Down the Hall on Your Left

This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2018

Archive for the category “Faith”

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Three

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Three

 

“Think about it.”

That’s all I’ve been able to do. Here I am a newly reborn civilian whose only real job experience is those three years of trying to kill the other guy first. Oh, sure, I had some jobs before the war = delivering newspapers and mowing lawns. Now, pretty much out of the blue, some rich guy, a war industry all by himself, offers me a job for more money than me, my old man, and his old man ever made altogether. Think about it? Darn straight I thought about it.

Everybody knew the name Van Swearingin. He and his factories made more tanks than anybody. They saved a lot of lives, killed a lot of Nazis, and freed up a good sized portion of Europe. He was rich before the war making washing machines. Then the war came and now he is considered one of the richest men in America.

“War Profiteer” – that’s what some people called him. Making tanks and making millions of dollars doing it. I don’t begrudge it to him. His tanks saved my backside several times. Lots of people made lots of money off the war. That’s just the way it is. And now that the war is over they’ll be making washing machines again.

One thing I don’t understand though is if they’re going to be making washing machines again, why does Van Swearingin need a 180 man Security unit? Why does he need me? Does he think that the Russians are out to steal his washing machine secrets?

He gave me a week, with pay, to think over his job offer. He said that he wants me to update and reorganize his Security people, all 180 of them. If they are like most guards and night watchman types I’ve seen the mice could have robbed him blind. During the war I’m sure there were armed G.I.s watching over his factories, guarding against saboteurs and 4-F thieves, but now, transitioning back to washing machines – Grandpas and a new fence should be enough.

Why does he want me to turn his 180 men into what we had at Anzio and Iwo Jima? What was he expecting? That Sears-Roebucks was going to outflank him?

Could I do it? Sure. Any guy who spent three years in uniform could put a decent company together in his sleep. Uncle Sam paid me $40 a month. Van Swearingin would be giving me a heck of a lot more.

If he was willing to fill my pay envelope every week I’d be a fool not to take it.

I guess I’ve made up my mind.

xxx

It was only Wednesday when I called the number Van Swearingin gave me to use when I had decided. He answered the phone himself.

“That’s great, Tim! Welcome aboard. What I need you to do now is come here to the house tomorrow morning at 9 AM. Pack a bag because we are going on a tour of all our facilities – your new responsibilities, so you can get a feel for things. Is that all OK with you?”

“No problem, Sir. Everything I own is in my duffel. 9 AM? I’ll be there.

“Wonderful, Captain. That’ll be your new rank – Captain. In time most of the men under you will be other returning soldiers and they will be used to their boss having rank on them. So, I’ll see you tomorrow morning – captain.”

xxx

I’d never flown before. Busses, trains, then troop ships, and on foot have been the only way that I’ve gotten around. That and a variety of old jalopies.

I was glad when we landed in Salt Lake City. Crossing the mountains and then the emptiness of Nevada made me uncomfortable, almost ready to vomit. Van Swearingin took it like he did it every day. Maybe he did with factories and offices in three different states. He’d almost have to fly to cover that much ground. He had his own private DC-3.

I hope I don’t have to do a lot of this.

West of the city, in a chauffeured Cadillac, we came to an area called the “Salt Flats.” Out there, in the most desolate place I have ever seen with nothing around for miles, was a huge, black as night building. It was one level with no windows. There was a rail spur at either end and one narrow dusty road snaking up to the building.

“Welcome to Van Swearingin Industries, Tim.”

We followed the dirt road toward the building. As we approached a large loading dock door opened and we drove in. There were at least 150 other cars parked in there.

“No sense giving some curious eyes any idea how many people work here,” said my new Boss. “During the war there was a Guard Post back up the road a piece. If anyone who didn’t belong tried to get too close they would have been…let’s just say that they wouldn’t have tried that again.”

That was the way things were.

“What do you make in here, if I may ask?”

“Before V-J Day it was Norden Bomb Sights. Now, we are developing the next generation of Radar units. You’re familiar with Radar, Tim?’

“I’ve seen them being used, but I never got a close up look.”

“Well, we can scan a flock of birds and tell you which ones are going to be laying eggs. I’ll give you a tour later, but first I want you to meet up with ‘Pops’ Mulroy, the current Head of Security. You’re replacing him. He is looking forward to retiring so he can get back to Colorado and his grandchildren.”

“Pops” Mulroy was about the same age as Van Swearingin, but in tip-top physical condition. He may have been in the first war, but he looked like he could have held his own in the Second. Most men called “Pops” look like they are a hundred years old and half dead.

Introductions and handshakes taken care of, Van Swearingin said he had to go.

“I’ll leave you in ‘Pops’ hands to get the Big Picture around here. I have some other things that need taken care of. I’ll rescue you in a couple of hours.”

It was just me and “Pops.” I tried to break the ice.

“You must be anxious to retire and get back to Colorado, is it, and your family?”

“Pops” looked at me. He wasn’t smiling

“Retiring? It ain’t my idea, kid, but there ain’t too much I can do about it.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I must have misunderstood,” I said. What is going on here?

“I’m retiring all right. It was my job, now it’s yours. That’s called retirement around here.”

To Be Continued

Fiction Saturday – “Mistakes Were Made” – Part Two

“Mistakes Were Made” – Part Two

I have to admit – I didn’t expect to see a guy’s son do a B&E on his father’s home, but that’s what it was. I’d handcuffed the kid to the door of a car that cost more than I’ve made in my entire life. I hope he doesn’t scratch it.

