A few thoughts. The “Mr. Penguin” comment is a reference to the CBeebies Bed Time Story on the BBC. Ordinarily it’s a wonderful little series, with lots of actors and comedians who tell children’s stories.
The story is one hundred percent original.
Thank you in advance for sharing it, liking it, and maybe subscribing to either my channel or to my blog.
Read the story here if the video won’t play for you.
Kirby Dunst arrived at eight thirty, although visiting hours weren’t until nine. Normally, the staff couldn’t care less, except for the nurse who glared her accusation as she wheeled Grandpa into the lobby.
Outside, Grandpa became more animated.
“Colby, is that you?”
“It’s Kirby, Grandpa. Colby is in prison.”
“Colby’s such a nice boy, visits me every day, you know.”
“He does that from solitary, does he?” Kirby kept a casual pace, trying to take comfort in the shade of some trees lining the street, without depriving Grandpa of sunlight.
“Colby’s really giving the Vanguard a run for their money. Did you see last night’s game?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, St. Michael finally has a shot at the championship this year, thanks to Colby. Such a good boy.”
Last night’s game was actually a recording from Grandpa’s senior year of high school. The nurses played them at random, in order to keep him seated on the commode. At some point, Grandpa started believing it was a different game every time, and that the younger version of himself was really Colby. No one had the heart, or the patience, to keep correcting him.
“Where are we going?” Grandpa asked, with an almost childlike enthusiasm.
Kirby stopped and pulled a used tissue from his pants pocket––the one that wasn’t stuffed with invoices. Every time he moved his arms, the fabric from his sleeves brushed the spots where he had been jabbed. He wiped his nose and tried to keep his emotions in check, avoiding eye contact with passerby, who must have been judging him, just like the nurse.
“We’re going to a game,” Kirby said, swallowing the lump. He tossed the tissue on the ground and continued pushing Grandpa. “St. Michael is playing the Vanguard, this afternoon. We might even see Colby.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful. Colby’s such a nice boy, visits me every day, you know.”
They came to a shelter at the end of the street. The solid gray exterior was covered in bright, colorful posters, reminding people to recycle. A small sign warned against loitering and unauthorized postings. Kirby wheeled Grandpa into the shiny, metallic space, positioning the chair so he could see outside.
He sat on the low bench, allowing Grandpa to prattle on without further commentary. Kirby kept his head down whenever a car drove by, hoping no one would recognize him, or Grandpa. Not that he was doing anything illegal.
A year ago, Kirby lost his job. He went on government assistance to make ends meet while he tried to find work, only the jobs for his skill level were few and far between.
That place is hiring, one person said.
I know you could work there, someone else would say of a job that required a level of education Kirby didn’t possess. You should go back to school.
There must be a scholarship. Maybe they’ll hire you and you can take classes on the side.
Everyone seemed to be in the employment of that clandestine agency of hindsight detectives –– people who always knew something, always had the solution on hand, always imagined that their limited experience or perception was helpful. Eventually, Kirby learned to stop sharing his problems, especially when they suggested that his family should be willing to help.
The jobs weren’t getting any easier to find, but Kirby held out hope until the notice came in the mail, informing him of the new law.
“If you wish to continue receiving your benefits, which include a food/clothing allowance, rental assistance, and healthcare, you will be required to submit a blood sample for analysis. As long as your blood is free of alcohol and other illegal substances, you will continue to receive your benefits. Please report to one of the following facilities every thirty days.”
It seemed fair enough. Kirby even checked the box that said he was okay with donating his blood to charity––not knowing they would take a full pint each time. Every month, for almost a year, he showed up, sat in the chair and watched the bag fill up.
Then his parents were found, dead from an overdose. Possibly suicide, the report was unclear. They died before a new law was passed that might have been helpful, if the medical examiners had been willing to alter certain details, which they weren’t. So now Kirby was responsible for all of the family debts, except for one.
“They want me to pay restitution for all those cars I chopped,” Colby told him, when Kirby visited to tell him the bad news. “You’re my brother, you gotta help me.”
“I don’t have to help you with shit. As long as you’re alive and kicking, your obligations are still yours. Good luck with that.”
As the only living member of his family, who was legally and mentally sound, Kirby felt confident that he could manage the debts… until the first warning came.
“You have failed to submit your blood for analysis this month,” the letter said. “Per the conditions of your monthly benefits, you are advised to visit an approved facility, listed below, before the end of the month, or your benefits will be suspended.”
Kirby definitely showed up this month; the phlebotomist knew him by name. But somewhere between the iodine and the cookie the paperwork got lost. Kirby had no other choice but to insist they take more blood, even when they said it would be dangerous. The next morning, minus another pint of blood, Kirby could barely get out of bed, much less go job hunting. He had just enough energy to check the mail and see the newest bill from Grandpa’s nursing home. Surprised by this, he called them on the following Monday.
“There’s nothing we can do,” the temp agent said. “Not with this amount. Although, there is that new law.”
“What new law?” Kirby groaned.
He listened as the temp explained. Later, it would transpire that the temp violated a non-disclosure agreement. The board of directors for the home were against the law, and wanted to keep families of the residents in the dark for as long as possible. Kirby tried to forget it and very nearly succeeded… until the final warning came.
“For failure to submit blood for analysis, your benefits are hereby suspended. If you do not submit a sample by the end of the month, your account will be terminated and you will be ineligible to reapply for benefits for a period of up to one year.”
Kirby called the nursing home, and then he gathered all of his spare change to buy a one way bus ticket.
He held Grandpa’s hand, feeling no need to rush. The space outside the shelter was now heavily shaded, so it didn’t take long for Grandpa to become lethargic. Kirby leaned over to kiss his cheek. When he rose, Grandpa became alert.
“Where are you going?” His voice was childlike and trusting.
“The bus is running late,” Kirby said, avoiding eye contact. “I’m just going to check the schedule.”
Grandpa relaxed, satisfied with the answer. Kirby grabbed the handle on the side of the shelter entrance and slid the door into the locking position. If Grandpa was surprised, or made any cry of alarm, the world would never know.
Kirby stared at the sealed gray walls of the shelter, refusing to risk looking at anyone who might drill holes into his conscience. Just when he was sure he would throw up, a slip printed from a dispenser. Kirby saw the figure and relief washed away the guilt. Maybe he wouldn’t need benefits anymore––at least he would have time to recover once the debts were cleared away. And if Colby thought he was seeing a penny of this, he could talk it over on his next “visit” to Grandpa.
He started for the real bus stop, when an old lady approached him. She moved with the aid of a walker, and the woman by her side was maybe twenty or thirty years younger.
“Excuse me; does the #55 stop here? This idiot doesn’t seem to know.”
The “idiot” wore a silent frown of resignation. Kirby decided it was none of his business. He glanced at the shelter, which had opened to reveal an interior that was clean and empty as the day it was built. Then, he said to the old lady, “#55 is due any minute, ma’am. Why don’t you go in and have a seat?”