Thursday, February 21, 2019
Is there a moment you would like to go back to and relive? Can I ask, to add to that: If so, would you just like to relive it or is there something you would like to change in that moment? Few, if any, people are going to want to elaborate, but if you want to, go for it. For me, I hate to say it, but my moment(s) have to do with parenting. Moments I wish I could have "do overs" for and show more wisdom, more understanding, more patience.
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
it's depressing to look at one (or all of) my blog posts and see at the bottom, "No Comments." I know that people (some people) are reading what I'm writing, and they let me know--sometimes--on Facebook, but why doesn't anyone comment on the blog? So, I'm going to try something. I bought that game, Vertell?s. "Less small talk. More genuine conversations."
I haven't played it yet, and maybe I won't anytime soon, so I'm going to pick one of the cards and ask the question. I want to see how many people will answer it. Here's one: "What is one of the most valuable lessons you have learned?" So, let's hear it from the boys--and girls. Go to the bottom of this page and hit "Comment." And then do so.
I haven't played it yet, and maybe I won't anytime soon, so I'm going to pick one of the cards and ask the question. I want to see how many people will answer it. Here's one: "What is one of the most valuable lessons you have learned?" So, let's hear it from the boys--and girls. Go to the bottom of this page and hit "Comment." And then do so.
Thursday, January 31, 2019
Lunchtime. Carol stood up from her desk and began to layer herself with warmth: a bulky sweater, her heavy overcoat, a scarf, and the gloves she knew she would need for the gray January day. Once she was out on the street, she burrowed her head into her over-sized collar, hunched her shoulders against the biting wind, and pressed against the flow of the masses of New Yorkers equally bent on arriving at their destinations. They, too, were undoubtedly intent on feeding themselves.
Impatient drivers’ blaring horns were as persistent as her thoughts: There were orthodontia fittings for Lara and a teacher conference for Mark. His history teacher, the one so sadly lacking in regard for his students, had ironically claimed that her son had an attitude problem. Mark had an attitude problem all right; he had a problem being subservient to someone he didn’t respect. If Carol had known how to manage that, she thought wryly, she would still be married to shit-for-brains.
As she stepped through the arched entrance to the park and began to slow her pace and meander along the path, the traffic noises faded behind her, also quieting the anxious voice she heard in her head. The wind died down here and the exhaust fume odors gradually began to be replaced by those of crushed peanuts and tree sap. A newly constructed bench in a bright spot of sunlight beckoned. She sat with a sigh, paused a moment to pull off her gloves, shrugged halfway out of her coat, and then realized she was hungry. She pulled out her lunch.
She had rescued the last tangelo from her children’s relentless raids on the refrigerator and relished it with a cup of vanilla yogurt and five saltine crackers. That consumed, and with the delicious smell of the tangelo peel clutched in her hand, her magazine opened and ignored in her lap, she turned her face up to the sun’s rays. Ten minutes of bliss.
Carol was a tall woman, small boned with delicate wrists and long, slender fingers. In spite of her height, her substantial hips and thighs kept her from being seen as thin. ‘Rodin would have loved me,’ she had been known to confide to her art-aficionado friends, especially after a margarita or two. Her eyes were a clear turquoise, without the assistance of contact lenses, and they were set in a face that revealed rather than hid her intelligence and wry sense of humor. How long had it been, she wondered, since she had sat like this, her worries temporarily stashed away in denial for a few brief moments, just to enjoy the feel of the sun on her face?
“Too long,” came a disembodied voice.
Carol was sure she heard it rather than thought it, and she opened her eyes to the sight of a small, gnome-like woman sharing her bench. The newcomer was neatly dressed in a black wool suit, with a matching hat perched atop gray hair that was pulled back into a tight chignon. A net that couldn’t have provided much protection from the weather and certainly had seen better days surrounded her tiny felt hat. The corners of her collar and the edges of her cuffs were threadbare. Her face was a myriad of wrinkles. It’s impossible to guess her age, Carol thought, as she took in the sight and met the woman’s eyes, tiny, coal-black orbs peeking mirthfully in Carol’s direction. For a moment she felt annoyed at the intrusion, but when the tiny woman smiled at her with genuine good will, Carol relented.
