The last time I saw my father he was wearing a toupee that looked like a year's worth of dryer lint, a worn-out Carolina t-shirt, the blue almost white now, green golfing shorts, and penny loafers ... [+]
A Happy Color
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Jake lay in the darkness, the sun creeping under the shade...thinking why should he get out of bed. He had no place to go, no one to see and nobody would be coming to visit. He probably wouldn't get any mail and the phone wouldn't ring. Stepping out on his porch to get the paper, he thought of ending his subscription since it was almost always bad news anyway. Seeing the date, he was surprised. He had actually forgotten it was his birthday. "Oh, well," he mumbled thinking today would be like every day – nothing special. Fixing his cup of instant coffee, he sat down to read the paper, asking himself over and over Why did I move here from the country? This tiny three-room house is very unpleasant. It had no curtains, torn wallpaper falling off the walls, the pipes were rusty, the faucets leaked, and it needed painting badly. Outside were dried up flower beds, mostly weeds now. Even the birds didn't come around and worst of all, that ugly old broken-down billboard stood so near the house. The real estate guy had said the house and lot price included that old billboard. But he didn't know what he could do with it, except have it torn down. After drinking his coffee, he began to unpack some of his boxes but he was tired and had no energy.
A knock on the door startled him since he hadn't yet heard anyone knock. Opening it, he saw a small boy. "Hi Mister," said the boy.
"Hello there," said Jake.
"Do you own that there billboard?" the boy asked, pointing.
Jake hesitated. "Well, yes... I guess I do."
"Well, it says it's for rent. Can I rent it all day Sunday?"
"All day Sunday?" questioned Jake, who hadn't even noticed the small for-rent sign on the corner of the billboard. "What on earth for?"
"My mom's coming home from the hospital Sunday morning. She was sick and had an operation. I'm glad she didn't die like my dad did. He died in the hospital when I was little. My brother... he's 15. He saved enough money from his job at the grocery store to buy Mom flowers. I don't have a job, I'm only 8. But I collected cans and bottles and got $2.75, so if I can rent your billboard I'll give you my money, then I can put a sign on it saying Welcome home, Mom. Her bed faces the window... She could see it all the time."
"I'll bet your mother will think that's lovely" replied Jake. "How 'bout you just give me one dollar." Jake didn't really want to take the boy's money, but he knew how important it was to make the boy feel he was doing something nice. "You can use the rest to buy something else."
The boy's face beamed, "Gee thanks, Mister, I'll be back tomorrow... I gotta go to school now."
Jake called out after the boy, "What's your name?"
"Pete – Pete Murtso."
"Well," Jake mumbled to himself, "I'm glad to meet you Pete."
Jake decided to have breakfast after all and maybe unpack more boxes. He wasn't as tired as he thought.
Saturday morning Jake rose early. When he opened the door to get the paper, there was little Pete sitting on the porch step. "Well, good morning Pete," Jake said. "You're up early."
"Yup, I wanted to bring you my money before anyone else rents that billboard."
Fat chance of that, thought Jake. "Did you have breakfast already?"
"No," said Pete. "My brother sleeps late on Saturdays. I didn't feel like eating cereal alone."
"You know," said Jake, "I don't feel like eating alone either. Come on in. We'll have breakfast together."
"Sure!" squealed Pete, bounding into the tiny kitchen. "Boy you sure got a big place here!"
"Big, you say?" exclaimed Jake.
"Yeah," said Pete, "we only got two rooms. My mom has the bedroom and my brother and I sleep on the couch in the living room... Well, it's really the kitchen, too."
"I guess you're right, Pete. This is a big place just for me. How 'bout some scrambled eggs? Like scrambled eggs?" asked Jake.
"Sure! With ketchup. Got any ketchup?"
"I think so, look in the refrigerator," said Jake. Pete scurried to the refrigerator, found the ketchup and put it on the table. "You want me to set the table?" Pete asked. "I know how!"
"I tell you what," said Jake, "in the bathroom is an old wooden stepstool. Go get it and you can reach the cupboards and find what you need to set the table, okay?"
"You bet," said Pete.
The two had a leisurely breakfast and then Pete reached into his jacket pulling out a crumpled dollar bill. "I almost forgot. Here's the money for the billboard. I can rent it all day Sunday, when my mom comes home, right?" he asked.
"Right." replied Jake. "How are you going to make the sign?"
"My brother found an old piece of shelf paper at the store. His boss said he could have it, so he gave it to me. I bought a red marker with the rest of my money. I was going to get a blue marker, but red is a more happy color, don't ya think?"
"Yes," said Jake laughing, "Red IS a more happy color, Pete. Get that paper, I'll do up the dishes then help you with the sign."
"Oh boy!" yelled Pete as he ran out the door. "I wasn't sure how to spell the words anyway."
Jake was smiling, putting the last dish away, when Pete burst through the door with the paper. They rolled the paper out on the kitchen floor placing a chair at either end to hold it down.
"How do you spell welcome?" asked Pete.
Jake spelled out the letters as Pete wrote them, trying to make every letter perfect. After Pete finished, he said, "Ya know, I don't think Mom will see it – it's so small."
"Just a minute," said Jake disappearing into the bedroom and coming out with a sack.
"I've got this special reflective glow-in-the-dark tape. We can use it to make the letters."
Together they worked on the sign, forming all the letters. Jake found some old artificial flowers in one of his boxes, so they added those to the sign too.
"This will look super!" shouted Pete.
Jake got some nails and a hammer, and they put up the sign nailing the flowers at the bottom of the billboard, where they could reach from Jake's short ladder. Finished, they sat side by side on Jake's small porch.
"How old are you, Mr. Jake?" asked Pete.
"Seventy-five years old...yesterday."
"Did anyone...come to see you on your birthday? I mean..." Pete said hesitantly.
"Don't have anybody. My Missus died six years ago, and my son was killed in the army," Jake replied looking into the distance. Then he got up. "Let's clean up our stuff now."
They stood together looking at the billboard. "Kinda makes me feel good we did that, don't it, Mr. Jake?" said Pete.
Jake smiled and said, "Sure does, Pete."
"Gotta go now – to help my brother clean our apartment for when mom comes home." Then turning back, he said, "Mr. Jake...do you think I could borrow your stepstool? I could use it...umm...for something."
"Of course," said Jake.
Pete ran out carrying the step-stool which was almost as big as he was.
Sunday morning Jake woke up and went out to get his paper. He was surprised to see his stepstool on the porch. It was painted a very shiny yellow. On it was a piece of paper with the words:
I hope you like it
Yelow is a happy color too
You are a nice man, mr jake
Yer friend, Pete
Jake took the stool inside. Yes, he thought, tears filling his eyes, Yellow IS a happy color, too. He felt a warmth inside which he hadn't felt in years. Maybe he would like living here after all...in this neighborhood full of happy colors.