MERRY CHRISTOPHER

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MERRY CHRISTOPHER

ستایش خداوند

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        The winter sun crept up through the pine trees along Morro Bay. The parking lot of the Morro Bay Realty office was a Christmas tree lot for a few weeks during the holiday season. The Morro Bay Realty office was a long mobile home. Owner Bill Bloch would earn extra money selling Christmas trees during this slow-down in real estate sales.

        Merry Christopher with her 15-year old daughter Christina drove onto the Morro Bay Realty parking lot, their backseat stuffed like Santa’s sack with blankets, clothes, bags, and suitcases all of which were obscuring their rear window. There was a folded tent lashed to the car’s roof.

        Merry Christopher parked her car and got out and approached Bill Bloch who was surveying his little forest of Christmas trees from the steps of the mobile home-office.

        Bill smiled down on Merry and said, “Doesn’t look like you’re here for a tree.”

        Merry tried to smile and said, “Hello. I’m Merry Christopher. I was wondering: would you have any work for me? Any at all?”

        Bill looked past the top of Merry’s head toward her car stuffed with belongings.

        Merry followed his gaze and then explained, “That is my daughter Christina. She’s fifteen. We’re… moving here to Morro Bay. And I just need to find a job.”

        Bill mulled, “Moving without a job? Jeez, pretty bold. You know,… Morro Bay is a pretty small town. There isn’t much work at this time…,” then he asked, “Where are you staying?”

        Merry answered, “In our car, it seems like. There are no vacancies at any hotels around here. We’ll be camping out along the coast somewhere,” then she added softly, “We’re getting used to it.”

        Bill said, “Hey, maybe the hotels can use help?”

        Merry shook her head, “I’ve asked. It seems most of the locals grabbed the ‘extra’ seasonal jobs.”

        Bill said, “Yeah… when fishing is slow the locals do odd-jobs.”

        Merry’s shoulders slumped.

        Bill looked up. Cottony clouds sailed southeastward overhead as the river of cold air flowed from the incoming North Pacific storm system.

        Bill said after a few thoughtful moments, “Well… I’ve got an empty office in the back of the mobile home. I suppose you could sleep there a couple days, OK. But…it really is just a mangy little room.”

        Merry’s eyes lit up, “Oh thank you, bless you,…?”

        Bill smiled, “I’m Bill. Bill Bloch. This is my business here. Just making a little extra money this time of year, you know.”

        Merry reached up and took Bill’s hand in both of her hands and shook it, “Thank you so much. I didn’t want my daughter sleeping in a wet tent. I mean, I don’t care about myself. But she…”

        Bill said, “Sure. The room’s just back here on this side.”

        Merry trotted to her car and nodded at Christina’s questioning face. Christina hopped in her seat and then covered her face as she began to cry with relief.

        Merry spoke to Christina through the door window as Christina rolled it down, “I didn’t get a job but we have a place to sleep.”

        Christina said, “Oh. OK…”, and then in unison with her mother she said, “Day by day it’ll be OK, Thank you Jesus.” and they both smiled.

        As Merry and Christina carried in their overnight essentials into the mobile home, passing Bill who held the door open, they both thanked him again and again and their eyes were red and glistening.

        Bill muttered, “I suppose there could be work here….”

        The inside of the long mobile home was cold. Merry and Christina shuffled past the office desk and files and on down the hallway to the vacant little room. It even had a little window that you could open by cranking. And they were right next to a little bathroom. Christina dropped her armload on the floor. Merry did the same. They both laughed with nervous exhaustion. Then Merry began to spread the sleeping bags into the corner and to stack her boxes and bags of toiletries.

        Christina said, “I don’t want to complain but I’m freezing.”

        Merry went into the narrow hallway and found the thermostat. She called to Bill, “Excuse me, Mr. Bloch, would it be OK to turn up some heat? My daughter is cold.”

        Bill couldn’t help calculating the increase in his heating bill but he said, “Sure. It’s going to be a cold storm tonight. Just close as many windows as you can…”

        Merry went back into the little room and kneeled with Christina on their sleeping bags. They prayed. Then Merry hugged Christina and they both laid themselves next to each other on the sleeping bags, just to relax a minute, and Christina wept herself to sleep.

        Merry got up carefully and went into the little kitchen area carrying a bag. In the kitchen she unpacked a jar of instant coffee and a little box of sugar and a box of powdered milk.

        She asked Bill, “Do you mind if I boil some water for coffee?”

        Bill said, “No. In fact make a pot.”

        Merry found a stained coffee pot in the little cupboard and rinsed it out as best she could, then she filled it with water and turned on the little gas burner on the little stove. She stood and stared at the refraction of currents in the heating water.

        When it began to boil Merry spooned-out instant coffee and stirred the coffee pot. She judged the strength of the coffee by the aroma it gave off. She could feel the current of warm air from the heating system upon her face and she began to feel cozy.

        Outside a pick-up truck loaded with some more trees pulled into the parking lot.

        Bill Bloch waved at the driver who was getting out of the truck, “Hey, Darius. Hey, ‘Dar he is’!”

        The slender swarthy man getting out of the truck stood tall and said, “Yes, always amusing, my friend. These are the last of my trees.”

        From the passenger side of the truck three young boys danced out. Darius said, “My sons, do not go far. We must unload these trees and then we are done.”

        Bill waved, “Hello, boys.”

        The three boys answered shyly, “Hello, Mr. Bloch.”

        One boy said, “Can I have a drink of water?” the second boy said, “Me, too,” and the third boy, the youngest, said, “I need to use the bathroom.”

        Bill nodded, “Sure,” and the three boys bounced up the steps of the mobile home-office and entered.

        When the three boys saw Merry near the stove sipping coffee they halted and stared shyly.

        Merry said, “Hello, there.”

        The two older boys mumbled, “Hello, ma’am,” but the youngest boy cried, “I need to use the bathroom!” and he pushed past his brothers and Merry stood aside and waved him clear to proceed down the narrow hallway.

        Darius entered the mobile home and upon seeing Merry he said, “Oh.”

        Merry said, “Hello.”

        Darius said, “I am Darius Rouhani,” then he grinned and said, “Dar he is,” and then he said, “I see you have met my sons.”

        Merry said, “I am Merry Christopher.”

        The elder boy snickered and said, “You sound like Merry Christmas.”

        Darius scolded his son, “Don’t be rude like that, ever!”

        Merry was conciliatory and bent down to the boy saying, “My parents named me ‘Merry’, M-E-R-R-Y, not ‘Mary’ M-A-R-Y. They were religious but they had a strange sense of humor.”

        Darius smiled. His son grinned and looked away, saying, “OK. I am sorry I was rude.”

        Merry smiled, “Oh, you weren’t rude. You were a boy,” and she looked up at Darius who made a wry face.

        Darius said, “This rude boy is my eldest son. He is thirteen. His name is Hormi. His brother next to him is Yazdeg. He is ten. And the youngest, he is eight, wherever he is… Peroz! Where are you?

        Peroz cried from the bathroom, “I am making a peef!”

        Darius covered his eyes as his two sons beside him giggled.

        Merry said, “That is OK. I have a daughter who is fifteen. Her name is Christina.”

        Darius said, “OK, Miss Merry, you win. One daughter is more trouble than three sons.”

        Merry laughed.

        Darius asked, “Are you working for Bill, if I may ask?”

        Merry shrugged, “With the grace of God, yes.”

        Darius nodded and intoned, “KHOH-dah-rah SHOH-kr (Praise the Lord).”

        Merry said, “Oh, I’m sorry, would you like some coffee?”

        Bill, who had just entered, said, “Don’t bother. Darius likes his coffee Turkish. He likes coffee you can chew.”

        Darius’ youngest son Peroz emerged from the bathroom just as Merry’s daughter Christina was exiting the little make-shift bedroom. Almost wedging together, Peroz looked up at Christina and said, “I am sorry I stink.”

        Christina, hands in the pockets of her bulky sweater, hugged herself and asked sleepily of her mother, “What is up?”

        Merry said, “Christina, this is Darius and these are his three sons…uh, …,” and looking at Darius she said softly, “I’m sorry…”

        Darius came to Merry’s aid and said, “This young man is Hormi. This young gentleman is Yazdeg. And this…stinker.. is Peroz.”

        Peroz was embarrassed and he said as he twisted himself, “Daaa-ad.”

