Beneath the Spin * Eric L. Wattree
"Momma! There's a man at the door."
"Who is it"?
"He said his name is Gerry."
When Vern got to the door, she couldn't believe her eyes. Why, it was Gerry Minyard. She and Monty hadn't seen him in over 10 years, and she knew when Monty found out that Gerry was here he would be delighted. She also knew that now that Gerry had shown up at their door after so many years, it meant the end of their plan to leave for San Francisco that evening. But she didn't mind. She loved seeing Gerry, and she couldn't wait to see Monty's face when he found out he was here.
"Gerry! How are you? We thought the world had swallowed you up."
Gerry just sort'a smiled and said, "you know, you wouldn't have been too far off. You know how I am, here a day, there a day, never in any one place too long."
"Well, I gotta tell you, Gerry, you are the last person that we thought we would see out here. Just before we moved here to Covina, Monty tried to find you to give you our new address, but they told him that you had quit United and had left town."
"Yeah, I got tired of staying in one place, and after Monty left United to go to work at Rockwell, I ran out of Liberals to argue with, so I got bored and left."
Vern laughed as she said, "Yeah, I can see how that would really be a hardship on you, Gerry.
Have a seat, Gerry. I know I don't have to tell you to make yourself at home. You're like family, so this is your home. Let me get you a beer."
"That sounds good, Vern. Where's the big shot?"
"He's in the shower..."
At just that moment Monty yelled from the bathroom. "Vern! what time does the plane leave?"
Vern put her fingers to her lips warning Gerry not to say anything. She wanted to surprise Monty.
"We're on Trans Western flight 301. It leaves LAX at 6pm."
Monty walked into the living room wearing slacks and a T-shirt, but he had a towel over his head drying his hair, so he didn't see Gerry. "Baby, I can't wait to show you this little place on the Wharf..."
Then Gerry said, "and I can't wait to see it, darlin'."
Even before he brought the towel down, Monty was yelling out Gerry's name. "Gerry, Gerry, GERRY! How the hell are you man?"
As Monty grabbed and hugged Gerry and began to go through all of the questions that one asked a close friend that one had lost touch with, Vern began to reflect on this most unusual friendship.
Monty and Gerry met about 15 years ago while they both worked for United Office Equipment Company. Monty had just graduated from college, and was coming into the company as an assistant warehouse manager. Gerry had already been working for the company for a couple of years, but as a casual laborer. The company had offered Gerry a regular job but Gerry turned them down. He said he would rather work on a day to day basis, that way he wouldn't feel tied down.
What made this friendship so endearing to everyone who witnessed it is the fact that it was so unlikely. Monty is a 37 year-old college educated black man whose politics is left of center. Gerry, on the other hand, is a 57 year-old Irishman. A Reagan conservative, who may, or may not have finished high school. They don't agree on anything. Every night they would sit up over a bottle of gin and argue about politics until well into the night. If a person didn't know 'em they'd think they were bitter enemies. Gerry would call Monty A subversive commie sympathizer, and Monty would call Gerry a reactionary, brown shirt fascist. Yet, they have an affection for one another that defies description. It went beyond politics. Monty, who's kind of distant toward people by nature, loved Gerry like family, and it was clear that Gerry felt the same way toward him. Vern always felt that Gerry sort of adopted them as the family he didn't have--or, at least, never spoke about.
Gerry lived a hard, but romantic life. He reminded Vern of one of Steinbeck's characters. He seemed to have stepped right out of The Grapes of Wrath--A tall, slim, Irish drifter with handsome, but rugged features. He never stayed in any one place too long. Vern suspected he just didn't want to develop any lasting affections like the one he had stumbled upon with them. For that reason, she suspected, he wasn't above hopping a freight train and traveling to the next state on just a whim. He traveled real light, but he certainly wasn't a bum. If he made eighty dollars a day working one of his many day-jobs, forty of it would go in the bank. He had helped Monty and Vern out of some really tough spots when they were younger--and wouldn't allow them to pay him back. "I don't lend money to people I care about--I give it to them. Besides, I don't ever remember you charging me for dinner when I eat up your food." He's a unique individual.
"So you're going up to Frisco, uh? Nice town--I spent five years up there one day."
Monte said, "What?"
"Aw, it wasn't nothing," said Gerry. "I'll tell you the story one day. I was passing through there one day and got into a barroom brawl that got a little out of hand, but that was another time and place." Then as though snapping himself back into the present he said, "Maybe I should have called before I came by."
Monte said, "Don't be ridiculous, Gerry. We were just going up to the bay area because we have a little time on our hands, and we didn't have anything else to do - not to mention that it gave us a chance to get away from our little darlin's for awhile," and he cut his eyes over toward the kids.
Just then Vern came from the rear of the house. "I just called the airline and canceled our flight until tomorrow night."
Gerry said, "You didn't have to do that for me. I didn't intend to come here and ruin your plans."
