with no regard for gravity
Gallantry In Action
Jonathan Atkins stood to accept the applause. He moved to the microphone in a leisure sway. Governor Stadler refused to step aside. He waited until the applause died down. It took a five full minutes. "Ladies and Gentlemen," the governor said into the microphone, beginning to sound like a politician, "How do you define a hero? What makes a hero? What makes a man a superman? Most of you know Jonathan Atkins. Most of you know him well. He is recognized as a gentle man; he is remembered as a decent man; he is known as a charitable man; and by the Congress of these United States of America he is acknowledged as a hero.
"Fifty years ago, the morning of March 13, deep in the Alsace Valley, Captain Jonathan Atkins led a small company into Basel, Germany in an attempt to breach the Listin Bridge. That cold morning operation saved the bridge for Allied tanks and gave the United States of America a new hero.
"Facing a large force of well-seasoned veteran Nazi defenders, Captain Atkins won the battle and was single-handedly credited with killing over twenty enemy and despite a severely wounded shoulder, stood his ground and inspired his men onto the bridge and victory.
"The inscription on the back of his Congressional Medal Of Honor says, For Gallantry In Action. It doesn't say, however, how gallant he is in peace. Jonathan is an honest man. He is an inspiring man. He is a decent man. He is my friend; he is our friend...I give you Grand Rapid's own hero...Jonathan Atkins."
Applause filled the hall. The Governor finally yielded the microphone. Jonathan stood against the lectern and humbly accepted the tribute. When they seemed satisfied, the crowd relaxed. Jonathan spoke quietly and succinctly.
"Thank you, thank you all very much", he said. "I guess tonight began about two years ago. Sam Wilcock, my old sergeant-major, came visiting. He was touring Grand Rapid and just looked me up. He reminded me that soon it would be the fiftieth anniversary of the Listin Bridge battle. We wondered how many men would be still be with us. We decided to find out and this here party is for all of you. You know, I've been very fortunate in my life. My family has been for the most part healthy. My wife loves me and my kids visit often bringing all of our grandchildren. My business is doing well. I'm extremely comfortable. Life is good.
"But every night before I make my way to bed, I walk by the mantel and salute the medal you all earned. You probably don't know this, but there is a plaque above the medal. I had it specially made. It is engraved with all the names of all the men who fought with me that day. I've always believed that it was our award—not mine. We earned it that late march day back in '45. I wanted to thank you. I wanted you to know how much. So the word went out to all the surviving veterans of the 212 infantry C company and here we are. Gentlemen," he said, reached for a glass, "A toast to all who never came back from the Rhine that day." Silence. "A toast to all who left part of themselves on the bridge." Silence. "A toast to all those who didn't make it to this fiftieth anniversary." Silence. "And to those of us who remain...In memory of those who are gone...salute."
A certain silence was followed by the rhythmic clinking of glass on glass.
Jonathan continued, "Tonight is for memory. Tonight is for the future—for my children's children and your children's children. One more toast." He raised his glass. "To no more war."
Jonathan made his way off stage and walked through the crowd shaking hands. He accepted humbly the attention.
Toward the back of the room was an old man with round dark glasses. He sat alone. As Jonathan approached, the old man slowly stood and walked toward him. The old wrinkled hand of the old man was just one of the hundreds Jonathan reached out to shake.
"Mr. Atkins," the old man said, "I've waited fifty years to shake your hand."
Jonathan nodded. He was polite. "It has been a long time. Your face looks familiar, but I can't place your name. I hope you're not offended."
"Eric Straact," the old man said, "my name is Eric Straact. I was a captain that day in the Alsace Valley. I was your enemy."
Jonathan stilled. He looked into the old eyes of the old captain. He continued shaking his hand.
"I was wondering if we could talk," the old captain said. "If we could have a few moment alone."
"Certainly," Jonathan said, "certainly." He turned to his wife and said, "I'm taking a walk, dear. I'll be back before anyone will miss me." He walked out the door with a man who fifty years ago wanted to kill him.
Eric Straact was a small man. He was thin and fit into the black jacket as if it were tailored. He had a full head of grey hair. The spectacles he wore were thick and sensible. He spoke with a light accent. "I've lived in Cleveland since 1954," he said. "I lost my first wife at Dresden in '45 and married an Ohio girl in '56. I won my citizenship that same year and began work as a school teacher. I retired five years ago. I have three children here in America and three grandchildren. I drive a Toyota and drink French wine and wear Italian shoes. I've been happy here in America.
"I read about this reunion in the paper. I thought I should be here. I wanted to meet you. I wanted you to hear your story from the other side. I wanted you to understand that German boys were heroes there; that mother's cried for our side as well. I wanted you to know who we were."
They walked out of the hall and into the March evening. The old captain moved as if in formation with his hands clasped behind his back. Jonathan moved next to him seemingly in no hurry.
"After the war," the old captain said, "I was put in a British prisoner of war camp. I had escaped from the Russians near Brandenburg. I literally ran to the British. After my name cleared the war crime list, I was released to go back to Dresden. I was a school teacher before the war. I came back to a skeleton city, they had little need for teachers. In fact, they had little need for anything more than pity. I left Dresden and settled in Bonn. I applied for a visa to America and here I am. But this is not my story. I want to tell you of my company. Of what we saw before we saw you on that bridge near Basel.
"My company had been running from Patton's tanks the whole winter before our battle on the Rhine. We were hiding on the SaŠne River outside of Lyon when we received word to move to Basel. We followed the river over the French Alps traveling by morning and night hiding from the Allied fighters who buzzed overhead looking to shoot at anything German. For five days we marched. We were a ragged company of five hundred men with only fifteen officers.
"We arrived at Basel that Wednesday night. We ate and rested and consumed the beauty of the Alsace valley. We knew that a full division of tanks were sitting just over the river. We knew why we were there. That night Field Marshall Von Lamm invited me to his headquarters. After warm brandy and cheese he walked me to the balcony of his office. It was twilight. I was a captain and he was a Field Marshall. He was a hero in the first world war. I remember, as a child, growing up in Dresden pretending to be Captain Von Lamm leading men over the fields of Argonne. We Germans had few heroes for little boys after that war.
"The Field Marshall stood in the darkness of the Basel night and asked me to tell him what I thought of war. I didn't answer. We stood in silence. He turned to me and said, 'War is man's excuse to be cruel.' Again there was silence. Then he explained the Luftwaffe had used Basel as a storage for it's war records. He calculated it would be afternoon before the vaults were cleared. He told me my company's duty was to stop the American tanks from crossing the bridge until nightfall. They will cross, he said, they will enter Basel and find nothing but another German town to conquer. It was my duty to defend the bridge. My company was the grease that would keep the war going until papers could be moved. Five hundred men against metal tanks and flying snipers. It was my duty, he kept saying, my duty. As he turned back to the darkened horizon, the moon bounced off his Iron Cross like a spotlight. I shall never forget that night. As he dismissed me with a salute and a handshake he said, 'Forgive my cruelty.'
"I went back to my men and told them of our duty. I told them we were the first German soldiers in this war to defend the motherland. How proud our families and Germany would be. And that if we were to die, we would be buried in Deutchen soil. We would be heroes to children from Hamburg to Munich from Berlin to Kohn. We rested that night with a valiant soul."
The old captain and Jonathan stopped and rested near the fountain. The old man continued. "You Americans thought that we Germans were all Nazis; that we all knew Hitler. That simply wasn't true. We were men and boys asked to fight for our country, much the same as you Americans. There were watchmakers among us; and farmers, waiters, ski instructors, cooks. Of course their were radicals in our lot, as there were in your army. But mostly we were soldiers fighting a war we had no idea we could not win.
"We moved into position on the bridge just before morning. I know now that you were doing the same. I can remember thinking we were five hundred men being sacrificed to rescue paper.
"We knew our mission. We were willing to die to accomplish our goal. We Germans are feudal people. That morning as you were rising to our battle, we were thanking our leaders for giving us the opportunity to die for our homeland. You were soldiers. We were followers."
The old captain put his hand on Jonathan's shoulder. "History has recorded our contest that morning. Your five hundred and my five hundred; nine hours in the billion of hours of time; tons of flesh and gallons of blood and all for acres of earth and boxes of paper; we certainly battled that morning.
"We were asked to hold off the American tanks until that afternoon. We did. Field Marshall Von Lamm and his treasure of military records escaped only to be captured later in Bonn. I lost most of my company. Only ninety German soldiers came off that bridge that day. I was among them. I was wounded.
"Herr Hitler was desperate for German heroes then. I was sent back to Berlin. There we found a building still intact and photographed a staff general presenting me with a medal. I stood with my mangled arm in a cloth sling, the survivor of a battle for a bridge already lost. Most of my men dead; I certainly did not feel like a hero. My orders were to slow your progress. My tired, war-weary men did just that. They fought above themselves that day. On a bridge that should have taken thirty minutes to capture, you struggled for nine hours. Your men were courageous. Mine were heroic. I wanted you to know that."
Jonathan turned away. He said, "I was given my orders from a captain even younger than myself. They were rather plain. We were to clear and secure the bridge for the tanks of the 3rd Spearhead Armored Division who were to enter Basel at noon. Reconnaissance told us you were down to half a company with no artillery support. It was to only take the early part of the morning. We had been on several similar missions before. We were becoming famous for sweeping up.
"You were right, Captain," Jonathan continued. "We underestimated the resolution of your men. My men fought heroically as well. I guess we were two equal forces battling in a war of attrition."
The old captain stopped Jonathan. "Did you realize that you won because we left?"
"Yes," Jonathan said, "we didn't defeat you."
"Did you achieve your mission?"
"Yes, we did. We got the tanks across the bridge."
"We were successful as well," the old captain said. "We kept you from crossing the bridge before noon." He waited for a moment. "I heard you say inside the hall that you keep your medal above the hearth."
"I do, next to a plaque with the names of all my men."
"I keep mine in the bottom drawer under socks. An Iron Cross to a German means as much as the Medal of Honor would to an American. I'm sure that there were young German boys play acting as if they were me. There were even less heroes for young German boys after the second war.
"The names of my men were read during the ceremony at the Reichstag the morning I received the cross. We didn't forget the soldiers. We never forget the soldiers.
"I went back to Basel just after I retired. The old bridge is still there. The highway now crosses over a newer, stronger structure. The old Listin Bridge is rusting and dying. Soon it too will be a memory." The old captain reached out and grabbed Jonathan's shoulder. "I've come here to congratulate you for your men's bravery that day. And to ask you to remember the German boys who fought that morning. We are not that different, you and I. We followed orders, fought a difficult battle, won medals and became heroes."
The old captain stood and motioned back to the hall. As they walked he continued talking. "I'm glad I met you. I'm glad for our talk. I came here with guilt for surviving that battle and becoming a hero. I know now that I should be proud of my medal. I know now I should also be proud to be a German soldier. The winning side shouldn't be allowed to own all the heroes."
They walked back into the hall. The crowd surrounded Jonathan and began patting him on the back and shaking his hand. He made his way back to the microphone. "Could I have your attention?" he begged. "Could you give me a moment." It took a few minutes, but the hall grew to a silence. "I have one more thing to say before we go on with this night and our lives. I want to, once again, pay tribute to the men of the 212th infantry C company. You men are all heroes. And to all men who fought in war or fought in peace or believed in their country or home, I give tribute." Jonathan raised a half full glass over his head. "I want all my men to follow one more order from their old captain. Raise your glass. One more toast." He waited until all followed suit. "To the men we fought that morning; to the soldiers who bled for their homeland; to the German people and all the heroes of the enemy; I give you this toast." He raised his glass and nodded. He took a swallow and set the glass down. He stepped back to the microphone. "And to Captain Straact..." Jonathan raised his palm to his forehead, "I salute you."
A few were curious about Jonathan Atkin's actions that night. None were bold enough to ask. Soon it was forgotten. But an old retired school teacher in Cleveland, Ohio would forever look at the Iron Cross displayed above his fireplace and remember that the Governor was certainly indeed correct that night—Jonathan Atkins was a gallant man, a decent man, an honest man, and an inspiring man. Fifty years after a battle, the enemy had met. Face to face, foe to foe, both men had come to see what they failed to see in themselves. They saw a hero.
Kiss Of Life, For Sleeping Giants
Leaning against the support of the lectern, Richard Pressman held on to the wood as if it were a life force. The silence that preceded his voyage to the podium had been edified in the swirling of the water in the clear glass he left on the standing table. He composed himself as he swallowed. The brass casket stretched before him reflecting a wall of burning candles. Richard Pressman took his eyes off the casket, took a deep breath and spoke.
"I promised Kathy I would not cry here today," he said. "She made me promise. If you want to grieve, she said, do so in our bed. Save promise and memory for the eulogy. So Kathy," he said to the casket, "you won't see tears today. There is grief...there is lose. But I won't cry. I will tell everyone here what you meant to this world. And how I loved you. I loved her," he said to the people. "I love her," he corrected. "I wanted you to know that. I didn't want any doubts. I didn't want..." He choked back a tear. "...She was one of the good ones. She was a wonderful person, a wonderful wife, a wonderful child, and my best friend. I guess that's she wanted me to tell you today." He looked back to the casket and forced a smile. "I promised her one other thing. But it's not a secret. You all know. As she stooped over in our bed that last time, knowing death was seconds, not days, or even minutes, but seconds away, she made me promise not to live with guilt. Kathy, my love," he choked, "I won't cry. But I can't help but feel guilt. I love you so much...and I killed you. Maybe you can forgive me, but I can't. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry...
"Three years we've been together now; three short, short years," he continued. "So little time. I won't bore you with my lovesick prattle; all the silly games we called romance. I just want to say that Kathy was a gift to me. I've heard that confession is good for the soul. I need a soul cleansing now. I hope that you will bear with me.
"I was thirty-one when she came into my life. My mother gave up hope of my ever marrying. My younger brother and sister were married. Not happy, but married. I was floundering as a bachelor. Then I met Kathy. She was fresh and young and full of hope. I was the atypical cynic. She shot me full of life."
He laughed at a sudden memory rush. "She would always go to great lengths for a laugh; even if she was the only one laughing. Her motto was If it's funny, do it. She was funny. Even at the end. When she was so weak, so frail, she would try to make me laugh. I knew her pain must have been incredible. I knew she was suffering. But her eyes kept shining.
"I don't want to talk about her death. Today we are here to celebrate her life. Her's was a life to celebrate. She once asked me for one word that would sum up my life. I cheated and gave her two—pseudo cynic. I asked for her word. She said tolerance. I know now that is true.
"I've come here to say goodbye to Kathy and to ask for forgiveness. Not from you, from you I ask for tolerance; not from Kathy, she has already forgiven me; I ask forgiveness from me.
"I can remember the last words she ever said to me. On that cold March morning...the sky was overcast, God, it should have been cloudless and sunny the day she died; or rain, she loved the rain. Kathy would have loved to die in the rain. She wanted to die in her own bed. She asked me to burn it after. I'm sorry, I'm rambling now. On the morning she died, it was just me and Kathy. She was sitting up. She had to sleep that way. She was fighting so hard not to cough. I was sitting on the bed with her. I was crying. I kept saying over and over again, I'm sorry. Finally she snapped at me. She said that she refused to die in an inquisition. She made me promise to forgive myself. I did. With that brightness in her eyes, with a hint of laughter, with a strength that made me proud of her, she said to me, I love you, Richard. With everything I know, I love you. There is so much more I wanted to do with my life. So many dreams. Now you'll have to dream them for me. I'm glad I had you, Richard. I love you. Now I'm going to die. The last words I want to say is, Richard, I love you. It took a while, but finally she died." Richard fell into a silence. He took another drink and the water swirled again. "We couldn't believe it when she became sick. We had no idea. Then they told us. We couldn't believe it. They told us I must have infected her with AIDS. We couldn't believe it. I tested positive for HIV and I must have given it to her.
"I was the only man she ever had in her life. She wasn't the only woman in mine. She was, of course, the last. I was faithful to Kathy. I loved her absolute. Once we were together, I never even gave thought to another. She meant that much to me. Somewhere before we met, someone before Kathy must have took it someone and gave it to me.
"This is so hard to say. But I'm sure that only the mother that gave her birth could have loved Kathy as much as I did. I loved her and in giving her love I passed the poison. I had no idea. I had no idea.
"We'll leave here today and for awhile, together, we'll grieve. But one day we'll find pain only when we think of Kathy's death and joy when we think of her life. And that's the way she would have wanted it.
"I thank you for hearing my confession. I thank you for saying goodbye to Kathy with me. I hope we all dream for Kathy. I hope we leave here more tolerant. That would have made her happy. And I kept my promise to her. I didn't cry. I wasn't sure I could hold that promise. I think now I can keep the other. Standing here I feel more tolerant. I can see the worth in Kathy's life."
Richard walked away from the lectern and toward the brass casket. He leaned down and kiss Kathy on the lips. He whispered, "I love you, Kathy. Those are the last words I want to say to you." He kissed her again. "I love you...and I forgive me."
The Monster's Mommie
Amid routine and ceremony, Laurie Sanchez signed the insurance forms in black ink. "You wonder why they don't ask us to sign these papers with hot wax and a royal ring seal the way European kings signed treaties."
The doctor's secretary answered back. "I don't think insurance people think ancient treaties are as important as these papers."