“I beg your pardon?” she asked, not at all sure that she wanted to know.
“Too long. I said it. I know it has been too long since you took the time to give yourself the gift of solitude and sunlight on a winter day in the park,” she said. “I so hated to impose.”
Her voice was rich, deep and melodic, in complete contrast to her slight physical stature.
“But, how did you know…” Carol started to ask.
That radiant smile again. Well, of course she didn’t really know, she just surmised – not really too difficult for a perceptive person, Carol thought. Convincing herself that this was not going to be a paranormal experience, seeing that this petite, frail woman was hardly a threat, she closed her eyes and turned her face upward again. Maybe she will go away.
“I wonder if you could do me a favor,” came that ethereal voice again, resonant and clear, lacking any tremor that age might have contributed.
Oh, God, Carol thought, why is this city so filled with weirdos and con artists? Without looking, she replied, “I only have bus fare to get home on and I’ve eaten all my lunch.” Her voice was flat, designed to discourage her persistent intruder.
“Oh, no,” the intruder protested, “I don’t need money or food, I just need to borrow your legs and your good will.”
Carol turned and gazed at the woman with intense skepticism, asking, “My what?”
“I can see what you are thinking,” the woman said, as she straightened her spine gaining maybe an inch with the gesture, and raising her chin with pride. “But it is not like that at all. You see, I found a wallet on the path in the park and I need to take it to the police station. Arthritis renders me unable to walk very far, so I was wondering if you would be so kind as to take the wallet to them for me.”
“By the way, my name is Grace, Grace Delaney,” she said as she extended a small, thinly gloved hand obviously crippled with the cruelty of the disease she had disclosed.
“Pleased to meet you, Grace,” Carol heard herself saying with little conviction, as she gently held the woman’s hand. “But how do you know I won’t just keep the wallet for myself, rather than turning it in?”
“Oh, I’m a very good judge of character,” Grace replied, “I am rarely ever mistaken about a person’s honesty.” The sun had slipped behind a cloud briefly and Carol could see the woman shiver in her thin wool suit coat.
“Is there money in the wallet?” Carol’s curiosity could not be hidden.
“Yes indeed there is. The person who lost it will be most happy to get it back, I’m quite sure; don’t you agree?”
“Quite sure,” Carol murmured vaguely as she dug into her pocket to check her cell phone for the time. Well, actually she did have just enough time to make it to the police precinct station near her building, and there was something very endearing about this strange little lady.
“Are you a newcomer to New York?” Carol asked as she uncrossed her warmly clad long legs and brushed back her unruly pale hair. She began to pull on first her gloves and then her quilted coat.
“No, no,” that remarkable impish smile again. “I was reared here in the city and performed off Broadway in some of the most magnificent works – and some not so magnificent, I’ll now admit – for more than forty years.”
“Well, what do you do now?” Carol found herself asking, as she sat back down, her interest piqued, even though she suspected that her inquiry was going to make her late to work.
“Good deeds,” replied Grace Delaney, as if she had declared a vocation in tax accounting or gourmet cookery.
“How’s that again?” Carol put her gloved hand over the leather wallet she found in her lap.
“You heard correctly, young woman, I fill my days finding ways to help out – either by design or by accident, like today. I just go about…oh meddling, I guess you could say.”
Carol glanced up to see that the sun had re-emerged, so she unwrapped her scarf and stuffed it into her pocket. “Okay, I’ll take your find to the police, if you trust me.”
“Oh, indeed, I trust you all right; there was never any question of that,”
Grace replied with all the dignity of a queen knighting her loyal servant.
Embarrassed, Carol stammered, “Uh, well, if there is a reward, you better give me your address so you can benefit from your generosity.”
“Oh, no, dear, please have the proceeds, if there are any, forwarded to the Mazie Neiderham Home for Girls in Queens, should that be the case. They can use the money much more than I.” Regal was the only way to describe her manner, and Carol regretted for a moment that she had never seen Grace perform.
“Well, fine, then. I have to dash if I am going to make it back to work on time.”
