Skip to main content


There isn’t much to say, I tell folks when they ask about the events of last June. How it was that Eva Lewis, my caretaker at the Sheridan House Adult Care Center, and Jordan Reed, her boyfriend of six months, came to be found dead in a ditch, skulls cracked wide open, limbs blown clean off, a mile from the annual House picnic where Eva was supposed to be watching me.

They—the inquisitive ones—say: It’s a tragedy. What a shame. She, so young and kind, dedicating her life to helping others. He, so handsome and in love with Eva.

That’s a fact, I tell them. Eva and Jordan were thick as thieves. But when they ask what I think really happened—how the motorcycle they were riding exploded in flames—I just shrug, and my gaze wanders. Then they remember who they’re talking to and stop asking. Sometimes, if these questions take place in the convenience store up where Main Street crosses State Road 20, they pat my shoulder and buy me a chocolate bar. I’m known to be partial to chocolate, Hershey’s in particular. I like that it can be broken into twelve equal pieces, so that you are sure of getting the same amount in each bite.

Such treats are rare because pocket money is not allowed at Sheridan House. It’s considered a dubious perk that could prove divisive between those who have and those who don’t. If someone sends us money—a well-meaning relative or a guilty family member—it’s handled for us by our assigned caretaker and doled out as that person deems appropriate. But it’s less of a problem than you might think. Most people who would be inclined to send money seem to have forgotten we’re here. I myself have never received a dollar in the mail, though I was named the beneficiary in a will last spring, but as Eva explained, a will’s just a piece of paper and not actual money that one can put in one’s pocket and take to the store. It’s only the potential for money, she said, more like an idea than a thing you can touch. At least, that’s what I think she said. I don’t recall exactly.

Not that it matters. Money doesn’t make for happiness. That’s what the good reverend who visits Sheridan House each Sunday preaches. On the other hand, no money makes for a lot of misery. I think that’s why my mama left me at the back door of the Martyrs for Christ mission, though what she thought they might do with me, I don’t know. Martyrs for Christ had a large soup kitchen, a little chapel for prayer, and shelves of moth-balled blankets and clothing that had done its time but had not yet been granted a reprieve.

You may ask how I know this since the good ladies at Martyrs for Christ quickly passed me on to The Merciful Saints Children’s Home, a way station for foster care. But I just know. The ways of the world, they have a smell you can’t miss.

At Merciful Saints, I was like the half-blind dog with the gimpy leg and the chewed ear. People sympathized but only from a safe distance. No one wanted to take me home. Not even for money. In part, because I’m an enigma. My mama left no note, no personal details—who she was, her age, her situation in life—and though Merciful Saints claim they did a thorough search of hospitals within a 50-mile radius, records of my birth remain outside statistical proof. Perhaps my mother squatted in a field as peasant ladies are said to have done in Stalin’s Russia and then brought me direct to the Martyrs for Christ mission. I don’t remember.

In any case, I was not prime foster care material because I have something called Spriggs-Hernstein, a rare and possibly apocryphal disorder. My memory doesn’t always make its connections. My recall can be like that little circle that just keeps whizzing round and round on your laptop screen, even though you know the house has internet and it’s basically working. So people say my memory’s messed up, but I think: How do you know what memories a person’s got unless they choose to tell you?

My problem had yet to acquire a name when I was at Merciful Saints, but in hindsight it surely explains why I was passed over countless times by the goodhearted folks seeking to provide a semblance of home and family for kids not their own. Sister Mary Angelica might bring me in to meet one of these beneficent couples, who looked me over good while Sister read aloud my details. There wasn’t much to know, so after five minutes Sister would suggest I go wait in the hall while the adults discussed “things.” If the woman had piggy eyes or the man a cruel mouth, I might forget Sister’s instructions and wander outside to play in the boxwood hedge. If she found me and dragged me back, it often slipped my mind to mention I needed the bathroom, and so I wound up pissing myself, the stream dribbling visibly below the short pants we wore. I once heard Sister complain I had trouble making a good impression, but I’m pretty sure I made an impression. Good and bad’s in the eye of the beholder.

The actual Spriggs-Hernstein diagnosis came later, after I forgot I had food frying on the stovetop and nearly burned down the building I lived in. They found me passed out in my Barcalounger in front of the TV. Smoke inhalation will do you in lightning-quick they say, so I count myself lucky.

I felt bad about the fire. There may have been a lot of smoke and water damage to the other tenants’ apartments, though my memory’s hazy here. All I can say is that it was my first—and only—attempt at living on my own, and it ended with court, psychiatric evaluations, and lawsuits. Merciful Saints had a lot to answer for, the judge said, knowing I was a headcase and setting me loose on the world.

But back to Eva Lewis. Eva turned twenty-six this spring, her last birthday as it happened. She had been my caretaker for the entire four years I’d spent at Sheridan House, right up to the day of the picnic.

