All posts by wssolstice

Santa and Sonny

Halfway down, on top of haphazardly folded garland and lying under a box of battery lights I find him. He’s reclining on top of crushed greenery and grinning up at me as if to say, “been awhile, nice to see you again.” I pull him out of the green container, straighten his smoky white beard, and in answer to his silent greeting I tell him, “Hello, it’s good to see you, too. Looks like we made it to another year. Merry Christmas.

***

To say my dad loved Christmas is an understatement. In movies, he’s the guy that brings home the too big freshly cut Balsam fir. The guy that singlehandedly carries it into the house and directly into the living room, its branches knocking delicate holiday decorations off each table it passes. Though sold several times since, I am sure my childhood home’s living room ceiling bears a hint of a scar attributed to too many tree jabs from a too tall tree. And I’ll wager that, if standing completely still under that part of the ceiling and listening with great concentration, one can still hear a wave of excuses: but the tree looked a lot smaller in the middle of that damn tree lot AND we needed a Christmas focal point. Mom’s reply was to cast a wilting stare in Dad’s direction with his response a shrug and tilt of his head as he innocently tried to gain her approval.

So, as due course would have it in our holiday household, it happened that one cold and snowflake filled night Dad walked in after work holding a gift wrapped package the size of a shoe box meant for very large shoes. As he handed it to my mom my dad smiled in a too broad grin. Although I was only about five at the time, his grin reminded me of childhood pictures of him proudly displayed at my grandmother’s house. His nickname was Sonny, he sported a headful of blonde hair, and always displayed that very same smile.

Mom was of a different temperament. Oh, she had a sense of humor; she enjoyed TV sitcoms, cracked jokes with her friends, and could cast a sarcastic dig with the best of any gagman. But she was also the mother of an everywhere-every minute toddler and a snarky, curious five year-old as well as the title holder of acting chief financial officer for the family. Always tired and always busy, she resonated a distinct no nonsense image. She didn’t grin when Dad handed her the package. Although she didn’t quite scowl either.

Her unenthusiastic response was lost on me and my brother. With wide eyed anticipation evidenced through our obnoxious jumping, we forced our mother into a predicament. She overcame her passivity and sat down on our red velvet couch to open the present. Upon opening the lid she sighed. I’m still not sure if she was pleased, overwhelmed, or questioning the cost. But upon reaching in and lifting the gift out of the box the trepidation was over. She lost. Because the minute we saw what it was, my brother and I stopped jumping up and down, stopped giggling and froze. After a beat, simple delight filled our eyes.

***

Mom and Dad are both gone now. My brother is happy in a new marriage and I don’t see him very often. I have a husband of almost fifty years and two grown daughters. With one daughter living far away and working non-traditional hours, our family celebrates the holidays on her terms, delighted to make Christmas Eve and Christmas Day whatever two days we can all get together, but always in December.

In this present day the responsibility to feel joy and merriment can weigh heavy at times. Growing older with each Christmas can bring about a breathtaking pause. The rush of time becomes overbearing, particularly at Christmas as a sudden urge to do a personal life-inventory becomes necessary and urgent.

But this feeling falls away when, just as Mom lifted him out of the package for the very first time, I hoist the grinning chubby and rosy cheeked Santa up and out of the green container. This old and scruffy Santa resumes his place once again on our entry side table, greeting holiday visitors with his chubby hand raised in a hello and his red velvet suit cast in a warmly lit glow.

If only for a short time, this Santa stops the clock for me and ushers in memories of a child jumping in exuberant glee with the inability to contain her wild abandon. This Santa guarantees that with each Christmas I bring up the holiday boxes he will be there providing anticipation and a sense of excitement that I can take into the new of each year.

But most of all, this Santa gives me back a part of my dad that I never met. This Santa gives me Sonny and makes me smile, year in and year out.  Merry Christmas Dad.

Refreshing Fairy Tales #1 The Case of the Clear Heel

Photo by Hooram Cohen on Pexels.com

Adam Maxwell leaned into the bathroom mirror. The face that peered back at him bore the same chiseled features, the same thick black hair overreaching the same furrowed dark eyebrows and the same full cherry red lips. But as Adam drew closer to his image, he noticed there was something not quite right about his eyes. They twinkled. Actually, unequivocally, his eyes were twinkling. Still peering at his reflection, his mind wandered back to events from the previous night.

While enjoying a brewski with his work buddies at their favorite bar a very tall slender woman wearing a bright silver jumpsuit entered the loud chaotic scene from outside. The only sound heard was the shutting of the heavy oak doors because from the moment she walked in, all eyes settled on her and all conversations stopped midsentence.

Adam turned toward the doors at the same time as everyone else. Now, just to be on the right side of this narrative, Adam appreciated all kinds of women, so it wasn’t her flaming red hair, her beauty, or her outfit that mesmerized him. It was more her presence. As soon as she walked in she swallowed the room whole with her being. No one else had a chance around her.

The bar patrons eyes followed her as her long legs sauntered up to the counter, her clear stack heels making a deliberate hard tap as they smacked the floor in a drum beat rhythm. Before Adam knew it she was standing next to him. Adam’s friends willingly cleared space for her as she took possession of the counter.

With one hand resting on the bar, she pulled her long blazing red hair slowly back with her other hand and then cupping that hand around his ear, whispered in a husky voice, “Pumpkins aren’t my thing, but I’ll lay you odds that you will ride in one very soon, my fine man.”

She then took a swig of his beer and smacked it back on the bar. As all eyes and all gaping mouths watched, she waved the crowd apart as she walked back out the door. Silence permeated the air for a moment or two then all at once the noisy atmosphere returned. The bartender began pouring beers again, people crowded around the counter, and Adam’s friends began to pat him on the back and tease him about pumpkins and fairy godmothers. He left shortly after and upon reaching his apartment fell into bed and into a deep sleep. When he woke up he smiled as he recalled the strange happenings of the previous night.

The vibration of his phone sitting on the sink stirred him out of his self-reflection. A photo popped up on the screen of a serious male face brimming with cosmetically altered tight too-tanned skin.  Dark blackish eyes pierced the small space of the phone. 

“Adam! Are you there?” the voice on the phone bellowed. Adam thought to himself once again, does he even know the meaning of phone etiquette?

“Yes, Conrad, I’m here,” Adam answered.

His stepfather’s baritone voice began his routine long litany of daily abuses. “I have been up since the crack of dawn. I’m trying to put together a portfolio for my lawyers. They have no sense of time or money. They…”

Adam put the phone down and brushed his teeth. The voice continued.

“Anyway, Adam, don’t forget the gala tonight. You do have your suit pressed and ready, right? I’m getting that award you know. Citizen of the year? I want my family to be there. That most certainly includes you, Adam old pal. I am sorry that you don’t own a tux like the rest of my boys. It’s unfortunate that you have that low paying job. You should get a new suit though. That old one is worn and getting threadbare, I must say.”

“I wouldn’t miss the gala for the world, Conrad,” Adam said ignoring the careless comments.” And yes, my suit is clean and pressed, ready to wear.”

“Well, okay then. Be ready and outside your apartment building promptly at 6 pm. Our car will be there to pick you up. You’re riding with Vlad, Ivan, and Leo, ya know. I want us to be on time. I understand a very wealthy monarch will be there and I want to introduce the boys. Oh, and the limo must be back by midnight. I have acquired their services for only a certain number of hours due to…”

Conrad’s voice rumbled on in the background. Great. Adam let out a sigh. His stepbrothers were the bane of his existence. When Adam was a small child his mother died, leaving him with his stepfather and three stepbrothers.  Adam was constantly the brunt of their jokes and the solution to their problems. Always in a rush, his stepfather would make a half -hearted attempt to listen to whatever son at the time had a predicament, a run-in with their school, or for that matter, run-ins with any type of authority figure.

Conrad Hershall would use the same tired script to address whatever guilty son at the time. “What happened? You say Adam had something to do with it? Don’t worry, son, he will suffer the consequences of his actions. Blah, blah, blah.” 

No matter the crime, no matter the circumstances, the blame would circle back to Adam, even if he wasn’t present for the mishap and possessed a decent alibi. It didn’t matter. It was always Adam’s fault. The ‘consequences’ would involve washing his stepfather’s or his stepbrothers’ luxury cars, raking and sacking leaves in the fall, shoveling the long driveway in the winter. Whatever the tasks, there were too many to recall. And now, he was forced to spend an eternal night with these catastrophic dipsticks.

Unbeknownst to the community at large but acknowledged by Adam, his stepfather was now wallowing in debt. Apparently his sons fell into hard times. One son married not one but three different women at the same time stirring up quite a few legal problems that required available funds to keep him out of prison as well as the need for hush money. Another son was quite a gambler, but not a good one. The third son tried his hand at entrepreneurship and couldn’t manage it let alone spell it.

So, this gala was important for more than the award. With this distinguished accolade in hand, this event gave Conrad the opportunity to marry off one of his sons to the highest bidder.  And apparently a monarch fit the bill nicely.

*****

Adam’s day was normally that of the same routine. As a computer tech, he stayed fairly busy. But this day was different. His company had been sold. Gossip was that the new owner was a member of a very wealthy royal family in a small country in Europe. A mandatory meeting had been called. That meant that over one hundred employees had to gather in the company atrium to hear the news.

As he stood next to his drinking buddy coworkers, the new owner was introduced. Adam couldn’t hear the introductions over the whispering and chatting of his fellow employees. But as the crowd noise diminished, another sound took its place, that of a drumbeat cadence. The sound grew louder as the bearer approached. Adam’s heart started a matching beat.

