In honor of American Memorial Day, I invite you to read my short story, Peanuts from Eddie, which first appeared in Offshoots 9: writing from Geneva and beyond, a biennial anthology of the Geneva Writers' Group. The effects of war ripple through too many lives. May peace be with you.
Edward Walker lived in the park outside the Metropolitan United Church in downtown Toronto. His was the bench furthest from the din of Queen Street traffic, the one guarded by a mammoth oak and chronically littered with peanut shells. When it rained, he moved to a nearby streetcar shelter. Only when cold threatened to claim one of his seven remaining toes did he venture indoors.
Harmless when sober, Eddie was down-right charming as he panhandled each day in the deep shadows of Bay Street, opening doors, lighting cigarettes, and exchanging pleasantries with bustling bankers in a voice graveled by a near half-century of smoking du Maurier’s.
Of course, there were many who, in good conscience, would not give money to Eddie. His sweet fermented scent was indisputable, his fingers stained amber by nicotine. But Eddie was not particular. He accepted generosity in all its forms. Even a used newspaper was gold. Complete, he could sell it for full price in less than three minutes; sold in sections, he could make three times that but it could take all day. He once made a clean five bucks off a Globe and Mail, and all before 9 a.m.. He called it quits early that day.
With his spoils Eddie would buy himself a bottle of Wild Turkey, a pack of smokes, a bag of peanuts and a meal, then spend the rest of the day in the park, nursing his bottle and feeding the squirrels. But steeped in bourbon, Eddie became ill-tempered and prone to violence. So when his shoulder was shattered at the hands of an overzealous security guard, treatment was rendered but no charges were laid.
One surgery, two metal screws, and eight days later, Eddie’s reputation preceded him to the rehabilitation department at Saint Michael's Hospital. There he was assigned to the care of Miss Soo Kim, physical therapist and devout Christian. Eddie was late and drunk. With utmost discretion, Miss Kim requested he return the next day, on time and sober. Her smile was friendly, her almond eyes forgiving, but her tone was firm.
Eddie lowered his gaze, scrubbing a tawny hand across steely eight-day stubble. “It helps with the pain, is all.”
Ms. Kim touched his arm. “So can I, Mr. Walker.”
The following morning, Eddie arrived thirty minutes early and so sober he shook. When he launched into a profane account of his assault, Miss Kim interrupted.
“If you want my help, Mr. Walker, you’ll have to stop swearing.”
Eddie attended treatment faithfully and did all of his exercises, often to excess. At some point during his care, he traded his bench with a view for a cot at the Salvation Army, and from there he managed to find a more permanent low-income residence in Regent Park, a short walk from his bench and the clinic.
“Couldn’t go too far,” he said, presenting his new hospital card, now complete with an address, “My friends would miss me.”
He meant the squirrels.
When the pain in his shoulder did not subside, x-rays revealed the splintered fragments had not united. This required a second surgery, a third screw, and yet another round with Miss Kim. In the end, he never was able to reach his back pocket or scratch his own back, but the pain faded to a dull stiffness. On the day of his final visit, he gave Soo Kim a bag of peanuts.
“It’s what I give all my friends,” he said.
Eddie had become a fixture in the physical therapy department, so his absence was felt by all. Months later, when his name appeared on the hospital census, the department receptionist was quick to inform Soo Kim.
Edward J. Walker, Room 813A—Oncology.
Eddie appeared shrunken, his face pale and clean-shaven, smothered under an oxygen mask. But when his glassy eyes met Soo’s, he visibly brightened.
“Sang Cho,” he said, “You came.”
“No, Eddie, it’s Soo—Soo Kim from therapy.”
“Cho, they say its cancer,” he said then erupted in great heaving coughs. Soo helped him sit. He spat blood-tinged mucus into a metal kidney dish.
Eddie clutched Soo’s hand. “I’m sorry I never came back.”
This time Soo did not correct him. All she said was, “So am I.”
Days passed, gilded with best intentions, but Soo never saw Eddie again. The following week, his name was missing on the hospital census. His nurse said he had died in his sleep. Someone from the Canadian Legion had come to collect his effects.
Lance Corporal Edward R. Walker had served in Korea.
That afternoon, Soo bought a bag of peanuts and went to the park. Eddie was gone and someone had to tell his friends.