The old 4 x 4 Chevy pickup rattled and banged as Ed drove down the gravel road into the small town where the only grocery store and café for miles around was located. Actually town was not really the correct name for the cluster of abandoned and derelict houses, all that were left from when this was a bustling hamlet in the midst of the Arizona desert. Ghost town would be more appropriate. When the silver had all been mined from the nearby hills, the residents of this town had gradually gone on to other places, leaving only a scattered group of inhabitants.
Ed felt a knot in the pit of his stomach. This visit to town was not a good idea, but he needed food supplies, and a trip to the city was out of the question. Ed was retired, ex navy from the Viet Nam era, ex convict from the early 80’s, ex truck driver from the mid 80’s through the mid 90’s, and ex loader operator from then until just recently. He was 67 years old, living off his meager social security check, and this job as a watchman for Central States Oil and Gas was right up his alley. All Ed was going to have to pay for was his own grub. Central States provided a roof over his head, and even paid him a salary as the watchman for the pumping station. Yes, he had responsibilities. He had to make sure that the pressure in the natural gas lines remained within specific parameters. And the compressors that provided the propulsion for the oil had to be checked once a day. But, other than the loneliness, Ed figured that this was a pretty good job.
He pulled the pickup into a parking spot, a cloud of dust following him like a whirling dervish. Ed eased his lanky frame out from behind the wheel, and stepped out onto the dusty street. Ed was dressed like a typical westerner, with cowboy boots, and faded jeans, and a well-worn blue denim shirt with the sleeves rolled up to just below the elbows. There had been pavement here at one time, but now there was more gravel than asphalt. His cowboy boots propelled him towards the door of the café, and he opened the door and stepped inside, out of the burning Arizona, and into the cool stone building.
“Hi cowboy, what can I get for you?” called a voice from behind the counter.
Ed had to wait a minute for his eyes to grow accustomed to the dark interior. His eyes spotted an older lady behind the counter, and as he walked closer he could see the lights reflecting from the pebble thick lenses in the glasses that the lady wore. She had always worn glasses for reading, but these lenses were far stronger than any reading glasses were.
“Hi, I’m Ed – work for Central States up the road.” Ed spoke.
“Yep, we know who you are. We was all wondering when you would finally make it to town. Been good for my coffee sales though. Everyone’s been comin’ in to see if you had made it in yet. My name is Joy, and this here is my dog Rusty.” Joy said.
“Guess I should have made it in before this. I just wasn’t ready to meet the world yet.” Ed told her. “I finally had to get me some grub. And I was getting tired of my own cooking.”
Ed had passed the first test. She did not show any evidence that she knew him. Joy served him his meal, and after he had eaten he sat back with a coffee. Scratched in the wooden table top were the names: Bobby loves Elaine, followed by Harry loves scratched out, followed again by Tom loves Patsy. Then there was Harry loves scratched over. Harry sure was a love em and leave em Ed thought to himself.
Once Ed had made the initial visit to town it was a whole lot easier to make his way back in. He would come in for coffee with everyone most mornings, and at least 2 nights a week would find him eating his supper at the café. Joy was a darned good cook.
“How did you end up in this rag tag excuse for a town Joy?” Ed heard himself ask one evening.
“I married, had children, and when the kids were all grown, and out on their own my husband and I bought a camper trailer, and headed out to see America. We stopped here, and bought this general store.” Joy told him.
“Did your husband die?” Ed asked.
“Nope, George fell in love with another woman, and they ran away together nigh on 5 years ago. I was left here with no transportation, and no money, so I had to sell off the supplies from the general store to get enough money to move on. I was not selling things fast enough to get a stake, so I decided I would try my hand at cooking, and I have been doing that ever since. And now I will probably die here.” Joy said.
As Ed drove home he was thinking about George. He was surprised that he had stuck with married life as long as he did. George was a real playboy, a lot like the Harry who had scratched his name in the top of the restaurant table.
Ed surprised himself with how often he was heading into town to see Joy. Any excuse during the day was a good enough excuse to drive in. Sometimes he would sit around after coffee, and chat with Joy. One day she pulled out an old picture. There were a number of boys in football uniforms standing with their coach. Another boy, tall and skinny with no uniform was in the picture, and in front of the team were 3 cheerleaders kneeling.
