Helping Hands, Part 8

Ven’s footfalls echoed in his new apartment as he re-entered. Quentin called from the bathroom, “Mind if I unpack the box in here? Looking for soap, and a towel.”

“Go for it. Should be in there.” Ven’s answer was swiftly followed by the sound of packing tape ripping from cardboard. The young man kept walking into the apartment’s living room, which returned fewer echoes now that the furniture, boxes, and moving crates had been delivered. He navigated through the towers of his possessions to a large bay window.

Large drops of rain began falling, and splattering against the window. The predicted front had arrived, and looked to be a typical spring storm, swift but violent. The large splattering drops suddenly gave way to a steady torrential drumbeat, and by the time Ven heard Quentin open the bathroom door, the downpour had become an enormous gray curtain, as loud as it was opaque.

“Bonnie and the children should have made it to the car before it started coming.” Ven nodded in response to Quentin, then lowered his eyes and placed his hands wide on the window sill.

“Putting your bed frame together’s a two-person job. We could probably get that done before they return.”

“Good idea.” Head bowed, hands remaining on the sill, Ven closed his eyes. Promise me, that you’ll talk to Quentin.

“So, why don’t we — ”

“Aidan volunteered to help me today.” After he spoke, Ven’s eyes opened.

Honest Truth

I’ve written a number of times about The Manic Years, where Megan relates her personal struggle with bipolar disorder. While the blog started as Megan’s therapy assignment, she has transformed it into a platform for discussing mental health issues. Megan actively solicits and posts stories from other writers about their own emotional struggles — she encourages each contributor to believe “that your experience will touch someone else’s life.”

I believe in what Megan’s doing over at The Manic Years, and have therefore decided to contribute my own story to her blog. It’s not a terribly dramatic story, nor is it particularly insightful. I didn’t try to be brilliant, didn’t try to shock, didn’t pretend that I knew how to “fix” any particular ailment. In keeping with the spirit of Megan’s blog, I wrote the truth about my experience, with as much honesty as I could muster. 

Helping Hands, Part 7

Nicholas was waiting outside the door of Ven’s new apartment. He stood tall, his freckled face beaming with pride. “Momma and me, we get all the boxes put away!”

Mother and I.” Quentin’s didactic response wiped his son’s enthusiasm away.

Bonnie-B appeared in the doorway, her son stepping aside for her, just before Ven arrived. She laid a gentle hand on Nicholas’ shoulder, as she looked at Ven. “We were wondering, since we’re done so early with the move, whether we should help you get started unpacking all your possessions.”

Ven sighed, and realized he was standing literally in the middle of the Richardson family, Bonnie-B and Nicholas in front of him, Quentin and Hannah behind. And it occurred to his actively curious mind how he was also in the middle of a life transition, no longer living in his college-town apartment where he would still be paying rent, but not quite living in his new dwelling in the city.

The young man cleared his throat. “Thanks, but I can’t ask for anything more of you. You have your own home, your own lives — I’ll be fine, really.” He looked down at Nicholas’ disappointed face, and raised his eyebrows. “But I did say I’d buy lunch for everyone, right?”

The Richardson children erupted with delight, and soon Bonnie-B, equipped with a pen from Quentin’s vest pocket and the back of an envelope from a utility bill Ven recovered from his backpack, was writing down everyone’s sandwich order. Quentin excused himself to use the bathroom, and the children raced to the elevator, leaving Ven and Bonnie-B alone a moment outside the apartment door.

Ven began retrieving bills from his wallet. “This should more than enough, even with drinks. They’ve got bottled iced tea, I like — ”

“Honey ginger, if I recall.” Ven looked up at Bonnie-B, expecting a smile of recognition. The sadness he saw in her face came almost as a shock to him.

“Ven.” From his new bathroom, Ven heard the toilet flush. “Promise me, that you’ll talk to Quentin.”

Ven opened his mouth to ask what they should discuss, but stopped at the silent command of her gaze, telling him that he already knew.

“I will.” And on hearing Ven’s words, Bonnie-B smiled, then touched his cheek. For a moment, Ven thought she was about to kiss him, but then she lowered her hand, excused herself, and walked towards her children waiting at the elevator.

