They Always Know – A Short Story

True to his daily routine, Baxter left his lonely home early in the morning to walk the few blocks to the local bus stop.  Upon arriving at the bus stop, Baxter took a seat on the covered bench to await the bus.

After a couple of minutes, a little girl came along and sat to Baxter’s right.  The little girl asked, “Will this bus take me to Los Angeles?”

Baxter chuckled and replied, “Oh, no, this is just a local bus, you need a much different bus to get to Los Angeles.”

“Oh,” said the little girl, “where do I go to get the bus to Los Angeles?”

“Well, I’m not sure,” offered Baxter.  “Los Angeles is a long ways from here.  You would need to catch a Greyhound Bus or a Trailways Bus a something like that.  I’m not sure where you catch those around here.  I guess you would have to go into the city to do that.”

“Why,” asked Baxter, “what’s in Los Angeles?”

“My Dad,” said the little girl, “I am going to go live with him.”

“Oh,” responded Baxter, “who do you live with here?

“My Mom,” answered the little girl, “but I don’t think she wants me to live with her any more?”

“And, why’s that,” asked Baxter.

“We had a fight last night and some of the things she said made me think I should move to my Dad’s”

“Oh, well,” said Baxter, “sometimes when people get mad or angry they can say some awful things that they don’t really mean.”

“Yeah, but it’s not just that,” replied the little girl, “I said some pretty awful things, too.  I made her cry and I am not sure she can still love me after the things I said to her.”

“And, did you really mean those things,” asked Baxter.

“Well, not really, but we were yelling at each other and the words just came out.”

“How old are you,” Baxter asked.

“Ten.”

“Have you loved your mom ever since you were born,” Baxter continued.

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“Well, one bad fight doesn’t wipe out ten long years of love,” Baxter said, “I am sure your mother still loves you and knows that you still love her, too,” said Baxter.

“How do you know that,” asked the little girl, “’I never told her I love her.”

“Oh,” said Baxter, “the people who love you … they know.  They always know.”

“What is your name,” Baxter asked the little girl.

“Ginny.”

This response brought a smile to Baxter’s face.

“What,” asked the little girl, “is that a funny name?”

“No, not at all,” responded Baxter.  “My wife’s name was Ginny.  Virginia, really, but everyone called her Ginny.”

“Where is she,” asked the little girl.

“Oh, my wife died about ten years ago,” replied Baxter.

“I’m sorry.  How did she die?”

“It was a car accident,” Baxter said.

“Were you in the car, too?”

“No, I was not.  I was at home.”

“Why?  Why weren’t you in the car with her,” asked the little girl.

“Well,” started Baxter, “it just so happens that we had one of those fights that day.  We said some pretty awful things to each other and she needed to get away from me for a while, so, she drove off to go see a friend and she got into an accident along the way.”

The hurtful memory brought a tear to Baxter’s eye.

“And you’re still sad,” asked the little girl.

“Yes.  I never got the chance to tell her I was sorry and didn’t mean the things I said,” replied Baxter.

The girl looked at Baxter for a second and then said, “Mister?  Do you believe what you just told me?  One bad fight doesn’t wipe out all the years of love.  If you loved each other … she knows.  That’s what you said; the ones who love you … they always know.”

Baxter could only wipe away the tears from his eyes.

At this time an older woman arrived and sat down to Baxter’s left.  “Good morning,” she said.

“Good morning,” said Baxter, as cheerfully as he could manage.

“Who are you talking to,” asked the older woman.

“This little ten year old girl,” said Baxter.

The old woman leaned forward and looked around Baxter to the other end of the bench.  She then leaned back and said, “You know there’s nobody there, right?”

“Yup,” sniffled Baxter.

“But, you said you were talking to a ten year old girl,” continued the woman.

“Yup,” said Baxter, “my wife.”

“You wife,” exclaimed the woman, “you are married to a ten year old girl?”

“Yup,” replied Baxter, “for over thirty years.  She just wanted to let me know, she knows.”

“I’m sorry,” said the older woman, “but I am a little confused.”

“That’s okay,” responded Baxter, “I no longer am.”

And with that, Baxter stood up and started walking back home with a much lighter weight upon his shoulders.

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Shooting for the Moon – A Short Story

It was that time of day, too late for lunch, too early for dinner, when the food court had plenty of empty tables and chairs, when Thomas, with his tray of tacos and a drink, approached a table with a young man who was visibly distraught with streaks of tears running down his cheeks.

“Mind if I join you,” asked Thomas.

The young man simply shrugged his shoulders without looking up.

