told me that I would meet you.”

  “Me?”

  “She told me I would meet ‘Angel.’ When I woke up in the hospital you were sitting there.”

  Angel went back to her food, as if she needed time to process what I told her. Finally, she said, “I don’t know what to say to that.”

  “Neither do I.”

  We finished eating in silence. I got up to do the dishes but she again stopped me. “Please,” she said. “Let me do them.”

  I went to my room and read. When I came out to say goodnight, the kitchen and hall lights were out. She had already gone to bed.

  CHAPTER

  Ten

  Experience has taught me that the stronger the denial the less the reason to believe it.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  As I lay in bed, I thought over our conversation. What struck me as peculiar was not so much her opinion, but her anger and disapproval of mine. I have found that the people who shout their opinion the loudest are usually the ones most insecure in their position. I had never seen the dark side of her personality until that night.

  Again, Angel was gone when I woke. I ate a breakfast of oatmeal with brown sugar and walnuts, then, focusing on my convalescence, walked out of the house with a new level of confidence knowing that I had already conquered the stairs.

  I walked to the sidewalk, then to the end of the property line. I thought that I could have walked further, but being alone, I decided to err on the side of caution and not overdo it. Still, I was pleased. I had made definite progress. If it wasn’t for the weather, I figured I could be on my way as early as January.

  I shuffled back to the house and climbed the stairs, this time not feeling like I would pass out.

  I had just finished getting dressed and was wondering what to do for the day when the doorbell rang. I walked out of my room to answer it.

  In the doorway was a woman. She was nicely dressed and had dark red hair that fell to her shoulders. She looked a little older than me, though not by much, and she held a piece of paper in her hand.

  “May I help you?” I asked.

  She looked surprised. She glanced furtively down at her paper, then back at me. “I’m sorry, does Nicole Mitchell live here?”

  “Nicole?” I shook my head. “There’s no one here by that name.”
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  She glanced back down the hall at the other doors. “I’m sorry, I must have the wrong apartment. Would you know if she lives in this building?”

  I shrugged. “Sorry, I’m new here. I don’t know the other tenants.”

  For a moment she just stood there looking confused about what to do.

  “You could knock on the other doors,” I suggested.

  “Thanks. I’ll do that. I’m sorry to bother you.”

  “No worries.” I shut the door.

  Angel arrived home shortly after five. “How was work?” I asked, hoping for better than the day before.

  “It was okay,” she said softly, then asked, “How was yours?”

  “Good,” I said.

  She nodded. “I picked up a rotisserie chicken on the way home. Do you like stuffing? I have Stove Top.”

  “I love stuffing,” I said, happy that she was in a better mood than she was the last time I’d seen her.

  While she cooked the stuffing, I set the table and filled our glasses with water. A few minutes later we sat down to eat.

  “I’m sorry I was so moody last night,” she said. “I sometimes get that way when my sugars are off.”

  “No problem,” I said.

  “I just didn’t want you to think I was trying to push you out. I’m really glad you’re here.”

  “I didn’t take it that way,” I said. “And I’m glad I’m here too.”

  She looked relieved. “So, what did you do today?”

  “I got caught up in my journal,” I said. “And I watched Judge Judy. That woman is hardcore.”

  Angel grinned. “That’s probably why she’s so popular. Did you walk?”

  “I made it to the edge of the yard and back.”

  “Congratulations. You’re making real progress.”

  “I’ve come a long way since that first walk to the bathroom.” I pulled some chicken from the breast with my fork. “I’ve been meaning to ask you, when does Spokane get its first snow?”

  “I haven’t been through a winter here since I was a kid, but I think that they usually have snow by the middle of November.”

 
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