Eva was a bouncy girl, what they call vivacious, always something on the go. When I first met her, she was excited about a scheme to flip houses. She’d seen it on a TV show. Do up derelict properties for cheap and pass them off for three times the profit what she put into them. She figured, with her great taste and all, she’d make a killing. But then she found out that it took a lot of upfront cash, which she didn’t have, to buy these dumps, so that dream was down the toilet. Another time, she was all set to make it rich on a Cock-a-Doodle chicken franchise but then it transpired in the small print that the franchisee had to give the company $20,000 for start-up costs, so that fell through, too. In this world, I’ve observed, you can only dream as big as your wallet. And Eva lacked the wallet to match her imagination.

It was about the time of the franchise washout that Jordan showed up. Came to Sheridan House trying to persuade the owners to invest in some revolutionary new product. He used one of those PowerPoint presentations, and it was a wonder to hear him go through his pitch. He had more reasons than fingers to count them on why his product was going to save Sheridan House thousands. He wowed everyone with his facts and figures, though the name of the product slips my mind at the moment. But that’s how I am. I often get to the middle of a sentence and can’t recall why I started it. Or maybe I’m just easily distracted by all the things people say in my presence. People tend to talk freely around me, confusing Spriggs-Hernstein with idiocy. It’s a common misconception people have about anyone whose brain works differently from their own. I don’t recall everything these freetalkers say, but it’s surprising how much sticks, even if I can’t just parrot it back at the snap of a finger.

It was like that with the piece of paper that came in the mail last spring. The one that made me a beneficiary. That word was bandied about plenty in my hearing. It was spoken in whispers behind hands, but I heard it. There’s nothing wrong with my ears.

I was not all that surprised by being a beneficiary. It happens here more than you might think. People leave money at the end of their life to those they forgot in the living of it. Most of us here are on Medicaid which Pat and Ruth, the owners, never tire of reminding us pays a sorry portion of the high cost of keeping us housed and fed.

People say Pat and Ruth have a very good lawyer, and it must be true because mostly when people get left money, their lawyer finds a way of having it all signed over to Pat and Ruth who deposit it in their personal bank account. Or that’s what I’ve heard. It may be a confusion of the facts, or a bald-faced lie, though I’ve noticed they drive a late model Mercedes, and I’ve heard them brag about their vacation homes in Hawaii and the Bahamas.

But I’m ahead of myself here, getting scrambled up.

The emotion I most felt about the will was not surprise but curiosity, though technically curiosity is not an emotion but more of an information-seeking behavior. I tried hard to imagine who would leave me money. Had my mythological poor, scared, young mother grown into an elderly woman of means? Had she invented her way to millions with some clever gadget like the Popeil Pocket Fisherman? Married into fortune if not fame, and died tragically early? Perhaps, she was the child of great wealth and her parents, having turned their backs on me, her love child, had repented in their final hour and left their estate to the source of their shame.

Let me state here: I had no idea what I was the beneficiary of. A briefcase full of banknotes? A chalet in Switzerland? A great-grandfather’s signet ring or silk top hat? People leave others their trash as well as their treasures. It’s one way to clean house.

So the entire matter of what I had inherited and from whom was still very much up in the air on the day of the Sheridan House picnic last June. June 8th to be exact. We were herded onto the bus promptly at ten that morning. Pat and Ruth counted heads—twenty caretakers plus the twenty requiring care—and we were off. Pat and Ruth drove ahead of us in their Mercedes.

Eva took her seat beside me, and I waited for her to yank my hand and say, “You stick close. No funny business, mister,” like she always does whenever we leave the grounds. Instead, she smiled at me. “My, you look nice today, Harold.”

I was surprised because I had on my usual raggedy tee shirt, the one with a smiley face that is my favorite, and a not-quite-clean pair of chinos. But I just nodded and mumbled, “Thanks.” It occurred to me she might be up to something. Then I felt bad for thinking that. Maybe she was just doing one of those self-improvement programs you read about in magazines. How to Be a Better You in 90 Days. Only, I thought it would take a lot longer than three months to make Eva Lewis a nicer person.

I didn’t have to wait long to discover my suspicions were bang on the mark. Eva suggested we go down near the river. “You like to dip your toes in the water on a hot day,” she said, though it wasn’t a particularly hot day and I couldn’t remember if I had ever expressed this desire before.

No sooner had we settled on the riverbank then we heard the raucous rumble of a motorcycle, followed by a scrabbling in the bushes. Twigs snapped amid harsh curses, and Jordan Reed emerged, his arms scratched and bleeding in a half-dozen places from his unorthodox entrance through the brush.

