Not Long Tales … November 26th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4234)

16.

Falling Leaves

Clouds are just water vapor. They have no lining—certainly not a silver one.

This is probably the first thing any villager from Blanchport, Pennsylvania learns growing up near the West Virginia border, where eking out a surviving wage without hating your work is considered heaven.

Murtrand Gillogly was only seventeen years old when she met Benson. He was tall, muscular and worked in the coal mines, so had a little extra money—more than the average boy walking the streets or plowing the fields.

She fell in love. Well, at least enough to give herself over to him in the cab of his Ford pickup truck. They had only consummated their confirmation on three occasions when Murtrand found out that she had missed her time.

Not knowing what to do, she finally decided to go to the town doctor. “Murty,” he said. (That’s what all the locals called her.) “Murty, I want to tell you something real simple. You’re pregnant.” He peered at her. “I imagine that’s not good news for you, so I will grant you the privacy of keeping my mouth shut until you want to yap about it.”

The young girl was terrified but had enough sense to confess to her parents, her preacher and a few close friends. They all did the wrong thing—what often happens in small towns with small minds.

They condemned her.

It became especially problematic when after three-and-a-half months, the hospital, twenty-five miles away, confirmed that she was carrying twins. Benson, her boyfriend and baby-maker, had decided to hang around—until he received this latest news. There was something about two babies popping out that scared the living shit out of him.

He explained that because there was so much expense that needed to be covered, he was going on a “miracle journey.” That’s what he called it–a “miracle journey” to Las Vegas–to win enough money to take care of the family, for now and all time. Murty was suspicious—but still moved that he had the desire to be a breadwinner, even if the crumbs came from the gambling tables. She sweetly kissed him on the lips and promised to remain true.

That was the last time she ever saw him.

Six months later, by the ordination of nature and sheer will and purpose of the human body, Murty gave birth to two boys. Feeling particularly traditional and proud of herself, she decided to name one Clarence and one Cameron.

Concerning the community, no support and no real sense of acceptance came her way throughout the first part of the twins’ growing up time. For in Blanchport, Pennsylvania, once you sin, it’s not forgiven unless God shows up and does it Himself.

And He doesn’t come around very often.

So Murty did a little waitressing, telemarketing and even pumped gas down at the local convenience store, to keep shoes on four small feet and grits in three bellies.

She loved her boys.

She was really proud of Clarence. When he was only seven years old, he walked by the town bank and noticed that somebody had dropped a hundred-dollar bill. His first instinct was a good one. He took it inside and presented it to the bank president (or some fellow wearing a tie) and explained that he had found it just outside the door, so figured it might belong to somebody inside.

The banker patted him on the head, told him he was a good little gent, and said they would advertise, letting people know the money had been discovered.  But he added that if it wasn’t retrieved in the next thirty days, little Clarence could keep it.

He had a terrible time sleeping. He even picked himself up a giveaway calendar from down at the drug store and started marking off the days. The whole town was rooting for him. Matter of fact, he acquired a nickname. Instead of Clarence, they started calling him “C-note.” He liked it, even though he didn’t know what it meant. But when they explained that a hundred-dollar bill was called a C-note, he was flattered and overjoyed.

It was the twenty-ninth day of waiting to find out about the prize money when the banker called Clarence to his office. The little boy sat down, anticipating his hundred dollars—ready to scream just as loud as he could.

The banker smiled, cleared his throat and said, “Young man, I want to tell you how admirable it is that you brought the money in when you found it. Some boys would have run off to the candy store or hid it in a jar in the back yard. Unfortunately, I’m sorry to report that as it turns out, after the books have been budgeted and calculated, that hundred dollars belongs to the bank.”

Clarence cried. He tried not to do so. He tried to keep what the preacher always called a “stiff upper lip,” but even though his lips seemed quite all right, his eyes were pouring.

The banker came from behind his desk, put an arm around the boy and said, “Now, now. Don’t you cry. Because we at the bank have decided to give you five dollars as a finders fee.”

Now, it wasn’t much money. Certainly not a hundred. But it seemed to be enough encouragement to turn off the water faucets in his eyes.