        Darius scolded, “Well, I heard you name yourself just a moment ago in the hallway. In front of a young woman.”

        Bill spoke up, “Hey, everyone. It’s gonna start pouring any minute. Darius, why don’t you stay here for awhile? You don’t want to be driving with your boys in what’s coming,” and he bent over to address Hormi, Yazdeg, and Peroz, saying, “Why don’t you pick a Christmas tree and bring it in. We can decorate it.”

        The three boys yelled, “Yah!” and then they looked sheepishly at their father Darius who scolded them with his expression.

        Merry said, “I can help.”

        Christina said, “I can, too.”

        Merry whispered to Christina, “I don’t know if that is a good idea.”

        Christina said to the three boys, “Let’s go before the flood!”

        They all together unloaded the last of the Christmas trees from the pick-up truck and then they selected by acclaim the plumpest one that would fit in the mobile home-office.

        As they maneuvered the chosen Christmas tree through the mobile home-office doorway the waves of rain began to strafe loudly upon the parking lot and upon the mobile home roof.

        The three boys squealed with excitement at the loud popping of raindrops on the metal roof of the mobile home.

        Bill got a box out of a closet and boomed, “Here are some tree decorations,” and then more softly, “I haven’t seen these since I … my wife…”

        Hormi nailed the wooden cross support into the base of the Christmas tree as Yazdeg and Peroz held it horizontal.

        Peroz chimed, “Smells so gooood.”

        Bill said, “I’ll make hot chocolate for our hard workers and we big kids can have some ‘Tennessee Coffee’,” then he began to sing comically, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Daniels nipping at your nose…

        Hormi, Yazdeg, and Peroz erected the Christmas tree. Merry, Darius, and Christina began to place ornaments upon the higher branches.

        Merry said to Darius, “The boys are so cute. It is a shame that their mother is missing this.”

        Darius pursed his lips and said, “Their mother is no longer with us.”

        Bill explained for Merry’s sake, “Darius and his wife were teachers in Syria. Darius was… is a Professor of Linguistics…”

        Darius said, “I am a ranch hand on the Rossini Ranch. Mr. Rossini lets me harvest Christmas trees from his ranch.”

        Merry said, “It must be a good place to raise three boys.”

        Darius answered, “It could be worse.”

        Merry said, “They seem so bright.”

        Darius said, “Yes. They will become Engineers to please the memory of their mother.”

        Merry said, “May I ask what happened to their mother?”

        Darius said, “A Muslim man is allowed to marry a Christian woman, but a Christian man is not permitted to marry a Muslim woman. Islam means equality and no discrimination, but we were not permitted to marry. Aabirah was a mathematician. We both taught at the University of Aleppo. We married anyway and we had three strong sons.”

        Bill could see that Darius had choked-up and so he continued on his behalf, saying, “During the civil war in Syria his wife… Aabirah… was killed when the government used poison gas on a group of rebels.”

        Darius could speak again, saying, “She was not a rebel, she was just standing in the market place when they took her hostage. I took my sons and I fled Syria. It was a miracle that I was allowed sanctuary in the United States…”

        Merry could only say softly, “Praise the Lord,” and then she offered as a way to change the mood, “My Christina wants to be a Minister.”

        Darius turned to Christina and said, “That is fine. Do you know that ‘Christopher’ means ‘bearing Christ’? In your heart.”

        Christina smiled and nodded and then she whispered to her mother, “And even Jesus was homeless and persecuted.”

        Bill handed Darius and Merry each a cup of ‘Tennessee Coffee’. Suddenly they were all again aware of the drumming rain.

        Hormi, Yazdeg, and Peroz were watching the rain through the mobile home windows.

        Peroz said, “I can see the Christmas tree in the window! It looks like it is out in the parking lot.”

        Christina sat beside her mother as Merry, Darius, and Bill sat down to talk.

        Bill said, “So, Merry. Moving here without a job…? What is your story?”

        Merry glanced at Christina and said, “Not much. My second husband, Christina’s step-father, was a God-fearing man at first. Then he became mean to us. He was especially… mean… to Christina. I couldn’t take it anymore. I left with what I could cram in my car. We’ve been living like transients for months…”

        Darius said, “I am so sorry. You are a good person. God can be so mysterious with his intentions.”

        Suddenly, there was a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder. Hormi, Yazdeg, and Peroz squeeled loudly, “Whoa!”

        Christina glanced over at the boys and nervously parted her bulky sweater and then she began to rub her little pot belly with both hands.

        Darius saw this and he turned to Merry.

        Merry was observing Christina with concern. Then Merry turned and met the eyes of Darius which held his question.

        Merry returned the answer to him with her eyes.

        Darius then realized just how ‘mean’ the step-father had been to Christina. Darius suddenly asked Merry, “Do you know anything about horses?”

        Merry was surprised and answered, “Yes. My parents had horses. They were my responsibility for years.”

        Darius continued thoughtfully, “Mr. Rossini needs someone to care for his horses now that Mrs. Rossini is… not able to give them the attention they need. There is even a small bunk-house next to the stables where you could live decently for a while. I could speak to Mr. Rossini…”

        Bill was already a little drunk and he raised his coffee to Merry, saying, “You have risen!”

        Merry scowled involuntarily at her benefactor, Bill, but she was thrilled and she tried to give a composed response to Darius, “That would be ideal, I think, … thank you…Praise the Lord…”

        Darius continued, “In fact, on Christmas day Mr. Rossini hosts a big holiday Bab-A-Kew. You could come as my guest.”

        Bill chuckled, “That’s Bar-B-Que.”

        Darius said, “You come too, Bill.”

        Merry turned to Christina and said, “Did you hear that?”

        Bill was answering Darius, “Naw. On Christmas day they always hold a reservation for me at the Sassy Wok.”

        Christina said quietly, “Day by day it’ll be OK, Thank you Jesus.”

        Christina rubbed her little pot belly.

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HIDING OF THE FACE

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HIDING OF THE FACE

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        Trick or treat!

        Can you Trick or Treat on a web cam?

        Yes.

        Yes, I am Avri Kyrka.

        No, I am not too old for Halloween.

        And no, I am surely not too young to offer you the treat of Salvation.

        I am not supposed to be a witch; I am a Vengeful Angel, do you see?  You know already that as a child I could recite entire passages of Scripture.  I was baptized in the Spirit when I was nine.  The preacher submerged me and there were three distant peels of thunder.  The stream turned dark red.

        Emma Anderson, you heard me speak in Tulsa.  You came to me after my sermon “Jesus Was Adopted”.  Jesus came up from the water, Heaven was opened, and He saw the Holy Spirit descend in the form of a dove and enter into Him.  And a voice from Heaven said, ‘You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased’ and again, ‘Today I have begotten You’.

        I told you all about Step-Momma and her boyfriend.  How Step-Momma’s boyfriend tried to help me.  How they both died when Step-Momma burned down our house.  How I escaped.  I don’t know why I told you about that.  There was something about you that did not judge me.  You said to me, “God hid Her face through your ordeal, but She is here with you now.  Everything has turned out for the best as a direct result of Her intervention.”

        It was your idea to go to Zion, Illinois.  You said you would like to adopt me.  You were the one that registered in the motel as “Ms. and Ms. Christian”.  They didn’t get your joke.  You were the one who dressed me up as Little Red Riding Hood for that Halloween.  You laughed at me when I said it was a warning to all Men, who are wolves.  You said that I could be President if I wanted to.  “President of the World” you would cry out at night when we were in bed.

        You introduced me to your church, the Gathered In Her Name.  But your enemies beset you.  You were arrested under the Mann Act.  I refused to testify, and I told them that we had nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed about.  But your ordination was still revoked.  I told them to be afraid of the “Woman Act”.  They were all bald, maimed, and deaf.

        I still think of you as Pastor Emma Anderson.  Do you think of me?  I wanted you to know that I am not sorry.  I am grateful.  Gathered In Her Name took me in and gave me a home and they are like a family to me.  They set me up in this wing of the tabernacle.  I wish you could be here now.  I pray for you out there, Pastor Emma, even if I can’t see your face.

        And so, everyone, this has been another edition of A Child Shall Lead Them.  Her Spirit will be with you until my next webcast, tomorrow.

        Let us pray…

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A REALITY TOO FAR

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A REALITY TOO FAR

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        We were all invited to The Katman’s Cutters Lounge cigar bar to share in his review of a new cigar.  The Katman’s daughter serves the ceremonial Clynelish 20-year old Scotch to Michael, Rick, David, and me.

