The odd thing about Simon Klempson was his ability to listen with his eyes. He could blink his eyelids rapidly and tune into conversations three homes away. The townsfolk assumed he was just a pitiful soul plagued by misfortune and nervous ticks. As a boy, he’d lost use of his actual ears due to a dangerously high fever that caused seizures. But I guess the really sad thing about the whole situation was that Simon was also blind.
And then there was the matter of his missing left hand; a congenital defect.
He once winked and overheard a man ask his adoptive parents if he was handicapped because his mother drank vodka during her pregnancy.
Simon simply closed his eyes and shut out the offensive voice.
People were amazed a young man as physically challenged as Simon was able to get around by himself. He was often seen boarding random buses along Wheeler Road and would turn up all over town. He could be seen at a donut shop leaning in on his elbows and blinking his eyes toward a table of senior women discussing their grandchildren.
“Will you just look at him, Mary?” The blue-haired, Mrs. Waxler said. “Something’s not right with that one.” She looked over her shoulder and flicked her thumb back at Simon.
Simon smiled in her general direction, winked, and waved his stump.
Mrs. Waxler shivered and pulled her knitted shawl tighter around her bony frame.
Simon went on his way.
He used a walking stick for support, and down the length of it, written in permanent black marker, were the words, Shake this wand and make music.
One time, the local sheriff was called down to Seven Oaks Park to investigate a disturbance.
Apparently, Simon had been collecting bottles and aluminum cans from the trash receptacles located at the four corners of the public recreation center. He then made himself comfortable on a green park bench. In a matter of minutes, using his only hand and his two front teeth, he assembled a wind instrument composed of recyclables and rubber bands he’d swiped from the Post Office.
He tapped his walking stick like a baton and set it down beside him. With a dramatic clearing of his throat, he brought his creation up to his lips. An eerie, hypnotic pitch of sound seeped forth from the crudely
His song was the alluring offer of candy from strangers. People froze in place, clearly disturbed. Along the path, couples let go of hands and went their separate ways. Children ceased their aimless running and began to cry without purpose. Two dogs who were wrestling in the grass rolled over and decided to play dead instead.
When the sheriff finally reached Simon, he was shocked to see a circle of rats scrambling at the disabled man’s feet.
“Uh, Simon,” the sheriff said uncomfortably. “I know you can’t hear me, boy, but I need you to quit this noise right now.” He reached out to snatch the pipes away, but Simon abruptly dropped it to the ground.
“Not for you,” Simon said. His voice was the muted thump of ripe pumpkin. “It’s for them.” He pointed his finger down at the ground. The rats surrounded his instrument and wriggled their furry little bodies into a tight bundle. They pinched the pipes between them and fled with it into the sewers.
The sheriff had himself three extra shots of Crown Royal that night.
The next day, Simon was seen purchasing tickets for the Saturday matinee.
“Two, please!” He bellowed with the intonation of a hollow can.
“Who’s the other ticket for?” The freckled boy in the round booth asked. Then he thought better of it. “Wait a minute… you can’t hear me.”
Simon just stared at him, blinking.
“And come to think of it,” the boy’s chest puffed up. “What the hell is a blind guy doing at the movie house anyways?” He started laughing. “And besides that, there ain’t nobody here with you.”
Simon tilted his head, reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out a snake. “Maybe you’ll feel better if he stays here with you.” He pushed the squirming reptile through the ticket slot.
The boy screamed in an octave audible solely to dogs, threw open the door and fled down the street.
Simon strutted past the glass theater doors.
Seated inside, his blue eyes flickered like film through a projector. He absorbed the dialogue of the horror movie using a single eye. The other eye stayed closed and heard nothing but blood rushing to his brain.
When the movie was over, he stepped outside and suspended his stick in front of him like a fishing rod. A little boy holding his mother’s hand walked up beside him. He watched Simon pause at the sidewalk curb and dip his walking stick into a grimy puddle. Suddenly, he jerked back his arm and a small catfish dangled from a gold hook at the end.
“Mommy!” The boy let go of his mother’s hand and squatted. “That man caught a fish!”
The perplexed mother snatched her child up by the ear. “Get away from him,” she hissed. She gave Simon a look she knew he couldn’t see. “Stay away from my baby!”
Simon slipped his catch into his pocket and listened to the boy’s footsteps fade away. He stretched his eyes open as wide as they would go. When his tears began to fall, he heard the ocean roar.
He took the bus home and let the driver help him down the steps. He was tired and ready to grant his final gift.
That night Simon opened his bedroom window, tapped his walking stick on the sill, and conducted a symphony. Thousands of beetles scratched their legs like violins in the dark soil. Cats cried arias on rooftops. And the young widow who lived three doors down painted her fingernails blue and baked a pie.
The following afternoon, without understanding why, she brought the apple crumb-top to Simon’s home. She thought about leaving it at the threshold of his front door, but was worried he’d step out and put his foot in it. She knocked, and when no answer came, she twisted the knob and opened the unlocked door.
She walked timidly inside.
And then she screamed.
Simon had passed away in his sleep, supine on the couch, with his eyes propped open. His walking stick rested on his chest.
The widow wiped away her sudden flood of tears, and out of respect, carefully shut his eyes. The instant she touched his smooth, cold eyelids, she heard a miracle. It was her dead husband’s voice.
“Shake this wand and make music,” he said.
Very slowly, she smiled and reached for it.
Angel Zapata loves to play “Simon says.” Upcoming and recently published work can be found at Nailpolish Stories, The Flash Fiction Offensive, and Bewildering Stories. Visit him at http://arageofangel.blogspot.com