"Dr. Francis thinks we need a summer check up. Could you schedule something in late July, in the morning, and on a Thursday? A rainy day perhaps?" Laurie turned to the waiting room. "Annie, it's been such a long time. I'm so glad you brought Steven in today. So how have you been?"
Annie Shire was sitting cross-legged, slouched backed, reading Newsweek. "Laurie," she said, "so good to see you. I've been fine. Come on over and sit down. How's Steph?"
"Oh, she's just fine. We're here for a check up. How's Steven?"
"He's doing just fine; full of energy and mischief."
"Just like any eight year old?"
"I hope not," Annie smiled, "I'd hate to think every mother goes through this."
"I know exactly what you mean. So how's Scottsdale?"
Annie Shire was a young woman even at thirty-six. She wore jeans that looked good on her, long hair that flipped in at the ends, and wore the simplest of makeup. She was forever smiling. "It was hard at first," Annie answered, "the people took some time getting used to us. But now most of them just let us be. I'm on the local PTA."
"PTA?" Laurie said, "what's becoming of my little Annie? I'm proud of you, babe. I don't think I could stand moving. I just couldn't answer all those questions again."
The secretary interrupted them. "Laurie, how about July 14, 9:30?"
"Perfect." Laurie shouted.
"I'll make arrangements for the rain later," the secretary said.
Laurie laughed. She was a plump little woman of thirty who was loud even in a whisper. She wore loose blouses and stretch pants with low pumps. Her black hair was short and frozen with gels and sprays. She turned back to Annie and whispered, "Did you hear the Butler baby died? Dr. Francis told me they were not giving her her enzyme pills. How could they forget the enzyme pills? Damn fools."
"I don't know," Annie said. "I mean it's become ritual for us. Five mg's prednisone, morning; enzyme pill, breakfast, lunch, and dinner; zantac and metoclopramide, at night, and liquid tylenol three at bed. I don't think we've forgotten one pill for Steven's entire eight years."
"Steph broke her shoulder three months ago. We think she rolled over on it wrong. We didn't even know for a week. You couldn't tell from looking at her. She must have been in so much pain."
"I remember when Steven dislocated his jaw," Annie said. "He couldn't even cry. We just thought it was living pain. Sometimes my heart just catches fire when I think of what they must have to endure just to live."
Laurie shook her head. "Poor, innocent little souls," she said, "poor, poor innocent souls."
They were quiet for a time, both staring into the pale green carpet. "Annie," Laurie said slowly, "do you ever hate yourself for making your baby that way?"
Annie didn't answer quickly. She just hung her head and nodded. "Yes," she said, "sometimes I just cry thinking of Steven and his life. I wonder if there is a purpose for it all or if this is some not-so-funny ironic joke of nature."
"Do you ever hate God?" Laurie asked.
"At first I did...and sometimes now I do. Then I look into Stevie's little eyes and see beyond the pain and realize what a little miracle I was given. I was blessed with Steven. I love him so. And if this is some test to my merit on earth, then it's secondary. How can I be selfish about my discomfort when my son can't even feel half of his face..."
"It sure is hard sometimes. Sometimes more than I think I can bear."
Annie continued. "We waited for eight years to have Steven, you know. I wanted to finish school and Roger wanted to get settled. When I found out I was pregnant we were so happy. We thought we were so mature. We demanded to know the sex so we could start the room. We were so eighties. I read all the books and watched all the videos on raising children. I asked all the right questions to all the right mothers. We practiced birthing and when I knew it time for labour, we were ready. Steven was a normal birth, I guess, if you can call the fire of hell branding pain normal. We already had the name Steven picked out and when Roger carried the bathed baby to my bed, we both cried and thanked God for a healthy boy. How long did it take for you to realize Steph was not healthy?"
Laurie thought for a moment. "We knew after about six months."
"Yes, so did we. In about six months we saw Steven growing wrong. What seemed like bruises and bumps was just both sides of his body growing differently. Symontrimorphism, the specialist said, Elephant's Man disease, had we heard of it? Heard of it, we thought, why should we have heard of it. As far as they knew, the doctor explained, it was a genetic disease. We could be tested and find out which one of us carried the bad gene. We elected not to know, and we decided not to have another child. Better than a fifty-fifty chance of having a normal baby next time, the doctor said. God, how I hate gambling. Then we met Dr. Francis. She made us realize that under Steven's grotesque, deformed body is an otherwise perfectly normal child. I think we forgot that. We could have treated him like a freak his whole life. How wrong that would have been."
Laurie held Annie's hand. "Steven is so lucky to have you," Laurie said. "And I think Steph is lucky to have me."
"And we're both lucky to have Dr. Francis."
Together they nodded.
Annie continued, "When I was ten, I thought I had the biggest nose in the world. I remember crying night after night wishing my big old nose was smaller. I was so self conscious. Imagine what Steven and Steph must feel."
"When I was a girl," Laurie said. "I was pretty overweight, God, the kids were cruel. They called me fatty and porko, and all to my face. I wonder what they said when I wasn't around. That's why I hated to take Steph to school at first. But she was so brave. Now they all treat her just like another kid."
"It's the grocery market I hate," Annie said. "You'd think adults could keep from staring. One time we were watching TV and it showed Queen Elizabeth walking in front of a huge crowd. They all just stared at her. People were leaning over stranger's shoulders just to get a look at her. Steven looked back at me and asked what disease that lady had. I didn't know what to say. He's still so young. Still so innocent. And because of Dr. Francis he's not even aware he's that much different. She's told him that words like ugly or monster or elephant boy are good words. She makes him feel so special."
The door opened and Dr. Francis walked out with Steven. "See," she said, "I told you Steph's mother would be entertaining your mom. I bet she wanted me to babysit you all morning. Well, I'm not going to have that." Dr. Francis was near forty. She was plain and simple. Steven once told Annie that the angels in heaven probably look like Dr. Francis. Perhaps he was right. "Annie," Dr Francis said, "maybe you could bring Steven back in six months for a visit. I don't think I could stand to be away from him much longer." She reached down and kissed Steven right on his deformed forehead. She smiled and waved and disappeared back behind the door.
Half of Steven looked like a normal eight year old. If he were placed behind a screen and only the right side of his body were shown, you would never know he had the disease. Unfortunately, the left side of his body was nearly three times the size of his right. There was a definite line between his left and right side. His forehead and cheek and lips were so grotesquely misproportioned, that side of his body looked like a melted lump of clay. His left eye was closed over and though a long sleeve shirt and pants covered his arms and legs, they too, as with his torso were deformed. He watched Dr. Francis close the door and turned with a smile. The right side of his lips curled up and his right eye lit up like a beacon. Dr. Francis made him happy.
Annie and Laurie said goodbye and kissed each other with a hug and promised to call. Laurie hugged Steven and kissed him goodbye.
Just outside of the clinic, just before they reached the parking garage, just as Steven leaned his head up to the sun, some little girl called out, "Mama, look at the monster," The mother quickly grabbed her daughter and apologized. "That's OK," Annie said with a smile. Steven looked up at his mother. He was still smiling. "You know I love you, Steven," Annie said.
"And I love you," he said. He took her hand and started walking under the concrete car port. "Am I your favorite little monster, Mommie?"
"Yes," she said with the biggest of smiles. "You are mommie's very favorite monster."
Although blue ink on green construction paper seemed rather tacky, it was all Lois Fromme could find in her small apartment. As she began writing the letter in her mind, she walked in and out of Frankie's bedroom. He was sound asleep. She tuned the radio to a late night dance station and sat at the kitchen table and picked up the blue pen. Perry Como and the Fontaine Sisters sang about it being a lovely day for having a lovely day as she reopened the envelope that had arrived earlier that afternoon. She reread the letter. Dear Miss Fromme, it began, This correspondence is to inform you that we have contacted a lawyer friend of ours in order to retrieve the percentage of money our son has been forced to pay you. We suggest you withdraw all claims to our son's assets and drop this scheme of extortion. If you continue with this charade, we will be forced to use legal means to end your claims. We are not a family to be trifled with. We mean business. The letter was signed, Samuel and Delores Hawthorne. It was postscripted, P.S. Know this, no vagabond trash whore will stain my baby's memory.
Lois shook her head with an amused grin and glanced over at the picture of the young soldier in the steel framed glass stand on the book shelf. She arranged the green construction paper in front of her. Bing Crosby was crooning an Irish lullaby that said something like To-Ra-Lo-Ra-Aye as she began writing.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne,
Thank you for the wonderful letter. It found us in sound health, thank God. I pray that you are both fine as well.
I can remember Frank would tell me about the lunatic element he grew up with; how his parents were the most insane, insensative, selfish humans on earth. I guess I just didn't believe people like you existed.
This will be a short note. I have no need to play your games. There are just a few things I wanted you to know.
Frank loved me. He would have married me had it not been for the guilt he was raised with as a twin. He gave me love and he gave me a son. I made him happy. That you can never change or take away.
Before your son left to Korea, he made it all legal. In the eyes of the law, Frankie Jr. is your grandson. He is Frank's son. Every month, a portion of Frank's pay is deposited into a trust fund setup in Frankie's name. The Department of Defense and the United States Army acknowledge this. This is something you can not change as well.
I know that what I'm about to tell you doesn't matter. I know that what I say holds no merit to you. I just had an incredible surge of civility. Before Frank left he told me that one day he prays that his parents would understand and accept Frankie as their family. For Frank's sake, I hope his prayers come true.
Your grandchild was born 5:32 am, October 11, 1951 at St. Benedict's Hospital, Oakland. He weighed 8 pounds 11 ounces and was just over 18 inches at birth. He has grown into a robust, five year old, typical boy. He has brown hair that naturally parts on his far left side and one incredible cow lick on the back. He has blue eyes and a star shaped birth mark on the back of his right thigh.
He enjoys stories about dragons and outer space. His favorite food is spaghetti with big meat balls and his favorite dessert is chocolate ice cream. He likes the smell of my morning coffee and kind of hates my perfume. He has a picture of Jesus Christ and one of his father hanging in his room. He is very sweet (most of the time) and likes to sleep on his belly. He acts so much like Frank, sometimes it's frightening. He is a good little boy who hates moths buzzing around lights and bugs crawling on his legs. He is your grandchild.
Frankie knows you exist. He knows you live in New Hampshire. His other grandparents are no longer living, so letters and cards that never come from you need not be explained.
I will never speak negative of you in front of Frankie. If someday you choose to accept your grandchild, he will be at your access.
Lastly, I wanted to tell you something Frank told me before he left. When we were discussing our son's future and what you might try and do, Frank told me to forgive you. He loved you. He loved me. And he loved his son. If nothing else, give that to him. He would have been a wonderful man, husband, and father.
There will be no follow-up to this letter. You know where we are if you need to contact us.
Nothing you can do will stain Frank's memory for me.
and the Vagabond Trash Whore
Lois smiled a new smile and picked out a new sheet of green construction paper. She wrote another letter.
Dear Frank, my love,
I just finished that letter to your parents. I was well prepared. Thank you. I couldn't believe their audacity. All went well, though. I called your lawyer this afternoon. He guarantees me that there is nothing legally your parents could do now. Thank you for preparing me.
I wanted to write this letter and tell you how much I love you and how proud you would be of Frankie and me. Your son is growing up so quickly. He's starting to look like you.
He starts kindergarten this fall. Can you believe it, Kindergarten? He sounds excited. He is so full of life. He can count to one hundred and can read real easy words. He will do well.
He mentions your name every night in his prayers...every single night. I do too; I love you.
Frank, your son finally asked me about you and why you were gone. I was prepared, but not ready. I sat him down and told him about Korea and why men like you have to be soldiers. I told him about Communism and freedom and why there are wars. I think he understood about as much as he could. I told him about the Chosin Reservoir battle. I showed him the medal you won there for bravery. Then I showed him the letter from the War Department that told me that you were dead. He ran his little fingers over the letter. I think it became you. I gave him the medal and he hung it up in his room draped over your picture. He's is so proud that his father is a hero. I think that satisfies him for now.
You'd be so proud of us. We are doing just fine. I've finally taken that class on Byron. God, I hate Byron.
I miss you. I love you. I will write you later.
Love you forever,
Lois and Frankie Jr. Fromme
She folded both letters and placed them in long white envelopes. She put a stamp on one and put it in her purse. She kissed the other and put it in a redwood jewerly box that was full of long white envelopes. She checked on Frankie Jr. again and when she heard his deep breaths, she went into her room, dressed for sleep and did exactly that.
Left To Devices
At first he was an old man in a dark grey overcoat. He walked a cracked cement sidewalk toward a gathering crowd. It was a late night in a Las Vegas August. It was close to being unbearably hot. The flashing blue and red strobe lights froze the action for metered milli-seconds at a time. In the center of the crowd the police were photographing and marking the scene. Blood ran in thick streams like tributaries into the gutter from under the heads of the two dead bodies. "What happened here?" the old man asked anyone.
A short black woman spoke up without turning her head. "Her boyfriend shot her," she said. "She was just getting off work at the diner. I was in there. I saw it all. She had just put her coat on when this fool walked in and waved a gun around. He yelled something about ain't nobody gonna leave him and chased her out here and shot her. Then he yelled, 'I loved you, baby,' and shot himself."
"I knew him," some other man said. "He did love her."
The black woman laughed, "I guess he loved her to death."
Then he was a young boy on the streets of Rio De Janeiro. He was asleep in the park on the wet autumn grass when he heard the sound of gun fire. He rolled under a bench and saw the boots of the policia run by. When he felt it was safe, he crawled out and saw the carnage. A nun was running from body to body covered in blood trying to find someone to save. A boy everyone called Pecito de felina was still coughing. The nun held his head. Blood was flowing out of his nose. In his twitching hand he still held a bottle of glue. After he died, some other kid pried the glue out of his hand and crawled to a wall and began sniffing.
An American television crew rushed up and covered the scene in tungsten light. "You see what they do," the nun shrieked in broken english. "They murder children in the street. These are the desaparasitos. They have no one and no where to go and they are being slaughtered for being lost. It is government policy. It is considered street cleaning. They are no better than litter."
He became a girl in a Thailand village. She was thirteen years old. Her father was bargaining with a Thai man in dark glasses. A middle aged French man sat in the back seat of a tinted windowed van. The Thai man turned and flashed his hands twice. The French man nodded and the father accepted twenty American dollars. The girl was told to pack. She began crying. Her father slapped her. She gathered some clothes and a rag doll and was pushed into the back seat with the French man. He smiled and put his hand on her leg as they drove away.
When he was done with her, after about a week, she wiped herself clean and tried to clear the opium from her head. She watched other children her age holding on to the caucasian men who had come with a secret desire and hard American currency. She wanted to go home. She wanted to see her brothers and sisters. She wanted to be a little girl again. But what she really wanted was to taste the sweet poppy of the Opium. She knew it didn't really hurt anymore, so she ran a wet cloth between her legs and sprayed perfume on her dirty blouse and stood in line for the next man.
He then became a thirty year old laborer in Moscow reeking in vodka and urine. He tried to turn away from the ice cold torrent of the water hose. The concrete floor was too slick. He and about a dozen other drunk Russians took turns being sprayed by the green liquid. He smelled like detergent. He fell to sleep shivering on the cold wet floor wishing he had a drink.
He was a young mother in the Sudan offering a dried breast to a dying infant. She had long ago stopped swatting at the flies that gathered on the moist flesh around her baby's eyes and between his legs. Her last child, the girl, had died in her arms the same way. The young mother sat beside the road watching columns of healthy, robust soldiers pass by. She didn't notice if they were government or rebel troops. All she noticed was that they were well-fed.
He became a black teenager in a Chicago high school staring down the barrel of a black pistol shaking in the hands of a fifteen year old. He sat on the grass and took off his black high tops. He walked home barefoot but alive.
He was an eleven year old boy in St. Louis watching his friends pushing a firecracker up the ass of a frenzied cat and light the fuse.
He was a young woman being pushed to her back with a knife at her throat and a rough hand ripping her pants off.
He was a old man in Liverpool being beaten by three thugs because he failed to hand over his pocket purse.
He was the husband of a young Chinese couple forced to work in a labour camp because he told the government he wanted a second child.
He was a shot in San Antonio because he wore a blue jacket to the mall.
He crawled out the rubble of a Bonn, Germany hotel with other Lebanese refugees after it was fire-bombed by a neo-nazi hate group.
He watched a city razed by hate after a white policeman was acquitted for the beating death of a black teenager.
He helped pick up the bodies of Palestinian teenagers shot by Israeli soldiers. The young teenagers still had the rocks in their hands.
He became a boy trying to understand why the priest would make him do those awful things in the back room of the church.
He stood in the mob outside of Soweto diving for cover behind dead bodies after a truck load of white settlers opened fire with automatic weapons.
He was the mother of a young girl kidnapped, raped, murdered, and left to rot by the new neighbor's son.
He finally sat down and began crying. He decided that this world left to its own devices would eventually cannibalize itself. He thought of the what he had wrought and what had happened to the children and decide that His was a grave mistake. He went back to heaven. Then God looked back down to earth, winked, and destroyed his most evil experiment.
