Not Long Tales … January 21st, 2020

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4489)

24.

Turn Left on Oak Meadows

by Jonathan Richard Cring

Eddie Sparrow committed adultery, if that’s what they still call it.

An affair. A slip-up. A bungle in the jungle. A close encounter of the lustful kind.

Perhaps the strangest part of the whole experience was that he had this tryst with a young lady he was competing with for a promotion. In the process of trying to gain the new position, they were thrown together by the corporation—with tests and projects—so they could prove themselves worthy and literally “win” the position. Eddie became obsessed with her.

Her name was Lorraine.

Eddie already had a beautiful wife. He often heard unfaithful husbands explain that they “still loved their wife”—they just couldn’t help themselves with their new partner. He used to scoff at such a notion, insisting that self-control could win the day.

But when he ran across Lorraine, and she was just as willing as he was to break some rules, his body lit up with fire and he had no desire except to melt over her like hot wax.

A torrid affair it was. Sneaking, lying, not willing to trust anyone, because if the wife found out there would be trouble. But if the company found out there would be equally dire straits, since there was a non-fraternization policy written into the rules.

Right in the middle of this crazy-ass experience, it was decided that Lorraine would get the bump-up. She became his boss.

Eddie didn’t care—he wanted to continue. So intense was his drive to stay with Lorraine that he informed his wife, Cheryl, that he was greatly saddened, but he had lost his enduring love for her and wanted a divorce.

Then insanity gained the room.

Lorraine, who had been so involved in their social experiment, lost interest. Once she acquired the job and realized she was his boss, the thrill of the pursuit, the danger of the escapade and the excitement over Eddie disappeared.

She broke off connection with him. When she did, he begged and he pleaded, knowing that he had no wife to go back to and that his life was meaningless without her devotion.

Lorraine didn’t care. When Eddie persisted, she filed a sexual harassment suit against him with the company.

When the two of them gave their depositions—hers being his unwanted attention and constant haranguing through email (she provided evidence)—and his being that the two of them had been involved in a far-reaching romance for weeks—well, when both stories were shared, the board decided to accept hers.

Realizing he was on probation with the company, rejected by his lover and unwanted by his wife, a crazed Eddie stole the keys to a company car (one of those with a German name, a Japanese engine, a French paint job and a California interior) and took off.

Eddie figured he had about twenty-four hours until the authorities would be called. He decided to make the best of his time.

He drove south for about three hours, listening to music and opening the windows to let in fresh air to keep him awake. He mused over his plight.

Hungry, Eddie pulled over at a diner called “Our First Stand.” Walking in the door and seeing all the empty chairs and booths, he felt sorry for the place, wondering if this was also going to be their last stand. He was greeted by a waitress named Nesla and he sat down, making a crack about George Armstrong Custer being beaten by the Indians, and how he felt much like the old general himself. Nesla stared at him with that look young people often give when they don’t understand a word of what an older person has said—and therefore assume they’re crazy.

But privately, Eddie had decided to order, in honor of the Little Big Horn, a cheeseburger and a big piece of custard pie. He laughed to himself, surprised he was still able to find humor in anything.

Waiting for his meal to arrive, he went back to considering his dilemma.

Certainly he couldn’t continue to run in a stolen car. Eventually he would have to go back, just to have the ability to go forward. He tried to tap his feelings, only to discover that he wasn’t sure whether he loved any woman, or if he ever wanted to work a job again in his entire life.

Somewhere between the cheeseburger and the custard pie, fatigue set in. It had been quite a day. Rejected by two women and dishonored by his company, he was ready for sleep—or at least to roll around in a bed until insomnia subsided. He asked Nesla to give him directions to the nearest motel.

“Well, that would have to be Wycliffe,” she answered. “Thirty miles down that road. They got four motels. Most of them are pretty ratty, but I haven’t heard of anybody gettin’ killed.”

With this, she turned on her heel and headed back to retrieve food (not needed, because nobody was there).

Then all at once, somebody was there. Eddie turned, looked up, and standing next to him was a dude in his late twenties or so—pretty down on his luck, by the cheapness of his clothing and the smell emanating from his body. He was standing so close that Eddie was a bit unnerved.

“Can I help you, my dear friend?” Eddie asked at length.

In rapid fire, the man responded, as if the material had been memorized for a high school play. “If you go down three miles and turn left on Oak Meadows, there’s a place you can stay.”

The monotone and speed of his voice was almost comical, but Eddie, resisting laughter, inquired, “Is it a motel?”

“No,” said the young man, “just a place you can stay.”

With this, he turned away, walked toward the front door, opened it and disappeared. Eddie took a moment to look around for Nesla, to see if she was aware of this other location. She was nowhere to be found. He called out for service. No response. She didn’t even come out when he was standing at the checkout, ready to pay for his bill.

Giving up on waiting, Eddie left the price of the meal and a nice tip sitting next to the register, headed out to his over-stated sedan, climbed in and drove the three miles south.

Apparently, the first time he missed it. So at the six-mile mark on the odometer, he turned around and drove back. This time, off to the right (which would have been to the left) he saw the road sign. “Oak Meadows.”

He turned right and immediately found himself driving on a gravel road. He smiled. He loved gravel roads. As a boy, whenever their family car turned onto the gravel road that went to his grandparents’, he would giggle. To him it sounded like the tires were chomping on peanut brittle.

This one was narrow and covered on both sides with trees, with a deep ditch in between. About a mile-and-a-half up, Eddie saw a man standing, staring off into the distance. He pulled over, rolled down his window and said, “Excuse me, fine sir. I was wondering if you could tell me…well, I was told there was a place down this road where you could rent a room for the night. Like a motel?”

The man slowly turned around, held out his hand and said, “My name is Clancy Johns, and I have such a place, about two miles ahead. Now, I must tell you, it is not a motel but a room in my house that I let out to strangers who don’t want to drive all the way to Wycliffe.”

Eddie listened very carefully. The man had a presence to him—maybe it was his aged face. Or his simple demeanor. But Eddie immediately was drawn to him. It was a visceral connection he didn’t really understand, but the man seemed solid. Truthful. Reliable.

He shook his head. Foolish to draw such a quick conclusion about a total stranger. While he was still parsing his thoughts, Clancy spoke again. “Now, I also must warn you, it is a very simple home. But for fifty dollars for the night—no more and no tips—you get a room, a bathroom, it includes supper and breakfast.”

Eddie searched his mind for something clever to say, or even profound. “My needs are simple,” he said quietly.

Clancy laughed. “Then you would be the only one, my brother. Yes—you and you, alone.”

Clancy started walking in the direction of his house. Eddie shouted after him, “Mr.—Johns, is it? Clancy?” But the old man did not turn. Eddie pulled up next to him. “Would you like to ride in the car with me?”

Clancy bent down to look into the car, then right into the eyeballs of Eddie Sparrow. “Then I would miss my nightly walk, now, wouldn’t I?”

With this he stood upright and began walking again.

“I’ll meet you there, then,” said Eddie. He drove on ahead, and in less than a minute-and-a-half he was at an old farmhouse. He parked his car, got out and turned around like a little kid’s top, to see what he could see.

It was rustic, mostly gray and much in need of a coat of paint. But Eddie liked it. He wondered how long it would take the man to make it up the path. Suddenly, Clancy appeared at the front door of his home and called to him. “What’s keepin’ you, traveler? I already got supper goin’.”

Eddie stared. How was it possible for the old man to have made the journey quicker than his speedy car? But shrugging his shoulders, he grabbed his overnight case, headed up the path, opened the door and entered.

The interior looked like it had been decorated in the 1930’s by a family more intent on saving money than impressing guests. Still, it had all the elements one would need to survive, and even included a well-kept, dark-brown horsehair couch.

Clancy walked into the room behind him. “I warned you,” he said. “We aren’t the Holiday Inn.” He glanced around and laughed. “I guess we ain’t even an inn.”

Eddie smiled, scooted into the living room and plopped down on the horsehair couch. “It looks like home to me,” he said.

“Speaking of that,” said Clancy, “where would be your home?”

“Now, there’s a good question,” said Eddie. “If you’d have asked me yesterday, I would have said my home was in Hartford, Connecticut, and I was married to a beautiful woman and had one teenage son.”

“And if I was to ask you today…?” inquired Clancy.

Eddie took a deep breath. “Well, I’d tell you that the home still exists. It’s just not mine anymore.”

“Trouble with a woman?” Clancy asked, walking toward the kitchen.

“How did you know, my brother?” questioned Eddie.

Clancy stepped back into the room to make his point. “Well, it’s not that women are a problem, but when they get with us men, they don’t always show their best side.”

“I don’t know, Clancy,” Eddie said, lifting his eyebrows. “This girl showed a lot of good sides.”

Eddie went on to explain his situation in great detail as Clancy ducked in and out of the kitchen to make sure all the “eatin’s” were being prepared. Eddie told him about the affair, his decision to leave his wife, and ended up ‘fessing up to being reprimanded and how he illegally “borrowed” a car from the company.

He stopped, waiting for Clancy to comment. Instead, he stepped back into the kitchen, then returned with a big smile on his face. “Well, here we go! We’re gonna have fried chicken. We’re gonna have corn on the cob—and I’m talkin’ about those long cobs with a little sugar sprinkled. And we’re gonna have butter potatoes. I call ’em butter potatoes because I put so much butter in them that they’re about as yellow as a lemon meringue pie.”

Eddie was astounded. Clancy had just described the meal Eddie had asked his mother to prepare for his sixteenth birthday—complete with the butter potatoes and the sweetener on the cobs.

“That happens to be my favorite meal,” said Eddie.

Clancy laughed. “I’m glad to hear that, but honestly, I can’t imagine anybody being disfavorable to it. It’ll just be a few more minutes. Just keep doin’ what you’re doin’.”

Eddie sat still, breathing in the air of contentment. Looking over at the coffee table, he saw a large book with a leather cover on it—cowhide.

He reached over, picked it up and held it on his lap. He opened it, turned a page, then another page. On page three, there was a very small Polaroid—with a picture of his wife, Cheryl, when she was about twelve years old. She was with two other girls he couldn’t identify. He leaned over and peered closely at the picture. He was startled when Clancy spoke.

“Do you like my photo album?”

Eddie looked up. “Yes. I hope you don’t mind. It’s beautiful. Where did you get the cover?”

Clancy smiled and sat down next to him. “Well, let me just say that was a gift from a friend.”

Eddie paused, allowing time for a story to follow. Clancy eyeballed him carefully as if wondering whether to continue. “Yes…” shared Clancy, “she was a friend. I had her for fifteen years. She listened to me grumble about problems on the farm. And the only time she ever complained was when I spent too much time on her teats.”

Eddie smiled. He really enjoyed this old man. Clancy continued, completing his joke. “Oh, you do know I’m talking about a cow, don’t you?”

Eddie nodded. Clancy went on, “Because of her complaints I called her Bossy, but she really wasn’t. She was the best kind of friend you could ever have. She listened carefully, never judged, didn’t offer too much advice, and then, at the end of the experience, she offered you the milk of human kindness.”

Eddie chuckled. “What happened to Bossy?”

Clancy rubbed his knee. “Oh, she died. All things do, you know. But I didn’t want her to just be gone. So I took her hide, cleaned it, tanned it and put it on the cover of that photo album I love so dearly, knowing I would look at it frequently, and whenever I did, I would run my hands over the cover—just like I used to pet her in the barn.”

Some tears stood in Clancy’s eyes. Eddie was moved, too—not so much at the thought of the cow, but because a man could be so devoted. Changing the subject, Eddie asked, “I saw a picture of my wife in your photo album.”

“N-a-w-w-w,” drawled Clancy. “How could that be?”

Eddie opened to the Polaroid and pointed it out. “Is that your wife?” asked Clancy, incredulously.

“Yes,” said Eddie. “Cheryl.”

Clancy shook his head. “Her daddy was an old war buddy. We called that little dear Cee-Cee. She was such a beautiful little girl. So full of joy. And if you ever got discouraged, she’d whip up a quick batch of hope.”

Eddie paused, lost in thought. He could remember Cheryl that way, but it had been many years since he had seen the brightness in her eyes.

“Then,” said Clancy, “there must be a picture of her brother, Thomas.”

Eddie sat up and blurted, “Where? Where? Show me where.”

Clancy reached over, turned a couple of pages and pointed. “There he is. My goodness gracious. Such a small world, huh?”

Eddie stared at the picture of Cheryl’s brother, Thomas, as tears came to his eyes. Thomas was two years older, and Eddie’s hero. He had drowned in a boating accident. Eddie had been traumatized—never able to replace the deep hole left behind from Thomas’s absence.

Clancy excused himself, explaining that he was going to finish up dinner, and that it would be on the table in about five minutes.

Eddie sat, turning pages. There was a photo of his Uncle Barney, the jokester of the family. There was even an old shot of his grandfather. Eddie had only seen the man twice in his life.

