Ghost Strum

Jane pointed. “Where did that come from?”

Molly followed her mother’s gaze to the milk glass picture frame standing atop the shelf under the window. It captured the sunlight and seemed to glow.

But Jane didn’t see the frame. She only saw the black and white photo of her teenaged self, arm in arm with a handsome kid in uniform.

Molly answered carefully. “I found it in a box of old frames at the thrift store. Who’s the guy?”

Her mother moved toward the picture. “You need to trash it. Now.”

Molly grabbed it and held it close. “I bought it. You can’t take it.”

“What if Jim sees it?”

“He doesn’t care about my stuff. And anyway, he never comes in here. He’s not allowed.”

“I come in here and I don’t want to see it.”

Molly examined the picture. It was only a snapshot but the lighting gave it a quality of old Hollywood glamour portraits.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Molly said.

“A nobody. Just trouble,” Jane answered.

Molly prodded, “Did you always like guys in uniform? This guy, Jim…” Jane’s husband, Jim, was a cop.

Her mother shot back, “No, I did not ‘always like guys in uniform’… That guy was a wild man. If vines were hanging from trees, he’d be swinging from them.”

Molly raised her eyebrows. “Woooie-hooie! Like Tarzan, eh?”

“More like Cheetah, if you ask me. Put it away. Or I will.”

Molly returned it to the shelf. “You’ll never see it again.”

Jane moved toward the door.

“Mom?” Jane turned impatiently. “Is he my Dad?”

A complex of emotions passed over Jane’s face. “No, honey. I barely knew him in high school. I don’t remember that picture being taken. Don’t even remember his name.”

“He looks nice.”

“Well, you don’t know, do you? Don’t pester me with questions.”

“Just curious.”

“I tell you, Moll. If he were your Dad, I would understand why you are such a brat. But he isn’t, so I don’t.”

Molly laughed.

Jane turned away. “Don’t get me started.” She walked out, shutting the door hard behind her.

Molly looked at the picture. Every week this old guy with a beard carried a box of knick-knacks and junk into the thrift store to donate or sell.

Sorting and pricing the stuff people brought in fell to Molly. And then, of course, shelving it.

Molly found it hard to believe the old guy and the kid in the photo were the same person. The beard aged him compared to her mother. Or, not that he looked so much older, but more abused.

Her mother looked plenty old to Molly. But it was more Jane’s attitude setting into her face than the accumulated years.

This guy looked wrung out. His shirts hung on him like they’d outgrown him. Thinking back, she recognized the remnants of military bearing. He walked with dignity. But he carried a wounded quality too, like something gone missing.

That day he came in with a big box of old frames, he looked right at Molly and spoke with weight to his words. “There’s some good stuff in this one. Might find something in here you want to keep.”

Molly wondered why he hadn’t shown her the picture then. She figured he left it up to her. If attentive, she would find a treasure. That’s cool. He didn’t want to force it on her. But he knew.

At first glance, the picture startled her. Molly mistook the girl in the picture for herself at first. But the guy? And the clothes? Then she realized it had to be her mother.

Her mother used to be pretty. What happened? Molly hoped she wouldn’t end up looking the way Jane looked now. No one would squeeze Molly into her mother’s mold.

She knew it wasn’t Jim’s fault. He was a late arrival. But he didn’t help.

The other night Jim confronted Molly over what he overheard in a café. His dinner with a fellow officer got interrupted when some boys started a commotion. Jim told Molly he heard them talking about her in ‘unflattering terms’.

Based on that, Jim accused her of being a drug-addled slut. This even shocked her mother. But Jane didn’t defend Molly.

Molly said, “I can’t account for gossip, Jim. But if I were your boss, I’d expect harder evidence than a bunch of drunk kids spouting off. What about some credit that I wasn’t with them?”

Jim backed off. But he said, “Molly, I don’t care who your mother is. If I catch you breaking the law, you’ll answer to the law.” He hit the counter. “You’re fifteen. You don’t have the rights of an adult.”

Jim always got the last word in, regardless.


Next time the old guy came into the store, Molly almost missed him. Her boss had her sorting through a slew of CDs that people brought in. But the old guy found her. He pointed at the CDs.

“You ever see any old copies of ‘Heartbreak Mountain’?”

“Brokeback Mountain? That would be in sound…”

“No, no, no… It’s a latter-day bluegrass group, ‘Heartbreak Mountain’. I played with them. They were good before dissipation sunk them. Too many train wrecks.”

Molly shook her head. “Oh, I want to thank you for that picture. Who are you? That’s you with my Mom? What’s your name?”

“Whoa, girl. Too many questions.”

Molly looked down. “Oh… sorry.”

“I mean, you’re working. Is it cool to stand around chatting up the customers?”

“Oh, right. But I have a break. Can I buy you a coffee next door?”

“No, you may not. But if you’ll let me buy you one…” Molly brightened. “Everyone calls me Smith.”

Molly offered her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Smith.”

Smith chuckled. “You can skip the ‘Mister,’ Miss Molly.”


Molly and Smith talked for almost an hour that day. Smith said he played guitar, occasional session work and weddings when invited. He started busking straight out of the Marines. He did whatever he needed to pay the bills, but mainly played music — with compensation or not.

“I recognized you the first time I came in,” Smith said. “You look so much like Jane, I did a double-take. I’m cleaning up, so thought I’d pass that old picture on to you if you wanted it. Sorry about the crack in the glass.”

“I thought it was me at first. Mom doesn’t have a lot of pictures around, especially from way back. And she doesn’t talk much. But she said you are trouble. Are you trouble?”

Smith swallowed a chuckle. “Well, back then you could say I was full of a lot of… uhm, vinegar. I’ve moderated myself considerably since. I know not to step on other’s solos and if I borrow a lick, I’m generous in return.”

Molly looked confused by this answer.

Smith elaborated. “I liked her and we went out once or twice, but it never took. I didn’t hurt her though.”

Molly bit her lip. She had to ask. “Mom says no, but…”


“You’re not my father, are you?”

Smith laughed. “No, honey, ‘fraid not. I doubt I even got a kiss from her. But you can’t blame me for trying.” He furrowed his brow. “You don’t know your Daddy, then?”

“She doesn’t say much about anything. All I know is ‘long time gone’.”

Meeting for coffee became a regular event for Molly and Smith. In Smith’s terms, they resonated. Molly loved hearing about her mother. Smith couldn’t help but talk about music. Molly told Smith she loved passing time with him.

He got serious. “Don’t pass precious time with anyone, Molly. Keeping time is what it’s all about. Build solid memories. They’ll sustain you when times get hard.”

One day, Smith brought a guitar along. He noodled a bit and played some intricate riffs that held her spellbound. The notes poured out so fast, Molly couldn’t believe Smith was playing alone.

“Do you teach? How much do you charge?”

“You can’t afford it, Molly. Either accept it as a gift or walk on.”

He shared a few things about the guitar. “Imagine this is the universe in miniature. This little cosmos amplifies all the vibrations moving through it. All that light and sound from the stars bounces around and moves outward forever.”

Molly tried to follow.

Smith played a chord. “Take a simple chord. It’s like the seed of a melody. All the notes of a song scrunch up together in that one chord. String them out like a vine over twelve bars of time and the melody emerges.”

“The chord holds all the notes of the song?”

“It could. A bunch of them anyway. Think of a chord as a family unit. Harmony prevails when all the strings or notes are in tune with each other. Harmonious notes resonate. They lift everyone up.”


“But discord enters when a note or two is out of tune. A sour note drags everything down. It has its purposes in counterpoint, but over time it depletes. It neutralizes all the positive vibes.”

“Smith, are you talking about music or… life?”

“Same thing, Molly. You’re old enough to understand I’m talking about both. Music is the highest form of communication. It’s God’s voice resonating from heaven.” He grinned. “Watch this…”

Smith tuned the guitar using the harmonics of one string resonating with another. This mystified Molly.

“It’s over your head now, but don’t worry, you’ll get it.” He handed the guitar to Molly. “Here…”

A boy from Molly’s class approached. He ignored Smith. “Hey, Moll, are you going to the rave this weekend?”

Molly looked uncomfortable. Smith interjected, “Your mother ever teach you manners, boy? You have business with my kid? Show some respect. We’re in the middle of something.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were just some guy. You’re Molly’s father?”

“I didn’t say I’m her father. I said she’s my kid.”

The boy backed away, confused. “Sorry, Molly. See you ‘round.” He walked away shaking his head.

Molly smiled nervously. “I hope you know the rumor you just started. I’m your kid?”

Smith shut his eyes. “Student… I meant we were having a class. I should have said you’re my student.”

“I can’t wait ’til my Mom hears I’m your kid.”

Smith laughed at himself. “In music that is known as a ‘clam’.”

“Anyway, I’m your ‘kid’ now, aren’t I?”

They laughed. Smith whispered, “A little secret for you… Basically, everyone chooses their family.”

Molly smiled. Smith nodded toward the guitar she held. “That’s yours, you know.”

“No, Smith. I can’t.”

“I’ve got a dozen of them. Keep it. Call it ‘permanent loan’ if you want. But you have to practice!”


Adding guitar lessons to her work and school took effort. But somehow it all worked for the best. Molly’s grades improved. And the mood at home got better too.

Mastering chords was a stretch. So Molly stretched herself.

One day they were noodling through a song. Lost in the process, Molly became aware Smith had stopped playing, she looked up to meet his gaze.


Smith said, “You were singing.”

“No. I don’t sing. Never have.”

“But you were. And beautifully. Don’t stop.”

Molly never sang. She didn’t even know how to begin.

