East on St James
by Rick Beck
The Fisherman & The Storyteller
As Dury parked behind the shops, on his walk to PV1, he saw Keith near the edge of the lake behind the kitchen.
"You're looking dapper this morning, Dury," Keith said, watching him approach.
"Fishing for our supper?" Dury asked.
"I promised Lisa fresh fish from our lake for lunch."
"You're standing here holding a pole because Lisa likes fish? Wouldn't a fish monger take less time and be easier on you?"
"I love to fish and Lisa's lunch gives me an excuse to go fishing."
"And if you don't catch something?"
"I will," Keith said. "I always do. I'm a fisherman."
"Fish monger sounds easier," Dury said. "There are over a hundred people to feed at PV. Please don't try to catch us all dinner on fish fry night."
"I never fry fish, Dury, and the fish monger doesn't enjoy fishing the way I do. I often fished in New Orleans. There were flood walls a ten minute walk from the restaurant. Many a morning I began my day fishing for my supper. Nothing better than the fresh catch of the day."
"Yes, and it's already packed in oil. Those oil companies think of everything. You catch your fish and cook it in the same oil."
"That's a more recent phenomena. There was oil in the gulf way back when, but it was more water than oil in those days."
"Kids, Keith?" Dury said with some concerns. "We need to talk about the kids, Keith."
"Yes, I've been meaning to mention them to you. No good time for a conversation about how they got here and why I'm feeding them, is there?"
"Do you know where they came from? What made them pick Pleasant Valley?"
"Beginning at the beginning is usually a good place to start."
"Works for me," Dury said.
"One morning I was doing prep. Someone yelled, 'there's a boy at the back door asking for you, Keith.' I went to see who it was. David stood inside the back door with his hat in his hand. He's maybe sixteen. He could be older. 'I was told that you'd feed me if I asked,' he said, once I told him I was Keith. I'm buying their food out of my money. I don't fee them Pleasant Valley food."
"You think I'm worried about the few dollars a day you give to hungry kids? Don't feed them differently than you feed us. How much do we waste each day?"
"OK! I thought you'd be mad, because they're kids," Keith explained.
"The thought came to me but they're here. They nee to be fed. How many?"
"David and nine other boys. He seems to be the leader. He was the one who came first a week ago. Dury, he's me. Those boys are me. That was me thirty years ago and a little old lady took me in and gave me an education that would keep me for the rest of my life."
"Don't think I didn't give that some thought. I understood you couldn't turn them away, but now that they're here, we're responsible. They can't simply hang around. There has to be some discussion. We've got to make arrangements to include them somehow in Pleasant Valley. There may be resistance," Dury said.
"You aren't going to turn them over to the legal system?" Keith asked.
"That's what I should do but no, that won't end well if I do. We might be able to make a difference in their lives, but there are a lot of people we've taken responsibility for. I don't want to cause a crisis if it can be avoided. If we can find a way to blend them into the community, not disrupt it, but be helpful and an asset to Pleasant Valley."
"They're hungry. They aren't children. They've been living on the street. I can't let them go hungry," Keith said.
"We've passed that part of the conversation, Keith. I have an appreciation for your feelings on this. That's why we're talking. I need to inoculate Pleasant Valley from legal hassles because of this. I'm not sure how yet."
"Dury," Keith said.
"That first time I saw him, it was like deja vu, I said, 'You hungry, boy? Come on in here and I'll see if I can find you something to eat."
"Yeah!" Dury said.
"That's what Henrietta said to me. Those were her words. I knew I had to help him."
"I can see that. You're going to order enough to feed them? Extra containers so they can take food with them. Where do they live?"
"Over there," Keith said, indicating the forest. "They don't like being indoors. They fear being trapped by the cops. They feel safe in the woods."
"I've seen a couple of them in the hall," Dury said.
"That's funny," Keith said. "David was in the kitchen waiting for me to pack up some food. I always do that myself. Lisa paged me. One of the soldiers hadn't been down to eat all day."
"How did she know. Did he call to get a meal delivered?"
"Not a word. Lisa knows if one of the wounded warriors isn't eating. I guess she keeps an eye on them. She had me fix up that vets section, where all the wounded warriors can eat with their friends. This time she told me to prepare a couple of hot items and then a couple of sandwiches, so they'd be good if he decided to eat later. I told her there was no one in the kitchen but me, and David said, 'I'll take it if you want me to.'"
"I packed David's food. He won't eat in the kitchen. He takes the food to his friends and eats with them. He didn't come back and he didn't come back. I began to worry if I did the right thing."
