October Chill: Surprise Visitor (part 3)
The library was located at the far end of the house, past the master bedroom and down a short hallway branching away towards the east from what I liked to refer to as “The Rumpus Room” - really, it’s nothing more than a second den; a sitting room just outside of my old office. Once there, I immediately began scanning the shelves. Of course I couldn’t remember in what book I’d last seen that photo of Angus MacSwain, even though it couldn’t have been more than a couple of months since I’d come across it. Damn short-term memory loss; blame it on the Mary Jane - sh*t, if it didn’t have at least one negative side effect, I guess it shouldn’t be called a drug, now should it. I had accumulated not a small collection of possible contenders, almost covering the small birch wood coffee table I’d bought in Charlotte the last time I’d been to the city, before my eyes finally fell upon the prize.
Here it was, a rather ruggish looking hard-back whose spine had begun to peel away from the pages. I could still see the dark spot where the glue used to be. On the cover was nothing but the words, “Carolina Ghost Stories”, in regular sized, white block letters. Unflattering to today’s standards of bright, flashy pictures and large, bold print. This volume obviously came from a classic era when books were meant to be read, not gawked at.
As if by divine will, I opened the book randomly only to find what I was seeking. There he was, the one I had been beginning to think of as the black preacher, the one who had so effortlessly reduced me to what my wife - God bless her soul – would have called a nervous wreck. Suddenly, that feeling of nausea I’d suffered yesterday in the presence of that man (was he a man?) swelled over me once again like the incoming tide. This time, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to quell the feeling. I ran to the bathroom that was attached to the master bedroom just as fast as my two legs could carry me. Along the way, I must have misjudged the path around my bed because I managed to slam my left foot pinky toe hard into the metal frame. It throbbed something fierce as I knelt beside the toilet, barfing up the turkey and cheese sandwich on rye I had eaten for lunch – just another offering to the Gods of the porcelain throne.
Once the onslaught was over, I gathered myself up and headed, limping along on my swollen toe, back towards the library, pausing only to splash water over my face. I guess I was still too stunned to remember to brush my teeth. However, before I could reach the room that held the book that showed the man that made me puke – funny how the mind works in times of heavy stress – the front doorbell began to ring.
Mentally I was preparing for the worst, all too sure that this surprise visitor would turn out to be none other than Mr. Angus Macswain, the black preacher, back once again, this time to steal my soul rather than just my wits, when I opened the door to find, to my greatest relief, Harold, our friendly neighborhood postman, standing at the foot of the brick steps leading up to the front door.
“Harold, my God man, you almost scared the B’Jesus outta me. Thank goodness it’s only you though.” Then once I recovered my composure, “So what can I do for you? I do believe I already got my mail for the day. Did I forget to put a stamp on my utility bill or something?”
“No, no sir. It’s nuttin’ like dat”, he replied in his thick southern drawl. “I’s jus’ ben wondrin ‘bout dat d’ere man in black, dat preech’r man you’s speakin’ ‘bout dis mornin’. I’s got t’ tinkin’, maybe I had seen ‘em ‘round b’fore.”
With that I became suddenly clear headed. My stomach stopped churning and even my throbbing toe fell away from my consciousness like a feather caught in a light breeze. It seemed that news of the dark preacher was much more bearable than his picture or his presence, perhaps even beneficial.
“Herald, do you have time to come in for a drink?” I asked with as much restraint as I could muster. What I wanted to do was grab this nice old man standing just below me by the shoulders and shake the information out of him. “I’d really like to hear all you have to say about this man.”
“Well sir, I don’t s’pose yous’ got’ny whisky up n’side yonder med’cin cabnet, dose ya? I’s jus’ now be getin’ offa work n’d I’s could use sum a da gewd stuff, if yous’ know wat I min?”
“Sure, sure thing Harold. I could use some medicine myself right about now. Why don’t you come in and I’ll go and fetch us a couple of glasses. Please, make yourself comfortable in the living room. I’ll be back in a flash.”
When I returned, I handed over a glass of my finest Kentucky bourbon, Makers Mark if I do recall correctly, to the man who had been my postman for the last eleven years. The man who had delivered my youngest boy his first grade report card. The man who had delivered all those “Get Well Soon” cards to my daughter when she’d been sick with pneumonia and had to miss school for two entire weeks. The man who had delivered the wedding ring I had purchased from one of those TV shopping networks my wife had loved so much. As I sat there across from Harold, listening to his story, I began to realize just how much and how often he had touched my life, and the lives of my dead family. It became clear, as his story drew to a close, that he had just touched my life again in a way I would never have expected. Nor have ever wanted.