The hunky Jeff hosts Portrait of Words. This is the second month. Participants build a story based on photos that Jeff randomly selects.
I hope you enjoy my story and I hope you visit JEFF’S PLACE to read all the other stories.
My story is based on these photos:
The sound of horns blaring drowned out the radio. Bernie fiddled with the dials and pulled at the bent antennae trying to get better reception. The normal sounds of his everyday work routine were making him anxious. The truck he couldn’t get a loan for had a sound system. Imagine that Bernie chuckled, a sound system. Bernie was always described as a “go with the flow” kind of guy and normally he was. He loved his family, did his job, got along with his customers. The All American family guy.
Except for weeks now Bernie felt subtle changes. The times when he was worried and anxious seemed to drag on forever while the peaceful, happy times at home flew by. Little things bothered him beyond proportion and big thing made him shut down. One of the guys had described Bernie’s feelings as a mid-life crisis, male menopause even. Male menopause made Bernie laugh. His wife kept telling him she was “going through the change”, maybe menopause was catching? He was consumed with an acute awareness of his life being more than half over and getting harder, not easier.
“Shut the fuck up and merge” Bernie yelled out the window. “Like a deck of cards you assholes, just like shuffling a deck of cards”. Out of the corner of his eye Bernie saw a car full of children pass on his left. “Oh crap” he muttered. He hated it when people cussed in front of his kids. He turned the volume on the radio all the way up and vowed to be quiet and calm, it was only 3 more exits to home.
Sharon glanced at the clock; Bernie should be home any time now. Each night she hoped today’s mood would be better. She had known Bernie all her life and they had been married for 17 years, right out of college. He was the love of her life. He was gentle and kind, a good father; he worked hard and spent all his free time with the kids. Once or twice a month he tried his best to be romantic by taking her to a fancy restaurant or to the city for a show. Sharon enjoyed these nights out but always told Bernie it wasn’t necessary. She knew when she married him that their life would be unadorned and that was fine with her. But Bernie insisted, saying he loved to see her all dressed up. Besides their older girl was 15 now, old enough to baby sit for her brother. There were ten years between the two. The plan had been to have just one child. To give that child all they had never had, more than their parents had scarified to give them. Plans change without being planned. They did the best they could.
Belle came running into the kitchen just as Bernie pulled the old dilapidated truck into the driveway. Belle hated the truck; it was an eyesore in the neighborhood and made their house stand out. At 15 all she wanted was to blend in. “Sam won’t wash his hands and I’m sick of trying to make him” she announced as she flung herself into a chair at the table. “Sam wash your hands now and come downstairs” Sharon called out. She glanced at her daughter with one of her don’t be so dramatic looks. Sam was running down the stairs dripping water on the carpet just as Bernie opened the front door. “Daddy! Belle is being mean to me again!” he shrieked as he catapulted from midway down the stairs directly into Bernie’s open arms. Bernie laughed and said what he always said. “You two have to get along, work it out”. Without skipping a beat Bernie carried Sam into the kitchen, touched his daughter’s head and told her “stop rolling your eyes, they’re going to get stuck that way”. And Belle’s question was always the same – “How do you know I’m rolling my eyes?” “Because you’ve been rolling them for 2 years” was Bernie’s stock answer. This all transpired while Sharon put dinner on the table.
Later that night Bernie and Sharon sat in the family room. Sharon’s birthday gift to herself had been TiVO and she was deeply engrossed in the last 2 nights of Dancing With the Stars. She was adamant about no one telling her who had been eliminated. Bernie laughed thinking of the time the suspense had been ruined for Sharon. He had come home to “That bitch Kathy Lee Gifford has no business on the Today Show. She talks so fast I couldn’t hit mute in time and now I know that the poor one legged girl is gone”. “What are you laughing at?” Sharon asked. Bernie shrugged and blamed it on Warren Sapp.
The 11 o’clock news was just starting when Sharon decided to go up to bed. “But you know who was eliminated” Bernie said. “Smartass” Sharon replied as she kissed his bald head. “I’m glad you’re feeling better” she added.
Morning at the Silver home was much like evening. It revolved around food and pleasant chaos. Sam asked for 5 more minutes, Belle changed outfits 3 times without once pausing her cell phone conversation, Bernie scanned the newspaper and Sharon made cornflakes. They left the house as cannon balls fired into the day. Sharon took Sam to school and then went on to her sales job at Sears. Bernie dropped Belle 3 blocks from the high school; she refused to be seen in the truck.
