This story is by Diane Kane and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
THE CENTER OF REDEMPTION
By Diane Kane
Oscar Cromouski was a man of means: mean spirited, mean tempered and mean mouthed. None of the residents at Apple Wild Senior Living liked him, except for Cora Mae Bowles.
“Cora, what on earth do you see in that poor excuse of a man?” Cora’s friend Lyla asked her.
Cora wrinkled her dainty nose and squinted her eyes. “I don’t know Lyla; he just has spunk.”
“Spunk! Huh.” Lyla huffed. “More like funk. He’s a funking jerk!”
Cora smiled at her uncouth friend. “He’s just a diamond in the rough, Lyla.”
“He’s more like a pile of dog crap in a plastic bag,” Lyla philosophized. “You can’t see what’s inside, but you know from the smell that it ain’t pretty.”
“I believe he can be redeemed,” Cora said with affirmation.
Cora was a woman of faith. She believed that there was good in everyone, including Oscar Cromouski.
Oscar had moved into Apple Wild in late autumn. No one was supposed to know that he was a hardship case. Cora happened to be in the office making copies of the bingo sheets when she overheard the manager on the phone with Social Services.
“Yeah, I have an empty unit for an emergency relocation,” the property manager said into the phone. “Old Barney Cox just took a ride on the magic bus. I can have the place ready in two weeks.”
Cora never told anyone what she had heard, not even her best friend, Lyla.
Two weeks later, when Oscar moved in, Cora baked zucchini bread, without nuts just in case Oscar was allergic. Lyla picked a bouquet of flowers from the community garden, and they both went to Oscar’s door.
Cora knocked delicately and waited. After a minute, without a response, Lyla clutched her fist and swung at the door just as Oscar pulled it open. Lyla’s fist connected with Oscar’s bulbous nose. Lyla screamed as blood poured from Oscar’s nostrils.
“What in blue blazes?” Oscar bellowed as he grabbed for a handkerchief from his back pocket.
Oscar wiped the blood from his face and snarled at Lyla. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m sorry,” Lyla said, clutching the trembling bouquet in her hands.
Cora stepped forward. “We’re the official Apple Wild welcoming committee.” Cora held her neatly wrapped zucchini bread out to Oscar. “I’m Cora Bowles, and this is my friend…”
“Well, you can both go to hell.” Oscar turned and stomped into his apartment.
“God Bless you,” Cora said quickly as the door slammed in her face.
“How rude,” Lyla said.
“Lyla, you did hit the poor man in the nose.”
“I believe that it was his big nose that got in the way of my fist while I was knocking on his door.”
Cora smiled sweetly at the spy hole on Oscar’s door and looped her arm around Lyla. “Let’s try again another day.”
“You can try again. These flowers will look better in my apartment, than in that old coot’s place.” Lyla said and looked at Cora’s homemade bread. “Let’s have that bread with some tea to calm my nerves.”
The next day, Cora did try again to no avail. Oscar didn’t want to converse with anyone. He didn’t go to social hour on Monday’s from 3-4 p.m. He never graced the bingo hall with his presence. In addition, he absolutely refused to come to the monthly dinners even though they were completely free.
One day Cora saw Oscar in the hall dragging a full trash bag. “Well, hello.” Cora crooned. “Nice to see you.”
“Wish I could say the same.” Oscar retorted as he shuffled off.
Cora watched him go and wondered what troubles Oscar was hiding under his crusty exterior.
“Cora, that’s nuts!” Lyla screamed while sitting only a foot away from her friend at coffee hour the next morning.
“Shh,” Cora said looking around to make sure no one was listening in on their conversation.
Lyla’s shriek had caused most of the hearing aids in the room to emit a high-pitched whine. She chuckled as people around her swore while pulling the units from their ears. “No need to shush me up in this group.”
“I’m going to follow him at a safe distant,” Cora assured her friend. “I think he could be in trouble.”