A collective gasp was heard as Adam’s line of vision became one with the new owner. A tall lithe creature appeared and entered the center of the room. Her attire was more that of a suit of armor than a power suit.  With silver toned slacks and a large shoulder baring blazer of equally shiny silver, the suit set quite a tone. A dark colored wide belt cinched the jacket.  Her ruby red color hair fell past the attention grabbing belt. And on her feet were the items making the drumbeat sound, her clear stack heels.

Adam couldn’t say a word. His friends could only stare at him, their mouths open. When he asked someone who she was, they replied, “Queen Ella.”

After the short meeting everyone dispersed. His friends jostled him and teased him with remarks about pumpkins and magic wands as they walked back to their individual cubicles. They abruptly stopped when they saw Queen Ella appear walking out of a doorway.

“Hello.” Her husky voice was directed only at Adam. “It’s good to see you again.” Her eyes lingered on Adam for a moment then she turned and addressed Adam’s friends, “And the both of you as well.”

A group Adam recognized as the higher echelon of the company stood at the end of the hall. It became apparent that they were waiting for Queen Ella.

“I have to go,” she said. “But I will see YOU again later this evening.” As she began to walk down the hall towards the group she turned and said to Adam, “Oh, and later this afternoon, be sure to heed the call of a kind but somewhat confused elderly gentleman.”

Ella’s parting words left Adam confused. But as his friends began their teasing tirade again he forgot all about the strange encounter. Until later.

*****

A chestnut tan leather briefcase in one hand, his phone in the other, Harry Harkness stared down at the phone as he tried to decipher the cryptic GPS system. This was no ordinary GPS. Rather than noting streets and locations of interest for the usual clientele, this particular design held names of people with tiny stars above their names. The number of stars denoted who was in charge of the name. Harry had three stars linked to his clients. He zeroed in on one in particular, Adam Maxwell, and clicked on the name. A map appeared. He glanced at his gold gemstone watch. He had three minutes before he would run smack dab into Adam on the busy sidewalk.

After work, Adam walked down the busy sidewalk, deep in thought. No matter what excuse he tried to think of for missing the gala that evening nothing could prevent him from attending. He knew he had to suck it up and go. Still his mind kept looping, maybe he could say he was sick. No, he used that excuse not long ago for another fundraiser. Maybe he could say he had to work late. No, his boss will be at the gala, too. Maybe he could—

A tan leather briefcase came flying toward him, papers spilling out all over the pavement. After bumping into Adam, an elderly gentleman skidded to a stop. The older man began to cry out, “Oh, my papers!”

Adam helped gather the contents of the briefcase and then handed them to Harry. He noticed a half-eaten sandwich squashed by passers-by lying open on the sidewalk.

“Well, I guess my expected dinner has been somewhat disadvantaged,” the older man said.

“Harry Harkness.” Harry extended his hand. “Thank you for assisting an old man. I would love to buy you dinner for your kindness. I could use the company and a new dinner as well.”

“That is very kind of you, but I have an appointment I have to rush to,” Adam said. His blue eyes began to settle into the other man’s face. As his eyes met Harry’s eyes, he remembered Ella’s parting words.

“I believe we both have an appointment,” Harry said. “Allow me to assist you with your dilemma.”

Adam allowed Harry to take his arm as they both walked to Adam’s apartment building.

*****

There were two instead of one that entered the chauffeur driven limo that evening at Adam’s apartment building. Adam and Harry smiled at the other three passengers as they entered the car. Harry held his briefcase carefully to his chest.

Adam introduced Harry to his stepbrothers. Then one by one, as the brothers shook Harry’s hand, they each instantly froze as if hit by an icy wave. They found that their mouths didn’t work nor their arms or legs. As they sat solidly still Harry told them what their role was in the coming hours as he carefully took off their Italian leather shoes.

Although utterly bewildered by the events in the limo, Adam followed Harry into the ballroom, the brothers trailing after in their stocking feet. His stepfather, Conrad, rumbled over as he bellowed, “What happened to your shoes, you idiots?”

The brothers still couldn’t speak.

“Adam! Take off those unsightly shoes. Although they are not what my boys are accustomed to, at least one of these idiots should be able to fit in them so that they can attend the gala.”

Adam shrugged. He needed an excuse not to attend and he had it. But, his shoes didn’t fit any of the brothers’ feet.

Conrad grabbed the feet of the unfortunate brother with the closest fit to Adam’s shoes. He forced the shoes on his feet as the brother screamed in agony. Apparently their voices had come back.

“You are going to this gala if I have to cut your toes off!” Conrad screamed.

People were beginning to crowd around the little group of tormented men. It was at that moment that a tall woman wearing a silver tulle creation parted the crowd and walked toward Adam.

“I believe we have met, Adam. “ She then turned and said, “Hello, Harry. Long time no see.”

“Aahh,” Conrad interrupted the repartee. “Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Conrad Hershall and these are my sons, Vlad, Ivan and Leo.”

The sons stood there and stared at the statuesque red head then uttered words akin to hello or nice to meet you.

“Excuse me, Mr. Hershall, but only one of your sons is wearing shoes.” Ella glanced down at their feet and then up again at Conrad.

“And, while we are on the subject of shoes, I must say, dear man, your shoes are extremely elegant.” Ella’s glance had landed on Adam, and his feet.

With amazement Adam looked down at his attire. He wore a dark velvet blue custom made suit custom fit to his sculpted physique. One of the narrow lapels bore a single red rose. Adam opened the palm of his right hand to find that another single red rose was clasped inside. At first surprised by his hand’s possession, he recovered and took the opportunity to give the rose to Ella as he bowed slowly. Ella smiled the first of many charming grins. Harry closed and laid his briefcase aside.

“Would you care to dance?” Ella asked Adam. Adam smiled a princely smile and offering his hand, ushered the both of them onto the dance floor.

Conrad turned to his sons and giving the unfortunate one that stood closest to him a swift kick in his tuxedo bearing bottom, he told them to sit down at their table and not get up. Usually disobedient, the sons mindlessly wandered over to their table and sat down taking great pains to hide their feet under the table.

Adam and Ella danced. They made an arresting couple as they glided together on the dance floor. And in what was becoming routine, the crowd parted and stood in a circle around the pair as they watched them prance and sway the night away; the tall red headed queen and her charming computer tech prince.

The clock hands moved way too fast and before too long it was time for the awards presentation to begin. Adam sat next to Ella at the company table with the rest of her employees. Harry was invited to sit there, too. He kept glancing at his gold gemstone watch. He would point at it periodically when catching Adam’s eye but Adam would glance his way and shake his head. At times, Ella would lean over and whisper into Adam’s ear. They held hands under the table.

When it came time for Conrad to accept his award he bolted to the stage. His acceptance speech was as to be expected; long winded and tantamount to a good night’s sleep. Everyone was glad when the nearby courtyard’s clock chimed twelve. Everyone but Harry and Adam.

Adam began to feel woozy. His eyes dimmed but not before he noticed that he was in stocking feet. The blue velvet tux was replaced by his threadbare suit. In an effort to shrink down as much as he could in his seat his arm hit the wine glass on the table causing a chain reaction of glasses toppling over and hitting each other, one by one. The noise made everyone look in his direction.

Alarmed and ashamed, Adam gave Ella a sad half smile as he bolted out of his seat and ran toward the room’s double doors. He fled down the outside stairs and out to the street. The limo wasn’t anywhere to be found so he ran to the public bus and pounded on the closed doors. The bus driver opened the doors and Adam rushed to a seat and sunk down. Not knowing where the bus was going he only knew he wanted as far away as possible from the gala.

*****

Harry’s GPS came in handy later that night, or morning to be concise. He found Adam sleeping on a bench in the city park, his bare feet extended over the bench. The dirty socks rested on the wooden slats.

“Adam, my boy, you must get up. We have work to do.”

Adam slowly woke up and with furrowed brow, asked, “How in blazes did you find me? Oh, never mind.” He waved it off and started to lie back down.

“Get up!” Harry would not have it.

“Your queen is about to board a plane headed back to her home country. There is a slight chance that we can catch her before she leaves.”

To Adam’s dismay, at the edge of the city park sat a large pumpkin, door cutout on the side, with large spoke golden wheels on its underside.

*****

The city airport was bustling with businessmen and women, families on vacations, and relatives meeting their loved ones. Harry held his GPS mastered phone in one hand and his briefcase in the other. Adam followed closely. People stopped to stare at the barefoot man wearing the tattered and dirty business suit and the distinguished older gentleman leading the way.

“Here! This is the way to the private boarding area. I’m hoping her jet is still on the tarmac.”

“Sir, you must stop here.” An airport officer with his arms outstretched stood directly in front of the two.

Adam looked past the officer to the doorway and then towards the tarmac. He was surprised to see Conrad and his sons gathered in front of a plane that bore the inscription “Ella” on its side. They were waving and shouting toward the plane’s cabin door.

As Adam watched, the door opened and Ella stepped from the plane onto the tarmac. Her reddish hair caught the morning sun causing it to look like her head was on fire. She wore a silver two piece suit. Her feet bore silver jeweled shoes with slim spiked clear heels.

After a short unknown conversation with Conrad, Ella suddenly turned and began walking away. As she walked toward her plane, she turned in time to see Conrad pointing a gun at her.

Adam sprang toward the door, but the officer ran in front of him and forced him to stop. Adam could only watch as the drama unfolded. Within ear shot, he heard Conrad say, “I won’t let you leave until you choose one of my sons, promise to marry him, and share your fortune with us.”