Grace was emphatic: “Yes, yes, dear, you run along, and please accept my most sincere appreciation.”
The lobby of her building was stuffy, and people began peeling off outer garments among the din of muted conversation and the ding of elevator arrivals. At last she was back at her desk, only then able to reflect on the lunch hour events.
At the police station she had discovered that there had been nearly a thousand dollars in that wallet, Carol thought, as she scrolled through the e-mail messages awaiting her. She definitely could have used the money, and she had been momentarily tempted. She guessed her honesty had never been tested before quite to that extent, and she was relieved – and a little surprised – that she had passed. How many times had the question been posed in “what if…” situations? Now, perhaps she knew.
All she could say for sure was that a favor was asked of her, she agreed to it, and she kept her word. Wouldn’t she want the same from Lara and Mark? Set the bar high and adhere to your own standards – advice she gave her kids. Nice to see she followed her own edicts.
As she leaned back in the much used office chair, she heard its springs protest with a familiar metallic complaint. She probed her pocket for some chap stick and discovered a piece of paper folded into a small square and softened by time. It was a flyer she had retrieved from a bulletin board in the lobby of her apartment building. Singles support group. They were meeting tonight.
She hardly qualified as a newly single person, but she would never forget how uncertain life had felt when her divorce was new. She had vivid memories of how frightened and alone she had been, how she had questioned her decision to leave, and how often she had doubted her ability to just get through another day with two kids to raise.
Doubts and fears aside, she was pretty content with her life now, so what had made her take that flyer? She looked at it again – they were meeting at the Unitarian Church in the Heights, only three blocks from her building. Maybe she could offer some dubious gems of wisdom. Maybe she could help. They did call themselves a support group didn’t they? Why not? She could walk there. She smiled as she realized: all it would take was her legs and her good will.
Wednesday, January 23, 2019
The window was open just enough to let in the cool night air. In other words, “just a crack, Marcie, a tiny crack.” I was dealing with my father’s non-negotiable rule—no open windows at night. Probably in case someone tried to get me. As if. Not here. Nothing ever happened here. I had turned my pillow over so many times I’d lost count, and still I couldn’t sleep. And I had a stupid headache. Had it since before supper.
I could hear Daddy snoring through both closed doors, theirs and mine, so it was clear the heat wasn’t keeping him awake. Granted, he’d been in the sun all day delivering mail and dodging angry dogs. Those were different from the ones he called “his tired dogs” when he pulled off his work shoes.
Okay, I had to get cooled off. I tiptoed out of my room and into the bathroom, closing the door silently and leaving the light off. Successful first step. I plugged the tub with the rubber stopper, feeling to make sure the little chain didn’t get caught, and turned on the cold water faucet. As the bathtub filled, I peeled off my sweaty pajamas off, stepped in, and felt instant relief. I sat down and let the cool liquid surround me. Then I slid all the way down and turned the knob off with my foot. In the silence, with only my face above water, the pulse in my ears slowed down as my body cooled off.
Tomorrow was Friday and we usually went skating on Friday nights, but a lot of the parents, including mine, were saying they weren’t so sure it was a good idea right now with what was going on. I had polished my skates and hoped my folks would change their minds, but if my friends couldn’t go, what was the point?
When the water temperature was the same as my body, I pulled the stopper chain with my toe to let some water out, and it gurgled – too loud.
“Marcie, is that you?” My mother called out in a loud whisper. Probably trying not to wake Daddy, as if that was possible.
“Yes, ma’am, it’s me. I’m cooling off.”
So I reset the plug and turned on the water again but kept the washrag near the faucet so there wouldn’t be any splash noises, and lay back down. From the moonlight coming through the high bathroom window I could see my tiny breasts barely poking above the water. It ticked me off that some of the girls in my class were wearing real bras now, not just training bras, and they filled them out. Meanwhile, some stuffed their bras with toilet paper. No thank you.
I had read that little booklet, “Menstruation and Your Maturing Bodies,” and even though Sandra started her period a couple of months ago, Kathy and I hadn’t yet. Momma bought me the belt and Kotex pads, but no amount of talk about that part of “becoming a woman” interested me.