He ran out of the bank with his five-dollar bill and down the street. He bought something for his brother, Cameron, something for his mother and something for himself. They had a wonderful night together, celebrating their sudden wealth and how much they loved each other.

Only one problem arose from the situation: Cameron was pissed off that he didn’t have a nickname, too. After much deliberation and even a little bit of prayer, he decided that from that point on, he wanted to be known as Camo.

It didn’t have any meaning. Yet from that moment, the twins became known as C-note and Camo.

Their eighth year looked similar to their ninth. And the tenth year was marked by a brief visit to some friends in Harrisburg.

They went to school, they wore the clothes provided, they smiled at the right adults and when those grown-ups weren’t looking, they had their fun.

One of their favorite pastimes was climbing an old mulberry tree down by the railroad tracks. It was a huge one—about eight enormous branches going up to the sky. Each boy marked his courage by how high he was willing to go on the branches leading to heaven.

C-note had made it to the third branch. Camo was still sitting on the second one, mustering up the courage to shimmy up the tree.

One day, they foolishly invited their mother out to watch them climb. She was terrified. She almost forbade them to do it anymore, but after much pleading she made a compromise. “You can climb that, but no higher than that third branch,” she said, pointing it out to them. She made them point it out, too, so there wouldn’t be any misunderstanding.

But it is truly amazing how quickly a mother’s advice evaporates in the heat and enthusiasm of a climb.

On the Monday morning before Thanksgiving, C-note decided it was time to go to Level 4. Camo was scared—shaking like a leaf.

C-note mocked him for his cowardice. “If you’re gonna be a big boy, you’ve gotta do big things,” he said.

Having never reached for the fourth branch, knowing nothing about it, C-note was unaware that the fourth branch was broken. And even though he was a young boy, his weight was still enough that when he grabbed on, a big piece of branch broke off in his hands and he fell to the Earth. The fall seemed to last forever, as he stared up into the top of the tree and the world began to spin.

All at once he landed—flat on his back.

He waited for the pain. He was surprised he was still awake. Suddenly his ears opened, and he could hear Camo screaming. And then, the sounds of one, two, five, maybe ten people running in his direction. He was so scared he pooped his pants. Now he was dying and going to stink.

Something odd, though, was that he didn’t feel damaged. He didn’t think he was dead. And when the people began to gather around him, he could make out faces, which meant his brain was still working.

It took about five minutes, but the doctor arrived, and with the assistance of a couple other men and one woman, they moved him gently, and the doctor checked him over for broken bones, cuts, bruises—and found nothing.

Camo explained that C-note had fallen from the fourth branch, which was about twenty feet up in the air. Then one of the observers looked down, pointed, and said, “Look! That’s what saved you.”

C-note, now fully conscious and aware of what was going on, turned around and saw a mashed wild turkey, which had broken his fall—but had also broken its neck. It was lying on the ground, looking like…well, looking like an eighty-five-pound twelve-year-old boy had fallen twenty feet from the sky on top of it. The bird did not fare well.

C-note was pronounced sound of body.

The turkey was dead on arrival.

Everybody laughed, then cried. And then, when it occurred to them that they had experienced a bona fide miracle of supernatural intervention, they sat down under the tree and got real quiet. Here’s what they thought.

“How did a turkey end up at exactly that place at exactly that time, when a little boy was falling from the sky, unless God Himself plucked it from the woods and placed it there, granting it final purpose? And we all know–this is one of the more noble ways a turkey can die.”

C-note was mystified and angered by the whole situation. He shouldn’t have been climbing the tree—not that fourth branch. Why did a turkey have to die because he was disobedient? And why was God going around asking turkeys to help dumb little boys?

It just didn’t make sense.

By this time the city newspaper—even though Blanchport was not a city—had sent a photographer to the scene. As they carefully removed the carcass of the sacrificial fowl, the photographer asked if C-note would be willing to kind of “re-enact” what happened.

He shook his head. “I ain’t climbin’ that dumb tree and falling again just so you can get a picture.”

The photographer patted him on the shoulder. “No, no. I just want you to sprawl out on the ground there and pretend you’ve got a turkey under your back.”