Clancy called him to dinner, and they sat down at the table. Clancy looked up to heaven and said, “Not many thoughts on my mind, sir. Just glad to have the company. Amen.”

The chicken was the best Eddie had ever eaten. The butter in the mashed potatoes dominated—dribbling down his chin—and the corn was sweeter than molasses.

He would have eaten more, but the cheeseburger and custard pie weighed down underneath, threatening to rebel. After dinner, Clancy told him to just leave the dishes on the table, that he’d take care of them later.

They took cups of coffee into the other room and sat down as Eddie continued to look through the photo album with Bossy’s cover.

About ten pages in, Eddie saw a picture of his lover. Lorraine. At least it looked like her. She was a young girl in the photo, and she was with her family.

Eddie turned to Clancy. “Who’s the girl in this picture?”

Clancy squinted and said, “Another war buddy’s daughter. I believe…” He paused. “Yes. We called her Lori, but her name was Lorraine. And that’s her mom. I can’t remember her name. And her Dad, Michael.”

Eddie asked, “Who is the girl with her—in the wheelchair?”

Clancy grew quiet. “Well, that’s her crippled sister. She fell off her horse, severely damaged her body and never walked again.”

A breath of silence. Clancy broke it by standing up and saying, “Well, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna do me some dishes—my form of therapy. Then I’ll be headin’ off to bed. Breakfast will be promptly served at seven. Or who knows? Maybe eight.”

Eddie laughed. He reached up to shake hands, but it suddenly seemed inadequate, so he stood up and hugged the old man.

Clancy grinned. “Well, thank you for that. Everybody needs to feel one of those wrapped around him every once in a while.”

An hour passed. Then two.

Eddie was so engrossed in the photo album that he didn’t even hear Clancy finish the dishes or slip up the stairs. The deeper and deeper he went into the album, the more people he saw that he thought he knew—mostly in their younger days, in older times.

He looked across a room that had more memories than future. He cried. It was the last thing he remembered.

With the morning light coming in through the window and into his eyes, he realized he’d never made it up the stairs to his room. He had just laid down and cuddled up on the horsehair couch.

He felt good.

Matter of fact, he couldn’t remember a time he had ever felt better. He looked at his watch. It was 8:15 A. M.

He called out, “Clancy! I’m so sorry to have overslept!”

There was no answer.

Eddie took a deep breath and could swear he smelled homemade maple syrup. He stood up, walked through the house and up the stairs. Clancy was nowhere to be found.

He stepped out the door into the morning chill. The old man had disappeared.

Eddie came back in and walked over to the breakfast table. It was all set—for one. French toast, corn beef hash and maple syrup. All of his favorites. He ate his fill, thinking that at any moment, Clancy would come walking in.

He never did.

Soon it became obvious that he needed to go, so he wrote a note expressing his appreciation. In the note, he told Clancy that he was taking that picture of his wife as a young girl and would return it as soon as he could get a copy made.

He left a hundred-dollar bill on the table for services rendered, walked out, got into his car, drove down the gravel road to the highway—content.

He turned left, drove about three or four miles and suddenly realized he’d forgotten his phone. He found a wide space in the road, turned around and drove back. At about the four-mile mark, he began looking for the sign to Oak Meadows. He’d done that the first time, too. So he turned around and drove back. Missed it again.

The third go-around, he inched his way to make sure he didn’t miss the sign. He still didn’t see it.

He drove the few miles back to the “Our First Stand Diner,” and saw Nesla, who was there for another shift. He asked her if she knew about the Oak Meadows “bed and breakfast,” as he called it.

She didn’t. He explained to her that a gentleman had told him about it when he was there, eating, the night before. She looked at him confused, because there hadn’t been an additional customer when he was there.

He thanked her, climbed into the car, and made the decision to make his way home.

There was nothing positive waiting there. When he arrived, he was rebuked for taking the car and fired.

He went to see his wife, but she was too hurt—and rejected any possibility of reconciliation.

He did not call Lorraine. He was afraid of “three strikes and you’re out.”

He drove about thirty miles down the road to an exit for a little town called “Oak Meadows.” Reading the exit sign, he laughed, but still pulled off. He found an Oak Meadows Inn, and made arrangements with the manager, a fellow named Garrett, for a weekly rate. He paid for a month.

Eddie’s plan was to make no plans until plans came his way.

Trying to make conversation, Eddie said to Garrett, “This is really interesting, because just last night I stayed at an old man’s house on Oak Meadows Road.”

Garrett, a little aged himself, deadpanned, “Well…there are a lot of oaks and a good number of meadows.”

Eddie parked his car and found his room—104—and opened his door. He turned on the lights and looked over at the bed. Pinned to one of the pillows was a fifty-dollar bill.

The note read, “Your change.”

 

Not Long Tales … January 14th, 2020

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4489)

23.

Gerzie and Roach Boy

(Warning: Adult Stuff

No Children or Mosquitos)

by Jonathan Richard Cring

Gerzie sat quietly in her room. She was surrounded by two hundred and forty-eight square feet of monotony.

Three months earlier, she had moved to New York from Eugene, Oregon, to pursue a career in theater. She was shocked to discover that not only were living spaces limited but priced at a rate that deserved a giggle—as if the real estate agent was kidding.

It was all catching up with her.

The lack of space. The dismal surroundings. The repetition of food.

Matter of fact, the only unique thing she had come up with to eat was adding vegetables she found discarded in the trash can from the People’s Market to her ramen noodles. She didn’t do that very often—but whenever she did, she referred to it as her “healthy night.”

The cattle calls for the plays would not be nearly as depressing if she didn’t have to come back to such a tiny space and eat from a dumpster like a racoon.

She was trying to learn.

Growing up in Oregon, she had no comprehension whatsoever what it was like to live in an international city like New York. She was born Geraldine Collier Shemansky. She’d always hated the name Geraldine, so when she was in the fifth grade and did a book report on cows and mentioned the Jersey variety, her friends started calling her by that name—Jersey. This delighted her and eventually evolved into Gerzie.

However, it was impossible to think she would become famous with a name like Gerzie Shemansky. So she changed her last name to Stills.

Gerzie Stills.

It wasn’t great, but it was better.

Matter of fact, that’s the way she felt all the time. Nothing was great, but it was better than sitting around Eugene, Oregon, waiting for some boy to decide to pick her to impregnate.

This week had been particularly depressing.

She was up for a part in an off-Broadway play which offered little to no finance but was going to be performed at a theater the stars often frequented out of curiosity.

The play was about Abraham Lincoln—but not from 1865. More or less the story of what would happen if Abe Lincoln was born today. She wanted the role of Mary Todd, his wife, who ends up stripping because Abe keeps flunking the bar exam.

Gerzie was down to final call—just her and another girl. She lost the part because the other girl was sleeping with the assistant director. (At least, that’s what Gerzie believed. She saw them necking behind the building, and the next thing she knew she was back out on the street with the other cattle, waiting for the call.)

All at once there was a scratching sound. It wasn’t loud. It wasn’t even persistent. It happened just once and then stopped. It was like someone took a set of car keys and ran it across a kitchen counter.

Even though the interruption did not continue, Gerzie was spooked. She was pretty sure it had come from her bathroom (which, by the way, her landlord referred to as a latrine).

Gerzie had to make a decision. She hated decisions. After all, she had decided to come to New York. How could she be trusted?

Unnerved but unwilling to sit without knowing what was going on, she slowly rose to her feet and inched the three steps to her bathroom. She peeked around the corner and jumped back, screaming.

Sitting in her miniature tub was a young man—one of the small varieties—with mounds of curly hair threatening to bush. He was dressed all in black, and peered at her sheepishly, seemingly terrified that he had been discovered.

Gerzie turned to grab her phone and call the police, then realized she had left her cell at the coffee shop down the street. (Another chore she needed to take care of today.)

She glanced at the window, wondering if she could raise it and scream for help. But she had heard such screams in the middle of the night, and not given them a second thought.

“What in the fuck are you doing in my room?” she asked loudly and slowly, emphasizing each word.

The young man—probably in his mid-twenties—replied with widened eyes, “I was investigating.”

Having no idea what he meant by that, Gerzie grabbed a hanger lying on the sink and hit him on the shoulder. He grabbed his arm, moaning. “Why’d you do that?” he asked.

Gerzie heaved a huge sigh. “Because you’re in my bathroom and I don’t know who you are. How’d you get here?”

She glanced over at the front door. Still shut.

All at once the man leaned up on his knees in the bathtub, excited. “You see, I crawled through the wall space that runs through this whole building, and I ended up here—at your vent.”

He pointed behind him. “I pushed ever so slightly on it, and it opened up and lifted out. So I just…” He paused. “I just came in.”

As the fellow talked, Gerzie felt that he was not volatile, and maybe not dangerous, so she put down her weapon—her hanger of choice—and said flatly, “Okay. Well, now you need to leave. You may use my front door.”

He held up one finger. “Before I go,” he said, “would you mind if I explain to you why I am investigating behind this wall space, and why I ended up here with you today?”

Gerzie was unnerved. His soft manner was unnatural. She was accustomed to young men his age being aggressive, silly and overbearing. A soft-spoken gent was not really human.

She shook her head, but he continued. “My name is Richard,” he began slowly. “I am a Huco.”

Gerzie frowned. Noticing her confusion, he elaborated. “I will tell you what a Huco is in a second, but first I want you to understand that I’m not crazy—just inventive. I’m not mentally ill—just mentally expanded. Do you know what I mean?”

Gerzie shook her head again and replied, “Those all sound like the things a crazy person would say to prove they’re not nuts.”

“I don’t want to go into all of my story,” Richard cited, ignoring her comment. “It would be rude to take up so much of your time. But let me just say that I am part of a very important experiment that was begun by my mother, Maxillena, who, for twenty-five years has been a belly dancer down at the Arabian restaurant—the Middle Feast.”

Gerzie almost smiled. It was the first thing she had understood. “I know that place,” she commented. “I’ve eaten there a couple of times. They have a soup night or something—where you can eat for two dollars.”

“Tuesday nights,” said the young man. “What’s your favorite?”

Gerzie shook her head. “I’m not going to have a conversation with you about soup.”

Persistent, the young man continued. “As I said, my name is Richard, and even though I may appear to you to be part of the species Homo sapiens, just like yourself, I am actually a mixed breed.”

Gerzie was worried again. The soft, easy tone of his voice could quickly change to a maddening roar as he reached up to slit her throat. “Listen,” she said, “I know you probably have an interesting story. Maybe you should write it down. Slip it under the door. I’ll read it. I’ll even edit it. I’m in theater, you know.”

“If you’ll let me continue for just five minutes,” Richard said, ignoring her, “I need someone to talk to. I grow weary of discussing my future with only my mother—and when she returns from work, she’s so exhausted… And besides, I’m really uncomfortable watching her dance at the restaurant.”

“I was born unusual,” he said.

“And remain so,” poked Gerzie.

Richard smiled. Good. Maybe she could talk him down from his ledge.

He continued. “My mother was of the belief that she wanted to have a child who was indestructible and would live—well, if not immortal, a lot longer than other humans do.”

“Isn’t that what every mother hopes?” said Gerzie.

Richard ignored her. “Here’s the heart of it. And I ask you to give a chance to get all the details before you reject.” His face darkened. “I hate it when people reject! How would they feel if I rejected them?”

His tone became increasingly hostile with each statement. Gerzie held out a hand. “Relax. No one’s gonna reject you. Have I kicked you out of my bathroom yet? No. So be cool.”

Richard sucked in a deep breath and replied dramatically, “Thank you. You are one of the good ones.”

He looked around the room. “Did you know,” he said, “that cockroaches have been on Earth for two hundred and fifty million years?”

Spooked, Gerzie also glanced about the room, wondering if some of Richard’s brothers and sisters were listening.

He asked, “Did you know a cockroach can live for three days without a head? It actually dies of thirst.”

Gerzie was speechless.

“And did you know,” Richard went on, “that cockroaches can survive under water for thirty minutes?”

Gerzie carefully reached over and patted him on the shoulder. “Richard,” she said, “why are we talking about cockroaches?”

He straightened his shoulders, lifted his head and proudly declared, “Because I am one. At least half of me is.”

Gerzie looked at the window again. Even if she couldn’t yell out it, maybe she could crawl out of it.

“There!” Richard punctuated. “I said it. You see, many years ago, my mother wanted that child of promise and power. Having studied the cockroach for herself, she decided to mingle human semen with cockroach semen, and then shoot it into her body with a turkey baster.”

Gerzie was devoid of both thought and words. But for some reason, Richard decided to pause, waiting for her to reply.

Finally, Gerzie said, “Industrious…”

Pleased, Richard continued. “She wanted to find a scientist, a genius, a musical star to provide the seed for the human part, but none were available. So for the human sperm, she had sex with Mickey, who played at the piano bar. He was very talented and wrote songs. And not really knowing how to extract the semen from a cockroach, my mother advertised on Craig’s List, requesting a sample of cockroach semen. Strangely enough, she immediately got eight calls. It cost her three hundred and twenty dollars, but she got the stuff necessary to mix together semen from the cockroach and the piano man. She put it in the turkey baster, inserted—and squirted.”