The kid had a scowl on his face for me. He also had the start of a decent black eye and a lump on his skull where I whacked him. Hey! You pull a knife on me I’m not going to pour you a cup of tea.

The Old Man, Van Swearigin, wasn’t looking too happy either. I was beginning to think that Charlie was what they call a “Problem child,” and that he’d worn steel bracelets before. He may have been no more than 17 years old, but that knife of his made him as old as Cain.

“What’s up, Pop?” The kid had a permanent sneer going for his father.

“Charlie, what’s this all about?” His voice was strained, but controlled. “Looking to hotwire one of the cars for a little ride?”

Charlie looked up at his father from the garage floor, but said nothing more. He yanked at the cuffs like he could break loose that way.

The Old Man looked at me, but said nothing. I think he was embarrassed that I was there and seeing inside his less than perfect family.

“How have you been, Charlie?” he asked his son. “Do you have a job? Making ends meet?”

His kid is sitting on the floor of a garage, handcuffed, with a black eye and a knot on his skull and he asks him if he’s paying his gas bill. Some family. The kid kept yanking at the bracelet.

“Get this off of me and I’ll get out of here so you can go back to bed. I won’t bother you anymore.” He said “bother you” with a real sneer. Any kid of mine talked to me like that and I’d… Yeah, fat chance of that.

The two of them just stared at each other for a minute and then the Old Man turned to me.

“Cut him loose. Your name is Tim, right? There’s no point in keeping him down there.”

I told Charlie to scoot back. I didn’t want him trying to bite me or anything while I was getting back my cuffs. Those are mine. I had to pay for them. He did what he was told. I think he knew that if he got stupid on me that I’d rearrange his teeth. I don’t care if his old man was standing there or not. As I gave him back his hand he mumbled, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” I whispered back. “Let’s not do this again sometimes.”

Cut loose the kid stood up and dusted himself off. He ignored the little beating I’d given him like it happened every day. Without another word he headed for the door. His Old Man looked older than he did a few minutes before.

“Son… Charlie…Can I help you? Can I give you anything? Anything at all?”

Charlie stopped, one hand on the door, and looked back at his father.

“No.” was all he said. He looked over at me. Gave me a little nod, a gesture of professional courtesy. Opposite sides in the same game. He was already a crook and I represented the Law, the Society that fought back. “No,” and he was gone into the dark.

We all stared at the door for a second then Van Swearingen turned his attention to Marty who was looking as uncomfortable as a mink coat on a wire hanger.

“Marty, get out of here. I don’t want to see you here again. I will be talking to your father about this. He needs to do something before you end up dead or in prison.”

I cut in.

“For you, kid, prison would equal dead. You wouldn’t make it through the first night. They’d eat you alive.”

The Old Man nodded and Marty began to cry like a baby. That’s what he was.

“Get off my property, Marty. If I see you here again…” He let the rest of his sentence be written inside Marty’s head.

The kid ran through the door and disappeared.

The two of us just stood there in the night. Van Swearingin spoke first.

“And you. I expressly told your agency that I wanted no guns. It’s a good thing you had one though. He would have cut you to the bone.”

“Sir, I’ve been carrying a weapon for a few years now, mainly an M-1 or a .45. I’d feel naked without one.”

“I understand. I was in the last war. That’s why I hate them.”

He started for the door. Tonight was over. He had his hand on the doorknob when he stopped. Without turning to look at me he gave me an order.

“By the way, Tim – you’re fired and be back here at Noon. You’re my new head of security.”

To be Continued

Throwback Thursday from August 2015 – “Our Lady Of The Crosswalk”

Throwback Thursday from August 2015

Our Lady Of The Crosswalk

I THINK I SAW EVIDENCE OF A MIRACLE THIS MORNING.

I was driving down Wabash Avenue, heading toward home after morning services/brewing at St. Arbucks, when I stopped at the red light. It was then that I saw it.

Across the intersection at the crosswalk, leaning up against the light pole, I saw a single aluminum crutch. “Shades of Fatima,” I said to myself. “Right here in Terre Haute (That’s French for “What the heck is that?”).

Nobody would absentmindedly forget that they were using a crutch and just walk away and leave it there. Nobody would think that they didn’t need the crutch and just abandon it at the corner. It has to be a relic of a recent miraculous event.

Picture if you will – an injured, ill, or otherwise disabled soul galumphing down Wabash Avenue using their new aluminum crutch for support. What was it that happened at the corner of Wabash and Brown? There were no reports of miraculous visions, cosmic phenomena or angelic choruses in the area. Whatever happened must have been extremely private.

Our Hobbler got to the corner and had to wait for the green light when something happened that caused him/her to become restored to full bipedal status. Was it a vision, an apparition that delivered a cure or merely a warming glow that entered and told him/her that it was time to ditch the crutch? 

How in the heck would I know?

I saw the crutch leaning up against that pole and I knew that it couldn’t be accidental – no matter how much you’ve been drinking. In fact, the more you would drink the more you would rely upon the crutch to get you home. And besides – I didn’t see any drunken bodies lying there on the sidewalk.

Ergo: It has to be a miracle.

OK – I admit that another possible explanation or two exist but, really… does anyone think that the crutch may have been placed there as a gag? Or was the crutch thrown there from a passing car? If that had happened, the fact that it landed upright, neatly leaning on the pole, would be yet another miracle.

