by Just Fn Crazy

    It was cold, but there was fresh snow; the kind that sparkles in the streetlights at night and in the sunshine by day. His hands were stinging and his face burned with every minor gust of wind. Yes, it was winter in northern Minnesota and he was exactly sure what part of the country he lived in. Summer sometimes left him guessing, but come wintertime he never had any doubts.
    “You can live up here,” he’d heard them say. “But you’d have to be crazy to love it, eh?”
    He must be crazy then he thought, for he did love it; cold, hot, anyway at all. He loved the change in seasons. He loved the summer storms and wintry blizzards both the same. He loved the icy roads and the hot dry dusty roads. He loved northern Minnesota for her character, which she always has had plenty of. But as the cold attacked the inner regions of the layers of his clothing and he began to shiver, he looked at the distant sun that seemed so small and thought how it was almost an imposter this time of year.
    “Yep!” he said to no one around. “You’d have to be crazy to love this.”
    He was headed home from the mall. Home was a one bedroom apartment in what was locally called the projects. It was nice and warm with electric heat he didn’t trust, but which the federal government helped pay for. But there was a lot of noise sometimes, especially on weekends even in Winter. And he often dreamed of making too much money to be allowed to stay there any longer, so he could move to a nice little house in the nearby countryside; not so far he was isolated, but far enough so that the only troubles he had would be his own most of the time. Here in town there was, not only too much noise, there were too many people and sooner or later a fellah was sure to get tangled up in something somebody else started.
    Take the way Becky looked at him now that this old man he called his pal had told her, in fun, that he was in love with her. ‘In love with her!’ Hell he hardly knew her. She was just a waitress at the Hungry Man Cafe where he never ate, but spent his time talking to George, the old man, and drinking more decaffeinated coffee than was good for any man. She was pretty. He had to give her that. And he had given her more than a passing thought. But ‘love’ that was about the farthest thing from his mind.
    “George,” he complained. “Why the hell did you have to say such a stupid thing? She’s all but got the rings picked out. It just ain’t fair; not to me and definitely not for her.”
    “Ah Hell,” George replied. “I didn’t say anything you wouldn’t have said yourself if you had the guts.”
    He sat back in his chair at the time, took a drag off his cigarette, smiled and shook his head.
    George laughed. He was enjoying the fix he had put his friend in. He was glad it hadn’t happened to him, but he was particularly pleased with himself for having done so to his friend.
    “That’s the way it goes, Jerry,” he said. “Love comes upon you like a tiger. There ain’t nothing left to do when it gets you other than to just lay back and let her take you.”
    Then he laughed; a real loud belly buster type of laugh.
    “Damn you, George,” Jerry said out loud in the cold on the walk home from the mall. Then he shook his head and chuckled a little. Watching the fog caused by his breath float away from him in the light winter winds, he thought about it all at once and decided it was pretty funny after all. ‘That George,’ he thought. ‘What a character.’ He was lucky to have such a friend. He would have to give him a call when he got home.
    He lost his footing on the slick compacted snow for a moment, almost fell and then caught himself just in time only to forgot all about what he had been thinking, deciding very quickly to take this walking stuff more seriously. And, it was not long at all until he was home, taking off his coat, stuffing his cap and gloves in the same pocket before hanging it up, and rubbing his hands together to warm them though he knew that didn’t really work that well on such a cold day. But the thought to call George and tell him he was forgiven never entered his mind until he had gotten a cup of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table to lit a cigarette. George, the thought, would just have to wait.
    Three cigarettes later and two cups of coffee to boot the phone rang. It was George. Who else could it be? God how he hated that. George seemed to have a sixth sense that enabled him to ruin any time Jerry took just to relax by himself. Thus Jerry rose from the table and walked to the other room, hoping all the time it would be someone else.
    It was a woman.
    “I bet you can’t guess who this is?”
    It was Becky! What should he say?
    “Becky!” he found himself saying. “What the Hell are you doing, calling me?”
    Surely that was the wrong thing to say, he thought.
    She laughed; a nervous laugh, but not a belly buster laugh at all. It was a nice, kind laugh that seemed to say the obvious without saying a word.
    “How the Hell are you?”
    “You haven’t been around the cafe in a few days.”
    “No. I haven’t.”
    “Is something wrong?”
    “Wrong? No nothing’s wrong. I just haven’t gotten around to it. That’s all.”
    There was a long pause before she said she had wondered if it had something to do with her.
    “Well,” he said. “In a way I guess I was staying away on account of you.”
    There was an even longer pause.
    “I mean,” he said slowly and deliberately. “After what George told you, I--?”
    “George. How is he?”
    “Haven’t you seen him? I mean, hasn’t he been in either?”
    “Not while I was working. Is he okay?”
    Jerry had no idea. It had been three days since he had talked to his buddy. He was more embarrassed than angry, and perhaps that makes it even tougher to call a guy.
    “Is he okay, Jerry?”
    “I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him since that last night we were at the Hungry Man.”
    “Gee. I hope he’s alright?”
    “Awe. He’ll be alright. That old bird is a lot tougher than either one of us knows.”
    “He’s fun. But I understand he embarrassed you.”
    “Did he tell you that? Jeez!”
    “No. I could just tell.”
    “Tell what?”
    “You like me.”
    “Of course I do. You’re a wonderful person.”
    “Thank you.”
    There was another long pause because Becky was waiting for Jerry to say something and Jerry couldn’t think of a thing to say.
    “Is that what you called about?”
    “That,” she said. “And to ask you if you would like to do something with me sometime.”
    “Let me get this straight. Are you asking me out on a date, or something?”
    “You don’t like that.”
    Jerry wasn’t sure wether he did or not.
    “I’m sorry. I just thought that maybe you might not ever ask me, so I thought I’d ask you.”
    Was this for real? What would a really great looking chick like Becky want with a guy like him? It made no sense. But if it was for real, he didn’t want to mess it up either.
    “That’s okay.”
    “Great!” she said and he could just feel the relief fill her being.
    “Are you sure George never put you up to this?”
    She laughed again; that same nervous, kind laugh that she had before.
    It was for real. She really liked him! He was suddenly filled with a joy that surprised even him. Maybe it was just that he thought all along he had no chance with her that had kept him from developing any noticeable feelings for her.
    “Well?” she said at long last. “When and where are we to get together?”
    Jerry thought fast. He feverishly went over in his mind that it was for real, that Becky really liked him and wanted to go out with him, and the possibility that it could still turn out that George had put her up to making a fool out of him.
    “How about tonight?”
    “Not the Hungry Man.”
    “Why not?”
    “You work there. You want to go there on your night off?”
    “It’s just coffee, Jerry. It’s not like we were . . . Is it?”
    “Yeah. Right,” he said. “Tonight at the Hungry Man then.”
    “What time?”
    “Eight is fine with me. How about you?”
    He said it was fine. They said their nervous good-byes. And he hung up the phone.
    ‘Maybe I do love her,’ he thought in the silence that followed.