"When he came back down for his food, he was all smiles. He said, 'He's a nice guy. His name is Danny. He's from Michigan. I think he's lonely. He wanted to talk. I figured just dropping off the food wasn't a good idea. He ate it while we talked. He started to nod off and I came back down.' I've used some of the boys to deliver food to the soldiers. They get along surprisingly well. I hope you don't mind," Keith said.
"We may have found something the boys are good at. Those soldiers aren't much older than our wounded warriors. They sound like a good match. We'll see if we can offer them some security. They just might fit in here," Dury said. "Maybe we can give them a chance at some kind of life. Just knowing Keith's story makes me think that we can do a major good for these boys, but we need to tread lightly for the time being. We need a plan."
"If giving vets a little peace of mind is against the law, it isn't much of a law. The way it stands, we get untold benefits from the boys being here. A vet eats and has company and one of the boys feels like he is being useful. That's a good outcome for all of us."
"That is an unexpected benefit I might not have predicted," Dury said. "Something's nibbling on your line there, Keith."
"No, not quite yet," Keith said, cautiously moving the pole into position. There were there irregularly jerks. And Keith jerked the pole and began winding in the line. "Got you, sucker!"
Keith lifted the pole again, furiously reeling in the line. In a minute he was holding an unhappy fifteen inch catfish.
"How the hell did you arrange that? You got yourself a fish," Dury bragged.
"I'm an old fisherman at heart. This isn't a fish. It's Lisa's lunch. I'll whip up some hush puppies and
"I hope she's hungry. Carl only began stocking the lake three months ago."
"I've been keeping my eyes open. I saw a nice fish jump put in the middle on Friday. I figured it was time to try my luck."
"You're a fisherman and a fisher of men. That's not an easy combination to come by. You always find a way to surprise me, Keith."
"I knew you'd help after you thought about it. Pleasant Valley is the best break these boys have gotten. They feel safe here, Dury. We all feel safe here."
Dury got out of his chair and stretched, putting the resources file into his briefcase to take home with him to work on that evening.
Picking up his plate from lunch, he carried it into the kitchen, where it was busy with dinner preparation. He didn't interrupt Keith to ask for his dinner to be fixed for him to take home with him. He left the plate and headed back toward his office. He'd go back for his dinner before he left for the day.
Dury was deep in thought when the change in atmospherics became heavy in the hallway near his office door. He looked past Lisa's office, wondering what a group of people were doing standing at the door of the Pleasant Valley library. Being a man who liked solving every mystery, he went to see what the attraction was. Every time he'd been in the library, it was empty.
"What's…?" was all he got to say before being shushed into silence.
Dury positioned himself to see inside. At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him. Dury checked his watch. It was two forty-five. There were two dozen people in the library. Men in chairs sat close to Joseph, a retired English teacher, who read from the book he held. The men in chairs formed a semi-circle facing Joseph's chair. Behind them were two rows of seats with senior couples and some random single residents, including Lisa.
Dury recognized the book by the time he focused on Joseph. He'd read Harper Lee's, "To Kill a Mockingbird" numerous times. In his early teens it was his favorite book and one of the forces that pointed Dury toward law as a profession. Dury realized he was no Atticus Finch. While he had tried to defend the defenseless early in his career. Life turned out to be nothing like Harper Lee's fiction. She made everything come out correctly in the end, but Dury had no such luck. He'd had no luck at all. The system ate up men who had never had a break, and the naive attorney's who thought they could save them.
He'd come a long way and he felt closer to Atticus Finch now that he was listening to the story on the far side of a successful legal career. It took no time at all for Dury to be caught up in Joseph's soft easy delivery. The words slipped off the page with his expressive and distinctive reading style. He'd been immediately drawn into the telling of a tale he could almost recite from memory.
Five people stood inside and around the door and Dury made six. He was disappointed when the reading came to an end.
"And that is the end of this chapter. I smell dinner and I'm afraid I'll weaken and roll out of my chair if I continue. Tomorrow at two then. We shall meet again. Thank you for coming."
"Oh, Mr. Lane, I almost knocked you down," the UPS man said. "I schedule my deliveries so I can take my lunch break here to hear Joseph read, and I don't even like books."
"That's a good one," Dury said, as the UPS man trotted away to resume his deliveries.
Dury listened to the applause. People spoke to Joseph, thanking him before leaving. Joseph's chair rolled to where Dury waited for him.
"Joseph, what a lovely reading. That's my favorite book, except for the Bible, of course."
"Ah, Mr. Lane. I'm delighted you like it. Yes, Harper Lee gave us a classic the first time out of the gate. I so wished she'd do a sequel so I'd have another gem for my students, but alas, genius doesn't always strike twice in the same place."
