Reflections on Custard: Free Fiction for Fyretober, Day 6

Reflections on Custard

Wendy pulled the van into the extra wide handicapped parking spot at Marge’s Donut Den. I tried for a joke. “Parking’s easier now.”

But the joke wasn’t that good, and Wendy didn’t have her sense of humor back yet. “There’s nothing easy about this, Wayne.”

I sighed. “I know. It was my accident, remember? I just… I had to say something. It wasn’t as funny as I’d hoped.” I looked around, but all I could add was, “So here we are, back again.”

“Here we are.” She smiled weakly, leaned over, and kissed me. If there was a silver lining to my accident, it was that Wendy had gotten much more tender and affectionate. Almost losing me had changed her, and that change felt good.

I tried to lean toward her as well, but that still wasn’t possible. My arms and shoulders were still bandaged and braced, practically immobile. I managed only to lift my hand my left hand. Wendy took it and squeezed it.

Then she let go, got out of the van we had borrowed from her parents, and headed to the back. She opened the rear door, and she wrestled the wheelchair to the ground, along with a wide wooden step stool her father had built. Wendy had always been a big women, I remember that much, though not how I knew it. There were still gaps. “Okay, Wayne,” she said, “I’m coming around.”

She slammed the rear doors, unfolded the wheelchair, and rolled it around to the passenger side. I managed to actually unlatch the door before she got there. I counted that as a win.

Then, as the door angle changed, I caught a glimpse of the big passenger side mirror. The rabbit was in there, waving a paw at me.

Under my breath I muttered, “Go away… Please…”

The whimper was an improvement. I had developed a little self-control. In the hospital, when Wendy had shown me a mirror so I could see how badly banged up I was, I had seen the hatter looking over my shoulder in the glass. I hadn’t just muttered then, I had screamed. Then when I had tried to explain… Well, that had ended up with sedatives, and with Dr. Walchek running me through another battery of tests. In the end, I passed every one, and judged me reasonably normal. After that, I had learned to stop talking about the figures I saw through the looking glass.

Wendy swung the door wide and pulled the chair closer. “All right, Wayne, here’s the step.” She set the stool down in front of the door. I was pretty good when it came to my legs. They had been burned in the accident, but not broken, not like my shoulders. With Wendy’s help to steady me, I was able to step out of the van. It only hurt a little.

“Good!” Wanda said. “Now let’s sit you down.” She helped me to stand between the foot rests of the chair and to turn around. Then she help me lower myself into the seat, she extended the foot rest, and I put my feet up on them. She put the stool in the truck, closed the door, and wheeled me up onto the sidewalk.

Irrationally, I had insisted at first that I didn’t need the wheelchair. My legs worked. But Dr. Walchek had straightened me out there. Arms are part of the balance mechanism, he said. And you catch things if you get off balance. I want you in that chair until your appointment next week Tuesday. No walking any farther than bed to chair to toilet. Promise? I had promised, and Wanda had done her level best to make sure I followed through.

We reached the door, and I found the handicap access button. I was learning to spot those really well. Wanda stepped toward it, but I said, “No. Please. Let me.”

She sighed, but then she said, “You’re right. I just…”

“You want to help, love, Dr. Walchek said I had to start doing whatever little things I can. If you’ll push me forward…” She did, and I push the button. The doors gently swung open, and she pushed me inside.

Tomorrow we would take delivery of a motorized wheelchair, and I would start learning how to operate it under the tutelage of Mindy, the therapist. Until then I needed Wanda to push me everywhere. That was good, since she wouldn’t leave my side anyway.

As we rolled in, nearly a dozen customers and staff shouted out, “Wayne!” Suddenly they surrounded us, cheering and smiling and applauding. Wanda tried to caution them not to bump the chair, but there were too many of them. The whole crowd bounced around like Brownian motion.

“Hey! Boss coming through!” Marge forced herself to the front of the crowd. She was a large, friendly woman in a blue blouse and white apron, both covered with flour. She pushed back her hair not, leaned in, and found my cheek between the bandages so she could plant a kiss on me. “You! Don’t you worry me like that again.” Then she grinned and gave me another kiss.

“I won’t,” I said.

“Are you hungry? I’ve got a fresh batch of long johns coming up…”

Long johns… I had a mixed feeling. I knew I loved long johns; but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what they tasted like.

As Marge turned back to her oven, two cops squeezed in front of me and gripped my shoulders. “Wayne! It’s so good to see you up and about.”

“Thanks, Kevin. Amy.” These were two of the regulars. All the cops in the city and half in the county frequented Marge’s, Twenty-four hours a day. In five decades, there had never been a burglar stupid enough to try to rob the place.”

Then Amy reached over and pulled in two more cops, these in county uniforms. “Wayne, I don’t think you’ve met Deputy Phillips and Deputy Lawrence.”

I shook my head as far as my brace would let me. The two deputies crouched lower so we were on the same eyeline. Lawrence, a slender young African-American deputy, said, “No, but we’ve met him.”

