The Blind Shall See and the Lame Shall Walk ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(Note: This is a continuation of my previous short story, “Domestic Disturbance on Quiet Street.”)
When I was seven or eight, I was still sometimes afraid of the dark. If I left a light on upstairs, my father made me go up and turn it off—I was wasting electricity, of course and costing money—and that meant I had to come back down the stairs by myself in the dark. Sometimes after turning off the light, I saw Boris Karloff coming after me or Baby Jane Hudson and, running downstairs, I almost fell and broke my leg, but after I got downstairs I didn’t let on that I was afraid because I would have been laughed at and called a baby. (What, you’re still afraid of the dark at your age? When are you ever going to grow up?)
I liked being by myself during daylight (as opposed to dark) hours, but in third grade my mother thought I was still too young to stay by myself after school, so I had to go to great-grandma’s house for a couple of hours every day until my parents were home from work. Great-grandma wasn’t as much fun as she might have been if she had been twenty or thirty years younger, but I didn’t mind spending time at her house. She had some interesting people living there.
About a week after the terrible nighttime fight between great-grandma’s renters, Mr. and Mrs. Owsley, I found Joyce Owsley in the back yard sitting underneath the cherry tree. I ran toward her, making her duck, and shimmied up the tree to the first branch. I was showing off a little bit, of course.
“Why weren’t you at school today?” I asked, standing on the limb over her head like Tarzan.
“My temperature was a hundred and two this morning,” she said.
“You look okay now, though,” I said.
“I’m very, very sick.”
“Miss Wessel was looking for you today,” I said.
“What did she want?”
“I don’t know. I think she wanted to give you a great big kiss.”
“Ugh! She needs to save her kisses for the janitor.”
I laughed and jumped down, just barely missing her foot. She gave a shudder, as though I turned her stomach or something.
“You’re a very odd girl,” I said.
“So are you,” she said.
“Well, for your information, I’m not a girl. I’m a boy.”
“Oh, really? I hadn’t noticed. You all look the same to me.”
She picked up a doll that was on the ground behind her and cradled it in her arms.
“What you got there?” I asked.
“What does it look like?”
It had bald patches on its head and one eye permanently closed.
“I looks like shit,” I said. “What happened to it?”
“It’s not an it. It’s a she. Her name is Isabelle and she’s been in a terrible automobile accident. She was in a coma but now she’s better.”
She held the doll to her imaginary breast to suckle it.
“You’re weird,” I said.
“Not as weird as you are.”
“Hey, that was some fight your parents had the other night!” I said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“You shouldn’t have been watching. They don’t like to be looked at when they’re fighting.”
“Great-grandma called the sheriff.”
“Where were you when the fighting was going on?”
“I was hiding under the bed with Cherry. Oona was hiding in the closet.”
“Weren’t you scared?”
“No, we were laughing. We’re used to it.”
“Is your daddy still in jail?” I asked.
“I don’t know and I don’t care. I hope they throw away the key.”
“What does that mean? ‘Throw away the key’?
“It means they keep him in jail forever.”
“Aren’t you going to visit him in prison?”
“If they let him out and he comes home and sees your momma’s new boyfriend, won’t that make him mad?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I saw him yesterday. He came up and knocked on the door and your momma let him in. Great-grandma said he’s been here every day since they took your daddy away in the patrol car.”
“You must mean Patsy. Patsy’s not a man. She’s a woman.”
“Do you mean that man I saw go into your apartment was really a woman?”
“That shows how stupid you are. You don’t know the difference between a man and a woman.”
“He was smoking a cigar!”
“Can’t a woman smoke a cigar?”
“He was wearing a man’s clothes and had a man’s butch haircut.”
“I’m going to tell her you’re referring to her as a man. She’ll come out and slap the shit out of you.”
“You mean he’s here now? Inside your apartment?”
“They’re very close friends. Patsy is momma’s spiritual advisor.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means they sit on the couch and hold hands while momma cries and moans about how terrible her life is. Patsy says soothing in her ear.”
“What things? About how pretty she is?”
“No. About how Jesus will never let her down and, as bad as life is on this earth, there’s a better world coming.”
“Patsy’s a preacher?”
“She’s a Penny Cost.”
“It’s a kind of church. Haven’t you ever heard of the Penny Cost church?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Well, don’t go making fun of people’s religion.”
“I’m not!” I said.