Cora had been discreetly watching Mr. Cromouski’s comings and goings for weeks. She noticed that he usually left with big bags of trash in his back seat of his rusty Ford Taurus. When he came back, they were gone.
“Cora, for all you know, he could have cut up bodies in those bags.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Lyla,” Cora said. “No one has gone missing around here since Roger Hogan disappeared last summer. Remember, they found him two days later hiding in the girl’s locker room at the high school.”
“Yeah, he said he wanted to get some exercise.”
“Well, my point is, where would Mr. Cromouski be getting body parts?”
“You never know what secrets a man like that might have, Cora,” Lyla warned. “Don’t do anything crazy, promise.”
Cora promised, but she couldn’t curb her curiosity. She decided to ask Mr. Cromouski to the Christmas services at the senior chapel.
“What do you want now?” Oscar demanded of Cora while pulling up his suspenders over his faded white tee shirt.
“I have my own service to attend,” he said, when Cora invited him to the chapel on Christmas Eve.
“I go to,” he stuttered. “The Church of the Holy Redemption.”
“I’ve never heard of that place of worship.”
“It ain’t around here.” He said and slammed the door but with less humph than the last time.
On the night of the Christmas Eve services, Cora sat in the driver’s seat of her 1998 Buick Electra, with her hands grasping the steering wheel. Promise or no promise, Cora had to know where Mr. Cromouski went with the trash bags.
Oscar stuffed a bulging black bag into his back seat beside three others. He folded his massive body into the front seat and took off out of the parking lot. Cora stepped on the gas and sped out after him.
She dodged through traffic and ran a yellow light just in time to see Oscar’s Ford Taurus swing into the parking lot of Stan’s Liquor Mart. Oscar was pulling one of the trash bags out of his back seat as Cora pulled up beside him. He looked like he had just been busted.
Cora put her car in park and slowly got out. She turned and feigned a look of surprise.
“Why Mr. Cromouski, what are you doing here? I thought you were going to church tonight.”
“I guess you could say I’m looking for redemption,” he smiled sadly, as he pointed at the sign next to the liquor store that read, Redemption Center. “Look, I shouldn’t have lied to you.” Oscar shuffled his shoes on the gravel. “You’re a nice lady, and you don’t deserve my bad manners. I’ve been down in the dumps since I lost my wife. She was the best of me.”
“I’m sorry,” said Cora
“You remind me of my wife. She was a saint.”
“I overheard the manager talking about your financial situation,” Cora said. “But I didn’t tell anyone.”
“I appreciate that. It’s true, my wife was sick for a long while. It drained all our savings. When she passed away, I didn’t’ have anything left. The bank repossessed my house, and I had to go into senior housing.
“So that’s why you collect bottles?”
“Not exactly. My wife, like I said, was a saint, and she loved to give to the homeless shelter. Ha, pretty funny, I was almost the homeless one. But, I have enough to get by now living at Apple Wild.” Oscar shrugged his bulky shoulders. “I take the money from the bottles that I cash in and donate it to the shelter in my wife’s name.”
“Well then,” Cora said, “let’s get those bottles redeemed, Mr. Cromouski.” Cora grabbed a bag, and they both entered the redemption center.
“$32.75!” Cora said while exiting the center.
“Not bad. The homeless shelter will be very thankful.”
“You know Mr. Cromouski, all this redeeming has made me a bit thirsty.” Cora fanned herself with her hand. “I have a little extra money that I won at bingo this week. I was wondering if you ever partake of the Holy water here?” Cora pointed to the sign for Stan’s Liquors.
“I have on occasion.” Oscar blushed.
“Could this be one of those occasions?” A snowflake fluttered down and landed on Cora’s cheek.
“It just might be, on one condition.”
“What is that, Mr. Cromouski?”
“That you call me, Oscar,” he said as he gently wiped away the snowflake from Cora’s cheek.
“Only if you call me, Cora.”