Phillips nodded. “And we are so glad to see you come out of the hospital, Mr. Hudson. When we pulled you out of that wreck…”

Then I understood. These two deputies had rescued me from… from whatever had happened in the accident. I still didn’t remember. No one had been on the scene until police and EMTs had arrived.

“Thank you,” I said. I felt like I should say more, but all that came out was another, “Thank you.”

“We already thanked them,” said Elise, the waitress. “We loaded them up with free doughnuts.”

“Yeah,” said Phillips, “I’m going to have to put in for a new uniform.” Elise laughed, and the crowd joined in.

Then Marge came back out from behind the counter. “People, people, people… Let Wayne finish getting in the door! I’m sure Wanda wants to sit down, so let’s get them to their table.”

The crowd parted, and Phillips and Lawrence took over my chair, giving Wanda a break. They guided me toward the west wall, where…

…where the handicapped tables were. Special tables with a chair only on one side, so a wheelchair could pull up to the other side. I’d seen these in Marge’s for years. Now I actually needed one.

It was one more adjustment I would have to get used to. Dr. Walchek had been cautiously optimistic that I would recover most my function. T would probably always have trouble my shoulders. That might hurt my bowling game, but I’d never been that good anyway. But your mind, he had said, that fabulous brain of yours, it’s on the mend. I think you’ll get back your memories, most of them. No promises, but the neurologist says you have a strong chance.

Considering not that many days ago, they didn’t know if I would ever rejoin the world, a few lost memories weren’t the worst I can imagine. I would take that chance.

I looked down at the table. It was spotless even beyond Marge’s usual high standards, as if they had cleaned it just for me. So clean, in fact, that I saw my reflection in the silver metal of the napkin holder.

And of course I wasn’t alone there. There was a… a creature there, something like a tall frog. Unlike the other apparitions, this one wasn’t anything out of Lewis Carroll. Was I getting worse? It was hard to judge.

I nodded at the creature, and it nodded back, blinking big black eyes with tiny red pupils. I tried not to react toostrongly. I didn’t want to worry Wanda, so I looked away.

So far the images in reflections had shown no ability to touch me, nor even to talk to me. Sometimes they waved for my attention, while other times they merely watched me. Watching them back got to be too much for me, though, and I was afraid I would smash the reflections if I watched too long.

So I looked away just as Marge brought over a warm, steaming long john. “Quiet, everyone!” The voices subsided. “Here you go, Wayne.” She set the plate down in front of me, and she set a cake donut in front of Wanda. “And you, Wanda. It’s so good to see you to back here, where you belong.”

Where I belonged. My memories of Marge’s were shattered into a thousand little pieces, but all of them were comforting. This place, these people, they were friends. People whose company I’d enjoyed. Some of them – I had trouble remembering which ones –some of them were closer, friends I could rely on to help move a refrigerator, or to join me for bowling. Some of the warm smiles made me instinctively smile back, even if the names came and went. Joe… Jill? Aaron… Anjum… The redhaired woman, I had dated her before I met Wanda. Had that ended well?

There were so many pieces of my life to reassemble, like a big mosaic artwork. A few places had fallen into place already, but the rest seemed to be constantly in motion. I imagined myself reaching out, grasping for them, only to have pieces scurry away from my touch. The neurologist – why couldn’t I remember her name? – had said it would be a long process. When I asked her how long, she had shook her head. I don’t have those answers.

So I tried to stop thinking about it. I reached down (with some difficulty, of course), picked up the long, warm rectangle of dough covered with chocolate, and took a bite.

Heavenly! The light, tasty dough with the chocolate icing was better than I could’ve imagined. Marge stood by the table, looking at me with expectant eyes. “Good!” I said, and she beamed. Conversations resumed throughout the Den, and everyone seemed happier.

I took another bite. “Mmmmm! Custard!” There was beautiful, creamy custard inside, wonderfully warm without being hot. At last I remembered why these were my favorites.

I took another big bite, trying to get as much custard as I could. But I went too far. Some custard squeezed out the side and down my chin. Before the accident, I would’ve quickly reached a finger and dabbed the custard to wipe it from my chin. Then I would’ve licked the finger to get every last drip.

But I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready yet. I just sat there, embarrassed, as the yellow cream dripped down my chin. Would anybody notice? This was… This was embarrassing. But it would be worse to have to ask somebody to take a napkin and wipe my face.

A napkin… That drew my eyes back to the silver metal in front of me. The tall frog stared out, with a dollop of custard on his own face. A long, possibly prehensile tongue zipped out, licked the custard off, and drew it into the creature’s mouth.

And though I couldn’t explain it, I was sure: the custard was gone from my face as well.

Not The End…

Readers who have been following from the beginning will remember Wayne, Wanda, Dr. Walchek, and Marge’s. Last night these stories started connecting, and expanding. I have plans, oh yes, plans like only a pantser can make. Keep watching this space!

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