Gerzie began to imagine what condition her body would be in when the police found it. She hoped she would still be clothed. It would be very embarrassing to have strange, New York cops staring at her tits and her v-space.

Fortunately, Richard seemed comforted by telling his story, so she decided it would be best to listen—careful not to appear cynical.

“It took three times,” he said gently, “but on the third time, it worked. She was pregnant with me. She was going to have the world’s first Huco—a human and a cockroach.”

Gerzie silently weighed her choices. She didn’t want to die—but she couldn’t stand for this fellow to be so ignorant. “Richard,” she said sweetly.

He interrupted. “Most people call me Roach Boy.”

“Would it be alright if I stayed with Richard?” she returned.

He nodded.

“Richard,” Gerzie purred, “I need to tell you something. Interspecies mating is not possible, even if by some reason you were able to get your hands on cockroach semen.”

Richard frowned. “But I am a cockroach.”

Gerzie nodded her head, and then asked, “How do you know you’re a cockroach?”

Richard pulled up the legs of his pants. “I’m very, very, very hairy,” he offered, showing her his limbs. “My arms are very long, and I have a strong inclination to crawl into small spaces. And…Oh, oh!” he stuttered. “Also—people scare me when they come into the room.”

Gerzie began to speak but Richard interrupted. “And did I mention? I will eat anything.”

Gerzie changed the subject. “So,” she said, “Roach Boy, is there a reason you crawled into my life today?”

“I’ve been watching you,” he replied.

“I was afraid of that,” moaned Gerzie.

“No, I have been,” said Richard, the Roach Boy. “And I wanted to give you the honor of being the mother of the second generation Huco.”

Gerzie squinted. “What is it you’re suggesting?”

Richard became very excited. “We need to continue to improve. Evolve!”

Gerzie held up her hands to stop him. “Richard, suddenly the word ‘we’ has come into the conversation. Roach Boy, there is no we. Just you, your mother and your hairy legs.”

Richard was undeterred. “I was just wondering if you would like to mate with me, and together we could make a more human example than I am, but still possess the attributes of the Huco inside my double-helix,” he proffered.

Gerzie was tired of it. “Listen,” she said wearily. “I’m very happy for your double helix. It’s always good to have a second one, just in case. But I’m not going to mate with anyone. I’m an actor. It’s difficult enough for me to mate with enough money to pay my bills. I don’t want to be the Mama of a Huco. I know that sounds strange to you. You think you’re offering the chance of a lifetime. But honestly, it’s a chance I will never take in my entire lifetime.”

Richard sat for a moment in the bathtub. He was disappointed. He breathed deeply, gathering strength. “Would you at least like to meet my mother?”

“No,” said Gerzie. “Bellies have always scared me. Even if they’re dancing.”

He followed up. “Would you like to go out to dinner at the Middle Feast with me?”

“No,” said Gerzie, “I think, Richard, that this is going to be just a single affair.”

Richard nodded his head, leaned forward and gave her a hug. Gerzie couldn’t help but think that it felt very much like a cockroach.

He climbed out of the tub, waddled the four steps to the front door and then spoke dramatically, as if offering a proclamation:

“One day, my dear, Hucos will rule the world for the next two hundred million years. I hope you won’t be sad because you were left out.”

Maneuvering toward the door, Gerzie replied, “I don’t think so—because I’ll be dead.”

Richard stuck his head out the door, looking right and left, and then gradually exited, first with his shoulders, then the trunk of his body, his waist and finally bringing out his legs. He scurried down the hallway, certainly resembling his filthy vermin kin.

Gerzie quickly shut the door.

An unbelievable experience. She wondered if he would return. But part of her knew that he would have to be out and about, seeking his mate.

She sat down to continue her musings when it occurred to her, “This would make a great movie. Or a play. I mean, what happened here might be very entertaining if you didn’t have to live through it yourself.”

She could even use her own name. Just think: Gerzie and Roach Boy.

It would draw people like flies. She laughed at her own cleverness.

She absolutely needed to write up a treatment—something she could pitch. Maybe she could play the part of the girl.

Yet…

She would certainly have to lose some weight, get a collagen injection in her lips, and practice the accent.

Not Long Tales … January 7th, 2020

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4482)

22.

Manassas

by Jonathan Richard Cring

Packing slowly delays departure.

At least, that’s what Homer Sloan hoped was true.

In his entire sixteen years of marriage to his dear Carillion, he had never been away from her—not even for one night. If she toddled across town to pick up some yarn and needles, he would accompany her, holding her hand.

Every day she stood side by side with him in their dry goods store, perched on the east side of Jackson, Mississippi, counting inventory, stocking smaller boxes and giving out free horehound candy to the children.

She loved him and he loved her, and if it wasn’t love, it was certainly the very best they could come up with.

They had two adolescent daughters, Shannon and Beatrice, who, unlike normal children of their age, yearned to return from school to their home, where they could talk, eat, fellowship, laugh and play as a family until sleep demanded their full attention.

Now here he was—thirty-three years old, packing a bag to go far away to fight a war.

War.

It had been hanging in the air for at least two generations. The brothers from the North and those of the South had strained all their patience, and mercy was long spent. When the comrades in arms in South Carolina seceded from the Union, others quickly followed—including Mississippi.

It was no longer an issue of whether you were going to fight for your proper rights and authority, but rather, when would you leave, where would you go, and how would you fare in that first moment in battle.

Jackson had put together a regiment of about ninety men to send off to join the combined armies of the Confederacy.

Even though there had been many skirmishes the Union press insisted were battles “won by the boys in blue,” there had never been a large confrontation between North and South.

It was time.

Wanting to keep in step with the fine gentlemen of Virginia, the regiment of Jackson, Mississippi, had chosen to copy their uniforms—a dark smoke-gray with black trim. They trained in town, marching through the streets, to the cheers and support of the locals, feeling strong and mighty in their battle regalia.

At first it seemed like they were merely going to rehearse war. They spent a lot of time determining who would be a General, a Major, a Captain and such. At first, Homer worked hard to get a higher command. But when it turned out that the officers received their commission based on the donations they gave to the Rebel cause, he, not being a man of means, decided to become a Sergeant. He quickly changed his mind when he discovered that Sergeants were in charge of taking the late-night watches. He rather enjoyed his sleep.

He also passed on Corporal—they all got assigned to cooking and cleaning. So he became Private Homer Sloan of the 453rd Regiment of the Mississippi Rebels.

Late June in 1861, orders were received to move the Jackson troops to Northern Virginia, where a campaign was brewing—to charge north and overtake Washington, D. C., and end the conflict with a swift victory.

But now, trying to pack as slowly as he could, a sullen tearfulness threatened. Fortunately for him, Carillion was stronger. She was sad, but believed, like all the folks in town, that he was on a divine mission, and that the very angels of God would march by his side. On the last night of his time at home before marching by dawn’s light, Shannon asked him a question. “What is the purpose of this war, dear Papa?”

Like most things in the life of Homer Sloan, he had his own rendition of what everybody else believed. For instance, he had faith in God but didn’t contend that all the miracles of the Bible were performed exactly as claimed. He believed in government, but never put his money in the bank, for fear that the concepts of organization and integrity might take a turn for the worse.

So when Shannon asked her question, he paused before answering, to make sure his words would be filled both with profundity and a measure of heart.

“Some say it’s about slavery,” he began. “I can tell you the truth, dear girl—I’ve never been around slaves. I’ve seen my share of darkies, but always found them timid and unwilling to look into my eyes, so I never gave them a second thought. I don’t own slaves so it would be difficult for me to fight about them. There are people who believe it’s about the rights of each state to choose the better path for itself. Since I’ve never traveled far from Jackson, I don’t know what the people of the other states think one way or another.”

He looked up. “For me, dear Shannon,” he continued, “I’m going to fight because I think there’s a deep unsettling immorality in this country, where the love of family and the embracing of truth has been replaced by a confidence in temporary convenience.”

Homer’s wife and children listened carefully, as if an angel had been dropped in their midst to pontificate on the beauties of heaven. This was the girls’ Papa. He was Carillion’s husband. And should he return a victor, they would kill a hundred fatted calves. And if he lost for the cause, they would want to always remember this warmly intense moment of communion.

No one in the Jackson regiment knew exactly how long it would take to march from Jackson, Mississippi to Northern Virginia. One of the gentlemen who had bought himself the rank of Colonel had made the journey but had done it on horseback. Some of the folks would be on horses, but most would be trying out their new boots in the heat of the July sun.

Two days before the fourth of July, which was ironically the beginning of a great nation, they launched on the march to Northern Virginia, arriving on Friday, July 19th.

They had made good time.

To increase the morale of the troops, the officers allowed them to ride on a train for a few hours, because the railroads were offering free space to every soldier on his way to the front.

So a festive troop of Mississippi boys arrived to join their brothers for battle. The mood in the camp of Beauregard was similar to an early summer revival. Shouting, singing, clapping, hugging and eating, the troops built confidence in their souls by looking into the eyes of their friends and realizing they were not alone in the quest to kill Yankees.

On Sunday, July 21st, the initial conflict of what was known as the Civil War broke out near Manassas, Virginia, along a creek called Bull Run. It was a sight to behold.

The Union troops were decked out in bright blue uniforms—fresh and clean, looking like they had been pressed by servant girls. In the distance were gathered citizens of Washington, D. C., who had come out with their families, wearing their Sunday best and carrying picnic baskets, ready to watch what they thought would be more or less an athletic competition.

Homer did not know what to expect. He was ashamed of himself because he was frightened. He was not afraid to die—that happens too quickly to scare anyone much. Rather, he had an uneasiness about failing his friends and ending up a coward. Before he could think too much about his inadequacies, the battle began.

It was ferocious.

Guns that were normally used to kill game to bring food home to families were now aimed at human flesh—tearing, ripping, maiming and killing. Homer had never before heard men scream. He’d always considered it a weakness of the female. But when pain reached an intensity beyond endurance, cries from deep within men shattered the air.

Dressed in their imitation of the Northern Virginia smoke-gray waistcoats and matching pants, the Jackson, Mississippi, Regiment took to the field, given orders to flank the Union troops.

Then the strangest thing happened. In the midst of the struggle, Homer got disoriented—turned around—and did not know where he was. He looked to his right and to his left. He didn’t see any of his friends. Matter of fact, he seemed to be alone.

He ran across the field of battle—peering into the distance. He could hear the battle cries, but it seemed to be further away.

He realized he was foolishly standing in the middle of the field, just waiting to be executed by some cavalry officer. He ran and ran, looking for familiar faces. But the sounds of the battle continued to diminish—until he could hear them no more.

Looking across the distance of the terrain, he saw men and women scurrying, screaming and trying to escape what had turned into a fiasco. Putting together the few things they had brought to the outing they were scrambling to return to Washington.

Homer had a thought. Since the ultimate goal of Beauregard’s men was to end up in Washington, D.C., and having perfect confidence that he would meet them there, he decided to go first.

Racing across the plain, he caught up with the remnant of those who were trying to escape from their foolish lark. The onlookers showed great respect for him because of his uniform, which they mistook for the gray-blue of the Union warriors. Matter of fact, one man offered Homer a horse and asked if he would accompany them back to Washington, as their protector.

Homer didn’t know what to do. He certainly had no intention of killing citizens. Yet he thought it would be complete lunacy to reveal his true identity, so he went along with the ruse, traveling with the disappointed spectators as they quickly returned to Washington, D.C.

Arriving at the Potomac, getting ready to cross the bridge, Homer was concerned there might be a sentry who would question his authenticity, but no such obstacle appeared, since the Army of the Union was in full retreat, running for their lives.

Once across the bridge, he came into the town with the family. They thanked him for his courtesy, telling him he could keep the horse.

Grateful for their kindness, Homer asked them where the White House was. They were a bit perplexed that a soldier would ask such a question on the day of a battle, but they politely answered. A ten-minute ride on his new steed placed him in front of the home of the President. He recognized it from a charcoal drawing he had once seen in the library in downtown Jackson.

He dismounted, grabbed his rifle, which still had the eighteen-inch protruding bayonet—affixed there in preparation for the battle back at Bull Run—and he walked toward the front door.

Everybody was scurrying. They were so terrified, so anxious to save their own lives that they paid no heed to Homer whatsoever.

Breathlessly he approached the front door of the White House, expecting at any moment to be accosted, arrested or even killed. Looking around in every direction, he realized he apparently had beat his army friends to the city.

He was alone.

He stepped inside the door, and there was a little boy playing in the room to his left, and a darky sitting in the corner, polishing boots. Neither one even looked up at him. After all, he was wearing a uniform. Soldiers coming in and out of the White House were not unusual.

Homer was astounded.

Only one other time in his life had he ever felt so out of place. When he was a boy of ten years, he had entered a cave, finding himself nose-to-nose with a grizzly bear. And today, just as on that occasion, he was out of place.