“I don’t know how.”

Smith smiled at her. “You’ll figure it out.” He went back to his riff. In a minute, he looked up again. “Jane had a voice. I thought you might.”

“Are you talking about my mother? She never sings.”

“She did then.” Smith returned to his guitar.

Molly asked, “Do you sing?”

“Like gravel on fine china,” he answered. Then he started coughing and couldn’t stop.


A few weeks later, Smith invited Molly to hear him play with his band at a wedding gig.

“It’s up at my house. Here’s the address. Oh, and you’re singing with us. Don’t worry. Just one song. Here’s the music.” He handed her a paper. “Oh, and tell Jane and Jim to come if they want. It’ll be fun.”

This was too much. Fun with Jane and Jim? “Smith! I can’t sing. I never sang before. How can I sing in front of a crowd? You want me to ruin the wedding?”

Smith smiled. “My dear, you can sing notes your fingers never dreamed of. Practice. Don’t think too much about it.” Smith started strumming the intro. “Let’s go through it.”

Molly couldn’t see the music through her tears. How is this happening?

She sang. And after a few passes, she gained some confidence.

Smith grinned. “That wasn’t so bad. And don’t forget, you’ll have back up. Cheryl, my girlfriend will pick up the harmony at the hook.”

Smith had a girlfriend?


Molly entered the kitchen, home from her job. Her mother started on Molly before she set her purse down.

“What’s this I hear about you and that man? I told you to stay away from that degenerate.”

“He’s teaching me to play, Mom. And that’s all. He’s just a guy.”

“I’ll tell you who to hang with. Why do you oppose me at every turn?”

Jim stepped into the doorway from the living room. Jane looked to him for support.

“It’s okay, Jane.”

Both Molly’s and Jane’s mouths dropped.


“I asked around. Everyone knows Smith. He’s well respected. And for a musician, that’s something.”

Jane fell into a chair and stared.

Molly couldn’t help but smile. Jim nodded at her.

“So, Mom. Smith invited the three of us to a wedding at his house.”

That brought Jane to attention. “That man is getting married? He’s too old for such stuff.”

Molly said, “Do what you want. I’m going. I hear there will be cake.”

Jane rolled her eyes.


A few days later, Molly looked up from her homework. She heard something and went to investigate.

Molly found Jane singing to herself while doing the dishes. Molly had never heard her sound so happy.

Molly took a chance and picked up the harmony. Jane stopped and turned to see Molly, who continued. Jane smiled and began again. They laughed together.

But then Jim entered and Jane stopped short. Jim tried to encourage them but the moment had passed. Jim shook his head and left.

Jane gave Molly a look. “Have you finished your homework?”

Molly returned to her room.


On the morning of the wedding, Molly got a ride up the hill to Smith’s house. He met her at the gate down the long drive. The house had a veranda where the musicians jammed until the festivities began.

Molly took it all in. “You really do live up a hill. This is beautiful.”

“And easier to defend.”

Smith introduced Molly to Cheryl. Everything about Smith and Cheryl felt comfortable.

Cheryl said, “Smith says you have good pipes.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’m…”

“Maybe you haven’t noticed, Molly, but Smith doesn’t flatter. If he says you can sing…” They nodded.

“Got it. Thanks.”

“Let’s go over the break.”

Cheryl rehearsed the harmonies with Molly and they had fun.


Smith’s group played for the wedding and mixed it up at the reception held on Smith’s front lawn. Molly sat nearby, enjoying the music.

When Smith nodded to her, Molly ascended the steps to join the band. She turned as Smith introduced her to the crowd. The valley opened before her.

Molly saw Jim watching from the back of the crowd. He waved and smiled. No sign of Jane.

No pressure. She only had to sing. It was all a blur from that point forward.

Afterward, Molly didn’t remember singing. She heard applause, even from the musicians. Everyone seemed happy. Cheryl couldn’t stop smiling. She said, “Let’s sing again, soon.”

Smith said, “You killed it.” And that was a good thing.


Jim drove Molly home. When they got there, Jane remained in her room.

The next morning, when Molly entered the kitchen, Jane sat drinking coffee.

Jane said, “Well you did it. Now you can get away from that man.”

“What’s your deal, Mom?”

“Don’t you get it? I don’t want you hurt.”

“He’s not hurting me.”

“He will. I know what he’s doing.”

“What’s he doing? He’s teaching me.”

Jane let go. “Don’t you know he’s dying?”

In a flash, Molly understood his coughing. And giving his things away.

Molly couldn’t speak.

Jane tried to comfort her. “Baby, I know… You care about him and then he’ll be gone. You need to pull away.”

Molly pulled away from Jane. “You’re wrong, Mom. You want me to keep my emotions stored away, like you. I should only bring them out to show for special occasions? Like that pin you wear every Christmas?”

Jane let Molly leave. She didn’t want to argue.


Smith met Molly for coffee by the thrift store a few more times. They played together but things were different. Molly couldn’t talk about what Jane told her. But she could see it now. Smith knew she knew. Nothing she could say. Words wouldn’t do a thing. They could play music together. And so they did.

The day Smith didn’t show, Molly knew why.

Cheryl came into the store. She held Molly and they cried together.

Molly sang at Smith’s funeral. Everyone was there.

© John K. Adams 2019. All rights reserved.

Last Call

Charlie kissed his little boy and girl good-night and went downstairs to the living room. He surfed through channels on cable. Nothing grabbed his interest.

Charlie glanced at the clock on the cable box. After ten. He was restless.

The phone rang. It was the landline they kept for emergencies.

“Is Miriam there?”

“Who is calling?”

“Sergio. Let me talk to Miriam.”

Charlie paused. Miriam was his wife. Wherever she was, she wasn’t with this idiot.

“She isn’t here. I’ll give her a message.”

“I need to talk to her.”

“I’ll tell her you called.”

“Just put her on, man.”

“Excuse me?”

“Put her on. I know she’s there.”

“Really? Hold on.”

Charlie placed the phone on the table and returned to the couch. He picked a magazine from the coffee table and paged through it. He thought, ‘Who reads these things?’ He put the magazine back on the table and returned to the phone.

“Hey, Sergio. You still there?”

“I need to talk to Miriam…”

“You need to get a clue. Don’t call back.”

Charlie hung up the phone. He couldn’t sit. He always felt better if he was busy. Pacing around the house, nothing caught his attention. He opened the refrigerator and closed it again.

He looked out the front window at the quiet street.

Things hadn’t been good between Miriam and him for a while. But this? Some kid calling in the middle of the night? This was bad.

The phone rang. Charlie picked up.

“Let me talk to Miriam.”

“Is this Sergio?”

“I need to talk to her. Just put her on. I know she’s there.”

“Do you know who I am?”

“Yeah. You’re Miriam’s punk ass husband.”

Charlie paused. He gave Sergio a little more rope.

“How do you know Miriam?”

“We work together… I’m her bodyguard.”

“She didn’t tell you about the layoff?” Charlie hung up.

The phone rang again. Charlie let it ring until he couldn’t stand it again.

“She’s not here Sergio. I’ll tell her you called.”

“Why don’t you just put her on, man?”

“She’s out.”

“She told me she’d be there.”

“She says lots of things. You don’t know that?”

Sergio hung up.

Charlie half laughed. “How rude!” He paced around and looked out the window. The streets were empty. The kids were asleep.

Charlie went back to the phone. He dialed ‘star sixty-nine’.

A man picked up. “Hello?”

“Is Sergio there?”

“Who’s this?”

“This is the husband of the woman Sergio keeps calling. He called me three times this hour demanding to speak to her. You know anything about this?”

“I’m his father. No.”

Charlie couldn’t believe this fool still lived with his parents.

“I don’t know Sergio. I don’t want any trouble. But I think your son is out of his depth.”

Sergio’s father didn’t respond to that.

“I know it’s late. I just wish he would stop bothering us.”

“I’ll speak to him.”

“Thank you. Good night.” Charlie placed the phone back in the cradle. He couldn’t get a good read on Sergio’s father. Either Sergio won’t know what hit him. Or they would laugh about it together in a father/son bonding moment. Either way, he hoped that would be the last he heard from good ol’ Sergio.


Charlie looked up. It was Jenny, his six-year-old daughter.

“Who should be in their bed? It’s late.”

“Where’s Mommy? I’m thirsty.”

Charlie walked to the kitchen and poured Jenny a small glass of milk.

“She’ll be home soon, baby. You can talk tomorrow. She’ll be home all day.”

“It’s Thanksgiving!”

“I know. What are you thankful for?”

“Turkey. And Mommy… And you.”

“That’s good. Now don’t drink too much or you’ll have to pee.”

She handed him the glass.

“Okay. G’night, Daddy.”

Charlie watched Jenny run to bed. Then he saw his reflection in the hall mirror. ‘What a loser,’ he thought.

Charlie flopped onto the couch and stared into space until he dozed.

Around two, Miriam shook him awake. “Sleep upstairs, Charlie. I’m going to watch TV.”

“You know I have to work in the morning. Can’t you just let me sleep, for once?”

“You don’t have to work. It’s Thanksgiving.”

“Yeah. Right. I forgot.” Charlie remembered. “Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. Your bodyguard called.”

“My… What are you talking about?”

“You know. Your bodyguard.” Miriam looked at him blankly. Charlie had to smile. “You know, Sergio? We had a nice chat. He said he was your bodyguard. You must keep him busy.”

Miriam turned away.

Charlie continued. “Maybe I got it mixed up. Are you his bodyguard? Anyway, we talked for quite a while. He felt bad that you stood him up.”

