THE SURPRISING CHRISTMAS – Rich Paschall

A family plus one holiday tale

by Richard Paschall

72-Christmas Eve_013Kyle was coming home for Christmas. He was bringing with him his college roommate. The boys met during freshman year and became fast friends. Somehow they maneuvered the dorm manager into assigning them to be roommates for sophomore year. There was no one on earth Kyle would rather spend time with than Michael.

So, he was glad Michael agreed to come to dinner on Christmas Eve. This was in exchange for Kyle agreeing to go to Michael’s parents’ house on Christmas day for dinner. Michael was going to make a big announcement to his parents and of course Kyle had to be there.

Kyle’s father had slipped into a den on the east side of the house. All of the family noise was a bit more than his reserved nature could take. Kyle’s sister, Mary, who was 8 years younger than Kyle, was louder than usual, and no matter how many times grandma told Mary to “quiet down,” things didn’t get quieter.

The threat of Christmas carols by Mary and Uncle Roy was enough to drive dad into the den. There, he immediately made haste to the bar where a glass of sherry seemed to be in order. Dad only drank a sherry on special occasions and this certainly was one of them.

It was dark now and the neighbors across the street had turned on their Christmas lights. Almost everyone on the block had a nice display so the street was well-lit. Kyle’s dad was drawn to the window to see the lights, look at the gentle snow flurries and enjoy a moment of peace.

As he stood there sipping his sherry and waiting for Kyle to appear, he finally spotted his only son walking quickly down the street with another young man right behind. As they got to the walkway that led up to the house they stopped to exchange a few words. Then a sight took dad’s wondering eyes totally by surprise. Kyle kissed the other boy. It was not a short kiss, but long and passionate which they both seemed to enjoy.

Soon Kyle rang the doorbell just to announce their arrival before he put his key in the lock and opened the door. Off the entranceway on the left was a door to the den. Kyle’s father was standing in the doorway just staring at the two. Kyle’s mom came through a big archway on the right that led to the living room. Mary was close behind and eager to see her brother and his friend. Uncle Roy and grandma did not vacate their seats. They knew the rest would join them soon.

First Kyle walked over to his father and said, “Dad this is my room-mate, Michael.” The roommate held out his hand and the father shook it. “I am pleased to meet you, sir. Kyle says such wonderful things about the family.”

Kyle’s dad just sort of nodded at that, while studying this stranger in his home. The silence was out of character for the head of the household and a bit of a surprise to everyone except Michael, and that is only because Michael did not know him.

Then Kyle introduced Michael to his mother and his “little brat sister” Mary. Michael held out his hand to each in turn but the little brat held out her hand instead as if he was supposed to take it and kiss it, so he did and she squealed and ran from the room. At that Kyle’s mom offered to introduce Michael to the others. Kyle’s father then announced to all, “We will join you in a moment.”

With a more serious tone, father said, “Kyle, would you step in here for a moment, please?” This was not a question but rather a command of the type Kyle knew was not good. As the father retreated into the room Kyle followed. Before turning around dad said, “Close the door.”

last snow low contrast winter

Kyle only took a few short steps before his father turned around. He looked at him as if he had never seen him before. It was the strangest look Kyle had ever seen from his father. “Kyle, is there something you should be telling me?” the “official business” dad said in an odd businesslike tone. Kyle figured it was some sort of trick question but knew he should answer it anyway.

“No, dad. I don’t think so.” This clearly was the wrong answer. His dad did not say a thing but his body language spoke volumes and Kyle became as nervous as a first-grader who has been caught stealing Oreos from the kitchen. Now the master of the den, the commander of the car keys and the payer of his tuition walked slowly to the window, looked around the outside and turned to Kyle.

“You know, son, that there is a great view of the neighborhood from this window. You can see all of the beautiful Christmas displays across the street. You can see a nice Christmas snow flurry. You can see everyone walking down the sidewalk and turning up the walkway toward the house.” At that Kyle’s father fixed his sights squarely on Kyle and said, “So now is there anything you should tell me?”

Kyle stood motionless as his dad threw a stare at him that went right through and hit the door behind. It took Kyle almost an entire minute before he realized what his father had seen from the window of the den. All the while, that whole long minute of time, Kyle’s father stood there waiting.

Uxb Common Christmas Poster

Kyle wanted to begin “I’m sorry dad…,” but nothing came out of his mouth. He was so nervous and so afraid of his father’s reaction that he could say nothing. It is not that he wanted to be silent, he just couldn’t speak. Fear of saying the wrong thing paralyzed his tongue for the moment. Finally, Kyle’s father just nodded that same nod he gave Michael when he was introduced, walked around Kyle, opened the door and walked across the foyer to the living room.

Kyle was knocked off his spot when his mother’s voice came floating into the room. “Kyle, don’t be rude. Come join your guest.” Kyle shuffled across the hall and searched around the room for Michael. He did not look at anyone else as his eyes avoided everyone but Michael. At that moment, with a room full of family, he had no way of telling his mate that he needed a hug and he thought he might need to cry. After a little small talk by grandma and Uncle Roy, Kyle’s mom asked them all to go to the dining room. Christmas Eve dinner was ready.

“Michael, you sit right there next to Kyle and Kyle will sit next to me. I have this end of the table and Kyle’s father will carve things up at that end of the table. Uncle Roy will be there next to you and grandma and Mary will be on the other side.” At that, the little brat sister ran around the table and dropped herself on the chair opposite Kyle. She looked at him with a smirk as if she knew his little secret and was going to blurt it out if he did not stop calling her a brat.

72-GAR-Night-Uxbridge-121015_005

Everyone sat in silence until Kyle’s mother looked down the length of the table and said to her husband. “Sweetheart, will you say grace for us?” There was a long, awkward pause before he said, “No. Tonight Kyle will lead the prayer.”

At that instant, Kyle prayed that something, anything that made sense would come out of his mouth. All eyes were on him as he began, “Bless us, oh Lord…” The words that fell out of Kyle’s mouth were for blessing and thanksgiving, but in his heart, he was praying for acceptance.

That became the only gift he truly wanted for Christmas this year.

THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY by JAMES ZERNDT – Marilyn Armstrong

“Americans. They think everybody is snowflake. Only one snowflake. Only one you. But in Korea we think like snowball. Everybody snowball.” Yun-ji packed an imaginary snowball in her hands, then lifted it, palms up, as if offering Billie a present. “You see? Snowball.”

Both of them looked at Yun-ji’s hands holding nothing.

“Snowball,” Yun-ji repeated, then looked at Billie, at her unhappy mouth, at her face that looked like it had been bleached, and she pictured that soldier sitting in the tank, listening to headphones, maybe reading a Rolling Stone magazine, then the call coming in over the radio, the hurried attempts to think of an excuse, some reason why he didn’t see two fourteen-year-old girls walking down a deserted country road in South Korea.

“Never mind,” Yun-ji said and dropped her hands.