Thomas sat down.

“Anything a stranger can help with,” he asked.

“The stranger can mind his own damn business and go sit somewhere else,” mumbled the young man.

“Yes, yes, he could,” responded Thomas.  “It’s just that one day I was feeling sad, troubled and full of fear when a complete stranger helped me put things into perspective and find the courage to carry on and meet my challenges head on.”

“Not today, old man.  Not today.”

“Ah, but, that’s where you’re wrong,” said Thomas.  “It is today.  See, you are that stranger. “

The young man looked up at Thomas for the first time as Thomas continued: “See, I just got some rather awful news from my doctor today.  Seems I have an advanced form of cancer and, I’m afraid, the doctor tells me I’ve only got about six months to live.  I have been delaying going home to tell my wife the sad news, walking around the mall feeling sorry for myself and cursing God for being so unfair.  Then, I happened to see you and I thought to myself, ‘Thomas, you are seventy-two years old; you have lived a long, happy and rewarding life, you have nothing to be so sad about.  Just look at that young man; who knows, he too might have the very same sort of bad news and yet he is so young; he hasn’t had the chance to live the wonderful life you have lived.  It could be worse’.

“Seeing you helped me put my bad news into perspective and to come to the conclusion that I am not going to sulk and be sad and feel sorry for myself the next six months.  No, I am going to make the most of what I have left and, in fact, I am going to fight this damn cancer and to hell with what the doctor says, I am going to get past this and win this battle.

“See, you are that stranger and today is that day.  So, I just wanted to thank you for helping me.  That’s all.”

The young man stared at Thomas for a while before stating, “I am a heroin addict.”

“Yeah?”, Thomas replied.

“Yeah.  My parents and sisters were coming over to my apartment this morning to take me to rehab but I snuck out before they got there.  I came here looking for my next fix but the little shit wouldn’t give me any because I have no money and already owe him too much.”

“Sounds awful,” Thomas offered.

“It’s hell.”

“So, what now,” Thomas asked.

“I don’t know, you got any money?”

“Sorry, spent my last $5.00 on these tacos.  Want one?”

“Sure, I’m starving,” replied the young man as he accepted a taco from Thomas.

“You know, you are lucky,” Thomas stated.

“Yeah,” the young man responded with some anger in his voice, “what part of my story sounds lucky to you?”

“The part about having parents and sisters who want to help you.”

Thomas continued, “You know, the thing about rehab is, you can always just drop out if the timing is not right for you.  You give it a go and if you are not ready, you drop out and go back to being a junky until the next time.”

“Been there, done that,” said the young man.

“So,” asked Thomas, “why not give it another go this time?”

The young man just shrugged his shoulders.

“I’ll tell you what,” Thomas suggested, “I can’t put off going home and telling my wife the bad news any longer.  Why don’t you call your parents and tell them where you are and I’ll call my wife and tell her I am on my way home.  Both of us will start our battles right now, today.  I’ll fight this damn cancer and you fight your addiction, then, six months from today we will meet up right here at this exact same spot, at this exact same time and see who has won their battle.”

Thomas took out his cell phone, opened his calendar app and said, “By my calculations, six months from today is July 20th.  Perfect, moon walk day.  We meet here on July 20th at 3:00 pm and share our stories.”

“Moon walk day?”, asked the young man.

“Yes,” said Thomas, “In 1969 Neil Armstrong from Apollo 11 became the first man to walk on the moon on July 20th.  So, we will meet up again here on that day and see which one of us made it to the moon.  Deal?”

“You’re crazy, old man,” the young man chuckled.  “Sure, deal.”

Both men then made their phone calls:

“Hey, Mom, this is Josh. I know, Mom. I know. Mom, I know. No.  I’m at the food court in the mall. I know, Mom. Mom!  Look, you can either come and get me at the mall or sit there and lecture me on the phone, it’s up to you. I will. I’ll be here.”

“Hi, Honey.  Oh, I’m just taking care of a few things.  I stopped to have a late lunch and am talking with this fascinating young man.  I’ll tell you about it when I get home.  I’m fine, we’ll talk when I get home.  And, Dear, I love you.  And thanks.  Just thanks, that’s all.  Okay, see you soon.”

“Everything good?”, asked Thomas to Josh.

“Yeah, everything’s good.”

“Great, now let’s eat these damn tacos.”

SIX MONTHS LATER – JULY 20th

Josh arrived at the food court a few minutes early and bought a tray of tacos.  He sat down at the assigned table, waiting in excited anticipation.

An old woman walked up to him and asked, “Are you Josh?”