Miriam entered the kitchen and opened a Coke. “I want to watch TV.”

“You want to invite him to dinner tomorrow? He could use some company.”

“Go to bed. I’m tired.”

“I’m not. I’m ready to party.” Miriam stared at Charlie while he did a shimmy. “Or did you have a long day?”

Miriam returned to the living room and sat on the couch. She picked up the remote.

Charlie stood in the doorway. “You know, I’ve been thinking, Mir. You said you wanted to work on things. Remember saying you were sorry for asking for a divorce at every little disagreement?”

Miriam did not respond.

Charlie continued, “So, I was thinking. You might be right. Now that you’re a working girl. You can get along without me.” Charlie waited for a response that didn’t come. “G‘night.”

Charlie left her staring at the empty TV screen.

The next morning, Charlie was up early. He put the turkey in, peeled and boiled potatoes and took the store-bought pies from the fridge. The rolls were waiting to go into the oven. He put Sinatra on the stereo and sang along with ‘The Best is Yet to Come’.

Charlie was in the best mood he’d been in for a long time.

Jenny and Charles Jr. came down and got in the mood of the day. Charlie enlisted them in setting the table.

When they finished with that they came to him. Charles Jr. said, “Dad? We need to do the Christmas tree.”

“Let’s get through today and then we’ll worry about that, okay?”

They agreed. Charlie offered Charles Jr. a potato masher and put him to work. He pulled tall candles from the drawer and asked Jenny to find the candle holders to put them in.

Miriam drifted in about ten o’clock. The kids ran to her, shouting. She gave them cursory hugs and sat on a kitchen chair. She had nothing to say.

Charlie poured her a glass of wine and raised his glass. “Happy Thanksgiving to all! And to all a good night!”

Miriam lifted her glass but didn’t drink.

Jenny said, “That’s not how it goes, Daddy.”

“It isn’t?”

“That’s for Christmas.”

“Oh, well, I modified it a little. Just for today. Ready to eat?”

The kids ran to the table with a cheer.

When everyone was seated, Charlie held his hands in prayer. “I thank God for our blessed lives. Our health, our home. That we have love and warmth and trust in God to see us through the hard times. I thank God for this delicious feast. And pray those in need find the blessings that will keep them in God’s hands. Amen.”

Charlie looked at Miriam with tears in his eyes. She was serving Charles Jr. some peas.

After the meal was over and the dishes put away, Miriam found Charlie in the bedroom, packing a bag.

“What are you doing?”

Charlie zipped the bag shut and looked up. “You don’t think it’s time for me to go? That’s what you’ve wanted.”

“You’re going to leave us?”

“I’m not the one leaving, Mir. I’m just changing my address. I was faithful and…”

“You are nothing.”

Charlie stopped himself from a knee jerk impulse. But Miriam sensed his energy and stepped back.

He composed himself, “If that is the best you can do, I think I’d better head out. I’ll be back for a few things. We’ll talk later.”

Charlie left. Miriam didn’t try to stop him.

The kids saw Charlie lugging his bag and ran to him. “I have to go now, but I’ll be gone for just a little while. I’ll see you soon.”

They understood more than his words could explain. He kissed them both and gave them big hugs.

Charlie went to his car. He threw the bag into the trunk, got in and drove away.

It was cold but the sun was shining.

© John K. Adams 2019. All rights reserved.

Jesus is a Socialist?

I recently responded to a post claiming Jesus was a Socialist. In that response, I stated in part:

“He taught us to care for the poor, individually. We must allow God to transform us from within. Our human nature cannot be transformed by an ideal imposed externally, by a government run by corruptible men.”

That response generated this comment from another reader:

“This is my problem with conservatives. The scriptures do not say “individuals” should help the poor. The scriptures say “you” should help the poor. There is no good reason, biblically speaking, for the government to not provide for the poor, especially since Jesus said when you refuse the poor you refuse him.

There is simply no biblical justification for saying only individuals should help the poor. I don’t say this to argue but maybe to have a real discussion.”

I responded to his comment but despite wishing for a real discussion, he has not followed up. Since then, other thoughts have come to mind. I want to respond more fully to him and share my thoughts with a general readership.

Who is ‘you’?

I do not speak or read Ancient Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic. But, many of my teachers know the originals well. They say the ‘you’ Jesus addressed is the believer, the one reading His words and following His direction.

Jesus did not say unbelievers must follow his direction. How could they?

Jesus did not speak to Herod, or Caesar, and barely to Pilate. When talking with Pilate, Jesus did not discuss taxes or the poor but the source of Pilate’s power. Suffice to say, Jesus had other things on His mind than the redistribution of other’s wealth.

In His teaching, Jesus spoke to the man on the street in an earthy everyday context they would relate to. He said, “the poor will always be with us.” He was concerned with our spiritual wellbeing. And though Jesus often spoke about our personal economy, He always pointed beyond our temporal existence.

My respondent is right that Jesus didn’t say the government shouldn’t help the poor. But that was not His point. And that is not my point.

An Economy of the Heart

Taking money from individuals and paying bureaucrats to redistribute that wealth to those the government deems worthy is inefficient. It also invites corruption. From the Great Society onward, our national debt has mushroomed and yet, the poor remain with us.

How is that possible? Imagine if the taxes collected to help the poor had actually been given to the poor, without the government as the middleman. Would we still have poor people among us? Of course.

But Washington D.C. would have fewer career bureaucrats living off the largesse of the American taxpayer.

In Jesus’ time, tax collectors were despised as corrupt (imagine that!) and traitors to their people. When Jesus’ met the tax collector, Zacchaeus, (Luke 19: 1–9) Jesus does not admonish him. He wins Zacchaeus over through the gentle strength of His message. Jesus’ personal appeal converted Zacchaeus to act from his heart, on behalf of the poor.

Likewise, Jesus observed the poor widow tithing “all she had” (Mark 12:41–44)Some claim this criticized the government for allowing a widow to fall into poverty. That doesn’t diminish his main point. She humbly gave from the bounty of her heart while others made a show of giving from their pocketbook.

Who Do We Serve?

Governments may try to help the poor. But governments do not give from their hearts. Governments wield power. Our representatives too often, appear to be the government’s representatives. Many of them seem more concerned with holding that power than with the poor they claim concern for.

It takes a special brand of chutzpah to plead for the poor while washing one’s hands of personal responsibility.

If you, an individual, worry for a poor person, it is absurd to tell him, “I’m so sorry for you. Let me help you. I promise to pay extra taxes so you can get the funds you need to live from the government.” Good luck with that.

Many of society’s ills are traceable to the “let the government do it” attitude fostered by, you guessed it, the government.

Many fret about the separation between church and state. They want religion purged from the public square. Yet they applaud the government becoming the source of all good things. Government as god turns religion on its head. The government will serve you right into slavery.

History records many revolutions waged to rectify the sins of unresponsive governments. Who is accountable when a government lets its citizens starve? Individuals must pull up the slack.

Direct giving is honest and effective. It is good for your soul and benefits those in need. There are also many reputable charities through which you can help the needy.

Jesus said, “What you did for the least of these, you did for me (Matthew 25:40).” Does anyone seriously think Jesus sought a government handout?

A current Democratic candidate for President, Pete Buttigeig, has gained considerable mileage from touting the social gospel.

My Suffering is None of Your Business

Some people want to save the world from suffering. The extremes they will pursue to accomplish this impossible task appear to have no limits.

The implications are sobering.

I first became aware of this in the context of growing concern for suffering people’s ‘quality of life’.

Quality of life issues

If someone is infirm, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, has chronic pain, is alone, is taking up a bed, cannot pay, depression…hangnail… The drift of this is obvious. The solution of choice is rapidly becoming euthanasia. States and countries are finding euthanasia a viable solution to the sea of humanity cluttering up their medical facilities.

These ‘do-gooders’ are applying their one-size-fits-all solution to the beginnings of life as well. If a fetus is determined to be imperfect, i.e. expected to have Down’s syndrome, or other, less than perfect development as determined by statistical arcs, the obvious solution is termination.

After all, so the thinking goes, a fetus isn’t alive. It isn’t even human! So termination shouldn’t ruffle any feathers. And we are saving that potential someone from a less than ideal quality of life. How merciful.

And, voila! What a surprise! Like magic, they have discovered a wealth of healthy human organs suitable for sale for use in transplants and medical study! What a boon!

This is obviously a win-win for everyone. (Well, except for that unfortunate potential someone, with no quality of life.)

You might think I am exaggerating. I am not. And there is more.

Eradicating the world from suffering is a big job. They are just getting started. Yet suffering continues. Suffering may be part of what many call the human condition.

People have a mental illness. Or are wheelchair-bound. People are hungry. People are ignorant (they don’t even know how stupid they are!). People are grieving a loss. Your candidate didn’t win. You ran out of cigarettes. Children fall down and scrape their knees all the time. Where will the suffering stop?

Some people even choose to suffer. Ever give birth? No one does that by accident.

How can anyone eliminate the suffering caused by a young woman’s inability to bear children?

These benevolent savants have so much to do. It will take them time. But fear not. They will get to you before you know it. Have a headache? Keep it to yourself. Stay out of their sights.

We are told daily the world is ending. What would these visionaries do? Kill more people, to improve the odds of surviving (and limit the suffering). Certain intellectuals have proposed cannibalizing babies, again, with the double benefit of feeding the poor and limiting population growth.

Am I falling for some Swiftian satirical fake news? If so, I missed the punch line. These people are efficient to a fault.

Who are these people with such superior knowledge on human suffering? Academics and intellectuals create theories at the drop of a grant. But real people must survive (or not) the practical applications of their untested theories.

