One Kind Thing
The towering big leaf maple that grew in Albert Crowley’s front yard dropped a never-ending pile of golden brown leaves, so thick it looked like someone had spilled a giant box of corn flakes. Crowley worked for days raking the leaves and stuffing them into black plastic garbage sacks that now surrounded his front porch like a crouching swat team. He refused to rake any of the leaves that lay on the sidewalk or drifted into the street. “Let the damn city take care of ‘em,” he muttered.
Every time Crowley thought he’d cleared his lawn for the last time, he’d find another fresh layer of leaves. That afternoon, as he filled another garbage sack, he was grateful to see some bare branches. Most of the leaves had fallen except for a few clumps here and there. A big, impatient man, Crowley reached his rake up and swatted a branch causing more leaves to tumble and scatter.
“Come on, damn it,” he nagged the tree and smacked another limb. Just then, a piece of folded notebook paper drifted to the ground. Its blue lines had started to bleed, but he could make out the message printed in a child’s large scrawl:
I miss you every waking day. Penny misses you, too. I know because she hides under the bed and is off her food. Momma says you are in heaven and it is a nice place. But Papa, it’s so hard without you. Momma says when people go to heaven they sit up on the clouds and watch over us. I have looked at all the clouds, but I can’t see you. Please Papa send me a sign, so I know you are watching me. I miss you so very much.
Crowley leaned on his rake and read the note a second time. Patsy lived in the white house on the other side of Crowley’s big laurel hedge. He remembered Patsy’s father had just died. It was a fluke, a heart attack or something. He was still a young man—maybe just forty or some where around there. He never trusted the guy. He worked with computers, had long hair, and a gold earring.
“Real men don’t go around looking like women, unless there’s something wrong with ‘em,” Crowley complained “No wonder he died.” And computers—well, they were ruining the whole country in Crowley’s opinion.
What was that note doing in his tree? Then he remembered. He’d left his ladder standing out after he painted the trim on a window. Little brat probably climbed on it. Now what would have happened if she’d fallen off? Damn people would have sued him, that’s what. Damn those people anyway.
Crowley stuffed the note in his pocket. He didn’t want trash blowing around his yard. Once again, he attacked the leaves with his rake. He always wanted to cut that tree down, so there wouldn’t be any leaves; but Edna had liked it so much he’d let the idea go. Still, it gave him great pleasure to imagine himself attacking the tree with a power saw.
People pretty much stayed away from Crowley. He was a testy grump of a man with a shock of white hair that he combed straight back, a large bulbous nose with visible pores and a stomach that hung over his belt. He always wore a white shirt tucked into dark trousers, even when he worked in the yard.
Whenever a ball or Frisbee came over the thick hedge that bordered three sides of his property, Crowley added it to his collection. “That’ll teach those little snots. If they’re gonna throw things around, they should find a park.” If ever a kid snuck into his yard looking for what was lost, he’d squirt him with his hose. “Get out of here!” he’d yell. He wanted to put a fence across his front yard, but the big maple’s thick trunk had grown so close to the edge of his property that any fence would have ended up in the sidewalk and violated a city ordinance.
Some scruffy older boys waited until dusk, about the time ole Crowley fell asleep in front of his TV. Then they’d sneak up his porch, ring the doorbell and hide in the bushes waiting for him to come out. “Crowley Fowley!” they’d yell and run.
Sometimes bleary-eyed Crowley would chase them down the sidewalk lumbering like an ole arthritic rhinoceros, until his lungs made wheezing sounds. “You damned gravel,” he’d bellow in between gasps. After his heart started to weaken, he gave up the running. Crowley now kept a bucket of water by the door. He was still quick enough douse one or two of them as they tore down his steps.
Crowley had been a grumpy fixture in town as long as anyone could remember. When he worked for that life insurance company over on third street, he’d crowd in the lunch line and mutter nasty things if people took too long deciding what they wanted. He’d pace in front of the copier if someone was ahead of him. Sometimes co-workers copied their stuff twice just to get Crowley’s goat. Finally, his boss set him up at a desk in a windowless corner behind a row of gray file cabinets, where he read thick actuarial reports that nobody much cared about until the day he retired.
Crowley’s life had turned to vinegar after his first wife left him and took most of what he had. For a long time, he lived alone until Edna came along. She must have seen something good in ole Crowley because she had the courage to marry him. People said she did it out of sheer loneliness; others just shook their heads. Her grown son, Eddie, never liked Albert Crowley, and he only came to the house when Crowley was gone.
Then there was the way Edna died.
During a late winter snowstorm, Crowley struggled to back his old, black Plymouth out of the driveway, but it hit a clump of snow causing the back tires to spin. Edna, a little bird of a woman with stooped shoulders, said he should get the shovel, but stubborn Crowley just pressed his foot down on the accelerator with Edna trying to push. Edna apparently walked behind the car to check the back wheels when Crowley’s method of stomping on the accelerator kicked in. The car backed over Edna with such force, it killed her. People said it was just a matter of time before his impatience would come home to bite him.
Eddie was so distraught, he filed a police report; but after hours of investigation, they determined Edna’s death was just a tragic accident. It left Crowley a bitter, bitter man. He only left his house to get groceries or to pick up something at the hardware store, and then he usually went during the dinner hour. “You run into fewer assholes that way,” he grumbled.
Crowley sat in front of the TV set, in his dark house, eating his dinner off a tray when his nose started to tickle. “ACHOOOO!” he sneezed so loud it rattled the windows. He reached into his pocket for a tissue when Patsy’s note fell out. He read it again. Please send me a sign. He remembered seeing the little girl stop in front of his house. She stared up at the stately maple and gazed at the sky.