        The Katman has been approached by a new client to review the Lars Tetens Cubagua cigar.  As he punches the stick and lights it, I can see revelation glisten in his eyes.  He scratches notes of his experience for the review.

…The secret infusions plus the masterful touch of a tobacco blender are at hand with each puff. The construction is very solid. There are a few veins but nothing out of the ordinary. The cigar is immediately complex…

        The Katman’s daughter Katie holds out to Michael, Rick, David, and me a tray of San Lotano Maduros that remained after The Katman’s last review.  Rick, David, and I reach like good little boys offered candy, but Michael holds back.  The Katman notices Michael’s pensive expression and asks him, “What’s up?”

        Michael reaches finally for the proffered cigar, but he says, “This is a beautiful routine, but it is a routine.”

        Michael sits back and looks at the silky construction of his San Lotano, but his ears are perked for one of us to rise to his bait.

        Rick strikes first, “You mean ‘realize that a good hunter knows one thing above all–he knows the routines of his prey’?”

        David says in an exaggerated moan, “Oh, no.  Not Carlos Castaneda.”

        Michael gives David an imperious look as if to silence a jester, and he quotes, “‘All of us behave like the prey we are after. That, of course, also makes us prey for something or someone else’”.

        David skewers back, “Well I pray for something or someone else.”  David always takes pleasure farting in Michael’s imperium.

        Michael’s comments had transported me.  When I was in college I joined a book club and chose a free book because I liked the cover: Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Casteneda.  I started reading it and then I carried it with me class-to-class reading it on my lap.  I read it all in one day.  I don’t know why I didn’t just take the day off, but the perspective and philosophy of Journey to Ixtlan filled that college kid’s need for a new true belief.

        Starting with The Teachings of Don Juan in 1968, Castaneda wrote a series of books [I found out that Journey to Ixtlan was the 3rd book] that describe his alleged training in shamanism. The books, narrated in the first person, relate his supposed experiences under the tutelage of a Yaqui “Man of Knowledge” named Don Juan Matus. His 12 books have sold more than 8 million copies in 17 languages. Critics have suggested that they are works of fiction; supporters claim the books are either true or at least valuable works of philosophy and descriptions of practices which enable an increased awareness.

–   From Wikipedia,

        It had been a huge fad.  And even now, concepts from Castenada’s works have been used in The Matrix, Inception, and other movies and TV episodes.  I had always thought that whether those books were true or not, one could prove the principles for oneself.  Michael, Rick, The Katman, and me had taken it to heart “back in the day”.  Since there were supposedly only four kinds of men, therefore in our “warrior’s party” Michael was “the man of action”, Rick was “the man of knowledge”, The Katman was “the man who pointed the way”, and I was “the organizer behind the scenes”.

        David, who has always been a realist, even as an acid poet on a fishing boat in Alaska, does not let drop the metaphorical skewer that he has in Michael’s side as he Googles his iPhone and reads to Michael from Wikipedia without mercy, “Castaneda died on April 27th, 1998 in Los Angeles due to complications from hepatocellular cancer.  At the heart of Castaneda’s movement was a group of intensely devoted women, all of whom were or had been his lovers.  They were known as “the witches”, and two of them vanished the day after Castaneda’s death.  A few weeks later, Patricia Partin, Castaneda’s adopted daughter as well as his lover, also disappeared.  Partin’s red Ford Escort was found abandoned in Death Valley’s Panamint Dunes.  In February 2006, a skeleton found in Death Valley was identified through DNA analysis as Partin’s.”

        Ricky comes to Michael’s rescue, “The principles are valid.  They are from Native American philosophy.  We just couldn’t live that way, that’s all.  We were too self-important to change.”

        David observed, “It didn’t do the Native American’s much good, now did it?”

        Ricky countered, “Most of them were ‘average men’.  They weren’t all spirit warriors.”

        Michael sneers, “The average man seeks certainty in the eyes of the onlooker and calls that self-confidence.  The warrior seeks impeccability in his own eyes and calls that humbleness.”

        Ricky continues his support, “We have all learned to relate ourselves to our description of the world in terms of our routines.”

        Michael reaches his crescendo, “Are any of you still warrior enough to stalk the unknown?”

        David shakes his head, speechless.  The Katman asks Michael, “What exactly do you have in mind?”

        Michael challenges us, “Let’s break this routine, escape our tonal and go outside for a walk tonight, which we never do, and see if we can encounter the unknown, the nagual.

        In the warrior’s credo, the tonal is the world we see and the things we name.  The nagual is the inexplicable unknown that dwells behind all we see, the ocean surrounding the island of our tonal.

        Ricky stands up with a flourish, “A walk would be nice.  If we dare.”

        I concur, “Sure, why not.  It’s nice out tonight.  I can always use the exercise.”

        Michael slowly arises and taunts David, “Well, David?”

        David laughs and replies, “Sure, I can make time to watch ‘the unknown’ kick your ass.”

        Ricky ameliorates, “That’s the spirit, gentlemen!”

        The Katman’s eyes glow from the ember of his cigar, and he observes, “Well, well, a warrior’s reunion.”

        The Katman’s daughter Katie is nearby and she asks, “Do you cigar-store Indians all have your warrior’s walkers?”

        We all blow clouds of smoke at Katie, saying in derision, “Boooo!”

        The Katman’s Cutters Lounge is a couple blocks from the beach on Newport Peninsula.  The day had been record heat, but now in this evening the marine layer of low clouds and fog are being drawn past us into the pillars of heat that rise from the inland valleys.

        Michael gestures above with all his fingers caressing the air, saying, “Create a fog around yourself and your life.  Nobody will know for sure who you are or what you do.  How can I know who I am, when I am all this?

        David laughs, “I’ll Google my iPhone.”

        I can’t help joining the teasing, saying, “I’ll subpoena your tax records.”

        The salt air is refreshing to the palate.  My cigar tastes even better as we stroll, listening to the inhale and exhale of the rising tide.

        Suddenly there is a long lamenting cry that surrounds us.

        Michael says triumphantly, “What was that?”

        David sags his shoulders in exasperation, “That was a Sand Piper.  A common sea bird.”

        Ricky shakes his head grinning, “Or so the nagual would have you believe.  That’s the routine answer, David.”

           Michael turns around and starts striding backwards away ahead of us, commanding, “Disrupt routines.”

        On that cue, we all start clowning with silly walks from the old Ministry of Silly Walks skit by Monty Python.  Michael is still striding farther ahead of us.

        We see a car pull up to the curb beside Michael and we can hear a passenger say, “Hey, dude.”  Michael approaches the open windows of the vehicle.

        A passenger asks, “Do you know where Water Street is?”

        Michael considers for a moment and then says, “I’m not sure where it is,” as he is looking to us quizzically.

        Suddenly, the passenger hollers, “It’s right here!” and there is a volley of water thrown upon Michael from a Soaker Water Gun and a Water Gun Blaster.  Michael is drenched in an instant and the car peels away screeching and spewing laughter.

        We stop fooling around and rush to Michael’s side, saying while suppressing laughter, “Are you alright?”  David roars with laughter first, and we all twirl and collapse laughing.

        Michael forces a good-natured grin looking down at himself, and he says, “Well, David.  I guess the Unknown did kick my ass.”

        The Katman’s eyes glow from the ember of his cigar and he pronounces, “The nagual is terrifying but it is not without humor.”

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A YOUNG WIVES’ TALE: LORELLA SHIEKH

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A YOUNG WIVES’ TALE:

LORELLA SHIEKH

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        Lorella Shiekh was walking slowly, elegantly, down the dirt road. She wore a widow’s gown of black lace. A chic black laced hat shielded her head underneath that Georgia sunshine. She wore sunglasses. She was bare-foot. As Lorella strolled, little tufts of powdery yellow dust arose to adorn her feet.

        Her husband Shahran was dead.

        “He was a parasite and a stink bug,” thought Lorella. She raised her arms and fluttered her hands like wings.

        That dirt road passed directly through the corn maze canyons of her Daddy-Daw’s farm in Dawsville. The mourners were still gathered back there at her Daddy-Daw’s house.

        They all knew Lorella. She was brave, big, loud, beautiful, bright, joyful, and mighty.

        They all had known her husband, Shahran. He was feminine, small, mean, difficult, fearful, dim, and a coward.