It is notable these experts view their work as important. But not so important they would lead by example. They are thinkers, not leaders. They are determined never to leave any sufferer behind. They won’t sacrifice themselves for their vision of a greater good.

I think those wonderful souls who assigned themselves this awesome task are misguided.

Their ideas on ‘quality of life’ may not be the ultimate standard.

I may kill a roach or a fly. And, however ignorant that fly may be of its miserable existence, it will struggle mightily to survive. And here I’m just trying to help.

But my purpose isn’t to save them from a less than ideal quality of life. They are a pestilence. At least I am honest about my motives.

But suffering is subjective. It is ‘MY’ suffering. Back off!

One man’s suffering may be another man’s joy.

How could that be? How could value be found in suffering?

Because suffering is subjective, estimating its value through an objective standard cannot help but deliver false conclusions.

Because suffering is subjective, our attitude toward it must be considered. A change in attitude can change the world. Perhaps my ‘suffering,’ my doing without, improves another’s life? Whatever the trade-off, it may not only be worth it but bring joy.

Would British astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking have preferred his life be shortened due to quality of life issues? How he must have suffered.

How many brilliant minds have been snuffed out pre-emptively, to avoid the possibility of their suffering? How merciful are those seeking to destroy in order to save!

Certainly, Mr. Hawking would have chosen a different life. Or would he? He certainly chose to live the life he had, as long as he had it.

Choice. We all make choices. Choice has become almost a prayer in some circles. And choices have consequences.

Since it has come up, whose choice must be considered? Perhaps an individual chooses to end his or her life. Whatever their suffering, it has become unbearable to them.

This is a tragic situation. But it doesn’t end suffering. It only spreads it out to many more people.

There are so many true believers eagerly easing the transition from life for the sufferers assigned to them. Ever meet someone who survived hospice? Almost rarer than the dodo. Hospice workers are famous for always getting their man. Incentives are a powerful motivator.

But once the government gets in the business of helping people die, mistakes are inevitable. Ever hear of too much of a good thing? Die with dignity. Take that to the bank.

Life is quite short. Do we really want the weight of the government influencing our personal decisions? How can I get a do-over?

I would not presume to ridicule or diminish anyone’s suffering. I pray despair never enters that mix. I certainly don’t know your experience. And you don’t know mine. I honor your experience and would not presume to make decisions for you about it.

Perhaps most difficult is watching another suffer. It is a most helpless feeling. It is their suffering. All humanity has this in common. Perhaps suffering is what connects us to each other. It makes us most human of all.

A change in perspective could help. Suffering can be purposeful.

Dedicate your suffering to something greater than yourself. Don’t let anyone presume to tell you what you deserve, what you ‘should’ do.

Whatever deity you worship, look to the wisdom of the ages to avert suffering. Acceptance and forgiveness are recurring themes. If you think you don’t worship, have you considered how that contributes to your suffering?

God gave us free will. We can choose what to think and feel about our suffering. Our individual suffering could be for a greater good – if we choose. Yes, I suffer AND I will do this anyway.

We can offer our suffering up to God’s glory. Many, many do.

I call for each of us to live. To accept what cannot be changed. And unburden ourselves through forgiveness. And while living, dedicate our suffering to something beyond ourselves.

Tell anyone seeking to relieve you – to keep their bloody hands off of your suffering. There may be worse things than suffering. Don’t sacrifice the power your suffering contains. Use it.

It is ours. We may be indifferent to suffering. Embrace it. Wallow in it. Or rejoice in it.

The Flight Risk

Marcus smiled down at Destiny. “May I buy you a drink?”

“I have one, thank you. But we can talk.” She held a glass filled with icy clear liquid and a wedge of lime.


Marcus sat next to her. Each table stood in its own intimate alcove, perfect for conversation. Most of the tables were filled with travelers reunited or saying their good-byes.

Destiny smiled. “My name is Destiny.”

She was the most beautiful woman Marcus had ever seen.

“I’m Marcus.”

Destiny offered her hand and he took it gently. Her touch thrilled him. Destiny smiled at his feigned formality.

Conversation was exactly what Marcus sought. Good old anonymous, meaningless conversation. These days, that was hard to find. And he needed it so much. If they moved on from small talk and actually got to know each other, all the better. But his dream was to indulge in cheap, face to face, small talk.

Marcus became wealthy by investing his lotto winnings in a forward-thinking tech start-up. He didn’t know AI from AZ. But he had the money and his friend, Patel, had the knowhow.

What an ironic curse that all became. His financial security bred simmering insecurity. Now, he felt he could only risk getting to know anyone by hiding his identity. How he longed for his days as a nobody.

Marcus took comfort that he didn’t look to be a person of note. He never adopted the sartorial cues which set the rich apart. Marcus knew he could travel under the radar, but it wasn’t easy.

He yearned to buy a drink for a woman knowing she wanted his smile and not his pocketbook. Marcus felt human connection becoming rare in this age of anti-social media. People were lonelier than ever.

“Are you a local? I just flew in… for a business meeting in the morning. I saw this place and thought I’d unwind from the flight.”

Destiny held her look. “No, I’m flying out tonight. Family business.”

Marcus had exited the airport and saw this lounge, Flight Risk. The edgy/classy name intrigued him. It promised to be better than the typical sports bar. He found it had the perfect ambiance, subdued recessed lighting, warm wood, and low, easy music.

And now Marcus found himself with the perfect conversation mate, Destiny. Though dressed for travel, her fashion style hit the mark. She looked great.

Marcus dared to overstep. “I hope it’s not a crisis.”

“Thank you, but no. It’s just an annual trip, kind of a reunion.”

“Mind if I ask where to?”


“I’ve been there. Wonderful people.”

Her accent was charming, more English than American. She paused sometimes, seeking the correct word.

They danced around specifics and lowered their guards. Destiny appeared to listen with genuine interest. He saw her enjoyment of his humor. Her laughter, a fountain of joy.

Destiny asked some serious questions too. Her eyes sparkled with interest. She made Marcus feel safe to talk with authenticity.

Marcus felt seen. Heard like never before. He wondered if one can fall in love in an instant. Destiny seemed too perfect. He liked that. How sad their time was so limited.

Marcus entertained Destiny with a story about his co-workers. He left his part in it on the periphery.

“They had a pool. A betting pool of sorts where every week they would join forces and funds to buy lotto tickets.”

“The boss knew about it?”

“He didn’t care. It was fun anticipation and harmless, as no one spent too much. Until…”


“Well, they hit it big.”


“Really big. Like half a million each.”

“Wow! What happened?”

“They quit. En masse. Thought they had it made. Our office was decimated. Those who stayed got promotions for pulling the slack and keeping it from going belly up.”

“And the winners?”

“They blew through it in less than two years. Like a sieve. They each came back crying. But it was too late.”

“Watch what you wish for…”

“It was funny, only it wasn’t.”

Destiny saw the time. “Oh, no. I’m sorry. I need to catch this flight. I have to go.”

It was over. Too soon. He’d never felt so connected to anyone. So intimate. So brief.

“Let me drive you? My rental is just outside.”

“Thanks. But I called Uber.”

They stood for an awkward moment. Marcus moved to embrace Destiny. She responded for an exquisite moment. They held each other longer than either expected. He would never forget the scent of her hair.

Destiny pulled away. She smiled up at him and then took his hand shyly. “I must go.”

“Wait!” She stopped. Marcus fished in his wallet. “Take my card. Perhaps we’ll meet again.”

Destiny took his card. “Perhaps.” She brushed past him.

Marcus was alone. He gathered his wits and went to his hotel.

The next morning, his partner, Patel, picked him up for an early lunch. It was a happy reunion. They had much to discuss. Things were going great. Patel wanted to show him his latest projects.

“Marcus, you are going to love this. Our set up costs were astronomical, of course. Unavoidable. That’s tech. But with labor overhead being next to nil, we’ll easily amortize it in less than a decade. After that, pure gravy, Marcus.”

Patel drove them toward their lunch meeting. Airport traffic slowed the flow. Patel made a sudden turn into the round-about in front of Flight Risk. Patel took the valet ticket.

Marcus shook his head. “What are you doing?”

“Patience, my friend. I have a surprise for you.”

They entered the lounge together. It was busy for midday. Patel spread his arms with a grand smile. “Brilliant, yes? What do you think?”

Marcus noticed the company logo. “This is yours?”

“Ours, my friend. Surprise!”

Marcus’s mind reeled. A musical laugh drew his attention to one of the tables. The woman leaned back and clapped, just like Destiny had.

It was Destiny. Marcus stared. He scanned the room. Had he gone mad? Every woman was Destiny.

They had different hair. Different clothing. But each had that manner, the off-kilter smile, that presence.

Patel intruded. “Marcus, isn’t this amazing? Of course, we’ll mix the dolls up. This is our test location. Right by the airport. Perfect for a steady flow of upscale but transient customers. It’s the cutting edge of AI, Marcus. We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Destiny approached them and smiled her signature smile. “Welcome Patel. Hello Marcus.”

Patel laughed. “You two know each other?”

Marcus stammered. “I didn’t know. I came here last night.”

“I love it. Flight Risk… Isn’t it great?”

Destiny offered her hand to Marcus. “I’m your Destiny.”

“My Destiny? But…”

“Yes. You completed me. Last night.”

Patel touched Destiny’s elbow and whispered, “We met.”

Destiny paused, re-directed herself to Marcus and repeated. “Yes… we met.”

Patel beamed at Marcus making him feel like he was on display for Patel’s entertainment.