No – the only logical answer is that Divine Intervention took place at the corner of Wabash and Brown today – and the beneficiary of that intervention is toddling around town and doing just fine, thank you.

Miracles like this don’t happen every day, especially at the corner of Wabash and Brown.  If such miracles did happen every day more people would notice and there would be crutches leaning up at almost every intersection.

Of course, what the future holds for that intersection remains to be seen. Who knows if there will be more miraculous events there and that a devout following will turn it into a place of pilgrimages? If that happens the Mobil station at the opposite corner will see their mini-mart business really take off – Soft drinks, snacks and little plastic crutches made in Korea. It could turn into another Fatima or even a Super Target.

This isn’t like those people that see the face of Jesus on their taco or grilled cheese sandwich. This is a real, tangible aluminum crutch standing up at the corner. Those things don’t just walk there all by themselves. Somebody in need had to have gotten that far and then said, “Oh, I suddenly feel better. Aw, screw it. I don’t need no stinking crutch. I’m outta here.” Not poetic or very liturgical, but what do you expect at a busy intersection?

Today – one person leaving a single aluminum crutch.

Tomorrow – a shrine to Our Lady of the Crosswalk.

It could happen.

 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Eight

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Eight

At least the sun was shining and the winds were warm, out of the East, down from the Sierras. The fog was pushed out to sea hiding the offshore Farralon Islands from view. It made San Francisco seem like it was a part of the popular image of a Sunny California.

Luco wasn’t scheduled for release from the hospital for another three days, but he was raising such Holy Hell and threatening to crawl out of the place on his hands and knees that the medical staff voted to give him an early trip home.

“Mr. Reyes, as your doctor I must advise you to give us a couple more days to make sure that your internal injuries are on a healing track. But… as a member of the human race and someone who has to be around you all day I’d just as soon kick you down the stairs. Of course, I’d have to take a number and wait in line for the privilege.”

“Doc, I don’t mean to be trouble, but I hate it here. I’m feeling OK and I want to go home.”

The young doctor, who looked like he was there earning a merit badge, drummed his fingers on the side rail of Luco’s bed.

“Mr. Reyes, you may feel alright, but you’re not. Frankly, you’re lucky to be alive. If I sent you home alone you might end up dead on your bathroom floor before sundown. Of course, if I don’t let you leave, you might succumb to the night nursing staff.”

“I’ve been that much of a pain?” said Luco. He winced as he shifted his weight trying to get comfortable. Looking in the doctor’s eyes, Luco saw a mixture of professional concern and a weighing of the odds with a jury of his peers.

“Pain?”said the young man in the white lab coat. “Mr. Reyes, there was talk of starting a pool to predict which shift would report your sudden and unfortunate death. I’ve been here six years and I’ve never seen a grown man behave in such an immature and irritating manner.”

Luco blushed. He had never been a “good patient.” Even as a child being home sick from school could drive his mother to tears.

“Doc, I’m really sorry if I’ve been difficult. Do you think I should go and apologize to everyone?”

“No, Mr. Reyes, I couldn’t guarantee your safety. I think it best if I just sign your release and get you out of here. Who can tend to you when you get home?”

“I’ll take care of him, Doctor.”

Both men turned their gaze toward the doorway. There stood Marlee, dressed in tan shorts and a striped tank top. A large straw hat and matching bag completed the look.

***

“Oh, Jesus God, why didn’t you just leave me there to die?”

“I told you those steps would be rough, Luco.”

Marlee helped Luco ease himself down onto the sofa.

“Rough I could handle, but those last few steps…. I thought I was going to split open like a ripe watermelon.”

That’s why the doctors wanted to keep you a few more days.” Marlee spread a light throw over his legs. He had his head back, with his arm crossed over his eyes. “Inside, you’re still hamburger according to one of the Interns.”

“I feel like hamburger.” His eyes were closed.

The short ride home and the climb up the 18 steps from Stanyan Street had exhausted Luco’s body and drained his reserve of mental toughness. He fell asleep within seconds.

Luco had maintained that the vehicle that cracked and crushed his body had been steered with malicious intent. There had been no eyewitnesses. The people in the coffeehouse had nothing helpful to add.

The official police report concluded that it could come to no conclusion. There were no unusual skidmarks on the pavement. The intersection of Cole and Waller was busy during the day with diesel buses and tourist’s rental cars. Collisions and skidmarks were not uncommon. When the investigators looked at the scene they just shook their heads. The intersection looked like every other intersection in the city, except for the broken glass and the blood.

Marlee sat down at Luco’s desk and stared out the window. The grassy slopes of Golden Gate Park were still damp from the morning fog as it retreated offshore. The sunlight sparkled off the grass and made the world look clean and inviting.

She turned away from the window and looked at Luco’s sleeping form on the old hotel sofa. With his short hair and relaxed features he looked like a small boy napping. One part of her wanted to take him in her arms and rock him, nurturing, caring, protecting. Another part was coming to accept that she wanted to be held in his arms.

***

Marlee walked down Haight Street after getting Luco settled in and safe. The bright morning sun was shadowed by conflicting emotions. She and Pete from the cafe had arranged for a home healthcare staff to tend to Luco until he was farther along in his recovery.

She was comforted just knowing that he was alive and going to survive his injuries, but she was still scared for him. Luco was so sure that the driver of the van had hit him intentionally. The blend of relief and fear was exhausting. She hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. It was catching up with her now. A good solid week’s worth of deep, comforting, sleep would be good, but she needed to be back at Luco’s apartment. Five hours would have to do.