In one swift movement Ella drew her foot up, took off her shoe, and threw it in a spinning motion at Conrad’s gun. The shoe’s clear heel hit its target with such force that it bent the gun’s cylinder shut as it hit the ground.

“Now is the time.” Harry looked at his gold gemstone watch. “Follow me.”

He then took a long silver wand out of his briefcase and waved it. Slowly his feet left the ground as he rose toward the ceiling. Adam’s eyes glazed over as his head tilted up, completely baffled.

How in the hell am I supposed to follow you?” Adam said as he stared at Harry, his head tilted to a 180.

“This way, my boy! This way!” Harry waved his wand and to Adam’s amazement his bare feet left the ground as he sailed over the airport officer’s head and out the entryway door to the tarmac.

On the tarmac, Ella stared at the sight of an elderly gentleman and his very handsome companion gliding over her head.

“Adam!” With the sound of her voice, Adam gently glided to the ground next to her.  They fell into each other’s arms and kissed.

“Conrad was going to kill you!” Adam cried out. “I tried to get to you. What made you turn your head? It’s a good thing you did!”

“I only turned at the right time because I was looking for you. I knew you were going to come. And you did!”

As the jet took off into the sunrise, Ella and Adam continued their welcome into each other’s arms. Harry stood on the tarmac and waved them on.

Conrad began crying, “I wouldn’t have done it.”

Harry stood next to Conrad and his sons as the airport officer radioed for assistance.

He then turned to the sons. “C’mon men. There isn’t much we can do for your father right now. And we have a lot of work ahead of us as we strive to make you into the good men you can and will be! We have tons to do. I have to add you to my GPS plus a million other things. But first we must get to the parking lot. My pumpkin is double parked.”

Epilogue

It is said that Queen Ella and her prince lived happily ever after and Adam’s eyes never lost their twinkle. Ella acquired many more companies as the years went by. She was quite busy in her role as Executive Queen. Adam was also quite occupied with his job as Prince of Technical Support.

It is also said that Queen Ella bestowed upon Adam a gift of great joy that would live long after her reign. A gift that proved her undying love and benevolence. A fine pair of size 10 1/2, Italian leather, cushioned foot bed, regal blue stitched shoes bearing of course, clear glass heels fit for, well, a Queen’s prince.

The End

The Bone Woman

Stories weave in and out of our lives in every possible, imaginable sense. They are a part of us from the time we are born until the time we die. Through oral readings, movies, books, episodic tv shows, and our dreams, we are constantly digesting stories.

In searching for tales regarding women, I came across the tale of the Bone Woman. The Bone Woman, or La Huesera, as she is known, collects bones in the desert and brings them to life. Intrigued by the idea, I wrote this story. I hope to continue in this vein, but possibly bringing old tales into present day. We’ll see how it goes.

***************************************************

Once upon a time, there was a young woman married to an old, old awful man. They lived in a tiny cottage outside of a very old village. The young woman worked from dawn to dusk; cooking and cleaning. And then at dusk, as was often her only pleasure, she would weave splendid cloth at an ancient wooden framed loom.

 This old, old awful man wasn’t a good husband to the young woman, thus the obvious reference. He worked her hard, beat her, starved her, and then after several years he cast her off when she gave him no children; leaving her in the desert with no food, or water, or shelter. 

Alone in the desert, the young woman was very afraid. Although the old, old awful man beat her and starved her, she still yearned for shelter and substance. In the beginning, she would look for him thinking that any minute he would come, having changed his mind realizing her value.

But the old, old awful man did not come for her. After several days, she learned the ways of the desert. By day, when the sun was at its fiercest, she hid in the shade of the large stones that settled into the sand. By night she walked, crying, still wanting to find her way home. The nights were cold. She could hear the howling of wolves and became aware of carrion birds that followed after her.  She would wrap her threadbare dress tightly around her and surrender to the coarse grains of sand.

On her last day as the young woman; burdened with hunger, thirst, and weariness, she walked until she could go no further. Lying down by a wide, dry riverbed, she once again wrapped herself in her threadbare garment.  

In a weak and trembling voice she whispered, “La Huesera, take me, for I am spent.”

As she released her last breath wild animals ate her flesh and carried off her garment as it was threadbare and would be very useful for burrows and lairs. All that was left were her bones and in time the bones turned a splendid white, bleached by the heavy sun. It is said the young woman’s spirit watched over the white, white bones and it said that she knew neither sorrow nor fear.

The young woman’s bones lay on the hard and still coarse grains of sand as her spirit watched in vigil fashion, until the moon was full once more. On that first night of the full moon, as the desert ground shook, a vaporous shadow formed over the white bones. Slowly the vapor grew thick and became that of a figure of an old woman; skinny and crooked with a knapsack slung over her back. She dropped her sack and kneeled very carefully and slowly by the bones. Then, by the full moon’s shadow, La Huesera placed the bones, one by one, in her woven sack.

The old woman carried the bones to a cave high in the mountaintops, then laid them out beside a fire. But it wasn’t time yet. So she ate of the dark, rich soup simmering in her nearby cauldron and after she finished with the soup, she crept over to a tattered old basket and drew out a piece of fruit.

But this was not an ordinary fruit, like an apple or a pear. This was an unusual pome of flaxen color, its shape like that of a star, with a sweet succulent taste like no other. The old woman ate the soft, polygon shaped fruit over the white bones as the luscious seeds spilled onto the ground. As they fell over the white bones they released a brilliant pulsing light that reflected on the dirt floor of the small dark cave, resembling a starry reflection of the night sky.

Replenished, the old woman pivoted her old body towards a corner of the cave in which a large wooden loom cast shadows from the flickering light of the fire. She sat her spindly body down on a wobbly and small three legged stool. Biding her time, she slowly began to weave with brilliant colored threads that, where they came from, it is quite uncertain.

As she weaved, she smoked a leaf-filled ancient pipe. She weaved and smoked. She smoked and thought. She thought for a long, long time.

Slowly a garment resembling a gown immerged from her loom, rich with mosaic patterns of blues, oranges, and golden yellows.  The gown was something to behold, embellished with golden threaded embroidery and completed by billowy sleeves and tiny pockets sewn into the skirt.

With the moon bright and the night skies their darkest, she began singing, “Flesh to bone! Flesh to bone! Flesh to bone!”

As the Bone Woman sang at her loom; the bones, sparkling from the seeds that fell directly on them, stood up and slowly knit back together. As the skies began to lighten, the bones began to fill with flesh. Where the young woman’s skin had once been red and rough from hard work and beatings; the new flesh was soft, smooth, and shimmering enhanced with a golden light. United together, the bones and flesh formed a physical being of brilliant perfection from beginning to end.  

The skin was as gold as daylight and the hair as black as night. La Huesera sang and sang then blew a puff of smoke from her pipe into the being’s face. The eyes flew open as the being sat up and warily eyed the old woman.

The old woman drew a crooked finger up and up until it rested on the tip of the being’s nose. “You are Soma,” the old woman said, “Daughter of the beacon fruit. A long life to you, one filled with light and brilliance.”

Very suddenly, Soma grew weary. She lay by the fire and fell asleep. When she awoke, the cave was empty. The ashes were cold. The old Bone Woman was gone. All that remained were a rainbow colored gown and the remaining illuminated seeds. As she slipped the gown over her head, the splendid creation fell over her body conforming to every newly pieced together portion of flesh. Carefully placing the seeds in her tiny pockets, she deliberately and slowly walked out of the cave and into the sunlight.

Following the rising sun, she walked into the village she had known as the young woman. As the sun traveled high into the sky, she caught sight of the small house she had shared with the old, old awful man. The door to the tiny cottage was open, begging her to enter. The house was dark and barren, the little bits of furniture here and there were covered in spider webs. She shuddered as she glanced around the dreary room. Her eyes scanned the pots and pans and then fell on the broom sitting in the corner. The very broom she swept with and the very broom she was beaten with. But her eyes paused at the sight of the ancient wooden frame loom. She wasn’t quite sure why, she only knew that the object made her smile.

She didn’t linger in the cold, musty smelling house for very long. She desired the warmth of the sun and the brightness of the sky. So with one last look, she shook her shoulders, and walked back out into the sunlight.

She enfolded her arms across her chest; the billowy colorful sleeves engulfing her body in a warm embrace and following the sun, slowly walked back to the village.

She only knew one word; Soma. When the people of the village gathered around her that is the word she uttered. From that moment on, that was her name, just as the old woman ordained it to be. The townspeople welcomed her and over time, they gave her a new dwelling place, a goat, and a hen. They taught her human speech. They taught her how to make dark soup and honey cakes.  

There was only one thing the townspeople could not give her out of their generosity. She had to retrieve what she needed by herself. And with the darkness of night to hide her, she stole away one night and reclaimed what was hers.

In a garden she planted turnips, beetroot, and parsley. But in a very special garden she planted La Huesera’s sparkling seeds.

Townspeople are known to chinwag and the people of the village were not any different. They chattered on and on about the young blind poet down across the way, swearing that they saw him counting his drift of pigs. They were sure that the married town crier was seeing the innkeeper’s wife on the sly.

And they were sure that the old, old awful man died from a broken heart after his wanton and coarse wife left. They didn’t know him as the old, old awful man. They didn’t know him at all. That’s why they chattered and made up stories. That’s why most people chatter and make up stories. Why, they would say, she was nothing but a harlot. She must have snuck off to be with the banshee wolves doing things that no decent person can ever fathom. He should have been glad to be rid of her.