KoreanWordForButterfly

There are a lot of levels to this book. It’s a book about cultures and differences, but it’s also a book about the similarities that underlay human societies. In the end, our humanity trumps our differences and enables us to reach out to those who seem at first unreachable.

It’s about women and men, their relationships, their failure to communicate. The endless misunderstandings arising from these failed efforts — or failed through lack of effort. It’s also about the assumptions we make based on appearance and how terribly wrong are the deductions we make based on what we think we see. And how we use bad information to make our choices.  And finally, the pain that results from choices — even when the choices are the best available.

The story takes place in South Korea. Billie, a young American woman, is in the country to teach English to grade school children. She has come there with her friend, lover, and partner and shortly realizes she is pregnant. It’s the wrong in her life to have a baby and probably the worst possible place she could be.

She is far from her home and isolated by distance and culture. The story is told in the first person by Billie as well as two other first-person narrators, both South Korean.  Yun-ji is a young woman approximately the same age as Billie who also becomes pregnant and a man named Moon who is divorced and suffering through a painful separation from his son.

All the characters deal with problems springing from damaged relationships and miscommunication, misunderstanding, problems with parenting, pregnancy, and abortion. Despite cultural differences, in the end, the pain is personal and remarkably similar for each.

There are no simple, happy answers.

It’s well-written and held my interest from start to finish. Whether or not the book will resonate for you may depend on your age and stage in life’s journey. For me,  it was a trip back in time to the bad old days before Roe Vs. Wade. Of course, one of the issues made very clear in the book is that the legality of abortion doesn’t make it less of a gut-wrenching, life-altering decision. Anyone who thinks abortion is the easy way out should read this. Whatever else it is, it’s not easy.

It’s a good book. Strongly written, presenting highly controversial issues in a deeply human context.

The Korean Word for Butterfly is available in paperback and Kindle.

MYTH, MAGIC, AND HOUSEKEEPING – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, I explained to Garry about house-elves. He isn’t a big reader of fantasy, as I am, so some of this stuff hasn’t gnawed at the edges of his consciousness.

I told him if we were to leave milk and cookies out, the little folk would come to our house. Overnight, while we sleep, they would clean, scrub, repair, and cook. Fix the roof. Clear the snow. When we got up the next morning, the coffee would be ready along with delicious, fresh baked goods.

solarized art effect horizontal kitchen

He looked at me. I think he wasn’t sure if he had heard me. “Is this like, real anywhere? Has this actually happened somewhere?”

“No,” I said. “Only in folk tales and myth. And Harry Potter. But wouldn’t it be nice if it were true? We could leave out milk, cookies, and an old pair of socks. Just in case.”

Dobby_the_house_elf

One eyebrow went up. “And something that already lives here would surely eat it. And Bonnie would abscond with the socks. Our kids would be sure to leave us something. Probably not fresh baked goods … or a clean house.”

Just for a second or two, I had him. Myth and magic live. So much better than reality, aren’t they?

NOT NOW, DAD – Rich Paschall

A Father and Son Tale, Rich Paschall

As he was nearing the end of his life, Mr. Fine often reflected on the past. He could not help but do so. As for his health, he had good days and bad. Sometimes he felt as if nothing was wrong. On other days he could just feel that his body was wearing out, and the illness was doing him in. He tried to keep the situation as a private matter between his wife, his doctor and his lawyer. Before it would be too late, his wife knew there were others to tell.

Work room

Mr. Fine’s contemplations were mostly about his son. He wondered if he should have done anything differently. Should he have been more strict? Less? Should he have pushed him into certain sports? Music? Something else? Should he have made him work harder? Perhaps he should have been less demanding regarding work. He just could not decide if his parenting decisions were correct.

When Samuel Fine was young he seemed to enjoy watching his father work. He would follow him around and stare at the things Mr. Fine was doing. At times, he just seemed to be “under foot” but Mr. Fine tried to be patient with this.

“Now just stand over there son so you will be out of the way, and I will tell you what I am doing.” At that Mr. Fine would explain the work.  He would explain each step of his painting projects. He would give detailed explanations of how he was fixing anything mechanical or electrical. He wanted his son to understand the importance of maintenance and the value of repair rather than throwing something away. Mr. Fine was under the impression that his son was learning from all this.

When Sam was a little older, Mr. Fine had determined that the boy was big enough to assist with his projects so he invited the boy to partake in whatever he was doing.

“Sam, do you want to help with this painting project? Today we will prepare the front porch and stairs for a new coat of paint.”

Front porch

“Not now, dad. I have to meet the guys, we are going to play a game at the park.”

“OK, son. Maybe next time we can work together.”

The next time, however, Sam would have something else to do. In fact, every “next time” Sam would have something to do. Every request for help by the father was met with “Not now, dad.”

For Sam, life was too busy for dad. He had a game, a school event, a meeting with the guys, whatever that meant.  He had homework to do or he just did not feel well.

“Son, can you cut the grass today? I am feeling rather ill and the weather is nice.”

“Not now, dad. I am not feeling too good either.”

For many years, this was the way of things. Mr Fine would ask for assistance and Sam had a reason not to help. Sometimes the father would gently try to push, even insist, that Sam help around the house. Sam would push back, then go off to do whatever he thought was more important.

University

When Sam was done with college, he left home for an apartment with friends. After a few years, he got married and had a family of his own. He had a nice job, a nice home and children who were expected to do their chores.

Sam would come around to visit his parents, but usually picked a time when his father would not be home. He just did not want to face his dad. He could not explain the feeling, but it was something that he knew went back to his youth.

“Sam, why don’t you come around when your father is here” Mrs. Fine would say.

“Oh mom, he will just want me to help with some project that I have no time for. I just hate to have to say no and see that look on his face.”

“What look is that?”

“You know, mom, that wounded look.”

“That disappointment look you mean, don’t you, Sam?” Mrs. Fine responded. Sam had no answer. He said his good bye and went on his way.

The final test results

When his doctor advised there may be just a few months left for the father, Mrs. Fine disobeyed her husband’s request and told Sam of the situation. She had hoped they would end on a better note than in recent years when Sam rarely saw his father.

One afternoon Mrs. Fine found her husband staring out the window. “Mort, what are you doing?” He looked around as if he was in great pain and could barely turn his head.

“I was just thinking that tomorrow I will cut the grass. It looks like it’s time.” Mrs. Fine just shook her head.

After a few moments, the doorbell broke the silence in the room.  Sam had arrived to see what he could do. He did not want to give up his mom’s confidence so he carefully chose his words.

“Hi, dad. I heard you might not be feeling too good today so I thought maybe I could help with something.”

Mr. Fine just stared at Sam as if he must be kidding. It was an odd sort of look that Sam had not seen before. At first, he did not know what to say and the two spent a few moments just staring at one another.

Lawn

“Perhaps I could mow the grass or something,” Sam tried out on his father.