"We'll find you a larger room if you like? There was standing room only," Dury said. "I didn't imagine the library would be this popular. Many of those books came from my library at the house."
"The intimacy of the literature I read requires the storyteller not be too far from his audience. I think this is fine for the time being, Mr. Lane, but I appreciate your concern. We seem to have reached the maximum number of listeners for now. We had enough chairs until today. I'll ask for more for tomorrows reading."
"Call me, Dury, Joseph. Do you read every day at two? I guess I haven't been paying attention. I'll be here tomorrow."
"We started last week. I've always enjoyed reading to different groups. Pleasant Valley seems like a perfect fit for it. I've thought of moving to the gardens for the next book. That will be "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Have you read it?"
"No, not my cup of tea," Dury said.
"They did quite an excellent movie. They had McMurphy at the center of the story but in the book the story is told from the perspective of the Chief. I find that fascinating. A mute Indian tells the reader about the world he inhabits and the fascinating man who turns it upside down. It's far more enlightening when the white man isn't always center stage. We can learn from listening to unconventional voices, don't you think?"
"The white man often sets the stage, tells the tale, and guides the action," Dury said.
"Not in the Bible. Much of the Bible is written at a time when the Middle East male is in the center of the story, or stories, being told. I have noticed, in spite of that fact, in America, especially the South, the white man rules, even in Bible stories."
"We have a narrow perspective," Dury said. "We adapt things to our taste and the devil with history or facts. We certainly don't see Jesus as Middle Eastern. I think in America people reading from the Bible see all the characters as blond haired and blue eyed. Charleton Heston was Moses after all."
"Ah, yes, the California beach boy version of the Bible. We do have a way of incorporating history into the American story. I didn't dare start with Whitman, Hawthorne, or Thoreau. As American as they are, I want to build an audience before I slip in our Nineteenth Century classic authors.
"I'm holding Poe for when the weather turns dark and dreary, and Hemingway is best when there is time to consume his words," Joseph said as Dury walked beside him. "I was thinking of reading Hemingway in the garden. He's so descriptive that enjoying him in the midst of natural things works well."
"And I'll leave you here, Mr. Lane. Keith promised to save me a slice of his delicious peach pie. Boys a genius with food. An extra dessert is the highlight of an old man's day. One must keep up his strength. I've got ping pong with two of our fighting boys after dinner. If I don't survive, Mr. Lane, you may have my extra dinner dessert. Cherries Jubilee tonight is my understanding. Don't tell a soul. Keith swore me to secrecy. I'm sure I can trust you with it," Joseph said, patting Dury's forearm.
"You don't want to let his food add to the waistline, Joseph," Dury kidded the rotund man.
"Ah, Mr. Lane, when you get to be my age, the waistline is the least of my worries. I'm afraid my days of attracting romance have passed, along with my svelte figure. No point in denying myself of epicurean delights too. No point at all."
Both men laughed as Joseph guided his chair into the dinning room, leaving Dury to watch with envy the energy of the extraordinary man.
"You enjoy Joseph's reading, Lisa?" Dury asked, stepping into her office for their afternoon talk before he left for the day.
"He was a lucky find. He just turned onto St. James Avenue while he was taking a drive. He saw the sign in front of the apartments and he found my office. His wife had died recently and he had finding a smaller place on his mind. It was as if he was guided to the right place.
"When he came to me and suggested a reading program a few weeks ago, I told him to do what he wanted. He spread the word on his own.
For a man in a wheelchair he's active. He's on the paths when I walk in the morning. He stops to talk to everyone. I bet he was a gifted teacher. After dinner he's engaged with other residents playing games. He's a champion Bridge player, and not bad at ping pong the vets tell me. He's got the boys he plays with attending his readings. I'd never have guessed an activity like that for our vets. He's a nice man," Lisa said.
"I didn't expect to fill up this quickly. I guess I'm surprised by a lot of things. The effectiveness of word of mouth for one and the quality of residents we've been able to place here for another.
"We'll be placing folks in building three soon. I've never met nicer people myself, Dury. I'm renting out the last available apartments to men who live in Charleston. They want to move here to be close to friends who are already living here. The referrals are growing. Every other interview knows someone living here."
"We take everyone who applies?" Dury asked, knowing the answer but wanting to hear Lisa's take on it. "A funny time to be asking that, but you do such a good job, I've never felt like you needed instruction from me. I don't know anything about renting places for people who are looking for a better way to live."
"Not everyone. There are people who have no interest in anyone but themselves. I put delays in place for disagreeable applicants if their answers to questions indicate they aren't really suited to community living. I don't exclude anyone, I allow them to exclude themselves in time. Now I can legitimately say that we have a waiting list."
