Love, Joy & Miracles…Conclusion

On the 9th day of Christmas: the conclusion of the short story, The Miracle Man. (Previous paragraphs can be found in “Past Posts” under “Love, Joy & Miracles.”)

“Yeah, go figure. For years we hardly talk and when we do, it’s on the phone and only about sports or work.” He pauses; bites his lower lip. “I didn’t see this day coming.” His voice quivers with emotion; he looks away. “It was as if Dad knew last night was his last.”

Dizzy, Wendell heads for the chair near the window. “I need to sit…just for a minute.” He plops down and runs fingers through his thinning hair.

“Do I need to get one of the nurses,” Cliff asks.

Wendell fans himself with the envelope. “I’m fine. So much has happened…so much I’m having a hard time explaining.”

“I know.” Cliff puts his palm over the pocket holding the letter. “It’s as if Dad wanted to set things right. But how did he know he was out of time?”

“Luck or coincidence, I guess.”

“Or a miracle.”

Wendell stares at the envelope, unable to wrap logic around the day’s events.

Cliff steps to the threshold and halts. He keeps his back to Wendell. “You must think I’m a pretty lousy son.” Voice cracks. “Never coming to visit…”

Cliff wags his head as self-contempt delivers jaw-shattering blows.

 “Don’t blame yourself,” Wendell counsels while fingering the envelope. “It’s not what Ira would have wanted. Didn’t his letter say as much? Besides, it takes two to tango.”

Cliff wipes his eyes. Then, without looking back, says: “It was nice to finally meet you, Mr. Bennett. He spoke very highly of you.”

“As he did you, Cliff.”

 Wendell runs a finger around the edge of the envelope. Time is a blur and he is oblivious to the woman standing in the doorway.

“Is everything all right,” Ruth asks. “Cliff told me you got dizzy.”

“I’m fine,” he sighs as he pushes up from the chair. “Just a lot to process in one morning.”

She spies the envelope. “What’s that?”

“Something from Ira.”

“Aren’t you going to open it?”

“Later.” He tucks it in his shirt pocket. “Besides, I’m pretty sure I know what it’s about.”

Her brow furrows and she tilts her head to study him.

Wendell stares at the empty wheelchair.

“Ruth, do you believe in miracles?”

 Her head rights and she perks up. “Yes. Do you?”

 He takes in her sapphire eyes. “So tell me again: what time is the Christmas service?”

 She smiles, stands on her toes, and kisses his cheek.

 


Love, Joy & Miracles; Day 8

On the 8th day of Christmas: the continuation of the short story, The Miracle Man. (Previous paragraphs can be found in “Past Posts” under “Love, Joy & Miracles.”)

The south corridor is darker than usual, which is no surprise to Wendell: Doors remain shut when someone dies. Some hide. Some mourn. Some—like kids trying to ward off the Boogie-man—hope that wood, varnish, and steel will delay their fate.

Only one door is open. Yellow light spills into the gloomy corridor. He makes his way to Ira’s room and peers in.

The bed is made. A wheelchair sits in the corner. The room is empty.

A middle-aged man emerges from the bathroom holding some toiletries and spots Wendell hovering in the doorway.  

  “May I help you,” he asks as he makes his way to the bed where a duffel bag sits.

 “Ira Rubin. Is it true? He’s gone?”

 The man stashes the toiletries in the bag. “Went in his sleep.” He zips it shut. “Were you a friend?”

“I suppose, although now that I think about it, I wasn’t a very good one.”

The man grabs the bag and heads for the door. He extends his hand to Wendell. “I’m Cliff Rubin, Ira’s son.”

Wendell stares in disbelief at Cliff’s hand and then into his face. Hooked nose, close-set eyes, piercing gaze. Just like Ira.

He throws off his doubts, regains his wit, and shakes Cliff’s hand. “I’m Wendell Bennett. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Cliff sucks in air and gives a solemn nod. He reaches into his breast pocket and pulls out a white envelope.

“He left this for you.”

“What’s inside,” he asks, fearing the worst news possible.

“No idea; yours is sealed shut, just like mine was.” He taps the pocket holding his letter. “Kinda how he lived: all sealed up, keeping everyone away, all his thoughts secret.” Finger tap, tap, taps. “I sat on his bed for over an hour working up the courage to open it.” He pauses and draws in a deep breath. “Figured it was a suicide note.”