Mort Fine stared at the man before him. He was assessing what his son had become. He flashed back through the years of Sam’s life. He remembered the good things and the bad. He remembered his school days, his friends, his activities. He remembered his dreams and his goals. The memories of Sam washed over him like the ocean tide in a storm. Finally, Mort Fine knew just what to respond to Sam’s offer.

“Not now, son. I don’t need you anymore.”

WHEN DO I LOOK LIKE ME? – Marilyn Armstrong

Considering one thing and another, I have always been sure I could not possibly be related to the people who raised me. I suspect everyone, especially as a child, is sure they are a misplaced orphan. Sadly, there was always one problem from which I could never escape.

I look just like them. Both of them. They didn’t look alike, so how could this be?

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Apparently, you change as you age. So you can look exactly like dad when you’re three, but exactly like mom when you’re sixty. Periodically, depending on how the genetic package rolls, you can resemble one or the other — or both  — at any given point in time.

I used to look like my father, but I got older. Now, look like my mother.

I wonder if I’ll ever look like me? Whatever that means.

I know nothing about what brought me into the world any more than I know what will take me out. Probably, that’s just as well. I think I lack curiosity about my fate which others apparently have a strong need to know. I never felt any serious desire to research my ancestry or get my DNA checked. When I did it, it was a fun birthday present for Garry and I.

What was, is. What will be, will occur. I’m not in charge and never was. I am okay enjoying as much of the now as I can while I’m still part of it.

Yet, every now and then, I wonder if it’s possible I was actually put here by a transiting starcraft. An intergalactic seed dropped from the sky that somehow, wound up in this world. In this peculiar place. A bit of pollen falling from a drifting craft on its way to somewhere in an infinite beyond.

It could be true.

MR. CASTEN’S CLUTTER – Rich Paschall

Stuff, by Rich Paschall

Only his neighbor Jorge knew the old guy was sick.  In fact, Mr. Casten had been failing for almost two years.  Whenever Jorge saw the old man, he asked if there was anything he could do to help.  When Mr. Casten was not seen for a week, Jorge would go knock on his door.  If the old guy felt well enough he would stand in the doorway and talk for a while.  If it was morning, he would invite Jorge in for a cup of coffee.

By the time Casten had passed away, Jorge probably knew him as well as anyone.  Their little chats on the stairs, in the doorway or at the kitchen table revealed a lot about an old guy who had lived alone in the same small apartment most of his adult life.  The place was stuffed with memories and memorabilia.

Mr. Casten had collected and saved things throughout life, but in the last few years he tried to de-clutter his small existence.  He gave things away to charity resale shops.  He sent pictures he had from his parents on to other relatives.  He even sold some items on eBay.  It was all too late to clean up the house, however.  Mr. Casten’s small efforts were not enough after a lifetime of accumulation.

Since there were no siblings, no children, and no mate, the matter of cleanup and disposal was left to a crew of cousins. Jorge knew just who to call because Mr. Casten had prepared a list of contacts in case of his untimely demise. Although Mr. Casten was only in his late 60’s, his death arrived right on schedule the way Jorge saw it. Mr. Casten had gone as far as he could.

When the cousins arrived one Saturday morning to clean out the apartment, Jorge was waiting with the key that had been entrusted to him by Mr. Casten.  Four cousins and two of their teen age sons figured they would make fast work of the four room apartment.  They figured wrong.

“Oh my, who knew one person could collect so much stuff,” cousin Raymond declared.  “This could take all day!”

“Mr. Casten said to tell you guys to be sure to take for yourselves anything you want, then give anything else that is still good to charity.”

“And did you take something, Jorge?” cousin David said in a rather accusing tone.

“Yes,” Jorge replied calmly.  “I took the coffee cup he always gave me to drink out of.  It was the only thing I wanted.”

“Well, I heard he had a good baseball card collection,” cousin Jeff chimed in.  “I would like to have that if we can find it.”

“He’s got a lot of CDs here,” Raymond said in amazement.  “I think I will see what I need.”

“Hey dad,” one of the teenagers shouted out to David.  “He’s got a lot of DVDs. I am going to see if he has anything decent to watch”

As they randomly picked through the goods, cousin John grabbed one of the teenagers and said, “Let’s get to work.  With those guys working so hard out there, we will never get out of here!”

So John and a bored teenager went to the kitchen in search of large garbage bags.  “Under the sink,” Jorge instructed.

Armed with a box of bags, Jorge, John and the teenager went to the bedroom to empty closets and drawers.  John told the teenager to take everything in the closets and put it in bags for donation.  If it looked in bad shape, he should put it in a separate bag for the garbage.  John decided to do the same with the dresser.

As John and Jorge took items from the dresser, they found many new things in each drawer.  There were clothes with tags, new socks and underwear in packages, pajamas that were never worn and sweaters that looked new.

“I thought the old guy could not afford much,” John said in amazement.

“I think he was always afraid of running out of something,” Jorge said.  “He told me more than once that he was afraid to be poor and have nothing, so he kept everything and did not use anything until he needed it.”

“If he lived another 10 years he would not have to buy any clothes,” John said somewhat incredulously.

“Yeah, I think that was the idea,” Jorge noted.

Mr. Casten’s mother had grown up in the Great Depression.  She had nothing, so in her adult life she saved everything.  Anything that had value or possible use, she would save for whenever she might need it.  Of course, she had many things she never used, but they were there “just in case.”

When Casten was young, he knew they did not have much and he saw how his mother managed to get through the years with what they accumulated.  He naturally took on the same habits.  While everything may have seemed a jumbled mess to outside observers, especially cousins who never came to call, it was an organized home for Mr. Casten.

After many runs to the resale shop and the outside garbage cans, the crew had made a good deal of progress.  John declared he would return with one of the boys to finish the job the next day.

“That box in the corner marked pictures should also say ‘Cousins’ on the top,” Jorge remembered to tell them. “You should take that with you.”

“What would we want with a box of old pictures?” David said rather sarcastically.

So Jorge explained that collection.  “Mr. Casten thought that maybe someone would want to see them at a wake or service to remember how he looked, since he had not been invited to any family event in years.  I would guess you guys would be in a lot of those pictures from long ago.”

The cousins said nothing.  John grabbed the box on the way out.

Jorge closed the door.

See also: “The Accumulation of Stuff,” Reducing Clutter

SO WHAT IS LYING, REALLY? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #12

This week’s provocative question deals with exaggerations, embellishments, and lies.


“How do you feel about people who always seem to exaggerate when relating a story? Do you equate embellishment with lying? As a blogger, when, if ever, is stretching the truth, other than when writing fiction, permissible?”

I think this is a question that has no bearing on writers because you are trying to draw a sharp line between “hard data” and “fiction.”

There is no such line. A myth is a story stretched out and exaggerated. Unless you are writing instruction — like a manual or the results of a scientific study — there’s no line nor ought there be one. Many “fictional books” are essentially true, but to make the story more readable, timelines are compressed and multiple characters are combined into one character.