"Gerry," said Vern, "if we had known we were gonna to see you this weekend, we never would have made plans in the first place--and besides, we have two months to go any place we like. Now, I'm going to make you some of my famous enchiladas that you use to love so much."
Gerry's eyes lit up and he said, "Now I can live with that," as his eyes followed Vern as she headed for the kitchen. "You're a lucky man, Monty."
"I know. It's almost as though we were made for one another."
Gerry said, "Actually, I think you were."
But Monty didn't hear him. He'd become wrapped up in his thoughts of how perfect life had been since he and Vern had been married.
"Gerry," said Monty, assuming that expression of total seriousness that Gerry had come to know so well, " it's almost like divine intervention. Every since we've been married it seems that our life had taken on a life of it's own. Even when we do something stupid, it seems to turn out right."
Vern stuck her head out of the kitchen. "You know, Gerry, Monty's right. Take the kids, for example. We got married as soon as Monty got out of the service. We were babies ourselves, and we didn't know a thing about bringing up kids, and yet, our two kids have been nothing but a joy to us. We haven't had one problem out of either of them."
"Have you ever thought,"" said Gerry, "that it just might be divine intervention?".
"There you go," Monty broke in, "still tryin' to save my soul. Man, you ain't been here ten minutes and you tryin’ to slip Pat Robinson through the backdoor already. Don't you know by now that you ain't gon' ever sell me on that Moral Majority stuff? Those people are neither moral, nor a majority--their most earnest prayer is that I drown tryin' to swim my way back to Africa--and the way you drink, smoke and cuss, you can’t believe that stuff yourself."
Gerry fell-out laughing. Monty really had a way with gettin' to the bottom line, but Gerry was determined to get his point across in this decade old debate between them.
"Listen Monty, I'm not a part of any Moral Majority--I don't care for them myself. I've come to agree with you over the years on that issue. But don't you think, organized religion aside, that there just might be some force in the universe that lends a hand to prevent man from destroying himself?"
"Yes. I do believe that," Monty replied. "In fact, I believe that the universe itself, and everything that is a part of it, is God. Where I have a problem is when man tries to make God in man's image. They try to make him look like us--or, at least y'all. They try to make him think like us, and try to make him as silly as us. God doesn't have to be a person, he could be the universe itself. So I don't have to have faith. People who claim to have ‘faith’ don’t have faith in God. They’re faith is in man, and what he tells them about God. But I know there's a God, because as far as I'm concerned, God is whatever force that put all of this in motion, and a sin is when you do anything to violate the laws of nature.
They went on like that for some time, until Vern interrupted saying, "You guys are getting a little heavy in there. Come on and eat. The food is ready. Taylor , Lil' Monty! Come and eat your dinner."
When Taylor and Lil' Monty got to the table, Gerry said, "Man, these don't look like the two babies that I remember. And why are you calling this man Lil' Monty? He's as tall as his father."
Taylor said, "Taller. He's an inch taller than my father, and he's only 14 years old."
"I see you're still proud of your little brother. I remember when you two were about two feet tall--well, he wasn't but about a foot and a half. Even then, you used to say, "My little brother can count to ten. My little brother can say his ABC's."
Taylor began to blush.
"Don't be ashamed. There's nothing wrong with loving your brother. That's one of the things that sets this family apart, makes it special--you’re full of love. Most of the world is full of something else, but we won't get into that."
After dinner, and after Gerry finished raving over Vern's enchiladas they went back into the living room to have a few beers and laughed and talked the night away. Monty had persuaded Gerry to stay over, promising to take him back to L.A. on the way to the airport.
Monty said, "I see you're still smoking those old nasty Pall Mall Reds."
"If I remember correctly", said Gerry, "they didn't use to bother you that much when you were bumming ‘em off me at United. I had to bring an extra pack every morning just for you. I bet you owe me 32 thousand dollars, just in cigarettes."
They all started laughing, then Monty said, " Aw man, you're making me sound like a bum. The only reason that I use to ask you for cigarettes is because I was trying to quit smoking."
"Yeah", said Gerry, "and from the cigarette in your hand, I see you're still trying." He look up toward the ceiling and said, " ten years later, Lord, and he's still trying to quit--but, at least he has his own cigarettes."
That's when Vern chimmed in, "uh uh Lord, 'dem my cigarettes."
"Take it from an old red-neck", said Gerry, "he'll never change, Lord." Then they all fell out laughing.
They stayed up laughing and partying until the wee hours of the morning. It had been years since Monty and Vern had enjoyed anyone so much.
The next morning Vern got up early. She thought it might be nice if they all got up to an early breakfast and maybe take Gerry on a little outing. Maybe they could go to Puttingstone Reservoir, he'd probably like that. They might even be able to persuade him to stay another day. She'd like that. She couldn't remember when she had enjoyed a house guest so much.