“Suicide…” Wendell staggers against the doorframe.

 “No,” Cliff says as he helps Wendell maintain his balance. “That came out wrong. I thought it was, but it turns out to be an apology.”


Love, Joy & Miracles; Day 7

On the 7th day of Christmas: the continuation of the short story, The Miracle Man. (Previous paragraphs can be found in “Past Posts” under “Love, Joy & Miracles.”

The next morning, Wendell Bennett shuffles down the north wing of Villa Velencia. Up ahead is a women’s silhouette. He shields his eyes for a better look and inches out of the shadow. She recognizes him and approaches with sure steps. Wendell, uncertain who she is, stops. She closes the gap and buries her face into his flannel shirt. Ruth’s perfume is intoxicating and he relishes her body close to his, but is unable to fathom why she’s embracing him.

“He’s gone,” she whimpers.

“Who’s gone?”

She releases him and pulls out a Kleenex to dot her eyes. “Ira. He passed in his sleep.”

“He…died?”

“I came to you as soon as I heard. You were his only friend.”

She let the moment hang and notes the pain crossing his face like a dark cloud.

She touches his arm. “I know he was annoying, but you should have heard him talk about you.”

Wendell takes in her eyes that dazzle like sapphires.

“Oh, how he admired you,” she gushes. “Said he’d never met a smarter man. Couldn’t wait to get helped into his wheelchair every morning just so he could talk with you. You gave him such joy. Did you know that?”

Wendell stares at the floor, his mind a whirlwind of questions. In a flash, he remembers their bet.

“The miracles,” he mumbles.

“What?”

“I need to see him.”

“You can’t; they’ve already taken him to the funeral home.”

Wendell raises his eyes. “I still need to see his room.”

Ruth leads him by the hand toward The Commons. They reach the south corridor, and Wendell pats her hand.

“I need to go alone.”

She considers arguing the point but lets him go.

He waddles away as “Little Drummer Boy” fades into “O Holy Night.”


Love, Joy & Miracles; Day 6

Merry Christmas!

On the 6th day of Christmas: the continuation of the short story, The Miracle Man. (Previous inserts can be found under “Past Posts” under “Love, Joy, & Miracles.” )

“Well if he’s in the kitchen, I want to file a complaint.”

“You just don’t get it, do you?”

Wendell sets his mug down. Jaw line is tight. “Look. I’m glad you’ve found something that gives you purpose, even joy, but it would take a miracle for me to believe again.”

  “A miracle?” There was excitement in Ira’s voice.

 Wendell crosses his arms. “I was speaking hypothetically.”

 “Hey, you started this. So I’m curious: what would you call a miracle?”

“Boy! For a guy with tubes crammed up his nose, you sure are a cocky-cuss!”

“And I thought a hot-shot lawyer like you would be more open-minded.”

“I am open-minded, Ira. I just know the difference between fantasy and reality.”

“So you’re scared.”

“Of what?”

“Truth. Love. Peace. Joy.”

“Please!”

“But what if miracles happen? Wouldn’t that make you consider another verdict about God?”

“Okay,” Wendell snaps; nostrils flare. “You want a miracle? I’ll give you one, but remember: You brought this on yourself.”

Wendell surveys the room and considers his options. He zeroes in on the group sitting off from the others. His years as a prosecutor kick in and he formulates his case in a matter of seconds, and as was his custom, begins with a feint. “I want God to give them joy.” He gestures at the woman cursing like a sailor. “Or make ole what’s-her-name shut up.”

Wendell turns, eyes narrow, and he delivers the real terms. “Better yet, how about a miracle for me and…” He points an index finger at Ira. “You.”

Ira doesn’t bat an eye. “Such as?”

“I want Ruth to give me a hug and a kiss tomorrow. And not something done in the spirit of Christmas, but the real deal.”

 Ira rubs his chin, whether to counter or in wonderment, Wendell is unable to discern.

  “And for you…” Wendell raises his finger like he did when making his closing arguments. “I want your son to visit on the same day.”

Ira’s eyes widen. “My son?” His voice is hollow.

“Yes. The one who never visits because of your quarrel.”

 Ira bites his lower lip.

