Fiction

TAKE CARE OF UNCLE HARRY

ROBERT ZACKS May 1 1953
Fiction

TAKE CARE OF UNCLE HARRY

ROBERT ZACKS May 1 1953

TAKE CARE OF UNCLE HARRY

Fiction

Every girl is beautiful in the new spring, but Steve had to learn that in the utter darkness all things were beautiful. Then he knew how to

By ROBERT ZACKS

TEVE KNEW, as he watched Uncle Harry’s fumbling steps, that the difficult time had come again. He knew it because there was a rising irritation in him, a bitterness that wanted to escape in a shout, or a nasty word. He clenched his teeth on it, keeping it buried in silence, but it bubbled and seared inside. Funny, he thought with the cold, logical part of his mind that seemed to take over at such moments, funny how one part of me doesn't care at all what my thinking mind understands!

It was true, as it always had been. Emotion coiled in him serpentlike ready to strike out in frustration as Uncle Harry turned his blind face aside so his ears could hear. Head cocked, Uncle Harry shuffled again toward the newsstand.

Fll get you the paper damn it! Steve wanted to shout. But Uncle Harry wanted to get the paper himself.

The news dealer watched from his window cubicle, solemnfaced. Uncle Harry’s cane tapped the newsstand. Uncle Harry’s thin face smiled. He reached out and took the tabloid, feeling its size, then dropped a dime on the stand. It rolled and tinkled on the ground.

“I’ll get it,” said Steve in a monotone.

“Thanks, Steve,” said Harry softly. Steve stopped his bending motion, struck by the look on Harry’s face, the look of sudden sorrow. He knows, thought Steve wryly. Amazing, how he always knows.

Steve picked up the dime, got a nickel change from the news dealer and led Uncle Harry away.

“Maybe I’d better stay with Paul for a day or so,” said Uncle Harry, as they crossed the corner with the light. There was little expression in Uncle Harry’s voice but Steve wanted to agree with joy, and a sense of vast freedom swept him as he felt relieved of a

seemingly unbearable burden. It wasn’t easy having a blind man around the house to care for, to worry about . . .

There I go again, thought Steve coldly.

It was weird, the two parts of him battling, the primitive emotional and the civilized logical. He was two people. It was like this about three times a year, a cycle of frustration that subtly drew force from endless petty selfishnesses Steve saw all through the year, and built up and up . . .

It had his tongue now. It seized Steve’s tongue and he said between gritted teeth, “Maybe you’re right, Uncle Harry. Paul hasn’t seen you in some time. He’d be glad.”

Uncle Harry’s face was a mask of gentleness. It made Steve just sick. Uncle Harry said, “You call him, Steve. Tell him I’m coming. Put me in a cab.”

Strange how the cycle of Steve’s feelings worked. Strange how it built up slowly so Steve could finally agree grimly to such a remark from Uncle Harry and not care that it showed in his voice he wanted to get out from under the endlessness of this guardianship.

“I will,” he snapped, injury in his voice. “Wait right here.”

He left Uncle Harry standing stiffly against a store front and went into a drugstore telephone booth. He dialed Paul’s number. My brother, he thought savagely as the ringing started. My dear brother. Why should I be stuck all the time? And the cold, logical part of his mind said swiftly, What's the matter with you? You know Paul has a sickly wife and four children. What's happening to you, Steve?

Two people in Steve’s head. Two Steves. Steve swallowed, and sweat came out on his forehead as they battled in his heart and skull.

“Hello?” said Paul’s tired voice in his ear.

“It’s Steve,” said Steve, his voice suddenly iron hard. “I ... I need a rest, Paul. I . . . I’m going away for a while.”

There was a moment of silence.

“Sure, kid,” said Paul heavily. “Sure. Why don’t you bring Harry over?”

Vast relief, freedom. They surged like breaking waves foaming in Steve’s brain, washing away guilt. He’d done enough. He’d carried Uncle Harry for three years now, since he’d gone blind. Let somebody else take over now. Quick little pictures of the unloading flashed through Steve’s mind in cruel sequence; leave Uncle Harry at Paul’s for a few days, ostensibly, then let it drag, with excuses. A week, then a month, next thing you knew . . .

Steve nearly ran from the drugstore. He was breathing heavily. “Come on, Uncle Harry,” he muttered. Uncle Harry nodded, the wistful smile still on his mouth, the smile that maddened Steve.

“Yes, Steve,” he said. “I’ll pack my pyjamas, eh?”

“Paul will lend you a pair of his,” said Steve. He waved.