Leave Hearing Applause
His voice crackled like wet wood in a bon fire. "I've missed you," he said, "although I knew you didn't want me to." He stood on the top step of the stairs that came up from the basement. He leaned against the iron rail with arms crossed in front of his face. "I've missed what we were...what I became when we were together. In my mind, in my imagination, we became ill-fated lovers secretly meeting in the Arabian desert, or starry-eyed wanderers finding each other in a European backstreet. We became Antony and Cleopatra, Heathcliff and Diane, Gwenevere and Lancelot, or even James Dean and Natalie Wood. Do you see what I mean?"
She sat at the steel-legged kitchen table leaning into her crossed arms. She didn't answer.
"I should have known better than to ask you a direct question," he said. "I apologize."
She smiled. He understood her. She sat on a familiar hard backed chair comfortably. "Why me?" she asked.
"Because you make me feel alive. Because you make me happy to be just me. Because your true gift is that you are genuine —you are real. And I love the way I feel when I'm with you." He lifted his head. "Do you want me to go on?"
"No," she said.
He remained silent for a time. He knew that he was responsible for birthing any new dialogue. He knew that she would remain in silence until the earth cooled. "Ask me what I'll remember about you when you go."
"Ok," she said, "tell me what my memory will inspire?"
"Do you remember that night we crawled over my comforter listening to me read? Do you remember how well you fit into my arms? How I stroked the small of your back with my fingers? I truly believed I was made only for you.
"I'll remember the smell of Guess? in your hair, and the warm puffs of your breath on my chest. With Harry Connick Jr. crooning Stardust just out of reach, with the hum of my voice snaking Sudden Fiction into your rose-pedal-delicate ears, with night and alone and the rest of the world on the other side of the blue blanket portiere, I fell in love with you. But through those memories...beyond all those gifts, what I'll remember most is the dance my lips did over your fingertips. Do you remember? With the same curiosity you would watch the final act of a Italian tragedy, you followed my head back and forth from your forehead to your hands. I kissed the flesh over your eyes and stroked your cheeks with the slightest of pressure. Do you remember? And do your remember when I kissed the tips of your fingers? You played my mouth like Van Cliburn caressed the ivory. Your hand made music than night on my lips. That's the memory I'll preserve." He looked over at her. She was nodding in recollection. "Maybe this is the perfect moment for the goodbye," he continued. "Any honest, respectable hero knows when to make an exit. A hero should be able to leave hearing applause." He stood and crossed the room toward the door. "So it's goodbye." He smiled. "I can't hear the applause," he said.
She stood and walked toward him. She pressed into his chest. "Thank you," she said, just short of a cry. "For everything, thank you."
They walked out the door toward his car. It was close to midnight.
"Remember the ribbons of lightning the night I came to your rescue?" he asked. "Rescue? Don't you think I'm taking this hero thing a bit too far?" He held her and ran his fingers through her hair. She jumped back when he touched her neck. He laughed. "You once told me that you liked my endings. How they were not necessarily predictable. Tell me how you like this one.
"Before I go," he continued, "before the last goodbye, before you watch my three working taillights turn the corner, I'm going to tell you my biggest regret." He whispered into her ear. "There is something I wanted to do; something I swore I had to do. If I am a hero, if I have any redeeming value, it can be proven in the strength of my resistance.
"I wanted to kiss you just once. I wanted to kiss you so softly, so gently, so tenderly that with your eyes closed you'd swear it was just a warm breeze passing over your lips. A velvet kiss, a kiss like rain on tulips or cat's feet on glass. So delicate you could not tell the difference between my lips and their shadow. A kiss softer than the scent of perfume on your neck. I wanted to kiss you once than back away. That is my regret." He leaned toward her and stopped. She looked up at him and froze. Her breaths became deeper. He leaned closer and kissed her forehead. "You know I love you, don't you?"
She choked out her words, "You have to."
He opened the door to his car and crawled in. When he started the engine the radio blasted. "Must have been a good song," he said. She smiled.
As he began to move away, he said through the open window, "I do, I truly do. Goodbye." The last thing he said to her was, "You really do smell nice." She laughed to herself, listened for applause, and watched the three working taillights turn the corner and disappear.
Dirty plastic dishes and worn knives and forks still had to be cleared off the steel legged dinner table. Everyone had gone leaving ZC and his grandmother alone. ZC was short for Zachary Collins. It was her father's name. ZC was four. His yellow hair and round little boy face always lit up when Grandmother called him Zachary Collins.
Grandmother was old even for a grandmother. She always wore plain print dresses with an apron. Her steel gray hair and round framed glasses (that always seemed smeared) fit on her wrinkled old face like a Norman Rockwell painting. Her name was Thelma Collins. ZC called her Gam-ma Tel-ma. Because he was four, it was still cute.
"Gam-ma Tel-ma," he said, sitting on a steel legged dinner chair, "could I help you clear the dishes?"
"Zachary Collins," she fussed, bringing a smile to his face, "of course you can help. You are such a little man. You grab the silverware off the table. And be careful with the knives." She spoke in a slow and definite southern accent. Together they cleaned the kitchen.
When they were done, she wiped her wet hands on her apron and sat on the pale green sofa. She said, "Why don't you come over here and tell your Grandmother how you left things in Elkin."
"I'm almost in school," he said. "Mama said that I could go next year. I can count to a hundred." He preceded to show her. She patiently listened and when he was gone, she placed a big old grandmother kiss on his forehead.
"I love you, Zachary Collins," she said. "So tell me how you left Elkin." She had moved from her girlhood town of Elkin, North Carolina seven years ago and even though Baltimore was nice, it simply wasn't South enough. "How were the junebugs biting when you left."
ZC was four. He didn't know.
"The other day," ZC said, "my friend Eddie Bean broke my whistle."
"He did. did he?"
"And Mama said that she's gonna make Eddie's mama buy me a new one."
"I guess whistles are mighty important to a little boy."
"It was silver."
The television was on and ZC sat in Grandmother's lap. He was quiet. She wrapped her arms around him. Her hands rested on his lap. ZC's hands were inside of hers. He played with the dark green topaz ring on her left hand. Grandmother watched the news. ZC traced and retraced the three, ugly, old, green tattooed letters cut under her knuckles on the top side of her right hand.
"You know, Zachary Collins," she said, without taking her eyes off the television, "I think your grandfather had an old whistle he used during the second world war that I hid away. I'd like to think he would want you to have it."
"Is it silver?"
"Yes it is."
"Is it loud?"
"The loudest." She kissed the back of his head. "You know, I was just thinking, your Daddy looks alot like your Grandfather—big, strong, good looking, stubborn as an old possum. I think you just might grow up to look like both of them."
ZC smiled and continued to trace the fading letters on her fingers.
"I'm sure glad your Daddy let you stay with me a bit," Grandmother said. "I sure miss my little man." She gave him a squeeze. "How's 'bout giving your Gam-ma Tel-ma a little sugar." ZC spun on her lap and wrapped his arms around her neck. He kissed her hard on the lips.
ZC found a comfortable spot on her lap and sat quietly as Grandmother watched the news. Occasionally she would kiss the back of his head. There is nothing more flowery, she thought, then the love between a grandmother and grandchild. She thought of her late husband and of how he used to lay his head on her lap after a hard day at the mine and how much she loved him. She thought of her son and how he used to sit on her lap and trace the fresh green letters tattooed on her knuckles and how much she loved him. And she thought of how in her sixth decade of life a grandchild could make her fill full of love like a bride. She missed her husband. She missed having a child to fuss over. She missed Elkin, and she missed the South.
ZC turned his head and smiled. "I love you Gam-ma Tel-ma," he said.
"Oh," she sighed, kissing his forehead, "and I love you too."
ZC kept looking at her. After a few moments he said, "And I hate niggers."
"And I do too," she said. She smiled and kissed him again. She looked down at her hands and saw the three dark green k's on her right hand fingers. Just like his Daddy, she thought, and his Daddy too.
When The Quilt Quit
His entire life light green had been his favorite colour. It was the colour of a cloth quilt his mother made from an old blanket. Even when the quilt quit, he held on the light green for comfort and security. In his teens, when he was finally allowed to choose the clothes his mother bought for him, he felt most handsome in tee shirts with a splash of light green. Whenever he suprised the girls in his life with simple presents, be they earrings or thick cotton socks, they generally hinted light green. The stationary on which he composed short free verse poems was always light green, and the pen on white paper was usually green ink. It became more than a conscious conspiracy. Light green became like his nose, or arms, or the fleshy meat over his throat. Light green became his life.
As he grew, he was forced to wear blue suits and red ties, and white socks and black shorts. His car was white, and his dog was pale brown. He found little room for light green. His favorite lounging sweatshirt, and the background in his favorite painting and the clock face in his bedroom were all light green, and the remnants of his quilt still hung around his memory, but the only time light green became important was when he was asked his favorite colour.
It was at this time in his life he began a search for comfort and safety and love. He searched in the dark; in the half light of a cloudy dusk, in the sanctuary of midnight, in familiar alleys and new horizons. He watched the seasons change and change back again all the time searching for something he was sure he lost.
Summers of green apples and winters of white wool scarves and so many springs and autumns of dying blossoms; all the time searching. Half empty and smile intact, he reached into vacant caves and traveled down strange peninsulas and touched brown and red and blonde manes and wished for something new. Something he knew he had and never had. He wished for hope and solace and life.
He was given blue—a more vibrant colour, they said. He was given reds—more alive. He was given yellows and violet and teal and was told they are the colours of the spirit. He was give rainbows—youth; and fire—light; and vermillion mornings—hope; and the colours of the earth—immortality. He was happy, but not so happy. There was always something missing.
One day, in a respite from searching, and slumming in a department store, he turned a corner and ran into a light green blanket. At first he simply stood and smiled. He was comfortable. He bought the blanket and took it home. That night, wrapped in a green sleep, he was at peace. That night he felt safe. That night he knew that love was forthcoming. He looked forward to his future. He looked forward to his life.
It wasn't a difficult lesson. It wasn't disconcerting. He was given what others wanted—colours that others believed to be more beautiful, more youthful, more substantial. To him light green was the most beautiful, the most youthful, the most substantial, and the most endearing. His heart was full of light green and he was happy.
Dried blood red was the new colour of her hair. She relaxed with legs drawn up on the worn sofa in her dark living room. She pulled her fingers through her short cropped hair and smiled. "All I want you to do is come over here and sit by me," she said. "Is that too difficult a task?"
He tried to sound amused. "No," he said, "physically I could stand up and walk the six feet to the sofa. I'm in shape. Physically I could do it. I've been working out."
"But," he started. He sat in the over-stuffed, wide-armed easy chair uncomfortably. His dark hair curled over his forehead like a little boy playing in a windstorm. "But I don't know if I could make it over there. Listen, bear with me for the next minute or two. I want to tell you a story.
"You were just a girl when we first met," he began. "I wasn't old. I was just older. Your hair was a dark blonde then. Your biggest worry was what you could wear next to piss off your mother. I shouldn't have, but I fell in love with you even then. I couldn't wait to see you. I remember the green of your eyes because it became my favorite colour. I can't remember why you left. Perhaps the bell rang or something. All I can remember is that you were gone. All I missed you.
"You called me one day. I can still remember sitting on my desk, feet resting on the padded chair. You called and my heart stopped. I thought you needed me. You did. You stopped calling one day. I don't know why. Maybe another bell rang."
"I know all this," she interrupted. "Why are you bringing all this up again?"
"You do know all this. You know you called me. You know how I felt. You saw how much I loved you. You saw me smile and fall all over myself for you. What you didn't see was how I was when you left. How I ached for you. You just heard the music. You weren't there when I changed the tapes."
"What do you mean?" she asked. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that you had a bad habit of leaving me the second I fell too far. Remember the flyboy? Remember the day you left without saying goodbye? I was hurt. I'm not sure you knew that. I can remember waiting for the phone to ring wishing it was you. How many days I must have wasted just watching for the phone to jump; wishing you would only call. One day you did. You needed me. I was there. You had brown hair then, and those green eyes. You came to me and I fell again. Then you left. I don't know why.
"All these years, thinking I was the best thing that could happen to you...the best thing for you. You telling me that it was true and then you disappearing again. I had made a tidy little world for you in my arms—so comfortable, decorated to your tastes. How I invented fantasy. How I made a place just for you. But you would come and go so quickly. How could you see the effort.
"You were there to smell the roses, but you never knew the scars I took peeling away the thorns. That's what I'm trying to tell you. You were there to see the colours, but you had no idea how long it took to mix the paint."
"I missed you," she said.
"I'm sure you did," he said. "I'm sure you loved me. I'm just not sure of the degree. I love you. And I'm sure you knew that. But I'm not sure you knew of my degree. Maybe you didn't realize the strain it took to always be your safety net. My arms tired of stretching out so far. I sweated in the sun waiting for you. Where were you? I stood soaked in the rain and where were you?" He stared at her for a moment. "I needed you...where were you?"
She watched him. She patted the sofa next to her. "Come sit here," she said. "I'll make it up to you."
"You will," he said. "You'll remind me why I can't get over you; why green is still my favorite colour. Trouble is after you slow my heart down, you'll leave again. I'm not sure if I could take another good-bye. The paint is just beginning to dry."
"I would never hurt you intentionally."
"I know," he said, "and you don't hurt me intentionally. But you hurt me none-the-less. If I thought it was conspired, I could deal with it all. It's the fact that I'm wounded by your hand and you have no idea. Do you understand? Let me sit here. Let me watch me go from a distance. Let me suffer normal pain. Love me enough to let me hurt for you and not because of you."
He had hoped that she understood. She hadn't. She stood and joined him on the easy chair. He shook his head and reached for her. "I won't go this time," she said. "I promise."
He heard her voice and saw her eyes. But in his mind he took a long drag on her perfume. It was what he wanted to remember after she was gone.
A Tumble In Time
They were there together. She crossed her legs toward him. He leaned back folding his arms across his chest. A single blonde hair fell from the pile on top of her head into her face. He hesitated one second deciding whether he should push it back. Before he had a chance to move, she did.
Mothers and sisters gathered around the pale blue mat watching the little girls stretch and tumble in matching leotards and styled hairdos.
"Look at her," she said, her droopy eyes beaming pride, "I didn't realize she was so talented."
He pulled his hand through his black hair. "Olympic material, I sure," he said.
She smiled and held his hand. "I love you," she said.
"And I love you," he said.
"Remember the time..." she began. Memory seemed to be a catalyst for laughter.
They watched the little girl attack a back handspring with effortless impudence. "She has her mother's confidence," he said.
"I think gymnastics is better for her than dance," she said. "A good gymnast is already a good dancer."
"And anyway," he said, "some sick dance instructor just might try and make her clog."
She smiled and leaned into his shoulder.
"Six year old girls," he continued, "should not be told about clogging. There is time for the dark side of life when they get older."
"So how did the interview with the commissioner go?" she asked.
"He's a jerk," he said. "I still can't believe that men with such little intellegence can win political advantage. He gave me what I needed. I kind of miss writing about dead pioneers. They gave better interviews."
"I didn't know you not to complain."
"You still listen."
"I probably couldn't stop you if I wanted."
"Wanted?" He mocked her.
She punched his arm.
"She is the most beautiful little girl out there," she said. "Don't you think?"
"There is no doubt in my mind. She couldn't help it."
"Thank you for being here," she said. "It means so much to me."
The little girl looked over and smiled at them. "Mama," the little girl yelled, "watch this." She stood still, stared down the mat with both hands over her head and one foot pointed before her. After a moment of pause, she took off down the mat in a leisure trot. She jumped and froze in midair, tumbled over her back and landed on her feet. She paused before she looked over.
"That was wonderful, baby," the mother said.
They spent the rest of the lesson watching the little girl.
She said, "Is this how we thought it would be like?"
"Yes," he said.
"I couldn't imagine my life without you."
"That's good to know," he said, "because I couldn't be without you.":
She kissed his hand. "Thank you," she said.
The little girl yelled, "Daddy."
Through the double wooden doors he walked in. His dusty pants and hair a mess. The little girl ran up to him and jumped into his arms with rushed grace. Together they walked over to the benches.
"I did good, huh, Mama? Tell Daddy I was good."
"You were just wonderful."
She stood and pushed the one lazy blonde hair back over her head. "I'll call you," she said and the three walked out the double door. He sat and watched the rest of the girls leave until he was, once again, alone.
The Other Things
It was a typical Thursday night on Sunset. Becky, Chu Chu, Marti, and Denni were on their same corner in the shadow of the Capitol Records building selling their wares. They watched a white, late model Dodge Shadow drive by and slow down three times.
"Another virgin," Chu Chu said in her little girl mexican accent. Chu Chu was almost fifteen. She had left a violent, sexually sick father over a year ago. The streets, however painful they may become, offered her a home. She was taking the same misery, but they were her own. And even though her costume of short plaid skirts and long white socks were her's alone, her story was certainly not unique.
Denni was seventeen. She had been on the roll for three years. She was a plain looking black girl with crooked, yellow teeth and a long scar from above her right eye to her below her cheek. It took her most of her first year on the streets to find the right sponsor (read pimp); the scar was evidence of the wrong one. She looked tired.
Becky was twenty and almost used up as a whore. She looked thirty. She dressed in little leather skirts and crocheted vests. In short, she dressed like a prostitute.
If Becky was old for the streets at twenty, then Marti was ancient at thirty-five. Marti had blonde (not bleached white) shoulder length hair. She looked like a housewife (not an ordinary housewife, mind you). Marti looked like a housewife from hell. The years on the street took little from her beauty. She was definitely thirty-five, and compared to the scores of teenagers around her, she stood out of place. She looked tired and old, like an aging linebacker still taping up for the game three years after he should have retired. There was just no motivation in her step.