        Sheriff Arvin Biggs never had accepted that Lorella had married Shahran out of love. It was Arvin who loved Lorella. Arvin was sure that Lorella loved him still. Arvin was big, loud, fast, and always ready for a fight.

        Arvin suddenly stepped out of the corn onto the dirt path in front of Lorella.

        Lorella’s left hand flew to her breast as she gasped.

        “Lord! Arvin, what are you are doing out here?!”

        He sneered, “Investigating crop circles.”

        They stood and stared at each other.

        Lorella spoke, “This won’t be good, Arvin.”

        Arvin asked, “Lorella, do you think I’m still having a good time whenever I’m with you?”

        Lorella scolded, ceasing her careful English and now drawling, “Now you all just forget all that will you now?”

        Arvin retorted, “Forget how we made ‘crop circles’ together or forget me having a really bad time ever since you met that, that, …” he was at a loss for a bad enough word for her dead husband, Shahran.

        “He’s dead, Arvin, dead. You need to show some respect for the dead now.”

        “Why’re you so concerned about ‘respect’ anyway, Lorella? Everybody knows why you married Shahran. You married his fucking Ahy-rab money. You talk all about ‘respect’. You planned all this, didn’t you?!”

        “Stop that now, do you hear me Arvin Biggs?! I am grieving and I will not hear you talk to me that way. You need to go!” Lorella glanced quickly around.

        Arvin shook his head, “Nothing else here except your conscience, Lorella.”

        “How dare you all talk to me about ‘conscience’, Arvin? You want the fact? Well, everybody knows you did it. And you talk to me about ‘conscience’? You need to go before they…” and Lorella glanced past Arvin.

        Arvin glanced quickly around.

        Lorella pointed at Arvin, “Ah-hah! Anybody can see that you have a guilty conscience. You need to go.”

        “We need to get this straight, Lorella: Shahran confronted me that night with your birth control pills. I didn’t do anything except tell him he was a dim little man. There are witnesses.”

        “And those witnesses will say you argued with Shahran and that you left right as soon as Shahran drove off.”

        “So damn what? I’m a Sheriff of Daws County! I’m in charge of this investigation, and I’m calling it an accident. He wasn’t murdered! And he was too much a coward to kill himself. Rich boys don’t commit suicide like that.”

        Lorella’s brow furrowed above her sunglasses, “So that same night that Shahran dies he leaves behind a letter he was writing, right so I would find it, a letter to the County saying that you were having an affair with me. I was visiting Daddy that night, and Daddy will say so, but Shahran thought I was going to rendezvous with you. Do you understand?”   She spoke ominously but Sheriff Arvin did not catch the meaning, “I have that letter and I hid it.”

        Arvin barked, “Well, he didn’t mail it; so what? No one’s gonna know that, ever. I’m in charge of this investigation.”

        “He didn’t mail that letter but what if he did mail another letter that we don’t know about, one that’s going to be shoved into your face some day?”

        “You and I grew up together in this town; so what? And nobody in Dawsville liked that mean little S.O.B. of yours, anyway. He owned the whole town.”

        “And now I do,” said Loretta, “Don’t forget. My daddy’s family founded this town and then the Yankees took it away. This whole town owes me now. So do you. You all were … disloyal enough … to sell-out this town to Shahran so he could figure on selling to developers.”

        “And just what did you sell to him, Lorella?”

        “I sold him just exactly what he needed: an American wife and children.”

        “Children? Shahran found out you were secretly taking birth control pills! I don’t blame you, Lord knows, but now it can look like we were having an affair after all! And you sure as hell know that it is untrue.”

        “We were lovers once and everyone in Dawsville knows it. And you made it clear to this whole damn County that you hated Shahran. Lord, you kept sayin’ that I was meant to be yours.”

        “Don’t you fuck me with that now,” bristled Sheriff Arvin. “Don’t you threaten me or, or…”

        “Or nuthin’, Arvin. This town is going to go along with anything I need, you’ll see. I own their lives now and they think they are free again because they think I am one of them. My daddy knows what I did. They all know what I was trying to do. I was fighting for the family. For Dawsville.”

        Sheriff Arvin Biggs looked at last with fear upon his beloved Lorella.

        When Lorella then walked regally back into her daddy’s house all the mourners there stood and faced her with almost imperceptibly bowed heads.

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CLOSING TIME

 closing time

        It had been a very good night at David and Jana’s bar. “If you haven’t gotten lucky by now, you’re not gonna!” laughed Jana. The last of the happy boisterous regulars exited at 2 AM. Jana went into the back room. The bar was filling up with silence as David prepared to lock the front door.

        As he reached for the door handle it suddenly cocked and the door opened. A man walked into the bar and marched right past David. The man had long hair, sun glasses, a beard and a trench coat that smelled like sulfur.

        David said nervously, “Sorry, friend. After 2 AM I stop serving alcohol.”

        The man continued to the bar, stood up on the foot rail, leaned over the bar and then reached down into the well, grabbing a bottle of whiskey.

        “Well,” the man said as he pulled up the bottle of whiskey, “You are not the one serving me, now are you?” He turned back toward David, threw back his head and swallowed loudly croaking like a bullfrog.

        David’s pistol was over there behind the man, under the bar counter just below the cash register, “Hey, pal. I don’t want any trouble. You can have the whiskey, just go, ok?”

        “Petty Officer David Ryman, you cock-sucking dumb ass, it’s me. Me!” and the man lifted his sun glasses to expose his red eyes and disfigured upper face.

        David’s revulsion flashed faster than his good manners, “Belathauzer? Allen Belathauzer! I, I haven’t seen you since, since…”

        “Since I saved your life, David? Since you emailed me in the hospital? Since you took Jana from me, David?”

        “Belathauzer, we tried to help you. You drove her away.”

        “I died for you, David.”

        Belathauzer took another drink from the whiskey bottle. “Well, David. Now I do want your help. You need to understand me clearly when I say it is a matter of life and death: I need to hide. I need six grand cash and quick.”

        “Belathauzer, I don’t have that kind of money. This bar is just getting by.”

        Belathauzer set the bottle of whiskey on the bar and then from his trench coat withdrew a sawed-off shotgun. He pointed it at David.

        “The safe, David.”

        David hollered loudly enough so that Jana could hear him in the back room, “Shit, ok. OK! It’s in the back room. You can have whatever’s there. I swear I won’t call the cops. But this makes us even, Belathauzer.”

        “I’ll tell you when we’re ‘even’, David.”

        They walked single-file into the back room. David crouched behind his desk and raised the rug to expose the floor safe. As he touched the dial David had a vision of unlocking a grave.

        “Hey, Belathauzer.”

        “Open it, David.”

        “I heard a good joke tonight.”

        Belathauzer tensed and leaned the muzzle of his shotgun closer to David’s head, “Don’t fuck with me, David. Shut up and open it.”

        Twirling the dial, David began, “Three guys are drinking in a bar when a drunk comes in, staggers up to them, and points at the guy in the middle, shouting, ‘Your mom’s the best sex in town!’ Everyone expects a fight, but the guy ignores him, so the drunk wanders off and bellies up to the bar at the far end. Ten minutes later, the drunk comes back, points at the same guy, and says, ‘I just did your mom, and it was sw-e-et!’ Again the guy refuses to take the bait, and the drunk goes back to the far end of the bar. Ten minutes later, he comes back and announces, ‘Your mom liked it!’ Finally the guy interrupts. ‘Go home, Dad, you’re drunk!'”

        “Go home, Allen.” said the soft voice close behind Belathauzer, like an Angel on his shoulder. “Put the gun down or I’ll shoot.”

        Belathauzer looked over his shoulder, inhaled, and then breathed softly, “Jana. Jana, I knew you’d be here. Come away with me.”

        Suddenly he was slinging the shotgun around toward Jana.

        “No!” cried David as Jana’s pistol flashed and Belathauzer’s shotgun blasted.

        Later, the authorities exhumed Belathauzer’s coffin and they placed Belathauzer’s body back therein.   Jana cried as they closed the coffin lid.

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DINNER WITH MY MENTALLY ILL BROTHER

mentally ill bro

“This place is heaven!”

“Yeah, China Diamond Palace Buffet has everything.  Remember: I’m paying.”

“Oh, you won’t forget.”

“I see you got your usual fried calamari and your usual creamed corn.  What kind of soup is that?”