Helping Hands, Part 6

Ven’s new apartment was on the seventh floor of a building that, while hardly new, had the benefit of being equipped with elevators. Ven drove to the rear lot, then backed the vehicle near a wide service door which lead to the building’s freight elevator. The Richardson children found more ways to assist (holding doors, using a cart provided by maintenance to transport heavy boxes), and unloading the van proved to run more smoothly and swiftly than had loading. After sending the final cartload up the freight elevator with Nicholas and Bonnie-B, Ven went back to the van and parked on the street outside the building. Exiting the vehicle, he glanced at the time on his phone — three minutes past one. Not too late to order out for lunch, and far too early to accept the Richardson’s dinner invitation.
Quentin and Hannah were inside the building’s glass-enclosed entry hall as Ven approached. Hannah was sitting quietly on a wooden bench, while Quentin stood tall, hands on his hips, his face beaming with satisfaction. He showed no sign of fatigue, which Ven found frustrating because the move had been physically taxing for him, despite taking less time than expected. Ven had been a cross-country runner in high school, and had retained his cardio-vascular endurance, but he also had the lithe upper body of a long-distance runner, which made lifting heavy boxes and bulky furniture a challenge for the young man. As he opened the building’s front door to Quentin’s effortless smile, Ven realized the armpits and collar of his t-shirt were damp with sweat, and his lower back ached. 

“Your efficiency is admirable.” As usual, there was no hint of irony in Quentn’s voice.

Ven pointed at Hannah. “You and your brother made it look easy!”

“It was.” Hannah bounced up from the bench as Ven and Quentin shared a laugh. The three then entered an elevator car, headed for the seventh floor.

From the corner of his vision, Ven saw Quentin tap Hannah’s upper arm, then nod as she looked up at him. Ven kept his eyes forward, pretending not to see their subtle exchange. The girl then turned to Ven — “Can you come to our house for lunch?”

Ven acted surprised. “Oh — thank you, that’s very sweet. But as you’re well aware, I’ve gotta whole lotta unpacking ahead of me.”

“The boxes can wait.” Quentin’s commanding voice reverberated in the small compartment, and Ven could feel his cold glare bearing down on him. He looked over, then up, to catch Quentin’s eyes.

“But I choose not to.”

The elevator door opened, but for a moment none of its occupants moved. Ven and Quentin stared at each other, refusing to blink, as Hannah remained still. The doors began to close, and Ven shot his arm forward without breaking his stare. Then, smiling softly, he looked down at Hannah. “After you.”

Helping Hands, Part 5

The rental van passed two stoplights, then came to a stop at a third. The silence at the front of the vehicle had stretched too long for Ven’s comfort, so Ven asked where the other Richardson children were this day.

“Penny and Truman are with the Perry’s.” Chris Perry’s face was a field of freckles; she was five, near the same age as the two younger Richardson children. “Quentin knew they wouldn’t be able to help much with the move, so he thought it best to keep them away.”

“I see.” The traffic light turned green, and the van lurched forward. “Tell them I said hi.”

“Of course.” Bonnie-B glanced out the side window, then back at Ven. “You could come over, after we’re done. Have dinner with us.”

Ven kept his eyes focused on the traffic ahead of him. The yellow sedan in front of him flicked its signal to turn right; they were travelling on a state route, two lanes in either direction with a center lane for left turns. Ven glanced at the side mirror, and saw no approaching vehicle; after a quick glance at the blind spot, he then maneuvered around the sedan, and continued travelling south.

“How does that sound?”

Upon hearing Bonnie-B’s question, Ven nearly apologized, but then his memory recalled her offer. He shook his head. “Sorry, I really want to get settled in to my new place tonight. Maybe some other time.”

“I understand.” They drove past a few more stoplights in silence, and Ven wondered if his refusal had offended Bonnie-B into silence. But to his relief, she then asked how his new job was working out.

“Fine. There’s a lot to learn, but the company’s got a good program for new employees. I’m pretty excited, actually.”

“Praise the Lord.” Ven opened his mouth, but Bonnie-B continued before he could reply. “Ven, I’m glad to see you chase this new opportunity, but I pray this doesn’t also mean you’ll be running away from us. We’ve only known you a few years, Ven, but you’re already like family to us. The children look up to you like the uncle they’ve never had. And I’ve seen how glad you’ve been around them. Even… ” She cleared her throat, and then continued softly. “Even these past few weeks.”

When she finished, Ven realized he was clenching his teeth. The van approached the street for his new apartment, and Ven flipped the turn signal, ca-click ca-click, the van stopping for a line of oncoming traffic. Ven bit his lower lip — “Hannah used to call Aidan her uncle, as well.”

ca-click, ca-click

The line of traffic passed, and the van then carried its silent passengers down to Ven’s new apartment building. 

Helping Hands, Part 4

Ven led the Richardsons through the front door of his apartment building. Hannah and Nicholas immediately raced up the stairs, then stopped and turned back on reaching the landing. Hannah called down — “Where do we go?”

“Third floor. Apartment 32, first door on the left. It’s open.” The children then raced away, leaving their parents and Ven to their slow ascent. The building had been erected without an elevator in the 1950s, and since it housed university students and recent graduates almost exclusively, no thought had ever been given to installing one to relieve the burden on its fresh-legged tenants.

Quentin, whose legs were too long to ascend a single step comfortably, began climbing two steps with each stride. Ven held back his own pace to stay with Bonnie-B, who asked if he was excited for the move.

