The big man spoke slowly, "He was helping this lady . . we were both just helping."
Not convinced that the huge man wasn't trying to abduct or pervert her son in some way, she flicked her head with arrogant disdain and left, Joel tucked tightly against her, trying hard to look back at the stranger with whom he felt a deep connect.
She rolls her eyes and demands him not to talk about it but clearly she needs to. "You can't just go round making friends with strangers. You don't know who he is or what he does. He could be an axe murderer for all you know, a criminal, a retard."
The boy sat back in the kitchen chair and stopped playing with his now hard rather than over-easy eggs. "He can do things, with his head. He does things with his hands."
She's torn between wondering if the two of them have had some clandestine meeting before and the inappropriateness of a grown man and a small boy doing things with their 'hands' isn't lost on her. "What do you mean with his hands? You know him? Did he hurt you? Touch you? Ask you to do something you didn't wanna do and then tell you not to talk about it?"
She can't believe it. She thought the woman had simply fallen. "What's his name?" she asks.
"His friends call him Forty-Two but his real name's Abel. He was in a war you know."
He begins to prod the now cold eggs with his fork, she removes the plate to prepare two more. "Then he went to a hospital for people who do strange things and had stuff stuck to his head. It made him feel funny so he just left. Put on his soldier's clothes and just left." She's stunned to hear her son talk about a man he's met once, and so fleeting in such detail. Her curiosity is aroused.
"Where does he live?" So much for not talking about the stranger she thinks.
"Across the lines in an old train."
The eggs are slipped onto a clean plate and she pushes them towards him, "Eat . . we're going on an adventure." He smiles and gorges the refreshed breakfast.
"We're going to see Abel aren't we?" The question needs no answer.
She's beginning to trust her son's intuition. Why? She doesn't know. She's fought against this for so long. Wanted him to be 'normal', to play with other children, to graze a knee, dress like a super hero but he's different. She's always known but her denial now gives way to curiosity and they hit the road. "Buckle up kiddo."
His glee is obvious, he likes Abel. "He shines mum."
She keeps her eyes on the road, "Shines?" Joel waxes lyrical about the man's aura, the sparkles that emanate. "Do you have one?"
"Everybody has one but not everybody can see it."
She nods in recognition, not quite believing what's coming from his mouth but hoping. "Can you help people by putting your hands on them, like you did that cat?"
His head slumps low in a disappointed gesture, "Only people I don't love." He knows, he'd tried. He'd laid hands on his Nana in the hospital as she wheezed her last breath. He'd laid hands on Buster, his beloved dog to no avail and once, he'd snuck into his mother's room and laid a hand on her forehead hoping to ease the pain that doubles her up without notice but to no avail.
The car draws up against the railway siding, she gets out, straightens her skirt, smooths her hair, takes a huge breath and locks the door. "Which one?" There are three abandoned carriages set back from the workshop sheds. One surrounded by a tiny picket fence, the kind you buy in a roll from Bunnings encircling a small garden of herbs and marigolds.
"That one!" he points. How he knows, she's beyond asking but she has a problem and if the big man is as gifted as she hopes, he can solve it. He can make everything right.
There's no need to knock, the door opens before they've traversed the tiny path, "Joel! Buddy . . good to see ya!" The two embrace like old friends and she's flabbergasted, they've barely met!
"Hi Abel, this is my mum, she wanted to meet you."
He gesticulates for them to come in, his huge form bent beneath the carriage door, "Come, come . . I've been expecting you both."
The carriage lacks the comforts of home. It's former seats removed, only the luggage racks remain. It's sparse and rudely furnished with little more than salvaged chairs, a small coffee table and photographs of Black Hawk helicopters in desert landscapes on the wall. The smell of coffee is inviting and he pours her a cup of joe - the kid a glass of milk. "Mr . .What shall I call you?" She hesitates.
"Abel's fine ma'am" he says and bids her sit.
She's nervous and her tone a little formal, "Joel's quite taken with you . . . and I'm sorry I was so rude yesterday. He scared me running through that traffic and I thought . . . "
The big man laughs a deep James Earl Jones kind of laugh, "It's alright, we have . . an understanding."
She wants to ask him questions about the aura, the gift but he begins to talk, to explain his situation. He's a vet, shell-shocked and damaged who spent 3 weeks in a military hospital for psych evaluation. They picked him up shaking and silent after an insurgent bombing.