“Yes,” Josh replied tentatively.

The old woman reached out her hand with an envelope and said, “My husband asked me to give this to you.”

Josh took the envelope and removed the piece of paper within.  It read:

“Dear Josh,

Seems I will not be making it to the moon after all.  Although the Doctor said I possibly had six months it has only been six weeks but my journey is nearing its end.  I meant what I said in the mall that day, meeting you gave me the inspiration to push on; but, it also gave me the confidence to accept my fate and realize that I have nothing to be sad about – I lived a full life and I have lived these last six weeks without sadness or sorrow.  I only hope that my last trip to the mall, that day we met, was a good day for you and that you have met your challenge and are walking on the moon.  I have been rooting for you every day.

If it didn’t work out for you this time – maybe the next time – it was after all, Apollo 11 that finally made it with a number of previous missions necessary before reaching that final destination.

Good luck with your life and always shot for the moon.

Your stranger from the mall,

Thomas”

Josh wiped a tear away from his eyes and, looking up to Thomas’ wife, reached out a coin that he was holding in his hand.

“Here, I was going to give this to your husband, but I would like you to have it,” Josh said.

“What is this,” Thomas’ wife asked.

“In the program I am in, we get chips for certain milestones we achieve.  This is my ‘Six Months Clean’ chip,” Josh explained.

“Oh, no, that is special, you should keep that,” Thomas’ wife said.

“No, please,” Josh persisted, “Thanks to your husband, I will be getting more of these in the future.”

“Maybe,” Thomas’ wife suggested, “You could give it to him yourself.  He is in St. Joseph’s cemetery on Elm St.  Grave-site number seven twenty.”

“Seven twenty,” Josh repeated.

“Yes, do you want me to write that down for you?”

“No, ma’am, that’s today’s date.  Moon walk day.  I can remember that.”

“Oh, so it is.  That’s very clever of you to think of that,” she said.  “Well, Josh, good luck to you.  I know Thomas would be very happy to know you are doing well.”

TEN YEARS LATER

Josh laid his “Ten Years Clean” chip on grave-site #720 in St. Joseph’s Cemetery today.

My Hero

I was in the fourth grade when I fell, face first, on the blacktop playground surface in the back of Saint Anthony’s Elementary School in Charleston, WV. As my teacher, Mrs. Moore, and a few nuns helped me to my feet, I think they fully expected that I would be distraught and crying as a result of the scrapes on my face and the bits and pieces of my front tooth that I was spitting out. Instead, they just stared at me like I was crazy because I was smiling and beaming with pride as I felt the sharp edges of my fractured tooth with my tongue.

I had always been into hero worshipping. One of my first heroes was Mighty Mouse. My real, first hero, my mother, always came to my rescue when my older brothers and sister tried to prevent me from watching the Mighty Mouse Show at the same time each day on our black and white TV set.

My grandfather tapped into my hero worshipping behavior as he would have me stand up on the kitchen table and tell everyone about his and my adventures fighting the Indians in the Wild West just like the cowboy heroes I knew from TV: Tom Mix; Wyatt Earp; Marshall Dylan, Will Rogers and others.

But, the smile on my face that particular day in the fourth grade was because I had just repeated a feat of my greatest hero of all. The one hero I did then, and for years to come, hold above all others also had broken half of one of his front teeth years before. Although I didn’t lose half the tooth, the chipped portion that was now gone was certainly obvious and I couldn’t wait to display this badge of honor to my hero, all of five years my senior, a freshman in high school at the time, my oldest brother, Johnny.

Although I loved my parents and certainly wanted to make them proud, the real driving force in my life, the one person that had the greatest influence on my behavior, that one individual that I most wanted to please was my brother.

I was the fourth child and third son of my parents, with two more siblings shortly to follow, before the baby of the family surprised us a few years after we thought the family was complete. By the time I came along, my father had gone through a lot of his father son bonding with my older brothers and was certainly busy with six and then seven children, so I didn’t, and couldn’t expect to, have that individual attention that some sons get from their father, but it didn’t matter. Everything my father had to teach me was taught to me second-handedly by my oldest brother. And, I was good with that; I wanted to be just like him.

Johnny was not only small for his age, but usually the smallest in his class and smallest of his peers. But, size notwithstanding, Johnny was a tenacious and fearless participant on the athletic fields and gymnasiums. I was small-ish, but not the smallest and was always disappointed when I had classmates that measured in shorter than me. I lacked the confidence and athletic skills of my brother but I tried my hardest to duplicate his spunk and effort in all sports.