C-note squinted. Mrs. Marlins stepped in and explained what the photographer was trying to communicate in more kid-like language. So C-note spread himself out like he’d just fallen from the tree. The newsman took two shots, which appeared in the newspaper three days later.

In the meantime it was the talk of the town—no, much more than that. It was the only thing anybody could think about.

The preacher down at the Pentecostal Church was certain it was a sign from God that little Clarence was a prophet.

Some of the more sensitive folks who dressed up their dogs in costumes—that type—had a memorial service for the turkey.

And speaking of the turkey, something had to be done with it. It was suggested that it would be wonderful to pluck the bird, dress it and give it to Murty and her little family for Thanksgiving.

The grocer threw in some ‘taters, snap green beans, gravy and miscellaneous sweets to complete the deal. It was so thrilling.

The television station in Pittsburgh contacted the mayor and asked if they could bring in a camera crew to do an interview with C-note about the whole magical turkey event. (Although it never happened because some other more important news came along to delay them, the town felt important, always knowing they had been considered.)

It did nothing to calm the heart and soul-searching of Clarence.

He asked advice from his schoolteacher. Her words were, “Be grateful.”

He asked the oldest lady in the community—who everybody called Aunt Rachel—what she thought he should feel and do about the dead creature. She closed her eyes, looked like she was praying for a moment, and then said to C-note, “I just talked to the turkey in heaven…and he forgives you.”

Unimpressed with her response, C-note went to Deacon Connelly, who did a lot of hunting and had shot a turkey or two in his time. C-note wanted to discuss his feelings, but Deacon Connelly was so impressed with the fact that it was a clean kill and there was no need to remove buckshot from the carcass that he chattered away, unaware of the boy’s turmoil.

On his way home from Deacon Connelly, C-note ran across the drifter referred to as “the town drunk.” C-note was pretty sure his name was Mandrake. Mandrake was a nice enough fellow when he was sober, which was so in infrequent that nobody thought of him as a nice fellow.

But on this day, he’d only had a little bit of the juice. When C-note called to him, he answered, “Boy! I got a new name for you. They oughta call you ‘Fallin’ Leaves.’”

C-note was confused. He wanted to ignore Mandrake, but he kept going. “You see what I mean?” asked Mandrake. “You got yourself a dead turkey. You know why?”

C-note shrugged.

The drunk continued. “You have a dead turkey because that’s what your fallingleaves.”

Mandrake burst into laughter. C-note was not amused, even though he kind of understood the joke. It just seemed improper to be laughing so near the demise of his savior.

His brain popped up the word “savior” without him even thinking about it. It wasn’t like C-note thought the turkey was Jesus Christ. And even though Jesus might be saving his soul from hell, the turkey kept him from getting’ there.

It left him cold, a little frightened and humble.

When he got home and saw that his savior had been plucked, oiled and was heading for the oven, he burst into tears again.

Camo screamed at him. “Godammit, would you stop cryin’? Mama might decide not to cook it.”

His mother tried to comfort Clarence, but he just could not wrap his mind around eating his savior. He didn’t think he could even watch other people devour his protector.

About four hours later, Mama came into the room and found him in a fitful sleep. She gently woke him up, whispering, “Dinner’s ready.”

He just shook his head. He didn’t know what to say.

She hugged him real tight—the way mothers are supposed to do in those situations. He was expecting sympathy, but instead, he got the razor of her truth.

“There’s two things I want you to understand, Clarence.” (She had never gotten used to calling him C-note.) “The first thing I want you to understand is that in five minutes we’re gonna walk out of this room and gorge ourselves on turkey and fixings before it gets cold. I will not hear any more nonsense about trying to preserve a bird that’s already gobbled its way to glory.”

She paused, eyes glittering. “And the second thing is, you can honor this bird by learning from it. As you eat this meal that we did not expect to have, you can speak to the meat provided and say, ‘Thanks for catching me. I’m sorry it cost you your life. No disrespect, but may I say, you sure do taste good.’”

C-note didn’t want to listen to his mother’s counsel, but memories of the yardstick she kept in the closet and occasionally applied to his backside made him more pliable.