“Oh, I chunked-up some salmon filets into the Sweet and Sour Soup.”

“Yuck, I can barely stand the smell of sea food.”

“I know.  You tell me every time.  Well, I see you’re sticking with your Biscuits and Gravy.  We could have just gone to Denny’s.”

“Hey, I didn’t have to invite you, you know.  I’m paying.”

“Oh, I’m only kidding, come on.”

“You still make fun of me.”

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean anything.  I’ll try to control myself.”

“Mom and Dad got tired of telling you.”

“Well, I got tired of Mom always taking your side, never preparing you to be on your own.  She wasn’t doing you any favors, believe me.  She didn’t let Dad say anything to you, either.”

“Dad said he was disappointed in you, not in me.”

“Well, they punished me good.  They left half the money from the house to you and one quarter each to Melanie and me when it was sold.”

“Mom wanted me to have the house.  She told me.”

“Uh, just how were you going to keep the house, again?  Your Government Disability would have been cut off if you owned a house.  And you have no other income.”

“I told people at church that you and Melanie were trying to take the house from me.  They told me to get a lawyer.”

“You never told those busy-bodies the whole story.  Uncle Harold was the Executor and he must have explained it to you a hundred times.  How much did you waste on that lawyer?”

“Uncle Harold did not do what Mom wanted him to do.  Mom told me that I was going to get the house!  I never liked Uncle Harold.”

“Mom always protected you and let you do anything you wanted.  She felt terribly guilty because a child out of wedlock was a big deal for that generation.  Your real father disappeared.  Dad was amazing to marry Mom.  You were a fucking retard.”

“Dad never did anything against me.  It was you and Melanie and Uncle Harold.”

“Mom wouldn’t let him!”

“Dad was so disappointed in you, he told me.  You were always in trouble and you were into drugs.”

“Listen, you freak, I always admired Dad.  He was my hero.  All I ever wanted was his respect.  So fuck you.”

“Excuse me, but I thought you just said that you were going to control yourself?”

“Yeah, yeah, let’s not fight about old shit.  Uh, sorry.”

“My minister said that…”

“Your minister just wants you to keep spending your inheritance on ‘donated’ bibles ‘with your name in them’ and new podiums, new microphones, and anything else that he can con you out of.  Don’t you get it?  Damn it.  So much for church.”

“Dad and Minister Rob prayed for you when you were on drugs.  Minister Rob said that we should still Love you.  You don’t know how hard that was.”

“Fuck Love.”

“That’s why Dad used to beat you!  Stop saying that.  Don’t you believe that Love is the most powerful thing in the world?”

“No.  No I don’t.  Forgiveness is.  We are all just trained animals.  There is no God!  We are always going to be cruel and selfish.  We need to step up and be God.  We tell ourselves that we are so special, so different; the “Crown of Creation”.  Bullshit.  We need to face our horrible savage lives with a shield of Forgiveness.”

“How can you say that there is no God?  I’m going to make you go back.  Are you forgetting that you are dead?!”

“No, no, but you only ‘invite’ me to have dinner with you on the anniversary of my death! You’re the one who got my share of the inheritance when I OD’d.  Maybe you feel guilty?”

“I don’t have to listen to this!  You go to Hell.”

“Sorry, there is no Hell.  There is no…”

“Stop it, stop it, stop it!  You go back right now!”

“…and there is no Heaven.  And there is no God!”

“Get out of here!”

“See you next year, freak show.”

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Good.  He disappeared again.  I hate him.  He always starts an argument and now everybody in the restaurant is looking at me.  How embarrassing.  He always embarrasses me.  Next year I am NOT inviting him to dinner!

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THE WOLF WHO CRIED BOY

          I did not kill the boy.  But I did eat him.  As I stripped the pungent flesh from his arm I saw the rifle and I growled but I did not stop devouring.  That night I slept on his bones and I had my first dream of you.

          I dreamt that I was the boy.  I was close to your face.  I could smell your hot skin and your salty blood.  I could not stand it any longer and I lunged at your lips.  But I awoke whimpering.  I clashed my teeth and I growled.

          In the morning I was drawn by the scent of the boy’s tears down the mountain.  I came to a stream and I smelled where the boy had sat.  I smelled where the rifle had been laid and I growled.  I too sat and I saw my reflection in the trembling water my face black and my eyes yellow.  Beneath the reflection of my eyes was a gold ring lying on the pebbles.

          The tops of the trees swayed and moaned in the wind.  I laid myself down and I had my second dream of you.  I was again the boy and I saw you through a cottage window being devoured by another boy.  I saw my reflection and it was the face of a deer whose throat I had torn out.  I awoke howling.

          By nightfall I arrived at the stench of the village.  I felt like I could not breathe so I dug furiously at the earth to release the fertile decay and I laid myself in the pit to rest.  I had my third dream of you.  I was the boy howling and shaking the rifle at the moon and I could smell you in the wind but you were not there.

          I was awakened by twigs snapping and soil crunching.  My hair turned electric and my lips fled my teeth.  Then I smelled you.  You called out.

          “I know you are out there.  I am sorry.  I am sorry.  Come back to me!”

          I rose up in front of you glaring and you screamed in horror.  But when you gazed into my eyes you suddenly stopped screaming.  You knew.  I was he.

          As you are now me and we are all together.

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CHICA BRAVA

  Great-Basin-Rifle-in-situ CONTRAST 1-TRIANGLE-1

CHICA BRAVA

When I read that a weathered 132-year-old Winchester repeating rifle had been discovered propped up against a juniper tree, just as it had been left when it was abandoned, I wrote to the archaeologist, Eva Jensen, who had come upon the rifle, telling her a story passed down as told to my grandfather.

 

– Nanten Guerrero, February 2015

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        I followed her a thousand miles.  She was the last of Geronimo’s renegade raiders.  The Mexicans had begun to call her Chica Brava.

        I am Bedonkohe Apache like Geronimo.  The White Eyes called me Sergeant Skippy.  I had become one of their scouts to keep what remained of my freedom.  I was not ashamed.  There was nothing left to die for.

        Except for the one the Mexicans called Chica Brava.

        In the beginning, when Colonel José María Carrasco had killed the young Geronimo’s family, the Mexicans also had killed the medicine man Ba’cho.  Ba’cho had claimed an orphan girl as his apprentice.  Ba’cho devilishly had named the girl Golízhi Mushka (Skunk Pussy) but Skunk Pussy survived Carrasco’s raid and she became a vicious warrior in Geronimo’s decades of revenge.

        At first I wanted Skunk Pussy for my wife but she mocked me.  She wanted Canwakan, a better warrior.  One night she sat on my face as I slept.  When I cried awake the others laughed at me.  She said she had cast a love spell on me.

        In 1880 the Mexicans killed half of our band at the Battle of Tres Castillos and took many prisoners for slaves.

        I fought beside Geronimo in the revenge taken at Chocolate Pass two years later.  A Mexican commander from that Battle of Tres Castillos, Juan Mata Ortiz, was stationed at the garrison of the town of Galena with twenty soldiers.

        Skunk Pussy had the idea to sneak into town and steal horses, knowing the garrison would give chase.  She led the raid.

        We ambushed the Mexicans outside the town at Chocolate Pass.  Geronimo had told us not to kill Ortiz.  The Mexicans realized that they were surrounded and took the high ground to hope for reinforcements I am sure.  We picked them off one by one.  Skunk Pussy fought with only a knife.  She sneaked in and out of the wide Mexican skirmish line, silently killing.

        Finally there was left only Ortiz and one other soldier.  We allowed the soldier to escape after he was made to witness the terrible vengeance taken upon Ortiz.

        Canwakan, the better warrior that Skunk Pussy had wanted, had been killed in the fight.  They gave to her his rifle.

        It was Skunk Pussy’s idea to burn Ortiz alive in a pit.  It was she, not Geronimo, who said, “No bullet, no arrow, no lance, but fire.”

        Years after that I negotiated my surrender and I agreed to help hunt the remains of Geronimo’s band.

        I followed Skunk Pussy north a thousand miles.  I finally had become long separated from the troops I was guiding.  Skunk Pussy had shot at me in ambush several times.  At night I slept upon my horse so she could not surprise me without alerting my nervous horse.

        Once I dreamed that she sat on my face and pulled me into her body.  I awoke and startled my horse who nearly cast me off.  I heard coyotes laughing.