My grandmother visited last month for as long as she and my father could stand each other. “Heavens to Betsy, when your mother fell off the roof, there was none of this falderal about it,” Gram said.
Momma explained later that she didn’t really fall off of a roof, which I assumed, but that it was just an expression. A stupid one, if you ask me.
The water had warmed up again and I wasn’t sleepy yet, so I emptied it silently this time, refilled it, and scooted back down, careful not to make sloshing sounds.
Every day when my mother got home, she changed into her house clothes and started dinner. While she did that, I was supposed to set the table. Besides making my bed, that was my only job, but sometimes she let me get out of it. “If you have homework, Marcie, that’s the most important job you have,” she said. No argument from me.
Daddy usually wanted a hot meal, but tonight we had cold ham, potato salad, and pineapple rings for dinner to keep from having to heat up the kitchen. He didn’t complain. Well, not about that anyway. He hated his job. I told him that one of the kids at school said her father quit his job. “Why don’t you just quit, Daddy?” I asked.
My mother gave me a dirty look, but he said, “Gotta keep the wolves at bay, baby.”
Momma said he meant bill collectors, not real wolves, and they exchanged the look. It was the one that meant they thought I was too young to know what they were talking about. We didn’t have wolves, for heaven’s sake. Who didn’t know that? After we ate, I could hear them talking softly in the kitchen. They didn’t sound mad at each other, a good thing.
While I pretended to do homework, I wrote notes to Sandra and Kathy. We exchanged them at the bus stop every morning. Sandra taught me how to fold them into neat little squares with the flap all tucked in so they would stay closed. I put them into my little zip-up pencil holder clipped into my notebook—safe from prying eyes, not that my parents ever looked. Kathy’s mother went through her stuff all the time.
After dishes, my parents listened to the radio. We might have been the only family in our neighborhood without a TV set, but my parents seemed content to listen to their shows, him in his big recliner either cleaning his pipes or making fishing lures, and her with her crossword puzzles. She would touch the pencil to her tongue and fill in the squares until it was done.
They each had their favorite programs. “Dragnet” was hers, and “Gunsmoke” was his. I liked “The Shadow.” When Daddy turned off the radio, he asked Momma, just like he did every night, “Aren’t you coming to bed?” It was part of their routine.
“In a bit,” she said.
He made a “humph” noise as he went into to their bedroom and she sighed. Why did he care when she went to bed? We could hear him snoring within five minutes. Momma said that between his highball before dinner, and then a beer while we ate, he was as good as gone by the time his head hit the pillow. It was hard to tell if she was mad about that or not.
When I sat up and cleared the water from my ears. I could hear the cicadas chirping, and in the distance the late train was clicking along on its way from Miami to Jacksonville. It sounded its horn but didn’t seem to be in a real hurry to get there. Down the street the Williams’s crazy dog was barking at nothing, and one of the neighbors was watching a comedy show. There were these random bursts of loud laughter. It sounded phony. You never heard people laughing like that.
If it was from the Finch’s house, they didn’t have much to laugh about these days. Michael was walking now, but with braces on his legs. He was one of two neighborhood kids who got sick. Momma said Michael was lucky because the Bennet kid two blocks over was still in an iron lung, and while Michael was only partially paralyzed. She said he would probably live a productive life because look at FDR.
My parents called it a flu epidemic, even though that’s not what my teacher said. To my friends and me it meant, for one thing, that the public pool was closed, even with record-breaking heat. In fact, we were supposed to go only to school and then back home. It felt like prison. Sandra said her mother complained that was harder on the parents than on us, but I didn’t see how.
After Michael came home from the hospital, my mother and a few of the other neighborhood moms took food over there. That Saturday, by some miracle, we all got to go to the movies to see Doris Day in Calamity Jane. Everyone was there, and sure enough so was that cute boy who was new in my class. He just enrolled in our school, and Mrs. Ellis assigned him a seat near me. He smiled at me, and I smiled back, but I didn’t say anything. Stupid, I know.
After the movie, Momma took me to the record store and I bought the single, “Secret Love.” I played it lots of times on my portable player, and my mother even hummed it herself with a smile on her face. That hadn’t happened much lately; mostly there was a deep line in her forehead.