When she got up and went into the kitchen she was surprised to find that the kitchen was spotless. When she went to bed it was a mess. She was enjoying Gerry so much that she hadn't found time to get to it. She knew the kids hadn't done it because they were already asleep, and it was after 3 in the morning when Gerry, Monty, and herself had turned in. Maybe one of the darlings had gotten up early to do it, knowing she had stayed up late and might be too tired to face it this morning. She loved those kids, they were so thoughtful.
She went to Lil' Monty's room to check on them. Lil' Monty had bunk beds, so whenever a guest stayed over the guest used Taylor's room, and Taylor would take one of the bunks in her brother's room.
LiL' Monty looked up sleepily from his bed.
"Where's your sister, Monty?"
"She's in her room."
"She can't be in there. Gerry's in her room."
"Who's Gerry, momma?"
"You know, your daddy's friend--the one who stayed over last night."
Lil' Monty was becoming wider awake, now. "Momma, there wasn't anyone over here last night."
"Monty! the man who had dinner with us last night!" Vern was becoming irritated, now. The boy must still be asleep.
Lil' Monty was wide awake in earnest, now. He looked concerned. "Momma, nobody had dinner with us last night. You and daddy were supposed to be going to the airport, but when daddy got out of the shower you guys went in the room, laid down, and went right off to sleep. We tried to wake you, but we couldn't, so we just let you sleep. We put a pizza in the oven and watched T.V. for a while, and then we went to bed."
"Wait a minute, damn it! I know I ain't crazy." Vern rushed to Taylor's room and opened the door. Taylor was in her bed sound asleep. "Taylor! wake up!"
"What’s the matter, momma?"
"Taylor, don't you remember answering the door for Gerry yesterday?"
"Gerry! Your daddy's friend!"
"I did'nt answer the door for anybody yesterday." Taylor looked over at her brother with a bewildered expression on her face. Lil' Monty started laughing.
"Momma been dreamin'." Now they both started to laugh.
"Naw, naw--hell naw! That whatn't no damn dream. Go wake up your daddy!" The kids went into the bed room to wake their father.
"Daddy, daddy. Wake up daddy. Momma wants you to come to Taylor's room."
"Momma said to come there for a minute." When Monty walked into Taylor's room he immediately asked, "Where's Gerry?"
"DAMN IT! I KNEW I WASN’’T CRAZY!"
Vern began to relate to Monty what had happened that morning. In spite of the fact that the kids insisted that nobody came over the night before, they were sure that Gerry had been there. At first they thought the kids were playing games with them, but the enchiladas were still in the refrigerator, untouched, and wrapped in foil. And another thing, when Monty woke up he was still wearing the towel he placed around him when he'd gotten out of the shower.
Just then, the phone began to ring. Taylor went over and picked it up. She said, "They're here...no...they fell asleep." Then she turned around and said, "Granny's on the phone crying. She said turn on the TV."
Monty went over and switched on the TV. When the TV came to life it showed the picture of a smoking plane crash. Dan Rather was saying, "Trans Western flight 301 between Los Angeles and San Francisco lost power and crashed into a schoolyard shortly after takeoff from LAX, killing everyone aboard."
Varn just collasped onto the sofa in shock. "That's the plane we would have been on if Gerry hadn't..."
Monty and Vern could only look at each other. Both knew what the other was thinking, but the words wouldn't come out.
"Vern, tell your mother you'll call her back. I'm gon'na call Carl."
Carl had worked at United Office Equipment with Monty and Gerry. Maybe he had Gerry's phone number and they could figure out just what was going on.
Vern was relieved when she heard Monte exchanging pleasantries with Carl. She wasn't sure Carl had the same number--they hadn't spoken to him in over seven years. But the conversation seemed endless. She wanted Monty to get off the phone so they could get to the bottom of this strange occurrence. Finally she heard the conversation winding down.
...."Are you sure about that, Carl? Ok. Thanks."
When Monty hung up the phone he had tears in his eyes. He told Vern to sit down.
"Gerry died three years ago. Carl and Rudy went to his funeral. They tried to contact us but our name wasn't in the Los Angeles directory. We must of both had Gerry on our minds yesterday and had similar dreams."
"Similar my ass," said Vern, "It was the SAME dream, buddy!"
"Well", said Monty, stranger things have happened."
"Monty, you're always trying to be so clinical."
"That's because there's a logical explanation for any and everything that happens in life", said Monty. Vern was seated and looking down at the floor with her hands between her legs. When she looked up, she had a distant, but knowing look in her eye. She said,"Oh yeah, then explain this." She brought her clasped hands from between her legs to reveal a brand new pack of Pall Mall Reds.
At just that moment, the vertical blinds began to rattle from a pronounced breeze that whipped through the house. Monty wiped the tears from his eyes, looked up at the ceiling, and said, "Still a ham, uh Gerry?"
Eric L. Wattree