Many times, during neighborhood and sandlot games of football, stickball or basketball, Johnny would allow me to play with him and his friends – all five years older than me – when the sides needed to be evened up. Johnny always used me as his secret weapon just waiting for the older, bigger kids to get tired of having to cover the little kid, before throwing a long touchdown pass to me or setting up a pick and roll giving me a layup to the basket. Nothing was ever more special to me, than to be on his team, playing with his friends.

When it came to discipline, my parents couldn’t possibly correct my behavior or change my wayward course with near the same effectiveness as Johnny. My mother’s disciplinary weapon of choice was the pancake turner, but, as harsh as that may sound, her maternal instincts never quite allowed her to strike with enough force to achieve her intended punishment. In fact, my mother’s attempts to strike fear in me with the pancake turner usually resulted in my laughter. She would, yell, “You think that’s funny, I’ll show you funny!” And I would receive the next spanking, biting my lip trying to prevent more laughter. I remember one time when my mother got so angry that her aim was impacted and, missing the seat of my shorts, hit the top of my bare leg leaving a deep, red welt. I could sense that this did, indeed, hurt her more than it hurt me and I was saddened by how bad I made her feel as my leg wore the red mark for quite some time. I only remember once being on the angry side of my father’s belt, but the reasons why or the impacts it had on me are lost in the haze of a long ago memory. But, none of this physical, corporal punishment could possibly come close to impacting me the way my brother could by simply uttering three words at me. To make me remorseful and determined to change my ways, all Johnny had to do was say, “Act your age.” Those three words had a devastating impact on me. I’d much rather have been hit by the pancake turner or beaten with a belt.

I guarded and polished that pedestal I put my brother on throughout my entire childhood and well into my adult life. Nothing ever made me prouder than to have someone tell me I looked like or acted like or reminded them of my older brother.

When I talked my parents into letting me join the Catholic School 8th grade football team when I was then in the Centerville, Ohio public middle school, I told the coaches I was a running back, even though I had never been a running back, because Johnny told me it would help get me noticed. When Johnny took up wrestling in college, I joined the wrestling team in High School. Johnny spent hours teaching me how to drive in his red mustang in preparation for my drivers license. I don’t ever remember spending one minute in the car practicing with one of my parents. When Johnny took up the guitar, I took up the guitar. I inherited his albums when he came home from college and became a fan of his favorite bands. Even as a growing, high school boy, varsity wrestler, every time Johnny came home from college for a visit and every time he left to return to college again, I had to secretly find a private place I could go to hide my tears of happiness or grief.

I learned about life as a young man and continued to try to emulate my brother by spending week-ends with him in the “Farm House” he lived in near the Salem Mall, caring for the property owned by a number of young Catholic priests who used this as their little retreat getaway. And, Johnny was there for me at three o’clock in the morning sitting in the hospital maternity waiting room after the birth of my first child, when I was still just a twenty-one year old boy.

Johnny was and is, in other words, my hero. And, the reason why I was elated to have fractured my tooth in the fourth grade.

Forevermore

My Iphone softly played Reveille as my 4:30 morning alarm. Without opening my eyes, I found the phone in the dark and tapped off the alarm.

I gradually worked my way out of the guest bedroom bed where I have been sleeping the past few weeks as my wife continues to battle a sinus problem causing her to snore throughout the night through which I find it hard to sleep.

I silently tiptoed past my wife loudly slumbering in the master bedroom bed on my way to the en suite bathroom where I closed the doors before turning on any lights. My eyes rapidly blinked as I adjusted to the abrupt change in the room’s brightness.

I reached my hands into the shower stall to turn on the water and noticed that the flow of water was already hot without having to wait the usual couple of minutes for it to warm up. I wondered what might have caused that to occur before just accepting it as a good sign for the day yet to come.

As I stepped into the shower, the steaming water felt so good that I just stood under the flowing stream, basking in the cleansing sense with which it baptized my awakening soul. I lost track of time as I just stood there in a mesmerized state with the water pouring over my head and down the sides of body.

When I finally stepped out of the shower, I realized I had left my cell phone by the bed and could not check to see how late it was, not realizing how long I stood there enjoying my morning wash. When I looked at my face in the mirror, I did not notice any signs of a stubbled beard on my face and decided that I could skip shaving this morning. I brushed my teeth and swigged a capful of mouthwash not really tasting the toothpaste or feeling the burn of the rinse.