“We keep them on a cycle of sixty to ninety minutes. No funny stuff.”

Marcus looked at Destiny intently. It was her. With that voice, it had to be her. But it couldn’t be.

As a test, he said, “May I buy you a drink?”

“I have one, thank you. But we can talk.”

She held up a glass filled with icy clear liquid and a wedge of lime.

Patel laughed. “Fantastic! I have to hear about this! Find a table. I’ll get drinks. What are you having?”

Dazed, Marcus said, “Bourbon. Straight.”

Destiny took Marcus’ hand and led him to the same intimate alcove as last night. She sat and patted the cushion, inviting him to sit.

Marcus hesitated. “Excuse me. I’ll be right back.”

A wave of nausea drove Marcus staggering to the men’s room. He leaned on the counter while staring into the mirror. Then he became sick.

A few minutes later, Marcus called a cab and returned to his hotel without speaking to anyone else in the Flight Risk.

© John K. Adams 2019. All rights reserved.

The Secret

Charlie had some choice words for her. But he didn’t like saying them, even to himself. She deserved them. ‘She’ was his fourth-grade teacher, Miss Margaret Pringle.

‘Miss Pee’, her name being the source of endless humor among his classmates, yelled at Charlie today. In front of his friends, no less. He hadn’t done his homework. He hated homework. He hated her.

Miss Pee made him stay after school to finish it. But Charlie outsmarted her. When she left the classroom, Charlie picked up his backpack and made an ‘exit left’.

“Charlie, are you done with your homework? No video games before homework. You know the rule.”

“I finished it, Mom.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure…”

Charlie’s mother and Mrs. Jensen, their neighbor, shared a coffee at the kitchen counter, a daily ritual. Cigarette smoke rose lazily from the ashtray, a souvenir from his parent’s trip to Vegas.

Charlie sat on the floor by the table playing on his video game console. He liked listening to adults. They would talk away and suddenly use letters instead of words. Whenever he heard them using code, his ears perked up.

“I swear, that woman is out of control.” Mrs. Jensen said. The women exchanged looks and his mother cleared her throat.

“You mean M. P.?”

Mrs. Jensen nodded. “You know what I mean. Kids need to apply themselves. How can they gain the discipline to get a job when they graduate?”

“Careers don’t grow on trees.”

“Unless you’re a lumberjack.” They laughed.

“But I’m talking about her personal life. She’s a mess. I heard… money problems… debt.”

“With what they get paid?”

“Glorified baby sitters, if you ask me. Don’t they teach them anything anymore?”

“And still living with…”

“Well, with one of them…?”

It got quiet at that. Charlie could hear their eyes rolling, though. He knew they were talking about his teacher. They went on and used some words he didn’t know, like ‘bankruptcy’ and ‘repo’. But Charlie got the gist. Miss Pee was irresponsible. And a member of a messed up family. Hoo boy!

Wait ’til she scolds him again. She won’t know what hit her.

Charlie stood and headed for the door. His mother called after him.

“Don’t go far, young man. Dinner at six.”


Charlie needed to think. He headed to the slough, where the creek passed under the highway down from the school.

Almost dry in the fall, the cattails in the slough grew like mad, reaching eight feet in places. Their thick heads tufted, sending out millions of seeds. A red-winged blackbird sang. A few dragonflies hovered where tadpoles would swim in the spring swell.

When the water was down, Charlie used the underpass as a shortcut walking to school. He hopped from stone to stone in the cool gloom. Charlie passed the cool embankment and remembered once smoking a ‘borrowed’ pack of cigarettes there.

Charlie exited the tunnel. It was quiet except for the wash of traffic from overhead. The stone he threw bounced into the weeds. Someone called his name. Jim approached, walking his dog, Shep.

Charlie said, “What’s up?”

Shep sniffed urgently along the water. The boys threw stones across the trickle of a creek.

“Just walkin’. I’m surprised you’re not grounded after Miss Pee sent that note to your Mom.”

“I tore it up.”

“You’re kidding! Won’t she find out?”

“I don’t care.”

Shep ran into the cattail forest.

“My Dad always says he’ll make me care.”

“They can’t make me.”

“Why not?”

“Cause I know something.”

“Like you’re so smart?”

“I’ve got information.”

“Like what?”

Charlie looked at Jim. He knew secrets told, lost their power.

“Like nothing. It’s a secret.”

“Heard that before.”

“You’ll see.”

Jim called Shep, who came to him with tail wagging and dusted with cattail fuzz.

“Look. Shep’s in love.”

They laughed as they brushed the fuzz from Shep’s fur. Shep loved the attention.

Charlie said, “Why do they say that?”

“I don’t know. It’s just funny. See you tomorrow.”


Charlie watched Jim walk back up the path followed by Shep.

In last spring’s flood, he and Jim borrowed a flat bottomed boat and poled around the slough like Tom Sawyer. They tried to navigate the tunnel under the highway. It got scary when the current sent them spinning and careening off the concrete walls of the tunnel.

They didn’t drown. But they did get into trouble for dinging up the boat. Jim and Charlie didn’t hang out much after that. Parents always blame the other kid’s bad influence.

At dinner, Charlie’s parents talked about their day, boring stuff. Charlie went to his room after dessert and didn’t even watch his favorite TV show.

Later, his Dad knocked and stuck his head in. “You alright, kid?”

“Sure, Dad.”

“You seem kind of low energy.”

“Naw. Just studying. You know…”

“That’s great. Keep those grades up.”


“Be sure to get your sleep.”

“Okay, ‘night Dad.”

After his Dad left, Charlie found his dictionary. It provided him a better definition of ‘bankrupt’ than he dared hope for.

Charlie put some late effort into getting homework done. He knew he would get yelled at for ditching detention. He had his secret weapon ready, just in case.

Charlie awoke early. He had barely slept anticipating this blockbuster day. How often did a kid get to call out their teacher for the gross mismanagement of personal finances? Hah! Maybe he’d even get her fired. That would show her.

Almost giddy thinking about it, Charlie almost skipped down the sidewalk. He stopped himself from that. He might be giddy, but he wasn’t crazy.

Picking his way through the tunnel, Charlie noticed the little mound strewn with cigarette butts, smoked right down to the filters. ‘That’s one dedicated smoker,’ thought Charlie. Smoking’s allure eluded him ever since Charlie smoked that pack.

Charlie came out of the tunnel and into the cattail forest. He looked up to see Miss Pee stepping down from a city bus. She accompanied an older man wearing jeans, a leather jacket and carrying a backpack on one shoulder.

Avoiding detection, Charlie stepped into the thicket. He watched them hold hands as they descended the embankment towards the tunnel.

Miss Pee put her arm over his shoulder. They spoke in familiar terms as Miss Pee spoke encouragingly to the man. He dismissed her concerns but she insisted. She gave him a go-bag from the Breakfast Hut. He protested while she stuffed folded bills into his shirt pocket.

“You need to eat.”

“I’ll be fine. I’m just camping out a bit.”

“Things will work out.”

They embraced and she kissed him on the cheek. Before turning to go, she said, “Love you Dad.”

The man waved good-bye and lit a cigarette as he entered the tunnel. Miss Pee wobbled in her dress shoes as she scaled the embankment to the street. She held a handkerchief in her hand.

Charlie waited a minute before walking to the school. Now he had more to work with. Miss Pee would never forget this day. Mission almost accomplished.

Everyone in the playground seemed happy to see Charlie. It was weird. Even stuck-up Dorothy, who never spoke to him, approached Charlie with a big smile on her face.

“Hi, Charlie. You have something you want to tell me?” Some girls standing behind her giggled.

Charlie turned and saw Jim, who looked away with a big grin on his face.

“Naw, I’m okay, Dorothy.” Some other kids laughed as they ran by.

The bell rang and everyone hurried to class.

When Charlie sat at his desk, he felt ready to burst. He knew exactly what to say but needed the perfect moment.

The usual commotion died as everyone settled. Today there seemed to be an unusual amount of laughter. What did Jim say to them?

Charlie turned to Jim, who sat in the desk behind him. “What did you…”

The bell rang and Miss Pee spoke immediately. “Everyone settle! Please get out your homework and pass it forward.”

Charlie held his homework. And he was prepared for that delicious moment.

He felt Miss Pee’s hand on his shoulder. She knelt beside him and spoke quietly.

“Charlie, I’m sorry I snapped at you the other day. Please, let’s get a fresh start.”

Stunned, Charlie could only say, “Okay.”

Miss Pee gave his hand a little squeeze as she took his homework and stood. Then she said, “Oh, Charlie, you have a little cattail fuzz on your head. You can go to the washroom to clean it off.”

Jim leaned forward and with a stage whisper said, “Charlie’s in love!”

All the kids burst into laughter, including Charlie. Only Charlie also had tears running down his face.

Profanity is a Bunch of Crap

Words generate thought

Call me an un-hip old fuddy-duddy, but the increased use of profanity in Medium posts and elsewhere is depressing.

Am I the only one who sees the coarsening of our culture and degradation of language as a slippery slope? Writers are the bulwark against the barbarians.

Editors are supposed to be the writer’s bulwark. Anyone up for one more review before we publish? Sheesh!

I know, you are writing what people want to read. It’s the way they talk. You can’t help it, right?

           These writers are terminally hip.

Want to know a little secret? A professor once told me, “If you can’t put it into words, you don’t know what you are talking about.” Is your vocabulary is mono-syllabic, and a large percentage of it was familiar to Chaucer? You are a victim of self-imposed mind control.