A cab slid up to the curb, the driver opening the door with a backward movement. “Where to, buddy?”

“Two hundred Northcliff Boulevard,” said Steve. “Don’t go away till somebody comes out of the house.”

The cabdriver flicked a look at Uncle Harry. “Oh!”hesaid. He nodded, took the five-dollar bill Steve gave him. Then Steve turned to Uncle Harry. A wave of pain and anxiety swept Steve. And, within his rebellion, a small cold voice rose in volume and took over his speech from the other Steve.

“It’s only for one day, Uncle Harry,” said Steve in a low voice.

Immediately, as Uncle Harry nodded in wistful relief, Steve cursed silently at himself. But this part of him now had control and the primitive withdrew just a little, not much, but enough to let Steve know he must do what he’d done again and again at such times, that he must follow what his civilized self had shrewdly directed he do at such moments.

“Good-by, Steve,” said Uncle Harry.

Steve helped him feel his way into the cab.

“Just for one day, Uncle Harry,” said Steve in a stronger voice.

“Good-by,” said Uncle Harry smiling.

The cab rolled away. Steve stared after it. Now I've got to do it again, he thought wearily.

He didn’t have to do this, but he made himself. He went home and took from his bureau drawer the special eye mask he’d made up three years before. It shut off all light, as Steve swiftly put it over his eyes. There was no hesitation, no considering of the action, just an immediate, ruthless shutting off of all light from Steve’s eyes. Just as there had been with Uncle Harry three years before, when he’d suddenly gone blind after a blow on the back of his skull injured the optic nerve.

Twenty-four hours like this, Steve thought, peering into the darkness. He stood there for a moment, uncertain. Then he remembered he was hungry and started to feel his way toward the refrigerator. Something caught his foot and Steve wildly flailed his arms as he tripped. Feeling blindly, his hand landed on a chair that had been moved from its accustomed place.

Steve tried to make supper. He broke

a dish, cut himself by picking a knife up by the blade. He tried to feel his way to the medicine chest for iodine and gave up when three vials were pushed by his feeling fingers, smashing in the sink beneath. Then, of course, the broken glass mess had to be cleaned up.

The first hour was bad. Only twentythree hours more, thought Steve, resisting an impulse to tear off the masking cloth from his eyes.

The darkness began to close in. It got thicker, had substance. A terrible restlessness grew in Steve, as it always did. If it were just a matter of twentyfour hours it would be bad enough, but bearable. It was the thought of Uncle Harry and a forever darkness that began to close in on Steve’s mind by the fourth hour.

I’ll sleep, he thought. But, as usual, sleep wouldn’t come. There was no difference between sleep and no sleep, it was all one darkness, eternal, never ending. Lying there, panic stole into Steve’s heart. Suddenly he had to see, he had to, and his hands moved to his eyes . . .

No! He pulled his hands down. He

Memo on Maytime

Our children Love to fill

Their arms with golden daffodil, Fairest fruit Of nature’s labors —

And our neighbor’s.

LESLIE MELLICHAMP

MBS*S?II wm -%

found his fists were clenching. He groaned, got up and started through the door. The sharp edge of the bureau drawer bruised his arm. He had misjudged distance and direction again.

And by the seventh hour Steve was close to frenzy in his fight not to take off the eye covering before the twentyfour hours were up. My God! he thought as he held his hands clasped together quiveringly, what if I actually went blind someday . . . how does Uncle Harry stand it . . . how does he stand it ... ?

STEVE stood at the curb waiting for the cab. His eyes were bright and rested and clear. A girl walked by. Steve looked at her. He’d never seen anything more beautiful, yet he knew she was just average. She smiled at him in surprise. Steve looked up at the blue sky. A flock of pigeons soared and swooped in formation. A fluffy white cloud slept against the sky, curled up.

“Beautiful,” whispered Steve. “Beautiful.”

A cab swung around the corner and rolled to a stop before Steve. Uncle Harry was helped out by the driver. “Steve?” he said softly, his face anxious. “Steve? Are you there?” Steve put a strong hand in Harry’s reaching one. “I’m here.”

Uncle Harry smiled radiantly. “Good to hear you again,” he said. “I had a grand time at Paul’s house. Poor guy, he’s got a lot of headaches all right.” Steve shook his head in humble wonder. There was admiration in his eyes and respect. Never had he heard Uncle Harry whine. It was so hard to remember, all the time, that Uncle Harry was in a world of darkness. You have to try it yourself some time, thought Steve.

Uncle Harry nodded thoughtfully, now. “We ought to help him, Steve,” said Uncle Harry. “I think that guy needs a lift.”