I turned out the lights before reopening the bathroom doors; I stood there for a minute or two to allow my eyes to readjust to the darkness. As I slowly felt my way to the bed, where I would kiss my sleeping bride good-bye, I found that the bed was empty. This was odd and I wondered where my wife might be and why was she up so early in her morning?

As I went into the guest bedroom to retrieve my Iphone, I found my wife shaking the bed covers and crying. She was pleading, “Wake up, Joe. Joe, wake up. Oh God, please, wake up.”

I then noticed that it was not just the bed covers she was shaking. I also realized I was listening to the sounds of Reveille coming from my phone and I stood there, in my pajamas – not the suit and tie I had just put on – watching my wife trying to wake me in the bed.

I cried a tear or two; whispered, “Good-bye, Dear” to my wife; and, slowly slid back into my body lying upon the bed and went to sleep forevermore.

The Lottery Winner

Thelma’s ten hour shift at the City Line Diner ended at 4:00 pm.  She helped set up for the dinner service, said her goodbyes to the incoming waitresses and kitchen staff, punched out on the grease covered clock mounted on the kitchen wall and started on her journey home.  After spending ten hours waiting on and busing her own tables, there was not much pep left in Thelma’s steps as she shuffled her 5’4”, 200 pound frame down four city blocks to catch her Harlem bound bus.

It was starting to get dark as Thelma exited the bus and continued walking north three blocks to her one-room apartment in the run-down tenements.  There was no surprise or anguish when Thelma met the “Out of Order” sign still on the elevator door; Thelma simply made her way to the stairs and, grabbing the railing, started the climb up the three stories to her apartment past bodies in the stairwell, broken bottles and the accompanying smells of urine, alcohol, marijuana and other odors causing her to hold her breathe for short intervals of time as best she could.

Panting at her doorway from the climb, Thelma inserted her key and entered the empty apartment.

Thelma said, “Hello, Dear” to the picture of her now dead husband, grabbed a notebook, pencil and envelopes off of the counter in the portion of the room that served as a kitchen and sat down on the one chair at the small kitchen table.  Thelma emptied her pockets of the tips she had gathered for the day and began her “account’n”.  Thelma made an entry in her notebook and then put a portion of today’s tips in an envelope marked “Rent & Bills”, some in the envelope labeled “Food” and the remainder in an envelope with the words “Lottery Money” printed on the front.

After tucking the flaps back in on the first two envelopes, Thelma emptied out the “Lottery Money” envelope and started counting up the bills.

“Fifty dollars,” she exclaimed.  “Donald,” she addressed to her husband’s picture, “I think it’s time.  The Powerball is up to eight hundred million dollar, Sweet Lord, and we’s ready to win that money for sure.”

For over six months, Thelma had put what little bit she had left over from the other two envelops into her “Lottery Money” account just waiting for the Powerball to reach a number high enough to entice her to make this investment.  And now, the time was right.

“I’s got to get me down to Jackson’s corner store afore seven-o’clock for tonight’s drawing, Donald.  Wish me luck, Sweetheart, ‘cause I sure could use it.  You tell Jesus up thar with you that I am praying like I’ve never prayed before to help me wins this lottery.”

Thelma pocketed the fifty dollars and retraced her steps back down the foul-smelling stairwell and onto the noisy city streets.  At two dollars apiece, Thelma could purchase twenty-five Powerball tickets.  Thelma clutched a piece of paper detailing twenty-five sets of numbers she had constructed with special meaning from her fifty-five years on earth.  Each set of numbers was meticulously thought about and grouped with other numbers to make each ticket its own story in six number increments.

Thelma walked into Jackson’s Market with just one purpose – purchase her twenty-five Powerball tickets of which she was sure one would save her from her sorry lot in life.

Thelma walked into the store and immediately got in line behind a woman with three young children buying some groceries.  The clerk had already wrung up the few items the lady had brought to the counter as she tried her best to open her purse with a small infant strapped to her front, a two year old hugging her leg and a ten year old boy pouting at her side.

The young mother nervously stated, “Just a minute, I can’t find my money.  I just got my money this morning and I am sure I put it in my purse.”

The clerk did not look happy.

The ten year old boy whined, “You ain’t got no money, Momma?”

“Yes, yes I got the money, I just can’t find it now”, she announced as she frantically shuffled through her purse.

“Come on lady, we don’t have all day,” stated the clerk as a few more people were now waiting in line to check out.

“I, I, must have left it back in the shelter.  Can I just take this and bring the money back tomorrow.  They close the shelter doors at eight and I can’t get there and back by then.”

“Hey, Lady, this is a grocery store this ain’t no charity place.  You shouldn’t come in here if you ain’t got no money,” the clerk rudely responded.