When the Dodge slowed down at their corner for the fourth time, Chu Chu called for him to stop. "Hey, mister," she said, as she leaned in through his window, "are you looking for a little girl? Do you want me to call you Daddy?"
"Or maybe you want the dark meat," Denni said, poking her head around Chu Chu's.
The young man looked around them both and pointed toward the wall. "The blonde," he said, "I want to talk to her."
Denni turned and said to Marti, "I guess he's into veterans. Looks like your ride, doll."
The other girls stepped aside. Marti moved slowly toward the open window. "Hi, baby," she said. "What you looking for?"
"Please don't call me baby," he said. "How much for an hour."
"An hour of what?" she asked.
"Just talking...and maybe dinner."
"Are you a cop?"
"No," he said, "I'm not a cop. I just want to talk."
"If your looking for a date," she said, "go to a church dance."
"I'm looking for more than a dance. I need you to...pretend to be someone."
"I need you to act like somebody else for me."
"What kind of pervert are you? Get the hell away from my corner before I call the police."
"Look," he said, "I'm willing to pay you for your time. And we could go to any restaurant you choose. I don't want to have sex. I just want to get rid of something. I will pay you for an hour and all you have to do is eat dinner and talk to me. If you're interested, get in. If not, I'll go find someone else. You decide."
She looked into his eyes. He didn't look crazy, just scared. He looked like a thirty year old boy out buying his first trick. She opened the door and climbed in the Dodge Shadow.
"Are you hungry?" he asked, as the Shadow pulled onto Hollywood.
"I could eat," she said. "So what are in to?"
"I was serious when I said I didn't want sex. How much do you get paid for an hour?"
"Two hundred fifty," she said. She was lying.
"I'll give you one hundred and fifty," he said. "And if this works out for me, I'll gladly give you the other hundred." He handed her two folded bills. There was a hundred and a fifty. He had come prepared. "Where do you want to eat?"
"Surprise me," she said, stuffing the money into a fold in her belt.
He pushed a tape into the player. She recognized The Rain, The Park, And Other Things. "Do you remember this song?" he asked.
"Yes," she said.
"Can you remember who sang it?"
"The Cowsills, wasn't it?"
"Good," he said. "My name is Peter. Please say my name as often as you can.
She started to talk. "My name is..."
"Your name is Susan," he interrupted. "That's what I want to call you."
"That's alright with me, Peter." she said.
The Shadow stopped in the parking lot an Italian restaurant. She started to open her door. He stopped her.
"OK," he said, "here it is. I've got this problem."
Marti became uncomfortable.
"I've been seeing a therapist for about three years," he continued. "Most of my life is back to normal. I am back in control. But there is one thing I was never able to tell my doctor. There is one thing left that I need to deal with. And that's why you're here. Before we go in, I want to explain it to you. And when we come out, I want it all to be resolved. And all you have to do is be Susan." He paused. "Where should I start? Well, I was a rather lonely child. I grew up in Barstow. My dad died when I was little and my mom worked on the Marine base. I was very shy and underconfident. My best friends were all made up or TV stars. All that has been worked out. I'm better now. But there is still one thing left. When I was ten and just beginning to realize I was a boy, I had my first crush. Nothing before, or nothing since had ever felt that intense and warm to me. I honestly believed I was going to marry her. I was so sure. I prayed about it and everything. I was sure even God wanted us together. But, of course, it never happened. For years I tried to make it real. For years I tried to make it happen. I want to get rid of it now. I want to break up. I want you to be Susan Cowsill." He handed her a folded white sheet of paper. "This is all I know about her. This is a list of what she likes and dislikes, when and where she was born, the songs she sang on, and the television shows she was in. I'm going in the restaurant now. I want you to wait for a few minutes then come find me. I want you to be Susan Cowsill and tell me why you never married me. I want you to break up with me. If I ask you a question that you don't know, make something up. If you think you can't do this, just take the money and walk away. If you can help me, be Susan for an hour." He stepped out of Shadow and walked into the restaurant. Marti read through the paper and felt sick to her stomach. She folded the paper once, set it on the seat and walked toward the restaurant.
He was sitting alone with his back to the door. The waiter showed her to his table. He stood when he saw her. "Susan," he said, "I'm glad you could join me." She sat and he pushed in her seat. "Would you like a cocktail before dinner?"
"No, Peter," she said, "just some water, thank you."
The waiter nodded and disappeared.
"It is so good to see you, Susan," he said. "You are looking so beautiful."
"Thank you, Peter."
"Did you know that I first fell in love with you when you were on American Bandstand?"
"I remember that show."
"You wore that yellow dress with big flowers. You had a page boy hair cut. I was just ten. You were just ten. You sang Indian Lake. Do you remember?"
"Of course I remember. It was my first time on television."
"Do you remember the commercials you did for milk?"
"Our whole family did them."
"I can still see you sitting in the middle of that meadow. You were twelve. I was twelve."
"I do remember, Peter."
"When I was fourteen I wrote you a letter. Did you ever get it?"
She hesitated. "Yes, I did, Peter."
"Then why didn't you write back?"
"We were so busy then. I wanted to write."
He sounded angry. "But you didn't."
"I wanted to." She tried to back away. She thought back to the paper. "What do you remember about Captain Sad and Other Fools?
"You were so cute," he said. "I remember you at the kitchen table...drinking milk."
"I guess I liked milk."
"I kept writing."
"I'm sorry I didn't write back."
"I loved you," he said.
"How could you go on letting me love you so much and never writing back?"
"I don't know."
"How could you let me go on believing we were going to be married. You must have thought me a fool."
"No, Peter," she said. "I didn't...I don't."
"I followed you through the years," he said. "I followed you to the Harry Chapin album and the backup work you did for Todd Rungrund. I followed you to the reunion shows you did in eighty-six. And to the Disney show, I followed you to the Disney show. You were twenty-four. I was twenty-four. I wrote you. I sent you flowers."
"I'm sorry, Peter."
"I wanted to make you happy. I wanted to live my whole life for you. I wanted to marry you in that same meadow I remembered from the commercials."
"I'm sorry, Peter."
"I cried when your mother died, as if she were my own mother. Didn't you get my flowers?"
"Yes I did, Peter."
"I saw you last year on Current Affair. You were still so beautiful. You had grown into such a beautiful woman. You were thirty-one and I was thirty-one."
"So where do we go from here?" she asked.
He put down his wine glass and took her hand. "Susan, I've waited so long to say this. I've waited forever to ask you. Susan...will you marry me?" He took a small ring out of his jacket pocket. "This is for you."
"Susan, I love you."
"Susan, will you marry me?"
"Peter," she said as he slipped the ring on her finger, "I can't marry you."
"But I love you."
"I could make you happy."
"Susan, I need you."
"No you don't," Marti said, trying to take the ring off, "you don't need me."
"Please, Susan, please keep the ring. I love you and I'll forever love you. I won't write again. I won't send flowers. I'll always remember growing up with you. I'll always remember how much I loved you. I'll never forget you." He stood and kissed her hand. "I'll get over you now. I'll get on with my life. Thank you, Susan. Thank you for letting me go."
She stood and embraced him. There were genuine tears in her face. "Thank you for loving me, Peter. I'll never forget you."
He held her by the waist and stepped back. "Let me remember you like this. Let me remember the night we said good-bye."
Marti looked into his eyes and wondered what he was seeing. She leaned up and kissed him closed-mouth.
"Good-bye," he said, "please keep the ring to remind you of our youth. I want you to remember that when you're sixty, somewhere in this world I'll be sixty as well and I'll thinking of you. Good-bye, Susan," he said, as he brushed her face with his fingers, "good-bye." He turned and walked out of the restaurant.
Marti sat at the table and tried to figure out what had just happened. After a few minutes, the waiter came over and set a envelope on the table. "Your taxi will be here in a few moments, ma'am. Your friend asked me to give you this."
Inside the envelope was the other hundred dollars and note. The note was hand written and said:
Thank you for giving me back my life. I'll never forget you.
It was signed:
Marti took the taxi home. She showered and fell back into her bed. Tomorrow night she would be back on the corner. Tomorrow night she would be selling old bones. But for tonight she became someone else. She dialed the Rock and Roll Request show and while she twisted the ring on her finger, asked them to play The Rain, The Park, And Other Things. They did. And they also gave out her dedication. They said: From 1969, here are the Cowsills with a special message. To Peter B. I should have said yes. Love forever, Susan C.
The Prosperity Of Dreams
Bill Lambson was understandably upset. The television was broken and he had lent his only radio to his younger brother. The ninety-nine degree heat did little to calm his mood. It was hot and he had nothing to do. He cursed out loud and wished he had a life that would command something—anything. Lonely is only tolerable when the mind is busy with busy work. Damn, my life, he thought.
The phone broke the quiet as he jumped from his prone position on the sofa and took a seat on the easy chair by the phone stand. After practicing his phone voice and on the second ring he answered and said, "Hello."
"Hello, is this William Lamb-son?"
"Lam-son, Lam-son, the 'b' is silent." Damn phone solicitors, he thought.
"Mr. Lamb-son, would you mind answering a few questions for us?"
Mind, he thought, hell, if the television hadn't been broken, I probably wouldn't have even answered the phone. "No," he said, "ask away."
"Thank you. Mr. Lamb-son..." The voice sounded like an answering machine message—like he was someone who was uncomfortable with talking. "...I represent a scientific cartel who specializes in physical matters. These questions might seem inane to you, but are a great significance to us. Simple answer yes or no. Are you a human male?"
"Sometimes..." Silence. "...yes."
"Do you believe yourself to be aging at a normal pace?"
"Do you believe there are other intelligent life forms in the universe?"
"Sure," he answered, "and I bet there are dumber ones too."
"Have you ever been subjected to a molecular size contortion?"
"Do you know the nuclear formula for Teasis?"
"Did you ever misplace a red three-wheeled petal powered cycle and a small brown spotted dog with a silver nameplate?"
"Who the hell is this? Is this Rick? Rick, you bastard, this shit ain't funny. Marty, you asshole. Is this Marty?"
"Mr. Lamb-son, you didn't answer our last question. Did you ever misplace..."
"Who are you? How do you know about Floppy?"
"In time you will be given a opportunity to have your questions answered. Please respond."
"Ok, I'll play your silly games. When I was eight someone stole my dog and my red tricycle."
"Fine. One last question, Mr. Lamb-son. What would you say if I were to tell you that of all the human life on earth, you were chosen to represent the planet in front of our scientific council?"
"Yeah, right," Bill said. "I'm kinda getting bored with this game."
"In a few moments," the voice continued, "Mr. Lamb-son, one of our representatives will arrive to accompany you on a journey to Granst." The phone line went dead and before Bill Lambson had a chance to put down the receiver a knock came at the door.
Bill swung open the door. A small man with a dark oversized suit stood with a smile and a black briefcase. "Mr. Lambson, I presume," the small man said. "This is certainly a great pleasure to finally meet you face to face. Are you ready?"
Ha, Bill thought, an insurance salesman. Quite a gimmick. "Ready for what?"
"Another world," the small man said. "We are lucky to have found each other." He stretched out his small hand. "I must warn you that matter warping is not a very pleasant experience. Are you ready?"
Bill Lambson reached out to shake the small man's hand. The instant they touched flesh, he felt a rush of electricity surge through his body. A bright light flashed. When his eyes refocused, he found himself in a laboratory. He was shocked into silence.
The room was a pale green in colour. Not painted green, just that hue. There were rows and rows of flashing lights and beakers upon beakers of bubbling fluids and papers full of number-like gibberish. The small man walked over to a pale green sofa. He sat and said, "I told you there would be time for answering questions. This is that time. You may now ask."
Bill shook the head. He was a bit queazy.
"I understand how you feel," the small man said. "I felt the same way after my first matter warping. To tell the truth, it doesn't get any easier. I'm sure you are full of questions."
Bill made his way over to the sofa. "Where am I?" he asked.
"Good question," the small man said. "You are on the planet Granst."
"Who are you?"
"My name is...in your language there is no true translation. I'm sure you understand. I am Chief Physical Matter Scientist on Granst. I specialize in Earth Science."
"Why is everything so...green."
"Another good question. We exist on a slightly different dimension. Your sun burn on hydrogen nuclear fusion. Ours burns on astatine. It's much heavier. Instead of scattering the one proton, our sun burns with its 261 anti-protons. The light it gives off is not ultra-violet, but ultra-yellow. It's the same principle as plants on earth. The plants themselves aren't green. The chlorophyll inside them is and so they appear green. Most of the rays that light our planet are absorbed, with the exception of green light of course."
"You said anti-proton. What's are those?"
"Mr. Lamb-son, you are perceptive. Here's where it becomes a bit difficult. This world is not a world—or not a world as you understand it—it is an anti-world. Let me explain. Things, as you know it, exist because protons join neutrons and become matter. The more of them that join, the more complex the matter. In our anti-world, anti-protons join anti-neutrons and all electrons are negative. As hydrogen is you simplest element, anti-hydrogen is ours. In a given plane, anti-matter can never meet matter."
"Why?" Bill asked,
"Instant void. Nothing. They would absorb each other and leave a vacuum. They would exterminate each other atom by atom."
Bill finally broke a silence by asking, "Why am I here? I'm not a scientist."
"A quirk of fate, you might say, Mr. Lamb-son. Years ago, as a young man, I was forever experimenting with off-the-wall compounds. In a vacuum, I mixed a small portion of anti-astatine with processed anti-hafnium and created matter. Not anti-matter, mind you, but matter. The small explosion that resulted created a corridor to your world. At first I wasn't able to reach across, but in time I could connect point for point—matter to anti-matter. It has long been theorized, even on your world, that for every atom of matter, there must be a balanced amount of anti-matter. I was able to escape that theory and transport real matter here. Later on, I constructed a tunnel where matter and anti-matter could exist together. That explains why you and I can stand here together." The small man stood and walked toward a large greenish white curtain. He pulled the drape aside. "Here is my first success," he said.
Inside a glass booth was a shiny greenish-red tricycle and a small dog.
"Flopper," Bill yelled. "It's Flopper."
"And not even aged a second."
The dog recognized Bill and began scratching at the glass. The small man began walking out into the hall.
"We must keep him in the glass tunnel. We couldn't risk one atom of pure anti-astatine merging with matter. The implosion would decimate our entire planet. And we wouldn't want that, would we, Mr. Lamb-son. Now you must meet the council. Don't worry. I'll be there with you."
The thought didn't settle Bill.
They entered the room where five elder men sat in high backed chairs. Bill and the small man took a seat behind a glass partition in a padded divan. The small man leaned over and whispered into Bill's ear. "In a moment they will ask you questions," the small man said. "Answer with the best of your knowledge. I'm sure there are men on Earth with the same status. They have little humour."
The man in the center seat, the eldest of the elders, spoke. "You must be Bill Lamb-son," he bellowed.
"That Lam-son," Bill said, "The 'b' is silent."
The small man nudged Bill.
"Why is there war on Earth?" asked one.
"Why are there humans dying of hunger?" asked another.
"Why are there borders where borders don't exist?" asked yet another.
"Has your earth science experimented with pure astatine?" asked the eldest.
Bill was overwhelmed. "I don't know..." was all he could answer. "I don't know why you're asking me these questions. I'm just a poor postal worker. What do I know about why my planet does what it does? All I did was answer the stupid phone and all of sudden I'm on some other planet. I just want to go home."
The elders spoke amongst themselves. They nodded in unison and turned towards Bill and the small man. The eldest spoke for them. "Congratulations, Professor, we agree with your choice. You have found an exemplary example of Earth men. He will do. Thank you."
Bill and the small man walked back to the laboratory.
"Am I going back to earth?" Bill asked.
"If you would like," the small professor answered.
"Could I take Flopper back with me?"
"I think you could."
The walked in silence.
"May I ask another question?" Bill asked.
"You certainly may," the professor nodded with a smile.
"This matter/anti-matter thing, I'm not sure if I understand."
"And you probably never will," the professor said. "This is as simple as I could explain it to you. If you had six apples and added six negative apples, what would you have?"
"I was never very good at algebra," Bill said.
"You would have zero, or nothing. When you add matter and anti-matter you get zero or a vacancy. It is so much more complicated. If we didn't exist in this tunnel I've created, just the fact that we are together would have destroyed my planet. One touch and poof instant void. And back on your planet, had we not met in my tunnel it would have been..."
"Poof," Bill interrupted, "Earth would have been gone."
"Exactly," the professor nodded. "This kind of power in the wrong hands would ravage the peace our side has fought so long and hard to obtain." The professor pulled aside a light green cloth screen and stood before a green chalk board. There were lines of dark green symbols. The only one he recognized was the five letter word E-A-R-T-H. Some of the symbols had a bold yellow chalk check mark next to them. "What we have here is a list of planets that threaten our anti-universe. These planets have already found astatine. Some have experiment with matter. Some have theorized anti-matter. None have as yet bridged the two worlds."
"What are the ones with the check mark?" Bill asked.
"Those were the worlds who were dangerously close. They no longer exist."
"What happened to them?"
"Poof," the professor said, "they are all no longer."
