“What was that?”
“It’s a …”another prolonged feral growl leaked from his closed lips. It was accompanied by an upper respiratory spasm that shook him from shoulder to sternum. “It’s … a … spasm.” He labored each word until it emerged from his mouth. “My pulmonologist said it’s not my lungs. It’s related to my heart.” He raced the sentence to its completion. “Fuck I don’t know.” He paused to control his voice. “I can’t even talk on the phone anymore.” He whispered another wail and elongated his neck in an attempt to open his airway.
“Can’t they do something about it?” He straightened himself in his chair and crossed his leg over his knee.
“I don’t know.” He steadied his voice and tried to control the rasp. “I’m hoping.” He waited for another spasm to end. “I’m on two inhalers. But I don’t want to talk about that anymore. I don’t want to waste my words.”
“What do you want to talk about?”
“This is spiritual direction. Let’s talk about God.”
“I can’t figure Him out.” He placed his tongue behind his bottom teeth and inhaled. “Yesterday morning I was so depressed.”
“About your health?”
“No. I just felt alone.” He tried to silently suppress a spasm. “I had no one to shovel my sidewalk. And so I decided to shovel it myself.”
“Please tell me that you didn’t.”
“I can shovel your sidewalk after work.”
“No bro. It’s okay. As soon as I catch my breath, I’ll finish the story.”
“I’ve got to stand up.” He walked over to the window and looked outside. “I just couldn’t believe I didn’t have anyone to help me. And I told God that.”
“Could you hire someone?”
“I have. But it’s $20 a shot. And that doesn’t sound like a lot? But with all the medicine and three of us being hospitalized in the last couple of months, I’m trying to save cash. Did you know it’s $96 for an ambulance to take you to the emergency room? We’ve done that 3 times this winter.”
“I could pay for someone to shovel your sidewalk.”
“Bro you took the vow of poverty. I didn’t. Let me finish my story.”
“Okay. Jesus, I can’t breathe!” He closed his eyes and hissed through a spasm.
“How can I help you?”
“Can you see why my social life is dead?” His lips smiled; his eyes teared. He exhaled. “Anyway. I thought it would melt during the day. And so I waited.”
“No. Do you know my next door neighbor knows … about my heart and … actually watched the ambulance take … my Father last week, and he shoveled … his sidewalk yesterday … and didn’t touch mine. I couldn’t be that man. I couldn’t.” A spasm shook him. “Fuck it.”
“It’s not a kind world.”
“Truer words bro.” He walked and sat on a chair. “Anyway, last night there was a … small knock on my door. I opened it … and an old man was standing on my sidewalk with his bicycle.” He rode out a spasm. “He held the shovel I keep on my … porch and he looked homeless… He asked me if I wanted my sidewalk shoveled. He was at least in his late 60s. He said he’d do it for $7.”
“Did you hire him?”
“Well, I had to see if … I had cash. Who has cash anymore? And I only found $3. And I told him I couldn’t hire him because I only had $3 cash. And he said he’d do it for $3. I started to cry. … I remembered I had a jar of change. I asked him if he’d take quarters. He said he would. … And so I paid him all the cash I had. Isn’t God funny?”
“I wouldn’t say God was funny.”
He leaked a guttural growl. “You know what I mean. … In all the years I’ve lived there,” he rode a spasm, “I’ve never had anyone ask to shovel or mow my lawn. …I knew God sent him.”
“God sent him.”
“I’m not alone at all.”
“I never thought you were.”
“Hey, today? I don’t want to pray for me. Let’s pray for that old man.”
“Can I go to confession now?”
“Thank you Father.” He controlled a spasm as he knelt on the carpet.