Wendell sneers and sweeps an arm like a symphony conductor. “There, you see? Those can’t happen, not by tomorrow, so let the matter—”           

“I had a dream…”

Wendell’s arm plops to his side. “Ira, seriously, let it go.”

Ira gets a far away look. Fingers drum his chin as he mulls over Wendell’s requests. “Okay,” he says with a head nod, “tomorrow.”

Wendell’s mouth drops open in shock. “Tell me you’re joking!”

Ira’s determined expression tells him otherwise.

“Then you’re a bigger fool than I thought!”

“Perhaps.” Ira’s voice is silky-smooth. “But I’ll risk it all if it means you find joy this Christmas.”

Wendell’s blood boils, and he clinches his fists. “Then let’s raise the ante: if the

miracles don’t happen tomorrow, you promise to never, and I do mean never, talk to me about religion again.”

“And if they do?”

Wendell rolls his eyes. “They won’t.”

“Hey, a bet is a bet.”

“Fine.” He plants his hands on his hips. “I’ll go to the Christmas service.”

Ira considers his offer and gives him a faint smile. “Good. Then it’s settled.”

He flicks his joystick and rolls away.

Wendell stares after him in disbelief. “It’s not going to happen, Miracle Man.”

Ira rounds the corner and the oxygen tank chimes down the hall.


Love, Joy & Miracles; Day 5

On the 5th day of Christmas: the next installment of the short story, The Miracle Man. (You can read previous portions in “Past Posts” under “Love, Joy & Miracles.”)

Wendell jerks away from the memory. “I used to have faith like yours.”

“Faith like mine?” Ira snorts. “The only time I set foot in a church was to get married. And you know how that ended.”

“But for the past month, all you’ve talked about is religion.”

Ira reaches for Wendell who instinctively steps back. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! I’ve found joy.”

Wendell smirks. “So what does she look like?”

Ira scowls and leans back in his wheelchair. “You do that a lot.”

“Do what?”

“Joke around when I hit on something uncomfortable.”

 Wendell takes a sip of tea and gives Ira a nod of respect. “Okay, I’ll bite: tell me how you found joy.”

Ira leans forward and gestures with his hands to illustrate his story. “It all started several months ago. I was feeling like one of those elephants in that Tarzan movie. You know, life’s over, nothing to live for, so many mistakes and regrets. Even thought about ending it all. But as fate would have it, Ruth dropped by. Something about her intrigued me.”

“It’s called sex appeal.”

Ira smirks. “See? There you go…”

“Okay, you were saying…

“Well, she’s always wearing a smile and seems, well, content. Anyway, we talk and she says it all has to do with her faith, so she hands me a Bible. I was skeptical, so I decided to read a chapter or two and if nothing happened, then I’d figure something else out.”

Ira looks over the top of his glasses. “Now I know this will sound crazy, but the words seemed to hop off the page and into me.” Ira taps his chest. “I haven’t been the same since. You wanna talk about joy?!”

“Look, just because you experienced euphoria doesn’t prove God exists. Maybe you should go see the doctor. I bet your meds are out of whack.”

 Ira, undeterred, wets his lips to deliver his final thought. “What I’m trying to tell you is this: I found God here in Villa Velencia.”


Love, Joy & Miracles; Day 4

On the 4th day of Christmas: the next installment of the short story, The Miracle Man. (Check out previous paragraphs in “Past Posts” under “Love, Joy & Miracles.”)

“It’s like this: no one wants to invest in a product that will be last year’s model. THAT, my friend, is a tough selling environment. But like I always say, tough times—”

“‘Only make you tougher,’” Wendell finishes, hoping to quell the conversation.

Ira steams ahead at full speed. “I follow a hunch; make a call. And do you know what happened?”

Wendell spies Ruth boarding the bus. “You wish you’d gone shopping at the mall.”

“What,” Ira blurts as he pushes his glasses back up his nose. “No, not shopping, I got the account. It was like tapping into Fort Knox! My boss couldn’t believe it. He nicknamed me–”

“The Miracle Man.” Wendell turns his attention back to Ira. “What the hell does any of that have to do with joy?”

“Simple: Since I know what it’s like to live without joy, now that I’ve found it, I’m qualified to be its salesman.”

“Oh Judas,” Wendell fumes. “You’re going to start preaching about religion again, aren’t you?”

Ira waves him off. “No, not religion. Besides, it never did much for me anyway. What I’m talking about is joy and Christmas.”