"That is why you are so valuable to us. We want you to take this gift back to your planet for us. It is anti-gold. It is the most valuable material we have on our planet. On earth it's worth would be priceless. The anti-gold in this container would make rulers out of ambitious men, and Kings out of rulers. It is our peace offering. The fate of Earth rest solely on you, Mr. Lamb-son." He pointed to the chalkboard. "You hold the destiny of your planet. Now you may return."
Bill Lambson sat in his sofa complaining about the heat. His brother still had his radio, and the television was still broken. Flopper spent most of the day running around the house wild about his new freedom. Bill sat in the heated silence looking at the greenish box on the table. Riches beyond his imagination was behind the clasp. The prosperity of his dreams was on his kitchen table.
Bill resisted the temptation for only a day. He awoke that next morning determined to become a rich man. He unhooked the clasps and opened the box. Inside was an enormous ball of gold. It was hinting a light green colour, but it was gold. He became hypnotized. His mouth opened as Flopper ran around his legs. He reached for the gold. All he wanted to do was touch it. He reached and poof.
Back in the laboratory sat the small professor. He had a wry smile on his face. Another job well done. His anti-universe was safe again. He picked up a chalk and on the light green chalkboard, next to the dark green letters that spelled out E-A-R-T-H, he put a bright yellow check mark.
Bones & Other Living Things
Becky Rose spent the entire two hours of sleep curled up in the soft cloth recliner next to the bed. The hospital had arranged for a hide-away in the room, but Becky felt helpless when she was more than arms reach away from Tina Marie.
The nurse came into the room and shook Becky awake. "Mrs. Rose," the nurse said, "Dr. Franklin will be making her rounds in about twenty-five minutes. I was wondering if you wanted me to sit with Tina Marie while you freshened up?"
Becky stretched the sleep from her stiff, aching muscles. "Thank you," she said. "I think I would."
"So how was Tina Marie's night?" the nurse asked.
"She shifted a couple of times; not much else."
"She is so pretty," the nurse said. "I love to come in and visit just to look at her. She reminds me of what Cinderella must have looked like as a child."
Becky nodded and relinquished her seat to the nurse. She went to the closet and pulled out new clothes. As she showered, Becky thought of Cinderella, Tina Marie, and how the man who ran over her daughter must feel right now.
Tina Marie was walking to school that Tuesday morning. Becky was following her. Tina Marie was eight. She wanted to cross the street like the big kids—all by herself. This was the morning Becky finally decided to let go. Tina Marie ran to the crossing guard never once looking back at her mother. Becky stood back from the corner with both pride and sorrow. Tina Marie was her only child. Becky's husband proved to be a better provider than husband and left mother and child alone in Colorado Springs as he pursued welding in Alaska. He was gone two years before Becky realized he was never coming back. Becky stood away from the corner and watched her whole life dance into the cross walk. The guard held her stop sign high over her head with her right hand and motioned the children ahead with her left. All but one car stopped. All but one child escaped. Tina Marie was hit by a man who was five minutes late to a sales meeting.
Becky watched the whole scene. It was like the theater. Time slowed to the point that Becky felt she could have ran over and grabbed her baby away from the rushed Pontiac. She lost control of herself waiting for the ambulance. Teachers and parents tried to save the other children from watching Tina Marie bloodied and broken on the painted highway. Becky had to be held down and away as someone else tried to salvage her child's life. Mothers should never have to watch their children die.
Tina Marie didn't die. She was brought to the Medical Center and then transferred to the Children's Hospital. For five days Becky sat by Tina Marie's bed. The nurses and doctors tried to give her hope, and sometimes they were successful. But the reality was that any minute, any second, Tina Marie could simply just die.
Dr. Joan Franklin was kind as she passed a hand over Tina Marie's forehead. She read the chart nodding with a smile. "She seems to have stabilized," she said. "I think she wants to live now. Now all we can do is pray and wait." She reached out and took Becky's hand. "I feel good about this. You've got to try and get better rest. She's going to need you healthy if she comes out of the coma." Becky nodded. Dr. Franklin whispered instructions into the ear of the attending intern and left the room. Becky took her seat next to the bed and held Tina Marie's bruised hand. She fell to sleep.
"Becky, are you sleeping?"
"No," Becky said. "How are you, Frannie?"
"I just came to check on you and Tina Marie. How is she today?"
"How are you?"
"I'm tired, Frannie. I want her to get better so we can go home."
"Be patient," Frannie said. "Let God have his time with her."
Becky was quiet. Frannie went to the bedside and stroked Tina Marie's cheek.
Frannie was Becky's younger sister. They were three years apart. They both still lived in the town they were born in; they both visited mother nearly every day, they both married boys who still lived in their hometown, and visited their mother everyday. They understood each other. They were very nearly the same person.
"Frannie," Becky said, "do you remember Ann Ross?"
"Ann Ross?...sounds familiar."
"She was my friend in sixth grade."
"She died, didn't she?"
"She had cancer. Do you remember?"
"Yes, I do, why?"
"Remember she lost her hair? She started wearing a scarf that looked like a dish rag. I remember how she painted on eye brows. It was so sad. I remember the day in junior high when they announced she had died. Nobody really knew her. But they had a minute of silence anyway."
"What made you think of her?" Frannie asked.
"Last night, when I was asleep, I dreamed she came into this room. She was like I remember her before she got sick. She had lots of blonde hair, and big thick eye brows. She told me not to worry about Tina Marie, that she would take care of her." Becky began crying. "I think she meant that my baby wasn't coming back."
"Beck," Frannie said, "it was just a dream. You've been so worried lately. Don't let a dream affect you so."
"I know...I know. I'm sorry. It seemed so real."
"Dreams do sometimes, you know."
"What do you remember about Ann?" Becky asked.
"I remember you two used to pick on me."
"And I remember she used to have a blue blouse with an enormous collar. I used to think it was the coolest. Oh, and one time she slept over our house and when she woke up she wasn't wearing her scarf, I remember that she was bald and she scared me."
"She died rather quickly," Becky said, "if you can say that taking a year to die is quick. I think I was the only one to be her friend that year. I think everyone else was afraid of her. Maybe they thought they could catch cancer just by being friendly. She got pretty bad that summer. By the time I went to junior high, she was already in the hospital. Living my own life, I had forgotten all about her. When they announced her death over the intercom, it caught me by surprise. I cried for her that day. And I felt so shitty that I had forgotten her. I guess I was afraid to be friendly.
"She used to call me when summer started. But I never went over to her house. I was too busy playing and being a teenager, and I didn't want to deal with her dying. I used to make excuses for not going over. I used to have you lie for me, remember? Eventually, she stopped calling. And eventually she died. I've never forgiven myself for that. It has always been one of my secret sorrows. Now she haunts me. Now she wants my baby."
Together Becky and Frannie sat in silence watching Tina Marie. Their mother called and an aunt or two stopped by, but the day was spent praying for the child and feeling guilt for a forsaken friend.
Becky didn't want to dream that night. She curled up in the soft cloth recliner and held Tina Marie's bruised hand. She fell to sleep.
Tina Marie stirred. That awoke Becky with a start. When she stood next to the bed, Tina Marie was wide awake. "Hi, Mommie," she said, "Am I OK?"
Becky began crying. "Oh, baby, you're just fine. I love you."
"I love you Mommie."
Dr. Franklin was called and all the nurses and orderlies came by to welcome Tina Marie back to the world. She would spend the next few weeks in the hospital letting bones and other living things heal. It was so good to hear her laugh or moan in pain; at least she was alive. Frannie and mother came by and left little time for mommie and child alone. Becky still hadn't caught her breath.
That first night of Tina Marie's consciousness when they were left alone, Becky finally relaxed.
"Mommie," Tina Marie asked, "who is Ann Ross?"
Becky's heart stopped. "Who?" she said.
"The little girl who said she knows you."
"What little girl?"
"The little girl who helped me."
"Baby, what are you saying? What little girl helped you?"
"When I was gone; when I was in the dark. A little girl took my hand and led me back here to you. She told me she knew you."
Becky was confused. She didn't know what to say. "Ann Ross was a friend of mine when I was a little girl."
"Oh," Tina Marie said, "could she fly back then?"
"No," Becky said, "no one could fly. Did Ann fly for you?"
"When I was running away from the light, I started falling. I fell and fell and fell, then the little girl who said her name was Ann Ross came flying by and caught me. We flew around and around for a long time and she brought me back here. Then she put me in bed, kissed me, and told me that sometimes we have to trust the wind."
"I'm glad she brought you back to me," Becky said, "I would have missed you terribly had she not."
"I would have missed you too, Mommie."
"Maybe we should get some rest, baby."
"Good night, Mommie. I love you."
"Good night, baby. I love you too."
Becky slept in the hide-away that night. She didn't dream about Ann Ross, although she wanted to. She wanted to thank her for bringing her baby back.
The next day Frannie and mother offered to stay with Tina Marie while Becky went to mother's house for a good rest. It was a good idea. Becky walked around the old house and felt comfortable. She looked out familiar windows and sucked in familiar smells. She make herself a grilled-cheese sandwich and ran water in the same sink she had most of her life. She thought of Ann Ross walking on this floor and remembered the old sixth grade yearbook.
Becky tore apart the closet looking for the dark blue and white yearbook. It was safe inside a box full of pictures. Becky sat cross-legged on the floor with the entire contents of the closet around her. She turned to Ann's Picture. Ann was smiling. She still had her hair, but looked sick. So many memories came into Becky's mind. She turned to the back and tried to find what Ann wrote. She found it tucked into a corner on the last page. Rereading what Ann had written as a twelve year old girl to another twelve year old girl, Becky realized that Ann knew she was dying. It was lost on a young Becky. She traced the words with her fingers and began crying. In precise and scaled penmanship, months away from death, hopeful even in pain, Ann wrote:
Becky, Thank you for staying my friend this year. I really needed you. I'm not sure I could have made it without you. I wish you all the best in all the years you live. I wish I had the time to repay you for staying my friend. Maybe one day I will. I will leave you with what my Uncle Al always says to me. He says it's an old navy saying. Sometimes, he says, you've got to trust the wind.
Sharing The Grandeur
He was a man. At times he thought he was a boy, but his youth only grew into focus through corrective lenses. She was young. She wore her age like an open jacket, decorative and useful only when turned away from the wind. They came together as an adventure. He was looking for pieces of a puzzle; she the lines that connected the empty dots. Even at first it felt enchanting. It always felt right. It became love.
She came to him during the flood stage. He would waddle through his life afraid to churn the water, afraid to test the levee. She calmed his pounding heart and soothed the spastic flailing of survival. She entered his dreams and brought reason to insanity. He sucked hope from her. And in return, he offered her the empty sky to fill with stars.
He came to fill her life after some many others had spent years draining her. He showed her the magic of the mirror, and the glory of self. He told her the greatest gift he could offer was giving her herself. He pulled her close when she cried, assuring her he would anchor her sorrow, and held on when she danced, wanting to share the grandeur. He promised never to leave all the while hoping she would never send him away. It was pure what they shared. It was genuine. They fell in love.
She was gone for a time. He missed her. He felt a pang in his heart—a thirst he didn't recognize. He would splash her smell on his pillow and sleep inviting her into his dreams. He would scatter evidence of her around the room as if hoping she would follow him in picking up the litter. He named every new star after her and counted the dripping raindrops off his window killing time until she returned. He professed out loud his love to her to anyone who listened...and to no one who listened.
He tried to impress her with pencil poetry, and badly recited quotes from men who never got the chance to know her. He spent quite moments inventing new ways to profess his new found love. He could not pass a living flower or wrapped chocolate without wishing he could bow before her with tribute. Water or heat or calm or madness was always dedicated to her. He was completely in love.
If he could, he would exist just out of vision, waiting for her to turn to see if he was following, living just inside her life. He wanted to love her when she wanted love, and care for her when she wanted her isolation. He wanted to continue adding new stars to her sky and living in love.
If he were god, he would offer what she gave him to all man. If he were king, he would give her to the world as their queen. If he were a rich man, she would be his treasure. But he was just a man. All he could offer was his undying love. And if he could, he would gather her in a bed of pressed lilacs hoping, in some small way, to show her what gifts she has given his heart. He would humbly whisper into her ear, dropping grateful tears on her cheek, offering his vision. He knows that today, if he was given one last breath, he would give it to her with thanks and look up to a once sky that she has filled with stars.
After The Conversation
He was alone in the room, but still he whispered. "I'll wait for you" he said. "I'll always love you."
"Oh," she sighed, "I love you too."
"I'm so sorry the world is trying to break you down. I wish I could be your strength right now."
"You are," she said. "You are."
"I'm here for you, you know."
"I so much needed to hear that. I so much miss you. I miss your arms around me. I miss the feel of you. I miss your kisses. I miss our making love. I miss the way we used to talk forever. I miss feeling comfortable. I miss you..."
"I miss us," he said.
"I love you."
"I love you too."
He heard voices on her end of the phone.
"You know," she said.
"Yes," he said, still whispering, "I do. Do you?"
"Yes," Then she hung up.
He sat with the phone in his hand for what seemed liked minutes. Finally he stood and tried to get back to his life. He couldn't let go of the ache in his belly. His mind kept flashing back to the night when his very life was ripped from him—the look in her eyes; the sound of the hate; the confusion, should he go forward or step back?; the emptiness when she drove away.
He sat in front of the coloured monitor and tried to write. He had a story crawling around his head. He tried to become the story. He tried to write. Instead he composed another poem.
He remembered a time, when together, he wrapped her in a sleeping bag on the hood of his car and stood with his arms around her keeping her from falling. He remembered how happy she made him—how fulfilled he was. If he could only spend the rest of his life holding her and writing, he thought, that would be heaven. That night, he remembered, on the hood wrapped in a sleeping bag, she breathed full. He knew she was comfortable. He knew she was happy. That night, being held up, she looked to the stars and realized that they were in reach. She too could hope. This life was her's to dream any way she wished. What a comforting thought. She had the right to dream. She loved him. He loved her. Life was right.
He knew he meant it when he said he would wait for her. Life with her was complete. Life with her was proper. Without her it was barely life. He felt that gnawing in his belly and wished they could be together that very minute. Everything would work out. Every problem would be addressed. Every doubt erased. He knew that given the opportunity, they would make this life work. All he wanted was the chance to prove this to her. He resigned himself to believe that he may never get that chance. He was left with only hope.
She would tell him that she hated him going through this. That she didn't want him to hurt for her. He wanted to remind her that when she hurts he feels the pain; when she struggles, he feels the binds; when she cries, he feels the tears in his eyes. He wanted to hold her close to him and kiss away the rain from her face. And when he cried, he wanted to bury his head to her chest. That's what love meant to him. He wanted to remind her of all the times they were there for each other. He wanted her to think of all the pain they shared together—the comfort of together—the safety of together. He wanted to tell her that he was not going to give that up.
What did she think, he kept asking himself, that he would forget her and go fall in love somewhere else?; that he could leave her and go on living? He surely wouldn't die, he thought, but he would only pretend to be alive.
He thought of a dream he had that past weekend. He was dressed in a black suit with an angel white button down shirt and polished black shoes. He was standing behind a curtain waiting for the applause to die. He heard his name again and walked out from behind the curtain. He accected the award and bowed to the applause and walked out behind the curtain. He smiled and waved to the crowd showing off his award on his way out the door. He crawled into the back of a limousine and stared at the award. The car took off and he sat in the back staring at the award. He looked around and realized that he was alone and he began to feel sad. He realized that even if he had everything, he needed her to share it with.
He had been given plenty of chances to say good-bye since that night of the explosion. Nobody would have blamed him. He thought and rethought leaving. He knew what he was risking by staying. He was prepared for the long, lonely wait. Mostly he knew what he would be leaving behind. He loved her enough to endure pain for her. It was his decision, not her's. As he had given her respect and independence, he asked for it back. She could no sooner ask him to leave as she could to stay and wait. He decided on his own. He knew she was worth the wait—that they were worth the wait. He loved her and knew that she loved him. It would be enough to carry him through the wait.
He wished he had the nerve to tell her that he could never leave her. How could someone who loved her so much leave her to prison. It was hard enough enduring the thought of her going back there every night. How could she walk into hell when heaven was only a turn away? Anyway, he wanted to tell her that he could never leave her to a life without dreams. If her life was better without him, then he would leave wounded and saddened, but he would leave none-the-less. As long as they believed that they belonged together, he would never go away. And if she forced him to go, which she might, he would have to leave believing she was dead. He would go away mourning her. Imagine having to leave behind someone you love to a hell. He could never do that. He could never leave her behind. He loved her much too much for that.
He wanted to yell out loud, "Come with me." He wanted to scream, "Let's just go." He wanted to drag her away and calm her with kisses and make everything alright again. He knew that he couldn't. He respected her too much to force himself on her. They had built a life too equal. He could never make her anything. She could never make him do anything. They were that equal.
Finally, he wanted to tell her how much he loved her. He wanted to give her a standard in which to measure it. It was impossible. No man had ever love like this. No man had ever felt this much. So he turned the computer off and sprayed her perfume on his pillow and went to sleep dreaming of her.
One day they will be together. One day they will love as they were intended to love. He remembered what she once said to him. 'One day I hope everyone will see us and realize that we must have really loved one another because of all we went through to be together.' Amen, he thought, breathed in her perfume, wiped a sole tear from his face, and went to sleep next to her.