She said this flu epidemic had her worried. She and Daddy were arguing in their walk-in closet a few days ago. Why they picked there to have their “discussions,” I didn’t get. It wasn’t like I couldn’t hear them. Momma sounded really scared. She said, “Nobody’s doing anything!” He told her not to cry, something I’d never seen.
Every morning my parents got the paper as soon as they heard it slap on the front stoop. At breakfast Daddy read the sports page while Momma looked for news about a cure. This morning she read an article to him out loud. She must have forgot I was right there. She read that some doctors were upset that ‘too much fuss’ had been made about the disease and complained that all the attention it got had taken away from ‘more serious threats.’ Momma almost never raised her voice, but she sounded pretty mad about that. I was finished with my cereal, but I stayed at the table.
“I bet if those doctors had kids, they wouldn’t feel that way,” she said. “Over two thousand children died last year, not to mention the poor souls who were affected in other ways.” Daddy looked in my direction and she stopped talking. I was old enough to understand more than they thought I could, and I saw how Michael struggled with those leg braces. It looked hard. At school Mrs. Ellis told us that some doctor was working on a vaccine.
I felt a yawn coming on finally. I still had a headache, but it seemed a little better. The drain didn’t make any noise this time; thanks to the washcloth trick. Never too late to learn something new, Mrs. Ellis said. The towel was scratchy from drying on the line. Sunshine dried best my mother said, and besides we couldn’t afford a dryer. Not yet anyway. Daddy said maybe for Christmas.
After I dried myself, I wrapped the towel around my head turban style, picked up my underpants, tiptoed back into my bedroom, and closed the door. Yep, it was still stifling. As I put on fresh baby doll pajamas from the top drawer, I made a decision: I was opening that window. I got it up high enough to set the fan on the window sill and let it pull in the outside air, and it was actually cooler.
All I had to do was remember to put it back down before Daddy saw it in the morning. I turned out the light and sat in the middle of the bed in the dark and pinned my hair into curls by feel. It was almost dry already.
Maybe I would see that new boy tomorrow. If he showed up, anyway. He hadn’t been in school for the last two days. Sick, Mrs. Ellis said. Sandra told me he had moved here from somewhere up north. Probably New York. Three absences already in only two weeks was a lot. Mrs. Ellis asked in class if anyone knew him, but no one did.
The pillow even felt cooler. Momma had said she picked up the clothes from the ironing lady. Maybe I could wear my yellow dress tomorrow if it got ironed. If not, the blue one with the full skirt. Kathy said it showed off my eyes.
Note: By the 1950s, polio had become one of the most serious communicable diseases among children in the United States. In 1952 alone, nearly 60,000 children were infected with the virus; thousands were paralyzed, and more than 3,000 died. In 1954, field trials of Salk's vaccine began with over 1.3 million children. Doctor Salk’s vaccine was distributed universally in 1955.
Thursday, January 17, 2019
Keeping the Peace
Leo stretched and yawned. What a relief. The monthly meeting was finally over. Over until the first Monday next month. Sure, the room was in disarray and the snack table was nothing but crumbs, but that was someone else’s job. He had all he could do to keep order.
Today, Cyrus the opinionated orangutan had tried to dominate the sharing time. If Leo hadn’t cut him off, he would have gone on and on, leaving little time for others to air their complaints or make any constructive suggestions.
The Capuchins had clicked their tongues, hovered together, and kept casting their eyes toward Leo to let him know they weren’t happy that Old Orange Hair spent so much time on his dietary needs. Who knew omnivores could be gluten intolerant? Six syllables! No one could say it but Cyrus. The showoff.
Leo had been tapped to facilitate the meeting again. It was the third time this year. There were certainly more qualified leaders here. Take Ellie, for instance. She would have been perfect to conduct today’s meeting, but she had her walking papers. Some conservation group had bought her and she was going to Tennessee to join up with some of the other elephants who had been liberated.
“I’m no longer invited to take your complaints to the keepers, Leo,” she had said. “They still have some sore feelings about losing a main attraction. Besides, you’ve been here the longest.”