Wendell wags a finger in front of Ira. “Then you’re still talking religion. Like I’ve told you time and time before, I don’t doubt Jesus existed, but to claim he’s God, born of a virgin? Those can be explained with science and logic.”

“Unless it was a miracle.”

Wendell grinds his teeth and drifts back in time…

He sits beside Ellen’s bed, holding her limp fingers; machines clack and whiz in the background. Tubes are in her nose, arms; face is snowy white.

This isn’t how he planned it. This had to be a mistake. He is Wendell Bennett, top-notch trial attorney for Goddard County. His prestigious degrees, good looks and panache had given him the footing to storm up success like a marine hitting Omaha beach. Over the years he became so iconic in the courts that he is known only by his last name. When defense attorneys learn that Bennett is on the case, the matter is quickly settled out of court. Those that are opportunistic eye him like a gunslinger, but he mows them down. Mercilessly.

He is at the top of his game, ready to enjoy life with Ellen: trips to Europe, long walks on the beach, visiting grandkids, sipping wine in Napa Valley. Ellen isn’t supposed to find a lump. The oncologist isn’t supposed to tell them it’s malignant.

He is Wendell Bennett and cowers to no one, so he attacks Ellen’s disease with the fervor he is noted for as an attorney. Second opinions. Third. Fourth. He reads books and magazines on the topic, attends seminars and workshops, even gets out of his comfort zone and blogs. Only the best centers will do: Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Stanford. He tries holistic health, wellness retreats, even the black market. All promise a cure. All let him down.

He leaves no stone unturned. He tries Eastern yoga, mysticism, Pentecostal pastors, Catholic priests, holy men of Yemen.

Nothing.

The cancer, like a plague of microscopic locusts, continues to gnaw away at Ellen. Weak and haggard, she begs for home, longing for the comfort of her own bed with family and friends nearby. He obliges, but Bennett never loses, so he makes one last ditch effort.

He prays to God for a miracle.

He begs, willing to swap his life for hers, vowing all of his time and money to pious service if only God will answer his prayer. For months he prays, daring to hope, steeling his faith, yearning for God’s healing touch.

Now he sits beside her. Tears well, vision blurs. Ellen lifts a weak hand and touches his cheek, and in a frail voice, gives him God’s answer: “Let me go.”


Love, Joy & Miracles; Day 3

On the third day of Christmas: the next installment of the short story, The Miracle Man.

(Read previous portions in “Love, Joy & Miracles” in “Past Posts.”)

He eyes the carafes, pondering whether to have Constant Comment or coffee, when a familiar voice shouts: “Christmas!”

Ira Rubin, Wendell deduces without taking his eyes off the table. Salesman from Akron; south wing; wife died years ago; son never visits; the man is obnoxious as the day is long.

He drops his tea bag into the mug of steaming water and faces Ira. Racing toward him in a motorized wheelchair, green oxygen tank clanking like an alarm bell on a destroyer, is a bespectacled man with close-set eyes. Strands of hair sway like Kansas wheat, and his over-the-ear oxygen tubes accentuate his wrinkled face.

“Christmas,” Ira fires at close range.

Same old Ira! Manipulates you into a conversation you never want to have. Lately, the topic is religion. But since it’s almost Christmas, I guess I can humor him…

“What about it,” Wendell asks as he stirs his tea.

“Does it bring you joy?”

“No. But I hear the cafeteria’s serving fried joy, sautéed joy, joy ala mode…”

“Very funny.” Ira sizes up Wendell. “Seriously, what’s your answer?”

 Wendell sips his tea. “It’s the same as it was yesterday and the day before that: no.”

“I figured as much, which reminds me, did I ever tell you about the Christmas I made the sale of a lifetime?”

“As a matter of fact–”

“Coldest December Akron’s ever seen. Sales were down, China was manufacturing for less, and Christmas was a few weeks away. In my business, Christmas was the valley of death for sales.”

“Just like the cave in that Tarzan movie.”

“Huh?”

“Remember that old Johnny Weissmuller film? The one where he follows those elephants behind a waterfall?”

Ira shoots a finger into the air. “Yeah, I remember that one! They go there to die and poachers try to steal their tusks. Well, it’s just like that only worse.”

Wendell swirls his tea. “Naturally.”


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