She made a short detour into the Haight-Central Market to get a couple of onions, some canned tomatoes and a green pepper. Tonight Luco was going to eat her Swiss Steak, whether he was hungry or not. He needed some red meat.

Standing at the counter, Mike, the young Lebanese owner rang up her purchases. He liked Marlee. She never gave him any grief and she never asked for credit.

“Hi, Marlee. How you doing? Don’t take this wrong, but you look terrible. Can’t sleep? Haight Street can get noisy at night.”

“It’s not the noise, Mike. I just haven’t had the chance to get any rest. Hopefully I can grab some this morning.”

As he listened, Mike let his eyes dart up to the large parabolic mirror in the corner. Shoplifting was an ongoing problem on the street and the mirror let him see clearly down both aisles of his small market.

Anyone who tried shoplifting from Mike had to be incredibly stupid. There was only one way out of the store and that was right past Mike and the 9mm pistol he kept tucked in his waistband. It was usually covered by his shirt, but not always. His eyes quickly scanned the store.

“I heard about Luco. Too bad.”

“It was horrible, Mike. He is a very lucky man, just to be alive.”

“A real shame. My brother got killed crossing Stanyan Street a few years ago. They never caught the guy who hit him. My Mother still cries about that.”

“My sympathies, Mike. At least Luco will survive.” She saw Mike’s eyes move up to the mirror. “He was released from the hospital yesterday afternoon. He’s not getting around too well yet. He needs time to recuperate.”

“Good thing he has a friend like you to help him out.” His gaze was fixed on the mirror. “Son of a bitch.”

“What?” Marlee turned and looked up at the mirror.

Crouched down in front of the beer cooler was Dennis Thayer. Marlee and Mike watched him slipping cans of beer into the pockets of his coat.

“Look at that. I finally let him back in here and the first thing he does is try to rip me off again. Marlee, here, take your groceries and get home. Me and this clown are going to have a talk and I don’t want you to be in the middle.”

“Oh, good Lord, Mike, be careful. Do you want me to call the police?”

“No. You go home and get some rest.” He smiled at Marlee, but his eyes stayed glued on the image of Dennis in the mirror. “It’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

He unfastened the bottom two buttons of his shirt. Marlee could see the textured black grip on the pistol and the polished chrome of the barrel as Mike shifted it and flipped the safety to “off.”

“Marlee, please leave. Now.”

She picked up her plastic carrier bag and, taking one last peek at the mirror, left the store.

“Please be careful, Mike.”

Mike could see that Dennis was heading toward the front of the store.

Marlee hurried across the intersection, her keys out. Opening the front gate to the building, she glanced back and saw the front door at the market swinging shut.

There was little doubt that Mike could take care of himself, but it still made her uneasy. She knew, all too well, how quickly things could go sour and become deadly. Heartbeats are fragile.

“Sleep, girl. Get some rest,” she said out loud as she opened her front door.

Within three minutes the groceries were on the kitchen counter, the blinds were closed, alarm set and Marlee was underneath the soft blankets. Her breathing was slowing and sleep was only seconds in coming. Fives hours would come soon.

“Just a loaf of bread today, Mike.”

“Sure, Dennis. That’ll be $8.87.”

“$8.87? For a loaf of bread?”

“For the bread and for the three beers you have in your pockets.”

“What beer?”

Dennis smiled. He knew that Mike had seen him hide the cans. This was the fun part, the sport of it all. He saw that the front door was closed. It was just the two of them, alone in the store.

“Mike, I’m not trying to rip you off.”

“Thayer, I’ve had it with you. I take pity on you and let you back in my store and you thank me by trying to steal from me again.” He let his hand rest on the butt of the pistol so Dennis would get the message. “Either put the beers on the counter or pay for them. Either way, I don’t want you in here anymore.”

Dennis grinned and fondled the butterfly knife in his left pants pocket. He was enjoying this. The sight of Mike’s 9mm was an added treat.

“Are you threatening me, Mike?”

“Yes, I am you stupid junkie. You think this is a game show we’re playing here?”

Dennis’ smile vanished. Name-calling was out of line. This was just a game. There was no need to get personally nasty.

He pulled the cans of beer from his pockets and, one by one, slammed them down on the counter. They would be undrinkable for hours.

“Don’t call me names, Mike…ever. I don’t like being insulted. You understand me, you stinking camel jockey? There’s your beer. Why don’t you pop one open, Osama?”

“Get out of my store. Don’t come back. No more games with you. Go!”

Dennis pushed open the door. A bright orange Municipal Railway bus was stopped at the corner. He looked back at Mike.

“You’re right about one thing, Mike. No more games.”

Dennis quickly crossed Haight Street and headed down Central toward the Panhandle. He looked up at the 1298 Haight building. He saw the blinds snap shut in the windows of apartment number six.

“So, Miss Marlee, your macho stud is still alive. Don’t get too into playing nursemaid for him. It’s going to be a temporary job.”

It was a dry cleaner, working off $750 in traffic fines by picking up trash in the Park, who found the body of the sixteen-year-old runaway, stuffed into the trash bin behind the playground in the Panhandle.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Seven

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Seven

The fifth floor of St. Mary’s hospital was indistinguishable from the fourth or the sixth. All of them had the same aqua and “seafoam green” colored walls, recessed lighting and the smell of disinfectant.

