After breakfast I went outside and once again sat on the porch. Josiah followed me and sat beside me. For a long time we said nothing. Then he asked if I could describe my dreams to him. I said no.
“Well, can ya tell me anythin’ about them?”
“Then lemme guess. I’d wager that yer relivin’ the battle over and over. Am I close?”
I said nothing, but tears formed in my eyes and I began trembling.
Feeling me tremble beside him, Josiah said, “OK, that’s fine for now. Mebbe another time ya could tell me more.”
I just sat, trying to stop the trembling, and gradually it died away.
Again we sat in silence. Then I saw Eddie appearing over the little rise carrying a bag. When he arrived he said, “Josh, Mom said it’s fine for ya to stay here for a while, so I brang ya some clothes.” Josiah asked him to put them on the bed upstairs so he went into the house, said hello to Ma, and climbed the stairs.
When he returned, he sat beside me, on the other side from Josiah. We sat in silence, before Eddie as, “Is this all ya do all day?”
“Don’t ya ever go anywhere, or read or write?”
That made me angry. I held up the stump of my arm and growled, “How the hell d’ya expect me to write?”
Eddie paled visibly, but then he said, “Ya could write with yer left hand.”
“I caint do that.”
“But ya could learn. I could show ya how. Remember, I’m left-handed.”
“Yeah, so it’s easy for you. Have ya ever tried writin’ with yer right hand?”
“Nope, but I’m sure I could learn.”
“Well, I couldn’t.”
Eddie got up and went into the house, returning a few minutes later with some paper and a pencil.
“Look,” he said. “I know it’ll be hard at first, but I’ll try t’ learn t’ write with my right hand and you can learn t’ write with yer left.”
I looked at him in disbelief. “Eddie,” I said, “if I upset ya before, I’m sorry, but I’ve got no interest in learnin’ t’ write. I’ve nothin’ to write.”
“Oh, I think ya have,” put in Josiah.
“Well, I’m not gonna do it.”
Silence. Finally Eddie said, “OK, but I’m gonna. And I bet I can do it.” With that, he took the pencil in his right hand and began to write the first few letters of the alphabet. Looking up he said, “That’s pretty bad, isn’t it?” I nodded. “But I’m sure I can do it better.” He tried again with the same letters. To be truthful, they were about as bad, but he kept trying: a…b…c…d…a…b…c…d…a…b…c…d. And after a while the letters actually began to get a little better. I think he worked on just those four letters for almost an hour. And by the time he rose to leave, the letters were fairly creditable. He asked if he could keep the paper and I nodded, so off he went, whistling a little tune.
“If he can do it, you can too,” said Josiah.
“But I don’t wanna!” I growled.
“Are ya gonna let a little kid beat ya?”
“I just don’t care.”
In the afternoon, Josiah told me we were going for a walk.
“I don’t wanna!” I exclaimed.
“That don’t matter. We’re goin’.” And with that he grabbed my good arm and tried to pull me up off the porch.
“STOP IT!” I yelled.
“Not ’til you git up and start walkin’.”
“I’m not gonna.”
“Then I’m not gonna stop,” he replied calmly and began pulling again.
Finally I asked, “If I go with ya will ya leave me alone after that?”
“Yup,” he said. So I got up off the porch and followed him away from the house, past the kitchen garden, along the edge of one of the fields, and into the orchard. Pa was still there picking apples.
Josiah felt along the branch of a tree until he found an apple, picked it, bit into it, and said, “Delicious.”
“It’s not a Delicious, it’s a Cortland,” I said sarcastically.
“Try one,” he said.
He munched away for a few minutes before he asked Pa, “Can we help you?”
“Sure,” Pa answered. “Grab a bag.”
“I caint, Josiah,” I protested.
“BECAUSE I’VE ONLY GOT ONE DAMNED HAND!” I yelled.
“Since you’ve only got one, ya’d better not damn it,” he replied quietly.
“IT’S NOT FUNNY!”
“No it’s not, but ya need to learn to git along with the hand ya have.” He continued to talk very quietly. “Elias, ya know I’m blind. I caint see this beautiful, amazing world that you can see. But I’ve learned t’ git along, to cope. And you can too. But ya won’t ’til ya try.”
I was silent for a moment. I could see Pa looking down from his ladder at us. “I reckon it’s just that I’m scared t’ try,” I murmured.
“Of course you are. That’s why I’m here — t’ help. Now, is there any reason why ya caint pick an apple with one hand?”
“Well, try it with one hand and let’s find out what happens.”
Sighing, I reached up and gave an apple a tug. It didn’t come off. “I caint do it.”
“Don’t give up. Try twistin’ it as you pull.”
I did, and the apple came off in my hand. I told Josiah to hold the bag, and I dropped the apple into it. Then I did another…and another…and another.
When I stopped, Josiah said, “Great. See you can do it.”
“Mebbe, but I can only pick the ones I can reach from the ground. I couldn’t hold onto a ladder and pick at the same time.”