        At last one day I came upon Canawakan’s rifle placed carefully against a tree.  I took cover and I searched nervously for Skunk Pussy.

        It was there that I lost her trail.

        I did not touch Canawakan’s rifle.

        I camped there with a strange melancholy.  I had no desire to go forward or back.  I had no purpose.

        That night I saw a coyote outside my campfire light watching me.  My horse became agitated.

        Suddenly Skunk Pussy appeared into the light of my campfire.  I was paralyzed: I was afraid, I was glad to see her, and I did not care if she killed me.

        Skunk Pussy laughed, “I told you that I cast a love spell on you.”

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        And so, my beautiful grandchildren, I tell you this story to warn you that you must never disobey your grandmother again.

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ABORTING JESUS

  aborting 7ABORTING JESUS

1      In Dr. Anthony Santiago’s 27th year he was serving at the Presence Covenant Medical Center Free Clinic, Urbana, Illinois.  He was in the admittance lobby talking to Head Nurse Elspeth Crusan who was 40 years old and, not admittedly, more than admired by Dr. Santiago.  The lobby doors slid open and there entered Coby Smuthers, Head Field Social Worker, accompanying a young girl, followed by a sheriff.  Dr. Anthony Santiago and Head Nurse Elspeth Crusan saw first that the young girl was dressed like a vagrant and then recognized that the young girl bore Down’s syndrome.

2      Coby Smuthers knew both Dr. Anthony Santiago and Head Nurse Elspeth Crusan well from previous cases of social welfare.  Coby nodded, saying, “Tony, Elspeth, this is Sheriff Romeyn.  We found this girl living in the shanty town along the river.  She’s pregnant and we need your ‘help’ as soon as possible.”

3      Elspeth asked the young girl, sweetly, “What is your name, dear?”  The young girl answered with a bright smile, “I am Natalie.  I have baby Jesus in my stomach.”

4      Elspeth took Natalie by the hand and led her to the examination room.  There Elspeth had her nurses give Natalie a shower in the patient bathroom before her examination.  When Natalie sat on the examination table Elspeth as she prepared her instruments asked Natalie, “So who is the father of… your baby?”  Natalie leaned forward enthusiastically and said, “Michael told me my baby is Jesus.”  Elspeth asked wryly, “Is Michael your… boyfriend?”  Natalie then laughed and giggled so cutely and said, “No!  Michael is a Angel.”  Elspeth stared at Natalie and then she bowed her head to examine Natalie.  After a minute Elspeth raised her head and stared at Natalie again.  Elspeth told her assistant to prepare the ultrasound machine immediately.

5      While Elspeth absorbed her revelation and Coby filled-out paperwork, Tony saw the dozen vagrants marching toward the lobby door and, as the lobby door parted, pigeons flew into the lobby ahead of the legion.  As people waiting in the lobby yelled, screamed and shooed the pigeons the vagrants cried out, “Where is Natalie?”

6      Colby turned to the sheriff and hollered, “Get them away from me!” then he turned to the vagrants and said, “I told you this was none of your business!”  The vagrants hollered back, “We got rights!”

7      Elspeth returned unto the chaos of the lobby and cried, “What the Hades is going on?!” and everything became still except for a pigeon that flew down the hallway.  The vagrants said, “We want Natalie.”  Elspeth said firmly, “We are helping Natalie.  Now, sit down and everyone be quiet!  This is a Blessed hospital!”  One of the vagrants said, “Natalie don’t need your help!”  Elspeth withered their resistance with a glare.  Sheriff Romeyn grinned and shook his head.

8      Elspeth said to Tony, “You need to see this.  Come with me.”  Elspeth showed Tony the sonogram.  Where the embryo was positioned there was an inordinate sonic reflection that overexposed the image.  Elspeth said, “And Natalie still has her hymen.”  Tony said, “Something’s wrong with the ultrasound…” but Elspeth interrupted, “We used two of them.  Same images.”  Tony shook his head and said, “Finish the other tests.  We’ve scheduled her for tomorrow morning.”

9      The next morning Dr. Anthony Santiago studied the sonogram images and looked over the test results for Natalie.  When Head Nurse Elspeth Crusan entered his office, Dr. Santiago said, “It’s a girl.”  Elspeth said, “That’s what Natalie told me.  She said ‘Jesus is a girl this time’.  That’s what this ‘Michael’ told her.”  Tony sighed, “The ‘Angel’?”  Elspeth grinned wryly, “This is weird, isn’t it?”  Tony then said, “The fetus apparently does not suffer the trisomy 21 as Natalie does.  It seems like a healthy normal fetus.”  Then Tony remarked, as he saw a gleam in Elspeth’s eyes, “A 50/50 outcome in these cases.”  Elspeth was about to comment when a technician came into Tony’s office and breathlessly said, “Bad news.  The sterilizer shorted-out!  They found this white pigeon toasted behind it.”  Elspeth looked at Tony.  Tony said, “No, Elspeth, don’t start,” knowing that Elspeth was a devout member of her Dutch Christian Reformed Church.

10    When Tony explained the delay to Coby, Coby said evenly, “I heard about the sonogram and your tests.  Don’t ask.  I know how Elspeth is.  She runs a pet rescue charity when she isn’t here.  Tony, if you won’t do this I’ll move this kid to the other clinic.”  Tony suddenly had a feeling and he then asked Coby, “Why are you so urgent about all this?”  Coby replied, “What the hell, Tony?  It’s my job.  I care about this kid.  What kind of a mother…what kind of a life would her baby…?  Hell, what is wrong with you?  It’s Elspeth, isn’t it?”  Tony sighed, “Coby, I trust her.  She’s a block-head but she’s never wrong.  I trust her.”  Coby snorted, “Never wrong?  Wrong about what?!’ and Coby narrowed his eyes suspiciously at Tony and said, “It’s more than trust, isn’t it, Tony?  If you won’t do your job, I’m getting paperwork right now.”

11    But Elspeth had gone to a lawyer and the abortion was delayed.  Coby shouted at Tony and Elspeth, “On what grounds?”  Elspeth said, “You read it: ‘Harm to Natalie’.”  Coby shouted, “You will have to prove…ah, fuck, this is just a stupid stall.  You are out of your mind and out your money, Elspeth.  I don’t know why you’re doing this!  Natalie is not one of your stray dogs.  What is wrong with you?”  Elspeth said, “Natalie is my stray lamb.”  Coby cursed.

12    Elspeth finally had to adopt Natalie to stop the government from aborting the fetus and it was fortunate that she was a skilled nurse.  Tony helped in every way he could.  He even proposed to Elspeth but she did not take him seriously.  Natalie’s baby was born healthy and they, Natalie, Elspeth, and Tony, agreed on the name “Jesse” for her.  Jesse Crusan.

13    Jesse Crusan grew into a fine bright child and Elspeth “raised” both Natalie and Jesse in her Dutch Christian Reformed Church.  In Sunday school and Catechism Classes Jesse was always questioning the poor teachers and helpers.  Jesse declared to her “Oma (Grandma)” Elspeth one day that she was going to be a lawyer.  “Oom (Uncle)” Tony said, “God help us.”

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The Book of Michael, Chapter 1

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MEMORIAL DAY TRIAGE

torn flag
VOLLEY 1

 touching

TOUCHING

 

          It was a time of love.  Tamara let the white silky summer dress slide down her upraised arms and down over her head.  When it brushed past her nipples she smiled and thought of her husband’s gentle hands and how they sent electricity between her thighs.  The dress settled over her bottom and she thought of how tightly they grasped each other when their love became ferocious.

          She turned to her husband who stood before the full-length mirror.  Wesley held himself erect with pride in his Marine Corps Blue Dress uniform.  She came up softly behind him.  It was a time to embrace.  She wrapped her arms around him under his arms and felt slowly down his hard chest and stomach.  They smiled to each other in the mirror.

          Wesley adjusted his white peaked cap and spoke to Tamara in the mirror, “You look wonderful.  Are you ready for this?”

          “Only if you hold me.”

          It was a time to laugh, “I think I need you to hold me, dear.  When the President says my name all those TV cameras will be on me.”

          “Don’t be nervous.  You look so handsome.”

          “Oh, you’re right, of course.  It will only be like a firing squad!”

          Wesley turned in Tamara’s embrace and hugged her and kissed her.  She disengaged herself slowly and whispered, “It must be nearly time to go.”

          He asked, “Where is our Little Devil?”