Kissed By Elvis
Pricilla Sheehan curled her twenty-two year old, size fourteen body over her black and red patched quilt and began crying. Birmingham, Alabama was extremely lonely in the mid-winter months. It was always evening in January. There was always someplace Pricilla should have been. There comes an age when one realizes that things are probably not ever going to change. Pricilla was just old enough to accept reality. She was alone, lonely, unattractive, and probably always going to stay that way. She held on to the oversized teddy bear and cried.
Pricilla's mother, Beeva, passed the room and heard her daughter sobbing.
"Cilla, baby, why you crying?"
"I'm fine, Momma," Pricilla said. "I'm just tired."
"Are things alright down at the post office?"
"They're fine, Momma."
"Aren't you feeling well?"
"I'm just fine," Pricilla said, drying the wet from her eyes into the bear.
Beeva Sheehan went to her room in the back of the one story apartment she shared with her only child. Mr. Sheehan, her ex-husband, a truck driver, had long ago sojourned to the west coast with a load of salt blocks and never returned. Beeva dressed for bed in a tattered, thread-bare nightgown. Outside the passing trucks sounded full of salt blocks. She listened for air brakes and tried to sleep.
"Cilla, baby," Beeva said, sitting on the edge of Pricilla's bed, "Do you miss Daddy?"
Pricilla seeped awake. "What, Momma?"
"I want to know if you miss your Daddy?"
"I was just wondering if that was why you were crying."
"No, Momma, I don't miss Daddy that much."
Beeva watched her daughter in the half-light. Pricilla watched her mother.
"Momma," Pricilla whispered, "am I ever gonna be happy?"
"Oh, baby," Beeva sighed as she bent down to wrap her arms around her only possession. "It's gonna happen. Everything is gonna be just fine. You're a blessed child. Remember the story I told you about when you..."
"I remember, Momma."
"How many children can claim to be kissed by the King?"
"Not many, I'm sure."
"You were just six months old..." Beeva began.
"I've heard the story, Mother."
"It was September thirteen...nineteen seventy-two. Elvis was coming to the Jefferson Arena. I was so excited. I was his biggest fan in the whole world. So your daddy, always the jealous man, refused to buy me a ticket. I think he hated the fact he didn't have thick jet black hair and those Elvis eyes. So my sister, your Aunt Katie, and I went down to the airport just to get look at him. I remember I wore my red denim bell-bottoms with the sequin stars down the seam. I know it sounds real foolish now, but I looked good. I was just twenty-three years old, and it was long before I got fat and ugly. It was so hot, I just had you in a diaper and rubber pants. We called WDXY and they told us what time and gate Elvis' private plane was landing. I'll bet there were a thousand people waiting at the airport."
Pricilla settled back on her quilt and listened to her story for the hundredth time.
"So Elvis was supposed to go in Gate 4," Beeva continued. "Everybody was gathered around that gate. Katie and I got there kinda late so we were all the way to the back. We were all just dawdling around until someone yelled out that Elvis was landing. We just all started screaming. I tried to push closer to Gate 4, but with you in my arms, I had to just stand toward the back. I was so excited. I was about to see the King.
"I remember how my daddy, and then your daddy, hated Elvis. My friends used to come over and listen to his records. We used to sit in my bedroom all evening long and scream when he started singing. I guess that sounds kinda silly now, but we did. I used to have pictures of Elvis all over my room. I loved him so much. I had a devil of a time convincing your daddy to let call you Pricilla." She chuckled to herself. "Be thankful, I wanted to call you Pricilla Aaron. I used to cook black-eyed peas and cornbread almost every other day because it was Elvis' favorite. Your daddy put a stop to that.
"So there we were, you in your diaper, me in my sequined denim, and Elvis sitting inside his private plane just a few hundred feet away. You were fussy all morning, but right then you were quiet as a mouse. I guess you knew you were so near the King.
"He made us wait forever before he came out of the plane. We all started screaming again. He was wearing a black karate jumpsuit. My heart nearly stopped. He started walking down by us. His bodyguards started him towards Gate 3. The police held the crowd back, and Elvis was walking right towards me. I couldn't believe it. Elvis walking right at me. I held you up so you could get a look at the King. I tried to scream. I couldn't. I tried to talk. I couldn't. Elvis stopped and looked right us. He was wearing these big black and gold sunglasses. He had on a thousand rings. I saw the one that had TCB on it. Elvis smiled and took you out of my arms. He shook his head and said, Sure is a pretty child, and he kissed you right on the nose. He handed you back to me and I almost fainted dead away. Your Aunt Katie almost had to carry me back home. What a day...what a day."
Pricilla nodded and agreed.
"So can't you see that you must be blessed?" Beeva said. "Can't you see that you are special? I mean...Baby...you were kissed by Elvis."
Pricilla fell to sleep under the quilt imagining what it must have been like to be twenty-two in nineteen seventy-two. Beeva slept with only memories of her youth.
The next morning, tucked into the pocket of her uniform, Pricilla found a handwritten note from her mother. She read it during her first break. While swallowing a cup of black coffee and a raspberry filled donut, Pricilla read the note. It said:
The next week, while Pricilla worked the counter, a new man walked in wanting a post office box. He introduced himself as Frank Keyes.
"Pricilla," he said, "that's one of my favorite names."
"How did you know my name?"
"It's written on your name tag."
Pricilla looked down. "Oh, yea," she said.
"I'm new in town," he said, "I don't know many friends..."
"I'm old in town and I don't either."
He laughed. "So tell me something about yourself."
"There really isn't much to say."
"Everybody has something special about them. I'm double-jointed."
She didn't realize it was a joke.
"Really," she said. "there's nothing special about me...except..."
She hesitated. She sounded embarrassed. "When I was a baby, Elvis Presley kissed me."
He became excited. "Elvis...the King of Rock and Roll...kissed you?"
"I'm Elvis' biggest fan. I can't believe it. He actually kissed you? In person?"
Pricilla felt pride.
Beeva was right. And it was just before it was too late. Six months later, Frank asked Pricilla to marry him. He loved her. She loved him. Whenever they met someone new, he would always introduce her as the love of his life. And he always footnoted that by telling everyone that she was not only special, she was also kissed by Elvis.
The Indignation Of Desire
Annette Freeman felt like Sharon Tate in Valley Of The Dolls. She didn't dare, but if she had the nerve to look into the mirror, she was sure she would find her mascara smeared. That bastard Paul, she thought. How dare him fuck up her life so. What gave him the right to rip her life apart?
She sat on the edge of her bed and sobbed. What had she seen in him? OK, he had a great ass, and incredible hazel eyes. And OK, she could spend hours running her hands from the blonde forest between his chest and the wash board ripples of his belly. OK, she felt a fevered lust beneath his powered fusillade and grunts. Did her loss of balance give him authority to take away her soul? That bastard, she thought. She had to get hold of herself. She could blame all the world's problems on Paul (he might even find it a stroke to his ego), that wasn't going to help her off the floor. She trusted him, he betrayed her. She loved him, he used her. She needed him, he went to another. She gave him her all, he took it. How unhealthy. Why didn't she see it all coming. Why was she left with nothing but a thread of her life and nothing in the way of dignity? How could anyone be so cavalier about another human being's self-respect?
Annette was twenty-four. She had left the small town girl behind years ago and went into the wilderness looking for Eden. She was attractive. She was smart. She was looking for happiness. Then she met Paul in a gray coffee shop and her whole life changed. Where did she get the nerve to say hello? When did she begin hunting men? Why was she so free about falling into his bed that first day? She wasn't even uncomfortable standing naked before him as he studied her lines. What made her think he would ever love her?
That was nine months ago. That was before the endless nights of sexual tribulations he told her she would enjoy. And there was a part of her that did enjoy the force and frenzy of desire. It was exciting experimenting with carnality. She felt like meat before a king. She felt like wine before a priest. She felt like breath to a dying man. She knew she existed. She licked her own life and liked the taste. That was the last nine months.
She struggled to admit the truth. She had given her soul to Paul and he used her. It sickened her to recall the truth. She had given her love to a man who could never love her in return. She tried not to recreate the picture of the truth. She gave herself to him in ways she never dreamed a woman could be for a man. And she recalled the truth. How could she ever love again after finding Paul and a strange man fucking each other while watching a video tape of her doing things that only he enjoyed? She had no idea how he was able to video tape her without her knowing. How small she felt, how insignificant. How unimportant. He took away any dignity she had and laughed it off. Why not join us? he asked. With you in the flesh, we won't have to pay the dollar rewind fee. That bastard, she thought.
Annette Freeman sat sobbing on her bed and truly felt like Sharon Tate. She truly felt like meat.
That night Annette Freeman prayed for the first time in nine months. She asked God for one small ounce of dignity. She asked God to give her freedom.
She gave tears as offering. She fell to sleep sobbing.
That night God sent along a tender mercy. Annette began dreaming.
She was thirteen again. She was playing football at her old elementary school with some boys from across town. She was in seventh grade now—junior high school. She had long brown hair. She was pure. She dreamed of episodes that were eleven years detached from the indignation of desire. She somehow caught a pass and was tackled by Joey Preston. They both giggled and took time standing.
It was summer. Joey was sweating and Annette forgot she was as well. Her best friend Shannon was there, as was Shannon's boyfriend, Frankie. Donny was there, and so was Chuck, and Greg, and Jan, and Liz, and Sandy. Over by the trees, a half dozen bikes lay on their sides resting. Crab-apples hung heavy from the branches whispering to mischievous boys and girls to pick and throw. Cars passed and sometimes someone waved, but mostly, it was a universe of the young. Joey made it a point to always cover Annette. He wasn't much of a defender, however. He always gave her too much room. She was always open. When she caught the ball, he would be right on top of her. He tackled her gently—if that could be anything but a paradox. At first, she tried to get away. But when your thirteen and Joey Preston wanted to tackle you, touchdowns seemed so unimportant.
She dreamed it was noon. She dreamed of sitting under the crab-apple tree waiting for Chuck to come back from home with cold soft drinks. Chuck lived a block away and was the official director of cold soft drinks. Annette sat next to Joey and began to feel warm even in the heat of July. Everything Joey said was either the funniest or smartest thing Annette ever heard. She laughed or agreed on cue. She felt pretty.
Chuck returned and distributed the cold soft drinks. Annette was conscience of drinking like a lady. She sipped and sat upright poised and proper. Joey swallowed like a warrior. He attacked the can like Annette figured a man might. She was intrigued by the difference she first noticed that summer. Then someone asked Joey if wanted to marry Annette. Joey crushed the can and said sure, why not? He turned on his belly and touched her bare leg. She felt a shock. Net, he said, would you marry me? She almost choked on black raspberry Shasta. Yes, she muttered.
Annette dreamed of the cool grass under her at the elementary school when she was thirteen. She dreamed of the one rivulet of sweat that fell from Joey's face, down his chin, and soaked into his gray tee-shirt. Greg is going to be our class vice-president, Joey said, I think that gives him the power to marry us. What do you say, Greg, would you do the honors? Greg leaned back on Sandy and said sure. Frankie agree to be best man and Shannon would be matron-of-honor. Joey picked a half dozen dandelions and the pop top off a Shasta cola would become the wedding ring. Everyone laughed and giggled and fussed with the wedding of the day. Annette felt slightly foolish as she stood next to Joey listening to Greg mimic the vows.
Something strange happened then, Annette dreamed. What began as a whim, became somewhat solemn. There was no laughter, no joking. They listened to Annette and Joey exchange I do's. They watched as Joey kissed Annette on the jaw. They nodded and smiled when Annette began crying. Don't get silly on me, Joey said, I wanted a wife, not a rain bird. Everyone began throwing crab-apples at the newlyweds. Greg discharged one last duty of his position. Now let's finish the second half, he said. And they did.
Annette dreamed that later that evening Joey invited her to his house. They rode their bikes over to her house and asked her mother for permission. Then they rode across their small town to his house. No one was home. He knew that. His parents were visiting his sister who lived across their big state. They won't be home until late, he said. Does that make you uncomfortable? No, she said, as long as you're fine with it.
Joey poured some chips into a huge bowl and asked Annette if she wanted a drink. Just water, she said. Joey filled a large glass with ice and water and took them down the stairs. She followed. He set them on a table in front of an old sofa and turned on the record player. A stack of old 45's would play one at a time. When the record arm was finished with one, it would get up and get out of the way and another record would fall. Joey sat on the sofa and Annette followed suit. I remember the first time I saw you, he told her. You were coming out of Mr. Peterson's English class. I thought you were really cute. I asked Frankie who you were and he said 'Annette Freeman!' like I was some kinda fool for not knowing. Do you remember the first time you saw me?
Yes I do, she said, I remember. It was that same time. I remember after that I couldn't wait for English to end so I could see you.
That was the way it went, small talking about school and friends and summer football and junior high weddings, until the last 45 fell past the waiting record arm. A guitar danced from the speaker on the floor and Joey stopped and said, Oh, I love this song. He stared at the speakers and bounced his head with the beat. He started singing. I woke up this morning, I had you on my mind. I woke up this morning, baby, you know that I feel so fine. Annette listen more to Joey than to the song. He was so cute. Joey jumped up and took the record holder off the turntable. That way, Joey explained, it will play the song over. The second time through, Joey told her to listen to the incredible bass line in the song. He put his arm around her and tapped her arm along with the bass. She heard it. She felt it. Joey kept looking at the speakers and sang, darling, darling, darling to you. The third time through he had her listen to the guitar and he strummed her arm. She heard the difference. The fourth time through she knew the words enough to sing along. Together they sang, I woke up this morning, baby, yes and you were on my mind.
The fifth time through she listened to the words and the incredible bass line and the guitar strum all while deep in the arms of defensive back Joey Preston. He held her as if he were tackling her. Do you know what I want to do? he asked her while his lips quivered. She felt the tingle below her belly. Yes, I do, she said. Is it OK? he asked. Her mouth had never been so dry. She swallowed a big gulp of air. Yes, she whispered. These feeling were new to her. She wondered if they were new to Joey as well. They began in earnest when she began bleeding three months ago. She wondered if Joey, being a man, could sense that her bleeding had begun. Joey moved a bit on the sofa and Annette felt it like a tidal wave. Joey closed in and began kissing Annette open-mouthed. She returned the kiss. It felt like it lasted three years—that kiss. Both of them were out of breath.
When it was over, Joey held Annette as if he were drowning. He whispered something to her. She wasn't sure what it was. She turned to him as if asking him to repeat himself. I love you, he said. And she felt loved. They kissed again and she began crying. Remember I told you I wanted a wife, not a rain bird, he said. They both laughed and kissed again. She felt pure, and whole, and completely innocent. I think this will be our song forever, Joey said on the thirteenth playing of MY PLEDGE OF LOVE, I will never again hear this song and not feel the way I feel right now. I will always love you this way. I will always see you this beautiful, that is my pledge of love. He kissed her again and Annette awoke.
The song was still in her head. Joe Jeffery Group, she thought. Funny how names can come back in an instant. She felt fresh. She accepted her tender mercy. She felt thirteen again. She felt Joey's love, even at an eleven year distance. She wondered what happened to him. She wondered if he was happy. She wondered if he knew how he had left his memory with her. And she wondered if he could ever know how his kiss and Joe Jeffery gave her back her dignity.
Epistle To The Greek
Do you remember the Howdy Dance? We were just freshmen. Only two weeks into the school year and we had life dicked. We were ball players, remember? For some reason, the whole school loved ball players. We still had blemishes, and I was starting a mexican mustache. We were too skinny, and too awkward, and too excitable—but we were ball players. We had it made.
Only three short months earlier, on the last day of eighth grade, I finally got Cathy Fox to admit she liked me. Do you remember Cathy Fox? She was so...there has to be a better word than beautiful...Oh, yeah, she was so exquisite. Cathy was everything a fourteen year old girl should be—petite, firm, quiet, and fawning. Hey, when you're a fifteen year old sexually budding boy, those qualities are golden. Anyway, she had the bluest of eyes, a picturesque forehead, cheekbones high enough to hang banners, and the softest yellow hair. She had a smile that—how did I used to say?—she had a smile that Sundays would start on. That does sound like a freshman, doesn't it?
The whole of that summer, playing phone love with Cathy, we planned for school to start. Remember she was from Erda? I drive by Erda sometimes when I go home to see my parents, it's only one song away, but when I was fifteen, jets couldn't fly me there. That was a happy summer, remember? We played ball; we walked to the movies; we talked trash to girls; we played more ball; and I waited for school to start.
Back to the dance. That's what we're here to remember. I asked Cathy the first day back to school. She said yes. I asked you who you wanted to ask. You wanted Teresa Jensen. You really wanted Teresa Jensen. You asked her one night on the phone, remember? We listened to Rock Your Baby a hundred times before we gathered the courage to call. I asked for her. What would you say if the Greek asked you to the Howdy Dance? that's what I asked. Sure, she said. You got on the phone and we were set to double. We were two ball playing boys with two fine dates to the first dance of our high school days. Life was so easy.