Fact or fiction? Or maybe fictionalized fact or fact-based fiction?

That’s not lying.

That’s writing. That’s telling a story. That’s creativity. That’s what we are all about. It’s what we do. That’s why there’s no clear line between a “docu-drama” and “realistic fiction.” Why story-telling is an art and not a science.

I’ve written manuals and scientific studies. I did it for money. Those documents are fact-based and of necessity must be, but everything else is a story.

Blogging is what I do for fun. You are welcome to call it whatever you want, as long as I get to write in whatever form I choose. Once you start to define creativity, you effectively make it NOT fun anymore.

By the way … If you have a friend who exaggerates stories in which you were involved? You are welcome to interrupt him or her and add your piece of the adventure. Nobody ever said you have to sit passively by and just listen.

We have a president who lies. He says things are true that are not true and these things are supposedly based on facts. THAT is lying.  But then again, I’m not the one standing in front of the American people promising to make it great again because I don’t know when it stopped being great.

THE SNOW GOOSE – Marilyn Armstrong

Snow Goose — Peterson: Field Guide to Birds

White with black primaries. Often rust-stained from feeding in muddy or iron-rich waters.


She checked “snow goose” from her “life list” of viewed birds. It was among the last of the remaining ones. She stood in the marsh, up to her shins in the same brown mud that had stained the lower feathers of her snow goose. She wondered if the world would last long enough for her to make the rest of her life list birds … or even if the birds would last long enough for her to put that check mark there.

She packed up her gear. Put away her glasses, her camera, and her book. It was a newer book because the birds had moved around. Many were gone, others no longer migrated or lived only in very small areas and distant from her.

And then, she walked back to her car. She had found her snow goose. As for the rest? It was all far too big for her … a world-class problem. Meanwhile, it was a very long drive back to civilization.


 NOTES ABOUT THE PICTURE:

The big male goose (there was another one, the slightly smaller female who was taking on other geese in another part of the lake (these birds mate for life as do geese) was attacking the geese who had taken their nest on the little island.

You won’t see geese and swans sharing a lake. Or, for that matter, herons who are equally possessive about”their” space. The geese were trying to move in and had stolen the swan’s nest They probably had eaten the eggs by then, too. That’s what big birds do to stop the encroachment of other large birds.

The swan in the pond

Geese and swan do NOT get along at all. It’s a kill or be-killed thing going on. A pity for us, because the lake is more than big enough for both, but they will not share it and the herons have the river and don’t come to the lake.

Ducks are every bird’s pal, oddly enough — but geese, swans, and herons are enemies. That had been a swan’s nest, We had watched them build it. There were no cygnets that year.

I couldn’t see what was going on, but I knew something was. It was on the other side of the lake. All I could see was white feathers and something happening, but the battle had underway for hours. Both swans had been patrolling, but the geese kept popping up.

Canada Geese are much faster than mute swans and surprisingly strong for their weight, but a full-grown Swan is MUCH bigger and stronger. They can’t take off and fly as the geese do — they are too heavy and need a lot of runway to get into the air, which is why they walk around lakes while the geese fly. So give it to the geese for mobility, but for sheer strength, swans have it.

Together forever, swans mate for life

The swans won ultimately.

As for me, I set the camera on “all the way out” and shot. I didn’t know what I had until I put the pictures in the computer. My eyes don’t do that well. The far side of the lake is too far for my eyes even with my “long distance” glasses on, but the lens got it.

We think only people fight, but animals have their lines drawn too.

OVER? OR A FRESH START? Stark #writephoto – Marilyn Armstrong

Thursday photo prompt: Stark #writephoto


Often, through the endless winter, Maggie had been sure her garden would never bloom again. As the frozen ground showed no signs of softening in spring sunshine and clumps of dirty brown snow lay on the earth, she would look at the garden and think: “This year, it can’t bloom. Too cold for too long. Too much ice and snow. And I have not been able to work with it, either.”

The overgrown disorder of the last year’s growth was still thatched across the garden. It had rained so much last year they’d been unable to clear it, so it had stayed there, mulching its way through the winter as they mulched with it.

Despite this and her nearly terminal certainty of imminent doom and total destruction, the garden would suddenly return. Everything bloomed at once. Roses and rhododendrons and daylilies and even the daffodils and columbine.

Flowers suddenly bloomed. In some of the worst years when winter had lain on the ground through most of May, those awful, bitter winters? In those years, the garden would bloom all at once with a frantic and wild passion as if it making up for the lost weeks of normal growth, for the dead months when they had been unable to set a single bud.

One day, she would come downstairs and out the gate and gasp at the amazing colors, how the roses had covered the buses like blankets. That the holly was almost a full story tall and even the miniature lilac bushes and thrown a flower or two.

It gave her hope in a world where the sun rarely shined and she prayed only that the well would not be polluted from something poured into the ground, seeping slowly into that fragile layer of underground water.

Their source of life was down there. In her case more than 450 feet down there, one of the deepest wells in the area. Their water had always been clear and ice-cold after it rose from the underlying rocks.

Was this barrenness a forerunner to one more garden? One more summer when the heat didn’t burn the earth to cinders?

She could only watch and wait. Each year was different. One year, it never stopped raining and after a while, the ground felt like a giant sponge, soft and gooey. Then there would be years of drought, leaving all of them wondering if the underground miracle of water would survive.

It was the very early days of the first week in May. In normal years — sometimes called “the old days” — she’d have already seen her early flowers. The garden would have moved on from crocus to daffodil and would now be full of Columbine and the green shoots of daylilies. The old lilac outback would be about to bloom.

Wild garden

But maybe, one more year, the earth would catch its breath and everything would grow again. Maybe the rivers would fill up and somehow, as if they too were seeds waiting to be born, fish would be there and snapping turtle. The geese and the swans and the herons would fish and flocks of ducks would magically float down with the current.

All she could do was wait and never give up hope. the Earth would come back. After all, it always had.

DEATH OF DEMOCRACY

A cautionary fairy tale by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

The King Brothers strode through the luxurious lobby of the grand Wilford Washington Hotel. It is a stately old hotel with all the modern amenities. Only the richest of the rich can stay at the Wilford, and the King Brothers were among the one percent that controlled most of the nation’s wealth. It was a particularly joyous night for the highly successful businessmen as they again used their business skills and wealth to get what they wanted.

Your Vote CountsAlthough they were knowledgeable and successful businessmen, Chauncey and Derrick King owed most of their wealth to inheritance. Their father discovered a new way of making energy. It was not the most environmentally responsible method, but it sure made a lot of money.

When old Farley King passed on, Chauncey and Derrick aced out two other brothers to grab control of the largest privately held corporation in the nation. Now they had their sights set on power. They wanted the sort of power that would assure continued success to their business as well as that of their friends. This meant no environmental controls that would limit their production.

The boys were all smiles as they moved to the elevators, one of which would take them to an exclusive penthouse party to celebrate victory. It was election night in the nation and everything was falling into place. Despite the massive price tag of their efforts, they were pleased with what their investment had purchased.