Despite their sorrow for the old, old awful man’s sad end result, the village folk didn’t seem unnecessarily grief stricken over his departure. And, of course, they never recognized that their new arrival was the old, old awful man’s wanton wife. Transformed, Soma was only known as the lovely young woman wearing a splendid gown who came to them from out of the desert.

Soma’s seeds from La Huesera grew into luscious flaxen colored fruit, succulent and star-shaped, like no other fruit. Often times, with the dark as her cover and the full moon her guide, she would steal away into the desert, a woven sack slung over her back. For years, she traveled the same route, the moon at the helm.

Years past, her body crooked and feeble, she still ventured into the desert. And after each of her travels she would be found sitting at her reclaimed loom, weaving, weaving and smoking her leaf-filled pipe, smoking and thinking. After she ate of her dark soup, she would eat of the star-shaped succulent fruit as the juices and seeds spilled from her gnarled hands onto her tiny cottage floor. Onto white bones neatly gathered there that would begin to glitter from the tiny sparkling dust and cause the floor to shimmer like that of the starry night sky.  Rising to the rhythm of a phantom song, the bones would then knit themselves together.  While the bones became whole, Soma would sing “Flesh to bone! Flesh to bone! Flesh to bone!”  She would then rise up from her loom and gather her pipe to her lips in anticipation of the future.

Waiting for the Vaccine

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Calypso music permeates the theatre and glides through the night air landing at the feet of our beach chairs. Laughter springs from my friends’ lips while they sit sipping wine as we chatter about our days; both present and past. Dishes clink and clatter together in the kitchen of our favorite restaurant as we sit enjoying our meal while we cover our day, what we did—where we went. Our daughters’  chatter—light,  lively banter back and forth as we say good-bye for the day, then hug them, instantly taking in the scent of their hair, the largesse of their embraces.

I line up these thoughts like cut scenes from a movie. To disengage from the incessant loop, I move on, but only to a different loop. Scenes of a brighter tomorrow run through my mind’s projector. For almost a year, my husband and I have waited, so this cut is worn, the film delicate, but still viewable.

My husband and I are currently, and very impatiently, waiting for the vaccine. We are in our state’s Group 1B—Tier 2. Our group’s inoculations were to begin this week, but due to lack of supplies, we have been told to wait. Patiently wait.  As we wait, we watch the number of vaccinated increase. With unrelenting sadness, we also watch the daily deaths climb. It’s as if we’re reaching the climactic moment in a film, musical score ratcheting up our emotions, action in high gear, characters pressed into emotional cyclones. But this isn’t a movie, it’s real life playing out in real time changing lives forever and lending more definition to catastrophe than anything our modern world has ever faced.

So, this is what we do. I write queries and begin new tales, reread my Covid short stories, all ten of them. Edit some—laugh out loud at others. My husband calls his daughters, living vicariously through them occasionally, giving them advice on everything from creative budgeting to how to cook a pot roast.

I realize that each day we get closer. And as we wait, each day is growing longer, both figuratively and in reality. Spring will be here soon.

Our friends will sit with us and we will laugh again. We will hug our daughters. The cut scenes will need editing using additions of fragmented new scenes. Our action will resume, our stories will survive. We will all rush back to our lives, fragmented but together, envisioning embraces that right now we can only anticipate with great hope.

The Last Patient (Covid Story #10)

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Sophie leaned over the bed, “Ready to go home, Pete?”

The elderly man slowly raised his steady gaze, meeting Sophie’s deep blue eyes head on.

“Couldn’t be more ready,” he said without a trace of emotion.

“Well, let’s get you out of here then.” Sophie retrieved her stethoscope and listened to Pete’s rhythmic breathing.

“Wiggle your toes,” she commanded.

“You mean my once purple toes?” Pete asked as he vigorously followed Sophie’s instructions.

“Good. Now stick out your tongue.”

“You’re an awfully demanding nurse, ya know,” he said in the same dry tone.

“I’ve brought your favorite shirt.” Appearing suddenly in the open doorframe, a snowy white-haired full-figured woman held up a Chicago Bears long-sleeved t-shirt.

“Clara, are you prepared to deal with this cantankerous man?” Sophie said as she wrote on the clipboard.

“No. But I have no choice now do I?” Clara smiled as she walked to the bedside and smoothed back Pete’s thick gray hair. “Besides, I can’t leave him here. You nurses would kill me!”

“Okay, that’s enough. And ironically, you are quite wrong. They tried to kill ME!” A slow smile crept across Pete’s face.

“I think it’s the other way around, dear. They did everything in their power to save you. And, thank God, it worked.” Clara said as she smiled down at Pete.

“Well, Pete, are you ready to go home?” A tall, gangly man strode in, his white coat fluttering in time with the briskness of his walk.

“Dr. Regada, please tell these women to get off my back.”

“I promise to do just that, after I examine you.”

Dr. Regada pulled the curtain around the bed as Clara and Sophie left the room and stood outside the door.

“I’d better make my rounds.” Sophie said to Clara. “Pete will be fine now.”

She patted the older woman’s hand. “He’s a real stinker, but I am going to miss him.”

As she started to leave, Clara took her arm, “Sophie, wait.”

“I wanted to thank you—“

“I’m just doing my—“

“No. You are doing more than your job, and under such difficult circumstances. I’m so glad for you and the other medical staff that Pete is the last one.”

 Clara gave Sophie a tight-lipped smile. “When Pete was so bad, well, you know how it was, all I could do was wait. And for some reason this one thought kept running through my mind.”

Sophie’s interest was piqued. “What was it Clara?”

“I kept thinking I wasn’t going to have that spumoni date ever again.”

Sophie gave her a puzzled look, “Spumoni date?”

Clara laughed, “We had a recurring date, first Friday of the month. We went to our favorite Italian restaurant and had spumoni. Oh, sometimes we had dinner, too, though not always. But we never missed our spumoni nights and most of the time we sat in the same little booth in the corner.”

“Anyway, I realize it’s just a stupid little thing, but I couldn’t keep the image out of my mind, the two of us sitting in our booth eating that wonderful dessert! I think that image was subconsciously planted in my head to keep me from thinking about all the other moments I might not get a chance to share with the old coot. Spumoni, huh? Crazy!”

Sophie tilted her head, smiled, and grasped Clara’s arm with a firm hold, “No, Clara, it’s not crazy. Crazy would be if you didn’t have more spumoni moments with him. Now, go back in there and get that man ready to go home before he starts bellowing loud enough that the noise echoes down the hallway again.”

“Okay, you take care, ya hear?

“Most definitely.”

Sophie walked to the nurse’s station. Her coworker and friend, Marnie, looked up from the computer screen as Sophie approached.

“Did you know that Pete and Clara have a spumoni date every first Friday of the month?” Sophie asked as she laid down her clipboard and stretched her neck.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.  Pete told me. Why?”

“Clara just told me.”

“What’s up, you two?” Another nurse, Beth, walked briskly up to the desk.

“Pete. He and his wife have a spumoni date every— “

“Yeah, Pete told me.”

“Why didn’t I know that?” Sophie asked with a slightly annoyed tone.

“I’m sure he told you. Or, he’s quite a jabberer, maybe he jabbered on about other things to you.” Beth replied.

“You’re right, he did. He told me stories from his days working at the post office and said he still attends retiree breakfasts. He relayed a story he heard there about a fellow mail lady and a cat.”

“And he mentioned that his granddaughter works in some newsroom. Oh, and his other daughter is working from home and slowly going crazy, what with family always under her thumb.”

Beth laughed. “That’s Pete.  He was here a long time. I’m going to miss him. But I’m glad he is going home.”

After a few laughs about their last critical patient in C-Ward, the nurses quieted down as they worked separately, reviewing new patient information, and gathering more supplies. As a welcome change, these new patients arrived with familiar issues of old routine illnesses and injuries such as flu, bronchitis issues, or mending of bones.

The silence allowed the sound of the waiting room TV news. Newscasters announcing the latest catastrophes, crime, and a few random acts of kindness.

“Too bad we don’t know each other’s spumoni stories.”

“What?”

“Well… if we did, maybe we’d realize we’re all a part of the same story and maybe this world wouldn’t seem so cold.”

Marnie laughed. “Like spumoni?”

Sophie’s name came over the loudspeaker with instructions to visit Room 221.

“That’s Emily Bellows. She’s in with some kind of blockage that no one can figure out. Better get going. As my mom would say, making hay while the sun shines or something along that line.”

Marnie laughed, “Ellie would have said that and more. The doctor in her, ya know.”

As Sophie walked to Room 221 she met Clara and Pete coming down the hallway.

“Goodbye, you two. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m glad to see our last C -Ward patient leave.” “You and me, both, Sophie!” Pete hollered. “You and me both!” As he passed, he threw his arm up in a salute. She heard his laughter until the elevator doors shut.

Shorter Brighter Days Ahead (Covid Story #9)

Sun

There are a handful of places my husband and I go nowadays. Grocery store, the drugstore, convenience store (for gas—we venture in on only rare occasions), friends’ backyards, and the occasional winery (outside of course).

Originally—at the beginning, we only ventured as far as our mailbox. Because we didn’t know or understand what the hell was going on, our brains shifted into survivalist mode. In turn, our primitive instincts alerted us to the horrid possibility of viral and veiled threatening air vapors that could very well descend from the sky at any time to claim scared out of our wits bodies.