That’s me, Joy said as she pointed to the pretty dark haired girl in the middle. And that is Fred, Butch, Pete, Don, Seth, John, and Paul. And that is my George on the right end. That there is Coach Phillips, and then in the front row there is Casey, and Hank, and Harry and Dave and Glen. We were the Winn ingest football team in the state that year.” Joy said.
Ed knew all the names as well as he knew his own. “ And who is this one? “Ed said as he pointed to the kid that was dressed in regular clothing.
“I think his name was Eddie. He didn’t play, he just helped the coach.” Joy added.
Ed knew that Joy was having a hard time seeing properly. Whenever she went to look at anything up close like a newspaper she used a big oversized magnifying glass. And, Ed suspected that Joy was using Rusty to help her move around without bumping into things. One day he came into the restaurant, and Rusty was lying on his blanket. Joy was bent over Rusty, trying to get Rusty to take a drink.
Oh Ed, I am so glad to see you. Rusty is sick. Can you help me out here?” Joy asked.
Ed knew that Rusty was likely suffering from old age, but he agreed to take Rusty to see the Vet in the next town. So, Joy and Ed loaded Rusty into the bed of the pickup, and Joy rode with Ed to see the Vet. By the time they got to the vet, Rusty had died, and Joy was inconsolable. She was still crying when Ed took her back to the store, and she did not reopen the store that evening for supper.
Ed took off his shirt at home and hung it over the back of a wooden chair. His arms were scrawny, and spotted with a few dark liver spots. On the right arm was a tattoo of a girl, with long dark hair, and underneath the tattoo was the name Joy. He went to the dresser and took out a photograph. It was the same photograph that Joy had shown him. Then he pulled out a large black and white photo that looked to have been blown up from one of those high school yearbook pictures. The picture was that of a very pretty girl, with long dark hair, and the picture had many many thumb tack marks in each corner. This picture had been beside the bunk that Ed had slept in when he was on the aircraft carrier off the coast of Viet Nam. It had also hung in his prison cell, and had been pinned to the wall of every room he had ever slept in except this one. All of his bunkmates on the carrier had been envious of Ed’s pretty girlfriend. The smaller version of the photograph had been the one that the tattoo artist in San Diego had used to do the girl on Ed’s arm, and it still was in Ed’s wallet, worn almost unrecognizable from years of rubbing against other items in the wallet.
He had to tell her. He could continue this charade no longer. The next morning Ed drove to the restaurant. When he walked in the door he saw the magnifying glass, shattered into pieces up against the brick fireplace.
“Oh Ed, I am so glad to see you. My eyes are so bad I can’t see well enough to carry on here in the restaurant. With out Rusty to guide me around, I can’t even find my way to the bedroom.” Joy told him
“What is the mater with your eyes Joy?” Ed asked.
I have always been very farsighted, but now I have cataracts, and I just can’t see anything. I used to only wear my glasses when I had to see something up close, like reading when I was a kid in school. Then as I got older, I became more farsighted, and I had to get bifocals, and wear my glasses all the time. But now, these thick old glasses don’t help me at all. I need an operation, but I don’t have enough money.” Joy told Ed.
“I can help you out, and you can pay me back later.” Ed said.
“You would do that for me?” Joy asked quizzically.
“Yes.” Ed answered.
So. A few days later Ed and Joy set off together to see the eye doctor who had told Joy that she needed her cataracts removed. The operation is a fairly simple one, but it takes a few days to obtain the correct lenses that have to be implanted in the patient’s eyes.
“So, what sort of a prescription do you want when you get your new glasses Joy?” Doctor Jones asked.
“Can I be a little bit nearsighted Doctor? I have always wanted to be able to see things up close without wearing glasses. All my life I have needed glasses for close work, and I was always envious of anyone who could see to read without glasses.” Joy said.
I can probably give you around –3D of myopia Joy. That should do the trick for you.” Doctor Jones said.
A few days later Doctor Jones operated on Joy’s eyes, and the operation went well. When he tested her vision to be able to prescribe a pair of glasses he found that the final prescription was going to be –3.50D in both eyes. Joy ended up getting her new glasses made at a nearby one hour optical, and when she put them on she looked closely at Ed.
“Now that I can see properly, I have to tell you Ed that you look like someone I used to know.” Joy said.
“And I had better tell you now that I am someone you used to know Joy. I am Eddie, from high school.” Ed told her, afraid of her reaction.
Joy looked dumbfounded. “Then what the heck are you doing here?
Ed rolled up his shirtsleeve to reveal the tattoo on his arm. “ I loved you then, and I love you now.”