He put his gun up on his shoulder like he was tracking deer and walked through the mansion.

People ran past him with their own destinations. They certainly did not identify Homer as an alien warrior walking through the President’s home.

After passing by several rooms, he found himself standing outside a door. It was a small one. Matter of fact, with his hat on, he felt the need to duck as he entered. The room was occupied, and being a man of manners, Homer was instinctively prepared to apologize for intruding. Then the man sitting behind the desk turned and invited him in.

The strangest notion came into the mind of Homer Sloan. It was so silly that he almost giggled. Could this person be Abraham Lincoln? The Satan of the North? The man who many Jacksonians believed was the Anti-Christ?

He paused long enough that the gentleman reissued his invitation. “Come on in, young man. Sit yourself down. War can be quite exhausting.”

Homer had two instincts. First, he wanted to survive. He had a beautiful wife and two daughters at home. And secondly, he wanted to strike a blow for the cause. What would the history books say about a dry goods salesman from Jackson, Mississippi, who killed the President—for that was certainly who the man  was—and ended the war with a single blow?

Slowly, trying not to appear nervous, he stepped over to the desk. Homer took a good look at him—sizing him up.

He was long and skinny like a length of rope. His hair was a mess and his beard, unkempt. The smell of sweat was all around him and a slight odor of farts filled the room. Still, he was amiable enough, considering that he was a murderer.

“Sit down,” the President requested.

Homer looked around, found a good chair and perched, not leaning all the way back, but right on the front end, just in case leaping forward would be necessary.

Lincoln took a deep breath. “Son, we lost today. They tell me it was a horrible sight. I can hear the screams of the wounded. What did you discover? What did you see? What can you tell me?”

Homer was not an actor. He was not an individual given to deception. He wanted to be candid but felt it might put his life in grave danger. So careful not to mention the source of his loyalties, he tried to answer the question.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man die,” said Homer. “I mean, not like that. I think what shocked me was how sudden it was. I had five really good friends who trained along with me, preparing for the battle, and within fifteen minutes, three of them were gone. Not just gone, but disappeared, as if the soil where they fell swallowed them up.”

The sharing brought Homer to tears. Lincoln leaned forward, and with his long arm, patted him on the shoulder. It was so tender that the tears flowed freely.

“I beg your indulgence for my outpouring,” said Homer.

Lincoln looked at him kindly and responded, “Well, son, you’d have to be a bastard if you didn’t.”

Shaking off the emotion and realizing that he had signed up to kill the enemy, here was the Prince of Darkness in front of him. He had a gun, and Lincoln held a pen.

Just as he was about to stand and make a move in the direction of the President, another soldier walked into the room. He was dressed in great finery. “Mr. President,” he said.

“Yes, General,” Lincoln replied.

The General seemed broken, nearly unable to speak. He mustered a single thought. “We have lost, sir. The day belongs to our enemy. But we are safe.”

Lincoln nodded, rose to his feet. When he was fully extended from toe to head, he looked like an oak tree, standing firm and tall in the forest. He stepped up and embraced the shorter man.

Lincoln pulled back and looked at him. “General McDowell, take care of yourself. Ease the pain of the wounded. Bury our dead with dignity, and make sure the fighting men have what they need.”

The General, regaining some of his training, clicked his heels, saluted and departed, never even noticing Homer sitting on the other side of the desk.

Lincoln returned to his seat and said to Homer, “Now, that is a good man. I’m just not so sure that good men can be the kind of demons who win wars.”

The statement stunned Homer. He was struggling inside with the realization that Abraham Lincoln was not the curse on the South he had thought, but rather, a man who felt obligated to hold together the pieces of a puzzle that were determined to break apart.

Lincoln sighed. “Now, I’ve done a lot of traveling. I study people. And listening to your speech, I’m guessing… Mississippi or Louisiana. Am I right, sir?”

Homer was startled. It seemed he was not as clever as he had thought. Before he could respond, Lincoln continued. “So while I’m sittin’ here figuring why a soldier of the Confederacy is in my office…” He paused, smiling. “You see, it wasn’t just the accent. No private from McDowell’s boys would come anywhere near me brandishing a bayonet.”

Homer shook his head, realizing the stupidity of the maneuver.

“How in the hell, or should I say heaven,” Lincoln went on, “did you end up here?”

Homer was without thought. His little family was back home. He would never see them again because he had found himself in the Coliseum—beneath the claws of the Lion-in-Chief.

“Mr. President, I just got lost,” Homer said. “And then I tried to help some of the folks coming from the battle. They gave me a horse, and I figured I would just find the White House and take a look at it. And since nobody was guarding it, I guess I was just curious about how far I could get.”

Lincoln leaned back and laughed like a little boy watching a frog jump across the floor. “That’s the most ridiculous story I’ve ever heard,” he said, “which tells me it has to be true.”

Homer was in no mood to laugh. Fearing his demise, he decided to ask. “What do you plan on doing with me?”

“First,” said Lincoln, “I’d like you to take your damn bayonet off your gun. It makes my innards ache to think about that steel piercing my belly.”

Homer quickly removed the bayonet and lay it on the desk.

“Secondly,” continued Lincoln, “I want you to know something I wish I could tell every soldier from the rebellion. I do understand your pain. I do comprehend how difficult it will be for you folks to survive after all the changes of this war, and slavery is removed from your economy. But I also want you to know that I am not the President of the Harvard University elite. I am the President of the United States, which means I am your servant.”

At that moment, Homer knew he would not kill President Lincoln. At that moment he also knew that Lincoln was not going to kill him. “Are you gonna put me in prison?” he asked.

Lincoln chuckled. “No disrespect, dear sir, but I think you would make a terrible prisoner. Looking at the ring of fat around your belly, I do believe you’ve grown accustomed to having plenty of grits with your eggs. They don’t do much of that in prison.”

Homer smiled, glanced down at his tummy and realized he had put on a few pounds, even though he had marched all the way to Virginia.

“Too much rabbit and beans,” he agreed. “So if you don’t mind me asking…”

Lincoln interrupted. “Oh, I don’t mind at all, son. The minute I stop talking to you I have to look at casualty reports. You will more than likely be the best part of my day.”

Homer paused and took a deep breath. Even though he was a devoted son of the South, he had good common sense—enough to know that he was in front of a great man.

“You are free to go,” said Lincoln. “Just don’t ever forget what happened today.”

“How could I?” asked Homer.

“How could any of us?” responded Lincoln.

Homer stood to his feet, took his rifle and reached for his bayonet. Lincoln shook his head in disapproval, citing, “You leave that bayonet there. It’ll be a great prop when I tell this story later on.”

Homer headed to the door. Lincoln called, “Wait, wait!”

A chill went down his spine. He turned slowly to face the President. Lincoln leaned forward, grabbed a pen and explained, “Things have calmed down a lot since you came in here. You won’t be able to just stroll through the streets without being challenged. So you’re gonna need a note from me to get you back to your home folk.”

Homer was impressed. It hadn’t even crossed his mind.

Lincoln scribbled a few words on a piece of paper, folded it up and placed it in an envelope, marking on the front: Important Message.

He handed it to Homer and said, “There you go. That should help.”

Homer wanted to hug him. He thought better of it.

He wanted to stay longer. That, of course, was ridiculous.

He had learned. Your enemy isn’t always evil. Just misunderstood.

As he headed for the bridge to re-enter his homeland, he was stopped by an officer. Homer handed him the note. The officer read it, placed it in the envelope, gave it back and offered him passage.

It wasn’t until the next day that Homer caught up with the victorious rebels. He shared what had happened to him and why he had been absent without leave. The young officer who heard the tale was incredulous, so he took Private Homer Sloan directly to the tent of General Beauregard.

Beauregard, weary from the previous day’s battle, listened carefully to the tale. He kept shaking his head in disbelief. “This is probably the most far-fetched story I’ve ever heard,” he offered. “Do you have any evidence whatsoever of the validity of your adventure?”

Homer hadn’t thought about the note since he’d crossed the Potomac. Now he reached into his waistcoat, pulled out the letter and handed it to the general.

The general read it and asked, “Do you know what is written here?”

Suddenly Homer was nervous. He didn’t actually know. Perhaps something Lincoln wrote could place him in great danger. “No,” said Homer sheepishly.

Beauregard reached across the desk, handing the note to Homer.

Homer took it in his hands, looked down and read:

“Let this man pass. With malice toward none. A. Lincoln”

THE END 

Not Long Tales … December 31st, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4475)

21.

Onederkind

by Jonathan Richard Cring

Dr. Jesse Kinrod had never done anything wrong in his life. Well, at least nothing to get him arrested by the authorities. At twenty-nine years of age, his vices were limited to failing to wash his clothes, arriving late for his shift at the hospital and allowing his scruffy, curly frock of hair to tumble down into his face.

But no one had ever placed handcuffs on his wrists, toted him away and stuffed him in a jail cell.

Tonight was the night.

Sitting in his beat-up, half-restored Camaro, revving the engine, he pointed the hood at the sheriff’s car and accelerated. They collided head-on at about thirty-five miles an hour, with the most awful screech and crunch imaginable. Shaken a bit, he stared over into the face of the shocked and befuddled peace officer, who had apparently been eating tacos at the time, with all the ingredients now strewn across his chest.

The aging sheriff sat stock-still, trying to get his bearings, then looked over at Dr. Jesse, who was patiently waiting to be nabbed and cuffed. Pulling himself out of his car, the sheriff limped over to the destroyed Camaro and screamed, “Get your goddamn hands on the dashboard, and then slowly—did you hear me?—SLOWLY reach over, open the door and get out.”

Jesse realized his brain was a bit discombobulated from the crash, and decided he should think over the instructions carefully—because the cop was pretty jittery, and had his finger on a big gun, unholstered and pointed in his direction.

Once safely out of the car, Dr. Jesse Kinrod listened carefully as he was instructed to put his hands on the hood and spread his legs. He was searched for a weapon but had none.

The sheriff, still fuzzy, stared at Jesse’s bare feet. Yet another violation.

Neither car could make the short journey to the headquarters of the Peterson County Sheriff’s Department, so a van was beckoned and the sheriff climbed in with the crazy, barefooted crasher in tow, and headed off to the jail.

Once the two men were inside, Dr. Jesse was placed in an interview room, listening to four or five policemen outside his door, whispering frantically and trying to figure out what kind of nut job they had uncovered in the middle of a dark night in the dark town in the desert.

At length, the sheriff entered the room, a bandage on his forehead. He sat down with a plop, exhausted from the ordeal.

He began. “Honest to God, boy, I hope you’re flat-out crazy—because the idea of you having a reason for what you did out there in the middle of the street in the middle of the night just scares the shit out of me.”

It was spoken with such a homespun drawl that Jesse nearly smiled, but caught himself just in time, realizing that this was no occasion for jest.

The sheriff paused, waiting for an answer. Then he probed, “Well? Are you gonna tell me why in the hell you nearly killed us both?”

Jesse drew a deep breath. “I needed to talk to you.”

The sheriff frowned. “We do have telephones, you know. We also have a front door, which opens both ways. You really don’t need to get my attention by destroying my cruiser.”

Once again, the response was so mature and congenial that Jesse nearly laughed. As the sheriff was waiting, the door to the interview room opened and the receptionist stuck her head in, asking, “Does anyone want coffee?”

They both did. She left and returned very quickly with two cups of coffee, neither man in the mood to converse.

Jesse took his first swallow. He leaned back in his chair and said, “I’m sorry. Probably there was a much better way to do this, but I didn’t know how to convey the seriousness of the situation without the drama.”

“I’m not much into drama,” said the sheriff. “I leave that to my little granddaughters, discussin’ their young boyfriends.”

Jesse ran his hands through his hair and said flatly, “I’ve got a story to tell, and I don’t think you’ll believe me. But I do need you to hear me.”

The sheriff shook his head. “Well, legally, I’m not supposed to talk to you. You’re supposed to be shipped off to the hospital, checked over…”

Jesse interrupted, laughing. “Not the hospital—that’s where I work. And I can tell you—because I’m a doctor—that I’ll probably end up with a little whiplash in the morning, but there are no broken bones or contusions.”

“You’re a doctor?” asked the sheriff suspiciously.

“Well,” said Jesse, “when I’m at work I’m a doctor. Tonight, apparently I’m playing the part of a fool.”

At that moment, a deputy barged into the door, whispering something into the sheriff’s ear. The deputy then straightened up, staring at Jesse like he expected him to turn into a werewolf.

The sheriff shooed the deputy out, and when the door was closed, he spoke slowly and clearly. “Well, they tell me you are who you say you are. So for the love of God, son, why would an educated man like yourself decide to throw his life to the wind?”

“Is that a question?” asked Jesse. “I mean, do you want me to answer?”

The sheriff paused. “Yes, I guess so. I mean, I’ve always heard this statement said in movies, but it seems appropriate tonight. This better be good…”

Jesse risked a smile. He took another drink of his coffee and leaned forward, putting his hands in the cuffs on the table. “I was in love with the most lovable woman I’ve ever met. I know that’s a strange beginning. But I want you to understand how this thing came at me…like a freight train.”