Those first few weeks were the worst. That first morning? You know the one. The initial time each of us thought “this is really serious.” It’s different timelines for everyone (with the exception of those that believe a crazed lab scientist wanting to wreak havoc on all of mankind created the virus). My own life-as-we-know-it-ending timeline began the morning I told my husband maybe we shouldn’t go out for breakfast. We haven’t been out for breakfast since. We haven’t been out for lunch, dinner, or appetizers either. Instead, much later in the game, we began getting takeout.

Within a few weeks, our youngest daughter traveled back from her newly adopted city bringing her 11-year-old puppy dog. Although furloughed from her job, she didn’t want to leave, but family wanted her home. She lived with our oldest daughter and husband and our other grand-pup for over three months. At the time we all thought things might get back to semi-normal in the coming weeks. We were wrong. 

Eventually, we did what we humans do best, we acclimated. But acclimating during this point in our history translates into something like descending virtual flights of stairs. Some travel further down than others, but all the same, our descent is real. And after a while it’s hard to tell how far we’ve gone. Because we grow used to the place we’ve landed.

After a few months of groping in the suffocating darkness that has enveloped all of us, my husband and I discovered our perimeters. Like newly mobile toddlers, we ventured out. Instead of ordering everything from grocery delivery services, we donned our masks and stepped into the fully lit grocery store. Instead of depending upon mail order companies for shampoos, cleaning supplies, or hand sanitizer, we walked through the automatic doors of our local drugstore and purchased sundry items. We still scrub our hands each time we come home, but we understand how much we need to go—traveling even a short distance— to see people and find that there is a world out there beyond our mailbox.

The first time we visited our daughters we were still in the mailbox only mode. Sensing our anxiety, our kids sat in chairs in their front lawn. Each armed with their own puppy dog, they sat holding homemade signs; hearts carved in red markers—“We can get through this!” written in large block lettering. We remained in our car and shouted to them encouraging memes—“This will be over in no time! We’re okay! Stay safe!”

It wasn’t over in ‘no time.’ But, baby step by baby step we started ascending the flights of stairs slowly out of the dark. By the time our daughter went back to her as she phrases it ‘home,’ we were holding court in each other’s backyards, celebrating the 4th of July in style (eating catered bbq), and playing croquet as we practiced social distancing and creative dining.

We both enjoy time with friends as we sit outside at various wineries and breweries. However, we still won’t eat out, not even on a restaurant patio, but we order takeout and watch TV as our hometown baseball team plays to an empty stadium (with the exception of cardboard cutout people).

Our baby steps have hurled us into this new world with an unavoidable viciousness. The coping mechanisms vary per situation. For example, I have several themed face masks, each worn to match the mood of the day. The bright white flowered mask  is becoming my favorite. I refer to it as “Steel Magnolia.”

More and more each day, my mood is beginning to transcend the original dark cavernous emotion I wore when all this started. With the days shortening and night descending earlier each evening, my anticipation increases – allowing that eventually—perhaps when the daylight wains the soonest, our world will be the brightest again.

A Virtually Impossible Meeting (Covid Story #8)

woman having video call
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Hello, Tessa!

Hey, Allen! How’s it going?

Great! How are you doing?

I’m doing all right. Just a lot going on.

I know. So… is everybody all right? I mean, there?

Yeah. Why?

You, uh… have your face mask on.

Oh, that. Damn. I just came from the store. It’s gotten to the point that I get confused. It’s like—am  I in a… well… friendly environment? OR am I in enemy territory?

Enemy territory?

Yeah, I don’t mean, like, people are in the produce aisle hiding behind fake plants while they’re wearing combat helmets. I just mean, you know, things are crazy!

Yeah, I get it.

Where is everybody? I thought this was a mandatory meeting.

It is. As was the meeting this morning at 10:00 a.m., the meeting at 11:30, then the lunch meeting. Yep, mandatory.

Hey, Allen! Tessa! What’s up?

Not much, Dan. What’s that behind you?

That’s my background, boss. You like it?

What is it? It looks like some kind of ship from outer space.

Yeah, Tessa. It’s a new feature. It’s called Beam Me Up, Scotty. Where is everybody? Hey, I hear Newman wrote an OpEd for the paper. It’s called: Why a Pandemic Now?

What does that mean, exactly?

Well, Allen, I guess he’s pissed. His wedding is on hold, his cruise is on hold, and his sewer backed up costing him a fortune.

What’s his sewer got to do with anything?

Nothing, Tessa. He’s just pissed so he’s blaming everything that’s happening on the present situation.

They’re not printing his article, are they?

Yeah, Allen, I guess they are. The paper said they needed a different slant on all the bad news. I don’t think HE meant for the column to be funny, but the editors thought it was a scream.

That’s great. All the shit going on right now and Newman is complaining about his sewer and a cruise he can’t take.

Well, Tessa, you might do the same if—

Hey, you guys! Where is everybody?

Hey, Heather. See you made it back in to work, today.

What are you talking about, Dan?

Well, last night at Vanity Bar and Grill? You were a little… crazy.

Okay everyone. I think we have enough staff to start the meeting. Dan, do you have those numbers—

Hey everybody! How’s it going?

Hello, Sam. We were just getting started.

Hey, sorry. I had a meeting that went a little longer than it should have. Have I missed anything?

Just the fact that Heather is here after—

Dan was about to—Dan? Where did he go? He literally just said something to you, Heather.

I don’t know, Allen, but I think I see little green men going into his spaceship. Maybe he was abducted.

Not funny, Tessa. Okay…  We’ll just move on. Tessa, please report on your findings regarding—

Well, Allen, my most recent report indicates—

Okay, okay, sorry. Wait, I’m not sorry. Jesus! Have you ever been in a conference with that guy Carter? He’s from the Omaha office. He can drone on and on…

Hello Matt. We were just going over Tessa’s report. Tessa? Can you continue?

I don’t have a copy of the agenda. You never sent it to me. Wait, found it! Sorry, I threw it in the Amalgamated Products File – that agenda was lame.

Tessa, for some reason you’ve changed over to mute. No one can hear you. I’m pointing to the mute button, do you understand?

Sorry Allen, I haven’t eaten since this morning with all these meetings. My brain is a little foggy. Can you hear me now? I hear some kind of smacking noises.

Sorry, I was hungry. Dashed over to the cabinet and got some chips. We can eat during this meeting, can’t we Allen. You’re not one of those virtual overlords, are you?

Dan, can you stop making those smacking noises? They’re gross!

Where’s Tessa?

Sorry, I grabbed a protein bar out of the cabinet. Dan’s making me hungry with his chips.

Dan, you’re back. Can we go back to your numbers on the… Cynthia, when did you load in? Is that a cat?

Yes! This is Horatio! Say hi Horatio!

Cynthia, please stop waving the cat’s paw and put him down for a minute.

OMG! Who’s that?

What? What? What?

Did anyone just see that Chat Box text? The one that says it’s time to party?

Wait! Did you see that? Who is that guy?

I don’t know, but what is he wearing?

A mask. A real honest to goodness mask! Like Batman or something! And a cape!

Okay, okay.  Apparently, we’ve been Virtually Bombed. Hey, whoever you are, you need to leave.

I’ve got this, Allen. Just give me a second, dude. I have my mouth full of chips. There… –Hey, fella, I just took your photo. You’re toast. I just happen to have advanced face recognition skills on this baby.

Sorry, Allen, I have to get the door. There’s a package of frozen tilapia from that really good market along the coast and if I don’t get it—

Go ahead, Matt. Get your tilapia.

Dan! I’ve made you a sandwich!

You’re living with your mom?

Yeah, why, Heather?

So, that’s why you left Vanity early. Your mom gave you a curfew!

That’s not why I left early. I had an early morning today. Needed to be at about two dozen meetings starting at 7 am.

Is that someone cutting your hair, Sam?

Yeah, I asked my hairdresser to stop by. Sorry, Allen, I had to grab an appointment with her whenever I could. She’s really popular right now.

Okay. We were discussing Dan’s numbers. And Tessa, you are up after Dan with your report. Heather, are you on another meeting right now?

Umm. Not sure what you mean, Allen.

You have one of those decorative mirrors behind you. I can see your propped up I-Pad.

Oh, that? You’re right. That’s just a meeting for “Marvelous Yummy Gourmet.”

“For what?”

Marvelous Yummy Gourmet! Geez! Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of them? They are only the fastest growing prepared food product distributorships in the whole world! I’m a dealer. I have parties? So, we are having our weekly regional meeting right now and—

Shut it down.

Shut it down? Allen, I can’t just leave my team hanging!

Heather, close your I-Pad now or—Whoever is sitting right by a train right now, can you mute your computer?

Oh, sorry it’s me! I just moved and I live by trtpgbmlkjwzx…

Okay, I can’t understand anything you’re saying. Mute your button, man!

Hey, Allen? I have another meeting in about five minutes. Can we speed this up?

Yeah, me too, Allen.

Allen, my mom thinks you’re cute.

Okay. Let’s reschedule.

Dear Grandma (Covid Story #7)

brown paper envelope on table
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Dear Grandma,

In driving my mom crazy during this crummy time of not-going- anywhere-ever, not doing anything whatsoever——sorry, I already got off track. Anyway, Mom told me I’m watching too many “Babysitter in the House” reruns and eating too much junk food.

So, I said to her ‘what else do you think a 12-year-old stuck in the house all day should do?’

I meant that rhetorically, but she didn’t take it that way. As a punishment, she’s making me write a letter. A letter? Who does that anymore?

