For Linda Medrano, who is apparently
my biggest fan
The window was open. The window was never open. Moe had an unreasonable fear of smog, pollen, dust from the neighboring fields, insects small enough to fit through the screening, and the Hollywood version of the angel of death. On any given day, Maris would stop by to check on Moe and find him hermetically sealed in his tiny bungalow at the edge of town. His encyclopedia of fears prompted him to keep the windows closed all year round, the doors locked whenever he wasn’t actively using them.
Moe hadn’t always been so fearful. An inability to understand how he had completely screwed up his own life led to a fear of each thing that had unaccountably (in his mind) caused him to lose a job, a wife, a friend. Moe’s life was filled with loss. None of it his fault. With each event that he could ascribe to someone or something else, he collected a new fear. His collection of fears soon rivaled his childhood collection of marbles.
“Moe? Everything ok?” Maris called from the front porch. Window open and no response – that couldn’t be good. “Moe? I had some fried chicken left over from last night’s dinner – I thought you might like it for lunch.” It took a minute for her to work up the nerve to try the front door when he didn’t answer.
The door was unlocked, another aberration. Maris stepped into the living room and swallowed a gasp. The floor was littered with papers ripped into tiny pieces, the couch had several small burn holes, and nearly half of a section of wallpaper had been torn from the wall. Her heart pounding, she stepped into the kitchen slowly, terrified of what she might find. Cabinet doors were open, dishes ripped out of them and smashed on the floor, a chair lay on its side. The back door stood wide open.
Maris went to the doorway and searched for signs of forced entry – nothing. Something caught her attention in the corner of her eye. Looking up, she watched as Moe stood by the pond in the side yard, tossing bread to the ducks. Moe was afraid of water. He was terrified of ducks.
“Moe!” Maris ran across the yard. “Moe! What happened? Are you ok?”
Moe turned his wrinkled, careworn face toward her, and it lit up when he saw her. A smile full of sunshine greeted her when she reached him.
“I get it, Maris! I get it!”
“You get what, Moe?”
“It was all my fault. I made a total mess of everything. I didn’t understand until I got the letter.”
“Julie wrote me to tell me that our grandson was graduating first in his class at Indiana University. Our granddaughter is engaged to a kind man with a good job. Julie remarried years ago and is enjoying retirement in Fort Lauderdale. I haven’t heard from her in 30 years and I thought she was telling me all this to rub my face in her happiness. To make me jealous that everything she did after I left went well and I have had nothing but hardship. But you know what she said at the end of the letter?”
“She said she missed me. She doesn’t hate me, Maris!” His huge grin was beautiful.
“I started thinking about all the things that haven’t gone well in my life, and wondering how many times I thought things were one way, when actually they were very different. How many things I might have done differently if only I had known. At first I went nuts, tearing the letter up and trashing the house in frustration, screaming at the top of my lungs how unfair it was that my whole life had been a mess because I made it that way. But then I realized what a gift I have been given. I have been absolved. Now I can die in peace.”
“What on earth do you mean? You aren’t planning something stupid, are you?”
“I’m done with stupidity. You should go now, Maris. Thank you for being a friend to such a cantankerous old man.”
“Wait, Moe, why don’t we go down to that little diner you like and get a sandwich and a Coke. You can tell me more about this.”
“No, Maris. You need to go now. Thank you.”
Maris hesitated, and Moe waved her toward her car. Reluctantly, she turned and walked back, looking over her shoulder once to see him beaming at the ducks that only yesterday would have made him wet himself if they came so close.
The next day, as she was preparing to take a loaf of fresh-baked bread to Moe’s house, the mail carrier pulled up to her mailbox. Pulling the mail out and tossing it on the front seat of her car, she noticed a small envelope addressed to her in a scrawly hand. Maris snatched it up and opened it with a peculiar dread.
You have been such a darling, trying to show kindness to an old man who never deserved it. I truly believe your kindness will be repaid someday, although it will have to be returned to you through another person.
I hope you will understand but I ask that you not come over again. Please give a call to Sheriff Lassiter. Tell him to come by my house when you receive this, and remember, I have asked you not to come.
Thank you again for your kindness and caring. If only all of humanity could see the world through your eyes, the world could be a glorious place.
Moe was found floating in the pond that afternoon. He must have mailed the letter the previous day, planning his demise in such a way that Maris wouldn’t be the one to discover the body. It was his last, greatest act of kindness, and Maris would never forget it.