“I’m not saying it makes sense to you or me or the lamp post.” He nodded at a nearby streetlight for emphasis. “But she had her a reason. Sad. She wasn’t in love with you?”
“If she was, she had a pretty odd way of showing it. She screamed at me constantly, called me all kinds of names. I’m not real sure how a man can be a horny devil and a limp dick at the same time, but that’s what I was. She broke up with me, okay?” I shook my head. “She didn’t even know I was there until I came in. She knew a man was there, but not which. This was more focused on Rowena.”
“In love with her, maybe?”
That hadn’t occurred to me. I’d always thought Bernie was straight, but might have been a bit of something else there. I thought over what she’d said to Rowena before I jumped in.
“Could be. Hadn’t thought of that, if I’m honest.”
Jake smirked, shaking his head. “Takes a lunatic to understand another one.”
“You’re not a lunatic, Jacob. I won’t tolerate anyone else telling you that, won’t listen to you say it either.”
“You do know I was a Section Eight.”
“Can’t be more of a lunatic than that.” He turned away, staring at the ground.
I knew better than to touch him. When he does that, he needs to be left to himself. It’s his way of coping with a situation that overwhelms him. But I couldn’t let that statement drop.
“Honestly, I think you’re the sanest man I know. Maybe not by the standards of the psychiatric profession, but by purely humanitarian standards. You’re a kind man, tender of heart and spirit. You’d give your shirt to a friend, or even a stranger. You help me, and half the time don’t want to be paid. You abhor violence, even if it loves you, and you carry regret for the bad things you’ve had to do to survive. If that doesn’t make you a good man, a sane man, I don’t know what does.”
“I hear voices sometimes,” he whispered.
“Do they tell you to kill? Rape? Cause trouble?”
“No. I hear the voices of the folks I’ve killed. That can’t be sane, Keir. That can’t be normal.”
“I’ve never had to do what you’ve had to. I don’t know what you’ve been through, and I hope to God I never have to. I’m not sure I’d come through it as well as you have. But if they aren’t telling you to do something bad, just tell them to shut the f**k up.”
It seemed logical to me. I have no idea what’s going on inside his head, okay? I can only imagine the demons he carries. He’s the best guy I know, and I’d trust my life to him. I hope it never comes to that, but I would.
Jake whipped his head around, staring at me, startled. “Say what?”
“Tell them to shut the f**k up. You don’t have to listen to their mess. Tell them to go away. They don’t have power over you, unless you want them to. They’re dead. Time they made their peace with it, and left you alone. There is no law saying that you have to listen.”
“No. There isn’t.” His eyes grew wide with wonder. “You really mean that, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I do.” I leaned a little closer, dropping my voice. “I wouldn’t say it too loud around other people, or they’re liable to think you’re f**ked in the head. But when you’re alone, you tell ’em to shut up. If that doesn’t work, I’ll do it. Can’t hurt, right?”
“I guess not. Will ya give it a try?”
“Sure.” I leaned close, speaking quietly into his ear. “Hey, you guys. Shut the f**k up.”
A slow smile spread across his face. “It worked,” he whispered.
“See? The magic of a few words.”
“Why didn’t my therapist think of that?”
“Because she’s a trained professional. They don’t teach that shit at shrink school. Takes a food truck guy to come up with the good plan.”
Jake chuckled, rocking back on his tailbone. Kicking his feet, he laughed harder. I thought he was going to topple backward, but he didn’t. Instead, he hopped up and held out his hand. I took it tentatively. He’s not one for shaking hands.
“Thanks, Keir. You’ve given me a lot to think about.”
His tone was so solemn, I matched it.
“You’re very welcome.”
“I have a noon appointment.”
“At the VA?”
“No, in the park. Gonna stiff the old guy again. He said he had some friends who might be interested.”
Sounded harmless enough. Jake likes his games. He never cheats, although he will conceal his level of skill, making him the equivalent of a card shark. He doesn’t take a mark for a lot, but he enjoys betting on the outcome, and he never loses, unless he tries. We said our goodbyes and I cleaned up the truck, starting the daily special. Today was vegan chili, with lots of vegetables. I make it ahead and reheat it, slowly, on the back burner of the stove.
The first of the lunch crowd trickled down, many of them taking the chili. Not too hot, but mighty tasty, if I may say so. I’ve never understood the need to make it super hot. I’d rather have an aromatic blend that’s more appealing to the general public. Let’s face it, there are only a select number of people who want their faces to melt off. Also, of major consideration, they don’t want to go back to the office with gas—or worse.
©2021 Dellani Oakes