When the doors of the elevator opened, the King brothers found family, friends and a few carefully selected politicians on hand. They all had the opportunity to partake in the best drinks and hors d’oeuvre money could buy.  Chauncey was partial to a particular wine from France, Pierre Jouet Champagne, at a mere $6,500 per bottle. The hotel secured a case of it just for the event.

Cal Rhodes came up to the boys with the latest good news. “We have won another one. Just one more and we will control the Senate as well as the House. There are victory celebrations in just about every one of the party campaign headquarters across the country.”

For all the money the brothers dumped into attack ads and digging up dirt on the other party, they felt they ought to win most of the battles. And win them they did, all night long.

Time to vote! - Marilyn Armstrong

The party went well past midnight as they all kept a careful eye on the western states. The laughing and joking and storytelling of the earlier hours had given way to watching election results. Giant screen televisions around the room had been playing FIX News all night, but now they turned up the sound so everyone could hear. The audience hung on the words of the political reporters they knew and loved.

Elections in Oregon and Idaho were unexpectedly close. While Oregon was supposed to be a battle, Idaho was considered “a lock” for the brothers prior to election night.

“What the hell is going on in Idaho?” Chauncey shouted at Cal.

“I’ll check it out,” was all Cal could say as he went back to working the phones, a task he normally relished. It would not be good for Cal or any of the architects of the Senate strategy if they did not pick up one of the remaining states.

The numbers on the election boards were moving agonizingly slowly. Derrick said to no one in particular, “No one lives in Idaho, how long can it take to count a few votes?” At just past one in the morning, Eastern time, the crowded roomful of conservatives heard the news they’d been waiting for.

“With 93 percent of the precincts reporting, FIX News projects the incumbent Senator from the state of Idaho has held off an unexpected challenge and will retain his seat.”

With that announcement, Chauncey ordered another bottle of his favorite champagne. “Give everyone a glass. Let’s toast this hard-fought, hard-bought victory.” They toasted until the wine was gone and the guests headed home or back to their rooms in the warm, friendly Wilford Washington Hotel.

Derrick went to Cal with hardiest congratulations.

“You know, Cal, it’s time we set our agenda for the next two years. We need to start working on it immediately. But let’s get a good night’s sleep first. We’ve all earned it.” With that, Cal got a big hug from both King brothers before heading downstairs to his room.

On the very next day, with the House and Senate in hand, the King brothers discussed who should be the candidate for the highest post in the land two years hence. Whoever they picked would become their anointed one, their monarch and would serve the brothers well.

They would send him off to live in a big white house. Congress would pass all the Kings’ proclamations and the brothers would live happily ever after.

The very end.

THE NEW TWILIGHT ZONE – Rich Paschall

Episode 1: The Campaign, by Arod Serling*

Opening scene:  Rural state rally, small town folks and area farmers in attendance.  A candidate for office is at the podium.  To the left of the stage are two of his aides.

Candidate: “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of ’em, would you? Seriously. OK? Just knock the hell—I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise.”

Cut to Narrator standing at undetermined location, presumably at the rally.

Narrator

Narrator: The man at the podium has recently announced that he is running for the highest office in the land.  The tall gentleman to the left of the stage is Michael who is attempting to control his candidate, a reality TV star.  Next to Michael is a young intern named Billy.  He wants to get some experience in political campaigns.  They all think they will be heading to the nation’s capital when in fact, they are about to enter “The Twilight Zone.”

Fade to opening credits, theme music. The scene will resume at the same rally.

Candidate (speaking on his own popularity): “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Billy (to Michael): Did he just say he could get away with murder?

Michael: All politicians are getting away with murder in one way or another.

Candidate (speaking about opponents): “How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?”

Billy: I am unclear. What is he saying?  The people of Iowa are stupid or the other candidates are speaking crap? (Pause) Both?

Michael:  If you are unclear, so is everyone else.  Don’t worry about it.  We can spin it whatever way we want.

Candidate (speaking on ISIS):  “I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.”

Billy: What could he know about ISIS that the generals don’t know?

Michael:  Look, you ask too many questions.  Just watch and learn.  It’s all a television show and he’s the star. (pointing to the candidate on stage).

The candidate

The candidate is giving the cheering crowd two thumbs up.  Fade out for a commercial break. “The new Twilight Zone is brought to you by Preparation A, for those nasty flare-ups”

Episode resumes with quick shots of various rallies around the country.

Billy (to Michael in South Carolina):  Did he just give out the real phone number of the opponent?

Michael (laughing):  Yeah, that should generate some press.

Candidate (to crowd trying to eject protester in Missouri): “Part of the problem and part of the reason it takes so long is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore.”

Billy: More violence?

Michael: Whatever works!

Candidate (at another rally): “Do I look a president? How handsome am I, right? How handsome?” (Looking smugly at the crowd) “I feel like a supermodel except, like, times 10, OK? It’s true. I’m a supermodel.”

Cut to Billy shaking his head and Michael laughing.

Candidate (in New Hampshire): “That could be a Mexican plane up there. They’re getting ready to attack.”

Billy: That can’t possibly be a Mexican plane and they certainly are not going to attack.

Michael:  The crowd doesn’t know that.  You can say anything, no matter how outrageous, as long as you are willing to stick with your story.

Quick cuts to various rallies.  The candidate is always looking smug and/or giving a thumbs up to the crowd.  The crowds always seem to love whatever he has to say.

Scene: Hotel room at debate site.  Michael and Billy our waiting anxiously for the event to begin.

Michael and Billy

Billy: I don’t have a good feeling about this.  I mean he would not even practice for the debate.  How can we get the message across if he is not prepared on the topics?

Michael:  Don’t worry, if he doesn’t have an answer, he will just change the subject and throw some dirt on an opponent.

Billy:  But some of those things he says are not true.  That will not work in a debate.

Michael:  Of course it will work.  These are not real debates, they are reality TV shows and we have the star.  Just watch.

Cut to the television studio where the debate is underway.

Candidate (replying to a Senator in the debate): “I never attacked him on his looks and believe me, there’s a lot of subject matter there.”

Cut Back at hotel room.

Michael:  See Billy, he did not have to actually answer the Senator.  And take a look at the Senator’s face.  This is hilarious.

Cut to television studio.

Candidate (referring to female primary opponent): “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!”

Hotel room:


Billy:  Do you think insulting a woman like that is good?  I mean, even if it is an opponent, people might get upset.

Michael:  His fan base will eat this up and who cares what the others think. We are well on our way to success.  A few more debates like this, a few more rallies and he will have the nomination.  From there it is just a few easy steps to victory.  I don’t think there is anyway we can screw this up now.  The fans love us, we are getting a lot of press and the ratings are good.  Best show in town!

Billy looks lost in thought for a moment.  Then finally speaks.

Billy:  I think I should leave the campaign now.  It is not really what I expected.