He paused. “I was so happy. Shit. I even looked forward to coming home at night and figuring out what to cook for dinner. When we made love, it was total… Well, it was art.”

The sheriff interrupted. “Jesus Christ, boy, I don’t want to hear this.”

Jesse nodded his head. “I know. I just wanted you to understand that there wasn’t any trouble on the horizon. There wasn’t trouble in the living room. And there sure weren’t any problems in the bedroom. I actually had to convince myself that this was the last woman I ever wanted to have in my life when we made love.”

The sheriff just shook his head.

Feeling the freedom to continue, Jesse took a deep breath, trying to gain some sense in his brain. “I think I was gonna ask her to marry me. But here’s where it comes in. She’s a doctor, too. Honest to God—like somebody wrote it for television. Two doctors falling in love in a small town in California.”

He squinted. “But you see, her work’s different. She’s the head of pediatrics over there at the Mercy Clinic—you know, in the middle of that huge forest stuck out there in the sand?”

The sheriff nodded. Everybody knew Mercy Clinic. It had gained national attention, being one of the only hospitals across the country that still offered late-term abortions without any questions. There had been protests and the press corps across the nation and come, asking every man, woman, child and lizard what they thought about the clinic being nearby.

Now that the hullabaloo was over, nobody ever spoke of it.

So the sheriff knew the place.

Jesse continued. “I can tell by your silence that you’re acquainted with Mercy Clinic. But honestly, sheriff, she did the work for just that reason. Mercy. She convinced me. I thought those type of abortions were evil, but she explained to me that complications can come in late in a pregnancy, or there can be dire changes through deaths, divorces, or just a final regret that produces the need for the baby to be aborted.”

He continued. “I didn’t ever believe in it, but I certainly understood her heart.”

Jesse explained, “Well, we were talkin’ about such things, because I took her to San Diego for the weekend, and I was gonna ask her to marry me. I had the damn ring and everything. She stepped out to get us some tamales that she heard were the best in North America, and I was left alone in our motel room, jazzed up, but also kind of curious. I did something I shouldn’t have done. I looked through her briefcase. She had agreed to come on the trip as long as I understood she had some work she needed to do. I thought she was talkin’ about Mercy Clinic—but when I thumbed through the papers, they were all about a man named Dr. Carmine and a place called Onederkind.”

He looked over at the sheriff. “If you’re takin’ notes, there, sheriff, it’s O-n-e-d-e-r-k-i-n-d.”

The sheriff was not scribing anything, but he grabbed a piece of paper from his pocket and a pencil lying on the table and pretended to enshrine the word for all time.

“My girlfriend,” Jesse began, “and by the way, her name is Lacy. Dr. Lacy Sanderson. She stayed away for quite a while. By the time she returned with the tamales, I had read most of the notes in her file.”

“So what did it say?” asked the sheriff, sprouting some interest.

“You see, that was the problem,” Jesse answered. “There were things I read that shocked me, but I was in no mood to be shocked, since I was just about to marry this woman, or at least propose. So I tried to brush it out of my mind. But after I finished off my third tamale, I was unable to ignore my feelings. So I asked her. Well, I didn’t really ask her. I just said the word: Onederkind.

“She stopped in the middle of her chewing, and slowly but precisely set her tamale on the plastic paper provided. Then she reached over and slapped me across the face. Well, you can imagine, sheriff…I recoiled like a spurned dog. I did not know what to expect, but the violence took me aback. She changed right before my eyes. She said, ‘You goddamn son-0f-a-bitch. How dare you go through my briefcase? How dare you go through my notes? How dare you say you love me and then intrude on my person?’”

“I was wounded but didn’t want to remain silent, so I said, ‘It’s because I love you that I want to know. Why do we have secrets? Why haven’t we talked about this?’”

“Now get this,” said Jesse. “Thinking we were gonna launch into an argument about states’ rights and all, she just looked at me coolly and replied, ‘I didn’t tell you because you’re a child and you’re so locked into the medical system that you could never comprehend anything but your charts and graphs.’”

Jesse went on. “Now, sheriff, this is why I ran into your car. For the next ten minutes, without blinking an eye, she explained to me what she really does for a living. She is united with a licensed, but renegade, doctor named Carmine. He has two missions. The first one is to provide late-term abortions for frantic, conflicted women who find themselves in need of one. But the second mission is to make sure that rather than killing those babies—crushing their skulls or whatever the hell is they do with them—that after they remove them from their mothers’ uteruses, he whisks them away and keeps them alive.”

The sheriff gasped. “Is he some sort of a pro-life freak? Or…”

Jesse interrupted. “Oh, no. No, sir. He isn’t keeping the babies alive to keep them alive. He keeps those babies alive, sheriff, for research.”

“Research,” repeated the sheriff.

“Yes,” replied Jesse. “Because it’s much easier to test medicines, chemicals and treatments on living subjects, Dr. Carmine uses these newborn babies that were going to die anyway, as test subjects for drugs, cures and vaccinations.”

The sheriff sat for a long moment. “Well, it does sound sick. But weren’t the babies gonna be dead anyway? He keeps them alive, uses them for a time…and then, does he adopt them out to families? I suppose that would be a crime.”

Jesse sat up in his chair and spoke angrily. “No. Here’s the crime, sheriff. Because it’s not legal to use human beings as rats or guinea pigs, when the babies reach one year of age—when they’re just about ready to do all their crawling, walking and talking—he gives them a shot and puts them to sleep.”

The sheriff was quiet. Jesse joined him in the silence, allowing for thought to live in the room, to give it a chance to bring meaning.

“So what you’re saying,” said the sheriff, “is that babies that were gonna be aborted are kept alive and used to test new drugs and treatments…”

Jesse interrupted. “Or to harvest their organs. Use their stem cells. Whatever Dr. Carmine feels is necessary to push along the progress of research at a pace that will bring faster results.”

The sheriff sat and shook his head.

“I know what you’re feeling,” said Dr. Jesse. “At first, I was torn—that even though it was unorthodox, or maybe even like Frankenstein, it still had a stream of good in it. But because there aren’t enough women who want third trimester abortions, Dr. Carmine was finding himself needing to advertise, if not encourage, women who were teetering in their indecision, to opt for termination.”

Jesse concluded. “You see, sheriff, there’s nothing good about it. It’s dark. The worst kind of sinister. It makes us believe it might be good.”

“So,” the sheriff asked, “what did you say when she told you all this?”

“Now it gets interesting,” Jesse answered. “While we were sitting in the motel room, suddenly there’s this knock at the door. Lacy gets up, opens it, and there’s these two big, burly fellows. One she referred to as Bruno and Bruno called his buddy Henry. Lacy quickly explained that since I knew, she was gonna have to wrap me up in tape and forbid me to leave the room until it was clear what my intentions were. In other words, what was I going to do with what I now knew?”

“Honest to God, sheriff, I always thought I would be able to protect myself if I was ever attacked, but these two guys just took me over, put me in a chair, pinned down my arms, wrapped me in duct tape, pushed me back and wrapped duct tape around my chest and the back of the chair. I wanted to struggle—but without knowing what to do—they were able to duct tape my legs to the bottom of the chair. They looked over at her when they were preparing to tape my mouth. She said, ‘Wait. Let’s give him a chance to speak, so he can ask questions.’”

“So I did. I asked her—even though it was controversial—what was wrong with working on chimpanzees to do the research. She told me, ‘They’re chimpanzees. They aren’t human.’ I asked her where her moral conflict was. Had she ever questioned it. She replied, ‘I work with pediatric AIDS patients. Do you know what it’s like to watch a little girl die of AIDS simply because she was born to a mother who’s HIV positive?’”

“Of course, I didn’t know what that was like. She continued. ‘Dr. Carmine has made progress in AIDS, childhood cancer, even paralysis. You see—’ she said, her voice turning into a scream. ‘That’s the problem. He makes great progress, but he can’t share it because he would have to reveal how he came to his conclusions. So even though the babies are helpful, and their clean, pure systems make it possible for the tests to register with great clarity, no one the hell can ever find out, because dead babies will resurrect the living babies, who are used to give life to other people…’”

“Well, I interrupted her and said, ‘Yeah, and in doing so are rewarded by losing their lives.’ She slapped me across the face again. By the way, it was at that point I decided that not to ever give her the ring. She said, ‘You’re so goddamn conventional and stupid. It wouldn’t have to be that way. If we really cared about people instead of just caring about babies so we can take pictures, Dr. Carmine could share his discoveries and hundreds—maybe thousands—of lives could be saved.’”

“’Okay,’ I screamed back at her. ‘Let’s follow your logic. So he learns all these things he can’t share while simultaneously stealing babies, which he eventually has to kill because they’re starting to want to live.’”

“Bruno stepped in at this point and asked her if she wanted him to tape my mouth. All she said was, ‘Get him out of here.’”

“And they did. I do not know how they got me down the stairs and through the lobby without somebody noticing that I was in peril, but in no time at all, I found myself in the back end of a pickup truck, just as night was falling.”

“We drove for thirty minutes—into the deepest desert that Bruno and Henry could find. They pulled over, removed the tape from my legs and hands and took off my boots. They confiscated my cell phone and gave me a small canteen of water. Finally I got the courage to ask, ‘Are you gonna leave me here?’ They laughed. ‘Yeah, dope,’ Henry said. ‘If you go east, it’s fifteen miles to a town. North, twenty. South, thirty. And West…hell, I don’t know. Whatever happens, you’re gonna be busy for a while. I would not recommend that you go back to town telling your loony stories.’ So with this final admonishment, he jumped back into the truck with Bruno and they took off, scattering sand in all directions.”

“I stood there for a moment as it grew darker and darker. The sounds of desert life filled my ears. Swishing, croaking and growling…” Jesse shuddered. “I was in trouble. I walked a mile until I found a road. I decided to walk down that road—hopefully until somebody found me.”

“They did. A fellow in a motorhome drove up, and even though he was a little frightened by my appearance I was able to convince him that I was the victim of a crime, and he let me get in and he drove me.”

The sheriff leaped in. “So you came back here, got in your car and decided to hit me so you could tell your story…”

“Well,” said Dr. Jesse Kinrod slowly. “Not exactly. Honestly, I didn’t think there was much need to come back to Fisher, since they probably had planted drugs in my apartment or something to discredit me.”

“So I found out that my friend in the motorhome was willing to drive me to the edge of the forest. You know—where the Mercy Clinic sits.”

The sheriff nodded.

“He let me out. He was willing to give me a pair of shoes, but his feet were as small as a Japanese dancer’s, so I was out of luck. I walked the mile down the driveway to the Mercy Clinic. It was a warm night, so the Clinic had its windows open. I walked around all four sides, listening to conversations floating into the night air. That is, until I heard someone call someone else Dr. Carmine. Just then a car pulled up, parked close to the door and out stepped my never-to-be fiancé, Lacy. She climbed the steps and disappeared inside. Before I ever knew it, she was in the same room with Dr. Carmine. I sat and listened to them talk, as she explained what had happened with me, intruding into her affairs and being knowledgeable of the system. Listening to Dr. Carmine, I was not more impressed with his mission. He had that lilt of superiority that often accompanies maniacs who think they’re Messiahs. Neither one of them wanted to suggest what to do with me, but it was Lacy who finally said, ‘He’s got to disappear.’”

Jesse looked over at the sheriff. “Do you get it? ‘He’ was me. So that’s when I decided to come back and, let’s say, get your attention.”

The sheriff was nearly moved to tears. He stood up and patted Jesse on the shoulder. “Son, I’m sorry. I don’t like what they’re doin’. It’s certainly immoral. It’s definitely illegal. But your testimony against them is incredible—because you just ran into a police car with your beat-up Camaro. Your story wouldn’t go anywhere. If you’re able to cover the damages on the cruiser with your insurance, why don’t we just call it a bad night? Why don’t you go home, forget that girl, and just hope that there is a God and He’ll make everything right.”

Jesse stared up at the sheriff and said, “I don’t think you understand. I’m here to turn myself in.”

The sheriff shook his head. “I told you. That’s not necessary.”

“Oh, yes, it is,” said Jesse. “What I didn’t get the chance to tell you was, before I left Mercy Clinic and hitched back into town, I went in there and stole the scalpel off his tray and killed that goddamn doctor and that bitch who lied to me.”

Dr. Jesse Kinrod raised his hands to surrender to the justice of the county.

The sheriff just shook his head over and over and over and over again.

Not Long Tales … December 24th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4468)

20.

The Wysies

On July 19th, the project received the green light for filming—seven days commencing on the 2nd of December—to be aired for five straight nights, beginning December 19th through December 24th, Christmas Eve.

Expectations were high.

The network was always thrilled when any new angle on the holiday season could be unearthed in an attempt to capture a large market share during the December festivities.

