Creative: In The Lamp Light
After my first evening at Pine Vale, I decided I\'d never tell Howard
Finley my name.
I was sitting on a stone bench under the evergreens in the darkening
twilight, inspecting the piece of wood that I\'d been carving. It was going
to be a dog--maybe a German shepherd. I liked to shape things, not just
I thought about smoking. Not thinking of actually doing it, mind you,
only remembering. Over the years, liver spots had replaced the nicotine
stains on my fingers. I\'d begun carving a set of chess pieces to occupy my
time back when I quit.
Howard walked along the sidewalk from the clinic door. His steps were
slow and deliberate. Not like those of someone suffering the wounds of
age, but as if each step was a new adventure with no past and an uncertain
future. He stopped beneath a yellow light. Tall and slim, he was, with
thick, white sideburns, and a distant manner that added to the impression
I sucked a slow, deep breath between pursed lips and held it, as if I
had a cigarette. First I remembered the smoke warm and biting; then I
remembered it menthol-cool.
Where the second person came from, I\'m not certain. I was surprised to
hear Howard\'s voice, strong and clear from across the driveway. "I know
you, Roy Best," he said. "I know about you and Mary. You want to take her
away from me."
Roy was a short man who walked with the help of a cane. I\'d seen him
during the afternoon, sitting in the lounge, talking to the prettiest woman
in Pine Vale.
"You never even talk to her," Roy said. "Not once in all the years
we\'ve been here."
"I--I will. And until I do, I don\'t want you interfering."
"She\'s not your property. I don\'t think she\'d want to hear you sayin\'
what she can and can\'t do."
"How dare you! I\'ve got a good mind to--"
Roy\'s snort of derision echoed off the brick wall of the clinic.
"That\'s exactly what you don\'t got, Howard. I hear you haven\'t got much
mind left at all." Roy pushed past the taller man and continued on,
forcing a wheezing, artificial laugh.
Howard twisted his head and watched Roy tap his way along the walkway.
By the light from the lamp, I could see Howard\'s face wrinkle up as if he
were going to cry, then he shouted at the departing figure. "That\'s a mean
thing to say, Roy Best. I\'ll remember you for that!"
At that moment, Roy was gone.
If I\'d just lost sight of him, I wouldn\'t have been so spooked. A tree
might have blocked my view as he walked away or I might have blinked
without realizing it. But I remember the silence when his silly laugh and
the click of his cane on the concrete simply stopped.
Howard stared for a long time at the cars passing on the street beyond
the wrought-iron fence that fronted the property. Maybe, I thought, he was
so upset from his encounter that he was paralyzed. In some kind of stupor.
Maybe, I thought, I should go find an orderly to help him get back inside.
But he turned once more and, whistling a peaceful tune, retraced his
Next morning after breakfast, I sat by a window in the lounge,
considering what I should do. The sun touched the ripples on the pond with
silver and reflected off a car bringing the first Sunday visitors. Like a
wave through the room, blankets were tucked, shawls straightened, and
smiles practiced in response to the crunch of gravel from the parking lot.
I didn\'t bother; it wouldn\'t be anyone for me.
At the lounge door, I saw the nurse who\'d signed me in on the previous
day. I looked about to make sure no one was watching, walked past her out
of the lounge, and whispered from the hallway. "Excuse me."
"Yes, Mr. Mc--"
"Don\'t! Not my name. He might be listening."
"Whoever are you talking about?"
"Howard? Howard\'s a little quiet, but you\'ll get along fine once you
get to know each other."
"It\'s him I have to talk to you about. Last night, I saw him make a man
"What do you mean? What man?"
Down the hall, the clinic\'s front door opened. A young couple dressed
in their Sunday best looked about uncertainly until they spotted the
nurse\'s uniform. The man asked where he could find Mary Waterford and was
directed into the common room.
"Howard called him Roy Best," I