Using the hint offered by the helpful nurse in the Emergency Room, Marlee learned that Luco had been moved from “post-op” to room 534. With her heart in her throat Marlee took the large and spotless elevator up to the fifth floor.

Forcing herself not to run madly down the corridor Marlee walked along the painted line on the floor, gazing into each room as she passed the open doors. It was a slide show of semi-private tragedy. She was ashamed of herself for peeking into other people’s lives. Looking ahead she saw several empty gurneys parked along the walls and a large laundry cart filling up half of the hallway.

A man came out of the room just beyond the cart, and as he walked past her, Marlee could see that he was a priest. Doing some quick counting, she guessed that he had come from room 534. She picked up her pace. To Hell with decorum.

“Oh, dear God. Oh, dear God. Please, not Luco, not Luco.”

Another flicker of shame burned her cheeks as she realized that she was wishing the Last Rites onto someone else.

The door to 534 was partially closed. From inside Marlee could hear the sound of someone crying. Slowly, she opened the door, fighting back tears, and entered into the room. All of the lights were off, putting the room into shadowy darkness. The curtain was drawn around bed. Behind the thin green fabric there was sobbing and praying in Spanish. Marlee felt her knees buckle and she had to grab the back of a chair to keep from falling to the floor. A nurse, wearing a stethoscope, pushed the curtain back and saw the reeling Marlee. Over the nurse’s shoulder Marlee saw a gray-haired man on the bed, his eyes and mouth open in death. Gently stroking his papery cheek was the sobbing woman, a look of despair and unbelieving sorrow on her face.

The nurse pulled the curtain closed behind her and looked at Marlee.

“Can I help you? Are you all right?”

“Luco Reyes? I was told he was in this room. I’m his wife.” Marlee moved her left hand behind her back.

“Let’s go out in the hall for a moment,” she said and, taking Marlee by the elbow, led her into the corridor. Once there, she told Marlee the details of what had happened and about the treatment he had received so far. Marlee blanched, hearing how they had cut Luco open to repair his torn lung. His condition was still listed as “Serious”, but barring unforeseen complications, he would survive. Marlee shed tears of joy at this news and asked if she could see him.

“Of course, Mrs. Reyes.”

Silently the nurse took Marlee by the arm again and led her to a second bed sitting by the far window.

There was Luco. Marlee stood and looked at him. He was unconscious with a sheet pulled up high on his chest. He had an intravenous drip line going into his right arm. “He looks so small,” was her first thought.

Marlee took a side chair and sat down next to the bed. The rails were up and he looked like he was sleeping in an aluminum crib.

For the next ten minutes she just sat and looked at Luco. His face was scraped and there were small bandages on his chin and forehead. He was still under the lingering effects of the anesthesia. Lowering the rail, Marlee reached out and smoothed his hair.

“Oh, Luco. My poor, sweet Luco.”

Thoughts of their talk at Martin Macks the previous evening went through her head. “Was that only last night?” She remembered how they had both cried as they told each other the stories of their lives. She recalled the feel of his hand in hers as they walked down Haight Street and how very much she wanted to hold him, but didn’t.

Marlee looked at him and wondered about “unforeseen complications.” Was she going to lose this man from her life? Unconsciously she took his hand. His skin was warm and soft, just like last night.

“Marlee?”

She looked at his battered face. His eyes were slits. “Luco.” Her voice leapt from her throat. She lifted his hand and kissed it.

“Where am I? What happened?” His voice was hoarse. He struggled to focus his eyes, with only marginal success.

Even though his vision was blurred, he could feel her hand on his and turned his palm up, closing his fingers around hers. “Where am I?” She squeezed his hand gently and he squeezed back with a strength that surprised her.

“You’re in the hospital, Luco. You were hit by a car.”

“It must have been a tank.”

“You had surgery last night to fix some damage to your lungs, but you’re going to be fine.” Luco just nodded as he began to lose consciousness again. As the anesthesia wore off the pain medication mixed into his glucose drip would smooth the rough edges, but he would sleep for most of the day.

Marlee got up to lower the blind to keep the glare off of Luco’s serene and regal face. He looked like a king in Marlee’s eyes. Somewhere lost in his lineage, generations ago, there must have been royalty in his family. Even now the bearing and grace shone through.

It wasn’t long before hospital protocol geared up and a tall man in a crisp white linen coat escorted the new widow from her station at her husband’s bedside. As soon as she left the room two muscular men tenderly, respectfully, moved the lifeless body onto a gurney. They covered him with a fresh white sheet and took him away. Marlee could hear the squeaking wheels on the gurney as it rolled slowly down the hallway.

While Luco slept Marlee stayed by his side, watching him, willing him protection from “unseen complications.” Occasionally Luco would stir or moan softly and she would sit up straight and take his hand until he quieted again.

Seeing Luco so helpless and seemingly small in that large metal bed, with tubes running into and out of his limp and injured body, sent her back in time. Back to the night when she cradled the body of her husband in her arms, feeling his life escape, a modern Pieta.

Marlee wanted to crawl into the hospital bed next to Luco and hold him, to come between him and any harm. In her heart she had failed to save Phillip, but she would not fail again. Not this time, not today. Not with this beautiful, scarred soul.

The night before they had laid bare their deepest wounds to each other. It was then that she learned about the real Luco Reyes. It didn’t matter if no one else ever saw past the facade of the flirting, glib barista who traded unanswered invitations with the women who drank in his special brews. Marlee Owens would know the real Luco.