“Can’t I just have the diapers?  My baby is all wet and we ain’t got no diapers,” the poor lady pleaded.

“No, you can’t have no diapers for free,” snapped back the clerk.  He then spoke into a microphone, “Bob, I need you up front to void an order.”

The people in line behind Thelma were now getting agitated and also giving the lady a hard time for creating a backup in line.

Thelma then spoke up.  “Now hold on,” she said, speaking to the clerk.  “Why you got to be so rude?  This lady lost her money and she got these children to feed.  You ain’t got to be like that.”

“Yeah, right, she lost her money – bull-shit, she ain’t got no money,” shouted one of the customers behind Thelma.

Bob then approached the cashier and took out his key to void the transaction.

“Now just stop,” Thelma shouted.  “Just stop.  How much is it?”

“Forty-five dollars and thirty-two cents,” announced the clerk.

“Fine,” said Thelma, “here’s fifty dollars,” she announced handing over six months’ worth of saving left-over tip money for lottery tickets.

“Oh ma’am, you ain’t got to do that,” cried the young mother.

“Don’t you worry, Honey, you need to feed your family,” Thelma replied with her outstretched hand clutching the fifty dollars in front of the clerk.

The small boy announced, “It’s okay, Momma, I don’t need the candy bar – and you can give back the cereal.”

The woman said, “Maybe just the diapers, maybe you could buy us just the diapers.”

“Now hush up,” Thelma replied, “These are the groceries you needed, these are the groceries we is buying.  And son, you can have that candy bar, you just promise me that you won’t pout anymore and you will help your Momma out, okay.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said the little boy.

The clerk took Thelma’s fifty dollars and Bob walked away satisfied that everything was taken care of.

The mother said, “Thank you ma’am.  Thank you very much.  Now you give me your name and address and I will bring that money back to you tomorrow.”

Thelma smiled and said, “It’s okay, Honey, life has been good to me.  You just remember this and when life is good to you again in the future, you do this for someone else.”

“Yes, ma’am, I will,” promised the embarrassed woman.

The little boy looked up at Thelma and asked, “Lady, are you an angel?”

“No,” Thelma chuckled, “I ain’t no angel – but my husband is an angel and he sent me here to help ya’ll tonight.”

“Are you rich,” asked the boy.

“I is rich enough,” smiled Thelma.

The clerk finished bagging the groceries and handed them to the mother and the little boy.  Thelma followed the family out of the market.

The mother asked, “Ma’am, didn’t you buy nothun?  Did we take all of your money?  Wasn’t you here to buy something?”

“Nay, I wasn’t here for nothing important.  Like I said, my husband and Jesus sent me here to help you and to help me remember what is important in life.”

“Well thank you ma’am, and thank your husband and Jesus for us, too” said the mother as they started off in opposite directions.

Thelma walked into her lonely apartment and threw the empty “Lottery Money” envelope into the trash can.

As Thelma laid in bed that night watching the News on her little TV, the news anchor announced, “Well, there were no winners in the Powerball Lottery tonight, the next drawing will be worth over one billion dollars.”

“Now, Donald and Jesus,” Thelma said aloud, “We all knows that ain’t true, there was one winner tonight – thank you for showing me the way.  Good night, husband.  Good night, Lord.”

Merry F’n Christmas (A Short Story)

It had been a bad year for Daniel. The company for which he worked for over 40 years went out of business due to criminal mismanagement, including the embezzlement of the company’s pension fund; his wife of 40 years suddenly became ill and passed away; the hospital expenses wiped out all of his savings; he had a terrible fight with his only son who, after being married for ten years, with two kids, announced he was gay and changing his life-style. It was, indeed a bad year.

As the sun rose on Christmas morning, an unseasonably warm day, Daniel put on his hiking boots and drove out to a trailhead deep in the mountains where he started his hike up to Lookout Ledge. Once he reached the ledge, Daniel stood on the edge of the high cliff and, looking out over the other mountain tops as far as the eye could see, he yelled, at the top of his lungs, “Merry Fucking Christmas”.

Listening for an echo before jumping to his end, instead, he heard, in a high pitched voice, someone shout back, “And a Happy Fucking New Year”.

Daniel stepped back from the ledge and looked all around him.

“Hello”, he said, “is someone up here?”

Sandra approached the ledge on a trail coming up from the other side of the mountain.

“I didn’t expect to find company up here”, she said, removing the wool cap from her head, releasing long flowing hair that fell below her shoulders.

“What the hell are you doing up here”, Daniel asked her.

