The Walking Wounded - Cover

The Walking Wounded

Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay

Chapter 12

Monday morning when Kevin went to work he found that the donut crew had put the radio on one of his favorite Albuquerque stations. It was rock, both old and new, and though he hated morning shows and wished they'd just shut up and play some tunes, it was better than some of the nonsense he had to listen to. He couldn't, after all, force his music on everyone else all the time. An' that'll tell ya how much I've changed since August. Back in Fresno they always put it on my station 'cause they were afraid of me. That brought a pang of regret, for he understood more and more each day just how evil his domination of weaker people had been. The donut crew said hello, and he said hello, and he hung his vest on a hook, put on an apron, and went to work.

It was not long before lunch that a Journey song came on. He didn't know the name of it, but it was familiar, and it got his attention as it hadn't done before. He loved the song anyway, but this time it seemed like it was talking to him ... talking for him, almost. And without realizing it, he began singing along – softly for him, but loud enough that the donut crew heard, and looked at each other in amazement, and turned to look. Kevin was sprinkling "everything" topping on loaves of French bread, and his feet moved on their own in a sort of dance. Kevin's feet didn't match his size as they shuffled and tapped on the tiled floor, surprisingly graceful for someone so large.

When the song was over both donut people walked over to the baker's station. "Say, Kevin," asked the lady, Cindy her name was. "Were you singing?"

"I don't think so..."

"You were, Kevin – we heard you."

"You say so, Matt, but I don't know it otherwise." He took up a knife and began cutting the bread. "I might have been – I like that tune."

Cindy was grinning. "You're in a good mood today, Kevin. You've been in a good mood for two or three weeks."

"You want me in a bad mood?" He grinned hugely.

"No, surely not. But it's like you're in love."

Of all the things anyone could have said, that was the one thing that could have shut Kevin up. His mouth hung open, and the knife hung suspended in his hand. Finally he said, "In love?"

"I didn't say you are, Kevin." Her head shake was vigorous.

"I heard her, Kevin – she didn't say it. But she does have a point." Matt was the quiet one, but he backed up his partner.

"Okay, she didn't say I'm in love, but holy ... Cindy, what on earth made you say that?"

She folded her arms, grinning like she'd just had a shot of laughing gas. "It's you, Kevin. Singing along with the radio, and a love song yet. Smiling all the time, even when no one's around. Whistling – whistling! – while you work. Kevin, I don't say you're in love, but if it were anyone else, that's exactly what I would say."

Kevin went to rub his face, but remembered the glove on his hand – and the knife he was holding. He settled for shaking his head. "Why don't you two go along to your side of the bakery? I got work to do." But he couldn't make the growl stick – there was still a smile on his face.

Cindy wanted to say something more, but Matt tapped her on the shoulder and jerked his head toward the donut corner. They went back to their work – grinning.

Karin was grinning as she pulled into the parking lot Wednesday night and saw Kevin dismounting his bike. She parked hurriedly, and snagged herself on the seat belt she forgot to unfasten before trying to get out of the car. But she got herself out of the seat, and hollered across her roof, "Hey, Kevin!"

He turned, and even in the dim light she saw the smile. She reached back into the car for her purse and Bible, and locked the door before closing it. By the time she was around the trunk Kevin was there, and he gave her a playful punch on the shoulder. "How ya doin', girlie?"

"Just fine, big boy. How about you?"

"I'm havin' too much fun to be legal," he said. "Let's go sit down, an' if there's time before the service I'll tell ya."

There wasn't, however, time before the service. There was a missionary that night, talking about his work in Mexico, and he wanted to get started right away. Kevin paid rapt attention – he had never really known there were missionaries, and he found the idea fascinating. After the service he stood on the fringes of the group that clustered around the missionary, saying nothing but listening intently. His ears perked up when the thin black lady he thought of as Stick Woman – Cecelia Carpenter, he'd learned her name was – got into a conversation with the missionary in what sounded to Kevin like flawless Spanish. Of course he couldn't be sure, since he just had a few words and no grammar, but she and the missionary both sounded like they knew what they were doing.

Finally Karin grabbed his arm and yanked, and he allowed her to lead him toward the back of the auditorium. It took a big yank to move him – and Karin had given him a big yank. "Kevin Farley, I thought you wanted to talk to me."

"Sorry, Kar – I never run into anything like that before."

"Ran into, Kevin. Run is present, ran is past."

"Okay, ran into. Thanks, Karin." He laid his Bible town on the little table where the offering box sat. "I did wanna tell you somethin' funny." He recounted the incident Monday. "What I can't figure out is why on earth those two would think that."

Karin's expression was strange – at least her face felt strange to her. She reached up a hand and rubbed at her cheek, but it seemed normal to the touch, and Kevin didn't seem to notice anything odd. "You can't?"

"Nope. I ain't never been in love in my life, and it ain't likely now."

Karin felt a sudden sinking inside. "Why do you say that?"

"Hey, look at me, okay? I'm 45 years old, goin' gray, got no education or money or nothin', an' goin' nowhere fast. All I got is a bike an' some music, an' a little food and drink. Ain't no woman likely to look at me twice, an' anyway I don't know nothin' 'bout love anyway."

Karin shook her head at the mangled diction – especially the repeated "anyway." But inside she felt a sadness for this man who had so much to offer, and had received so few chances to show it, or to develop his natural goodness ... as much natural goodness as any fallen man possesses, anyway, she told herself. "Kevin, let me tell you something." The words belonged to a lecture, but the voice was quiet and melancholy. "I can see very easily how someone might come to love you. And I think you could love someone – love her very well." Her face grew hot, and she fought it down. I'm not talking about me after all! she thought. "You haven't had the chance to learn about love – the glory of it, and the pain, and the peace. I guess no one has ever loved you in all your life." I'm starting to talk something like him. "But inside you there is love – for you love the Lord. Maybe you couldn't have loved until you found Christ, but His love He gives to you. That's something He's taught me recently, and I'm passing it on, now. You can love with the love of Christ. And that same love can bring someone to love you."

"Man, you're a reg'lar preacher, you know it? But you always say interestin' stuff. I'll think about that." He checked his watch. "Look, I gotta get home an' get to bed, okay? I'll see ya Sunday." And he was gone, his shoulders filling the door as he left.

I do preach a good sermon, Karin said to herself. But where will I be the beneficiary? Will anyone ever love me? Will I ever love anyone? She ignored the memory of Kevin's gentle punch on the arm, and how it had caused her knees to go suddenly weak. I guess I can love my baby, and since God gave it to me, I bet it'll love me back. And with that comfort – and it was no small comfort – Karin too went out to her car, and to her own silent and empty house with its cold and empty bed.

It was the last day of December that Saturday, and Karin met her mother at Harry's Eats, at the intersection of Montgomery and Tramway. They'd been meeting there each week for years to eat and talk. The restaurant's name made it sound like some sort of greasy spoon, a diner where people named Joe and Bob slurped coffee and crammed scrambled eggs into their mouths. It was, in fact, a very clean place with one of the finest cooks in Albuquerque. The food wasn't fancy – a sign by the door said "Our cuisine is good, not haute" – but it was excellent, and people came from as far away as Santa Fe and Las Cruces to eat there.

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