“Relieved, more than anything else.” As they reached the second floor, a popular song with a rousing beat blared from an apartment down the hall. “Feel like I’ve been living out of boxes the last few days. Just want to get this over with.”

“Patience, Ven.” The young man always appreciated the calming sound of Bonnie-B’s voice. “You’ll be there soon enough. Try to live in the moment.” Ven returned her energetic smile, and for the first time that day was glad to have the Richardson’s assistance. He then looked up the final set of stairs, and saw Hannah, her short arms under the banker’s box that contained his few kitchen utensils. Her eyes were only slightly above the box’s lid, and her right foot was reaching blindly and with hesitation for the first step down.

“Whoa there!” Ven raced up the steps, and placed a hand on the front of the box. “Grab it by the handles, so you can see where you’re going.” He took the box from her, and demonstrated how to hold the box to give a clear view of her feet. Quentin then came, carrying three large boxes of books, each nearly too heavy for Ven to carry himself; father and daughter then began descending the stairs together, as Ven entered his apartment with Bonnie-B and Nicholas.

The boxes and crates were cleared from the apartment in three trips. The lightest containers were removed after the second, so Hannah was assigned guard duty outside the van as her family and Ven went up for the last run. Bonnie-B and Nicholas took down a pair of end tables and lamps, and were then relieved of further furniture duty. Ven struggled to keep up with Quentin as they moved the larger furniture down the narrow stairwells. Quentin’s remarkable strength and stamina, the qualities that made him a holy terror during touch football games at fellowship retreats, were on full display, and on many occassions Ven was convinced time would be saved by having Quentin do the work himself. Only his sense of responsibilty kept Ven from making that suggestion.

When the final piece of furniture (a futon Ven had purchased at a yard sale back in the fall) came down, a steady wind had begun, and clouds were forming overhead; the storm that Ven had heard in the forecast appeared on its way. The apartment now empty, Quentin then supervised the loading of the rental van, displaying the management and organizaitonal skills he had honed as a structural engineer. “Get the furniture and bulkier items into the van first — weight doesn’t matter. Now get the book boxes in, on the floor. Ven, where are those moving blankets I told you to ask for? Pack things in tight, don’t leave any space for stuff to slide around. Don’t leave anything fragile outside a box, if someone has to carry it on their lap that’ll be fine.” His tone was cool and commanding, his advice ever practical if not always easy to follow.

When Quentin closed the twin doors at the rear of the van, Ven glanced at his phone. Eighteen minutes before noon — they were far ahead of his most optimistic estimate. He was now definitely glad the Richardsons had come.

A sudden gust then swept across Ven’s face, and a raindrop fell on his forehead. He suggested they break for lunch, but Quentin dismissed the suggestion. “Let’s get you moved in to your new place, before the rain starts. Bonnie-B fixed us a big breakfast this morning, we’ll be fine with a late lunch.” Ven had barely eaten that morning, but the prospect of getting to his new place, and to avoid the weather, was more enticing than his hunger.

Nicholas looked up at his father. “Can I ride with Ven?” Ven flashed an approving smile at Quentin, but was met with a frown. “There’s no room in the back, and you’re not old enough to ride in the front.”

“I’ll ride with him.” Bonnie-B’s suprise offer surprised Ven, yet the idea instantly appealed to him. A moment later, he was behind the wheel with Bonnie-B in the passenger seat of the rental, followed by the Richardson’s sedan, as they headed south, away from the quiet college town where Ven had lived the past six years, into the city.  

Helping Hands, Part 3

“Is Mister Aidan coming today?” Like most of the children at the Living Gospel Fellowship, Hannah addressed and referred to adults with a combination of formality and familiarity, Mister or Miss (rarely Misses, and never Miz) followed by the first name. Ven found this odd but charming, and had no idea what to make of no longer being referred to as Mister Ven.

Hannah giggled as Ven stood and lifted her off the street. “He’s — ” the young man searched for a safe alibi — “he couldn’t make it today.”

“How is Aidan?” Bonnie-B stepped out from the parking lot, the wind gently blowing her shoulder-length brown hair. “It’s been so long since we’ve seen him.”

Ven glanced up to where Quentin had been standing, but the Richardson’s father had begun walking towards the stairway. “Aidan’s been busy lately.” He looked down, saw Bonnie-B’s patient face. He shook his head. “Yeah, I saw him last night. He’s got — a lot on his mind. But he’s OK.”

Hannah quickly hugged Ven’s neck, and he cried out in hyperbolic distress, as Nicholas tugged on his sleeve. “Father told me I need to lift some heavy boxes today.”