Anyway, she really didn’t have to make me write you. I told her that if I HAVE to write a letter I’m writing to my grandma. I’m sorry if it sounded like I was FORCED to write you. I love talking to you and texting you. But well… letters are so lame, don’t you think?

She gave me this huge, long, boring lecture on the importance of letter writing. That it’s a long ago art, no one appreciates the practice anymore. So, I asked her when she wrote a letter last and she told me not to be a smart ass and just write the damn letter. I think I’m getting on her nerves.

How are you doing? It’s great Skyping with you and all. I wish I would have been doing that instead when Mom caught me watching TV (she commented that it was the millionth time).

I heard on the news that Cleveland is doing okay. Are you staying in? I bet you hate it. You love to go places. Just like me, your granddaughter. I guess it runs in the family.

My friend, Staci, came by the other day. She stood in the driveway and I stayed put in our open garage. We talked for over an hour. She said her aunt is doing okay now. Remember? She’s a nurse here at one of the hospitals. She just went back to work.

We started talking about being cooped up in the house all day. Staci is by herself a lot because her mom works all the time. Being a firefighter, she’s always on call, especially nowadays. She misses her but she’s glad that she can watch whatever TV shows she wants when she wants to. I’m glad my mom can work from home, but sometimes I just wish she would go on a long drive and take Mattie.  Little brothers are such a pain!

The entire family is going cray cray over school starting. I’m a little edgy myself. I mean, I would love to see my friends and show off new clothes, but, that’s just stupid. It’s so hard to take all this serious, but it sure looks like we should, right?

This may sound like, what is it you say?—hogwash, to you, but with all this crud going on and all the different opinions about it, it helps me to think about what you would do. You ALWAYS know what to do, Grandma. I’m pretty sure you would say don’t be an idiot. That for now, we have to all just hunker down. That the storm will eventually blow over.

I just heard Dad come in. Mom said we were all going to eat together, even if Dad came home really late. It’s pretty late now, but I’m glad she wants to do that. Besides, I’m helping make nachos, my fave!

And, I want to hear if school officials are any closer to a decision. I know it’s tough on Dad, being a high school principal right now. He’s pulled in all different directions. It’s so embarrassing that MY dad is the principal at MY school, but for now I just feel really bad for him.

Well, take care, Grandma! I’m super hungry and well, I mean…  nachos?!!  Tonight’s meal will rock. So much better than that lame vegetable lasagna Mom made last night. I hope you write me back. I think it would be super cool to get an actual letter in the mail. Maybe Mom was on to something.

Your loving granddaughter,

Paige

The News (Covid Story #6)

camera event live settings
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“Dana! I need the new stats on California fast!”

Dana glanced over at Chad, her usual shrug and sigh followed.

“Hey, girlfriend, don’t be too hard on old Roger. This stuff is getting to be a bit too much for the old chap to handle.” Chad said from his desk, the appropriate length of space away.

“I know. I really try to remember that. It’s just a tad difficult at times.”

Dana opened her desk drawer pulling out a dark chocolate covered nougat candy bar.

“I see you’re stress eating again.” Chad smiled as he tilted his head to one side.

“Yes, asshole, I’m stress eating again.” Dana cocked her head as she smirked. “I ate a whole pint of Chunky Monkey last night.”

“That’s all.” Chad shrugged.

“With half a sleeve of peanut butter moose tracks cookies.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” he said.

“Dana! Where is the quote from that infectious disease specialist? You know, the doctor that…”

It wasn’t hard for Dana to tune out the news producer’s question. She knew where this was going. Certain requests followed an algorithm all their own. For instance:

Where are the—that would be the new cases stats, CDC current guidelines, hospitalization rates, in that order.

Bring the report on—would be ‘the-most-affected- at- the-present-time’ state data on testing sites, various countries’ safety guidelines, or air flow analysis.

Have you seen—that phrase ended with Roger. As the network evening news anchor, Roger is legendary. Chad will say that Roger is about 900 years old with over 800 years of television reporting experience. And that back in the day his reports were directly from God.

Roger’s reporting style was like no other. He had ‘presence’ as the news magazines described his aura. Tall, husky, and built like a freight train, Roger gave off an air of authority with any news story he reported. The action could be across the world, but it was as though Roger swooped down into the nation’s living rooms to speak personally from the center of shag carpets everywhere–microphone in hand, eyes cast directly on the Mr. & Mrs. as they sat spellbound, glued to their spots, senses heightened.

During his career, Roger had reported on countless wars, unforgotten presidential elections, million strong marches and protests, historical earthquakes and hurricanes. But the recent turn of events had taken a toll on him. His swagger diminished, his sharp tone now hazy, made everyone in the newsroom ache with the desire to turn their heads away. They didn’t want to watch. It was like watching a great massive bull slowly succumb to the arrows thrown his way.

Before, when the world wasn’t in hiding, Roger was everywhere. He could be found in his office preparing a broadcast, out among the staff cubicles-standing arms crossed listening to a news story, or in the production control room leaning over the panels like a kid in a pastry shop eyeing the donuts along the opposite wall.

But now, it was as if he decided to make a last stage career switch. He became a magician specializing in disappearing acts. No longer was he in the control room, his office, or even the restroom. He didn’t even patronize The Town Crier, the bar he and everyone else in the media business frequented.

On most days, staff could predict with uncanny accuracy, the exact time the producer would begin his search for Roger. This could go on forever. At which point staff began predicting when the producer would start stretching his tie away from his neck as he looked for Roger. Betting would become involved, dollars flying, Chad running the betting table. It all ended as the exasperated producer in desperation began yelling “Roger!” traipsing through cubicle rows or opening and shutting hallway doors.

Miraculously, Roger would come out of whatever shadows he found to gamely sit behind the anchor desk and report the evening’s news. His coverage wasn’t always bad. Sometimes his old swagger would reappear, his mouth would move in tangent with the teleprompter, and his eyes would focus on his viewers as he reported the numbers once again.

But for the most part, Roger’s voice would shake; his hands would tremble as he held them together on the anchor desk. The producer would stand in the control room, either shaking his head or burrowing it in his hands.

As Dana scanned her virtual files for the report her phone vibrated. A photo of a man with stubby gray hair and deep blue eyes resembling Dana’s appeared on her screen.

“Dad? How’s Mom?” Dana asked as she stopped scanning.

“Well, I had to call an ambulance. She couldn’t catch her breath and her pulse was racing.”

Elbow resting on her desk, Dana planted her forehead into her palm. For a moment her words were clogged in the middle of her throat, unable to reach the surface.

“Dana? It’ll be all right, honey.” Her dad was saying into the phone.

“I’m coming over. You can’t be alone right now.”

“No. That is the last thing you are going to do. And it’s the last thing your mom would want you to do. She would want you to keep doing your job. You know how proud she is of that job of yours.”

“I don’t care about that right now. There’s nothing here that’s more important than you two.”

“No. You’re right; there is nothing more important than family and being together. But for now that can’t happen. I have to stay here. Alone. That’s the rules. I might be… toxic.”

“If anyone isn’t toxic, it’s you Dad. But okay. You will let me know if anything happens… one way or the other?”

“Of course, I will.”

She stared at her phone as the two sharp beeps sounded signaling the end of the call. After a few minutes she hit the text button:

-Dad just called. Mom’s in the hospital.-

After a few moments as Dana waited, clenching her phone and staring at the screen, the three small dots appeared. Then:

-Babe, I’m so sorry. I want to be there so bad. Just to hold you.-

At the end of the text the red heart symbol displayed.

-I know. I will let you know if I hear any news.-

She plopped her phone down on her desk and sighed as her eyes became moist. She wiped away at them and sat still, taking deep breaths, and focusing her eyes on the always hectic scene before her.

Dana didn’t leave the newsroom. If she couldn’t be with her family she wanted to be there. This room was the one place that knew. Moment after moment a newsroom knows. Being there was right next to being constantly aware. She started looking for the virtual report again.

At nine p.m. Dana gathered her metro card and purse to head out the door. Earlier, Chad had tried to convince her to go with him to meet his husband for a late downtown restaurant dinner.  After she told him she wasn’t really up to dinner, he tried without luck to get her to go home with him. He said that he would call Sam and explain. They could sit on the couch and watch a housewives’ reality show or something. Although his invitation was kind, Dana didn’t want to disrupt their evening. She said she would be fine. Besides, she told Chad, her dad had called telling her that her mom was stable, no change.

So, Dana donned her face mask and headed toward the station floor’s elevator. As she walked down the hall, a shadow moved across the corridor. Startled, she drew in her breath and clutched her bag.

“I’m sorry about your mom, Dana. Have you heard anything?” A voice said.  As Dana recovered, she crept toward the voice. Roger stood in front of the newsroom door, arms folded, his sports jacket thrown over his shoulder, a black and silver mask across his mouth and nose.

News spreads fast in a newsroom, Dana thought to herself smiling for the first time in hours at her little pun. She looked up at Roger and answered.

“My dad called earlier. He said she was holding her own. Thanks for asking.” She smiled at him realizing that over her five years in this job Roger barely spoke to her outside of demands for data or details on news items.

“Well, please know that your mom is in my thoughts. I’m hoping she will be out of that hospital soon.” Roger sighed as the elevator doors opened and he gestured for Dana to go in first.

As the doors slammed shut he said, “As it turns out, I had a late phone conference with L.A. I’m usually home by now, with a Manhattan in hand, anticipating a good night sleep. Since all this stuff started though, it’s been a little harder to convince myself to go home.” He looked down at the elevator floor. “My wife died a few years ago. That was hard. But, back then I could go see people if I started feeling… you know. I could enjoy a drink with friends. Now this—it’s… well…”

“I know.” Dana volunteered. “My boyfriend, Clay, he’s stuck in Germany—he’s a colonel in the Army. It would be nice to have him home.”