“Momma thinks Patsy is great because she only drinks beer and no hard liquor. Patsy has almost got momma wanting to join the Penny Cost.”
“Are you going to join the Penny Cost?” I asked.
“Your whole family is weird,” I said.
“Not as weird as yours.”
She closed her eyes and continued to nurse Isabelle. I was going to catch a bug and put it on her arm to make her scream, but I didn’t see any bugs close at hand, so I gave up on the idea. Without another word, I turned and went into the house to watch Superman.
On Saturday morning, Joyce Owsley and I were in great-grandma’s front yard, sitting in the big wooden chairs.
“I have to go down to the store for great-grandma,” I said to Joyce. “You want to walk down with me?”
“I’m sick, remember?” she said. “I’m not supposed to walk anywhere.”
“That’s stupid,” I said.
“No, it’s not!”
“You’re just a big baby,” I said. “If you don’t quit missing so much school, they’re going to flunk you.”
“You just need to mind your own damn business,” she said.
We were going on in that way, with our own kind of playful arguing, when Maurice Owsley, Joyce’s daddy, pulled up in front of the house in his green pickup truck. He honked his horn to get Joyce’s attention and she went over to him.
After she stood and talked to him out on the street for a couple of minutes, she went into the house. She was in there for a few minutes and when she came back out she motioned to Mr. Owsley sitting in his truck that everything was okay. Then she came back over to where I was sitting.
“What was that all about?” I asked. “Is he home to stay now?”
“No, he just came by to get his clothes. He wanted me to go in and tell momma that he was coming in.”
“They’re not going to get into another fight, are they?”
“No, momma and Patsy went out the back door. They’ll sit in the back yard until he’s gone.”
“I’d like to see Patsy and your daddy get into a fight. It would be like watching two men fight. I’ll bet Patsy could take him.”
“That’s not going to happen. Patsy’s in it for the Lord. She’d rather die than fight with anybody.”
“Are you sure Patsy is really a woman?” I asked. “She looks too much like a man to be a woman.”
“How many times do I have to tell you? If you don’t believe me, you can ask her. She’ll let you feel her muscle.”
“No thanks,” I said.
“She’s staying here all the time now,” Joyce said. “She and momma sleep in the same bed together, just like husband and wife.”
“Your family is really messed up!” I said.
“Not as much as your family,” she said. “Do you think Elvis Presley is sexy? Yes or no?”
I thought great-grandma would be appalled that Patsy moved in right after Mr. Owsley moved out, but she was strangely tolerant.
“I don’t care what people do as long as they keep it to themselves,” she said. “They’re quiet now and they pay the rent on time. That’s about as much as I can expect from trashy people like that.”
“Did you know Patsy’s a Penny Cost?” I asked.
“Well, we can’t all be perfect,” she said.
“She’s also a woman and not a man.”
“Don’t you think I have eyes in my head?”
The next week Joyce was at school every day. When I saw her on the playground at recess, she ignored me so I ignored her. On Friday after school when I was walking down the hill to great-grandma’s house, I looked up and there she was walking right beside me.
“Just because I’m walking home with you doesn’t mean I like you,” she said.
“I don’t care if you like me or not,” I said. “I don’t like you very much.”
“That suits me fine,” she said.
“Great-grandma likes having Patsy around,” I said.
“She said that?”
“Not exactly, but she thinks Patsy is really quiet and well-behaved after your daddy.”
“Momma and daddy are getting a divorce. I think daddy already has him another wife lined up to marry after the divorce goes through.”
“Are your momma and Patsy going to get married?”
She huffed with exasperation. “Patsy is a woman!” she said. “How many times do I have to tell you that?”
“Oh, yeah. I keep forgetting. She looks just like a man.”
“Momma says that maybe Patsy is just what she’s always needed. She’s through with men, she says. They’re too aggressive.”
I laughed even though I didn’t know what I was laughing at.
“Did you join the Penny Cost?” I asked.
“Not yet, but momma did. She’s a full-fledge Penny Cost now. She and Patsy go to all the services. They’re having a revival at the Penny Cost church soon. I’m going one night just to see what it’s like. Would you like to go?”
“What’s a revival?”
“It’s where sinners get revived. I think it’ll be a lot of fun. They’re going to have the laying-on of hands and spiritual healings.”
“’The blind shall see and the lame shall walk’. Haven’t you ever heard of that?”
“We don’t have that at the Methodist,” I said.