She saw that that cavalier behavior was Luco’s way of staying alive. Get close enough to smell the perfume, but not so close as to inhale the explosive aroma of the woman herself. That he would not, could not, allow himself to do.

Luco was stopped by the idea that to caress too gently, to hold too closely, to care too deeply, would be a betrayal to a Love who was gone and beyond return. All that he had left was the memory and if he let that go he would be lost. That memory was his anchor and he was afraid to search for another.

Marlee knew that she was battling a similar enemy. Despite her dreams of Phillip releasing her, she still held a tangible guilt about her feelings for Luco. In the years since Phillip there had been no one else in her mind or her heart. Now, however, this frail looking man the hospital bed had gently invaded both.

Luco moved his head and Marlee leaned forward. “Luco?” His eyes fluttered and opened. He looked into Marlee’s eyes.

“Te amo,” he whispered. Marlee understood the phrase and searched for the right words with which to answer. She found them deep in her heart. “I love you too, Luco.” She laid her cheek on his hand. He reached over and stroked her hair.

“Te amo, Alicia. Te amo.”

Marlee couldn’t move. Luco continued to run his fingers across her pale blond hair as he spoke in slurred Spanish to his deceased wife. Marlee’s knowledge of Spanish did not allow her to follow all of his words, but he said Alicia’s name several times. As he spoke silent tears spilled from her eyes. Each touch of his hand tore at her heart. How could she ever hope to find love with a man so married to a memory?

When Luco fell silent, Marlee moved his hand and sat back in the chair, looking at him as he slept once again.

Marlee wondered about what was going to happen now. In her mind it was clear that Luco was not ready to love her, or anyone. But she had spoken out loud the words “I love you” to him, even though he had not heard them, she had.

Deep within the hemispheres and ridges of his brain, Luco Reyes was moving from dreamless unconsciousness into a dream-hungry sleep. A mad projector in his brain was flashing images, sounds and people before his mind’s eye. Events raced by at an incoherent rate. Nothing made sense, but he understood that he was subconsciously reviewing and evaluating his life, judging himself in preparation for…for what he did not know.

He was seeing every moment of his marriage and as, in his haunting memory, he sat again at the horrible funerals in the chapel at Mission Dolores. He heard someone call his name.

“Luco?”

He knew the voice.

“Te amo.”

“I love you too, Luco.”

“Te amo, Alicia. Te amo.”

Not knowing how long he would have, he poured out his thoughts to his wife.

“Alicia, I need to tell you that I realize you told me the truth. I have been wrong to cling to you the way I have. It’s been unhealthy and unfair to your memory.

“Alicia, I have met a woman, a beautiful and good woman. She makes me feel like I did when I first saw you. We have talked and she has suffered a great loss in her life too. She understands even though I can’t explain it all to her.

“Alicia, I love this woman. I need this woman. I hunger for this woman.

“Know that I will always love you and Regalito, but this woman makes me want to live again.”

An unheard voice spoke to Luco from the depths of his life.

“Go to her, Luco. Love her.”

In the silence and dim light of the hospital room Marlee sat with her head in her hands, feeling lost in her California exile and thinking that she had lost again to Death. First it was Phillip’s life and now it was her own, to the memory of a dead woman.

She had come almost 3000 miles to get away from a lost love only to have it happen again, but this time it was far more cruel. The man with whom she loved and could not have, was in love with a ghost.

Her thoughts drifted to her cello and she wondered if it was to be her only source of loving sounds in her ear, responsive and giving in her arms and solid and sinuous against her skin.

Fiction Saturday – “Boxer”  – Part One 

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

“Our words and deeds, Good or Evil, are the dishes we put before the Lord.” 

—  Pope Severinus – 640 AD

The light shining in Doc’s kitchen was the only light on in the neighborhood. It would do. It always has before. In a couple of hours things on the street will begin to percolate, but now? Nothing good happens at three in the morning.

“I think your hand is broken, Terry.”

“No, it’s not, Doc. It’s just scraped up a little. I’ve broken it before. I know what that feels like.”

“Uh huh.”

Every knuckle on Terry’s right hand looked like he’d tried to knock down a brick wall.

“I just need you to clean it up, Doc, and tape it to keep the swelling down.” He held out his hand like it was a sledgehammer that needed repair.

 “Uh huh. What was it this time, a bar fight or what?”

“Business. Just business, Doc.”

“I swear, Terry, you get busted up more now than you ever did in The Ring.”

“Yeah, well, I gotta earn a living, right? In The Ring there were rules. Now, not so much. Different rules. I tell you, it gets hard for me sometimes to understand what the rules are.”

The peroxide washed over the scraped and bloody knuckles, stinging like hell. Nobody winced.

“What you need is a tetanus shot. You should go to the clinic for that.”

“They ask too many questions. This’ll do, Doc. This’ll do fine.”

He wiggled his fingers, testing for flexibility, and could he make a fist?

“You know, Terry, that I’m not a real doctor.”

“Yeah, I know. You went to medical school for a year or two. I heard you tell it all to Dutch, my old corner man. I remember.”

“Two years. I had two years of medical school, Terry. That’s all.”

Doc was a tall and sickly looking thin man. Skinny was more like it. His kitchen was his office and, on occasion, his surgery. This morning it was a little of both. He didn’t have a license to practice medicine. That dream died after two years and a weakness for gin. He drained away until all that was left was enough knowledge to pretend. Knowing enough to earn the nickname “Doc” that stung every time he heard it.