Under totalitarian regimes, without freedom of speech, people resort to non-committal language to express themselves. Fear stifles free expression. Imagine fearing imprisonment for some snitch’s interpretation of, “You know the ‘thing’ I told you about? That ‘thing’ we were going to do to the ‘thing’ and bring an end to this whole ‘thinged-up’ ‘thingness’?”

If you cannot use language to express your thoughts, where do you think those thoughts go? They go nowhere. They don’t exist. You lose the ability to think.

          George Orwell, your mother tongue is calling you.

What is your purpose?

 Hear anyone say lately, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it”? Me neither.

I say it now. But of course, when profanity is the dominant form of diction, what exactly is it you are trying to say? Take your right to free expression and use it for more than creating noise.

Trust me. I am not some prude who turns six shades of red at some new variation on Anglo-Saxon expletives. I don’t care to read them. They are an assault on the eye, on the mind and are boring. Empty calories and all that, you know?

Long ago, a rule limited word use to once per page. I now stumble upon f-bombs and their red-haired cousins, several times in one sentence. And this isn’t in dialogue. And it is usually in some essay with pretentions of being serious.

Eloquent swearing might impress me. Or at least create laughter at the gushing of creative juices. After all, how many parts of speech based on a single four-letter word, can you cram into a single sentence? I would love to see that sentence diagrammed. Anyone want to unpack the subtle nuances and deeper meanings expressed therein?

          I’m with Mark Twain in my disdain for those who never learned to swear effectively.

Anyone with foreign language experience knows how bland English profanity has become. The inflammatory imagery generated in some languages is bracing.

English speakers and writers who cling to a handful of timeworn expletives, betray a sorry lack of imagination. Ever hear a three-year-old who got a new drum for his birthday? Welcome to the hipsterish stylings of modern writing. Is ‘truck’ the only word that needs a rhyme?

Some things exceed language’s capacity to express

 I read that violence is the bankruptcy of ideas. I laugh at reports of some legislative body in which lawmakers join a fistfight with members from across the aisle. These are our leaders?

Writers hold a similar position in society. Violent words lead to what?

Of course, if you are writing about your personal experiences in war, have at it. Genteel language cannot describe events and personal experiences inexpressible in any language.

But writing about the traffic on your morning commute? Spare me.

I started in journalism and am appalled at how language in all parts of society has declined. Does anyone besides me remember when the use of exclamation points was discouraged?!!!

Swear words can be effective (especially comically). Less is more.

But I will not open and read a piece that has four-letter words in the title. Your title is your shot at drawing me in and wooing me to read the full piece. And your banner has an f-bomb? How seductive. Shouldn’t you reserve that for the climax?

My first (and only) reaction is, that’s the best you have? Next!

This poverty of language is depressing.

Even when being critical of it, writers need to uplift the culture. Our word choice should reflect that. If this is the quality of your ideas, why should I waste my time reading them?

If you want to portray an ignoramus in your story, what language would you use? Do you want to portray yourself in that same light? Have some self-respect.

Or I won’t read you.

A sentence, which artfully produces the same concepts, without repeating yet another expletive, is more entertaining, wittier and more thought-provoking.

Some writers will think I want them to hide their true feelings behind a wall of pretty words. They have it backward. Reducing emotions to a stream of four-letter words is a form of writer’s block. We use expletives when unable to more accurately express our feelings. Thus my statement about those writing about battle experiences.

     We may be apes, but are we articulate apes?

Our job is to make those emotions accessible to the reader. If ‘fuck’ could talk, what would it say?

The Old Testament has one of the most pungent images of all. “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” Prov. 26:11.

How expressive that is.

I challenge the vanguard to outdo that one.

I’m waiting.


Rich listened to the man on the phone and then said, “Graven images? No sir. We are a photographic service, not a funeral home.” Rich wrote something on his pad. “Oh, I see. You are getting married but want no graven images? Got it. Well, here at Silva, we do photography.”

Rich gestured to Pete as if to say, ‘Where do these weirdos come from?’

Pete was waiting to discuss his first wedding shoot. It had been a huge break for him. He looked around the office. A large light table, for examining negatives, stood against one wall. Another wall was covered by a black and white mural of Salvador Dali flying through the air with cats and water.

Rich continued. “You want an artist to record the wedding? Like a painter? I see. As I said, we are photographic artists. If you contact the courts, they could recommend a court artist to help you…” Rich looked at his watch and then at Pete, who smiled.

“Of course. Mr. Charles? If I may? Should you decide you also want a photographer to cover your wedding or any other event, we have a team of talented men and women who will happily provide you with the best photographic service. Yes. Thank you.” Rich hung up the phone.

He rolled his eyes. “No graven images? How about holograms?” Pete laughed. “Now, Pete, where were we?”

“We were looking at the Crinoline wedding.”

Rich held up the folder. “Right. Got it here.” Rich shuffled through the prints. He murmured, sighed and leaned across his desk.

“What is this crap? This is a wedding shoot?”

Pete stammered. “Of course. I got some good stuff, Mr. Silva.”

Rich slid one of the photos across the desk to Pete. “Like this?” It featured one of the bride’s maids just after the bouquet toss. The bouquet soared over her head, out of reach. Her expression said it all.

Pete cleared his throat. “I thought she was going to get it. But it’s still a good shot. Kind of poignant.”

“Pete. Was this a wedding shot by Diane Arbus? No one pays for poignancy. Don’t you get it? Weddings are happy, happy, joy, joy, joy… Did I say happy? No one wants to be reminded of their sad, dreary lives. Ever wonder why no one hires us to cover their funerals?”

Rich let that sink in for a moment. He slid another picture to Pete.

“Pete, you don’t want them bursting into tears every time the wedding album comes out. What’s this?”

Pete glanced at it. “That’s the groom and the bride’s little brother.”

“The kid is sticking out his tongue.”

“He’s taking his big sister away. It’s cute.”

“I can just see that over their sofa. What about this?”

The picture showed three bride’s maids laughing together, standing in light streaming down from a stained glass window. In the shadows behind them, two groomsmen observed the young women.

Pete said, “It’s beautiful. Look at that light. It had to be taken.”

“If you want to do predators and prey, work for National Geographic. Don’t do weddings.”

Pete felt deflated. He lived to take pictures. His heroes were the legendary Weegee and Cartier-Bresson, masters of capturing ‘the moment’.

“I don’t know, Pete. Your stock group shots are alright. You have a good sense of light. Decent composition, but… I don’t know. Maybe you’re not ready.”

“Please don’t send me back to grade school portraits, Mr. Silva.” Pete blinked away a tear.

“Let me think about it… Oh, here. Who’s the gangster?”

“The bride’s father. The groom was late. He was waiting.” In the picture he stood, stone-faced, cigarette poised, searching the distance. The church edifice rose behind him.

“Was he packing heat?”

“You mean a gun? I don’t think so. The groom drove up right after I took that.”

“You know this was a wedding, right? He looks like he’s about to light a fuse with that cigarette. Look at the length of that ash.”

“I was getting coverage, Mr. Silva. You know, personality stuff.”

“Well, he’s got personality alright. Al Capone looked better in a monkey suit.”

“He’s really a nice guy. Once the groom showed, he mellowed out. Here look…”

Pete found a picture of the two fathers shaking hands. Their smiles looked genuine.

Silva shook his head. “What? They’re about to wrestle?”

“That was them playing… They’re friends…”

The phone buzzed. Silva hit a button. The receptionist spoke, “Do you have a moment? The Crinolines are here…”

“Send them in.” Rich looked at Pete. “Hey, hey! It’s showtime…”

The office door opened and a young couple entered. Pete and Silva stood to greet them.

Pete introduced them. “Carol and Don Crinoline, this is my boss, Rich Silva.” They all shook hands and sat.

Rich showed them the standard pictures of the family groupings and wedding participants. Carol took the lead over most of the choices. She would look at Don to make sure he was on board. They seemed happy with Pete’s work.

Carol looked at Pete. “Is that it? I saw you rushing around shooting all sorts of things.”

“Oh, well… there’s a few…”

Rich offered the Crinolines the folder he discussed with Pete.

Carol and Don flipped through a few. Carol burst into laughter.

“I can’t believe you got Billy sticking his tongue out at Donny.” She nudged Don with her elbow. “You started it, didn’t you?”

Don chuckled. “Good thing Pete was behind me. Wouldn’t look good for a grown man to be sticking his tongue out at a poor little kid.”

Carol looked at Rich. “That’s a game they always play with each other. So silly. We need to order that for Billy to keep.”

Pete and Rich stole looks at each other.

“And here’s Mary, missing the bouquet. I so wanted her to catch it. Her boyfriend just broke up with her.”

Don said, “One of the guys, Tom, asked her out. She’ll be okay.”

“Oh, that’s beautiful!” Carol held up the shot of the bride’s maids standing in the beam of light.

“That’s Tom over on the left. He’s a good guy.”

“We want one of those too.” They shuffled through some others.

“Oh, my God. Look at my father! I didn’t know he still smoked. What’s he doing?”

“I think he was wondering why I was late.”

“He looks so worried. He loves you so much.”

Donny looked at Pete and Rich with a laugh. “Or plotting my demise, if I didn’t show.”

Carol hit Don’s shoulder playfully. “Oh stop. Seriously, he never reveals so much emotion. I didn’t think he cared that much. Here’s your mother.”

Carol held the print up for Rich and Pete. Watching their vows, the woman clutched a handkerchief. Her face revealed a fretful past and hopes for the future in one brief instant.