After patting Hannah on the back and then lowering her to the sidewalk, Ven got down to one knee again, his head level with Nicholas. “Gotta lot of sh — ” Ven coughed — “sorry, stuff up in my apartment. Need all the help I can get today!” Ven slapped Nicholas in the chest. “Think you’re up for it?” Nicholas curled his arms sideways, his face serious, and Ven laughed his approval as he stood.

Quentin strode toward them, his towering figure making his wife seem like a schoolgirl. “We’d best get started.” He shot a half-grin towards Ven, then — “There are some who believe this blessed weather won’t last.”

Helping Hands, Part 2

The Richardson’s sedan was parked on the upper level of a lot across from the apartment building. As Ven exited, he saw Quentin standing outside the sedan, his head held high as he smiled, his head turned towards the rear of the car. The sun was low in the spring sky, and was positioned directly behind Quentin’s head as Ven approached. Quentin turned toward Ven, but the older man’s features were obliterated by the sun’s brilliance; all Ven saw was the silhouette  of Quentin’s face, surrounded by a corona of light.

“Venerable!” Amoung Ven’s friends, Quentin was one of the few who addressed the young man by his full name. “The weather’s perfect, such a good day to move!”

Ven stopped at the curb, and put his hands in his pockets. “Just lucky, I guess.”

Quentin’s silhouette lifted its chin. “I believe the Lord is favoring you this day. You should thank Him, for His approval.”

“Huh.” The memory of an argument at a Bible study group during his junior year came to Ven; he shook his head, returning his attention to the present. “Forecast says there’s a front coming through this afternoon. Might be rain.”

“Really?” Quentin took a few steps to his right, the full force of the sun slamming into Ven’s eyes, causing him to blink. “Then perhaps, we should not hesitate.”

“VEN!” The sound of Hannah’s excited voice drew the young man’s attention down, to the street-level exit of the lot. Hannah, 11, and Nicholas, 9, ran towards Ven, their arms stretched wide. A cautionary voice spoke in Ven’s mind; he looked quickly in both directions of the street, but saw no approaching vehicles. Lowering himself down to one knee, he let the Richardson’s two older children tackle him in a frenetic embrace.  

Helping Hands, Part 1

[It’s been far too long since my last fiction project on this blog, and today’s as good as any to start a new work. Like many of my stories, this one’s been kicking around in my head for many years, and it feels good to finally commit to getting it out.]

Ven sat on the chair that he would soon carry down to the van he had rented for the day. The living room was a field of cardboard boxes and plastic crates, filled with the belongings (mostly books and electronics) that Ven had accumulated over the past six years. His roommate had moved out the prior evening, both of them agreeing not to assist in the other’s move, and Ven had finished packing by 11; when he had woken that morning to the quiet and empty rooms, he no longer felt comfortable in the apartment where he had lived in the two years since he had graduated.

Late morning sunlight reflected sharply off the bare floor. Ven took out his phone, checked the time — 9:54. If Quentin and Bonnie-B were their typically selves, they’d arrive in exactly six minutes. A thought came to him, or more exactly returned once again, to call or text the Richardsons, tell them they shouldn’t bother themselves, he really didn’t have that much stuff and could handle the move on his own. But what had Aidan told him at the bar the other night? You need to let them help you get your skinny little ass down to the city. And no, I’m not available.

The young man rose from his chair, side-stepped past the boxes and crates on his way to the bathroom. He didn’t need to relieve himself, he just needed to move, work out some of the anxiety he was feeling. His caught his reflection in a mirror, and paused, examining his face. He thought he looked terrible, not having shaved in two days, or showered after packing his toiletries yesterday. His hair had grown into rough brown tufts, like a weed-infested field; he was weeks overdue for a trim. He couldn’t look like this for the Richardsons, they were always so clean and well-groomed, like they were perpetually ready for a family portrait.

He ran the faucet, wet his fingers and began stroking his hair, when he felt his phone vibrating in his pocket. He took out the device, examined the incoming message. We’re here! Ven sighed, and without responding to the message, quickly exited his apartment and began walking down the stairs to the entrance.

Friday Fictioneers: Within Belief

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

“Not always.” Craig36 AZ-19 pointed at the blank wall in front of them, and teleped the Archives. As the image formed, Winifred82 AZ-02 gasped.

“Is that — the sky?”

“Yes.” Craig36 smiled. “I stumbled across this during my research last week. It’s dated before the Cyber War, before clouds had completely covered the atmosphere. Before we needed the solar farm satellites.”

Winifred82 turned, her envirosuit constraining her movement. “But the sun’s hidden in this picture. You couldn’t find any pictures of the sun?”

Craig36 adjusted his suit’s oxygen filter. “I did. But I figured you’d find those beyond belief.”

Every week, Rochelle Wisof-Fields hosts Friday Fictinoneers, where the objective is to write a complete story in 100 words or less in response to a photograph. I encourage you to learn more about Friday Fictioneers and view other responses to this week’s prompt by clicking the little blue frog.