“You can not leave the campaign now. You know too much…”

Michael (angry): You can not leave the campaign now.  You know too much, and nobody likes it when someone can give away the magician’s tricks.  Our candidate has a way of getting even with people who cross him.  You are in this until the end. I wouldn’t bring this up again if I were you.

Camera settles on Billy’s astonished face as the Narrator speaks over this shot.

Narrator: Billy wanted to learn politics and make his way to the nation’s capital.  Instead, he found a permanent address in The Twilight Zone.

Fade Out.

*Arod Serling is also the Narrator and Executive Producer of this program.

Candidates quotes courtesy of: “The 155 Craziest Things Trump Said This Election,” Politico Magazine, November 05, 2016.

A TIME-WARPED GUEST – Marilyn Armstrong

CELEBRATING THE FAMILY WE NEVER MET


You just can’t trust a time portal. As soon as you think you can relax, eat a little dinner, another old family member drops by. Or, rather pops up.

“So,” says Uncle Shmuel, who has appeared out of nowhere and now miraculously speaks vernacular American English — albeit with a heavy Yiddish accent. “Nice place you got here. I see you keep your animals in your house. That one there sounds like a pig but looks like a dog.”

“They are our pets, Uncle Shmuel. The oinker is Nan. She just makes that sound. She’s kind of old. I think that’s the dog equivalent of ‘oy’.”

“Pets, shmets. Animals. In the house. What’s next? Toilets? Never mind, your life, your choice. Oy.”

“Can I give you something to eat? Tea? Coffee? Cake? If we don’t have it, I can go out and buy some.”

“Are you Kosher?”

“Uh, no. Not Kosher,” and I shiver, thinking of the bacon and ham that yet lives in our kitchen. “Oh, wait, here’s my husband. Uncle Shmuel, I’d like you to meet my husband Garry.”

Shmuel looks shrewdly at Garry, then at me. “He doesn’t look Jewish.”

Garry’s eyes twinkle. “But really I am,” he says and deftly pulls a yarmulke out of his pocket. You have to hand it to Garry. He’s very sharp. The yarmulke has “Joel’s Bar Mitzvah” printed across the back in big white letters. Fortunately, Shmuel doesn’t notice.

“So,” Shmuel continues after a pregnant pause, “You still have problems with Cossacks?”

“No. No more Cossacks, but too many politicians,” I reply.

“Cossacks, politicians, there’s a difference?” he asks.

“Not so much,” I admit. He’s right. There is no difference, except maybe for the absence of a horse.

“And for a living, you do what?”

“We’re retired. But before that, I was a writer. Garry was a reporter. On television.”

“What’s a television?” I look at Shmuel. That’s when I realize we are about to embark on an extended conversation. All I say is: “Oy vay is mir!” Which seems to sum it up.

Oy vay. Can someone set the table?

STARTING OVER – A NEW EPISODE FOR HAROLD – Rich Paschall

Finally, A Plan For The Planner, by Rich Paschall

Bill woke up refreshed on another warm and pleasant Florida morning.  As he lie awake staring at the window shades, he wondered what time it could possibly be.  In retirement, Bill did not worry about such things as alarm clocks.  Yes, he had one just in case he needed it, but he tried never to set it.  This Monday, however, Bill did have something he wished to do.  So he decided to get up and start his week.

72-Dana-Farber_058

Not far away, at the county hospital, Harold was barely conscious.  He had been transferred from Intensive Care to a regular hospital room.  It was a trip from one bland room to another, although the current room did not contain so many machines humming and whirring, not that any of the noise was noticed by the recovering retiree.

The previous Monday Harold was brought to the emergency room.  He had a stroke on Monday, or perhaps even the day before, no one knows for sure.  Harold was not talking and they could only make a guess.  The paramedics told a neighbor it did not seem to be a long time, but they were not sure.

Bill, and nosey Mabel Crockett, were the only neighbors who knew where Harold had gone.  Neither knew of any of Harold’s friends or relatives, so Harold had to lie for a week in Intensive Care while Bill tried in vain to get news.  Now he could finally go and see his retirement friend.

In truth, Harold was not in much better shape, but since he had moved to a regular room, he was allowed visitors.  As no one had been notified, there was no one to visit Harold until now.  Even though Harold had been a master planner in his profession, he had never planned for a life event of this magnitude.  As a result, his future was in the hands of strangers to whom he could not communicate.

When Bill had finished his morning routine, including a light breakfast, he prepared for a trip to the hospital to see Harold.  All through the previous week, Bill had tried to see Harold and was turned away on every occasion.  He was not a relative and since there was no medical power of attorney or permissions granted, no one besides the medical staff could see old Harold.

At the moment Bill was ready to give up on Harold the previous week, a hospital volunteer slipped him the word the Harold had improved and would earn his way to a regular room.  Now Bill was ready to go find out if Harold could tell him anything about friends or relatives.  Just who should be notified.

Heading to the medical center

Heading to the medical center

Bill drove through the light traffic to the county hospital and parked in the multi-level parking garage.  It seemed that all of the spaces on the first two levels were reserved for staff or the handicapped so Bill drove up and parked near the elevator.  He rode down, walked across the roadway that lead to the Emergency Room, and entered the hospital.

The same receptionist who Bill saw everyday the previous week was on duty, but this time she was able to give him some information and a room pass.

“Good morning,” she said upon seeing Bill.  “You will want to go to the fifth floor and when you get off the elevator, go right and down to room 502.”  At that she handed Bill a room pass and instructed him to return it when he came down.

“Hello,” Bill said with a smile when he was finally able to jump in.  “Thanks,” he continued as he took the pass and headed to the room.  Oddly enough, no one ever asked to see the pass that Bill stuck in his pocket.

Dana Farber lobby

When Bill arrived at the room he discovered a whole group of medical people around Harold’s bed.  They seemed to be discussing their plan of recovery for Harold.  They all spoke as if Harold was not even in the room.

“He’s already been here a week and there is only slight improvement in motor skills,” one doctor announced to the gathering.

“We believe his cognitive skills will return to full capacity,” another doctor chimed in, “but only time will tell for sure.”

A nurse stated that Harold was being fed by a tube in the stomach because he was incapable of eating.  The brown liquid in the bag hanging overhead would have to do for a while.

As the discussion of Harold’s condition, both good and bad, continued, Bill asked the nurse if he could see her in the hall.  “Can Harold hear what all of you are saying?”

The nurse explained that Harold might be able to hear but perhaps he could not follow along too well because of the medication.  “Then don’t you think we should be careful what we say about his recovery?” Bill wanted to know, trying to make a point she did not understand.

“Yes,” the nurse replied in a cheery voice, “please be careful what you say.”  A frustrated Bill walked back into the room where the discussion of Harold’s condition continued.

A physical therapist discussed rehabilitation plans.  This was followed by a speech therapist.  She not only spoke of the relearning to talk, she also discussed the work that would be necessary to teach swallowing.  This act that we all take for granted would have to be relearned following the paralyzing effect on one side of the body.