For the rest of his life, he never ate a turkey dinner without thinking about the one that rescued his life. The one that kept him going. And whether it was a miracle or not, the intervention was sweet.

For every creature on Earth will eventually experience a falling…

And only time will tell what it leaves.

Not Long Tales … August 20th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4142)

Underneath

Lance sat quietly staring at his hands.

They didn’t seem small—at least, he didn’t think so. But the bully who lived seven houses down on the right-hand side had made fun of them yesterday, in front of four or five guys, and worse, two girls.

It wasn’t easy being eleven years old, anyway you looked at it. But being ridiculed for your little hands in front of friends was more than humiliating. It was debilitating and left no recourse. After all, you couldn’t scream, “My hands are big!”

But Lance had anyway. And when he objected, everyone laughed at him. Because tears that were lurking in his eyes suddenly avalanched down his cheeks.

Lance hated summer vacation. As bad as school was—and it certainly had some really stinky things about it—at least your day was filled, and you didn’t have to try and figure out a reason for getting up in the first place.

It was especially difficult because Lance had a mother who insisted he “go out and play with the other kids.” She didn’t understand that he had just been targeted for having tiny paws.

Yes—he felt like a puppy being mocked by the big hound. He was afraid to leave his doorstep.

There was one friend who never deserted him—what you might call the saving face. His name was Jallus. Lance’s mother always referred to him as “the black boy” and Jallus’ mother called Lance “the white boy.” Sometimes the two buddies joked with each other, calling each other “black boy and white boy,” just to get the giggling going. Of course, it was ridiculous. Lance was the color of dirty sand and Jallus looked like chocolate milk diluted by water.

But the two boys needed each other, because the bully also told Jallus that his hands were puny. They found comfort in each other’s company.

But during this particular summer, Lance had discovered an escape. He hadn’t told anyone, not even his buddy, Jallus. In the back of the house, just underneath the steps, there was a piece of white lattice covering up the crawl space. There were a couple of screws missing from the top—just enough that Lance could pull it back, squeeze through and climb in beneath the house.

When he first discovered it, he was scared. His mind went crazy thinking about what might be in that crawl space, lurking to harm him. A rat, a snake—and most certainly, any variety of bugs made their homes in the sludge.

Yet it was so peaceful in there—especially on hot days, it was just a little cooler, and on rainy days it stayed dry, but gave Lance a front row seat on the beauty of the pelting rain. He adored the place.

He cleared it out a little bit. There was some trash—discarded bags of cement and rocks getting in the way of affording him total space. He sat in there for hours at a time thinking about life, small hands and his daddy. Lance had never actually met the fellow. He had departed before Lance had a full brain for knowing. His mother told him that his daddy probably loved him, but lived far, far away, in Mississippi. It made it nearly impossible to come and visit.

One day when he was snooping through his mother’s closet, he found a picture stuck in a box—a fellow sitting on a motorcycle, wearing a cowboy hat. He assumed it was his daddy. Sitting behind him on the bike was probably his mother, back when she was a girl.

Seeing that motorcycle reminded Lance of the time his mother said that his father had sent a birthday present of a bicycle. It came in a big, huge cardboard box, but it wasn’t put together. Mama had tried really hard to get all the bolts in the right places, but it was never right. So it just sat in the garage in a heap. Every once in a while, Lance would pull out a piece or two and play with the back wheel for a while. The bicycle was so much like the rest of his life—everything seemed to be there, but nothing came together.

But when Lance went underneath the house into his chamber of privacy, it was a whole different situation. He took a flashlight with him so he could keep an eye on the surroundings, in case he was invaded by one of nature’s uglies. He also found an old canteen in the garage, which he cleaned and filled with Kool-Aid, to sip on as time passed by. The Kool-Aid was so refreshing that the next time he brought a plastic bag of Gummi-bears. Goldfish crackers and M & M’s. It was so peaceful and satisfying.

Lance never thought he’d ever want peace. Being a boy, he was rather fond of chaos. But occasionally, he needed to feel like feeling was okay and nobody was staring, wondering what he was doing.

Sometimes he would lie on his back and listen to the floorboards creak—Mama preparing dinner in the kitchen. Sometimes she would sing. It made him feel so good when he heard her sing. Other times, she just talked to herself. He couldn’t hear what she said but could tell from the tone that it came from an unhappy place.