“So…” Roger said as the elevator doors opened to the lobby and outside. “Did you know the Town Crier installed those Plexiglas dividers? At the bar? Anyway, would… never mind…”

Dana stood silent for only a nanosecond as she observed Roger. His shirt, usually crisp and smooth as glass, sported wrinkles and ink stains. His always fastidiously groomed hair stuck out in random places. He had on reading glasses which he never wore, giving off a deer in headlights impression.

Dana shot him a half smile. “Roger, I can’t think of a better thing to do right now than to sit at a bar with a Plexiglas divider.”

——————————————————————

“So, do you think these things will stay after all this is over? I mean, I’m sure they might come in handy in certain circumstances.” Roger said. Divided by the glass, the two sat at the bar. Dana had no trouble hearing Roger’s deep baritone anchorman’s voice.

“Like when you’re on a date and the guy you’re with is a total creep?” Dana laughed.

“Or just to get away from a rowdy bar group?” Roger offered.

“Or you are at the bar when it’s crowded and a rude drunk spills his drink. The red Jägermeister hits the Plexiglas and not your brand new white dress?” Dana countered.

They both laughed as they sipped their drinks, Roger’s a Manhattan, Dana’s a Whiskey Sour.

Roger raised his glass saying, “A toast.”

Darla picked her glass up in confused preparation.

“To twenty years as an anchor for a top network news show!” Roger said as they clanked their glasses together.

Darla lowered her glass and added, “And I’m sure there will be many more years.”

“Nope.” Roger took a swig of his drink. “I handed in my retirement paperwork a month ago. Today was my last day.”

Darla shook her head trying to justify the words Roger spoke. “Wait. You just said your last day was today?”

“Yep.” Roger’s knee hit the Plexiglas as he turned toward her. “I’m done. About time, right?”

“No.” Darla said in a sharp tone. “It’s not time. Now is the worst time. How can you do that? Why, you’re the voice of reason during this particular time in history.”

Roger chuckled. “The voice of reason,” he repeated as if to himself. He smiled at her, “It’s not that I’m headed out to pasture.”

“What?” Dana asked.

“Headed out to pasture? It means, done, dried up, old. You are a young whippersnapper.”

“Young what?”

“Oh my god.” He turned again hitting his knee on the hard plastic. “I’ve got things to do still. But, it’s time to pass the torch.”

“I do know what that means.” Dana said as she sipped her second drink. “It’s just that I’m not sure our newsroom can withstand any changes given the immediate circumstances.”

“What newsroom can? But isn’t that what the news is? Reporting change?”

“You know what I mean. Sometimes I feel as if no one is listening.” Dana shrugged.

Roger moved closer to the glass. “Oh, but child, you’re wrong. People do listen. Sometimes they just don’t want to hear the truth. So, they spin their own version or listen to skewed voices of those behind anchor desks willing to give them what they prefer to hear. Now, more than ever, we all need the truth.”

 “So, now is when you decide to give up?” Dana glared at him, shaking her head.

“I’m not giving up. And I’m not leaving the news.” Roger shrugs “I’m just pivoting a bit. And you? What are your aspirations? Are you planning on a career here?”

“I don’t think so. At first, the fast pace mesmerized me, the gathering of important information, the ability to reach so many people at one time for a single worthy purpose. But now, especially now, that purpose seems flat. No one seems to care anymore.”

“Ah, but you’re wrong. People care. They are just a little misbegotten. It’s our job to steer them to port. To help them sort the chaff from the wheat.”

“There ya go again. I have no idea what you are talking about.” She took another swallow of her drink and banged her glass down on the bar.

“It’s in the Bible. Actually, the verse goes, ‘In the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.’ Matthew 13:30. For me, it helps to explain separating the false from the truth.”

“I went to Sunday School,” Dana declared in a defiant tone of voice.

Roger laughed. “Just promise me you will keep that fresh view. And don’t give up on the news media. Stick with it.”

Dana considered his words then said, “I don’t know that I have the stamina needed to stick with it.”

He then did something she will remember the rest of her life. He placed his hand on the Plexiglas. Dana hesitated a moment, smiled, then placed her hand on the other side of the glass over his.

As he leaned closer he said, “I believe you do. Just never let lies fog the gathering of facts. Research and research again. Don’t get caught up in anything just because it’s easier to follow. Always search for the truth, report it, and the rest will take care of itself.”

With that Roger sighed, took out his wallet and laid cash down on the bar. “I have to go. It’s way past my bedtime. You take care of yourself. Your mom will be fine. We’re all going to be fine.”

Dana watched him amble out the door and walk out of sight. She ordered one more drink as she sat and reflected on their talk. As she sipped the last of her drink her phone vibrated.

————————————————————–

“Tonight’s news begins with a story of breakthrough technology that will revolutionize the medical field.” Dana spoke into the camera with ease, excited to report the exhilarating news to her over five million viewers.

When the broadcast ended the producer walked up to the desk. “Good job tonight, Dana.”

“Thank you. Well, I have a date with a good looking man and his darling children. Have to go.” She got up from the desk, putting on her shoes under her seat.

The producer slapped the desk, smiling. “Tell Clay hello. And give those two little girls an enormous hug from their Uncle Chad, okay?”

“You got it.”

Dana picked up her purse. Her phone vibrated displaying a photo of an attractive elderly woman, a bright smile on her face.

“Mom, how’s it going? Are you and dad packed for your trip?”

“We are! And excited! It will be an entire day and a half of travel to get to Australia, but well worth it! Your dad is practicing his embarrassing Aussie accent, right now.”

“It’s not embarrassing! I’m getting good!” Karla could hear her father’s voice in the background.

“Well, keep me posted! I’m off to dinner.”

“Give the girls big kisses for me! We’ll be calling and texting.”

As Dana hung up the phone she walked down the hallway toward the elevator glancing in particular at one of the photos lining the wall. She patted the photo as was her habit each night upon leaving.

Roger stared down at her from his elevated spot. He died a few years back, but his image remains a huge legacy at the network. She thought of the conversation they had years before, at the Town Crier. Recalling his words, she smiled; he wasn’t giving up, and he wasn’t leaving the news. ‘I’m just pivoting a bit’, he had said.

Roger went on to write a bestseller; a scathing account of the condition of broadcasting, social media content, and a cry to humankind that if we ignore truth and justice, the world will not be able to ignore the chaos and madness manifested as a result.

His book, along with ethical leadership and monumental strides toward education and cultural cultivation resulted in a societal shift in attitude towards the credibility of news reporting. Dana reaped the benefits of the chaff separated from the wheat.  She worked her way up the news ladder from investigative reporting to production, then on to a significant series investigating the criminal justice system.

For the last ten years she has occupied the news anchor spot delivering eventful stories from catastrophic weather to consequential Supreme Court decisions.

But for now, it was time to head out into the darkness. Darkness that enfolded her for only a brief while as she anticipated the glow inside the restaurant while dining with her husband and family among the many restaurant patrons. The day was over, and she reported it as good.

Felix and the Cat (Covid Story #5)

photo of tabby cat
Photo by Just a Couple Photos on Pexels.com

I used to think there was something inherently wrong with cats. My argument involved the fact that they creep up on you, or slowly slink by as they rub their sides across your legs. And when they sit and stare up at you, I believed it was a sure sign that they would like to pounce on you, much like their Tigris species descendants.

I’m a mail carrier. I drive one of those white box trucks with the red, white and blue insignia on the sides. Nowadays, I have a mail route that Alexander the Great would have been proud to call his own. Yeah, it’s that big. Consequently, I work pretty long hours. With everyone on the home delivery band wagon nowadays, my route can take me past sunset. That can get pretty annoying. But most particularly it can get annoying when a stray animal darts in front of the truck.

You know where this is going. I had a crazy, suicidal cat on my mail route. This feline is what they call a a tabby cat. Its color is striking, but perhaps because of its agility (for lack of a better word) this cat resembles a smallish Bengal tiger. Orange and black stripes run parallel down the sides. But its best feature is its eyes. They’re copper. I know this because the damn thing stares at me after racing across the street in front of my truck. Its look is brutal. It’s as if it’s beaming a challenge —next time, lady—next time.

A large portion of my route is within a tree lined, older but generally kept up neighborhood. This area holds multi-aged, multi-incomed, and generally friendly residents. The streets are urban-community narrow and perpetually crowded with cars that are parked along the sides. To navigate the streets takes Mario-Cart prowess. The only added frustration would be an object darting in front of your vehicle. Hence, the cat.

And for that matter, isn’t it dogs that chase vehicles?

There was no question in my mind that this cat wasn’t constantly on the lookout for me and my mail truck. I could sense its gearing up for attack as I began my drive through its territory. Most of the time, I was ready. I would drive very slowly down the street, my eyes darting right and left. If I was lucky that day I could breathe a sigh of relief as I turned and headed at a right angle down a more mail-friendly road. Those are the good delivery days.

But on this particular evening I was done in. I yawned as I tried to focus. Suddenly, a dark shape careened in front of the truck, a pair of iridescent eyes staring straight at me. As I slammed my foot down on the brake, the cat calmly lowered its feline shaped body down on the asphalt directly in front of my truck. Then it began licking its fur.