“She’s so wonderful.” Don nodded. Carol continued, “You know, that day… We were the stars taking our vows, but really, it isn’t just about us two. What we do affects so many around us.” Carol took Don’s hand. They smiled and bumped shoulders in solidarity.

Carol returned to the folder. “I don’t want to take more of your time.”

Rich smiled. “This is why we are here. Take all the time you want.”

Don saw a picture and smiled. “Ahhh, you got it.”

Carol gasped, “I didn’t know you took that!” Carol held up a picture of Don holding her from behind in low light. In the image, their hands entwined. She smiles enigmatically as he whispers something to her.

Carol reacted to Pete in mock outrage. “You are nothing but a voyeur!” They all laughed. “How big can we make that? I want it framed in our room.”

Rich closed the deal. “So, you are happy with Pete’s work?”

“These are amazing! How did you get these? And so many!”

Pete beamed. “You all kept me pretty busy.”

Rich brought out the order form to sign. He talked nonstop, as they completed their order. Carol and Don left the office in high spirits.

Rich told Pete to sit. Pete looked hopeful.

“So, Pete… We have a few weddings booked. You up to taking on another?”

“You bet, Mr. Silva.”

“Like I said, keep pushing that little button. You’re bound to get something good.”

The Old Nome Hotel

At first glance, the old hotel looked different than Jeremy remembered. It resembled a mountain when seen through the trees in the dwindling light. Jeremy realized the mist drifting through the towers gave the impression of movement. At first sight of it, Jeremy’s horse, King, pulled back. The massive structure loomed. But appearances were not the only cause of Jeremy’s hesitation.

He stroked King’s mane gently. “You’ve been here before, King. Is that why you balk?”

This was his tenth and final year paying tribute at the manse. Jeremy would collect his due. His pot of gold. His liberty.

Old Nome had done a spectacular job transforming the decrepit old house into this imposing structure. Considering its remote location, Nome had made a go of it and over time, its dubious reputation spread. People willingly traveled here, out of their way, to sleep for a night or two in a legendary haunted mansion. Many came away believing.

Some didn’t leave at all. Which is not to say they stayed. Stories about guests disappearing only added to its allure.

No one in their right mind actually believed the place to be haunted. Yet, those well-grounded people also never crossed its threshold.

Ten years and Jeremy’s final payment had come due. Now everything would change. He could finally go home.

An attendant met them at the gate and held the reins of Jeremy’s horse, which trembled at the stranger’s approach. Jeremy dismounted and cooed to King, as he patted its withers.

“Go King. Eat your fill. We’ll be off in the morning.”

The little man laughed as he led the steed around to the stables.

Jeremy entered the lobby and once more gazed at the grand, high ceilings with their intricate carvings and muted colors.

Nome approached with his hand out. “You came.” They shook hands. Nome rested against his walking stick. He looked up at Jeremy, who stood a head taller.

“How could I not? We agreed, didn’t we?”

“Perhaps you’ll stay this time?”

Jeremy laughed. “Oh no, old man. I will hold you to your word.”

Nome smiled mysteriously. “If you think you can. Many have tried. Perhaps you will.”

Their laughter entwined and echoed coldly, as they slapped each other’s backs in an embrace.

Nome said, “Come. There is much to do.”

Jeremy followed the old man, who walked briskly despite his limp.

Jeremy smiled at his ongoing, internal debate about the inn-keeper. Did his head look like a cabbage found by the roadside? Or a giant potato? Jeremy laughed to himself, resolving it was a curious hybrid of the two. Regardless, Nome’s out-sized nose and cavernous, clever eyes, peering from beneath a singular mossy brow, ensured no one took the liberty of plopping him into a stew pot.

Nome took Jeremy directly to his room up the narrow stairs, on the third floor.

“Here ye be. Shake the dust off and come down for some grubs.”

Jeremy thanked him and closed the door.

Small and spare, the room suited him. The dorm window overlooked the grounds and stables. A deep rosy glow faded over rolling hills in the west.

Jeremy traveled light. He almost hit his head on the ceiling as he turned to put his satchel on the cot. A small sink under a smaller mirror squeezed into one corner. The communal toilet was down one floor at the end of the hall. The hook on the door held his jacket.

The only décor, a heavy picture frame, barely fit the wall between the sink and the window. It featured a postcard-sized picture of three faeries sitting for a family portrait. They bore no resemblance to Nome.

Jeremy rinsed his face and descended to the main floor.

The staff greeted him with a cheer as he entered the dining area. They treated him like long lost family.

Undine ran to him and gave him a warm hug. She smiled up at him. He always felt immersed in a peaceful seascape when gazing into her gentle blue eyes.

She spoke. “Is it really you?”

“At last.”

“Back to stay?”

“Nome will determine that, won’t he?”

Undine shared a look with him that Jeremy dared not interpret. He felt a tug on his sleeve.

Sylphie came and went without fanfare, like a refreshing breeze. She offered Jeremy the single large chair at the foot of the table. She sat next to him. Hardly noticed but when absent, when candles flickered, Jeremy knew Sylphie stood at hand.

Nome sat opposite Jeremy. They nodded to each other soberly. Sylphie gave Jeremy a questioning look. Her dark eyes drew him in like a tunnel. Nome slapped the table and broke his trance. Sylphie touched Jeremy’s elbow.

“We must speak. But not here.”

Nome coughed conspicuously. “There will be no hogging of the guest with whispers and glances, Sylphie. Let us celebrate!”

Jeremy followed Sylphie’s glance and saw Undine watching them. He didn’t want to get caught in their emotional tug-o-war.

At that, the cook, stocky Sal, entered with a platter laden with steaming, juicy delicacies. The platter eclipsed his head but he handled it deftly. Sal placed it in the middle of the table and everyone dug in, Sal included. Plates and cutlery were considered an unnecessary formality. Food fights are more dignified. No one went hungry.

Being a cook, Sal carried a rich mixture of scents with him, peat smoke, sage, exotic tobacco, meat, onions and garlic. He snapped a napkin and sailed it over the table where it came to rest atop Jeremy’s head. This triggered additional cheering and laughter, making Sal’s eyes flicker brightly.

Undine ensured the mead flowed freely. She paid extra attention that Jeremy’s glass never emptied. Undine would appear from behind and lay her hand on Jeremy’s shoulder.

“My, but you are thirsty, after your long ride, me Jero! Let me fill you up.” Her pitcher was always at the ready.

As the evening progressed, their voices and laughter gained volume in proportion to the quantities of drink. Memories flitted about like a lost bird. Each had his or her spin and color to add.

Jeremy got so drunk it took three of them to boost him up the stairs to his room. Sal pushed from the rear while Sylphie and Undine pulled on his arms. Their laughter brought hotel guests out of their rooms. But the protests turned to shouts of encouragement and hilarity.

Sal left him at his door. But Sylphie and Undine lingered. Neither wanting to leave him with the other.

“Stop touching him Sylphie.”

“I’m only steadying him, lest he fall.”

They guided Jeremy into his room and Undine pulled Sylphie out. Then she slammed the door. Jeremy heard their giggles recede down the hall.

Jeremy lit a candle, placed it into the wall sconce and slumped into the one chair. He could not sleep. His eyes remained open but unfocused.

Time passed and Jeremy noticed his candle flickering. He glanced up to see his door opening. Sylphie crept in, holding her finger up, signaling for silence.

She shut the door without a sound and knelt by Jeremy’s side.

“Jeremy, my boy. You must go without delay. You’re not safe.”

Jeremy responded, “But…”

Sylphie shushed him. “No debates, boy.” She gestured for him to take his things. He grabbed his satchel and followed her down the stairs.

Silently, they moved through the gloom, following the flickering light down to the main floor and into the kitchen. Sylphie paused to take a meat cleaver from the rack and signaled Jeremy to follow her. They went to a secret door behind the pantry.

A draft of cool, musky air rushed by when Sylphie opened it. She guided him down into the dark basement, closing the door behind her. Then she stopped him. Sylphie groped his face and pulled his collar down so she could speak directly to him.

Whispering, she placed the cleaver firmly into his hand. “Keep this. You must go. Follow the corridor. Stay to the left. And don’t stop.”

She turned up the staircase. Jeremy took her hand but she pulled away. “I said go. There’s no time. It’s late.” Sylphie ran back up the stairs in silence.

Jeremy could barely discern the corridor Sylphie directed him to follow. He ran his hand along the wall of rough brick, walking quickly as he dared, down the slight incline, into even deeper darkness.

It seemed to go forever. There were turns. Had he walked a mile? More?

A door stopped him. His foot bumped into it before he hit his face. He rattled the latch. Though stiff, it was not locked. Eventually, the door showed signs of submitting to Jeremy’s efforts. After throwing his weight into it a few times, the hinges gave way with a shriek.

Golden light filled the windowless room. Jeremy looked back into the dark corridor to let his eyes adjust. A pot of gold stood on a pedestal in the middle of the room. Gold coins lay strewn about the stone floor. But for that, the room was bare.

Jeremy shut and barred the door. He sank the cleaver into the hardwood and stood back, taking stock of his situation.

He lifted the pot with some effort. It took both hands. He would not get far hauling such an unwieldy object. He opened his bag and poured the gold coins into it. The satchel reached capacity before the pot fully emptied. Jeremy set the pot aright and watched amazed as it refilled itself.

He mumbled, “No good to me if I cannot carry it.”

Jeremy closed his bag and found he could haul it if he took his time. He prayed the handle would hold. He opened a second door, which revealed another tunnel. Jeremy left this door open for what meager light it would offer. He grabbed the heavy bag and ran until the darkness enveloped him. After a brief rest, he took up his burden again and continued groping his way.