Summer persisted, as the summer sun often does.

Then one night, right before bedtime, sirens went off from the nearby town. Mama was frightened. She explained to Lance that the sirens meant there was a tornado coming. It didn’t take very long before great winds began to sweep by their house, rattling the windows and striking terror into their souls.

The two of them lived in a very simple house. There was no upstairs, no basement. Just the one floor—and Mama had no idea what to do. She was looking for a safe place for them to hide from the danger, but she couldn’t move. Her head turned, her eyes peering in all directions, as if waiting for someone to give her instructions.

All of a sudden, she prayed—no, nearly screeched, “Oh, Jesus! Help us!” Just about that time, a tree blew over in the front yard and landed on the top of the house, mashing in the roof.

Lance looked at his mother. He knew two things—she wasn’t going to move, and Jesus wasn’t going to stop the storm.

He took his Mama by the hand and started to walk toward the back door. She wouldn’t come. He pulled a little harder, but she resisted. Then, as if inspired by forces far beyond his understanding, Lance decided to run out the back door, figuring that Mama just might follow, terrified that Lance would be swallowed by the big twister.

As he ran toward the door and opened it, the screen flew back, broke off and landed on the ground. He hurried down the steps and when he reached the landing, he looked back. Sure enough, there was his mama, faithful lady that she was, chasing him.

He slid around the steps and over to the lattice, pulling back as hard as he could, to make room for him and also his mother to get in. He climbed into his precious space. She trailed, peeking inside. “What are you doing?” she asked.

Lance realized there was no time to explain, so he whispered. “Trust me, Mama. Trust me.”

She stared at him for a moment, trying to make out his image in the darkened space, and then wiggled forward as he grabbed her hands and pulled her down to sit next to him. As soon as she was seated, they heard a cracking—breaking glass and horrible thumps coming from all directions. They sat in the dark, holding each other and breathing heavily, hoping…hoping there would be a life left for them, since they would still be living.

Then, as quickly as it began, it was over. There was just the sound of rain splashing against the broken lattice. Mama shivered. Both of them were afraid to move.

Lance thought his mom would eventually release her grip, but she stayed where she was, squeezing him. He could hear her heart pounding. Finally, after a few moments, she relaxed. Her arms came free, and she wrapped them around her knees. She took four, maybe five, deep breaths.

He watched her. Either there was more light or his eyes had adjusted, because he could see her face clearly. She looked like a little girl. After all, that’s what bad storms do—they turn us all into children.

He leaned over and stroked her hair. “Mama,” he said, “what do you think about my place? I call it ‘Underneath.’”

Her eyes filled with tears as she looked around with her limited view and managed, “I like what you’ve done with it.”

She started to move, as if she was going to head out of the protection. Lance grabbed her arm. “Let’s not,” he said. “There’s no need for us to find out anything right now. You see, if we don’t know, then we don’t know.”

He offered her a drink from the canteen and some Gummi-bears. She accepted, putting a Gummi in her mouth and then taking a swig from the canteen. She emitted a tiny giggle.

Lance reached over and grabbed her hand. “Mama, this is where I come to get away from all my storms.”

Her face brightened, with a glint of understanding. She scooted across on her bottom, pulled him close to her and hugged like she had never hugged before.

The two just stayed there, hugging, crying and breathing in unison…

Underneath.

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Not Long Tales … August 13th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4135)

We are overjoyed to announce the initiation of our weekly segment on Jonathots Daily Blog, entitled Not Long Tales. Each and every Tuesday, we’ll be offering you a short story for your enjoyment.

Mrs. Windermoot

Loneliness is a confinement requiring solitude, a commitment without companion.

It had been one year since Mrs. Windermoot had lost her beloved husband of forty-three years, Baris. Even though she had two grown sons who loved her, she found herself very lonely, like a bride left behind on the dock of the honeymoon cruise.

Her sons, Benett and Burgess, were responsive and certainly concerned for her health, but fell short of touching the tender spots of her well-being.