The dance...the dance...I'll get back to the dance. I was wearing gray corduroys with a black shirt, you had on those blue slacks with a light blue sweater over a white shirt. We both looked to kill. So Cathy, who was a friend of my sister Brenda, was already over at my house. She had planned to sleep over with Brenda. What a night. She dressed in my bathroom. She had on a white dress with red stringy lines all over it. She had on panty hose with white shoes. She sat on Brenda's bed and slowly traced lipstick over those lips—Oh God, do you remember those lips? She lifted her chin and powdered her forehead. I watched her from the hallway and tried to leave. I was frozen. Do you remember the dark-haired girl in Born Losers? The one that Billy Jack rescues? As I was voyeuristally peeping at Cathy from the hall, I was struck with the same feeling that dark-haired girl gave me. I was frozen watching her. Finally she was ready.
We were going to meet Teresa at the dance. So my mother drives over to your house to pick up you and Peggy. Peggy was Cathy's friend as well. So there we were, Cathy and me in the front seat, you, Brenda, and Peggy in the back. My mother said, you all so handsome and pretty. I'm sure you could have cracked my smile with a mallet, that's how hard it felt. I paid for Cathy (with my mother's money) and we all went into the lunch room.
Lunch rooms are perfect for school dances. You already have an area to hang out in, your crowd is there, and the floor is just slick enough to slide on during slow dances. Anyway we found Teresa. She was wearing a dark blue skirt with a white blouse. She looked fine. We sat out the first two dances. I just stared at Cathy. Finally, when Dobie Gray came on (remember Drift Away?) I took Cathy's hand and like Sir Galahad with the holy grail, I swaggered off to the dance floor. Red and blue lights flecked the walls and I inhaled the musk of Cathy's neck. It has been nearly two decades since the Howdy Dance, twenty years of memories, thousands of moments of passion and pain, and billions of scents, but the smell of Cathy's flesh can, even now, can make any day stand still. Around and around we danced, my black wing-tips scuffing the floor. Cathy's arms around my waist, her head on my shoulder, my face pressed to her neck, that dance lasted forever. In fact, we're still spinning around somewhere in my head.
You were holding Teresa somewhere on the other side of the floor. I saw you couple of times. I wonder if you can remember her smell.
The song finally ended. We sat against the wall where only eight hours earlier some loser non-ball playing sophomore with a plastic shower cap was shoveling cowboy special into our pastel trays. Do you remember cowboy special? Here's another revelation from those days, I kinda liked cowboy special. We sat out a fast dance—Led Zeppelin's Black Dog. Who on God's good earth could dance to Black Dog? Another slow dance, it was Last Song, by Edward Bear. Cathy and I were on our way to the center of the floor when you came walking over without Teresa. She wanted to be with her friends, she had told you. That was fine, she was kinda stupid, you said. Yeah, I said, she was just a dumb girl. We all three went back to the side and I told you I wanted to go tell Teresa off. I had no idea what I wanted to say to her, but you were my best friend. I had to do something. Do you remember that my dad was a Marine? He would always tell me that Marines never left their buddies on the battlefield. I guess it was my way of getting you back your honor. I found her and said something stupid. I don't remember what it was, and I'm sure she doesn't either, but I was satisfied and with a silent Semper Fi, came back to you with my victory.
Imagine finding you and Cathy dancing mouth to mouth closer than her scent. I was leveled. Through the years I've found a better word—rived. My friend John once summed up that feeling in one sentence—I don't care how justified I was, I still feel like I've been gut shot. That's about it.
I guess I understand how you could dance in front of me. I guess I understand how you could touch her where I could see. But I'm not sure I know how you could kiss her right there. You didn't even have the propriety to go to the other side of the lunch room. Anyway, I had to leave the dance. But you knew that. What you didn't know is what I did outside.
I took a walk. I walked around the school. I was choking on my pride. Shaking my head, asking God to explain to me what had just happened. My arms didn't even swing by my side. I walked in the darkness hoping for a plane to come crashing out of control from the sky and crush and burn this hopeless world. Self-pity can be strong to a fifteen year old boy. So I'm walking around the school like a robot when I see Chris Rael coming towards me. Now I liked Chris, it was just that right then, I didn't want to say anything to anyone. I looked for an escape; there was none. I braced for a hello. When he was close enough to be noticed, I noticed he was crying. What's up. Chris? I said. This chick had just dumped him inside the dance. Poor Chris. He was devastated. And he wasn't even a ball player.
So I regrouped my self-esteem and like a proud man, waited on the lawn for my mom to come get me.
The dance ended. My mother waited. Brenda and Peggy came out one door, you and Cathy came out the other, and I sat on the lawn. My mother saw what was happening. She didn't embarrass me further. Thank God.
We dropped you and Peggy off and Cathy kissed you good night. It sure was hard breathing in that car. We went home. I'm not sure Brenda figured it out. If she did, she sure didn't let up. She and Cathy were to sleep in my father's trailer. That's what girls did to sleep out. Cathy went out without a word. I went to bed.
A few minutes later, Brenda asked me if I could check the power cord going to the trailer. I guess it was hard sleeping out without radio and lights—girls, go figure. I pulled on a pair of sweats and moped out to the trailer. There was Cathy, so cute in those pale blue pajamas. I tried to leave. She grabbed me and started crying. I'm sorry, she said, I really am sorry. She cried. I said, don't worry about it. I reached up and checked the light. I switched it on. Tears ran off her face like a current. I remember smiling and saying, I can see you now. I unwrapped her arms from around me and left. To this day it is still one of the bravest things I have ever done.
That night I pressed my transistor radio to my ear and tried to sleep. Please Come To Boston by Dave Loggins came on KCPX. That was my favorite song. I re-felt all the pain and shame and betrayal and then I forgave you. The song is only four minutes and fourteen seconds long. I've timed it. That's how long I hated you. Anyway, I went to sleep with you as my best friend.
Saturday, the next day, of course we were going to play ball. I rode my bike over to your house. Cathy had gone there earlier that day. I hoped I wouldn't see her. I had to go down to your room to get you. I always had to go down to your room to get you. You were dressing. On top of your dresser was a record and a card. I couldn't help read it. I swear it was as big as a billboard. The card said, I love you, From Cathy Fox. She signed her name with those silly fifteen year old flourishes. The record she bought you was Please Come To Boston. Damn irony, I thought. I smiled and asked you if you were ready to play ball. You finally were.
Fast forward to seven years later. I was still playing ball. I was twenty-two. I owned a black Datsun 280Z. I had a kickass job with position. I was firm and in charge of my life. I was educated. I was respected. I held my head up. We were still friends.
One night I was coming home late from a date with a soft-brown-haired college sophomore. I was flying high. I pulled my black chariot into the just watered down parking lot of the local 7-11. I stepped out of my ride, which incidentally still smelled of the coed, and into the store. I was wearing my favorite Levi's and a black button down. It was the best thing on me. Behind the counter was Cathy Fox.
The years had taken their toll. She was too skinny. Her once kissable nose was too big. She slouched. She didn't smile. I wonder if she ever did anymore. I had heard that she married and divorced that big Norton boy, remember him. I heard that she would leave her kids at her mom's and run back and forth to him. She sure looked sad.
I remembered the Howdy Dance and how she left me. I remembered the humility I felt and how small she made me feel. But here she was a clerk at 7-11 with little left for herself. I could have taken away more. I was flying. She had crashed. I waited in line and when it was my turn, I said, Do you remember me, Cathy? I wanted to smile at her and let her know that I forgave her. Yes, she said, I remember. So how are you doing? I asked. She shook her head and gave me a go-to-hell smirk. She gave me my change and turned to the next guy in line. I stood there for a moment and tried to leave. I felt like a freshman waiting for my mother on the grass outside the Howdy Dance.
I finally made it to my car. I sat shocked. I couldn't believe I was hurt. I had so much and she had so little and she was able to take it all away from me. I felt so foolish, so childish, so small. I had to drive around that night before I went home. I drove by your old house; by the high school; by Chris Rael's house; by the movie theater. I was hoping that Please Come To Boston would come on the radio. It didn't.
I called you to play ball later that week. I didn't tell you I saw Cathy. But I never did go back to that 7-11. Still to this day, I won't go there.
I've been blessed with a billion memories in this life. Every day I feel even more fortunate that I'm alive. I've been lucky. I still have a swagger-slower, perhaps. I still claim you as a friend. I still play ball. Not as much, but remember when we swore that as long as we threw a football every year we would never grow old? I still have an arrogance that sometimes gets me into trouble. But when I start to feel drained, or old, or futile, I remember Cathy Fox, you, and that Howdy Dance. I know I've been lucky In my little life, I have had some big happiness. I can never lose that. But I don't think you'll know the little part of my life I lost that night.
Against The Fury
A nearly full moon hovered in the late afternoon sky over a seclude part of C. Williams Canyon ten miles out of San Somon, New Mexico. The uncomfortable sound of stone grinding stone stopped when the black Plymouth Fury came to rest just off the gravel road next to the creek. Two men climbed out of the Fury and sat on the hood with one leg still on the ground.
"I can't tell you how many days I've parked right here staring into the shadows looking for secrets," Sergeant Tomlin said. "I can't tell you how much of my life was wasted searching and researching the same quarter acre of God's good earth."
Sergeant Frank Tomlin was easily the fifty-nine years he claimed. A portly man, Sergeant Tom (as all those who knew him called him), laboured at trying to stay on the hood of the Plymouth.
Officer Josģ Cardenez was twenty-five. He leaned against the Fury with a confidence that seemed foreign to someone nearing sixty.
"Over there," Sergeant Tom pointed toward a clearing over the river, "is where they found the bodies. There was once a shed down by the creek. Old man Gomez tore it down just after the murders."
Officer Cardenez had heard the story every time they parked up the canyon. He leaned against the Fury and listened as if it were the first time.
"I was called in just after midnight by the captain that Friday," Sgt. Tom continued. "Don Perkins was in the office. He had come home from work and found his house filled with blood and his whole family gone. We went over and found, what looked to me like, a battlefield. I was in Korea, you know. I remember the Chinese offensive the winter of '51. That was a mess. Anyway, the house looked like combat had taken place. Pools of blood formed all over the floor and long smeared streaks trailed to the back door. Somebody sure put up some kind of struggle.
"It took about a week. Gomez called when he found the bodies. The captain and I investigated. Carla Perkins and both the kids, Ricky and Tammy, were cut up pretty bad. Someone was mighty angry to do something like that. There was little blood here. We concluded that they must died back at the house.
"It looked like a machete was used. Long deep gashes on and around the arms and legs. Little Ricky, who was only six years old, had these long open wounds up and down the back of his legs as if someone had sliced at him as he tried to crawl away. I had been a sheriff for fifteen years by then, still I had to go away and vomit. Inside the shed, the animals weren't able to get to them, so they lay exactly as they were left. Carla was thrown in first, then Tammy, she was eleven, and then little Ricky. They were stacked like cord wood. I still can still see it.
"It had rained most of that week, so all traces of footprints were washed away. I must have combed every inch of this area on my hands and knees for weeks looking for any sort of evidence. And I've come back nearly every week looking still."
Sergeant Tom and Officer Cardenez walked down to the creek. Sergeant Tom sat on a flat rock with his back to Cardenez. He kept talking.
"At first our only suspect was Don Perkins, but he had such an alibi. He was the sports editor of the paper and he was at the football game. He had a couple of hundred witnesses. Hell, even I saw him there. And they really did seem happily married.
"They had moved here from a little town in Montana called Wilson Springs...God, it's funny how I can still remember all the details. They went to church regularly and shopped together and became well accepted. In fact, I couldn't find anyone who had a bad thing to say about them.
"Carla's mother called around 8:00 that evening and everything was fine then. Don came home and found them gone by 11:30. We could never find out exactly what happened in that three hour window.
"Who ever did the killing was angry. They had left all sorts of evidence all over the room, we just couldn't tie it all together.
"We arrested Don, we had too. The whole town was running around scared. He didn't fuss much. He was real polite. We knew it wasn't him. But there was no one else. He was out by the next day. He had a rough time of it though. Whole damn town thought he did it. I guess in looking back, he could have made a better grieving husband. He was back to work the next Monday and even did a write-up on the game. At the funeral, he didn't even blink. I don't know if I expected him to howl like a stuck pig, or what, all I know is that it seemed strange.
"I was put on the case and that's all I did. Morning, evening, night, all I did was go over what little evidence we had—nothing! Month after month, I called everyone who could help me with the case. I called the FBI. I called all the surrounding sheriffs. I even called a psychic who told me that I should be searching a hamlet in Ireland, what ever the hell that meant. Still—nothing!
"About a year later, Don moved back to Montana. I heard he married again. Good for him. But on the day he left, as he was leaving town, he came to see me. He thanked me and the department for all we had done. He gave us a number we could call in case we found out anything. He hugged me and I started crying. Damn foolish of me. His whole family had been butchered and I was the one crying. He hugged me tighter and whispered into my ear, 'You did all you could.' I vowed to him right then, right there that I wouldn't rest until the one responsible faced justice. I wiped a tear off my face, watched him drive away, and kissed my life good-bye.
"I've come here two, three times a week since then. That's been twenty-four years now. I've walked this same acre of earth so much I could do so blindfolded in a driving rain. I've thought and rethought and rethought it over again, and still—nothing! Well, I retire tonight. I say good-bye to the citizens of San Somon with pride. I was a good cop. I did a good job. But I never found the killer. That has haunted me for a quarter century. Tomorrow I want to start a new life. But I promised a man I would find out who took away his family. I haven't.
"Officer Cardenez, I want to ask you a favor. I want to ask you to do something for me. I want you to save an old man. I want you to take the Perkins Case." He waited for a response. There was none. "You really don't have to do anything. You don't have to waste your life away chasing ghosts through Southern New Mexican deserts. I just know that if I don't hand over the promise, I will continue to come here and look for what was gone twenty-five years ago.
"Look, we have to leave the case open anyway. Just tell me your look at the file every now and then. You don't really have too, just tell me. Let an old man live. Let me have the rest of my life to myself. Please."
Officer Cardenez rubbed the mustache under his nose for a moment. He smiled and said, "Sure Sarge, I'll take the case. You just go on and have a hell of a life."
Sergeant Tomlin sighed. "Oh, thank God," he said. "Now let's get the hell away from this place. It damn sure depresses me."
The retirement party was attended by nearly the whole town. Everyone knew Sergeant Tom. Gag gifts and a real nice pocket watch from the city were handed out between drinks and laughter. Frank Tomlin went to sleep that night exorcised of a demon. He slept in peace.
It took only three days, but Frank knew he would eventually end up back at Gomez's farm. It was all he could think about. What if he missed something, he thought. So he drove up C. Williams Canyon crushing small chunks of gravel along the way.
He took the turn by the shed and pulled off the road. There was a San Somon Police car already there. Sitting on the hood of the Fury, Officer Cardenez stared into that little acre and didn't hear the car approach. From his distance, Frank could see how fixed Officer Cardenez was. Nothing would disturb him. Frank knew the feeling. He backed his car and headed back home. In the rear view mirror, for just a flash, Frank thought he saw movement. He drove ahead when he realized it was just his demon dying.
Don't Let The Blues Make You Bad
It's a recurring dream. And I don't really know what it means. I'm walking down a wide street, and meet a man that I think I know. We walk along together when the street suddenly narrows and darkens. I turn towards the man for comfort, and he waves a knife at me. I want to run, but I just stand there and let him stab me in the stomach—over and over again.
From September 13, 1989
PSYCHOLOGY REVIEW—Dreams Fran (not her real name) — age 26
* * * * * *
A bright light curls from the hallway as she lays back in the bed and wishes she were somewhere else. Tara feels every ounce of his weight as he pounds and recoils inside her. She wanted this, she told herself, she needed this. She now hates herself for her need. Funny how quickly guilt follows orgasm.
He was a striking man. She saw him that day and followed him around the store. He made a passing gesture of hello and the next thing she knew she was in his car. She slid over and snuggled next to him, dropping her hand to his lap. She stroked him until his breathing became dangerous. It was this danger that fueled her desire. She grew desperate for his body. It was a need, however, not a desire. She felt her thighs tingle and their junction moisten. It was a itchy feeling she felt between her legs as she twisted and turned on the seat.
They barely spoke as he drove the freeway toward some room. She wouldn't tell him of her kids or that man she married. He didn't want to hear about them. Probably in the same way he didn't tell her about his wife. They just drove in silence as she stroked his lap and pinched hers.
She never felt regret when ever she was heading away to bed a new man. She only felt lust. The guilt always came around. But that was later. Now it was a pure animal need that engulfed her—almost like the breath of life. She felt she would die without a man inside of her. So she stoked his lap and waited for the fury.
In the room, she undid his pants and pulled them down from the belt loops and stared at what she had been fondling. Her mouth watered. Here was a stranger and she had a need to put her mouth on him. It was degrading—perhaps that's why she did it. Her mouth fulled and she stopped questioning herself. She wasn't there to psychoanalyze herself. She was there to get fucked.
As she straddled him like a saddle, she jumped up and down staring into his eyes. She didn't know him, she didn't know him at all. She didn't want to know him. He was just another hot body and blood-filled appendage that she used to fulfill that one missing part in her life. He wasn't the first stranger she used to fit inside her. He probably won't be the last. She hopped up and down on him and he rough-housed her breasts thinking that she enjoyed it. She rushed up to orgasm and panted as she bit her bottom lip and fell onto his chest like a bean bag. He continued to press into her as he rolled her over onto her back and tried to push her into the floor.
She orgasmed again and began to feel the guilt as she felt him quicken and saw his eyes roll back into his head. She moaned as he grunted and spent himself inside her. He then rolled off her and turned away releasing a giant yawn into a sigh. They both lay in silence as individually they each tried to restart, then stopped when they realized all was gone.