Communing with their fellow residents. I stress that all the residents are involved in creating a good place for better living. I haven't heard back from any surly folks. I don't lie, I tell them all the units are filled or promised and PV3 will open soon. I always mention working in the gardens and helping to grow and pick food. When someone I interview isn't interested in mixing or doing any activities with other residents, and doesn't even want to walk on our paths or sit and read in our gardens, I'm going to give him time to think about moving here. Yes, I do go on my instincts, but their good instincts. I worked social work for many years. I can usually tell a lot about a person by how they respond to my questions."
"I never stop learning, Lisa. I didn't know you had a background in social work. I'd like to hear that story," Dury said. "You are an intuitive person."
"Thank you. My past is no secret, but I have a two o'clock interview today. I'm good tomorrow," Lisa said. "I interview on Tuesdays and Thursday. My instincts have worked so far with people who seem wrong for PV. I dimply tell them to think about it and come back on a day when I can show them a unit."
"That sounds above board. We certainly have some wonderful people. Whatever you're doing, keep doing it."
"Thank you, Dury. I will. I've never had more fun. I love being here."
"I'm surprised at how well the young vets get along with our seniors. I didn't know that would work so well. I see quite a bit of interaction. Do you encourage that?"
"For some reason they're a good fit. Our seniors are protective of the most vulnerable vets. I've watched seniors coming into the dining room and going out of their way to say hello to vets. The soldiers like to eat together, but I'm seeing more and more seniors eating with a vet. They've definitely made a connection," Dury said.
"It wasn't what I expected either, but people can surprise you. I rarely see anyone eating alone. I also see the newest residents getting attention. It's almost like there is a reception committee to welcome new faces to Pleasant Valley."
"The modern Welcome Wagon," Dury said.
"Hi, Lisa," Gary said, leaning in the door. "I've been looking for you, Dury. We're about to hook the solar array up on the roof of PV2. I wanted you to be there in case you had a question for the Solar Solutions rep. He goes home after we've finished two."
"What happened to the solar array we were going to put behind the shops?" Dury asked.
"Right next to the parking lot where you enter between the two blocks of shops, the solar array is fifty or sixty feet west. It's not visible because we've built a protective container for it to set inside of. Once we hook the shops to it that protective box unfolds and there's your solar array."
"I'll be back, Lisa. We still have some things to sort out," Dury said, following Gary into the hall.
"Tell me where we are on solar power?" Dury asked Gary once the solar array was set to go to work. "I've never been up here before. It's a nice view with the lake full and the flowers in bloom. So when will we have light powered by that golden orb in the sky?"
"My electricians will hook building one and two together today and the lines are run to the PV Apartments, which is run to the array behind the shops. The shops are already wired into their array and it should generate plenty of electricity for the shops and the apartments. If for some reason the apartments use way more electricity than we expect, it'll become a closed system. But the apartments are hooked in a line to both the shops and PV1, which means a flip of the switch will power the apartments from PV1. During storms and a two or three day rain event, we have enough battery storage to get us through. If for some reason that doesn't work as we plan, we bow our heads and call the Charleston Electric Company and say, "Shoot me some juice, Bruce. In other words, we're covered for anything short of a nuclear change."
"I don't have any questions," Dury said. "I understand everything you said. "We do have one more building and at the rate we're going we'll be at capacity before Labor Day."
"It's amazing, Dury. Two years from the day we sat in Leo's #2, watching the trucks on St. James and we're ready to build PV4. Who could have expected Pleasant Valley to take off the way it has? We'll be able to hook PV3 into PV1 & 2. Unless Carl is all wet, and he hasn't been as long as I've known him, we've got all the energy we'll need, but there is a but."
"Hit me with it, Gary."
"We'll need to put a solar array on PV4, after I build it of course. Four buildings this size on two arrays would be asking for trouble. We should save enough on electricity to pay for PV4," Gary said.
"We aren't swimming in cash at the moment, but the foundation can build PV4 without either of us needing to ante-up more money."
"We've got the energy covered. It's pretty basic when you get beyond it being a new technology, Dury."
"I'll tell you what, Gary," Dury said, patting Gary's back.
"What's that?" Gary asked, suspicious.
"All that listening made me hungry. Do you think Keith has afternoon snacks ready for us to consume?" Dury asked.
"A peach cobbler which is incredible and a black walnut and cinnamon coffee cake. That will grow on you. Black Walnuts aren't my favorite but it's not bad," Gary said.
"Well let's get down there before the people who live here eat it all," Dury said.
Gary laughed as Dury headed for the stairs. He looked up at the bright afternoon sun before going inside. It was a real nice day.
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