She was alone, which left her lonely. She’d never anticipated being quite so submerged in the sense of absence, but since she had moved into the much smaller two-bedroom townhouse just west of the city, she was constantly battling the pangs of self-pity and the ache of separation.

She did not know any of her neighbors. Several of them had made a visit—but they were all so much younger—and though they promised to return, none did.

Mrs. Windermoot tried to plan activities for herself—making a special dinner, watching a movie. She even scheduled a weekly tea, where she set out all the fixings, including a dozen of her famous chocolate chip cookies. Although it was somewhat entertaining, in no time at all, she was just an old woman sitting in a room nibbling treats.

She never reached the point of desperation—that being sharing her complaint with others. Most of the time she sat very still in her home, wondering whether it was too soon to have another nap.

One day she noticed that a city bus stopped right in front of her house. She had never paid any attention before, but on this particular morning, maybe the sun was shining just right, or she just happened to look out at the correct moment.

But there it was—big as life. 9:31 A. M. It was back again the next day, and faithfully returned the third morning.

So Mrs. Windermoot made a plan. On the fourth morning when the bus appeared, she would get on the bus, and ride as far as it went through the town, and at least have the ability to see other scenery—and maybe even converse with new people.

She dressed for the occasion—one of her best Sunday frocks, and made two dozen chocolate chip cookies, which she tucked away in her purse. She eased her way out the door at 9:15 so as not to miss the arrival and was standing there patiently when the bus pulled up. Not familiar with the route or process, she carefully climbed on as the driver impatiently waited for her to place her money in the slot, allowing her the privilege of being toted about.

She was smart enough to know to bring exact change, but her fingers were not very fast, and finally the bus driver, heaving a huge sigh, took the coins from her hand and completed the job.

Once legally paid for, she inched her way back four rows and sat down. There were only two other people on the bus, and she was nowhere near them, and felt foolish to be on a journey with no apparent purpose.

After a couple of stops, with additional people arriving, she felt better. When someone sat in the seat next to her, she finally worked up the courage to greet the stranger. Her words were met with a bit of kindness, so she offered the young man (obviously on his way to work, because of the uniform he was wearing) … well, she offered him a chocolate chip cookie. He was so grateful, explaining that he hadn’t eaten breakfast, and usually didn’t take the time for it.

At the next stop, while people were getting on, the bus driver walked back to Mrs. Windermoot. He seemed huge. His nametag read, “Mickey.” He leaned down to Mrs. Windermoot and whispered, “Listen, lady. I can’t have you giving out food on the bus. I don’t know where it came from. You may be a nice lady and all—you certainly seem alright—but I could get in a helluva lot of trouble if you were poisoning people.”

When Mrs. Windermoot heard the word “poison,” she flinched—a reflex. The whole idea of her being a sinister murderer seemed absolutely ludicrous, if not offensive. The young man who was still chomping on his cookie interrupted. “Listen, they taste great. You should try one.”

Before Mickey could consider the idea, Mrs. Windermoot was holding one to his nose. Beautiful chocolate chip cookie.

Maybe it was a desire to salve the old girl’s ego, or maybe it was Mickey taking responsibility—taste testing to ensure there was no danger. Or maybe Mickey had missed a breakfast, too. But he grabbed the cookie and chomped away. His expression changed from austere to delight.

Realizing that the bus driver was now eating chocolate chip cookies, which seemed to be coming from the frail lady sitting in the seat, three or four people made their way up the aisle to receive a treat of their own. Everybody was grateful, and the bus driver (still maintaining a bit of his authority) told Mrs. Windermoot that if she brought them again, to “make sure he could check them out before they got passed around.”

Thus began a ritual. Four times a week—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday—the lonely woman climbed on the bus with her chocolate chip cookies and rode around town, sharing treats and meeting new folks, turning Bus #572 into a friendly wagon of confection.

Once Mrs. Windermoot realized the chocolate chip cookies were a hit, she brought some little finger sandwiches, Rice Krispies treats—well, almost anything that came to her mind that she could make quickly for at least fifty people. Yes—it didn’t take long for the sweet old woman to gain a congregation of fifty admirers for all of her offerings.