She was right, of course. Leo had arrived at this zoo when it was new and he was just a cub. Hunters had killed his mother, and he had no idea where his father had gotten to. He and his denmates were separated, and he heard that they were taken to a northern zoo. He was bought by this smaller but growing zoo in south Florida. Back then, before the emancipation, things had been very different.
When Leo grew into an older adolescent he got his own ground area with a moat and a couple of youngsters for company. They had brought him a female, but the chemistry just wasn’t there, and it took years for the keepers to solve the problem. When Gloria came, it was different for Leo, at least, but she suffered from PTSD, and it took her some time to take a shine to him. When she did, they made a great couple. Every day Gloria made him grateful to have their growing pride to watch over.
As time passed and animal rights’ awareness heightened, human visitors to the zoo began to protest, more and more vehemently, that the captives had been deprived of their natural surroundings. The activists’ demands grew; they insisted that the animals be released to their natural habitat. Those days were scary.
Being released to a place he had no memory of was not something Leo thought would be a good idea – not for him anyway. Having fresh, insect-free food brought to him was comforting. He had no idea how it worked in the wild, but he was pretty sure slabs of clean meat wouldn’t be dropped at his feet on a regular basis.
The protestors’ demonstrations intensified, and the zoo owners decided that in the spirit of fair play, they would try democracy. It was a compromise. Of course, the worst bad idea had been opening up all the cages. As could have been predicted, it was pure chaos. Some of the younger carnivores who shall remain nameless forgot their manners, and the zoo was down three African Pygmy Hedgehogs, two Mexican Prairie dogs, and at least a dozen Russian dwarf hamsters.
Some of the more squeamish had to be sedated. When the offenders were threatened with no more reruns of “Animal Kingdom,” and especially no more cleanly packaged food, the more aggressive ones reluctantly agreed to play nice. They weren’t exactly contrite, but for the most part, harmony had been established. Contracts were entered into; things got worked out.
Nobody had any illusions about making it on the outside. They had all grown complacent and lazy. Tooth and claw days were over. The zoo owners needed a show, and this one had a unique twist. They got Mondays and Tuesdays off, but twice a day Wednesday through Friday and three times a day on weekends, Leo and his associates would give them what they wanted. Things didn’t always run smoothly. For example, some of the adolescent male tigers didn’t always cooperate. They weren’t always willing to pretend to be fierce.
Nowadays the monthly meetings were simply an opportunity for all to air grievances and put forward ideas for making things work better. One of those meetings had proposed the idea to call everyone “residents,” and it was passed with only one dissenter, the gnu. He liked watching humans try to say his name.
The Gibbons, unanimously in favor of the name change, had always been unhappy being called monkeys, if the truth were known. Gibson said something about “if only the guests would just read the damn signs,” The macaques and the Golden Tamarins were pretty non-plussed about the whole naming thing, and the Capuchins were rolling their eyes by then. Most of them had ADHD.
At another meeting it was decided that the veterinarian services be scheduled weekly. Bi-monthly visits by the vet just weren’t enough to keep the allergies under control. Most hadn’t adjusted well to the humidity and the flora, especially the black bear. From fall to the end of the year his nose ran constantly, not a pretty sight.
The marmosets had wanted a personal trainer to teach them new tricks, and it was rejected as being preferential. They did manage to push for replacing some of the older trapezes, rubber straps, and rings. That seemed to pacify them. “As long as those residents are getting exercise equipment,” Babs said, “I want a new blanket for a better hammock. The one I’ve got has gotten too short.” Done and done. Management was very accommodating. Leo wondered when the demands might reach a limit, but so far it was all good. Apparently attendance was up, which had to be good for the bottom line. After all, there were no attractions like this one anywhere else.
At first, the leaders of the monthly meeting were rotated; even Ted the tortoise got his chance. But with him in charge, the meeting tended to drag on for much longer than anyone’s attention span allowed. For one thing, his sentences were eternal and lacking in proper full stops. Folks began talking among themselves and not in whispers. Some started grooming one another and, well, let’s just say that Robert’s Rules were forgotten. Nobody could tell if Ted got his feelings hurt or not, what with how he suffered from leaking tear ducts.
