GILBERT

GILBERT

© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour

 

Dedicated to all those who have lost a love one through cancer

 

It was a long trek for Gilbert, but he couldn’t miss this event. He smiled when he saw  Becky standing guard at the back gate, making sure no one snuck in without paying, but she’d let him in––she always did.

          “Why Gilbert, you old son of a gun!” Becky laughed. “Its bin too long; where ya bin hidin’?”

          “Don’t git aroun’ much any more,” Gilbert smiled. “Got real bad arthritis in my joints.”

          Becky gave Gilbert a gigantic hug. “Git in here … need a drink?”

          “Water will do fer now.”

          Becky fetched him some water. “I got a few things to look after, so I’ll catch ya later. Some of the old gang should be along shortly.”

          Gilbert was thankful they hadn’t arrived yet. He felt weird this year, couldn’t figure why. He found an empty picnic table and sat down.  The crowd began to trickle in. A band was tuning up for their first session. 

          Becky studied her old friend. He had aged. His hair and beard were snow white, except for a red strip down the middle of his beard. Some might mistake it for red hair––she knew better––Gilbert chewed tobacco. She smiled as she noticed the length of his braid. Thirty years ago he swore he’d never cut it off. Becky wondered if he was bald under the bandana that he always wore. He was wearing glasses this year––a funny little round pair––made him look like a possum. Becky noticed the torn black jeans, greasy work boots, and the picture of a wolf on his shirt. Wolf Man was his nickname, back in the day.  

          Becky shuddered. She had a strange feeling something terrible was about to happen.

          Gilbert lit a cigarette. Smoke curled around his head. He felt the tightness in his chest and began coughing. “Damn cigarettes,” he cursed as he coughed up a whopping gob of sputum. He gazed around, making sure that no one was looking, and then spit under the table.

          The band was playing some 50’s rock and roll. They were old boys, like him. He glanced over to the entrance and noticed his buddy Roy heading toward him. “Hey old man!” Roy shouted.

          “I ain’t hard of hearing; don’t have to yell,” Gilbert laughed. “How ya doin’?”

          “Deaf,” Roy was still shouting. “And can’t afford hearin’ aids.”

          “Gettin’ old sucks, doesn’t it?” Gilbert stated. “I’ll be 70 next month, if’n I makes it.”

          “Ya don’t say,” Roy lit a cigarette.

          Gilbert got a far away look in his eyes. “Had a decent life, done what I wanted, when I wanted … faithful friends, good times…”

          The two friends began to reminisce about their biker days. Finally, the announcement Gilbert had been waiting for came over the loud speakers. “Any one with pledges for getting their head shaved for cancer, please register up here. Our barbers will begin at 4:00 sharp.”

          “That’s my cue.” Gilbert got up from the table, shuffled to the registration table, dug into his pocket, pulled out his last month’s disability cheque, and handed it to the girl. “Don’t have a pledge sheet Miss, kin ya make me up one?”

          “I’m not sure if we can take this cheque sir; I’ll have to check with Becky.”

          “Its okay, Becky knows all about this.” Gilbert didn’t want to draw unnecessary attention to what he was about to do.

          The girl filled out his registration and put the cheque into a box. “Have a seat over there, Gilbert. Next please.”

          Becky could not believe what she was seeing on the stage. Her old friend was taking off his bandana. Bald as a bald eagle he was. Everyone was gathering around to watch the main event. One of the musicians grabbed the microphone. “First up is Gilbert. Look at this pony tail folks––all the way to his waist––how many years did it take you to grow that Gilbert?”

          “Too many,” Gilbert whispered.

          “Well, folks, anyone want to sweeten the pot a little before Gilbert gets shaved?”

          People began throwing coins and bills into Gilbert’s box. He smiled as he recognized several old bikers dropping in some large bills. It would be a good day. The young hair dresser revved up her barber sheers. One cut and she waved the pony tail in the air. The crowd cheered! More money was dropped in the box!

          No one noticed the tears trickle from Gilbert’s eyes. No one noticed Becky wipe her face with an old hanky she had pulled out of her apron pocket. No one saw the embroidery in its corner: “To Becky, my true love, from your Wolf Man – 1956.”  

          Gilbert slipped quietly away before Becky could reach him. She had a feeling she’d never see him again. Later that night, as she counted the proceeds, she came across his cheque. The tally for the money in Gilbert’s box was $1, 657. 25. She turned his cheque over…

          “Well, Becky, my love, this is it … the old Harley awaits me … I’ll keep the back seat warm for you … take as long as you like. Love, your Wolf Man.”  

          Becky’s tears flowed shamelessly onto the words, smearing the message into an illegible swirl of ink.

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