A week passed. Two weeks. A month. Two months. Gradually, Mrs. Windermoot learned the story of Mickey, what the young man she originally met was hoping for his future, and the life stories of a dozen or more fellow travelers. It actually seemed that the bus was beginning to grow in attendance, if such a thing were possible. And everyone always seemed to be in a better mood once they boarded Bus #572 and headed off to pursue their responsibilities.

Then one morning, Mickey pulled the bus in front of her house and Mrs. Windermoot was not there. It was Wednesday. Mickey knew it was the right day. He was concerned, as were four or five other people, who stared out their windows, desperate to see the old lady emerge with her kindness and generosity.

But she was nowhere in sight.

Mickey was on a schedule, but his curiosity overwhelmed him. Where was she? Then his imagination went wild. Why wouldn’t she be out there? Was she alright? Did the old lady die?

It was right after this last question crossed his mind that Mickey decided to climb off the bus and go knock on her door. He did not notice that three or four other people joined him, apparently feeling a similar concern. Mickey knocked, and he knocked again. He peered in the window. There was no movement.

He reached over, tried the doorknob, and it opened. How foolish of the old lady not to lock her door, he thought.

But motioning to those who had trailed behind to “stay back!” he stepped into the house to investigate. Human nature being what it is, of course nobody listened to him, and they followed him through the door like a little train of detectives.

Inside there was an eerie silence. No sound.

There was one light on in the house, which appeared to be coming from the kitchen. Mickey inched toward the light, listening carefully for any movement. He was frightened—afraid of what he might find. He turned to those following, holding a finger to his lips, demanding that they remain quiet. He walked slowly to the opening of the kitchen, and as he rounded the corner he looked. There she was. It was Mrs. Windermoot.

She was sitting in a chair, peeling eggs.

She turned around, surprised to see Mickey in her home, and gasped. “What are you doing?” she demanded.

A good question. He didn’t know how to explain that he was expecting to find a body, not an egg peeler. “When you weren’t out there for the bus, I got scared, so I decided to check on you.”

Mrs. Windermoot glanced over at the clock that sat on the stove. “Well, you’re two hours early,” she explained.

Mickey looked at the same clock. It read 7:40. Leaning down and peering at it, he reported, “Ma’am, for some reason, the clock stopped. It’s 9:37,” he said, looking at his watch.

Mrs. Windermoot turned red with embarrassment. She looked behind Mickey and saw that there were six other people in the house, staring at her.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I thought I was ahead of my time! You see, I got up this morning deciding to boil eggs to make egg salad for our trip today. I wasn’t sure whether to hard boil them or soft boil them, so I decided to go in-between. But when I got to the in-between time, I thought how terrible it would be if they were runny, so I boiled them again.”

There was a pause, then everyone laughed.

Mrs. Windermoot was not certain why she was so hilarious, but she appreciated the affirmation. Mickey patted her on the shoulder and asked, “How long would it take you to finish your project?”

Mrs. Windermoot crinkled her brow, thinking intensely, as if pondering the national debt. “I should be ready in twenty minutes,” she said.

Mickey looked back at the passengers in the room, cleared his throat and said, “Well, I’ll tell you what. I shouldn’t do this, but there’s no reason why I can’t make four or five more stops, and then come back around on Johnson Street and pick you up—as long as NO ONE TELLS ON ME.” He raised his voice at the end.

Everybody nodded their heads in agreement. Mrs. Windermoot looked up at Mickey and said, “I’m sorry to have been so much trouble.”

Mickey patted her on the shoulder. “You’re no trouble at all. Matter of fact, a lot of trouble has left since you came along.”

Mickey corralled all the souls and they headed out the door. As they streamed back to the bus, Mickey realized he was taking a big chance by changing the schedule. What if someone noticed? What if there was a new customer who complained to the company about the delay? What if this was one of those weeks when there was a spy on the bus, evaluating his ability and performance?

As he reached the steps to climb into the bus, he scratched his head. He glanced back at the house, wondering if he should run and tell the old lady that he had changed his mind. Then…

Mickey shook his head and chuckled. “What the hell,” he said to himself. “No one’s gonna care. And I sure do love a good egg salad sandwich.”

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