In case I forgot to say it, Pat and Ruth had not ended up purchasing Jordan’s product—whatever it was—but he was not deterred. In fact, he had become something of a fixture at Sheridan House. Always hanging around by the front gates, waiting for Eva when her shift ended after dinner, and on Sundays when she got out after lunch. They texted back and forth much of the day, too, when she was supposed to be doing enrichment activities with me, and Jordan was supposed to be selling whatever it is he sells.

“Hi there.” Jordan gave me a big toothy grin as he plunked down next to Eva. “You havin’ fun out here, buddy?”

I stared at him without speaking. I don’t like people calling me “buddy.” Or “pal.” I think if I had a friend, I’d know it.

“What’s in there?” I asked, pointing to the large canvas rucksack Jordan slipped off his shoulders.

“Sandwiches. Want one?” He unzipped the pack just enough to pull out a skinny bologna on white bread.

“I don’t like bologna,” I said.

“Don’t be rude,” Eva snapped, but Jordan shrugged it off. “Suit yourself. More for me and Evie.”

He pinched her thigh, and she slapped his hand which made him smile.

“Got us some drinks, too.” He pulled out a couple cans of beer.

“He can’t have alcohol,” Eva said.

Jordan sized me up. “That’s a hard life you’re living, pal.”

But I wasn’t interested in his assessment of the conditions of my life. I was wondering why he needed such a capacious carryall for a few sandwiches and a six-pack. Maybe he just tossed things in randomly—like old sweatshirts and musty socks—and never bothered to take them out.

“I talked to the lawyer.”

Eva nodded at me. “Little pitchers.”

He stared at me, then laughed. “He can’t even tie his shoes,” he said, glancing pointedly at my Velcro-fastened sneakers.

Most people like to feel superior to others, even if there’s no apparent justification for doing so. Often especially if the evidence is lacking. But I didn’t deign to tell him I can tie my own shoes. I just happen to like the satisfying little rip Velcro makes when you undo it.

I walked a little ways off, but not so far I couldn’t make out what they were saying. If I had a boat, I thought, I could maybe row halfway across the river and still catch their words. Water cools the air just above it, which slows the sound waves, making sounds easier to hear. Basic physics. I would have liked to have majored in physics or maybe psychology, but I’ve never got past the grade four workbook Eva employed to distract me while she was on the phone. And I have trouble remembering the times tables, although there are days when I can tell you exactly what 137 x 256 is without doing the work. But I do a lot of reading on my own. I devour scientific journals and sociological studies and news of the weird.

I sat on the riverbank, humming tunelessly, and pretended extreme interest in a gym sock caught in the roots of a fallen tree at the water’s edge. It didn’t take them long to forget my existence.

“It’s only the Home can’t take it…said so.”

“…got this lawyer where?” Eva asked, “…a matchbook cover?”

“… online…went to Harvard…law degree posted right on…”

There was the sound of a ring tab being popped. Their voices rose as the conversation heated up.

“What’s a Harvard lawyer doing working from a website?”

“I keep telling you. Brick and mortar is old school. Online presence, that’s where the smart marketing is.”

Eva snorted.

“Look, he’s a real lawyer, and he confirmed he’s free to leave it to anyone he chooses.”

“When he dies.”

“When he dies.”

This last sentence, short as it is, hung in the air.

After a moment, I cleared my throat to remind them of my presence.

“Hey Buddy.” Jordan grinned, and I saw some of his teeth were black at the edges. “We were just talking about taking a walk. Stretch our legs a bit.”

“I like it here,” I said.

“There’s a cave close by,” Eva tempted. “You like caves.”

“I like caves,” Jordan piped up. “Caves are really cool.”

I knew about the cave. Blindman’s Cave to be exact. I’d wandered through it during the previous year’s picnic while Eva was busy not watching me.

“But first we need to get you something to eat,” Eva said to me. She winked at Jordan. “We’ll be back in a little while. I’m sure you can find some way to amuse yourself.”

We walked up from the river toward the pavilion where a row of food-laden tables had been set up, and caretakers were supervising games. Ring-toss. Horseshoes. A three-legged race.

I heaped food on my plate—three hotdogs, a mountain of potato salad, watermelon, a half dozen brownies—daring Eva to remark on my gluttony. But she just smiled as we settled at one of the picnic tables.

“Why is Jordan here?” I asked. “Only Sheridan House residents are allowed at the picnic.”

“Well, he’s not really at the picnic, is he?” she said, wiping mustard from my chin. “He brought his own food, and it’s a public park. He can be in the park.”

When the last brownie was gone, I rose from the bench.

“Oh, before I forget, I need you to sign something.” Eva dug around in her handbag and pulled out a folded sheaf of papers. She smoothed them on the table. “Just write your name here, where the X is.”

“What are they for?”

“Just ordinary forms so you keep getting your Medicaid payments.”

“But I don’t get my Medicaid payments. Pat and Ruth get them.” I reached for the papers and she swatted my hand away.”