“I think ya could if we experimented a little, but mebbe that’s enough for one day. Do ya wanna go home?”
“Yeah,” I said. So off we went, Josiah carrying the bag and me leading him.
When we went into the kitchen Josiah showed Ma the bag of apples I had picked and she smiled and gave both of us a hug.
At supper they all talked about apple picking while I sat silently. Josiah wanted to know why I couldn’t use the remnant of my right arm (he never called it a stump) to balance myself on the ladder while I picked with my left hand. I said I didn’t know. “Then we’ll try it tomorrow,” he said. Ma and Pa just smiled.
That night we prepared for bed as we had the night before. Josiah asked, “Why d’ya wear a nightgown? It’s not that cold, and if yer just gonna sweat through it in the middle of the night and have t’ replace it, why wear it?”
“OK. I won’t, but I still don’t wanna do anything.”
“I understand,” he replied, as he put his own nightgown on. “We don’t have t’ do anythin’ ’til yer ready.”
With that we got into bed. I still had my back to him but he was facing my back. Of course, in the middle of the night I had another nightmare and woke screaming. Josiah sat up and held my hand as he had the night before until I calmed down. Then we changed the bedding together and went back to sleep.
The next morning as Josiah and I sat drinking coffee on the porch, Eddie and Tad came running across the fields to visit. Eddie proudly held up some papers and handed them to me. He must have practiced his writing for hours. He had only done the first eight letters, but they were so good I accused him of writing them with his left hand.
“No!” cried Tad. “I watched him. He used his right hand the whole time.”
“He’s right,” said Eddie. “Listen, I’m gonna show ya how to write with yer left hand. See, the problem is that when ya write yer left hand it drags across the letters you’ve just written and smears ’em, so ya have t’ hold yer hand like this,” and he curled his hand above the line so he was writing below his hand.
“Doesn’t yer hand cramp that way?” I asked.
“Mebbe it will at first, but mine doesn’t now. Try it.”
“Because I caint do it.”
“Not at first, but ya could with practice.”
Suddenly I remembered what Josiah had asked yesterday. “Are ya gonna let a little kid beat ya?” That got my competitive dander up.
I snatched the paper and pencil from him and tried to make the letter a. “That’s terrible!” I exclaimed.
“Sure, but if ya keep practicin’ it’ll git better,” he assured me.
I tried a few more and threw the pencil and paper on the ground. “I just don’t wanna do it!”
“OK,” said Josiah. “Just take it a little at a time. And ya don’t gotta show yer letters t’ anybody ya don’t wanna, except me, of course,” he chuckled, “’cause ya know I caint see ’em anyway.”
After lunch we walked again to the orchard and I tried to climb the ladder. It was shaky and I only got up a couple of rungs before coming back down and saying, “There’s no way I can do it. I’m just not steady enough.”
“So,” Josiah urged, “just go up a couple of rungs for now. When ya feel good with that then ya can go up a couple more.”
“No, I caint do it.”
“YES YOU CAN!” he yelled at me. I stared at him in amazement. He had never, ever yelled at me before.
“NO I CAINT!” I yelled back.
“YES YOU CAN!”
“NO I CAINT”
“YES YOU CAN!”
“JOSIAH, WHAT D’YA WANT FROM ME? I CAINT DO IT!”
Then he spoke in his quiet voice of yesterday. “I want ya to try. I want ya t’ not be a quitter. I want ya t’ stretch yourself and see what you can really do. What’s gonna happen if ya just go up a couple of rungs? Even if ya slip and fall ya won’t hurt yerself.”
“DAMN!” I exclaimed. “Yer not gonna let me give up, are ya?”
After a long silence I said, “Then I guess I gotta try.” I climbed up two rungs, put my stump around the side of the ladder, leaned over and picked an apple. Then I looked down, smiled wickedly, and dropped the apple on Josiah’s head.
“Ouch! What’d ya do that for?”
“For makin’ me do what I didn’t wanna do.”
He laughed, picked up the apple, and put it in the bag, telling me to pick more. I did. Of course, I could only reach the apples on my left side, but I knew I could move the ladder to get some more.
When I stopped, I climbed down and said quietly, “Thank ya.” Then we returned to the house in companionable silence.
We slept as we had the night before. The nightmare came and went. After it, we both said we had to pee, so we crept downstairs, outside, and away from the house, where we peed by a full moon, giggling all the time.
“I don’t think I’ve ever peed with a naked man before, especially by moonlight,” Josiah laughed and I joined in.
Back in bed, I faced Josiah for the first time and put my arm on his shoulder. “Thank ya so much for bein’ patient with me. I know I’ve been a big baby, but I just caint help it sometimes.”
“I know,” he said. “But yer not bein’ a baby at all. Yer trying t’ cope with a terrible experience, and I just want ya t’ know that I’m here t’ help ya through it, always.”
Then he leaned forward and kissed me chastely on the forehead. And with that we slept.