This year was particularly exciting, because along with the entertaining new concept was the introduction of Zandy Carlisle to direct. She was an Asian gay woman with a disability—carpel tunnel syndrome. A promotional trifecta.

The premise of the show was simple. A twist and turn on the phrase “Wise Men” had become “Wysies.”

This was not the original title. At first it was spelled W-I-S-S-I-E-S. But after conducting a survey of potential audience, it was determined that the name was too close to “Wussies,” which made everybody laugh—but for the wrong reason.

So it was quickly changed to W-I-Z-Z-I-E-S. But this tested worse, since the inclusion of the prefix “wiz” brought forth images of urination as far as the eye could see. It was Zandy who suggested that using a Y took care of the pronunciation, and striking the extra S eliminated the “Wussie” or the “Wizzie.”

Actually, choosing the name was much more difficult than coming up with the blueprint of the show.

Basically it was a broadcast about five couples, all in their twenties, sent on a mission. Each couple would begin in Temecula, California, dressed in shorts and a shirt, barefoot and with fifty dollars. They would be instructed to walk all the way to the Burbank, California studios as their final destination.

The ninety-four miles between Temecula and Burbank were almost identical to the ninety-seven point six miles that the first Christmas couple, M & J, trekked from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

The rules were easy to understand. There were four things that needed to be accomplished:

  1. Each couple was to stay on foot with no motorized transportation, be it public or private.
  2. They must garner all food and drink from the kindness of strangers.
  3. They would also have to perform one huge, provable good deed.
  4. And finally, to keep everything lively, they should arrive at the finish line in Burbank with a donkey.

Each journey would be filmed, and on the final night, there would be a vote cast by the audience to proclaim the winner.

A rather extensive search took place for the right participants. Of course, in respect to the times, one needed to be gay, one was interracial—black and Asian. An additional couple was a prison romance which blossomed into freedom, with a great backstory. One selected pair was a very religious married team. And finally, there was one couple that was white bread enough to make peanut butter sandwiches for all of summer camp. Their names were Curtis and Morena—a pair of actors who had come to Southern California seeking fame and fortune, but willing to settle for either.

Curtis had been in the hunt for notoriety for about a year-and-a-half, and so far, had only procured a job as a stand-in for a talking jalapeno in a Mr. Mexico taco commercial. Morena had a bit more success—playing the notorious “Queen of Dirt” in a kitchen cleanser TV ad.

Long before the time for filming arrived, sessions were planned to discuss what was expected, beneficial, preferred and helpful for each couple. It was made clear that it was absolutely fine to mention God—but no more than once per episode, so as not to scare away the “uncertain” crowd or the “God is dead” demographic. At no time was Jesus to be included. There were just too many Jews, Muslims and Buddhists for the show to present itself as a billboard for Christianity.

Every couple needed to have a story, so questions were asked, and the search began for what approach would draw the public into the private lives of the contestants.

But first, it was made clear that the name “Wysies” was chosen because it gave a quaint, holiday sniff to what was actually a reality game show (“Wysies” being the Wise Men). That was coupled with the length of the journey being tied into the story of Mary and Joseph. It seemed to be just enough to provide a flavor of inspiration.

The back-stories were chosen.

The gay couple was to play out the persecution they had suffered in pursuit of gaining the right to be married in an America which was “the home of the free and the land of the brave.” Or maybe the other way around.

The black man and Asian woman had lived in Mississippi after he had completed a military tour of duty in Iraq. Their feelings had been greatly injured by the citizens of Dixie, who found their joining to be unnatural under God’s Law.

The two prisoners who had found love after jail had a natural set-up. He was in for trafficking drugs, and she had killed her former husband in a fit of rage when she found him sleeping with her younger sister.

The difficulty came when it was time to derive an appealing presentation for Curtis and Morena. After much questioning, it was decided to emphasize that Curtis was an orphan—since his father had died when he was ten, though his mother was still alive and dwelling in Columbia, Missouri. And Morena had been plagued by disease because she had terrible allergies to both hay and ragweed. (It was agreed that as long as they didn’t get too specific, a general mentioning of their circumstances could still stir the sympathies of the viewership.)

Director Zandy made it abundantly clear that a show of this intensity—this rich with human conflict—would have to emphasize forced feeling, forced fighting, forced exposure, and when necessary, forced story lines.

After the first four planning sessions, Curtis and Morena became disillusioned. It was especially disheartening when the religious couple stomped off the set after being informed that any testimony of their salvation or personal relationship with God had to be abandoned in favor of punctuating their own love story—with a strong dose highlighting their sex life.

That left four couples.

Director Zandy said she was thrilled when it came down to four because five stories were more difficult to squeeze into the time constraints. Even though Curtis and Morena became upset about the job, the first-place prize money of fifty thousand dollars would keep them working and striving toward their goal of becoming full-fledged actors—and was certainly worth putting up with some bleeding of the conscience.

After the planning sessions, and with a general understanding of the expectations, the cast members were sent back to their lives to fend for themselves until the filming began. Each week, Zandy sent off an email with little hints and encouragements on how to better access their greatest potential for winning the show.

Especially significant were the ideas on how to do a good deed. Matter of fact, Zandy referred to this as a “sloppy, sappy service.” In other words, something so obviously kind, generous and merciful that the audience at home would be brought to tears, convinced of the overwhelming goodness of the contestant.

Each week, Curtis and Morena read the directive from Zandy, feeling more and more unsure of their footing. Also, Curtis received alarming news about his mother, Catherine McDermott, who was showing the first stages of dementia—or perhaps warning signs of cardiovascular disease and the danger of a stroke. In other words, she was “ailing.” That’s how family and friends in Missouri expressed their fears for the worst.

Curtis didn’t know what to do. The main problems were his financial situation, fear of failure and his lack of passion about his aspiration for acting. He was frightened that if he went home to Missouri, he would never make it back to Hollywood. He was reluctant to share his feelings with Morena, who found his silence about his mother to be disconcerting, and soon was considering leaving him. She probably would have done so if it had not been for the commitment to “Wysies,” plus a nagging, heartfelt affection for the boy.

The next directive arrived the following week. Both Curtis and Morena were shocked.

Now, neither one of them were religious. But when they read Zandy’s message, the little, tiny piece of faith that still abided in them was stunned. The directive read:

“Good morning to you outstanding human beings and contestants for “Wysies!” I wanted to give you a heads up. During one of our planning sessions, it was discovered that some initial press reports have leaked—portraying the show as a religious broadcast about the journey of Mary and Joseph to the manger. The critics are already attacking it as being just another righteous ruse’ to punctuate the differences among the populace, aggravating the debate about the separation of church and normal life.”

“Of course, nothing could be more untrue. But once a rumor like this gets started, it must be stomped out quickly, or pretty soon a forest fire of misunderstanding will be set ablaze. So I am asking each of you to do a couple of interviews on a press junket in order to (a) advertise yourself; (b) be cute and humorous, bringing intrigue about the show; and (c) strongly establish that ‘Wysies’ is not a God thing.”

“I will contact you soon with times, dates and some possible lines you can use to sever this contest from Sunday School lingo.”

The email was signed:

“Your fearless friend and leader, Zandy”

This stimulated a discussion between Curtis and Morena. Neither one of them felt comfortable defending the faith. They were not like the religious couple, who yearned to preach the Gospel, but they also found no contentment in being included among unbelievers and those who were apathetic about a possible Creator in Heaven.

What began as a discussion about the show ended as an argument about their relationship. Morena was just as discouraged about their progress in the cattle calls of the entertainment industry thus far. Playing the “Queen of Dirt” had not garnered much business, and unfortunately, had not become a repetitive character for future commercials. (Matter of fact, those reviewed about the commercial were thrilled when she was sucked down the drain in the last scene.)

But Morena did not want to be the one to give up. If Curtis were going to leave, he needed to make it clear that he was the quitter—and if he wanted her around, he needed to offer a greater commitment than a tender pat on her bare butt after sex.

On the other hand, Curtis did not want to be the villain in the great tale of their lives. So ensued two or three days of continual fighting with perpetual finger-pointing.

“You’re the reason we’re failing!”

“If you just cared more, we might do better!”

In the midst of this, more calls came in from Missouri, expressing, in a quiet way, desperation over Mother Catherine’s well-being.

Curtis began to wonder if he could just abandon his dream and blame it on his mother’s condition. His problem with that plan was that Morena would always know about the little piece of chicken-shit mixed in with his nobility.

He could leave her, but then he would be arriving back in Missouri alone, into an atmosphere of dreary demise.

One night as they sat, heads spinning from the latest bewildering exchange of ideas, Curtis posed a very interesting question.

“Morena, do you think we can win ‘Wysies?’”

Morena was offended, and then surprised that she felt so insulted by a legitimate question. After all, there were three other couples. The gay lovers were certainly cute and flamboyant. The two prisoners had enough tattoos for three people. And the black and Asian couple—well, on top of military service, they had the applause of everyone who hated Mississippi.

Curtis asked again. “Do you think we can win this thing?”

Morena surprised herself. “No.” That was all she said.

Curtis turned to her, alarmed. “Then why are we doing it?”

Morena replied emphatically. “You know why we’re doing it! Exposure! Showing enough of ourselves that this time, you get to play the jalapeno instead of getting coffee for him!”

Even though the comment stung Curtis’ ego, it was still rather funny. He laughed. “And,” he retorted, “you might get the part of Princess of Clean in the next commercial—who gets to survive to sell yet another day.”

“So,” she said, “we’re hanging around here to participate in a contest where we have no chance of winning, and we’re hoping that our failure will draw enough attention to us that someone will want us in some sort of part because we were such dynamic also-rans.”

Curtis smiled. “You left out something,” he said. “All this is true—plus we have to find a donkey and get it to Burbank, California.”

Then something strange happened—odd indeed. Morena did something she had not done since she was a young girl. Matter of fact, she had been nine years old, and her dog was hit by a car and was lying in the middle of the street, twitching.

On that day, she had bowed her head and prayed. “God, heal my dog.”

Her puppy died. And so did her faith.

But now, in this moment of craziness mingled with humor and pathos, she prayed again. “God, would you get us out of here to someplace where we can breathe without being afraid?”

Curtis was shocked. The two of them had never even mentioned the word “God,” or thought about an Everlasting Presence, but without even thinking, when Morena finished her prayer, he said, “Amen.”

There were no phone calls. The sky did not open. There was no chill going down the spine.

They simply looked at each other and they both knew their next trek would not be to Burbank, but instead, across the country as best they could—to the bedside of a hurting woman in Missouri.

When Curtis called Director Zandy and quit, she was infuriated. She briefly tried to get him to change his mind, but when he wouldn’t, she explained that due to the nature of their contract, they would be required to sign a termination agreement, guaranteeing that they would never sue the show or the network. After this, Zandy curtly stated that the show would be “better with three couples anyway.”

When Curtis and Morena showed up in Burbank to sign their termination agreement, to their surprise they were both issued checks for five hundred dollars. They promised to never say a bad word about the show or do any negative promotion.

Shocked, bewildered, and dare we say, blessed, the two climbed into Morena’s old car—held together with rust and hopes—and headed toward Missouri.

They were in no hurry. It was a five-day journey, and they arrived on the exact day they originally had planned to begin filming “Wysies.”

Mother Catherine was still living in the old homestead. When they got there, she was sitting in the living room, staring out the front window. At first Curtis thought she was anticipating their homecoming—because he had called ahead to let the family know of their intentions. But when they came in, she continued to stare out the window to the undetermined outside.

He made his way to his mother’s side and touched her hand. Barely acknowledging his presence, she reached over and clasped his arm. Unexpectedly, Morena made her way up the stairs to the attic, where, as Curtis had explained, they kept all the Christmas decorations.

She emerged carrying a big box, shut the attic, came downstairs and opened it, beginning to remove the seasonal family treasures. This gained Catherine’s attention. She got up, walked across the room, and began to help Morena.

About five minutes into the experience, Catherine took Morena’s hands, and though she had never met her, she said, “We have done this before, haven’t we?”

Morena saw no reason to argue, so she nodded her head. Immediately, Catherine stood up, walked into the kitchen and took a stance next to the stove, as if considering warming water for tea or beginning a pot of coffee. She stared at the oven intently, as if seeking inspiration.

Concerned, Curtis followed her in. Seeing her stymied at the stove, he came up behind her, placed his hands on her shoulders, and then his arms around her neck, embracing her. Suddenly, from behind, he felt Morena’s tender arms squeezing his waist. The three stood there, connected, tightly holding one another, trying to draw strength from within.

That year, when “Wysies” aired, the ratings were so bad that they never actually finished the five days of production, pronouncing a winner.

Curtis and Morena spent the holiday season with Mother Catherine. Although they feared for her health, each day she actually grew stronger, more present and cognizant of the world around her.

By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, she was reciting memories, singing carols, and fixing the delicious chocolate chip cookies for which she was acclaimed.