An occupational therapist was the next to speak.  There would be a need to practice typical household chores, such as reaching for cans and bottles and opening them, preparing food, and doing everyday tasks.

All of the therapists and doctors announced a schedule they would follow each week.  They discussed a timetable for success and how much they had hoped to accomplish in an optimal situation.  As they left the room, Bill tried frantically to ask how long this would take and if Harold would fully recover.

As that was taking place, a slight smile appeared on Harold’s face.  The Midwest planner was pleased at the extensive day-to-day plan they had laid out for him.

Note: One more “Harold story” arrives on Sunday.
Previously:  “Missing Monday,” “Sunshine, Spring Training, and Survival,” “Wednesday Wondering,” “Waiting For The Story To Continue,” “A Tap On The Shoulder

A TAP ON THE SHOULDER

When Hope Pays a Visit, Rich Paschall

Bill woke with the Florida sun proclaiming the new day, as he did on most days. He did not set an alarm clock, it was against his retirement protocol. Instead, he waited for the room to brighten with the energy of a new morning.

A new morning

A new morning

As he wandered through his house, getting ready to meet the world, Bill thought of what he would do that Friday. It seems he had been on a futile mission all week. Nevertheless, he would try again, and give it just one more chance. It felt like the least he could do for his friend.

Bill’s morning routine could not exactly be described as a routine.  Rather it was haphazard at best. He went to the washroom. He went to the closet. He went to the kitchen to start coffee. He went back to the washroom to shave. He looked again in the closet for what to wear and he went back to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. It took him over an hour to get ready to start the day, but that was Bill’s retirement plan. In other words, there was no plan.

His neighbor Harold, on the other hand, always had a plan. His time seemed to be allocated to the minute. While Bill liked Harold, he was not fond of the rigid lifestyle. That was no way to retire, Bill thought. Of course, it all did not matter now.

At the beginning of the week, Harold was found lying on his screened in patio and carted off to the local hospital, just a short distance away. It was not unusual for the Emergency Medical Technicians to pick up old timers in this part of Sarasota County, but it was still a shock to the few who knew Harold. Bill was one of those few.

Although a daily purpose was never part of Bill’s retirement goals, he nonetheless scheduled himself into a visit to the county hospital every day in a vain attempt to learn something, anything, about Harold’s condition. He was not immediate family and he was not named on any medical documents, since Harold, Planner Supreme, had no plan for this life-altering event. So Bill had learned nothing all week-long. Still, he could not settle his mind over the thought of Harold just falling over on his patio. So he kept trying to get a medical update.

When coffee was gone and toast was eaten, Bill was ready to make the trip to the county hospital. He stepped out into the Florida sun to find the day was already hot and humid.  Neighbor Mabel Crockett, would tell anyone who would listen that “the air was so think you could cut it with a knife.”  And so it was exactly that.

Bill hopped into his car in the driveway of his townhouse and hoped that the air conditioner would be at work right away. He was a bit disappointed at that, but he did not have far to go.

He arrived at the parking lot that was just two dollars for patients and visitors for four hours. “Don’t forget to have your ticket validated,” the guard warned Bill. If he forgot, the charge was double. Bill did not seem to care too much about that.

He entered by the Emergency Room and walked past the Trauma Triage and down the hall to the main lobby area. There he walked right up to the same receptionist who greeted him every day that week.

“Yes?” the elderly receptionist said with a sigh. She recalled Bill immediately and was prepared to go through the routine again.

“I am here to see my friend Harold. He came in through Emergency on Monday.”

“I know,” she said with a tired sound. It is the same sound that came with all of the disappointing statements she must give to visitors. “I’m sorry,” she continued. “Your friend is in intensive care. I can not give out information to anyone but immediate family.”

Bill started with his usual response, “But I might be…”

“I know, sir, and I am very sorry. It is the regulation and there is nothing else I can say,” the grey haired woman proclaimed with a heavy dose of sadness.

They stared at each other for a moment when Bill finally conceded. “I understand,” he said with a bit of a choked up sound. He could understand the rule, just not the dogmatic enforcement in this circumstance.

Bill started back down the hall toward the exit by the Emergency room. He passed pictures of important donors, including the Ringling Family of Circus fame. There were also paintings of peaceful ocean scenes that would seem to go with the best rooms at a Holiday Inn. Bill noticed none of it all week-long.  He just knew how long the walk would take to the exit.

As he got half way down the hall, Bill felt a tap on his shoulder.  “Excuse me,” a voice announced. “Excuse me, sir.”

Bill turned around to find the elderly receptionist right behind him.  She seemed a bit out of breath, probably from her pursuit of Bill.

“I am not supposed to say anything,” she said softly, as if she was telling a big secret, “but what are they going to do?  Fire me?  I am a volunteer.” At that, Bill saw her first smile of the week.

“Your friend is doing better,” she stated, “And they should move him out of Intensive Care soon, maybe tomorrow.”

Bill grabbed the old woman and gave her a big hug. Tears formed in his eyes as he told the receptionist, “Thank you so much!”  This was followed by another big hug.

So Bill thanked some woman he didn’t know for some news about a neighbor he hardly knew. The news itself really wasn’t anything at all, but it made Bill’s day complete.

Note: The next “Harold story” appears Friday.
Previously:  “Missing Monday,” “Sunshine, Spring Training and Survival,” “Wednesday Wondering,” “Waiting For The Story To Continue.”

WAITING FOR THE STORY TO CONTINUE

When Words Lost Meaning, Rich Paschall

If there was anything Harry did not need, it was more disappointment.  He’d had a lifetime of disappointments, but it seemed he was in for another.  Mistreated and mislabeled, he was now also abandoned.  Unintentionally abandoned, but for Harry, alone was alone.

Harry came into the world with great hope.  His mother picked out for her new-born the name of the most famous boy in the world.  The little child was named after the boy wizard of book and movie fame, Harry Potter.  She thought he even looked a little like the drawings of Harry on the book covers.

As he grew, little Harry had trouble learning.  He never developed good reading skills.  He often baffled his mother, telling her the letters moved, and words did not make sense when put together.  Eventually, his mother told him he was stupid, and accused him of not trying.  Just to confuse the issue, she followed that by telling him he was bright (which was true) and could read if he wanted to read. Which was not true. The further behind he fell in school, the more labels he acquired. But no one gave him the right label: “Dyslexic.”

The lad withdrew. He began hiding in the last place anyone would look for him. The library.

And so, a boy who could not read looked at the books in the comfortable Florida Public Library and waited. Maybe someone would come and read to him. Someone who would explain the stories.  It was hard to find anybody to do this until he spotted Harold looking at the Harry Potter books.  Little Harry decided that Harold was his new friend.

Library Road

Harold had been going to the library every Tuesday and Thursday to read books on engineering and machinery.  Sometimes Harold considered histories, but one day he strayed from his usual plan to look at the books about which he’d heard so much. The Harry Potter series.