Leo had been recruited to conduct the meetings more and more often. Maybe it was the voice. It tended to get everyone’s attention, for sure. On the other hand, he had often been complimented on his sense of fairness. He would say, if asked, that he had seen too much strife and was tired of it. He just wanted everyone to get along.
Currently, it worked like this: Visitors arrived promptly on the designated days. They rolled in, caged in little electric cars connected nose to tail. There were no more armed guards – that hadn’t worked at all. Guns were frightening, especially to the giraffe, poor guy. His uncontrolled flatulence was a definite turn-off.
Little trains carried the guests all over the grounds on tracks that were installed specifically for optimum viewing. Some still exclaimed their surprise at how autonomy worked so well, but anyone with a brain could see that it wasn’t rocket science. Everyone just had to get along.
So what if the humans smelled funny and walked upright all the time? They had been capable of change, hadn’t they? Willingness to grow and learn were important qualities. Forgiveness mattered, too. Because any bad behavior on either side could be attributed to either lack of awareness or to personal suffering—not malice. That concept was harder for some than others.
It had been a tough situation, and everyone made the best of it. Together they found a peaceful solution. Cooperation rather than competition; Leo’s mate Gloria taught him that. She called it the feminine model.
Wednesday, January 2, 2019
The Shell Station on Highway 41
Maddie sat in the hot car with the windows up watching the guy next to her tend to his Harley. He had filled the tank, made sure it didn't drip, wiped the cap and replaced it, folded and stowed the rag, checked to be sure his bag was bungeed, zipped up his windbreaker, climbed on, balanced the cycle with his legs and was donning his gloves, pushing each finger in mindfully.
Donnie was in the convenience store paying for gas for the poor car. He was no doubt buying another eight-pack, too, and their cans would soon join the empties and other trash littering the floorboards, front and back. Even the back seat was cluttered. He had taken the keys so she couldn’t listen to the radio, much less open the windows. Such an asshole.
Maddie opened the door and stepped out into the noise and confusion that was a holiday weekend at the biggest gas station in town. Bells dinging, engines running; eight bays and all of them with cars and trucks being filled. It was going to be a hot one, and the cold blue waters of three different springs beckoned.
All she had with her was her driver license and a little cash: fourteen dollars and some change. She walked up to the Harley and caught the driver’s attention. He looked at her with a question in his light blue eyes. It wasn’t an unkind look at all, just curious.
“Can I come with you?” she asked. What the heck was she doing?
He paused and searched her face. What he saw there must’ve convinced him, because he smiled. It was the sweetest thing she had seen in ages.
“Sure,” was all he said, and he reached into the saddle bag and handed her a helmet and a windbreaker like his, only smaller. She put both on as he stepped down on the starter. The machine came to life with a smooth rumble. He settled into the seat, nodded and she climbed up behind him and wrapped her arms around his middle. He was small, probably no more than 5’6” and thin, but she could feel his muscles moving as its owner guided the motorcycle effortlessly onto the highway headed south. They took off. She laid her head on his back and let herself cry.
Dave knew his mother was going to have a fit when he showed up with a girl—one he knew nothing about. Hell, not even her name. He’d been divorced for three years now, and it had been at least that long since he’d been home. He was only going there now because his brother insisted. “You better come now or it might be too late,” Mark had said. Maybe just trying to scare him, maybe hoping to borrow some money, knowing Dave wouldn’t say no face-to-face. Not to his little brother.
But, forget his brother. What was the girl’s story? And why him? Dave had seen the car parked beside him. Nineteen-eighty-eight Mustang convertible. It was a mess. A pretty cool car underneath all the neglect—even a good washing would have helped, but it needed more TLC than that.
He hadn’t paid much attention to the passenger until she stepped out of the car. She looked to have been neglected, too, what with her wrinkled, soiled clothes and scuffed up sneakers. Even so, there was something in that look, staring at him with those eyes. Eyes a guy could drown in.
