The Paved Road, Part One

            The first thing that I saw / When I woke up this morning / Was bad news on the TV I left on the night before / It’s the same old, sad story / Somebody shot somebody / Most of the time the victim / Was a junkie or a whore.


The Weather Channel was made for days like Tuesday, so, naturally, Eddie Sylva never took a look at the forecast. He was preoccupied by dread. He had a dental appointment at nine for a root canal. Doctor Torrence made no promises but was going to try to save Eddie’s upper incisors, either that or he’d fit him with a bridge in a few weeks. He had good insurance, the doctor noted, so what was the harm in having two options and trying the one unlikely to work first?

That wasn’t exactly the way Doctor Torrence had phrased it.

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Eddie was lying flat in the chair, and Doctor Torrence was obeying that tried and true practice of drilling like hell until Eddie, his mouth full of metal instruments, started grunting and his hair stood up, or sure felt like it did. Then the doctor let him swoosh some water around in his mouth and spit. Eddie was thinking about things that might be worse – saddle-bronc riding, for instance – and staring out the window while Torrence labored to save two teeth.

Snow started falling. Within a few minutes, as Eddie watched helplessly from the chair, it was snowing hard. Studying the snowflakes as they cascaded outside the window preoccupied him. It didn’t alleviate the pain but at least seemed to make it less noticeable.

By the time Eddie got himself together, relying on the novocaine, the women out front were canceling appointments and closing the office. Eddie got in his truck and went to CVS to get some pain pills and cans of soup because that was all he was going to be eating for the rest of the day.

Driving home wasn’t easy. Thank goodness his Silverado wasn’t automatic. Driving in the snow was easier that way. Keep it over-geared. Don’t let the wheels spin. By the time he reached the road to the house, three inches of snow covered to dirt and gravel. Getting to the house did require a little wheel spinning.

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Life is hard / No matter where you go / It’s a tortured path / Tough row to hoe / When the wheels spin / Got a heavy load / Hoping I can get / To the paved road.

Eddie heated a bowl of broth in the microwave. Yum, yum. He poured it into two coffee cups after he quickly realized it was less messy that way. He put his cups on the coffee table, leaned back in the recliner, supped and washed down a pain pill. He picked up the novel he was reading, Swag, by the recently deceased Elmore Leonard. Doctor Torrence had warned him against drinking coffee, and since the broth had the opposite effect, pretty soon he nodded off to sleep.

By the time I had my breakfast / It was snowing in Milwaukee / And when I ate my lunch / Shots rang out in Labrador / All that rang at my house was an offer of new credit / Which I deserved about as much / As any drunken troubadour.

A chill awakened him, that and a series of beeps from the home alarm system, which he had neglected to deactivate while putting the soup away. He typed in the code and realized the beeping had been a result of the system switching to backup power, which, in turn, meant the electricity had gone out.

Duh. Eddie was drowsy. He wasn’t thinking straight. The pain pill probably had something to do with it. By now it was mid-afternoon. He opened some blinds and fetched a flashlight from the washer/dryer room and found some candles in the kitchen. He wasn’t worried much about the refrigerator because the house was becoming a refrigerator itself. He’d still have soup because the stove was gas and didn’t require electricity. His phone was on the kitchen counter, less than half charged. He shut it off in case he needed it later and remembered there was an old phone in the closet that just plugged into the land line. The remote phone needed electricity. He wondered how long the power would be out, and just in case service didn’t return soon, decided to venture out one more time for provisions.

Bad idea. It was the kind of heavy snow that occurred once or twice a decade in these gently rolling Carolina hills. He backed out of the garage and felt the tires sink into the muck. He shouldn’t have turned it downhill because, when he shifted back out of reverse, it bogged down. It looked like more than a foot was on the ground, and it was still coming down heavy. He got out of the truck and went back to the garage, where his Mazda had the advantage of front-wheel drive but the disadvantage of lightness and lack of power. He backed out the other way and proceeded to get it stuck halfway down the lane. He trudged back to the house realizing there he would be staying for a while.



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