          “He’s in his room.  Can’t you hear him rolling his baseball into everything?”

          Wesley smiled and thought of the day he gave to their son that first baseball.  Their little boy had stood in the backyard joyfully flexing his bowed little legs and clapping his pudgy little hands and beaming at his father.

          “Here it comes, Little Devil.  Catch it.”

          “Honey,” Tamara had fretted, “he’s too little for Catch.”

          Wesley had lobbed the baseball toward his son and the little boy had burst into a squeal.  Their Little Devil had bent down wobbly and captured the slowly rolling baseball with both hands.

          “Atta’ boy!” crowed Wesley.

          It had been a time to laugh.  “It’s big as a basketball to him,” Tamara had said, failing to remain stern.

          Tamara now smiled at Wesley’s reverie.  She said gently, “He’s a star pitcher just like you, dear.  The limousine is here.  I’ll get him.  Meet me at the car.”

          Wesley thought of his own childhood near the lake, gathering stones together and casting them away at the surprised ducks so far out there.  He became the star pitcher in high school.  Tamara was trying-out for cheerleader but she had also tried-out for the love of his life.  It was a time to dance.  They couldn’t keep their hands off of each other.  They were married after high school and Wesley enlisted in the Marines and their Little Devil blessed them soon thereafter.

          Now they found themselves sitting in their designated seats at the National Mall for the 4th of July celebration and the Capitol Fourth televised concert.  Tamara leaned against Wesley and wrapped her arms around his right arm.  Little Devil sat on daddy’s lap rocking back and forth dazzled by the flashing colors and the musical sounds but Wesley held him securely with his left arm.

          The President was now speaking.  It was a time of war.  Wesley was drawn unwillingly into memories of his recent tour of duty, the days of combat, the last assignment.

          It had been a time of hate.  Those hostages were going to die.  It was a merciless fire fight.  Wesley was not fearless.  He was firing through walls into rooms that Intel had said held only combatants.  The hostages were in the basement he had been told.

          He slid around the corner to confirm as “clear” the room he had just pumped full of fire and brimstone.  There in the corner were two young children on a bed, cowering in each other’s arms, clutching each other.  Wesley felt his legs almost give.  How had he not killed them?  He forgot the mission.  He strode to their side whipping his semi-automatic rifle around the room.

          The children were crying hysterically.  Wesley reached toward them.  They screamed and cowered against the wall shaking their heads.

          “It’s OK, kids.  I’m not going to hurt you.  I’m a friend.  I’m going to get you out of here.”

          The children whimpered and shuddered.  The dust on their faces was streaked with muddy tears.  Wesley shouldered his rifle and reached for them and took hold of the boy’s and the girl’s shoulders.  The children screamed.

          “We got no time, kids!  I’m sorry.”  And Wesley yanked the boy and girl together up from the bed.

          The homemade booby-trap exploded imperfectly.  It was a time to die.  The boy and the girl were rendered into bloody debris.  Wesley was thrown back across the room where his team found him.

          The adult hostages had been rescued.  The kidnappers were dead.  It was a time to mourn the poor dead children.  Wesley cried into the shoulders of his men.  And then it was a time to keep silence.

          Wesley now heard the President speak his name and he felt the heat of all the camera lights upon him.  He saw himself in the big screen monitor behind the President’s podium.  Tamara reached for Little Devil and whispered behind her arm, “Stand up, dear.”

          Wesley lifted his son who hung on his arm and passed him to Tamara.  Wesley stood erect.  He could have been carved from the finest wood.  He raised his right arm to salute the President.

          Where his hand had been was now a white bandaged stump.  He could still feel his hand as if it were only numb and he held the stump just that distance from touching his white peaked cap.

          He sat back down when the lights turned away.  He reached with the white bandaged stumps of both his hands for his son.  Little Devil grasped and hung upon those arms back to his father’s lap squirming with delight.  Tamara wrapped her arms back around Wesley’s left arm and hugged.

          It was a time to speak, “I am so proud of you.”

 

  #

 VOLLEY 2

fear

 THE COUNSEL OF FEARS

 

          I’m just sitting here.  I’m shaking with every sound.  I can’t move my legs.  I’m pressing back into this boulder crevice.  Bullets are ripping leaves and branches, spattering into the mud like hail, throwing mud all over me, mocking me, “Imagine how this will feel!”

          Pinchofsky is over there on his back.  He has stopped moving.  He cried out for his mother.  He doesn’t look like Pinchofsky anymore.  Even when he would pass out drunk in Saigon he didn’t look like that.  Pinchofsky was always twinkle-eyed, always had a girl, and I never did, but he was my friend, and not just because we were the same faith, … are the same faith.

          My mother is probably at our pet shop back home, right now.  I like all the happy noises.  Mother always says that I’m a “sensitive boy”.  She told them that I should not be drafted.  They didn’t care if I was “sensitive” and they sneered at me.  She told my father that “mean boys” would wait for me outside the pet shop and beat me up, and that I wouldn’t fight back.  My father said that the Army would be good for me.  It was fucking hell until Pinchofsky came along.  I loved him and now he’s dead.

          The shooting has stopped!  What now?  I can’t stop shaking.  They’ll hear me.  They’ll blow my guts out like they did to Pinchofsky!  I hear something.  Charlie is coming slowly around this boulder to my left.  He’s tip-toeing right past me.  He’s a shrimp.  He’s peering down at Pinchofsky.  I raise my rifle.  He whirls around in my direction.

          It’s a girl!  She glares at me defiantly but she starts to shake.  She throws her gun away.  She’s a pretty girl.  Like one that Pinchofsky would have had back at the Recreation Center.  I can blow her face off.  Why aren’t I?

          I know why.

          My shaking stops and I stand erect, listening for others.  She must have been left behind for a fighting retreat.  She’s too frightened not to be alone.  That means we did it, Pinchofsky.  We held them off.  I glance at Pinchofsky.  The voice in my head calls out to him, “But, I’ll never be able to find you again.”

          I say in a harsh croak to the girl, “You.  Speak English?”  I point to my lips.

          She shakes her head.  She says something.

          I say, “That’s Gook to me,” viciously, and then I laugh and it turns into crying.  Fuck.  Pinchofsky.

          I reach behind to my pack and such movement startles the girl.  She nods her head saying something; pleading, I guess.  It might be a trick so I say “Shut the fuck up!”

          I throw my shovel at her feet and point to her and then I point to Pinchofsky.

          “You dig?” I joke bitterly.  Pinchofsky would have laughed.

          She is fast and she is strong.  I can’t help admiring her.  But all the time she’s digging she’s chanting or singing or something.  I keep telling her to shut the fuck up, so I can keep listening.  She keeps glancing at me and at my rifle.  Oh, I don’t trust her.

          She stops and points to herself and says, “Hai”.  Then again, “Hai”.  I get it: her name is Hai.  She holds up her hand, palm toward me. 

          I hiss, “Yeah, hi, Hai.  Keep digging, bitch!”  Don’t use her name!  Keep her sub-human.  She is jabbering again, making gyrating motions with her arms over her head.

          “Stop it!” and I point the rifle at her face.  She juts her chin at me, trembling again.  She finishes digging, but she is still softly humming.  I let her, but I listen hard.  I am exhausted by terror.

         And now I am only dreaming on my feet that I am watching her.

          I am startled awake by that realization and the smell of incense.  She has lighted three incense sticks around Pinchofsky’s head.  She is beside him on her knees, chanting in a whisper.  And I am shaking.  She could have killed me.

          “Just kill her” I hear my father’s voice in my head.  Then I imagine my mother saying, “He is not like that.  He is a sensitive boy.”  Suddenly I find my lips chanting, “…Shelter his soul in the shadow of Thy wings. Make known to him the path of life….”  Hai sits back on her heels and chants louder, staring into my tear-filled eyes.

 

  #

  VOLLEY 3

    gin fly 

GIN FLY

Memorial Day,

originally called Decoration Day,

is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service

 

“Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping”

by Nella L. Sweet

“To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead.”

 

Kneel where our loves are sleeping, Dear ones days gone by,

Here we bow in holy reverence, Our bosoms heave the heartfelt sigh.

They fell like brave men, true as steel, And pour’d their blood like rain,

We feel we owe them all we have, And can but weep and kneel again.

 

Kneel where our loves are sleeping, They lost but still were good and true,

Our fathers, brothers fell still fighting, We weep, ’tis all that we can do.