“From your salutation”, she responded, “I suspect, the same thing you are doing.”

“Yeah”, Daniel asked, “and why is that?”

“You first”, Sandra replied, sitting down on the edge of the cliff, hanging her feet over the side.

“That’s a long way down”, Daniel cautioned, “you shouldn’t be that close to the edge.”

“Oh, you mean this edge that you were about to test your wings from”, she asked in sad reply.

“Well”, Daniel said, “I’ve had a bad year.”

Daniel then proceeded to tell Sandra his story. At the end of his tragic tale, Sandra commented, “I thought old men were supposed to be wise.”

Daniel just stared at her with a quizzical look on his face.

“I mean”, Sandra continued, “you are being soooo stupid. You have spent 40 years with a woman who loved you and who you loved. You have over 40 years of terrific and happy memories and, instead, you dwell on the one year that was sad and challenging. You have a son who loves you so much that for 35 years of his life he pretended to be the person you wanted him to be and gave you grandchildren you wouldn’t otherwise have had. And, now, when he finally discovers the courage to be who he really is, a time when he needs your support and understanding the most, you abandon him. At a time when your son must face the ridicule and contempt that the rest of the world is going to heap on him, you tell him that the love he thought was unconditional, is in fact, subject to the condition that he shares the same sexual desires that you have. And, you bemoan the loss of money promised you in your old age when, in reality, you already have more than you need. So now, you come up here to end it all like a coward. No, you are not wise, you are just being stupid. I have never had anyone love me; I have no children to shower my unconditional love on; I have no money; I have no reason to be here anymore. I have no one to miss me when I am gone.”

Daniel looked at her and replied, “What are you talking about? How old are you, 30-something? Look at you, you are a gorgeous, beautiful woman, I don’t believe that no one has ever loved you.”

“Thirty-eight”, Sandra said, “and yes, I am beautiful; always have been. Sure men love my beauty; they love my face and my body; but no one has ever loved ME. No one has ever gotten past what I look like to find out exactly who I am. Yes, I have had many lovers, but no one who loved me. I grew up in foster homes; I never knew my parents or what happened to them. It was from one of my foster fathers where I learned the curse of being beautiful. Every time I complained about one of the foster fathers, I simply got transferred into another home where the lesson would be learned all over again. I am the one who was being punished and labelled a problem for their acts. Then, at eighteen, I was on my own – no schooling, no training, no preparation for this harsh world. I got by; waitressing; a modeling job here and there; cutting hair. And a long line of lovers. You know, no one has ever asked me my opinion on a political issue; no one has ever asked me to join a book club; no one has ever invited me to hear a lecture, or taken me to the opera. I love writing poetry – have all my life, but no one has ever been interested in reading any of them; people just laugh at me when I tell them I want to read them something I wrote. And no one has ever invited me to have Christmas with their parents or their family. This is my Christmas tradition. Every year since I was twenty-one years old, I have hiked up here and contemplated doing just what you were about to do, but I always lost my nerve; I always tricked myself into believing, it will get better; and, I always made my way back down to my car in the dark. I thought, this year would be different. At 38, with my beauty fading and no longer an asset, I thought I could actually jump this time. Then I had to find some idiot like you here in my spot, crying about losing what I never had, when in fact, you haven’t lost anything at all, you are just throwing away beautiful memories and abandoning those who still love you.”

Sandra sat there on the ledge; Daniel stood nearby; and, they both looked out over the mountain tops in silence for a while.

Finally, Daniel asked, “Do you have any of those poems with you now?”
Sandra chuckled, “No. But, I’ve got a bunch of them down in my car.”

“Do you want to go down there together so you can read some to me”, he asked.

Sandra held out her hand so Daniel could help her to her feet. “Sure”, she said, “why not? I can always just do this next year.”

They walked the five miles down the mountain to Sandra’s car in silence. Upon reaching her car, Sandra said, “You know, I know most of my poems by heart; I could have just recited them to you at Lookout Ledge.”

“I know,” Daniel said.

“My poems are pretty romantic”, Sandra joked, “you’re not going to want to become my lover, are you?”

“I am sixty-five years old”, Daniel said with a smile, “and have only made love to one woman in my entire life. That ship, I am afraid, has sailed. I have no desire to add to my list of conquests.”

“That is both sweet and sad at the same time”, Sandra offered.

“Perhaps”, Daniel replied.

After Sandra read a few of her poems to Daniel which he listened to with tears in his eyes as a result of their beauty, she offered to drive him to his car at the trailhead on the other end of the mountain. It was late by the time they reached Daniel’s car.