“Ya know, this truck pays for a lot of what we have. Plus Mom’s job of course”. Belle didn’t respond. Bernie couldn’t help but try. She had changed so much during the past 2 years; he wanted his little girl back. “We could try painting it” Bernie continued hoping he sounded enthusiastic enough. “We could try burning it” Belle said. Even she had to laugh at herself. “Dad we’re getting too close to school, pull over now!” She gave him the briefest, tiniest peck on the cheek and leapt from the truck. Bernie watched her run towards the intersection. Wait for it he told himself, wait for it. As Belle was about to round the corner she glanced over her shoulder and blew Bernie a kiss while flashing her million dollar smile. Bernie gave the horn a gentle toot and pulled away into traffic.
Bernie was whistling and still feeling the glow of that million dollar smile as he merged onto the turnpike. Traffic was blessedly light this early and he sailed along. Million dollar smile, million dollar smile – the warmth quickly evaporated. Bernie thought of the thousands of dollars paid to the orthodontist. Then the thousands more paid to Sam’s school. The second mortgage had barely covered both and now he could barely cover the mortgage. He felt that familiar pain in his arms and realized he once again had the steering wheel in a death grip.
The day went by quickly. Sales were down over 30% and Bernie had run out of new leads for the day. He decided to call it quits early and head home. He knew his dark moods had been worrying Sharon so maybe this would be a good time to come home early and in a good mood.
One of Bernie’s regular stops was the airport. He usually met this client, a small aircraft owner, first thing in the morning but today he had been asked to come by on his way home.
Bernie was a regular at this section of the airfield and since he knew most of the security officers it rarely took him more than a moment to get on the tarmac. His paperwork was always in order and his security badge hung from the rearview mirror. He pulled his truck close to the open hangar door and went into the office. The owner was out but his right hand man Adam was there. “Do you want me to off load in the front or round back?” Bernie asked. Adam seemed distracted and nervous and didn’t respond. “Adam?” Adam seemed to see Bernie for the first time. He stared at him for what felt like forever and then asked Bernie to pull the truck back behind the hangar.
“How long you been working like a dog Bernie?” Adam definitely wasn’t himself. “Feels like forever Adam. Especially lately. You know how bad business is. You got kids Adam?” Adam nodded and motioned for Bernie to follow him. They went out to where Adam’s SUV was parked. Adam popped the trunk and looked around nervously. Bernie couldn’t help but think it was all a bit like a bad TV crime show.
“I’m in a bind Bernie. I’ve been moving this stuff for a friend. I bring it in from South Carolina and then drop it off in Newark.” Bernie was barely listening; he couldn’t divert his attention from the metal case full of guns. Actually there seemed to be guns everywhere – under Adams’s coat, behind the spare tire – everywhere. “Close the trunk for Christ sake” Bernie said. His voice sounded very loud in his ears. “What the hell is wrong with you? Do you even know what you’re doing?” Adam shuffled his feet and stared at the closed trunk. “I got into some bad debt and this was they only way to get out of it. I swear Bernie, this is the last shipment but I can’t leave the hangar and it’s got to be there and …” Bernie cut Adam off. “What the hell are you asking me to do? I’m not carrying guns out of here, and taking them to Newark! What the fuck Adam, are you arming gangs?” “I don’t know where they go after me Bernie. And I don’t want to know. What I know is I had no way out. There is never a way out for guys like us Bernie”. Those last words hit Bernie. Suddenly it all became very clear to him. The dark moods, the impatience, the anxious feeling. There was no way out. After all the years of working. All the years of struggling. Building his business. Sacrificing to have his home. Raise his kids. Give them more than he had.
There was no way out.
Bernie didn’t recognize his own voice. “How much is in it for me Adam?” As desperate as Adam was he was surprised by Bernie’s sudden change of attitude. They discussed money as Bernie tried to focus. He felt a buzzing in his head. He face was red and hot. He could imagine Sharon asking “Is it a hot flash Bernie?” Sharon. She had stayed at home with Belle until Belle was 10 and in a good after school program. Sam was 5 and Sharon had been working at the store for over a year. And her salary did little to cut into their mounting debt.
There was no way out.
Bernie went to get the truck. How bad could it be? The guns would get there one way or another. He climbed into the back and began to move things around so he could hide the metal case. He pushed his inventory to one side and as he did a box fell over. “What the hell…” Bernie wasn’t sure what he was looking at for a moment.
Dear Dad – remember we have to finish our project on Saturday. Love Sam.
It was the jar full of alphabet beads that Sam and Bernie had collected. They were going to make word bracelets to help Sam learn to read.
Bernie jumped into the driver’s seat and drove away. He could see Adam staring after him.
Bernie just wanted to get out. And go home.
There was always a way out.