Please send me a sign. Idiot kid, he thought. She thinks her father is in heaven, sitting on some damn cloud. She probably put this note in the tree because it was high up, and she figured her father could reach it. He shook his head. Kids these days were downright stupid.
At first, he thought he would wait for her to walk home from school. He’d give back her note and tell her there wasn’t any heaven, so she should just forget about it and quit loitering on his property. If she ever put anything in his tree again, well, he’d fix her good. That oughta scare her. He turned to blow his nose and happened to look at the picture of Edna that still sat on end table cluttered with pencils, the phone book, an unwashed coffee cup, a screwdriver and an ashtray filled with nails. He remembered the small bunch of flowers he got after Edna died. He’d heard the doorbell ring and thought it was those pesky kids again. He’d gotten his bucket of water ready, but when he opened the door, little Patsy stood there trembling with an awkward bouquet of early daffodils and some blue, beady flowers wrapped in tinfoil.
“What do you want?” he asked. She handed him the flowers and then ran for her life. But, she was the only person who ever came. She was just a little shaver then. He looked at the note again: Please send me a sign.
Well, there wasn’t anything he could do about it. Her father died. Edna died. That’s the way it was. Life wasn’t fun. He glanced at Edna’s picture again. He remembered how she used to talk to the little girl when she played hopscotch on the sidewalk. She and that awful orange cat, the one they called Penny. Crowley hated cats. They climbed through his hedge and pooped in his yard. He should have had a big dog to chase them, but he hated dogs, too.
“Quit talking to that brat,” he’d told Edna. “Pretty soon she’ll wanna come in.”
“Before you leave this earth Albert Crowley, I hope you do just one kind thing.” Edna gritted her teeth.
“If I had a gun, I’d shoot that damn cat!” Crowley blurted not wanting Edna to have the last word.
“Just one!” Edna called out as Crowley slammed the door and went out to the garage.
Edna had never spoken up to him, and it was only time she did. It wasn’t long afterwards, that the accident happened. Crowley looked over at Edna again, and his dark, squinty eyes actually got moist.
Crowley fumbled through the cardboard box he kept in his basement searching for the baseball, among the other things that had come over his hedge. He especially remembered the ball because Patsy’s father had come to his door asking about it. He explained that Red Bailey, the famous baseball player, had autographed that ball. Patsy’s father said the kids had gotten hold of it when he wasn’t home. They didn’t know it was a special ball, and they lost it over the hedge. He wondered if Mr. Crowley had found it. If he did, he sure would like to have it back. Crowley claimed he never saw such a ball. Pasty’s father just stood there looking Crowley in the eye; as if he knew he was lying. Crowley stared at his earring.
“If you should come across it please, out of the kindness of your heart, return it. It means a lot to me.” Crowley shut the door in his face and left him standing on the porch.
“That’ll teach ‘em,” he said after Patsy’s father had left. “People should watch their kids. They shouldn’t let ‘em carry on like a bunch of wild Indians—especially people with long hair. Damn hippies shouldn’t even have kids.”
Hmmmm, Crowley thought. Patsy gave him the flowers when Edna died, so he would return the ball. Surely that would work. Then they’d be even. It was just taking up space anyway. Maybe then that darn kid would quit staring at his tree.
How would he do it? He could speak to Patsy, except she’d be so scared she’d run away. Maybe he’d sneak over to her house after dark and leave the ball on the front porch. No, that would be too obvious. She always came down the sidewalk after school and stopped by the tree.
The next day, Crowley waited until he saw Patsy coming. He placed the ball and her note in the crook of one of the tree’s big roots. Then he went back into the house and peaked through the blind. Sure enough, the little girl came to the tree; stood for a moment and gazed at the clouds.
“Aw, she’s gonna miss it,” Crowley muttered behind his blind. “Come on kid.”
He’d just about given up when Patsy spied the ball sitting on top of her note. She scooped it up and held the ball close to her chest. She stared at the sky with a wide smile. “Momma, Momma!” she called as she ran home.
Ole Crowley went back to what he usually did in the evenings eating his dinner alone off a tray, his dark house lit only by the flickering TV screen.
The next day, Patsy’s mother rang Crowley’s doorbell with a homemade coffee cake in hand. She wanted to thank him for the nice thing he’d done. She figured it was him, because she and her husband always knew he had that ball. She braced herself for Crowley’s cantankerous face and his lies, but she didn’t care. She wanted him to know how much his kind act helped Patsy. For the first time in weeks, her little girl slept clear through the night. When no one answered the door, she didn’t give up. She walked gingerly to the rear of the house, ready for a bucket of water, a squirt from the hose or whatever. She found Crowley, alone on the back porch. He sat there slumped over a bit, stiff and cold with a trowel still in his hands and a strange smile on his blue lips.
Jean Rover is a Salem, Oregon writer with an extensive background in corporate and marketing communications. She is a member of Willamette Writers, Oregon Writers Colony and two critique groups. More recently, her writing has appeared in Gold Man Review, Work Literary Magazine, and the This I Believe project.
A resident of NY, Stephen Mead is a published artist, writer and maker of short collage-films. His latest project, a collaboration with Kevin MacLeod, is entitled “Whispers of Arias,” a two volume CD set of narrative poems set to music. His latest Amazon release, “31 Kisses,” a poetry-art hybrid, is a celebration of romance for lovers everywhere regardless sexual orientation.