I forced myself out of the truck and onto the hard pavement. As I rounded the corner of the truck to the front I began yelling. Not expletives. As a mail person I maintain a distinct dignified decorum. But I yelled nevertheless. It didn’t matter. The cat was gone. I’m sure I posed a solid Instagram worthy picture as I knelt down in the middle of the street looking for the cat underneath my vehicle. It was of no use. I got back in and finished my route.

Due to a lighter load the next day I was able to deliver on the challenging cat road at midday. Because of the time of day and cooler weather, there were several masked residents outside; sitting in lawn chairs, watering their flowers, or simply waiting for their mail. I took this opportunity to ask if anyone knew anything about an orange and black striped cat in the neighborhood. I asked from the respectable distance, of course. No one knew anything of the demon cat. Of course, there were people that had cats; they had tabby cats, calico cats, Persian, but not MY cat.

This line of questioning did allow me the opportunity to converse with the neighbors. As a mail carrier I don’t get that chance very often. Many of us are captives of our trucks, delivering to the boxes waiting for us at the side of the roads, and we are on a very tight schedule.  And that doesn’t include the time we spend delivering packages to residents’ front doors.

Up until a few months ago, my mail recipients weren’t home to receive packages. But now, with so many people working from home or sadly, unemployed, my residents are home. It’s still the same. I’m usually not able to converse with the package recipients. Leaving their parcels at their front door is safer. And actually this isn’t a change—with carriers long routes now, we can’t indulge in much chit-chat. If we did, we’d be delivering mail all night long. I do have to say that for the most part, I’m fortunate in that I don’t have a large constituency of packages to deliver. Some of my carrier friends are inundated with packages. Guess it depends on the neighborhood.

But there’s this one older guy, Felix Halton at 814 that receives packages all… the… time. Most of the time, Felix waits at the door for his parcel. I believe he sees me as I approach in my truck.  His most distinguishing feature has to be his beautiful shoulder length white hair. Sometimes his hair is up in a ponytail trailing down the back of his neck. Felix is a tall guy, about six-three, and wiry thin. He looks like he’s been through the ringer, his features rugged and dark from too much sun.

It just so happens that the same day the damn cat decided to lounge in front of my mail truck I had a 25 pound, five foot long package for Felix. As usual, approaching his door I see Felix in the door frame, leaning against the door, a red bandanna across his lower face. He resembled a forlorn aged bandit. One of those sneering outcast characters you might see in an old spaghetti western.

“Looks like you have a situation on your hands,” Felix said from the doorway.

“You must mean the cat that likes to play chicken with my truck?” I laughed as I placed the package on the porch.

Now, Felix doesn’t like small talk. I know this as a course of the way things go. Most of the time I gently lay down his package and he waits for me to walk away before he picks it up.

So, I was a bit surprised at his remark. but he was done.  He just smiled at my question, not bothering to answer, and walked back in his house shutting the door behind him.

My route takes on a film-feed not unlike a shady neighborhood version of Rear Window . The family in the two story creamy yellow house has five children. The mom perpetually looks haggard. 

The bungalow on the end of my first block is home to four “Generation S’rs” (per up-to-date social media). The occupants run out to cars day and night, doesn’t matter the time, headed to jobs or a happy hour. A quiet elderly couple occupies the brick federal style house at 810. No matter the time of day that I load mail into their box, their little yippy dog waits outside to greet me.

Out of all of my residents, it’s Felix that puzzles me the most. His packages vary in shape and size, coming from all over the world. And he receives tons of mail. Not only ads or promotional stuff like a lot of mail nowadays, but envelopes with actual handwriting on them. Don’t see a lot of that these days. Especially now, everyone is Skyping or Zooming or Facetiming. Old fashioned letter writing has become obsolete. Kind of like me.

I just left a twenty-two year-old marriage. Harry, my ex decided the grass was greener on the other side of the cul-de-sac. Seriously. He literally told me that he was in love with our neighbor, at the end of our circle block.

So, most days I run solo. Harry and I have a fantastic daughter but she moved into her own apartment a year ago. Running around with a group of good friends helped me pass time, that and this job. But now my time with friends and even my daughter are limited. We might get together the social distance way—outside on patios or under trees in park settings—but there are a lot more nights at home now, with a bowl of popcorn and subscription channels as I binge watch the newest British detective series or follow house flippers.

That’s after I get off work though. There can be a lot of long work days, stretching way into the later evening hours.

On one such day the sun started disappearing over the horizon as I began the final part of my route. I had a lot of package deliveries and a not anticipated break in my schedule earlier, making the day even longer.

As I inched down ‘cat street’ my combat companion made a beeline for the truck. Slamming on the brakes, once again, tires screeching, the dominant smell of rubber permeating the air, I clinched the steering wheel in wary anticipation. I must have hit him, I was sure of it. But there he was, his copper eyes staring at me from the side of the road. Before I could get out of the truck to throttle his sneering, sleek composure, he had vanished.

Still shaken, I got back into the vehicle and, in an attempt to collect myself, I grabbed a package: Felix Halton. The name cascaded across the label. I grabbed the parcel and headed for Felix’s front porch. As I rounded the corner of his sidewalk a voice called, “I’m around back.”

I decided to follow the voice and walked around to the back of Felix’s house. There he sat on an old orange and white webbed lawn chair, his long legs crossed at the ankles. For quite some time, I hadn’t seen him without the bandana face mask. He was drinking a bottle of beer, his face relaxed. A smile, hidden for all this time, stamped on his face.

I sat his package down on the patio, smiled, and started to leave. It was then that I glanced into his back window. Aided by several lit lamps inside I could make out the interior of his house. It looked warm and inviting. But what caught my eye was a drum set situated in the middle of the room. Inscribed on the bass drum were the words: The Basic Essence.

Back in the 1970’s and 80’s The Basic Essence rock band was the epitome of the music world. They won Grammies, performed in capacity filled arenas, and sold millions of records. But the 1990’s weren’t kind. Because of grunge, alternative, and country’s explosion, there wasn’t room for their brand of music. Their lead singer tried to make a solo go of it, but he tanked. The other members slowly advanced into obscurity.

Felix Halston’s stage name was Hal and that basically was the only name he was known by. There was no question that the man sitting in the frayed lawn chair was Hal.

I turned around. “You’re Hal.” My brilliant skills honed through dozens of hours of British detective shows did not go unmerited. 

“That’s right. I was Hal.” He shrugged and smiled. “And now I am Felix Halston once again.”

Felix took a swig of his beer, then said, “I’m that stereotypical person that haunts all those news stories, books, and movies. The person that dropped out of society, never to be heard from again. The guy that leaves his billion-dollar CEO wrecking ball of a job to repair old boats on some seashore. The woman that makes a bundle on Hampton Place Housewives that chucks it all for a server job in New Mexico. That’s me. Only I play drums.” He nodded toward the drum set on the other side of the window.

I shrugged and tried to comment in a wise sage kind of way, “Sometimes that’s what it takes. Dropping out of society.”

“I suppose you’re right, my dear. I dropped out a lot of years ago, but now, it’s pretty easy to hide. Isolation is the new ‘under the radar.’ Not crazy about the times we’re living in, but for a fella like me, it’s not that hard to get used to.”

I gave a half-smile, “I get it. I’m not one to complain either. Right now I don’t mind the alone time. It’s curative. Well, it’s been nice. This conversation.”

As I waved a goodbye a sudden movement against my legs caused me to jump.

“C’m here, Gilda.” Felix said as he slapped his hands on his lap.

The orange and black striped cat sprang into his lap, meowing a soft purr in contentment as he or I guess she settled down, then stared at me with sleepy content copper eyes.

“You know this animal?” I asked.

“You mean Gilda? Yeah, she’s been coming around for about four months now. I’m not sure if her owner had to move or what.” The ‘what’ stayed unexplained. “She looked through this window at me one morning so I started feeding her and leaving cream outside. At night she’ll wander over, sit in my lap for a spell, then leave. I’m not sure where she goes. It’s her business, I guess.”

———————-

That was a year ago today. I’m still delivering mail. Most of my customers are still on the same route. The cars are still parked all over the street and the two story house with the bunch of kids is still a creamy yellow color. And Felix is still at 814.

Gilda still comes to visit. And so do I. After that night, Felix left a note in the mailbox that said he enjoyed our visit and anytime I felt like having a beer on the patio, six feet apart, he would welcome my company. About two nights after that note, as I was considering which detective series to start watching, I changed into my jeans and a t-shirt, and drove to Felix’s house.

We now have a routine. I’ll text, if he doesn’t answer I know he just doesn’t want company that night, and some nights he will text and I will do the same. But most times after a green light, I find myself on Felix’s patio, drinking a beer, celebrating life, and exchanging cat stories while we both sit with cats in our laps.

You see, the surprise was not only that Gilda was a female, but that she was a pregnant female. Her litter is a part of the neighborhood now. The five kids in the two story have a golden brown kitty, the elderly couple—a brown and white male named Alexander that actually does get along well with yippy dog. Three of Gilda’s kittens went to the Gen S kids. But I got the best of the litter—Cleo.

Gilda no longer runs in front of my mail truck. She wouldn’t dream of stirring up the guardian of her precious baby. And for now, Felix and I are kindred spirits in a world full of kindred spirits.

We’re all just now coming back out of our houses and into a new world. We’re finding that people we love and know have been there all along, maybe with a beer and a chat—perhaps leaving us with a sense of relief, a flicker of a thought that we are a little less vulnerable.

All kinds of threatening situations stare us down, exposing our frailties. But we can stare back. And refuse to run; realizing that these situations can oftentimes become a source for something good.