Del pushes a broom five days a week at Daymont Adult day care center. He’s about as dejected looking as most of the clients. Delmar Hayes, he used to be.
Back when he was nineteen, Delmar had actual black, shiny hair that he slicked back real nice. He was one of those slender men packed with muscles that roped around his forearms, looking sorta menacing. His gray eyes glinted, but he kept them eyelids down to slits—more snide, he said.
Delmar Hayes is my little brother. Back then, it was his heyday. Oh, yea. He ran around with those two Selman boys—the ones that looked like gorillas. And the three of them hulked down the streets of Varney, West Virginia, just stealin’ cigarettes during the day and makin’ much more trouble than that at night. I know for a fact that the radio he give Daddy wasn’t store bought.
Delmar and them boys hung around right up until they all got drafted to be soldiers. They trained ‘em up and sent them all to Veet Nam, and Lon Selman got killed right off. Delmar and Arch Selman came home all right, but Arch wasn’t never the same, and Delmar turned into Del. Del that just never looked you in the eye; those slits got so small. And Del didn’t even look like Delmar no more—he kind of shrunk down into his clothes, and he didn’t even wear belts or nothing, so his pants just slipped right down to his ass. He didn’t even care.
Del didn’t even care about Momma. She cried and cried, and she begged him to “go get a real nice job,” but he sat on the porch all day until Daddy kicked him off of it for good. We none of us saw him for a long while. Then one damn day he showed up in town with some nasty piece of work named Lena, and they both sashayed around for awhile, until their money ran out, and Lena disappeared. Del got real far-off after that.
Del couldn’t live on nothin’—so he got hisself a job at Daymont. Momma couldn’t figure out why they hired him, ‘cause he was such a lowlife kind. But Mr. Slocum, the director, musta felt kinda sorry for Del. So he handed him a broom and told Del to keep the place neat and clean. Hell, he even got Del to cleanin’ the toilets in there.
Funny thing, though. Those old folks at Daymont took to Del. I guess they like quiet, kind of murky people—like they all are. Del nods to them, and he lets them alone, unless they talk to him. And then he kind of mumbles back. I am not so sure they even understand what he is sayin, half the time. But at least he talks to ‘em. Them nurse aids just call ‘em honey and hoist them around. Old people hate that—even the crazy ones.
They give Del a room at Daymont—just off the storeroom. So he lives there now. He has a TV in there, a bar fridge, and a cot. He gets to use the restrooms and showers on the first floor, when the folks who go for day care are long gone for the day. Del kind of acts like a night watchman, I guess.
But you know, it’s sad, cause Momma says that Del is just going to fade and fade until he needs day care hisself. And there won’t be nothing to say for his life, but what he used to be a punk, then a soldier, and then he was nothin’. She says that’s what war does to people. It turns good boys into dead-eyed men, just tryin to hold on and go on bein’ bankers, farmers, and clerks. And it turns bad boys like Delmar into shadows.