Though physically fit, the satchel became too heavy to carry. How far had he walked? How deep ran this tunnel? Where did it lead?

Jeremy set down the satchel and sat on it to catch his breath. A glow drew his attention from back down the tunnel. A distant roar of billowing flames approached.

Nowhere to turn, Jeremy grabbed his bag and ran into the darkness. A wind picked up and roared past him, feeding the inferno. Wind and flames became deafening. The gale pulled at his bag and resisted his every step. Wind fed flames gained strength and closed on him. Jeremy felt the heat cooking his back. He screamed. He stumbled. But the wind held him upright.

Jeremy felt an additional force slowing him as the flames gained on him. Rising water surged past him toward the fire. The flames receded. Jeremy could breathe again. But the water kept filling the tunnel. It rose to his waist and he could make no progress against the stiff current.

Desperate, Jeremy hugged his satchel of gold. Dirt and stones showered down on him. Bracing against the current, he tried to protect his eyes from the falling debris while clutching his bag. It almost slipped from his grasp.

“No! Please!”

The water rose to his chest. The current stopped pulling at him but continued rising.

The dirt and rocks tapered off. Jeremy looked up and saw daylight. He thought if the water kept rising, he could tread water up to open air. But not if he tried to keep his precious bag of gold.

When the water reached his nose, Jeremy had no choice but to let go of his baggage. He jumped and grabbed onto the lower lip of the opening. The water buoyed him up. The current swirled around and knocked him into the walls of the well. But Jeremy kept his wits. Unencumbered, he half climbed and half swam to the top.

Soon, the water welled to the surface and washed him onto level ground. Jeremy lay in the mud. Water ran over him and he sputtered and coughed. Feeling like a discarded rag, Jeremy crawled away from the sinkhole and collected his wits. He had nothing else.

The sun shone warmly. But Jeremy felt wet and cold to his bones. He had just lost a fortune, had no clue about his location, where to go, or how to begin again. With a groan, Jeremy rolled onto his back, shut his eyes and thanked God for his life.

Jeremy lay soaking in the sun. He had to get up. To move. He was spent, wrung out.

A bird called. A gentle gust moved the grass and tickled his face. A sound made him look up.

A wolf stood silhouetted on the rise. Two others joined it. They saw him and tentatively approached. As they loped and then began to run, they spread out to circle him.

Jeremy stood and shielded his eyes from the sun. The wolves were white. Jeremy had nowhere to hide.

The lead wolf reached Jeremy and leaped up, almost knocking him down. It licked his face in greeting. The other wolves circled him and sniffed his legs. Jeremy began to laugh and to cry.

The wolves knew him. They were his. Jeremy had come home.

He shouted and energized, began to run helter-skelter with them, an old game.

Jeremy walked over the rise accompanied by his wolves. There, King, his horse looked up and whinnied in greeting. King pranced around its corral.

Jeremy felt whole.

Martha Didn’t Show

“Where’s Martha? You lose her?” That was Tim leaning out the driver’s window, talking to Ben. Ben sat in his hot rod, idling, facing the other direction.

“Naw. She didn’t show.” Ben tapped his steering wheel. He won the game tonight but looked anxious.

“I thought I saw her.”

“You’re joking.” Ben cursed.

“She got in with someone. Maybe with Shay…?”

“Oh, man… What’s she doing with that ass?”

“Guess you’d have to ask him, or her about that…”

It was the traditional Friday night gridlock, down Bentfork’s three-block Main Street. After the game, that was the place. Three blocks up, and three blocks back. Repeat. Horns honking. Engines revving. Squealing tires for about twenty feet at the one light. Mainly kids laughing and talking and idling the night away.

My friend Larry’s brother, Tim, let us ride along with him, in his back seat. I’d heard about this all my life. This was my first Friday night cruise.

Traffic didn’t move in either direction. Everyone passed the time, talking out their window to whoever happened to be sitting in traffic, headed the other way. Only no one moved. Anyone with a destination walked.

Sometimes people left one car and piled into another, like the world’s biggest Chinese fire drill.

Ben and his jock friends rumbled away in his souped-up hot rod. He had three red ‘5s’ painted on the door, five fifty-five. He raced the Triple Nickle at the fair-grounds, in season. You could hear that big engine over a block away.

But I liked the Demolition Derby better.

I asked, “Why’d you say that about Martha, Tim?”

“Just jazzin’ him. He wants everyone believing Martha’s his girl.”

“Oh…” Martha’s my sister. It is amazing what you don’t know about someone you’ve known your whole life. “So, who is she going out with?”

“I don’t know. Don’t you know?”

“I ain’t seen nobody hanging around.”

“Is she stuck up, or what?”

“That’s a loaded question, Tim. You like her?”

“Course I do. She’s beautiful. Me and about fifty other guys. But she doesn’t like me. That’s cool.”

“She doesn’t talk much. Who’s Shay?”

“One of those farm kids. Ben and him are always going at it. They both tried out for quarterback. But Ben got it. Neither of them can let it go. It’s funny.” Tim pounded on the horn.

Larry nudged me with his elbow. “We saw Shay at the fair last summer. He tossed hay bales like they were softballs.”

I remembered. Everyone trying to throw bales onto a flatbed. Shay won easily. Those things sailed.

Whenever the fair came to town, Larry and I talked about running off to the circus. We never did, though. It looked like an awful lot of work.

Tim said, “Shay used to go to St. Mary’s. I think he’s Irish.”

Larry and I nodded to each other. We knew what that meant. Shay was rough.

More cars idled by. Tim joked with some guys. He flirted with some girls. In a little while, we made it to the end of the street. A police car idled at the curb.

Like everyone else, when traffic allowed, Tim pulled a U-turn and headed back up Main.

“So, is this it? Down one way and back again?”

“Yeah, Sam. It’s not the drive but the party, you know? It’s Friday night. What would you rather be doing?”


“There you are, then.”

We noticed a commotion up ahead. Horns were honking. People were leaving their cars and running. A crowd gathered in the street.

Tim cut his engine. We bailed out, left the car in the street and ran to see what was up.

Ben had pulled his car across the lane, blocking Shay’s truck. Traffic couldn’t move at all. Ben and Shay faced off under the street light.

“Get your pile of rust out of my way, Bennie.”

“Make me.”

Shay laughed and looked at his friends. “I can do that.” They all laughed. Shay took a step toward Ben.

Ben stood his ground. “What are you doing with Martha?”

Shay scratched his head. He looked at one of the girls in the crowd who started to laugh. “Martha who? You mean Novak?”

Ben nodded.

Shay laughed, “You think I’d be seen with that Polack?” Several people laughed with him.

Ben shouted, “You can’t call her that!”

Shay kept laughing as Ben rushed him. He stepped aside like a matador and sent Ben rolling on the pavement. Everyone started yelling, urging a fight.

Ben lunged and threw a punch that Shay blocked easily. He countered with one punch and that ended it. Ben went down, hurt.

A cop came up and began dispersing the crowd. Cars started up and engines revved. The cop directed traffic around Ben’s hot rod and Shay’s truck.

Tim pointed off and said, “Is that your Dad?”

He was brown-bagging it and looked a bit frayed. I told Tim thanks and said we’d walk the few blocks home. Larry and Tim waved us off and headed back to their car.

I never understood where Dad got his booze since Bentfork was in a dry county since Prohibition.

“Dad!” He saw me and waited for me to approach. “Whatcha doing?”

“Looking for your sister. Heard she came here. I told her not to ride in cars with boys.”

I put my arm over his shoulder. We walked toward home. “I haven’t seen her, Dad.” We took our time.

“Were those boys fighting about her? I heard her name.”

“They’re idiots. Don’t worry about them.”

“That‘s why I don’t want her riding around. Understand?”

“I get it. But she isn’t here.”

“Better not be.” He tipped his bottle up.

“I forget, Dad. Is it, ‘don’t follow the grape with the grain?’ Or ‘don’t follow the grain with the grape’?”

“Don’t follow anything with anything. Don’t mix. You’ll be fine.”

“Got it.”

We got home and I unlocked the door. Martha came into the kitchen when she heard us. I smiled seeing her home and safe. I never thought about it before Tim said it, but Martha is beautiful.

Dad gave her a hard look. “Where were you?”

Martha tried not to make a face, but ‘not this again’ came through anyway. “Dad, I’ve been here.”


“I told you I’m doing my college applications.”

“You don’t need that. You should stay here.”

“What? To take care of you? Why do you think I’m leaving?”

Dad’s voice got louder. “Who do you think you are? I brought you into this world…”

“Dad, I’m not the reason Mom left. Stop treating me like I was.”

Dad’s face drained of color. He moved toward her, but then thought better of it. He stared at her. Time slowed. He looked huge. And then he just shrank to nothing. Dad turned, stomped into his room and slammed the door.

Martha looked at me. Her look softened.

I reached out. “You okay?” She accepted my hug.

She broke contact and held me at arm’s length. “You understand, don’t you? Why I need to leave?” I nodded. She threw a disgusted look at Dad’s door. “Don’t you let him pull this crap after I go.”

“I won’t… He won’t.”

Martha gave my shoulder a gentle punch and went back to her room.

The only sound was the fridge rattling. I got a coke and watched TV for a while.

Things stayed pretty quiet after that. Everything got said that night. Sometimes Martha would ask me to walk to the grocery with her. We’d talk more than ever before, prepping me for when she left.

Dad lightened-up on us. And he stopped being so ornery all the time. But no one had much to say.

Then Martha left for St. Olaf’s College. She usually came home at Christmas, but I didn’t see her much after that. You know how it goes.