The gin introduced him to a different level of the culture and he got himself hired on as a “cut man’ for prize fighters. His job was to stop the bleeding and make things look not so bad when the referee came to their corner to assess the damage.

Doc knows only to blame himself. One night when he can’t hide in a haze he will open a vein and leave the mess for someone else to clean up.

“I can patch you up, Terry, but Jesus, I can’t keep putting you back together forever.”

“I don’t need forever, Doc. I just need tonight. Now tape me up and I’ll go.”

“Boxing is real easy, Life is much harder.” —  Floyd Mayweather Jr.

 

Terry Jarosz, 36 years old and at one time a boxer. Middle-Weight Champion for about five minutes, a punching bag the rest of the time. A guy who struggled with the world of rules and laws.

After too many fights the damage to his body didn’t want to heal up fast enough and he couldn’t get any more matches. Permits were denied and that was that.

A guy who played by the rules in The Ring was thrown out of work by the rules from outside The Ring. He had to make a living.

Terry had to work, but it’s hard for an ex-fighter to find any work that doesn’t call on his only skills – hitting and hurting other people. At that he proved to be better than most.

He took work where he could find it. “Lift this.” “Carry that,” and more and more frequently, “Hit him. Break that.”

When he was in The Ring it was nothing personal. It was two men beating each other for the purse, or a part of the purse, after “expenses” were taken out by half a dozen men who called the shots.

Whatever else he was, Terry Jarosz was known as a hard guy who never took a dive when maybe he should have to save himself. He learned too late that in his world being an honest man paid a lot less than the other kind.

People who knew his name assumed, that because he had been a “Champ,” that he was set financially. But people who knew Boxing knew that money had a way of walking out of the door faster than a Ten Count from a crooked Referee. When Terry “retired” he had less than eight hundred dollars to his name. At least he had his name.

That got him some free meals and a few jobs, but after a year or two he became “Terry who?” Fans moved on and real friends, like always, were few and far between.

Now, working as muscle, collecting debts, it always ended up being personal. Sometimes he knew the men that he was leaning on – again for just a cut of the money. He got 5% of whatever he brought in.

It didn’t take long for word to get around that Terry Jarosz would get rough if you tried to snow him. When he first started working as a collector he was easy to fool. A good sob story and he’d end up buying you a drink or slipping you a few bucks. A couple of weeks having to sleep on a sidewalk heating vent fixed that. He learned that in his new world there was no “Loser’s Purse.” He changed. He didn’t listen to the sob stories any more. He didn’t care if your mother was in the hospital. It was either pay up or tell Momma to move over.

“A man’s gotta eat.” That became his motto.

Throwback Thursday from August 2015

Throwback Thursday from August 2015

 

Our Lady Of The Crosswalk

crutchesI THINK I SAW EVIDENCE OF A MIRACLE THIS MORNING.

I was driving down Wabash Avenue, heading toward home after morning services/brewing at St. Arbucks, when I stopped at the red light. It was then that I saw it.

Across the intersection at the crosswalk, leaning up against the light pole, I saw a single aluminum crutch. “Shades of Fatima,” I said to myself. “Right here in Terre Haute (That’s French for “What the heck is that?”).

Nobody would absentmindedly forget that they were using a crutch and just walk away and leave it there. Nobody would think that they didn’t need the crutch and just abandon it at the corner. It has to be a relic of a recent miraculous event.

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Rechargeable Batteries


IN JUST A FEW DAYS WE WILL BE HEADING SOUTH to attend the NACCC Annual Church Meeting. It is always a good and refreshing time. The delight of seeing old friends – I think that the best word is “Fellowship.” That means more than sitting around with a cool drink and shooting the breeze with everyone.

It is a time to exchange ideas, joys, sorrows, and hopes and plans for the future. It is also a time to recharge the batteries of faith – faith in God, Humanity, ourselves and each other. Time and tribulation can drain our batteries, but this Annual Meeting works to plug us in and reenergize us all for the year ahead.

The chores of daily life draw from our batteries much like accidentally leaving on your car headlights. You may be casting out a light to illuminate the way, but it won’t be long before you find yourself in the dark. The Annual Meeting acts like jumper cables to restart our engines and get us back on the road. Perhaps the old Willie Nelson song, “On The Road Again,” should be added to the Hymnal?

“On the road again

Just can’t wait to get on the road again.

The life I love is making music with my friends.

And I can’t wait to get on the road again.”

 

When I hear that it makes me think of the message of “Amazing Grace.”

“How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.’

Maybe it’s just me and my life experience, but I see so much in both those songs. Both carry a message of life renewed, rescued from days without joy and bearing the power of the music shared with friends.

Both songs sing of recharging our batteries and seeing our life with renewed energy. Whether you are singing “Amazing Grace” or “On the Road Again,” you are leaving behind the time when life was hard and are entering a time of happiness and energy.

Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia – brace yourself. We are on our way and we can get a little loud at times. There will be a fair amount of singing and laughter. There will be looking back at our past and a lot of looking to the future. There will be joy.

I’m Good At Being “Arm Candy”

 

IN A WEEK OR SO my wife, the lovely and widely involved, Dawn and I, as we do every year, will attend the annual meeting of the NACCC – or in the fully expanded state- The National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. You can see why we call it the NACCC. It’s either use the abbreviation or allot extra time in your day.