Curtis and Morena fell in love—first, with Mother Catherine. Then, with the sweetness and nostalgia of the home. Next, with each other, as they sealed the covenant between them. And finally—and more slowly—they fell in love with God. Even though He had not done much to help Morena’s puppy, this time, on this occasion, and in this Christmas season, He had shown up…and answered their prayers.

Not Long Tales … December 17th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4461)

19.

The Glimpse

Teaching American history at the Daniel Boone High School in Lancerville, Kentucky, required a delicate balance between honoring the actual story of events mingled with comprehension of what every citizen of Lancerville believed to be true—or at least insisted was.

Marco Craswell had arrived in the town four years before as a teacher, and in the past schoolyear had taken on the added responsibility of assistant football coach.

Because his name was Marco, many people thought he was ethnic and looked deeply into his complexion for confirming signs. But actually, his father named him Marco out of a deep admiration for the great explorer, Marco Polo.

Depending on who you talked to, Marco was either the most eligible bachelor in the community or a closet gay. It would be delightful to report that Marco was a dedicated teacher, spending hours developing study plans, and giving extra sessions after school to encourage troubled students. But actually, Marco was the last one in the door when school began and the first one out when it ended. That was why he was a little upset about accepting the job of assistant football coach—it forced him to linger around the campus.

Marco did not like Lancerville.

The town had a credo: “Leave well enough alone.” The theme ran from City Hall, through the streets, into the stores and front doors of the homes, and even to the pulpits and pews of the seven churches sanctifying the surroundings.

As soon as he had arrived, Marco was informed by the school principal that he should find a church he liked—or at least could tolerate—because such things were very important to the citizens, and word would spread very quickly of any non-participation with the Jesus faithful. He had discovered that there was a Community Church in town which had a young minister from California, who by some circuitous journey, had ended up in Kentucky. His name was Jack Murphy, but required everybody to call him Pastor J.

He was a clumsy fellow with a great mind which was never able to manifest its authority through his tongue. So the sermons were a bit confusing, but blessedly brief. Marco made his church home there, struggling to attend each and every week.

Back at school, however, he never went to the teacher’s lounge, nor did he sit with the educators in the cafeteria at lunchtime but perched himself with the computer geeks, which seemed to greatly raise their self-esteem. One day after lunch, one of the leaders among the staff whispered in his ear, “They’re gonna ask you to chaperone for the upcoming class trip to Mammoth Cave.”

Marco flinched. The teacher continued, “This is a good time to say yes. Trust me.”

Sure enough, Marco didn’t even get halfway down the hall before the principal stopped him and said, “We’re having a school trip to Mammoth Cave in three weeks, and we wanted to ask you—because the students love you—to be one of the five chaperones. The school will pay for all your expenses, including entrance to the park. And the mothers are packing sack lunches for everyone.”

Marco wanted to decline—like he had done so many times before—but something told him that this was a line in the sand, a silent demand for him to participate or possibly face the danger of being eliminated.

With the cheeriest voice he could muster, he replied, “Of course! Where else would I be?” The principal really liked this answer. Matter of fact, he patted Marco on the back and tottered down the hall, whistling.

Marco did his best not to think about the upcoming trip. He tried to get sick. He looked for any reason possible to skip out on the duty.

He was just not happy in Lancerville. He was sick and tired of making Daniel Boone one of the predominant characters in his American history class. He was angry that several of the parents had suggested that he refer to the Civil War as the “War Between the States.” He was a disgruntled mentor to young men and women who desperately needed a fresh idea.

Yet Marco was ashamed of himself—so unhappy with his attitude that he decided to make an all-out effort to turn the Mammoth Cave trip into a roaring success.

The day arrived. Everything started out pretty normal. As he rode down the freeway on the bus, he read the pamphlets about the destination. He felt a little thrill. After all, Mammoth Cave was—and is—the largest underground cavern system in the world. Four hundred miles of it.

And even though he was a bit claustrophobic, he thought being with others, conversing, would prevent the walls from closing in on him. He would be fine.

The first part of the tour went well. Then one of the parents wanted to go down a different trail than the tour guide was pursuing. She needed an ally. She asked Marco if he would join her and four of the students. They had all heard flowing water off to the right, and the little group was curious to see what they might discover.

Marco was hesitant, but since he had vowed to become a willing participant in the class escapade, he nodded and joined the mother along with the four kids. They headed down the Eastern path.

After a couple of minutes, there was a sudden, violent shaking beneath their feet—a movement that threw all parties to the ground. Marco believed it was an earthquake. They were not common in Kentucky but did come from time to time—and unfortunately, today one arrived when he found himself beneath the earth inside a cave.

Terrified, everyone tumbled onto the ground, amid a cacophony of screams from all directions. Marco had fallen hard against the stones, bruising his side. He was still trying to recover from the impact when he looked up and realized that the entire entourage, which he had been leading, had run away.

He called out, uncertain what the appropriate beckoning should be. “I’m here!” he said once—then twice and a third time. No answer. A deep silence.

It didn’t seem like the earthquake had done any damage. A few rocks fell. Some sand and dirt.

Where was everyone?

Strangely, Marco felt at peace. Everything was so quiet. The surroundings were primeval. He felt that Nature had engulfed him within her soul.

He realized he should get up and try to find his way back out, but he was content. Maybe they would search for him.

It was so quiet he could hear his own heart.

Then, right in front of him, on the rock wall, a tiny pinpoint of light appeared. It was odd because the cave was so dark that even this small illumination hurt his eyes. It came and then it went. And then it came again.

It happened four times before Marco decided to get up and investigate. He walked over to the rock face and there, etched into the surface, was a small slit about seven inches long—like a rip along the seam of a pair of pants. And every few seconds a brief spritz of light emerged, then disappeared.

Marco giggled to himself. It was so unusual and peculiar that it seemed silly. But it was also a bit frightening. What was trying to shine through the rock?

Slowly, deliberately, he inched his way forward and placed his eye right in the center of the slit in the stone. He stepped back suddenly, unable to breathe. Then he scooted forward again to look. Once again, he retreated, breathless—for inside the miniscule crevice, surrounded by blinding light, he saw himself.

Not the person he was—an American history teacher from Daniel Boone High School. No—he was suddenly, almost cosmically alerted to the fact that he was staring into his own face from another place. Although he had seen the vision for less than two seconds, the realization swelled in his mind.

He slowly inched forward. But this time, as he put hie eye up to the crack in the rock, the stone suddenly began to seal together, as if being mended. The light that had been emitting flickered. Then the wall closed its rupture and the seam was gone.

Marco moved forward, staring at the place where the severing had been. It had vanished. The rock was sealed.

So spooked was he by the event that when two of the students came running up behind him, he jumped, pulling back from them in terror.

“What’s wrong?” said one of the students. Marco shook his head and bound out of the cave, with them trailing.

On the ride back to Lancerville, he could not think about anything else. He did not share his experience because he didn’t understand what he had seen. He didn’t offer details. It was the kind of report that would be considered weird—certainly unacceptable in the provincial village.

He kept it to himself, closing his eyes occasionally, to try to remember and regain the vision he’d beheld.

Arriving back at the school, he was the first one off the bus, ran to his car and drove home. Escaping to his bedroom, he turned off all the lights and lay on his bed, trying to simulate the quietness of the cave. What had he seen? Why did he believe he was staring into his own face—yet not the face that resembled him. It just was him.

Laying there quietly, exhausted from the trip, he fell into a deep sleep. Deeply slumbering, he had his first of two visions.

The first one was like his encounter in the cave, except in this dream, he could see himself more clearly. It was so bewildering. It was him, except formed by a different atmosphere—a unique climate. Or was it a coloration?

He awoke from the first vision, too tired to rise, too weary to think. He fell back asleep.

In the second vision, he was standing in front of the rock in Mammoth Cave. He saw five creatures, so different in appearance. Yet deep in his heart, he knew they were all him—all molded in his image. All constant with his spirit. As he watched, the crack healed and blended into the rock face, returning the wall to normalcy.

Needless to say, he awoke troubled. He carried the burden all the way to school—but decided to share some of his insights with his students during class. They listened, sympathetic, but also deeply worried that the experience had done some physical damage to the teacher’s brain, leaving him in need of medical attention. Less than half-an-hour after his class, three students, one faculty member, one parent from the town and the principal were standing in his classroom, demanding to know how he was feeling, and strongly suggesting that he immediately check himself into the city infirmary.

Marco realized his mistake—he needed to be much more careful about what he said about what he thought he had seen. So he laughed it off and told them it was just an experiment, to see what the students would do. He explained that he wanted to give them an example about how people throughout history had to make major adjustments to see progress achieved in our nation.

His sincerity rang true and they believed him.

He couldn’t wait to return home—to dream again, to see more, to learn more. But there were no more dreams. As startled as he was with the visions themselves, the absence of them left him sad, vacant.

The following morning he decided to take a day off from school and headed back to Mammoth Cave. He tried to find the place he’d been before but had no idea where it was.

Disappointed, he drove back toward town. Hungry, he pulled over at a diner, stepped inside, sat down at a booth and ordered a hot roast beef sandwich.

The young waitress was so kind to him that a sweet relaxation settled in. He realized that he just needed to talk. So he called ahead and asked Pastor J if he would be available for a visitor.

Pastor J was surprised but agreed. They met at the parlor of the church. Marco didn’t waste any time. He shared exactly what had happened, beginning at Mammoth Cave.

He told the whole story—the earthquake. The split in the stone. The flickering light, and the visions.

Pastor J listened carefully, trying his best to muster all his training. After the story was all done, Marco asked, “Is it possible, Pastor J—and I’m only asking you if it’s possible—that I’ve had a visit into another world?”

Pastor J sat for a moment, thinking. “Well,” he began, “let me tell you what I know from what you’ve shared. Or maybe what I think from your thoughts. I, for one, have never believed in a heaven where we humans, who have lived for less than a century, go and celebrate our little adventures eternally.”

Marco thought the way Pastor J put it was so adorable that he had to laugh. Pastor J continued. “Let’s not forget, the Bible itself says that ‘eye has not seen, nor ear heard’ what God has prepared for us. And speaking of that prepared thing, Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place just for them.”

He paused, considering. “And if you remember, the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus when he rose from the dead—and they had just seen him a couple of days before. Maybe that’s the way it is with us. Maybe we don’t die and go to heaven, but we raise up kind of like ourselves, and arrive in a new dimension.”

Marco was enthralled with the concept. “Let me ask you something, Pastor. Have you ever thought about the fact that Mars, Venus and all these planets that we think are unlivable—well, that maybe in our dimension they are, but in their spectrum, we look like just a rock hanging in the heavens.”

“No, Marco,” said the pastor. “I’ve never thought of it just that way. But maybe we just rise and live again. Or maybe it’s just a continuation without us being totally aware that we’re ever absent. I don’t know. But it’s gonna be cooler than hell.”

Marco gave Pastor J a hug. From that day forward, the two men became great friends. Marco decided to put any further speculation to the back of his mind, to toy with his own entertainment. But he did decide that if living was about keeping on living, and maybe even living in another aura, he’d better get started doing it.

Suddenly, he wasn’t afraid anymore.

He talked to Miss Sanchez at school—one of the new teachers, who was beginning a course in musical appreciation. He was attracted to her. He just walked right up to her at lunch and asked if he could sit down. The two entangled intensely in each other’s lives. He took her to the dance. He took her to Nashville for a concert. He took her to his family. He took her into his heart. She was thrilled with each experience.

They took one another to the altar, where they were married. Marco was no longer in a hurry to leave. He wasn’t sure what was waiting far beyond the stars, but down deep in his soul, he realized that he’d had a glimpse.

Not Long Tales … December 10th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4448)

18.

Po-Tay-Gold

There was no advantage in being female.

Joni knew this for a fact. At sixteen years of age, she had spent her entire life living on a tiny settlement, stuck between Laramie and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The elements dictated your effort.

The climate decided your work

And the isolation made it virtually impossible to think about things like dresses and bows in your hair.

It was lift, push and survive. There wasn’t much more time or reason for anything else in this outpost which the original founders had named Sinsear. (These first pioneers might have found some humor in the name, but nobody left behind ever gave it a smile.)

Joni was an orphan. She wasn’t born that way. (Of course, no one is.) Four years earlier, her parents left Sinsear to travel to Portland in the Oregon state, to look for work on the docks. They never returned.

No one talked about it—partially because speculation was fruitless, possibilities were painful—and mostly because living in the harsh surrounding, there was just no time to care.

Joni was willing to pull her load. So she became the community pet, given a slender cot in the back end of the only municipal building in the region—a large log cabin.

She earned her keep the same way all the teenagers did. Of the three hundred and twenty-four people who still lived in the vicinity (that is, if the Hennings, with their six children, decided to stay) there were about sixteen teenagers. These adolescents were employed for one purpose. When the snow came—and the snow always did come—it was their job to keep the road to the mountain pass cleared, so the town deputy could drive his truck up the quarter mile to his lovely home.

He was the richest man in town. Unfortunately, his name was Baron Quigley. But he didn’t act like a baron. He was a pretty nice guy for someone who had too much when everybody else had too little.