"I don't remember much," he said, "other than when they put those things on my head, I felt weird. Kinda light and giddy. When the sedation wore off, I looked in the mirror and all I could see was me, with a shroud of gold. I sparkled, I shone." She's lost in his narrative, no time for disbelief and Joel sits mesmerised with an 'I know all this' gaze and a comical milky moustache. "Before I left, there was a guy in the next bed. He was hurting. Drugged up and dopey just to keep him comfy you know?" She nodded, not really understanding, "I went over, touched his hand, just for comfort you know? Just to tell him that his last hours weren't gonna be spent alone. I felt it. This shot of somethin' just ran down my shoulder, and into my hand. No sparks, nothin' like that but he opened his eyes, said 'thanks man' and fell back to sleep. I damn near collapsed after that and slid back into bed. Felt like a bomb had hit me. The next morning, he'd gone. Dead, or so I thought. I'm in the bathroom havin' a shave and who should come up behind me all dressed in civvies and ready to leave. He'd recovered! Fit as a fuckin' (excuse my French) fiddle. That's when I knew. Them sparkles had somethin' to do with it."
"I can fix things." A tiny voice pipes up from the corner, "I fixed a cat and some flowers. I fixed a bird's broken wing without a splint but then it makes me dizzy and I spew." She's now lost for words and fighting to keep a gaping mouth delicately closed, her attention firmly back on Abel.
"You healed a dying man?"
He clasps his enormous hands above his lap and lowers his head, "I guess so."
"But you could use this. You could help thousands of people with this. Nobody need ever know. Her excitement accelerating, she's on a roll, "You could cure cancer for Christ's sakes."
He nods. "Ain't right. There's a time for dyin' those that need to go, should be let go."
She drives home in a daze. Doesn't know what to believe. Doesn't know fact from fiction but begins to hope.
She hits the fridge as the kid wonders into the lounge and turns on the TV. Her aching hands struggle with the screw top of the bottle but she manages and pours a large one. Begins to drink and empties the entire glass. She wipes the moist white wine from her lips with the back of her hand then clutches her stomach. The chill's brought on the pain and she doubles. "Joel! Joel!, quick, go get my pills, they're in the bathroom on the vanity."
He doesn't hear, absorbed in superheroes and sound, he curls up on the couch.
"Mum what's for dinner?" She doesn't answer. "Mum!" Finally he unfurls spindly legs and wonders into the kitchen. She's on the floor, out cold in a foetal position, the bottle of Chardonnay lying in a pool of spilled wine, the drip from its lip amplified by the sudden silence. He kneels and strokes her face, she's warm but her breath is faint and he lays hands on her shoulders but feels no buzz, no electricity coursing through his veins. He loves her, this isn't going to work.
Abel's massive fist bangs hard on their front door. Joel knows it's him even though he's never been to the house before. "Joel! Buddy! Hurry man" The boy bolts for the door and lets the big man through.
He's beginning to cry, "She just, just . . . I tried . . "
Abel saunters through in seven league strides, "Oh man . . she didn't say but I knew!" He kneels and gently turns the fading woman onto her back. He glides his hands from head to hip and rests them quietly across her solar plexus. His face begins to grimace and his arms tingle at first then explode in electric pain as he presses hard against her chest. "C'mon, c'mon" he utters in a whisper. He's sweating now and Joel runs to fill a glass with cooling water, "Here . " Abel continues, the colour draining from his face as hers begin to flush. A small boy drops the glass, shards shattering and water droplets reminiscent of that day the traffic stopped. He watches his friend shine, shimmer and glow. She breathes, gasps and he slumps - the aura gone.
"I don't know how Mrs Carlton but, there's just no sign of it" The white coat examines her MRI, no vibrant green where the cancer had once invaded, "There's nothing, you're clear!"
She waivers and threatens to faint, steadying herself with an outstretched arm on a whitewashed wall. "But you said six months max?"
He turns, face blank and unable to explain, "Can't explain it. Never seen anything like it but trust me, this MRI's clear. It's gone."
She holds her son, no longer thinking him odd or weird. She holds her son with renewed life and love. The sun shines its own aura, golden, warm and shimmering amid blue skies as both watch an oversized casket lowered and a military salute expelled by the pristine weapons of six comrades. At the wake, each has their tale of rescue whilst recovering in that vet's rehab joint. How Abel had laid hands. How a gentle giant had conquered demons. How the big man had shone an cured their wounds, soothed their souls, made it right.
Tears streaming now, she holds her son "Don't you ever, ever, ever . . . lay a hand on anyone!"
Written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Two Over Easy and a Nice Chardonnay"