    . . .

    Time went by. Winter turned to Spring, and Spring to Summer. Jerry and Becky continued to see each other almost everyday. And Jerry was sure he was in love with her and like the weather his yearning for solitude had drifted away; gone somewhere in the distant and forgotten past. Becky was indeed a wonderful girl and Jerry knew just how lucky he was to have found someone like her.
    “Jerry?” she asked one night as they sat on his couch, cuddling and watching tv.
    He looked her straight in the eye. Something was up. But what? He had no idea.
    “You’ve never said . . .”
    “Well, you’ve never told me what your disability was.”
    He was silent. He was embarrassed. He was reluctant to think about it, not to mention talk about it.
    “Well? Are you going to tell me or not?”
    “Not now.”
    “Why not now? You know I love you. What could it be that is so bad you can’t share it with me? Whatever it is, we’ll work it out.”
    “Haven’t you guessed?”
    “Guessed what?”
    He decided he would tell her someday, but he wasn’t sure how she would take it. And, it looked to him as if that day had finally come.
    “A few years ago,” he began. “I had a mental breakdown.”
    She was silent.
    “I’m on medication for it and I seem to have it under control, but . . .”
    “But it could happen again. Is that what you’re saying?”
    He was very quiet.
    She laughed; not her usual nervous, kind laugh, but a belly buster laugh like his old friend George use to laugh.
    “You mean you could go crazy on me at any time! I’m serious. What is your disability?”
    “I am serious. I have been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. It’s serious; serious and persistent mental illness. That’s what they call it.”
    She pulled away from him, covered her face with her hands and sat quietly beside him, but no longer with him; not quite anyway.
    “Does it matter all that much now that you know? I’m still the same man I always was. I am still the same person you know and say you love. Aren’t I?”
    “Of course you are,” she said, but to Jerry it sounded as if she were finally putting things together in her mind, and realizing for the first time just who he was. She looked at him as if she had never seen him before. He couldn’t help but notice.
    They sat in that manner for nearly a half an hour, in silence.
    “Perhaps you had better go,” Jerry finally said, his mind still working at a hundred and ten miles an hour.
    She just nodded, a tear welling in her eye.
    “See you again?” he asked as he opened the door for her.
    She shook her head ‘no’ and he didn’t understand.
    “My dad was mentally ill. And I can’t go through what Mom did for anybody!”
    She looked angry, as if he had betrayed her or something. Then she rushed to him, tears flowing and wrapped her arms about him as if she would never let him go. But he was stunned. He was losing everything important to him, and she didn’t really want to let him go. It made no sense.
    “If you love me stay,” he said.
    “If you really loved me you would want me to go,” she said, tearing herself away, walking down the hall and turning the corner of the stairs out of his sight and out of his life forever.
    Jerry shut the door. He was alone, but he did not want to be alone. He thought about George for the first time in weeks. ‘I’ll give him a call,’ he thought. ‘Why not?’
    “Hello, George?”
    “How the Hell are you? How’s Becky? What are you up to?”
    “It’s over.”
    “What’s over? You and Becky? No. I don’t believe that.”
    “I told her I was mentally ill, and she doesn’t want that.”
    “Well,” George’s voice changed. “Who the Hell does?”
    “Exactly, George. Who the Hell does?”