Quigley paid this army of teenagers a dime a day each, to shovel out the road to his home after the snowstorms. A dime had become a lot of money since the Great Depression had spread all across the United States.

Joni once asked, tongue-in-cheek, “So, what makes this depression so great?” (People either didn’t get her humor or decided to ignore it. She never tried it again.)

It was 1934, and it was Monday, December 10th. Fifteen days ‘til Christmas.

Joni’s two constant companions were Cummings Johns and Darson Shakers. In a more civilized world, the two old fellows would be classified as ne’er-do-wells, but in Sinsear, they had both found their place. Cummings called himself a “moving mechanic,” and Darson was dubbed “The Gatherer.”

Cummings got his name because he came around to fix things, and as long as you gave him some food and permission to sleep in the warmth of your premises, he was happy to be of service. The same thing was true of Darson, whose title, “Gatherer,” referred to him pulling a small trailer in which he collected the community garbage. (No one knew where Darson took it. Most folks were afraid to ask.)

Joni had it figured that she was better off than most of the other people who lived in the U.S. After all, there was plenty of deer, moose and bear to shoot and drag home for food, lots of snow to keep things cold and tons of wood for a fire, to warm you up at the end of the day.

It was more than enough to survive—and when survival was the name of the game, wise people didn’t sit around and discuss improvement.

So it was a little surprising when a salesman appeared in the settlement, advertising the new “golden potatoes” from Boise, Idaho. He touted that these spuds were twice the size of the normal variety and he whispered to Baron Quigley and several of the men who had gathered at the cabin that “word had that the Simplot Potato Company had secretly inserted into fifty random potatoes one ounce of pure gold per each tuber.”

The sales fellow made the men swear that they would not say anything about it, but the men quickly broke their word, sharing it throughout the entire camp. For the first time in a long time, the gathering of human souls in Sinsear was buzzing with excitement. “Just think of it—a potato with gold in it! A Golden Potato!”

Matter of fact, that’s what they decided to call it.

And the sales rep had even more good news. In an attempt to help out during the Great Depression, the Simplot Potato Growers had cut their price. You could now get five pounds of potatoes for three cents.

Everybody had one thing on their mind: how do we get more potatoes?

The Golden Potatoes would obviously make a great side for the moose steaks and the braised venison—so it wasn’t like they weren’t gonna get used.

So everybody gathered all their pennies and wrote a letter to Simplot Potato Company, requesting a shipment.

Joni didn’t want to get left out, but she wanted to make sure her potatoes were separate from those of the rest of the order, so as not to get things confused when she found gold in one of the potatoes.

One ounce of gold was enough money to last the average person for nearly two years. How wonderful it would be to not have to shovel snow through a pair of winters!

Joni asked Darson and Cummings how she might be able to order her potatoes and keep them separate from the ones being delivered to the camp by the company.

“I don’t know,” said Darson curtly.

That’s the way Darson was. He began every conversation like he was ready to spit into the snow. Then he began to sweeten up as he talked.

Cummings was a little bit nicer—he actually did the opposite of Darson. He started off talking reasonably nice, and by the end turned as sour as a pickle.

Joni had learned to ask most of her questions when the pair of gents landed about in the middle.

Cummings objected. “Why do you want to separate off your potatoes from the others? What a selfish thing to do. You mean if you find gold in your potato, you’re not gonna share it with me, after all I’ve done for you?”

Darson interrupted. “What have you done for her?”

Cummings was offended. “What do you mean, what have I done for her? The little bother-bug is an orphan and I’ve never made her feel like she’s not wanted even though her parents left and haven’t come back.”

Darson shook his head. “Isn’t that what you just did?”

Cummings scratched his beard. “She knows what I mean.” He looked at Joni. “Don’t you?”

Joni smiled, shook her head and returned to her question. “How can I keep my potatoes separate from the mass of potatoes?”

Cummings suddenly had an idea. “Well, I suppose you could order them later than the others. Then they would come separate—but also, you’d be waiting and maybe the shipment that came to the town folk would be filled with gold and you’d be left out.”

Joni did not like that at all.

Darson spoke up again. “Can we all agree that potatoes without gold in them taste mighty good and are well worth purchasing, especially if you can get some of that good white gravy on ’em?”

Cummings’ eyes sparkled. “I do love me some gravy,” he said. “Gravy is God’s way of apologizing for tasteless food.”

“Amen,” said Darson, staying sweet a little longer than normal.

Joni was still not satisfied. “I make a dime every time it snows,” she said. “Now, figure this out with me. If I took that whole dime, I could buy me about fifteen pounds of potatoes.”

Cummings vigorously shook his head. “I don’t like math problems. I never learned no arithmetic.”

Darson jumped in with his agreement. “I’m with you there, brother. I’ve lived a long time, and honest to God, nothin’ adds up.”

The two men laughed like they were drunk. (Joni knew this because she had seen them that way many times.)

Convinced there was no more need to consult her two companions, she went off by herself to dream about Po-Tay-Gold.

She liked the name. It sounded promising. And since it was almost Christmas, she wanted a few moments of privacy to think about it. So she went to her cot in the back of the cabin and lay down as darkness began to fall, finishing the day.

She fell asleep.

Joni had a dream. It was more than a dream. It was like this really nice-lookin’ young man was standing in front of her, talking right into her face. All he said was, “You’re going to win the gold.”

Joni woke up so thrilled that she wanted to run and find Darson, or Cummings, or anybody, and tell them that God had spoken, and her prosperity was on the way. But it was already dark—not safe to be running around looking for people since it was that time of night when the creatures of the forest ruled over the prairie.

As she lay on her cot, nearly sleepless for most of the night, she decided it was actually a good idea not to say anything about her dream, except maybe to Darson. Well, Cummings, too. Wouldn’t want to leave him out. Maybe she could tell some of the kids while they were shoveling snow. She’d have to be careful. She wouldn’t want an old-fashioned, jealous spirit to fall on her and have people dislike her because she’d been favored.

While Joni lay sleepless, the heavens opened and dumped eight inches of snow all over the world around her. The only problem was, it was the wet kind, not the powder. Wet was more difficult to shovel—made her legs ache and her back creak. But she knew at the end of the day, she’d have her ten cents to order fifteen pounds of potatoes.

Much to her surprise, the potato people from Idaho decided to ship a whole bunch of potatoes in the direction of Sinsear after they heard that their salesperson was received quite well by the folks. So it was only four days later—December 15th—that a big shipment came in on a huge truck.

There were so many potatoes that people could buy more than they’d even ordered.

Inspired, Joni did something she’d never done before. She asked one of the boys who was on the snow-plow team—who usually criticized her for being too slow—if she could borrow a dime from him. (For some reason, he always seemed to have a little more coinage than the rest of the kids.)

He asked what she’d give in return. Joni had no idea what to say. So the boy came right out and told her that if she’d give him a big kiss on the lips, he’d loan her the dime.

Joni had never even thought about kissing. Just like wearing a dress seemed foreign, kissing seemed to be something done on another planet. She always wore Levi’s and her bulky wool sweater. They certainly didn’t make her attractive—at least she didn’t think so. Nobody had ever called her cute, pretty or even reasonably acceptable. Now this boy was willing to use her lips for collateral.

She was ready to say no when he leaned in and grabbed him a kiss anyway. Joni was shocked—offended. Her head was spinning. She wanted to curse but didn’t know the words. The boy just laughed at her, handed over the dime, and said, “You pay me back within two weeks or I get me another one of those.”

She stood, staring at him as he stomped away, giggling. What had just happened?

Yet, she was so proud of herself for being willing to sacrifice for her Po-Tay-Gold that she ran to the truck, which was surrounded by locals. She bought fifteen pounds of potatoes—almost so heavy that she couldn’t carry them. She took them back to her cot in the cabin, found an old knife that the Baron used to whittle wood, and started cutting them open.

She was about nine potatoes in when Darson stuck his head in the door, saw what she was doing and exclaimed, “What in the name of Geronimo’s bones are you doin’, girl?”

Joni didn’t even look up. She just responded, “I’m lookin’ for gold.”

Darson laughed. “But what are you gonna do with the potatoes when you’re done?”

Joni looked down at the carved potatoes and said, “I’ll offer ’em to all the folks and we’ll have a big potato bake.”

Darson nodded approvingly. “That’s good thinkin’. I’ll pass the word.”

By dinnertime Joni had cut open all of her potatoes. There was no gold. She had thought one of them might have gold in it, so she called Cummings in to confirm whether it was gold or not—since she didn’t know what gold looked like. But this particular potato felt moister. But Cummings explained that it was just rotten and seeping out some pukey juice.

Joni had carefully picked it up and threw it to the side, continuing her labor. So much carving, so much hope. No gold.

Matter of fact, other people from Sinsear had spent their early afternoon into the evening doing their own potato inspection. No one found gold.

People were a little bit fussy, but after a fire was built and a rack was constructed for roasting, and when the eating began, people cheered up a little.

Joni was concerned. She realized she couldn’t give up. That angel boy in her vision had told her she was gonna get gold. Why would God tell her a lie? And if He wasn’t a liar, then out there, waiting, was her gold.

After the great potato bake, Joni was ready to head for the cabin. She told Cummings, “I’m gonna keep looking for my Po-Tay-Gold. It’s here. Do you believe with me?”

Cummings didn’t know what to say, but nodded, so Joni ran with all her might to her bed, hoping for a sleep that would give her enough energy to plow the road to buy more potatoes.

Cummings came back to the fire. Darson was sittin’ there, chomping on a particularly well-cooked, yellow potato. Cummings said, “Joni’s bound and determined to find one of those fifty golden potatoes.”

Darson turned and looked at Cummings. “What?” he inquired.

Cummings replied, “You know—she wants to get money—gold.”

Darson laughed and laughed. He laughed so long that Cummings was almost ready to punch him in the snout. Finally calming down, he put his arm around Cummings’ shoulder and said, “Listen, my friend. You do understand, there is no gold in any of the potatoes.”

Cummings jerked back, shocked. “But the salesman told us there were fifty potatoes sent out with gold in them.”

Darson patted Cummings on the leg. “Now, just stop and think about it. How would they get gold inside a potato? They couldn’t cut it open. They couldn’t squeeze it in.”

Cummings looked at him, alarmed. “Are you sayin’ there’s no gold in any of the potatoes?”

Darson shook his head. “Not a nickel.”

“Then they lied?” Cummings shouted, surprised.

Darson hushed him. “Don’t be shoutin’.”

Cummings said, “But we gotta tell people.”

Darson shook his head. “Now, why would we do that? There’s no harm in buyin’ potatoes. They’ll get et. But there is plenty of harm in destroying hope just so you can be right.”

Cummings was mad. “Well, what about Joni? You know we love her.”

Darson frowned. “Well, I certainly feel somethin’ about her. I’m certainly devoted. Yeah, I guess I do love her.”

Cummings said, “Well, what should we do about her?”

Darson took a deep breath. “I wouldn’t do anything. Look at it this way, Cummings. She’s sixteen years old. She’s a girl living in the wilderness. She has to act like a boy, or she’ll be worthless. What should we tell her?”

Cummings stood up and excused himself. He was upset—so upset that he couldn’t sleep. In the middle of the night, he got an idea. When he had graduated from high school many, many years before, somebody had given him a brand-new silver dollar.

So Cummings grabbed a potato and very carefully slit open the side, and with the skill of a craftsman, he found a way to slide the silver dollar into the center of the potato. Then, to keep the slit from being noticeable, he took a little bit of glue from his workbench and smeared it to cover up the incision.

He was so proud of his effort.

The next morning, he told Joni he had found a potato that had apparently fallen out of her stack when she was carrying them in. He handed it to her, who sprouted a dark cloud of disbelief. Cummings encouraged her to cut open this potato.

She did.

There, at the center, was that beautiful, shiny silver dollar.

Joni was thrilled. She jumped up and down, clapped her hands, and started to head out to tell the people in the community. Then she changed her mind, turned back to Cummings and said, “Can you believe this?”

He shook his head, feeling proud that he had come up with such a magnificent idea, to satisfy Joni’s desire.

Before he could speak, as she jumped up and down, Joni exclaimed, “Now, I can order me about one ton—two thousand pounds—of potatoes! I oughta find the gold with that many, don’t you think?”

Cummings didn’t know what to say. It didn’t make any difference, because Joni had already run out the door, with plans for figuring out how to place her huge order.

Cummings stood to his feet, feeling it was his responsibility to track her down and tell her he had placed the silver dollar into the potato. Matter of fact, he was halfway down the street when he stopped in the middle of the road and peered up at the sun, thinking.

If he told her, it could break her heart.

If he didn’t tell her, it could also break her heart.

The only difference was that if he told her now, her heart would be broken immediately. If he waited, she would have a little big longer to be thrilled.

He turned and walked down the street to repair a busted pump. He would remain silent.

For the truth of the matter is, our visions will continue to be dreams as long as we keep believing in them.

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