Maybe that explained why Dave said “Sure." Nothing else did. Was she being abused? Did she need help? Or, was she going to murder him some miles down the road when they had to stop to sleep? Hell, she didn’t even know how far he was going. She might want off way before Key West, so no need to worry about Mom’s reaction. The surprise passenger would surely be long gone by then.
Maybe just a ride out of there was all she wanted. Possibly some cash. No sense in trying to know what couldn’t be known. Never had much success figuring out people’s motivations anyways. Sometimes even they didn’t know why they did what they did. Like himself. Like right now.
The weather report had promised rain, desperately needed. They'd promised it before and been wrong, but they were right this time. It started with a sprinkle, then increased to a solid, diving rain. No sense in pressing on. She had to be wet to the bone with just his ex-wife’s windbreaker covering that thin cotton blouse and her torn jeans. Dave wasn’t doing much better. The all-weather gear was tucked safely in plastic zip-locks in the saddle bags, and he had started to shiver.
He pulled off the road into what looked like an ancient motel—little yellow cottages in a semi-circle, four of them. There was a lighted sign that no doubt said vacancy, but so many of the letters were missing, it just boasted “can y.” He rolled under the overhang in front of a door labeled office and shut down the beast.
They both got off, and even though he’d felt the girl’s presence for the last seventy miles, it was the first time since she walked up to him, asking to come along, that he saw her face. Poor kid looked scared. Probably having second thoughts—thoughts like maybe he was going to kill her instead of the other way around.
“Listen, I’m not...” He started.
“How do you know?”
She sighed and looked down as if gathering some information from the stones on the ground. “I just know.”
It looked like that was going to be the sum total of her communication, but then she looked up. “I watched you.” Her gaze was intense.
“While you were getting ready to take off. You’re careful and a little bit fussy. You want everything to be just right, and you make sure it is. You take care with things. I saw how you looked at Donnie’s car, too. I could see that you felt sorry for it, and you were right. He never took care of anything. Not like you do.”
“You do know that doesn’t clear me as a potential serial killer, don’t you? I heard Ted Bundy was pretty fussy, too, but he was a bad dude.”
Then she smiled. “Maddie,” she said, and stuck out her hand.
He pulled off his glove. “Dave. Pleased to meet you.”
That was their story, and they never deviated from the script. Not one word of it. Their kids had asked them to tell it nearly every year on anniversaries—twenty first this year. Their daughter, the youngest, or sometimes one of the boys, had earlier pressed for more details, like did they make it to Key West, was his mother really sick then, did Uncle Mark want to borrow money, stuff like that. None of it mattered, but they told it anyway.
They made it to Key West. They took their time. By then she knew just how to make him laugh—and blush—and he knew he was never going to let her get away. He introduced her as his fiancée, and his mother who was nowhere near dying was thrilled. In fact, Momma stayed alive long enough for all three of her grandkids to know her and call her Nana. By the time she passed, both boys were taller than Dave, no huge feat, and their baby girl was in fifth grade.
His brother Mark did want money, and Dave gave it to him and never saw a dime of it back, but Maddie said it had been a gift all along. Uncle Mark was godfather to their first born, and by then he was married for the third time. That wife managed to last the longest. Mark told them not everyone could find the love of their life—in a gas station or anywhere else.
Donnie the asshole was never seen again, even though Maddie and Dave went back to North Florida and settled on Dave’s fifteen acres. They often got gas at that same station and both of them wondered if they might see the guy. Dave wanted to buy his Mustang, and Maddie thought she maybe owed him an explanation. What had Donnie thought when he came back and she wasn’t there?
When the story got told, Dave and Maddie always warned the kids that no one on God’s earth should ever, ever, do what their mother had done. Or their father either for that matter. It was foolish and dangerous and could have ended very differently. Very differently indeed. Still, the kids couldn't miss the look their parents gave each other every time they told it.
I think I'm going to start posting some (maybe all) of my short stories here. I may or may not ever see them in print, but at least here my friends and visitors to my blog can read them if they like. I'll still add my pithy comments and complaints and essays from time to time, but if you're not interested you can skip them. I'll identify the stories as fiction and pick one today to post. If you read anything here, let me know, please. It keeps me going.