“You won’t be able to read them. There’s a lot of legal mumbo jumbo. Just put your name on this line.” She placed her finger on the X.

“I’m going to play horseshoes,” I said, wondering how long it would take her to get truly riled up.

“You can play any game you like. As soon as you sign the papers.” She gave me what I imagine she imagined was a sweet smile.

I shook my head. “Doesn’t look right. Doesn’t look like last year’s forms.”

“They might have changed the form. Things do change out in the real world, Harold.  But you still need to sign to get your money for Sheridan House.”

“I don’t know. I’ll think about it while I’m throwing horseshoes.”

“Oh, for chrissakes, just sign the damned paper!” She paused. “I’ll get you a bag of those brownies, all for yourself.”

People who are easily bought always imagine everyone else has morals the size of a pea.

I sat back down and tried to read the words.

She was right. There were a lot of therefores and whereins but my eyes fixed on sign over the full amount…  And a line or two further: …for her great kindness to me.

Eva frowned and spread her fingers wide to cover the words, but not before I saw the date had been filled in: The first of May. Almost six weeks ago.

I considered my situation and decided I could take care of myself.

When we got back to Jordan after three games of horseshoes, I saw right away the rucksack was a shadow of its former bulging self. Had Jordan thrown his disgusting laundry in the river? My watchfulness meter ratcheted up a notch.

Blindman’s Cave was less than a half mile away, but Eva turned her ankle before we got a third of that distance. Jordan sat her down on a large rock and palpated the joint.

“Not a sprain,” he declared, and I wondered what it was exactly in his background of hawking questionable wares that qualified him to make this diagnosis.

“Might be smart, though, to give it a moment’s rest. I’ll stay with you.”

Eva nodded to me. “You just run along, Harold. No need to spoil your fun.”

When I hesitated, she said, “Go on. We’ll catch up soon.”

As I trotted off, she called out, “Be careful now,” which struck me odd. The cave wasn’t particularly dangerous. There was an opening at the far end, but Eva probably didn’t know that. She wasn’t really the spelunker type.

A half dozen steps into Blindman’s Cave, the temperature dropped a good fifteen degrees, and I breathed easier. I’ve always liked caves, or the idea of them—I’ve only seen two. I like the long, pointed stalactites that hang from the roof like the canine teeth of a saber-toothed tiger. I like the little towers of stalagmites. They make me think of pieces on a chess board Neptune might have used. I like to poke about the nooks and crannies.

Which was how I found the dynamite. Little bundles of five and six sticks, a half dozen or more tucked up high into the rock, but not entirely out of sight if one is a close observer, which I was on that afternoon.

I pondered my situation, made a decision, then strolled through the cave until I reached the far end a quarter mile off and emerged into the muggy afternoon light. I then did what I had to do before joining the others at the pavilion for one last game of horseshoes. Did I forget to say how much I love horseshoes? It requires a deft hand and a sure eye.

On the bus back to Sheridan House, people asked, “Where’s Eva?” I told them, truthfully, I didn’t know. She was there one moment, and then she wasn’t. Everyone knows how muddled I get sometimes remembering, so they stopped asking. Pat and Ruth stayed behind to look for her, which is how we heard about the big explosion at the cave.

“The whole front half blown to kingdom come,” Ruth reported. “Thank goodness the picnic was over, and nobody was down there.”

We didn’t hear of the motorcycle accident until the next day. “Blown to kingdom come,” Ruth repeated the phrase of the night before, so that at first, I thought she was still talking about the cave. “What was she doing with that Jordan fellow when she was supposed to be watching Harold?”

It’s a fair question, one all the locals keep asking. They ask Pat and Ruth. They ask the other caregivers. They ask me, as I mentioned earlier. The thoughtful ones ponder the coincidence of the blow-up at the cave coming so short a time before the motorcycle exploded, and they wonder if there’s a connection. But no one can quite see how the two tie up.

I don’t know what Pat and Ruth or the caregivers say, but if I say anything at all, I tell them some things are mysteries beyond our knowing.

I say this because no one would believe me if I told them the explosive in dynamite is nitroglycerin, which is a highly unstable substance and dangerous to handle. A substance that could explode in the rear exhaust pipe of a motorcycle once the engine was running a short while.

They would stare at me in disbelief, these inquisitive ones. Not because these things aren’t true, but because it was me saying them.

Anyway, the afternoon of the Sheridan House picnic was weeks and weeks ago. Now and again, I get glimpses of it but the whole of what happened is rapidly receding.

Try as I might, I really don’t remember.

Amy Henry is a writer of fiction long and short. Her stories have been published in The Alembic and The Barcelona Review. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous magazines, newspapers, and online. She lives in Massachusetts with her übersupportive husband and two wayward cats. When not writing fiction, she blogs about the human condition on her website.

Comments are closed.