 

Here we find our noble dead, Their spirits soar’d to him above,

Rest they now about his throne, For God is mercy, God is love.

Then let us pray that we may live, As pure and good as they have been,

That dying we may ask of him, To open the gate and let us in.

 

Kneel where our loves are sleeping, They lost but still were good and true,

Our fathers, brothers fell still fighting, We weep, ’tis all that we can do.

 

        It was the middle of the Great Depression.  Roger stood outside the entrance to the Sunny Side of the Street bar.  He was tall and lean and he was slouched like a question mark.  He went inside.

        Roger went up to the bar counter and sat down still slouched, looking at his face in the polished wood.

        The bartender called over, saying, “Roger?  What are you doing here?  I thought…?”

        Roger interrupted without looking up and said, “Gin, Jimmy.”

        Jimmy came over and said quietly to the top of Roger’s head, “I thought…”

        Roger said, “Gin.”

        Jimmy said, “Hey, sure, Roger.  Tell you what.  I’ll give you one free and then you probably want to get on home.  It’s Memorial Day, buddy, so you… after all you won’t be just drinking, OK?  You worked so hard to quit…”

        Roger looked up.  His face had been severely burned, melted, and now resembled a clay mask molded by a blind man.  His lips were too full and thick and his teeth protruded from under his upper lip like wax flippers.  His bright blue eyes peered from as if behind the mask and he stared right at Jimmy and said, “Jimmy, I already had a mother.  So they tell me.  Gin, please, without a nag chaser, OK?”

        Jimmy complied quickly, “Sure, Roger, sure.  On the house.  For Memorial Day,” and he slid to Roger a shot of Findlaters dry gin.

        Jimmy made diverting conversation, asking, “How’s things at Roger’s Garage?”

        Roger eased back the shot of gin and leaned forward again, saying, “I have the luck of the ‘early worm’, Jimmy.  It’s a good thing that ‘happiness lies not in the mere possession of money’.”

        Jimmy smiled wryly and nodded, saying, “Easy for Roosevelt to say, right?”

        Roger slid the shot glass toward Jimmy but Jimmy did not reach for it.

        Jimmy tried diversion again, asking, “Business must be ok, right?  I mean, I put out the word to all my customers about your prices and your work.  A good mechanic is better than a good whore anytime, right?” and Jimmy tried laughing.

        Roger mused, “I flew in the Great War ‘to end all wars’, I’m raising a family in the Great Depression, Jimmy, and you’re a great customer and I don’t want to be ungrateful but pour me another goddam gin, will you?”

        A customer was sitting one seat to the side of Roger and he had been glancing at Roger’s face and he was pretending badly not to listen.  He said to Jimmy, “I’ll have two of what he just had, please.”

        Jimmy said to the customer, “Comin’ up, Toby.”  Grateful for the interruption Jimmy moved over to provide Toby with two shots of gin, pretending he did not know what was coming.

        Toby slid one of his shots of gin over to Roger and asked, “So you flew in the Great War?  I’m buyin’.”

        Roger clasped the shot and nodded to Toby and tried to wink at Jimmy but his eyelid only twitched and then he administered the proffered gin unto himself.

        Jimmy said, “’Scuse me a second, guys,” and then Jimmy moved down the bar and made a phone call.

        Toby asked Roger, “So, what was it like, if you don’t mind sayin’.  Bein’ Memorial Day and all.  Out of respect.”

        Roger wiped his lips and said to Toby, “Out of respect, I’m going to tell you.”

        Toby called past Roger over to Jimmy on the phone and said, “Three more of these, please.”

        Roger took a breath and began, “I come from a family of mechanics.  My big brother Peter was fascinated by the new invention: airplanes.  He took it further.  Peter became a pilot.  I became his mechanic.  In 1911 he joined the Glenn Curtiss exhibition team and worked under Lincoln J. Beachey.”

        Toby said, “Hey.  I heard of him.  Wasn’t he called The Man Who Owns the Sky?”

        Roger nodded and continued, saying, “When the Great War broke out Peter went to join the Lafayette Escadrille in Europe.  I went with him as his mechanic.  Peter scored his first kill in August of 1916 and he was an ace by 1917.”

        Toby said in awe, “Your brother must have been somethin’ else back then.”

        Roger drank another shot and raised the empty glass, saying, “He was.”

        Jimmy had come back over after the phone call and was listening to the story.

        Toby slid to Roger yet another of his shots of gin and Roger continued, saying, “The English slang for a chamber pot was a ‘Jerry’ and since the German helmets looked like chamber pots to the English they called the Germans ‘Jerry’.  Anyway, one morning Jerry caught us with our pants down on the ground.  A squadron of airplanes started strafing and bombing our field.  When pilots ran to their planes they were gunned down.

        Peter and I were hiding in the barracks doorway when he yelled ‘Let’s go!’ and he sprinted for his motorcycle.  I followed him without thinking and jumped on behind him.  He roared out zig-zagging to a plane in the next hangar, a bomber, a two seater called a de Havilland DH4.  Peter jumped off the motorcycle and it fell over between my legs.  Peter was already at the gunner’s rear seat and he released the safety on the machine gun.  He hollered at me ‘Get in.  It’s live!’ and I yelled ‘I don’t know how to work a machine gun’ and Peter said urgently ‘Just get the fuck in!’ and so I did.  In a minute we were roaring out of the hangar and somehow we got in the air in the middle of all that strafing and bombing.”

        Roger drank another shot.  He continued, “Peter was screaming at me to hold the machine gun up at forty-five degrees and to fire when he told me.  He then screamed ‘Strap in good.  We’re going to be upside down.’  I thought he was just using slang.  He wasn’t.  Peter proceeded to fly like he used to in the exhibition events, figure eights, loops.  Jerry couldn’t seem to catch us.  Finally Peter pulled the plane straight up under a Jerry plane and looped right over him and he screamed at me ‘Fire!  Fire!’ and I did.  I was just holding the gun at forty-five degrees and pulling the trigger when told.  Peter was aiming me while he was looping.  Jerry must have thought the devil was flying that plane.  I don’t know what damage we were doing but several Jerry lit out like whipped dogs.  I whooped ‘We own the sky!’ just when a tracer bullet must have ignited the fuel tank.”

        Roger tossed back a shot and his eyes glistened and he continued, “Fire broke out in Peter’s cockpit.  Our airspeed was whipping the flames right on Peter.  I heard him screaming.  I turned around and I reached out to him instinctively, helplessly.  Peter was still steering.  He was driving the plane straight down.  He could have jumped.  He would have died anyway, but not like that.  At the last minute Peter leveled the plane out enough so it didn’t crash straight into the ground.  I screamed as I saw the figure of my big brother on fire like a torch and slumping over.  Flames came into my cockpit.  The plane hit hard, tearing off the landing gear and I remember being flung forward out of the cockpit.  I don’t know…but I have an image of my brother waving at me.  His arms must have been flung upward, but I have an image…”

        Toby came out of his spell, saying, “Jesus.”

        Jimmy handed Roger the shot of gin.

        Roger drank the shot but this time he fell forward and he laid his scarred face on the bar counter and he wailed, immolated in his own memories and it was as if all the gin he had been drinking suddenly poured out of his sunken eyes.

        Just then Roger’s wife Jenny entered The Sunny Side of the Street bar.  Jimmy raised his hand at her and beckoned her.  Roger still was slumped on the bar counter rolling his head back and forth in the tears.  Behind Jenny following like ducks were their nine children, by age: Roger junior, Donald, Louise, Betty, Dorothy, Allen, Charlie, Carol, and Sonny.

        The younger children looked at their father in alarm and began to wail, the older ones cried ‘Daddy’ and Jenny went straight to her husband and fell upon his shoulders and raised him up.  Jenny was just tall enough to fit under Roger’s arm and she clutched his waist while Roger leaned on her sobbing.  Jenny had raised her face and she was kissing and kissing his scarred mask of a face, saying, “Roger, Roger, oh, Roger.”  The children all clung by one hand each to his shirt and pants.

        As Jenny shuffled the family out she turned and said to Jimmy, “Thank you for calling me.”

        Jimmy smiled wryly and said, “I knew he needed you.”

        Jenny and Roger with their brood shuffled all of the way out of town, over the bridge, and back to their little rented home together.

        It was a day I don’t forget.

#

NEVER FORGET

  torn flag

 

 

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