Every year the meeting is held in a different city. In recent years we have gone to Orlando, Omaha, Salt Lake City, and Detroit. You get the idea.

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Who Is Normal?

EVERY ONCE IN AWHILE I AM ASKED TO GIVE SHORT SPEECHES or presentations to civic groups or service organizations. I’ve done a few things for the likes of Kiwanis and businesses. Lately I have been asked to speak before an organization that serves citizens with special needs.

A couple of months ago I went downtown and spoke before both clients and staff of this same outfit about the value of writing down their own personal stories.

I said to them that, “No matter who you are you are a special and unique individual and you have a story worth telling.” I spoke to them about how to write down their stories and how, in doing so, they would be able to both learn and to teach. They would learn more about themselves and they would teach everyone else about their uniqueness, challenges, and gifts that they have to offer to the world.

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Sunrise Monday Morning

IT’S 6:45 AM AND I AM IN MY USUAL WRITING POSITION – a corner table at Starbucks – with coffee and a pen. Like most other mornings I start off by checking the online news to see what mischief the world has been up to overnight, and then I look at my mail and lastly, Facebook.

What I see on Facebook is usually enough to launch my day and give me something to write about – but not today. All of my friends and acquaintances are either still asleep or busy monitoring their blood pressure.

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I Need A Time-Out

AS DAYS GO TODAY STARTED OUT LOOKING TO BE A GOOD ONE. The rains had stopped, the car got a free washing courtesy of “God’s Car Wash”, and I think I saw the sun trying to peek through the clouds.

According to the Weather Bunny on the TV today is supposed to be a dry day. I’m glad because later I’ll have to drag the recycling bin down to the curb for pickup later today.

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Creation, Version 1.3

MY CELL PHONE WAS ACTING UP THIS MORNING. Nothing serious. It just appeared to be possessed by demons and wasn’t cooperating at all. Who knows why? So, I did what any sane person would do – I rebooted the darned thing.

Voila! It was all better – obedient, colorful, and utilitarian with no backtalk.

Don’t you wish life was like that? Your day is just not working right – the car wouldn’t start, your Boss is having another psychotic rampage, and when you get home the power is out and the cat has trashed the bathroom.

Time for a Reboot!

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Three Little Words

dnraI KNOW A YOUNG BLOGGER, whose work I really enjoy. Recently she mentioned that she had decided to sign a “DNR” form. For the uninitiated “DNR” stands for “Do Not Resuscitate.” It is an alert to medical personnel that the person who signed the form does not want any measures, like CPR, to be taken to keep them alive if their heart stops beating or they stop breathing. Serious business.

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Not Just Another Day

val1IN CASE YOU HAVE BEEN LIVING IN A CAVE for the last six weeks or so let me be the one to tell you – Today is Valentine’s Day. And you time is running out if you wish to live.

Valentine’s Day is a holiday dedicated to Love, Candy, and Greeting Cards. There is nothing else like it. Christmas may dominate when it comes to the cards and Halloween has a lock on the candy thing, but no other day – not even Opening Day of Baseball Season – can do Love like Valentine’s Day.

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Coffee And Cake At 7 AM

cake1ONE OF THE MORE INTERESTING PARTS OF THE HOLIDAY SEASON – maybe the most interesting part – is taking time to observe the children. Take a moment to watch a three year old when they first see all of the colorful and glittering lights.

I never knew eyes could be that big.

The look on the face of a Little One must be similar to when the first self-aware humans looked up at the night sky.

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Retreat! Retreat!

retreat1WHEN I SAY “RETREAT” I’m not saying it as if the attack has failed and we are advancing to the rear. No. This is “Retreat” meaning withdrawing from our usual surroundings to participate in a time for reflection and resuscitation on a more spiritual plane. It’s a good thing to do every so often.

Our retreat is at a facility on the shore of Lake Michigan near the town of Holland, Michigan.

For five days we will be thinking about our past and allowing our future to present itself. Prayer, contemplation, and sharpening our perspective on life are a large part of the retreat.

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Hey, Gomer!

tdn1“I’VE NEVER BEEN TO SPAIN, BUT I HAVE BEEN TO GOMER.”

OK, so that is a paraphrase of the old Three Dog Night song and I have to agree that the Gomer part doesn’t work. But I have been to Gomer.

Recently my wife, the lovely and true to her calling, Dawn, and I made a short visit to the town of Gomer, Ohio. We had to drive there (260 miles) because the Gomer International Airport was fogged in.

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A Lesson In Living

week1SOME WEEKS ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS. This is not a week I could classify as one of the “better” weeks.

We have had some nasty weather lately that has brought down some tree limbs. I still have volumes to learn about how to properly do a Ponytail. My wife, the lovely and seriously Southpaw, Dawn, is still dealing with the discomfort and frustration of a broken left arm – and we’ve had two members of the church pass away.

This week is one we would just as soon forget, but life won’t let us do that.

You have to stand up and deal with it as it comes. You can deal with it well, or you can deal with it poorly, but you can’t pretend it isn’t there. It is what it is.

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Adjusting The Focus

Food5NOW THAT WE ARE HOME, after almost two months in Ireland, there are some things that are obvious only now. We were perfectly comfortable there and had no “When do we go home?” moments. The one exception might be when it comes to food. It was a case of “Close, but no cigar.” It’s just a case of liking the things I’m familiar with.

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