She reached down between her legs and wiped away the mess men forget about and began to dress. She wanted to taste him again, but the guilt overtook her. She unconsciously licked her fingers and when she did, she shook her head. Why do I do this, she asked herself, why?
It's not love. Not once did she even confuse the two. It was a part of her that was missing. She needed this feeling, and she hated herself for it.
Later, at home, she found a way to start a fight with her husband—something stupid, of course. She sent her kids to bed and dressed for sleep herself. As she lay in bed waiting for her husband, she wondered what it was she need that this man couldn't give. It was beyond physical sex, it went much deeper. The sex was only a substitute. It was a deep, deep need that she didn't understand. She only lived on until the next time she could be satisfied—if only for a time. There would be a next time, she thought. All it took was a stranger and a hello. Funny thing, too, here she was thinking about her next tryst, and sex was the farthest thing from her mind.
She wanted to tell her husband. It wasn't the guilt that opened her tongue, or the shame. She only wanted someone to understand her and help her figure out why she ran around. She wanted to tell him.
She waited until she heard him turn off the television and climb the stairs before she decide what she was to do. As he dressed for sleep, she turned over in bed and watched him. He crawled into bed in the dark and stretched out with a moan. She lay there and thought of the day, the stranger, the lust, and the unfulfilled need, and pretended to sleep.
* * *
The land of Thebes was ruled justly for many years by King Laius. He was a kindly ruler who was loved by his entire kingdom. King Laius married the most beautiful woman in the land and named her Queen. For years, the young king lived in true happiness.
One night, as Queen Jocasta lay asleep beside him, an oracle visited King Laius' dreams. "I come from Apollo with a message for the king of Thebes," the oracles said, "a son will be born to Jocasta that will grow and kill his father. It is the future. It is what will be." The king slept on feeding the dream.
The next day, Queen Jocasta gave the king wonderful news—she was to have a child. A heir to your throne, she told him, a son perhaps.
After the birth of their son, King Laius remembered the heed of the oracle and took the child to the mountainside. There he pierced the feet of the baby and left it to die. As future intervened, a shepherd came upon the boy and carried him to his kingdom of Corinth as a gift to King Polybus.
King Polybus adopted the boy as his own son and gave him the name of Oedipus, which meant swollen feet, because of the marks left by the piercing of King Laius. Oedipus lived as the son of King Polybus until he had grown into a man.
One day, Oedipus was told the story of the shepherd. He traveled to Delphi to ask Apollo the truth. Apollo told him that he should not return to his own land because he would kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus thought that King Polypus was his father and knowing how much he loved the king, he decided to never return to Corinth.
Along the road to Thebes, Oedipus came across the hunting party of King Laius. Not knowing that he was addressing the king, Oedipus demanded passage. The king pushed Oedipus off the road and in the fight that followed, the king was killed.
Upon reaching Thebes, Oedipus found the kingdom terrorized by the Sphinx—a lioness with a woman's head. The Sphinx was killing off all the men in Thebes by challenging them to answer her riddle. Man after man attempted to solve the riddle, failed, and was killed. Most hope was lost.
Oedipus climbed the mountain passage to Thebes and was stopped and questioned by the Sphinx. "What has one voice and yet has four legs in the morning, two legs at day, and three legs at dusk?" Oedipus answered, "Man, who crawls on all fours in the morning of his life, walks about on two during his lifetime, and walks with a cane in old age." The Sphinx threw herself off the mountain to her death and Thebes was saved.
The new hero was welcomed in Thebes and was made king. He married King Laius' widow and ruled for years not knowing he had fulfilled prophecy—he had murdered his father and married his mother.
Another plague reached Thebes and another oracle told Oedipus that it would not end until the murderer of Laius was found and banished from Thebes. Oedipus looked for the murderer and found out that he had killed the king on the road so many years before. In rage and shame, he blinded himself, and Queen Jocasta committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree that overlooked all of Thebes.
Oedipus banished himself from Thebes and wandered for years in pain as punishment. He died at Colonus a sad and beaten man.
* * *
Sigmund Freud, the father of psycho analysis, coined the phrase Oedipus Complex. The term was given to the strong attachment a child feels for the parent of the opposite sex. Every child, at one time or another, has an unconscious sexual attraction to this parent, and, according to Sigmund Freud, that feeling is normal, He sights examples of little boys comfortably folding up in his mother's lap and a little girl doing the same with the father. Reversed, however, the common place disappears. Girls and mothers; boys and fathers are mostly rivals. Again, this is all normal—perhaps even healthy.
Occasionally, the bonds are broken, or the signals are misdirected and psychosis develops. If by chance, a child is denied a healthy relationship with their opposite gender parent, a substitution is needed. If approached rational, and insightfully, a healthy surrogate can be found. If not, the psychosis will continue perpetually.
* * *
Fran told her dream to her analysis. Together they came to reveal a secret hurt that she had been masking since childhood. It seems that when she was a child, she was frightened by a noise in the dark and went to sleep with her mother and father. Unfortunately, the noise was being made by her parents while lovemaking. As she walked into their room, she saw her father with his penis going in and out of her mother's vagina. She ran back to her room and stayed there alone. Together, Fran and her analyst, decided that the dream represented an Oedipal desire to have her father's penis in her. The knife became the phallic and her stomach the orifice. Of course, to Fran, the idea of making love to her father was unacceptable and the dreams stopped immediately.
* * *
Tara's parents divorced just as she was old enough to remember. Of course she doesn't remember clearly, but she can still picture the fights and the feeling of loneliness as she lay in her bed alone. When her father left, something disappeared with him. She loved her mother, and her mother was good to her. But she needed her father, and he wasn't there.
She was at the wrong age when he left. Any older, and she would have used her own independence to survive, and any younger, she would have been too young to remember. She was left without her father at an age when she needed him most.
Her mother remarried and tried to give her a father figure, but she resisted. Unconsciously she resisted. She didn't know why she rebelled, it was just the way she was.
Later, she used men to fulfill that part of her, and she didn't know why. Sex with strange men came close to what she needed, but she always felt slightly betrayed.
Had she talked to a therapist, she might have realize that she was looking for an Oedipal figure, and since her father was, for all practical purposes, a stranger, that's what she went after. It wasn't the sex, it was a sexual bonding with her father that she should have played out and forgotten years ago in her youth. Perhaps she'd have begun to understand herself and begin to heal, and perhaps all she really needs, is one man to understand.
To Reach The Rouge
North Louisiana was famous for hard rain. One minute it is perfectly clear, then the next—boom, deluge. Wes DeLeon had spent the summer of his seventeenth year in Cleveland. Northerners had no idea about hard rain, he thought...or spicy chicken. It was one-thirty on a Tuesday night. Wes was driving home to Baton Rouge from North Folden. He had just dropped off Kathleen, the love of his life, at her parents to spend a week or two before fall quarter begins. Kathleen was twenty. She was a sophomore at LSU—go Tigers. He was twenty-six. He worked at a printing shop slapping base colour paints on canvas banners. It was a good job. It paid for the hovel where he and Kathleen lived, it paid for groceries, a night out now and then, and blueberry milkshakes.
He was about ninety minutes away from North Folden when he started thinking about how lucky he was to find Kathleen. She was pretty. She was smart. She was fun. And he...he was OK, he guessed. They met on campus. She was a freshman and he was taking an English class on his way to that twenty year degree. Their love began slowly and then—boom, deluge. He was lucky.
She was a very special girl. She had gifts he had not know in any other person. She was shy about them. It was almost a year into the relationship before she shared her life with him. She was adopted, she told him. She would never know her real parents. That was her tragedy. She loved the Bennings. They were as good as any two mother and father could be. She loved them.
She told him one day before bed that she wanted to share something with him. "I can see auras," she said. "Do you think I'm flipped?"
"Of course not," he said, "I wish I could."
"You believe in auras?" she asked.
"Yes," he said, "I believe some people are sensitive enough to see someone's soul."
"You are light blue," she said. "You were light blue the day I met you. I knew you were kind then."
"What colour am I now?"
"Light blue." She smiled and kiss him on his forehead. She crawled into bed and pulled the blankets towards her chin. "There are very few light blues in this world," she said, "I'm very fortunate I found me one."
A few nights later, again in bed, she said. "Do you remember when I told you I could see auras?"
"I want you to know that I have never told anyone that before. I want you to know that I trust you."
"I know," he said, "and I trust you."
It was quiet for a moment. He tried to sleep.
"I can change people's auras," she said.
"I can change people's auras. I can change their colours. I rarely do, but I can do it. Do you think I'm whacked?"
"No." he said. "Do you mind if I think about that for a while."
"No," she said, "I won't bring it up again unless you do."
"Thank you," he said. In the darkness and to the silence, he said, "Katie, I love you."
"Thank you," she sighed and they both went to sleep.
On that ride, in the hard rain, from North Folden, Wes remembered how easily he took that bit of news. It was only the beginning.
"I've been thinking about this aura business," he said one evening at dinner. He was cooking fish bouilli. "It's no big deal, is it?"
"No," she said, "I just wanted you know all about me."
"Is there more?"
"Do I want to know."
"I don't know, do you?"
He stirred in the sprig thyme. "Yes, I guess I do."
She bit into a celery stick. "I can talk to plants and animals. I don't mean actually talk. Trees don't know English. I mean I know what they are feeling. I know when a plant needs more water because it will tell me. I know when a tree hates a swing tied to its branches. I guess even plants have souls. Does that make sense?" He wasn't answering. "I communicate with animals as well, but that's not the same. I mean cats are just too stubborn to talk and dogs are just too dumb. What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking...so you talk to animals, so what? So did Dr. Doolittle. What did that get him? An Oscar nomination. So you feel what plants feel, so what? I'm grateful you talk to me. That's what I'm thinking. Now get over here and tie up these fish." He handed her a cord and kissed her cheek. "Too bad you don't have super human strength. We've still got to figure out a way to get the stove out of the garage."
One night, three weeks later, he rolled over in bed. Only moments before he had been deep into sleep. He found her wide awake. She was staring at the strings of white light the torn window shade allowed into the room. "You haven't told me everything, have you?"
"No," she said without taking her eyes off the ceiling.
"What is it?"
"I can smell death."
"I can smell when someone is dying."
"Am I dying?"
"Oh, no," she said and turned toward him. "you're not...I'm sorry I scared you. You're just fine."
"Do you remember Mr. Velapando down stairs?"
"The one that died last month?"
"That last time we saw him I knew he was dying. I've always been able to smell death. Sometimes it's frightening, sometimes it's a blessing."
"Sometimes I can sense that death is a relief."
She felt relieved. He felt confused. She fell to a deep sleep. He sat up in bed and stared at the white strings of light dancing on the ceiling.
Wes looked down at the speedometer. Thirty miles an hour was too fast for conditions. Damn hard rain, he thought. At this speed it would take him four hours just to reach the Rouge. He turned over to AM radio. Maybe some Northern obnoxious talk show host could make his blood boil and keep him awake...
Good, good morning to you where ever you are. It's twenty-two after your hour and you're spending it with Scottie Mac on WCBC. We're taking your calls for the rest of this hour. We are with Gladys Briggs. She has had some pretty amazing experiences. I'd like to hear from you out there. What do you think? Line one, Frank from Baltimore, what do you think?
Go ahead, Frank, you're on Morning Talkabout.
'Scottie, hey man, I love your show. I work as a guard for a bank out here and your show is the only thing that keeps me awake.'
Well, thanks, Frank. Do you have a question for our guest?
'Yes I do. I want to know how old her child would be now.'
That's a good question.
"He would be about twenty-four now. I can't remember exactly when I gave birth, but I believe conception occurred around March. If I gestated normally, that would have been twenty-four years in December."
Linda in Detroit, you're on Morning Talkabout.
'Scottie, I wanted to ask your guest if she was ever contacted by other women who share her same experiences.'
"No, I've been doing the talk show circuit for two years now and although I've met others with similar stories, so far I've yet to meet anyone else who claimed to be impregnated by aliens who plan to take over Earth."
You've got to admit, Gladys, this is some story.
"I know that. I long ago gave up pretending people weren't laughing at me. This is my story. It is true. I promise that's it's all true. That's all I can do. I'll spend my last breath warning the world of the danger. If they choose to laugh at me, I've done my part."
Let me recap here. You claim that twenty some years ago, you were kidnapped from your car in Arkansas, taken aboard a flying saucer...
"It was more cigar shaped."
...forgive me, a cigar shaped spaceship, medically examined, and impregnated. Am I right so far?
"The fact of my disappearance is documented."
You then claim that when you gave birth, the baby was taken from you and you were returned to Earth with little memory of the experience.
"I believe my memory was suppressed."
Then two years ago you were visited by an alien that claimed to be the father of your child. Tell me again what he told you.
"He said that my baby was brought back to earth and assimilated into society. He said that with its special powers, it could become a natural leader of nations."
How did he appear?
"The father of my child?"
"He came to my door in a tee shirt and slacks."
An alien came to your door dressed for a bar-b-que?
"At first I didn't believe him. It sounded so crazy. My child, I asked him, what did he mean my child? When he told me, it all came back. All my memories came back. I remembered everything. He told me it was his planet's plan. He said he never really wanted to be part of it all. He told me that back when I was kidnapped, the design was to follow the child to adulthood and control Earth from within. But something happened in those years, he told me, political influence swayed until Earth was the farthest thing from anyone's mind. I was told that they forgot about the child."
And their plan?
"Yes, and their plan. He told me that he couldn't help me much, but that I would have to find and destroy my child. He said he was sent to inform me of the plan. He said his planet's new government apologized for bringing a monster to Earth. They asked for forgiveness."
Wes rode through the rain interested but more thankful for this early morning balderdash that kept him awake on the road home.
So you have to find your own child and kill him?
"Or if not, when he finds out what he's capable of doing, how limitless his abilities are, the entire earth will be powerless to stop him."
Let's take a call from Baker, Oregon. Go ahead, Frank, you're with Scottie Mac on Morning Talkabout.
Go ahead, Baker, do you have a question for our guest?
'OK, Ma'am, what secret powers are you talking about. What are you looking for? How can we tell if someone we know is this alien?'
"I was told that my child would be human in every visible way. I was told that he would be of average intelligence, maybe slightly above-average. But his alien traits are what to look for."
What are his alien traits?
"My child will have Extra Sensory Perception..."
"And not just your run of the mill knowing what card is turned ESP, he will have the ability to communicate with all living things."
Like Dr. Doolittle?
"No, he won't talk to the animals, but he will be able to know what they are feeling and wanting; the same with plants, you know trees and flowers. He will be able to know the emotions of grass."
How will that ability help him control the world.
"That's not all. He will also be able to see life forces."
You mean auras?
"Not just see them, he will be able to change them."
"He will also not only see death coming, he will be able to cause it."
Wes nearly skidded off the rain-soaked Louisiana highway. He pulled the car off the road and deep into the shoulder nearly climbing the levee. He stared at the green LED radio lights that seemed to control his breath. His mouth refused to close.
We're talking to Gladys Briggs who brings us an incredible story of her search for her child who, she claims, that if she doesn't kill him, will one day take over the earth. I have a question for you, Gladys. If he is half human, could he procreate?
"I guess so...I never thought of that."
And could his child also have his powers?
"I don't know why not."
What were they like sexually?
"I'm sure I don't know what you are talking about."
Sure you do.
"If my memory serves me correctly, I can remember that sexually, they were absolutely normal. But I do remember something strange..."
That's what I want to hear.
"I can remember I was told that their pleasure center is tied directly to their cerebral cortex. As a matter of fact, I remember him trying to manipulate their fingers over my brain stem, as if he were searching for an orifice. I also remember doing the same to him and how frenzied he became."
So your son...I guess it's your son, may well be stimulated by rubbing the back of the neck?
"I guess so."
When his father came and told you that your son...
"My son? My son? Come to think of it, I was never told I had a son. I was told I had a child. Oh, my God, I could have been chasing the wrong child. My God, could I have been mistaken? It could be a girl. I could have a daughter. She could be a woman."
Wes DeLeon waited until the sun painted his windshield with heat before he turned the car around and headed straight away to North Folden. He found Katie playing tag in the front yard with her old tom cat. She saw him and ran into his arms.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"I love you, Katie."
"What is it?"
They jumped into his old car and drove to the bridge. He climbed out and sat on the hood. She followed. He told her about the radio show.
"Wes," she laughed, "you came all this way back because of that?"
He reached out and took hold of her.
"Oh, Katie, I love you so much. I didn't want some lady coming to kill you."
"You think I'm an alien?"
"Of course not."
"It sounds so silly." He started laughing. "God, what a fool I seem to be."
"A damn cute fool."
"I'm sorry," he said, "could you let me go back to the Rouge and forget this silly little episode?"
"Of course," she said.
She smiled and reached up to kiss him. He wrapped his arms around her back and gave himself to her.
"I feel so foolish. How could I think you were an alien. God, what a dolt."
"My poor little cute fool," she said as he traced his fingers up her spine to the back of her neck. He gently pushed two fingers into her head and stroked her cerebral cortex. "Oh, God," she sighed and melted into his arms, "that feels so good." She twisted out of control. "What are you doing to me? Oh, that feels so good. What are you doing?"