When Harry, the boy with the reading problem, spied Harold in the “fantasy aisle,” he instantly knew he’d found someone to read to him. Since Harry had become rather withdrawn in recent months, he began the relationship by staring at Harold and the first Harry Potter book.

The librarian’s assistant misinterpreted Harold’s attempts to send little Harry away. She thought Harry and Harold were together. So she opened the usually shuttered reading room, making it possible for Harold to read aloud to the boy.

Harold read to the boy that first day but had no intention of continuing.  Nevertheless, it turned into a regular Tuesday and Thursday affair.

Harry knew old Harold was not a great storyteller.  He was obviously uncomfortable reading out loud.  But little Harry liked Harold’s awkward attempts at it. And Harry was learning. It seems Harold was keeping an eye on little Harry and when he could see the boy did not understand something he read, he would stop to explain it.

Sometimes the boy would be emboldened to ask questions.  Even though the boy with the little wizard face was not yet learning to read, he was building his vocabulary.

Then one Tuesday there was no Harold at the library. Harry waited rather impatiently, but his new friend never showed up. The boy roamed the lobby, then just stood there staring off into space, as if he was lost. It was a sad sight. Thursday brought the same scenario. When the little boy looked as if he was going to cry, the Librarian stepped in.

“What seems to be the problem, young man?” she asked Harry in a businesslike tone.

“He’s not here,” Harry said loudly, and tears rolled down his face.

“Shh.  This is a library.  Now, explain to me. Who is missing?”

Harry tried to explain, but was so upset he couldn’t.  Seeing this, the librarian’s assistant rushed over to help.  When she finished telling what she knew, the three stood there staring at one another.  Harry remained dejected.

At last, the assistant suggested, “Maybe your friend is ill and can’t come. I’m sure he’d be here if he could be.” Of course, she had no idea how accurate she was.

“But he’s supposed to read to me today,” Harry whimpered.

“I know,” the helpful assistant said, “but he can’t come if he’s sick.  You know how your mother makes you stay home if you’re not feeling well, right?”

The boy didn’t know. His mother ignored him when he was sick, figuring it was a ploy to stay home from school.  The boy looked at the Librarian and her assistant, his face full of sadness and mistrust. So the assistant went on.

“I’m sure your friend will be back to read for you very soon.” Of course, she had no way of knowing when, or if, Harold would be back to read.

Even while the three stood in the Library lobby wondering,  a doctor stood at the foot Harold’s bed in the hospital’s Intensive Care unit reading his chart.  This Thursday, Harold could not read, talk, or explain anything to anyone.

Note: The next “Harold story” appears next week.
Previously:  “Missing Monday,” “Sunshine, Spring Training and Survival,” “Wednesday Wondering.”

WEDNESDAY WONDERING

When A Regular Guy Goes Missing, by Rich Paschall

It was just about time for Tiffany’s favorite customer to arrive, so she took a spot at the server’s station. That was located at the end of a long bar.  There, between the bar and the back wall, was an area for water, extra glasses and silverware.  Neatly tucked into an alcove was a computer with a touch screen.  On the modern device, the waitresses could place their orders which would go back to the kitchen or alert the bar tender of something to prepare. They also had a spot to bring dirty dishes for handsome young Hispanic bus boys to take to the back kitchen.  It was not unusual for a waitress to be there, but Tiffany was there for a particular reason.

From the end of the bar, at the server’s station, one could look down the length of the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar and see the front door. When Tiffany’s favorite customer arrived promptly at 1 pm, Tiffany planned to direct him to a table that was in her serving area.  If he sat outside that area, she would have to let one of the others wait on Harold. She just did not like that idea.

Tiffany had started working at the restaurant and bar three years earlier.  She was in her earlier 30’s then and had a friendly and energetic way that got her hired by the hard-working managers.  After a while, she became a favorite waitress for many of the regular patrons.  She usually worked through the lunch hour and into the early evening. Sometimes she covered on a later shift where drunken patrons tipped her well.  Despite that, she still preferred the afternoons.

After she was well established at the restaurant, a retired gentlemen from the Midwest became a regular Wednesday and Saturday afternoon customer.  He was very punctual, arriving right at 1 pm each time.  Tiffany knew his order and he was easy to serve.  When Tiffany had left for a few months to try a new, and allegedly exciting place, she found she missed the atmosphere and the friends at the Wild West.  She did not realize how much like family they were until she went away.  The customers were nice, the managers were fair and friendly and the other waitresses were like sisters.  When she got the opportunity, she returned.

Gulf Coast

Harold started coming to the Wild West Restaurant and Sports bar shortly after he had left the cold Midwest climate for sunny retirement on the Gulf Coast of Florida.  He liked the Soup and Sandwich special each Wednesday and Saturday so he quickly made that part of his schedule.  You see, Harold was very well-organized and when he put something on his schedule, you could depend that he would follow through on it. That’s why all of the employees knew Harold was about to walk in the door.

Tiffany had a sweet spot for Harold, as the saying goes.  Even though he did not say a lot, she found him rather endearing.  She looked forward to his dependability as well as his smile.  It just sort of indicated that there was some order in the world.  Despite the lack of conversation, she knew he appreciated these twice weekly visits

When the front door opened at 1 pm, Tiffany was ready with a smile, but the patron was not Harold.  Nevertheless, she politely smiled as a young man took a seat where Tiffany had planned to place Harold.  It was OK, there were other places for Harold that he would like.  A few empty tables had a good view of one of the televisions.  So, she brought the young man water and a menu and returned to the server’s station.  She tried to watch the door diligently, but the lunch crowd kept taking her away from her post.

At 13:30 it was apparent something was wrong.  Time had gone by quickly before Tiffany realized Harold was late. He always came through the door at the exact minute.  Some days she was convinced he waited around outside for a few minutes so he could be precisely on time at 1 pm. This particular Wednesday he was not there at 1, 1:30 or at 2.  Harold did not arrive for lunch.

Tiffany’s disappointment was noticeable to her coworkers.  She liked how nicely Harold fit into the routine, and now he was missing.  Could he have gone to another restaurant?  Could he have scheduled some place new?  Could she have lost her favorite customer?  Questions swirled through her head. What could possibly be the answer? Perhaps he was sick.  Perhaps he had an accident.  Perhaps he was stuck at home and had to make his own lunch.  Whatever was the issue, she hoped Harold was doing well and had good food.

At that very hour Harold was indeed having lunch.  A middle-aged nurse, who looked like she had not slept for a day or two, was hanging a fresh bag to feed Harold intravenously directly with the stomach tube. It was not the sort of meal he was used to on a Wednesday afternoon, but it seems he was in no position to object as the stroke had left him rather speechless.  Today’s meal definitely was not on his schedule.

Note: The next Harold story appears Friday.
Previously:  “Missing Monday,” “Sunshine, Spring Training and Survival.”