“Do you want to go see if we can find a restaurant still opened for a late Christmas dinner,” Sandra asked.

“You know,” Daniel said, “not tonight. I have some driving to do. I think it’s time I go make up with my son and he’s a few hours away. You’re going to be okay, right?”

“Good as ever,” Sandra smiled.

“Merry Fucking Christmas,” Daniel chuckled.

“And, a Happy Fucking New Year,” Sandra chimed back.

When My Father Saved My Life

I was five years old when it happened.

I was acting lethargic and running a fever, so my mother decided to keep me home from kindergarten as she got my three older siblings off to school and busied her day with caring for me and my two younger siblings.  With no improvement in my situation after a couple of days, my parents decided it was time to go visit the doctor for some advice.  It didn’t take long for the doctor to tell my parents I needed to go to the hospital for further tests and treatment – the degree of his concern was unsettling.

Years later, my mother shared with me the guilt she felt believing that she waited too long before seeking a doctor’s advice.  She felt as if she left her son sleeping in bed at home when he should have been receiving treatment in the hospital.  But, really, how could she know?

I do have some memory of that time.  I remember crying the first time they stuck me with a needle to try to draw blood out of my right arm.  And, crying again when, after having no success, they tried my left arm.  I was done crying by the time they went back to my right arm, still having trouble finding a vein that would cooperate.  Over the next six months this was practically a daily routine that never resulted in tears again.  Needles have never been a problem for me since.

We were living in Chicago at the time, where my father was recently transferred from our home in Baltimore.  I was first sent to St. Joseph’s hospital on North Lake Shore Drive where I was diagnosed with Bright’s Disease, a failure of the kidneys.  I am not sure how long I stayed there, but, after the diagnosis, I was transferred to La Rabida Children’s Hospital which specializes in children with chronic diseases.

The tests indicated that my kidneys had completely shut down and were no longer functioning.  I was sent to La Rabida to be hooked up to a dialysis machine to, hopefully, extend my life, but, to sentence me to a life hooked up to a machine.

Just prior to starting dialysis, they took one more measurement of my blood and the results seemed to indicate a minute improvement of the toxins levels.  Although the doctors suggested it was probably just an error in the results and recommended moving ahead with dialysis, my father insisted that they redo the tests, just to make sure.  The doctors were hesitant to do so because the results took days to come back and they didn’t want to delay dialysis any further.  The doctors told my father that the kidneys had totally degenerated and there was no hope in them recovering, but my father begged them to humor him and do one more test – so, they did.  And, the results once again showed just a little bit of improvement.  Dialysis was delayed.

For the next few months, test after test, showed that the kidneys were indeed, starting to function on their own again.  No treatment.  No medication.  Just waiting and watching; test after test; needle after needle; day after day.

My total stay in the two hospitals was six months.  During that time, my father visited me every day.  The nurses even once mentioned to my father that they could always tell who was the only child because of how much time the parent spends with them – buzz, wrong answer but thanks for playing.  Eventually, with no medical explanation for it, my kidneys grew healthy again and I was a little boy again.  My mother told me that the doctors appeared embarrassed and were so apologetic for preparing them for the worst and telling them there was no hope for my recovery – a mistake my parents were thankful for.  Thank goodness for my father’s persistence and stubbornness to make them do one more test.  Once the dialysis machine is hooked up the kidneys are bypassed and my life would have been over – at least, my life lived as a normal, healthy child.

There was never any lingering effect.  I returned home, back to normal.  Lucky for me, in those days kindergarten was not mandatory and I was not held back from entering first grade even though I completed less than a quarter of my kindergarten year.  For a few years, my parents kept checking the color of my urine, but that guardedness eventually faded and my disease became a distant memory.  Supposedly, my case was written up in a Medical Journal as an unsolved, medical mystery but I have never seen any evidence of that fact.

Some people would say I am proof that miracles still happen.  Interestingly enough, my experiences have not resulted in turning me into a religious man.  Miracle?  I don’t think so.  I could never come to terms with why God would do this for me and not for all those other children who died during those six months I was there– some of whom shared my room with me during a period of the time.  No, I don’t believe that God works in mysterious ways; rather, I think mysterious ways work like a God.  Sometimes things happen with no reasonable explanation.  In fact, I think that is the true purpose of our Gods, to help man accept those things that cannot otherwise be explained.

For me, I don’t think I owe my good luck to God; I owe it to my earthly father, not to a heavenly one.

Thanks, Dad, for that stubborn head of yours.