The knocking woke me from a deep sleep. I glanced at the bedside clock. Two am. I went to the front door and looked out. An apparition was half turned, smoking a cigarette and made furtive eye contact with me. I flipped on the porch light illuminating a figure dressed in worn camo. My friend Rick. He looked at me, crushed out the butt and put it in his jacket pocket. Something was in his hand.
Happy to see him, I grinned and opened the door. “Hey there, buddy. Long time no see.”
“Hi, Jessie, he smiled shyly. “Yeah, I’ve been…busy.” He paused and looked over his shoulder into the darkness. God only knew what he was looking at or what was going through his mind. After a moment he turned to me as if wanting to forget what he’d been thinking about. “Here,” he said, “I made this for you.” He handed me a case with a compact disc in it.
Texas Fried Blues the label read. I was touched. “Hey, man, I appreciate it. Thanks a lot.”
“It’s got some kick-ass stuff. I think you’ll like it.”
Rick was a war vet. He couldn’t sleep most nights so he made mixed music CD’s and gave away them to his friends.
I couldn’t help myself and inadvertently glanced at the clock. I had to get up by six and go to work. “I’ll play it this weekend.”
He grimaced, trying, but unable, to hide his disappointment. “Really? I was thinking maybe we could listen to it together. Tonight.”
I looked at him, tall and thin and burned out. Haunted eyes sunk deep in their sockets. Stale sweat emanating. My heart went out to him.
“Good idea,” I agreed. “Let’s do that.”
I gently took his skinny arm, led him to the couch and sat him down. I went to the kitchen and started a pot of coffee before joining him, sitting side by side, legs nearly touching. I took the CD cover in my hand and read the song titles, stunned almost speechless by his caring nature.
“These songs look great,” I told him and watched his face light up. I leaned over and put the disc in the player, pushed play and said, “Let’s have a listen.”
Old time blues from the deep south filled the room.
I looked at Rick and saw his face relaxing ever so slightly. “This music is great,” I told him. “Thank you.” I patted him on the knee and added, “I’m really glad you came by.”
He patted my hand in return, a gesture so simple, yet so profound it brought tears to my eyes. “Me, too,” he said.
The aroma of fresh brewed coffee drifted into the room. I went into the kitchen, poured a couple of mugs and brought them back. I gave Rick his just as a song ended and he took a grateful sip. “Wait until you hear this next one. It’s Howlin’ Wolf.”
“One of my favorites,” I said, grinning. We clinked our mugs in solidarity.
Rick smiled, now completely relaxed, “I know.”
We listened to the CD over and over for the rest of the night, talking about anything and everything. But not the war. He never talks about the war.
Finally, in the early morning, Rick curled up on his side of the couch and fell asleep. I found a blanket and covered him, tucking in the sides. Then I flipped off the light and started the CD again, turned down low. I stayed there and watched the sunrise, keeping him company while he slept and the music played and kept us company. There was no other place I’d rather have been. In fact, I never did make it to work that day. I didn’t mind at all.
Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared in many online and print publications. His collection of short stories Resilience is scheduled to be published in 2020 by Bridge House Publishing. All of his stories can be found on his blog: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.