We began to see Patsy around the house every day: bringing in groceries, mowing the lawn, playing catch with Cherry and Oona. One day when I was standing in the front yard by myself she came over to me and smiled and put her fingers on the side of my head.
“Have you been a good boy?” she asked.
I could have come up with a smart reply, but all I said was, “I guess so.”
“Do you mind if I pick you up?” she asked.
“Just to see how heavy you are. Just for a sec.”
She picked me up in her arms and held me so that my face was close was to hers and I could smell her cigar breath. She didn’t have any whiskers or stubble on her cheeks or upper lip, so I knew then that she really was a woman and not a man.
I put my hand on her hard-as-iron bicep. “Are you a weight lifter?” I asked.
“I used to be in my younger days,” she said.
She set me back down on my feet and said, “The Lord is thinking of you and he wants you to think of him.”
“Okay,” I said.
Whenever we saw Beulah Owsley now, she looked different; not so mean anymore. She smiled a lot and looked cleaner. She was taking a bath regularly now, combing her hair and keeping her Goodwill dresses clean. The most important thing for great-grandma was that the crazy yelling had stopped.
As a soon-to-be-divorced woman, Beulah Owsley had to go to work now to support herself and her three daughters. She wanted a job with dignity that didn’t involve domestic work, but jobs were hard to find. She applied for a job in the recorder of deeds office, but they wouldn’t hire her because her typing wasn’t good enough. She couldn’t get a waitressing job because they only wanted young women with large breasts and good-looking legs. She had large hips and thick ankles, but that’s about all.
Finally she got a job at the shoe factory because they were willing to hire middle-aged women with no previous experience. The work was hot and smelly and made her joints ache, but at the end of the week when she had her paycheck in her hand, it all became worthwhile.
After a few paychecks, she had enough money for a down payment on a used Chevrolet. With her good fortune, she began to feel magnanimous and wanted to do good things for people. Patsy told her that was the only way to get into heaven.
Beulah Owsley had always ignored Lonnie Legg, but now she began making overtures to him. Deaf from birth, he didn’t speak because the only way people learn to talk is by hearing other people talk. Poor lonely, isolated Lonnie Legg. He lived alone in great-grandma’s upstairs apartment with no friends and no family.
Lonnie and Beulah now had something in common. They both worked at the shoe factory. I can only imagine the look on Lonnie Legg’s face when Beulah approached him with a big horsey smile and a note pad. I’m sure she made him very uncomfortable because he wasn’t used to being approached by large, frightening women.
She began giving him a ride to work at the shoe factory, a couple days a week at first and then every day. They wrote notes back and forth and sometimes laughed and blushed. She wanted to learn sign language so she could teach it to him, she said. When she found out he could read lips, she began speaking always in a loud, clear voice. Lonnie began to smile more and seemed generally happier. To those who paid attention to such things, his hair and fingernails were cleaner and his clothes looked less slept in.
With Beulah and Lonnie such good pals, I thought Patsy might be jealous, but Joyce said she wasn’t.
“Patsy doesn’t have a jealous bone in her body,” she said.
“Have you checked all her bones?” I asked.
“She thinks it’s God’s work.”
“That momma and Lonnie Legg should be brought together.”
“Do you think they might get married?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “I don’t think momma would want to go that far.”
“She can find out all of Lonnie Legg’s secrets and let everybody in on them so people will stop wondering.”
“I don’t think she cares about his secrets,” Joyce said. “She’s only interested in what’s in his heart.”
“What is in his heart?” I asked.
“Only God knows,” she said.
When Patsy and Beulah heard about a famous faith healer named Sister Ina Beasley coming to Penny Cost for the revival, they became excited. They would personally escort Lonnie Legg to the service and see if Sister Ina Beasley could fix his hearing. And wouldn’t it be something if he could hear for the first time in his life? Wouldn’t he be surprised at all the good and bad sounds in the world? He would be surprised just at the sound of his own voice, which at first probably wouldn’t sound like much. He’d have to learn to talk a little bit at a time the way a baby would.
The laying-on-of-hands faith healing revival was on a Wednesday night. I wanted to go, but my mother said I was only being a voyeur. I told her I didn’t know what that meant, and then she reduced it to simpler terms by telling me I couldn’t go because it was a school night and I had to get up early the next day. She was right, of course, but I sure wanted to see the look on Lonnie Legg’s face when he realized, for the first time in his life, that he could hear. I thought he would probably just about float away with the joy of it.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp