Lord of the Manor

a fiction by John K. Adams

I first saw him standing at the foot of my driveway. He wasn’t doing anything. He stood there for a long time. Then he sat on the curb. He just sat there with no place to go.

I was talking to my agent, Stu. He works at Real Grounds Coffee shop & Real Estate office. When he’s not selling houses he’s a DOB, Doctor of the Bean. Not a real doctor but he can prescribe exotic blends of coffee for me when he thinks I need them.

He serves me coffee and always says it is “Muy robusto!”

And he found my house for me.

It’s a fixer-upper in a good neighborhood. You know, location and all that. The house doesn’t need much but its large yard is over grown with weeds and trash. That’s how he got me the good price, which was still substantial, believe me, but way below market.

But now I’ve got this guy hanging out in front of my house driving my property value down.

“So what’re you going to do?”

“I don’t know. Should I call the cops on him?”

“That might not help. Then when he gets out, you’ve got an angry homeless guy hanging around.”

“How can someone just hang out like that?”

“Hire him to help you with the yard. You need the help.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“Just don’t do what my client did. He bought a house and promptly cut down all the trees.”

“What?”

“He said he didn’t want to deal with the fall leaves.”

“What a dope!”

“He turned his yard into a desert, man. I can’t imagine what his AC bill was every month.”

When I got home, I looked at what I had taken on with the yard. It is huge. I could build a tennis court back there and it wouldn’t even be cramped. I couldn’t do that myself. And also, I’d need to take up tennis.

Maybe, in time, a koi pond in the back corner. Parts of the yard are so over grown, I couldn’t get through without a machete. But the jungle has potential.

I came home from work a few days later and noticed the yard looked better somehow. I wandered into the back and looked for changes. There was nothing specific. It just looked better. Greener.

I ducked under some low branches and saw it. The homeless guy had an encampment hidden back where he thought I wouldn’t notice. What if he burns the place down?

He was trespassing! I strode to the front but he wasn’t around.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I knew it was him. I should have ripped his tent up and thrown it into the street. Who knows what kind of company he keeps? Vermin.

Next morning, he wasn’t around. I wasn’t about to wake him in his camp. Hate to ruin his beauty sleep. I’ll meet him on my terms.

I left work early figuring I’d catch him and demand he vacate my property. Now.

When I got home, he was sitting by my driveway like the first time I saw him. Just staring. Is he high?

But I was in for a surprise. My yard looked great. I couldn’t believe it.

I pulled into the drive and walked around back. There were Canna growing there, in a little row. Very pretty.

I walked toward them and almost fell into the koi pond! It wasn’t exactly where I envisioned it going, but hey! And it was stocked with koi!

I approached my ‘tenant’. “Let’s walk around back. We need to talk.”

He looked at me suspiciously and started for the back. He had a funny rolling walk, like he was more adept at maneuvering around a boat deck, or clambering over rocks than walking on level ground.

“I don’t need to talk. What’s your problem?”

“Are you camping in my back yard?”

“What of it?”

“Did you fix up the yard? Nice job.”

“I bent a twig or two. No big deal.”

“I owe you. What do you want?”

“Nah. Nothing.”

“I could put you on regular. Give you a weekly check. Keep you busy. Do maintenance.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You could get a place. Stop sleeping on the ground.”

“You can’t afford it.”

“What? I could help…”

“You couldn’t pay me enough, man. Just let it go.”

“But you… Wait. I couldn’t pay you enough?”

“I don’t want your money.”

“But, what about equipment? Basics of life? A home?”

“You start paying me and then you start thinking you own me.”

“I wouldn’t…”

“I don’t need anyone dictating to me like their secretary.”

“Set your own hours.”

“Then I depend on it and then you decide you don’t need me anymore and then I’ve got a bunch of crap to drag around with me. Let’s skip that movie.”

“I thought I could…”

“It’s too many rules, man. I don’t need it.”

He walked away. I couldn’t believe it. I’m begging to pay him and he walks away. I couldn’t afford it? Who is he?

I went and sat on the grass by the koi pond. The Canna reflected in the lazy water. The fish swam, gently rippling the surface. There were lily pads!

The sunlight faded into subtle shadings and pastels over the manicured lawn.

The yard was pretty much complete. Where before was nothing but chaos, now, wherever my eye came to rest, it took in a harmonious, multi-colored vision. This arched branch led to a cascade of flowers spreading over lush dichondra. Add in the birds and it was positively symphonic!

A half dozen hummingbirds hovered around me. Maybe more.

I went in and emailed my secretary that I wouldn’t be in the next day. I said something came up.

I got up before dawn and sipped a fresh coffee blend from my friend Stu’s apothecary while waiting for my mysterious tenant. I had to understand.

He emerged from the thicket at first light and ambled toward the front of the property. I pursued him to continue our conversation.

But strangely, it was difficult to follow him. At every step, vines and flowers would sprout up out of his footprints. Things were growing so fast, I found myself leaping over low hedges just to keep up.

I finally caught him by the driveway and confronted him.

“Hey! I just wanted to help you out.”

He was adamant. “You really don’t get it. You cannot buy me. I grace you and you cannot help but make it your show.”

“It’s not that, but…”

“Listen to yourself. You’re pathetic.” He lumbered away like a bear. Our meeting was over.

I felt so strange. Was I hallucinating? What was in that coffee Stu mixed up? Muy robusto, indeed.

I don’t remember anything after that until I found myself in my room. My head was in a fog. I needed coffee.

I looked out the window and the yard looked like it had a week ago, over grown and dry. Just like before my homeless camper came to stay. Weeds grew high. There were no flowers. The grass was patchy and brown. The wilderness had returned, as if nothing had changed. How could this be? What happened to my koi pond?

Stu was the sanest person I knew. I pulled out of my driveway and headed toward Real Grounds.

I came around a bend in the road and noticed a neighbor’s yard. Canna lined the driveway. Funny I’d never noticed them there before.

How beautiful they looked.

The Mother of all Monsters

Samantha sat at her kitchen table watching the clock tick. Her days were spent in pain, or waiting for pain. Kevin would be home soon. Then it would start. The battles. The struggles. The fights.

Sometimes, they just screamed at each other. Sometimes, it got physical. Dishes would fly. Doors break. Once a knife was pulled. Never the same, always horrible.

How long had she felt his prisoner? It seemed like forever. Years.

She remembered when she was little, her father always chided her for taking in every lost stray. At least now, her father wasn’t around to shake his head in pity for what she’d become. In today’s parlance, a pushover, a victim.

She had just wanted to help Kevin. Now look where she was.

Why didn’t someone abandon him on a mountain top when he was first born? Before he had a name? That’s what the ancients did. To moderns it might seem cruel. But to the survivors, it was actually a mercy. Those ‘ancients’ really had it on the ball.

Samantha picked up the pistol and examined it. It was heavy and mysterious. So heavy, in fact, she feared it would be more lethal to throw it at him than to try shooting him with it. Could she aim it? She reminded herself to take a practice course one of these days.

She chambered a shell. She liked the sound of it. The mechanical certainty it provided. Cold and rigid.

She knew it wouldn’t come to that, but she wanted that option available. Samantha was determined to make a change. It had been too long, living like this. She couldn’t do this anymore.

The things he would say to her. The demands. The liberties. The screaming. No more.

When he walks into the room, everything else must cease. It must be about him and his insatiable desires. Food. Attention. Whatever.

When he put her in the hospital, she thought that would be the end. But it was only the beginning for her. She saw no end in sight, if she didn’t act. Maybe not even then.

Samantha would hear about women coming out of the hospital and then not leave the abuser. It was incomprehensible. How could they continue?

And now here she is, still with him. How many years later?

It all seemed so natural. The pain subsided. He cried. He needed her. People said they belonged together. They didn’t know what he put her through.

Did he? Since he never thought of anyone but himself, she thought not.

Had she ever not felt like his captive? Even before she knew him Samantha sensed he would enter her life and take it over. More than a prisoner, she was his slave.

Samantha knew she wouldn’t shoot him. No one would believe her story about how he abused her. No one can understand staying with an abuser, so killing him also defies credulity.

But if it were an accident? Run him over? She could do that.

The pistol did make her feel secure, though.

Samantha heard the door slam. She stiffened and looked at the clock. He was early.

Kevin called out to her but she remained silent. Samantha quietly slipped the pistol into a drawer.

She heard his steps approaching.

Kevin appeared in the doorway and he saw her sitting there. Samantha remained motionless.

“Mommy!” He dropped his backpack and ran to her, giving her a tight hug. Samantha hugged him back, less enthusiastically.

Kevin pulled away and exclaimed, “Mommy, guess what Miss Thompson said. She said next year, in third grade, we get to… we’ll be learning our tables!”

“That’s great, Kev! But you already know yours, don’t you?”

“Well, I know the fives. Those are easy.” He started counting up by five.

Samantha took him by the shoulders. “That’s good Kev. But you skipped school, didn’t you?”

“No!”

“Now don’t lie. I know you did.”

“But I didn’t Mommy. They let us out early for a teacher’s confa…. a meeting!”

“This isn’t the first time I caught you lying. I’m going to tell your teacher. You always lie.”

Kevin started to cry. “I didn’t lie, Mommy. Miss Thompson will tell you.”

“You’re just a stupid freak and a liar.”

He ran out of the room in tears. Samantha called after him. “Do your homework, you little brat! It better be done before dinner!”

Samantha walked to the side-by-side refrigerator and opened the freezer door. She thought, what a blessing TV dinners are. She pulled out a couple and turned on the oven to pre-heat.

Samantha settled into her chair and looked contentedly at the drawer where she’d put the pistol.

“I’m not done with you yet.”

Open Palm, Second Sight

a short story by John K. Adams

Mara reads not just palms.

For instance, her new client Miguel, came in. She offered him a chair in which he sat stiffly. He looked pretty sharp but uncomfortable in his new black suit and badly tied black tie. He had a tan line where a wedding band might have been minutes before, or days. The collar of his dress shirt was frayed.

Miguel looked at Mara expectantly and with a curious urgency. She took his hand in hers and opened it to see his palm. Miguel also focused their hands, wondering what she could see that he could not. Remnants of grime hid in the creases of his palm. He is a mechanic.

Mara looked up from his worker’s hand and took in his tired, unshaven face. Tenderly, almost whispering, “I see illness. Loss. A funeral.”

Miguel’s eyes welled up with tears. “How did you know?”

How could she not?

Mara is good at her craft, but she has no illusions about the extent of her skills, or gifts. She has no ‘second sight,’ as some call it. She is good at reading body language and drawing her clients out with questions.

Ask those who play against her at their weekly poker game.

But then there was her longtime client, Derek. Every month he came to laugh and share stories. He enjoyed her insights but had no illusions about her ‘powers of divination.’ They had known each other for years. They were more friends than anything else.

Theirs was more of a long term therapy session than hocus pokus,  or mumbo jumbo. Who provided the therapy to whom, might be debatable. But what they shared went deeper than the creases in his palms.

Derek was not so secretly in love with Mara. But she wouldn’t allow talk about his feelings for her. She had strict rules against dating clients. Even clients she liked. It just gets too messy, she told herself.

One day, their conversation ran past her usual closing time. Derek matter-of-factually suggested they continue talking over dinner. Caught up in the moment, Mara agreed before realizing it broke her fundamental rule.

“Okay. But we go Dutch,” she said.

“Whatever,” Derek said. “You’re hungry. I’m hungry. We can even sit at different tables if you want.”

Mara laughed, but felt a twinge about how she fell into this so casually.

Derek drove. He chattered on about nothing while Mara quietly tried to make sense of this new experience. She kept asking herself, “What are you doing?”

They entered the Italian restaurant. The hostess seated them and Derek ordered wine for them both. Mara decided to surrender to this new experience. Why not enjoy it? It’s just Derek. And anyway, she liked him.

Derek raised his glass to her in a toast. “I’ve never done this.”

“Neither have I,” Mara said.

“I mean, to have dinner with a woman who can read my mind,” Derek teased.

“Silly. You know I can’t do that.”

“Come on.”

“You know that. I barely know what I’m thinking half the time. How would I know what you are thinking?”

Derek leaned in, “So, tell me what I’m thinking.”

“I just told you, I can’t. My mind is blank.”

“But you tell fortunes, Mara. You’re a pro.”

“It’s a… technique. You know that… I get impressions. I don’t have magical powers.”

Derek enjoyed this game. He smiled at her until she smiled back. “Mara, you discount it, but you’re a powerful woman. You know I am completely enthralled.”

“Stop it Derek. What are you going to order?”

“You tell me.”

“Derek, stop it. I mean it. You are being ridiculous.”

The waiter came to take their order. He looked at Mara.

“I’ll have the pumpkin raviolis with white sauce, please. And could we have some bread, too?”

Derek interjected. “That’s what I was going to order. See? You can read my mind, after all.”

Mara tried to stifle her laugh. She closed her eyes. Was it the wine? She felt strangely light headed.

The waiter left with their orders. Mara sipped her wine and looked at Derek. Was it the lighting? He seemed to glow. She shook her head. “This wine is strong.”

Derek was expansive, “It’s the night. It’s the company.” He touched her hand and stared into her eyes, “I feel it too, Mara. It’s you.”

Mara laughed. “Oh, Derek. I think it is you.”

The waiter delivered their identical orders. They began to eat in silence.

Derek perked up. “Where were we? Oh yes. You were demonstrating your extraordinary powers of perception.”

“You mean that I’m drunk on this wine?”

“Mara, I defy you to tell me what I have in my coat pocket.”

She knew. How did she know? “I don’t know.”

How could she know? This had never happened.

“Go ahead. Take a guess.”

“Please, Derek. You tell me.”

“Mara, I’ve never seen you like this.”

“You’ve never seen me with a glass of wine.”

“So guess. Humor me.”

“I feel so… light. I need to concentrate.”

Mara tried to focus. Even though Derek was playing, she knew her future was in the next thing she said. What if she was right? Or wrong?

Suddenly it was so clear. She just said the words that popped into her head. “A tin of peppermint breath mints.”

“That’s amazing!” Derek produced the tin she described with a huge smile.

“But you always have them. I see you pop them all the time.”

“Actually, no. I never bought them before today.”

“Okay, Derek. Enough parlor tricks. Your food is getting cold.”

Mara barely remembered the rest of the dinner. They laughed and had a wonderful time. Derek was a perfect gentleman. But there was something off-putting about what had happened. She decided it was an aberration. The temporary effect of that wine.

Nonetheless, they started going out every Friday night. She knew he would ask her. She knew where he would take her. She laughed at how well she knew him.

Derek started bringing her flowers. She knew he would. She knew what kind they would be. And the colors.

Mara’s work continued as it always had. She really was good at it. But she didn’t depend on any special powers to make her living. She just knew what to do. Observation was a skill borne of long experience.

But with Derek, it really was as if she had a second sight. Mara told herself she knew him so well, and he was so consistent, of course she would know.

Then Mara noticed. She even knew what he would say. Before he said it. She would see this look on his face and realize she had answered a question before he had articulated it. It was shocking to Mara. But Derek just smiled. He loved it.

Mara wasn’t charmed by this though. There is such a thing as being too predictable. When every move is expected, what sustains the spark? Mara became restless.

They would pull up to the restaurant she knew he would take her to. They had never gone there before. But she knew. She had always wondered if ‘second sight’ was possible. Now she dreaded it.

She joked that she had second sight but had treated it with glasses.

“Surprise me,” became Mara’s answer to anything Derek asked her. He tried. He failed.

She always knew what trinket lay in the beautifully wrapped box. Around every blind corner she sensed the promise of inevitable disappointment.

Mara started turning her phone off. She needed her phone for her business. But she knew when Derek would call and turning her phone off, just for a while, worked for her. She changed her email address.

Then he came to her office without an appointment. She knew he would. It was the only way.

Mara also knew what had to be done. Derek entered the office and stood there, not knowing what to say.

Mara helped him out. “Derek, I’m avoiding you.” He started to speak but she raised her hand to silence him. Cut to the chase.

“I’m sorry Derek. It isn’t your fault. But it isn’t working out. You didn’t do anything wrong. But we can’t see each other.”

Derek understood. Mara knew he did. He left without a word.

“What a relief.” Mara felt her head clear. It was like awakening from a troubled sleep. She felt like the old Mara again. The fog was clearing.

She prepared for her next appointment, a new client. He arrived and stood respectfully in the waiting room.

Mara observed him, unseen. His name was Roberto Canari. He was tall and athletic. A musician, with a mane of auburn hair flowing gracefully over his shoulders.

She invited him in for their session. He had no wedding ring and no tan line where one should be. He was exactly what she wanted in a man.

They sat across the table from each other. Mara asked for his hand and examined his outstretched palm.

She heard something drop. “Did you drop your phone?”

Roberto felt his back pocket. “No. I have it.”

Mara shook her head. “Sorry, I thought I heard something fall.”

Again, she heard an unmistakable impact. Roberto reacted sharply and looked at the floor. He looked at her and smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, it dropped after all. How did you know that would happen?”

Mara rolled her eyes. “Get out.”

 

 

Love’s Cure

a short story by John K. Adams

“Hello Doctor?”

“Yes, I’ve been expecting your call.”

To have and to hold and ‘til death do us part. Who could argue with that?

Abigail was perfect for me. She was everything I ever wanted in a partner, friend and lover. And she felt the same about me. Everything fell into place for us, easy as breathing.

We vacationed in Spain and rode horses past ancient Andalusian windmills. We joked about slaying giants as the sails fluttered and groaned, turning against the wind. Then, after galloping together to the crest of a hill, I dismounted and proposed marriage to her with the valley spread behind me. Abigail shouted “Yes!” laughing through happy tears.

We wed in wine country and honeymooned at a vineyard, walking amidst the arbors, plucking luscious grapes and laughing together.

One early morning we drove to Morrow Bay and picnicked in the shadow of the great rock, before the sun burned the fog away. Huddled on a blanket, we watched laughing gulls wheeling through the mist. We drank brandied coffee from a thermos, fed each other grapes and fresh baguettes and laughed until the sun was high. We always spoke of this as our ‘picnic at freezing rock’.

It didn’t take long to settle into a happy routine. Life went on easily and contentment reigned. Months rapidly accumulated into years. And then, something slowly felt off to me. Was it all too easy? It seemed we were ready to grow further. At least, I was.

How old fashioned of me to think of children, usually a woman’s topic. Broaching the subject with Abigail never felt right, though. And even broad hints were deflected.

Then, one night at dinner I just bluntly asked. And Abigail, just as bluntly, said no. She didn’t want children. And didn’t expect to ever ‘be ready’. She resented friends and relatives presuming things about the time, and their unsubtle hints about her and my ‘health’. She insisted she was happy with me and didn’t want to disrupt our love with diapers and baby puke.

After that, any further attempts to continue the discussion were met with her ‘look’. The subject was closed. It was the only forbidden topic in our whole time together. It was so strange for this huge gap to exist between us while everything else was still perfect. I could find no way around it.

But, old fashioned or not, I wanted a family. It was a natural progression of a loving couple to raise children. An embrace of the future. I always imagined passing my sense of the world to my children and watching them learn to navigate the shoals of life under our care.

During our courtship, the topic never came up. I just assumed children were part of a normal marriage. I was foolish to take that for granted.

I became restless.

I didn’t cheat. That would be stupid and beside the point. I wanted a family, not a mistress. And I was still in love with Abigail. I was at an impasse. The need for a challenge nagged at me.

Then, an ad popped up online, while researching a project. I almost missed its promised of relief for the lovelorn who need the ‘flee-dom’ to move on to a more positive personal relationship. A medical procedure which deleted my loving emotions while allowing me to retain my memories! Was this too good to be true?

The reviews on Yelp! appeared legitimate and were uniformly positive. Glowing, actually. I couldn’t find too much on the procedure itself, but the results spoke for themselves.

I called for an appointment with Dr. Wilhelm.

The procedure was amazingly inexpensive, $199.99. The outpatient procedure took about an hour, under sedation. It was not invasive. There was no recovery time or healing. Just relief.

The office was no less than opulent, comfortable and easy on the eye. The staff was cheerful and professional. I wondered how Dr. Wilhelm could maintain this facility with such affordable treatments. He must have a huge clientele. Who knew so many suffered from this condition?

And to the big question, is it reversible? Dr. Wilhelm responded with a question of his own. “Why would you want to do this if you want to reverse it?” I could not answer that. Dr. Wilhelm confirmed, “if the need arises, it is indeed reversible.” He assured me their success rate is extremely high. There didn’t seem to be any downside to this life changing procedure.

They did not pressure me. There was no pitch, no pressure. But I’m not impulsive. I told them I would get back to them.

No problem.

While I drove home, Roy Orbison’s song, ‘Crying’ came on the radio and I lost it. The song hit me exactly where it was intended to. I didn’t want my love to end. I wanted one last piece to complete our lives together. I didn’t see a solution. It wasn’t up to me.

I took Abigail to dinner at our favorite restaurant and broached the subject once more. She responded with, “Are you really going to ruin this wonderful dinner by starting a quarrel?” ‘Nuff said.

Next morning, I made an appointment, for a week hence. I concentrated on work and kept to myself. There was nothing more to fight about. Abigail seemed distracted too.

On the day of my appointment, I left work early so it would be done and I could return home at my normal time. What would happen after that, I could not plan in detail. I figured I would tell Abigail, as much as I had loved her, my love had faded and it was time for us to part.

While driving to Dr. Wilhelm’s office I felt anxiety building. Deleting my love for Abigail was not what I wanted. But my life felt incomplete. I also didn’t want to hurt her. Freeing us both would allow us to find partners more suited to our temperaments. It was a win/win situation.

Dr. Wilhelm’s assistant was courteous, professional and disarming. Such a personal issue like deleting one’s love for their wife was treated as my personal business. No one pried or asked inappropriate questions.

I filled out the appropriate forms and flipped through a magazine.

Dr. Wilhelm made me feel I was doing the right thing, relieving myself of this unwanted stress on my life. After all, why shouldn’t I find a mutual love with someone who wants the same things in life as I do? Compromise is for losers.

I lay back in the chair and the doctor put a breathing mask with anesthetic over my mouth and nose.

I awoke and was told the operation was a success. I was free to go as soon as I felt ready. I felt fine. They told me to call if I have any questions or reactions to the procedure. Otherwise, no follow-ups were necessary.

I felt great. I paid the nominal fee and practically kicked my heels as I walked out the door.

As I drove home, I reviewed my life with Abigail. I remembered everything, clearly and concisely. But that yearning ache I had felt for her was gone. I was free. I really believed this was for the best, for both of us. I hoped she would see it that way too. I hoped we could continue to be friends.

Coincidentally, that Roy Orbison song came on again. I appreciated the melody and lyrics and Orbison’s genius for interpretation. But not one tear welled in my eye. My love for Abigail was dead.

I opened the door to our home, prepared for a reasonable discussion of how to move forward, to disentangle our lives without rancor or pain.

The entryway was dark. But a dim, flickering light glowed from the dining room. There, the formally set table was lit by three slender candles in elegant candlesticks. My mother’s antique china awaited a feast of what promised to be my favorite beef stew.

Potted vines heavily laden with voluptuous clusters of ripe grapes were draped around pictures and furniture. Abigail had turned our home into the grape arbor where we had first sworn our wedding vows.

I didn’t know what to think.

Abigail entered, smiling coyly. “We need to talk,” she said with a shy giggle. “And I need to apologize.”

She was pregnant. And happy about it. Abigail begged my forgiveness at her stern rejection of having children. She confessed she was afraid and handled it badly.

Abigail raised her glass of cranberry in a toast to having as many babies as I wanted. Her manner was easy and fun, like when I first fell for her.

I burst out laughing. But I felt nothing. Abigail took my laughter for agreement. She was thrilled.

She sat me down and served me a dinner fit for an expectant father. I ate. We talked. We laughed. I felt nothing.

I couldn’t bear to tell her I no longer loved her. That I was indifferent to her news. How could I?

I no longer loved her, but I knew what I had to do.

I called Dr. Wilhelm’s office, first thing the next morning. He was expecting my call. I explained what happened. He told me, “Relax, my friend. It happens all the time. If anything, the reversal procedure is in more demand than the cancellation procedure.”

I asked what my next step should be. He said, “It’s very simple. Your annual income is?”

I told him.

“And your wife’s annual income? This is going to cost you.”

 

 

Fool Me Twice?

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Father Perez finished his prayers and left the rectory to conduct this evening’s confessions. He entered the church and saw a lone man waiting by the confessional doors. Perhaps we’ll wrap up early, he thought.

Fr. Perez remembered at seminary, when the Bishop would joke about which of the Ten Commandments were the favorite subjects for confession. Three and ten were thought to be the closest contenders. As Fr. Perez passed the Stations of the Cross, he made his weekly wager with himself about this.

The waiting man was unfamiliar to Fr. Perez. He appeared to have lived a long, hard life but curiously, there was something immature about him. “Ten miles of bad road,” his father used to say. Fr. Perez crossed himself at the memory of his father and to ask God’s forgiveness for judging this man, seeking absolution.

As he came to the confessional, he nodded to the man who nodded back sternly. Fr. Perez entered his booth. It was always an adjustment for him to be in a space so close, so intimate and solitary. The dark wood absorbed the subdued light. He could hear his own breath.

Fr. Perez heard the other door close and then reopen. The man moved about and then settled in the adjacent compartment. Fr. Perez slid the privacy screen open.

The man gruffly mumbled “It’s too dark. I can’t be in the dark. Propped the door.”

Fr. Perez said, “How long has it been since your last confession?”

“Oh, God… I don’t know… decades?”

“I’m listening.”

“I kind of fell out of the habit after one of you priests started diddling me when I was a kid. Not much future in it. I would say most of my sins started about then. Fifty years back, more or less.”

Fr. Perez blanched. He’d never encountered a situation like this.

“I’m very sorry you ever suffered at the hand of another brother in Christ.”

“That’s easy for you to say.”

“How can I help you today? Do you want to make a confession of your sins?”

“Didn’t you hear me? I didn’t sin. Everything I ever did was because of him. And let me tell you, I did plenty.”

“Yes. We are all sinners. Are you here for absolution?”

“I want to know why. Why… Why does a loving God let his man on earth abuse innocent children?”

“I want to help you. You deserve an answer to that and any other questions you have. But I’m sorry. This is not the best time or place to have this conversation. Would you like to make an appointment to meet with me at a time convenient to you?”

Fr. Perez heard the sound of sobbing from the other booth. The man was having a break down. Then came a low growl that grew in volume into a shriek of rage. Fr. Perez braced himself for an attack. The man sounded demonic.

“You’re just like all the rest,” the man yelled. “How many years are you going to put me off? Why does He do this? I never hurt anyone.”

“Please don’t yell. I want to help you. What can I do? We can meet tomorrow morning in the rectory.”

“Over and over and over. You made me do your disgusting… you threatened me… made me your slave. For years! Why won’t anyone answer me? Why!”

“Sir, I never saw you before. I want to help. But you have to understand, I didn’t do anything to you.”

“You’re God’s man! Aren’t you his rep? Aren’t you all acting in His name? You did it. He did it. God did it. It’s happening all over the world! All the same to me! When does it stop? Why are you doing this to me!”

“Sir…”

“Don’t call me sir, you son of a bitch!” An enormous wrenching sob came from him. “You. Hiding behind that screen. I want answers!”

The man hit the common wall hard enough that Perez thought it would break. He stammered.

“We are all sinners. Broken. All fall short in God’s eyes. Every day, I ask forgiveness. We are but worms.”

“Worms!”

“Understanding is so difficult. God’s…”

“Yeah! God’s ways are mysterious! What a crock! You all get this script out of the same book?”

“Please. I want to help you. Can you listen to me?”

The man blew his nose.

Fr. Perez continued, “It is simple. But it is not easy. I know. This monster. This abuser will answer to God.”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re all the same.”

“You came for answers. Grant me the opportunity to respond. Please.”

“Go on…”

“We all must answer to God.”

“Platitudes…”

“You have made serious charges. I believe you. Let me offer you the answers you deserve.”

The man sniffed behind the screen.

“Bear with me, please. God tells us if we want him to forgive us, we must also forgive those who harmed us.”

“I don’t need anyone’s forgiveness. I was the one who was abused. Don’t you get it?”

“I get that. I do. There are two points I want you to get, though. Before we can move forward. Please hear me out.”

“Shoot.”

“What this man, this priest did to you is an abomination. There is no excuse.”

“You got that right.”

“But, you are bound to him by that experience, because you cannot let go of the harm he caused you.”

The man stifled a sob.

“The only way for you to escape his haunting presence, is to forgive him. He lives in your head. Expel him. Release him… with forgiveness.”

“That’s it? The best you can do? I should condone his crime against me? Let him off scot free?”

“But clutching this pain doesn’t hurt anyone but yourself. He doesn’t know, or care. It’s destroying you.”

“Ruined my life.”

“I know it doesn’t make sense, but let him go so you can heal. Give him to God to do what He will. Free yourself. This torture has gone on too long. Reclaim your life.”

“Too late for that, Jack.”

“Actually it isn’t. Job got back everything he lost.”

“So, I forgive him. Then what? Trust God to give it to him like He’s been giving it to me my whole life?”

“A couple of things. If you forgive him, you don’t have to worry about what God will do. It’s not your problem any longer. You let him go.”

“But then what? Don’t you see? I want him to pay!”

“Of course you do. Now. But when you forgive him, that won’t be your concern any more. He will be history.”

“History.”

“How much do you remember from history, in school?”

“Lincoln freed the slaves?”

“Good to remember that. Now don’t get me wrong about this forgiveness deal.”

“How so?”

“I don’t mean you can forgive him this minute. Or even today. It takes time. You haven’t been smoking as long as you’ve hated him.”

“Quit all the time.”

“Right. But it is something to think about.”

“But he broke me. My whole life…” The man wept for a minute and then fell into silence.

Fr. Perez asked, “You know what I think?”

“Tell me.”

“I’ve studied this a bit. Be honest. Do you need to forgive yourself too?”

“For what?”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if you blame yourself for what happened.”

“Get out!”

“You were a kid. But who doesn’t kick themselves when they get cheated? ‘I was a fool! I should’ve known better!’”

“You know what he did to me? I was ten!”

“No way is it your fault.”

“Damn straight.”

“Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know you. But think about it. You don’t deserve the blame. Even from yourself.”

“Of course not.”

“That’s all I’m saying.” Fr. Perez let the man have his silence.

“Father?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you for taking this time. I feel a little better now.”

“I hope so.” Fr. Perez stretched a little.

“Ah, but there’s still something… You sly…”

“What?”

“You pulled a switcheroo on me.”

“How so?”

“I came in asking ‘Why does God allow this to happen?’ And you got me thinking all about forgiving myself.”

“Yes?”

“Well, you didn’t answer me. Come on. Don’t you think you played me just a little?”

“I see your point. But no, I disagree.”

“Really?”

“Yes. The ‘Why?’ question is pretty complex and I didn’t know how much time I would have to answer it. It deserves an answer. That is why I hoped we could meet at a better time.”

“Okay, I get that.”

“I wasn’t trying to put you off, or pull a switcheroo. I really wasn’t. You had urgent needs that needed assistance.”

“I accept that.”

“Also, I wanted to offer you some tools you could use that would be of practical use to you. Your perp – there’s not much you can do about him.”

“He’s dead.”

“Right.” Fr. Perez made a silent Sign of the Cross. “So, the only thing you have control over is yourself. I wanted to give you actual strategies, not platitudes.”

“I can see that now. Thanks.”

“You are welcome.”

“So, you might be wondering…”

“What’s that?”

“Why would I come to confession? I was pretty hopeless. Why bother?”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“I miss church. Is it too late for me?”

“My friend, you are here. Of course it isn’t too late.”

The man’s voice got husky, “But… it… uhm, it scares me. Why would I want to come back?”

“A friend of mine would say, ‘Where else would you go?’ But I understand. Lost trust is hard to regain.”

“I can’t go through it again. I can’t. The peace is all jumbled up with…”

“No one wants you to ever go through that again. There is a verse, in Matthew… something like, ‘Whoever would cause a little one to stumble…’”

“The millstone verse? One of my favorites.”

“Good. But I can tell you this…”

“What?”

“The Church needs you. Jesus suffers seeing the Church struggling. This is not what he wants for us. You have strength and experience that would help us to heal.”

“How can I trust a church that lets these animals go to confession and then pick up where they left off?”

“Confession doesn’t count, if it isn’t made sincerely.”

“But it goes on and on! It’s so corrupt!”

“We are struggling with this. I won’t pretend to have an easy answer.”

“But is there an answer? Are we just kidding ourselves? It is one thing for a kid to be a fool, but…”

“Sadly, people cannot help but make everything they touch… human. Jesus started the church. But it isn’t a political party or a trade union. It isn’t about dues. Or fresh coffee. People get busy managing things. They lose sight of Jesus.”

“A club, instead of an adoration.”

“Exactly. Ever go into a house and all the pictures on the wall are skewed? You want to straighten one. But it doesn’t look right anyway because they’re all skewed.”

“I hate that.”

“Well, Jesus is the plumb line. He is the absolute measure.”

“He makes all pictures straight?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“I’m the picture. You’re the picture.”

“Only, we look at Him while He looks at us.”

“How do we scrub the gutter, though?”

“I’m not trying to put you off. It is a vital question. That is between them and God. Right now, I am concerned with what is between you and God.”

“What’s between me and God is that damned priest.”

“You were innocent. Whatever else you did. Or think you have done. He reads our hearts. You can accept his forgiveness, or not.”

“Is it really that easy?”

“I said it was simple. I didn’t say it was easy.”

“Right…”

“You know heaven is filled with forgiven sinners, right?”

“Of course.”

“And that hell is filled with forgiven sinners too?”

“It is? You mean…?”

“The difference being, the ones in heaven accepted their forgiveness.”

“Wow! Is that true?”

“Would I lie?”

They both laugh.

“That’s just… Man! I don’t know… Father, thank you for your time today. You gave me some things to think about.”

“I hope so.”

“Maybe we’ll talk again.”

“I’ll pray for you. Go in peace. God bless you.”

After a few moments, Fr. Perez heard the other door close. He prayed in the dark, cramped booth and lost track of time. Perhaps he dozed.

When he awoke, Fr. Perez opened the booth door into the darkened, deserted church. The last two votive candles guttered.

He walked up the center aisle and genuflected before the dimly lit altar. He stared at the mystery of it all.

Then, feeling weary, Fr. Perez returned to his quarters.

Thoughts Louder than Birds

Fiction, by John K. Adams

Maybe it was me. Of course it was me. I did it.

Have you ever noticed that it is impossible to find peace and quiet anymore? You might say, ‘You live in a large city. What do you expect?’ But really, I expect to hear traffic. Traffic is not that big a deal. Traffic confirms your hearing aids are on. It’s surf.

But must I listen to chirpy sales pitches while I buy gas at the self-serve? What are they selling, anyway? I’m already buying their gas. Do I also have to go inside to peruse their irresistible selection of scrumptious snacks?

No. I do not.

Then at the burger place drive through, I’m trying to order two standard combos and the guy starts arguing with me. My money pays his wages and he’s arguing! Just give me my order! Don’t forget the extra salt!

Mary, my wife, told me he was just trying to upsell. But it was arguing. How hard is it to just take the order and leave it at that? If I wanted to add an extra whatchamacallit, on special today, two for the price of one, I would have said so in my original order. Wouldn’t you?

It began to look like that famous scene in the old Woody Allen movie that he never made, where he’s in the drive through, after almost colliding with the post holding the microphone and speaker. The voice from the speaker is so garbled, Woody can’t understand what the order taker is saying. Woody eventually ends up in a huge dispute with this invisible person. What starts as an attempt to order a burger turns into a heated debate over the fundamental precepts of Judaic beliefs in the afterlife and where they go off track as compared to the basically nihilistic foundations of existentialism. It would have been hilarious.

So, I’m thinking I’m stuck in a Woody Allen movie with this order taker who learned enunciation from pebble chewers. I’m so frustrated that in a fit of pique, I cancel the order. But then I realize I am boxed in, front and back by other cars and cannot leave.

So I try to get the order taker to take my order again. But now he’s giving me the silent treatment, which infuriates me even more. Does he want to sell me a burger? Or not? I want him to fulfill his destiny and sell me a damn burger. I’m hoarse from yelling. My wife is threatening to get out and walk because she can’t stand being seen with me. Finally the manager comes on and takes my order which I heroically pull myself together enough to give to him. Everybody’s happy, right?

I drive forward to the pay window, complete the transaction and then edge forward to pick up the food. Only the food is not there because they threw it out. They had the order when they took my money but now it’s mysteriously gone missing. Ever have one of those days?

I will not attempt to describe to you the emotions passing through my brain at that moment. Suffice to say, if my head had literally exploded, I would not have been a surprised. I would have needed windshield wipers to clean inside the windows. Mary took my hand at that moment. I needed that.

So, they find the order. It was just an oversight. Yeah, right.

Mary suggests we find a quiet street and have a car picnic and calm down. Amazingly, finding a quiet street was easy and I could eat while the food was still hot. Mary distributed our lunch. Nothing like French fries straight from the fryer. Comfort food.

Calming took a little more time.

It was a shady street. A butterfly raggedly flew by a cat lurking beneath some bushes. Two people walked by talking intently. Where does everyone go? So many people. So many destinations. Who can keep track?

Down the block, a kid attempted a skateboard trick. Over and over. The clack of his board hitting pavement marked time like a broken metronome. His determination was admirable, or crazy. Hope his parents have insurance.

It was so quiet I could actually hear the birds in the trees. After my melt down, that was a treat. They were probably singing all the while I was yelling my lungs out at that poor order taker. It was like camping and the first time seeing the Milky Way spilled across the sky. Distinct bird chirps. Order in the chaos. Life goes on.

On reflection, I realized I had created the whole deal. It wasn’t the poor guy’s fault I couldn’t hear him. He was just doing his job. By the time we got to the pick-up window, I had become such a clown, who wouldn’t hide my food? Had it been me, I might have done worse.

Twenty minutes before, I could have ripped up the sidewalk from sheer rage. Now, I listen to the peaceful symphony of birds and watch the shimmering light of leaves fluttering in the gentle breeze.

Who can say where the wind comes from? Or where it goes?

Not me.

 

 

Rough Terrain

Fiction by John K. Adams

Daisy never felt so alone. “What am I thinking?” she said to herself. She thought about how Brad, her boyfriend promised he would meet her there. “He’s such a flake.” She felt numb but a nagging fear gnawed at her too. She wanted to hide, to run. She didn’t know what she wanted.

From the bus stop she watched protesters marching at the base of the steps leading to the clinic. It was a mixed bunch. Some were kneeling in prayer. Anyone approaching the building had to pass through this phalanx of demonstrators intent on stopping anyone who would enter.

Then, there were the counter-demonstrators who wanted to silence and disperse the first group.

Daisy glanced at her watch. “What a mess.” She shook off her hesitation and crossed the street.

Before she got to the stairs, a nun approached with a flyer. “No thanks,” Daisy said, raising her hand to ensure distance.

A voice from behind her spoke with authority. “I’ve got this.” The nun smiled and retreated.

Daisy turned to see her mother, Dottie, offering her hand. “Ma? What are you doing here?”

“Let’s talk, Zee. I’ll buy you a coffee.” Dottie indicated a coffee shop across the street, The Little Kick Café. “What a name,” she said with a chuckle. She tugged on Daisy’s arm.

“Ma…”

“I’m not here to beat you up. We’ll just talk for a few minutes. Promise.”

“I’m really not in the mood, Ma.”

“I get that. Believe me, I do.”

They crossed to the café, arm in arm, entered and found a table away from the numerous laptop obsessed customers. The waitress approached.

“What can I get you?”

“I can’t do this. I have an appointment.”

“You’ll make another. Some juice?”

Daisy could not resist the calm brought on by the coffee infused atmosphere. “A cappuccino.”

Dottie smiled at the waitress and nodded toward Daisy. “A bottle of juice on the side, for my girl. And coffee for me, hot, black and strong.”

The waitress left them alone.

“That’s how I like it.”

Daisy rolled her eyes. Dottie smiled. Daisy fiddled with a paper napkin.

They both spoke and then stopped abruptly.

“Go ahead.” Dottie said gently.

“Oh, nothing.” Daisy looked at her mother, emotions passing like clouds across her face. “I am torn. Really can’t decide. But Daddy would have been okay with it.”

“What makes you say that?”

“He always used to tell me if I didn’t start earning my keep, he would personally terminate me. Like when I was five.”

Dottie laughed and then Daisy joined in. Their hilarity grew in volume until other customers began to take note. “That sounds like him. Obviously, he didn’t really mean it.”

“I’m still here aren’t I?” They cracked up again. The waitress approached with their coffees and juice.

Daisy wiped her eyes. “Thank you. Sorry for the commotion.”

“No worries,” said the waitress as she walked away.

Daisy stirred the foam in her cup and then gulped a spoonful of it. “I guess I wasn’t a complete loser.”

“You’re no loser, Zee. I know one thing about your Daddy, though. If he was here now, he’d kick your lover boy so hard. That kid would spend his days having to pee sitting down. What kind of a man leaves you to face this alone?”

“Brad promised he’d be here.”

“He sounds like more of a mocha than a macho.”

Daisy ate more foam. “You don’t know. This is so not what I want.”

“I know, Zee. I know that.”

“What do you know?”

“I know exactly what you are going through.”

“Really?” Daisy could not believe her. No one knew what she was going through.

“Except I had no one to talk to.”

“You mean…”

“I terminated, once. Before I met your Dad. I couldn’t see any other way.”

“You mean I would have had a sister? I always wanted a sister.”

“Yeah, well… it was tough.” Their eyes met and Daisy became focused on tracing the table top design with her finger.

“I didn’t know.”

“No one knows. Your father didn’t know.”

Daisy dabbed her eyes with the napkin.

Dottie continued, “I won’t lecture you, Zee. I can’t tell you what to do. I just want to talk. You can talk.”

“I mean, I… I didn’t know this would happen.”

“You didn’t expect him to worry about it, did you?” Daisy looked up, startled. “Good time Charlie has other things on his… mind. If that’s what you want to call it.”

Daisy sipped her coffee and stared into a vague distance.

“You know, Zee, you don’t have to decide today.”

“I thought I had.”

“Well, everyone seems to be all about changing their minds. It’s like musical chairs. You know, choice? Isn’t that the big fashion these days?”

“I’ve heard of it.”

“You know all those people milling around out there?”

“I see them.”

“Both sides of that debate have their own agenda. They make it all sound so simple. Don’t they?” Dottie tried to catch Daisy’s eye. “But they don’t have to live with your decision. That’s all on you. Whatever it is.”

“I get it.”

“All they talk about is ‘Women’s power!’ But the time to be strong is before he gets your clothes off.”

“You make it sound so easy.”

“If it was easy, would I be telling you I’ve been there?”

“Prob’ly not.”

“It’s not easy. It’s damn hard. Life is hard. There is simply no easy way out of this. Whatever you decide, that will be with you for your life. Every day.”

“No matter what? Some people brag about it.”

“Interesting choice of words, ‘bragging’. Even if you brag, it is always left for the woman to deal with. Guys come and go. That’s my experience.”

“They can’t all be bad.”

“I’m not saying that. Your Daddy stayed. He was a good man.”

“So, what? I’m on my own? No matter what?”

“No. You have options, Zee. That’s why I’m talking with you now. Consider them before you decide to commit. Dying limits one’s options considerably.”

Daisy scoffed. “I’m not going to die.”

“Hopefully not. But your decision won’t affect only you.”

The waitress walked up. “Will there be anything else?”

“No. Thank you. I think we’re about finished.”

The waitress left the bill on the table between them. Dottie reached into her purse for her wallet and left some cash.

“You don’t want your juice?”

“I thought it was yours.”

“I ordered it for you.”

“I’ll have it later.”

They walked to the exit. Daisy held the door for Dottie.

“Ma?”

“Zee?”

“Can you drop me home? I don’t feel like taking the bus.”

“Sure. I’m over here.”

They walked together in silence. Then someone called Daisy’s name.

Brad ran up to them. “Daisy! I’ve been looking everywhere. Sorry I’m late. You okay?” Daisy nodded while trying to stifle tears. He reached out to hug her and after a moment’s hesitation, she melted into his arms. “I was worried about you.” Brad nodded to Dottie and reached out to her. “Hi, I’m Brad.”

Dottie smiled and shook his hand. “I know. Nice to meet you, Brad.”

Daisy looked at her bottle of juice and offered it to Brad. “Want some juice?”

“Oh, sure. Thanks.”

They all stood looking expectantly at each other. Then Dottie said, “You going to ride together? I’ll head out.”

Daisy kissed her mother good-bye. Brad gave her a nervous, half wave.

Dottie turned and walked away.

Brad said, “I’m over here.” They held hands as they walked to his car.

 

Three of a Kind

Fiction by John K. Adams

Damn it’s cold. What happened to summer? Actually, it’s not that cold. I’m not up north. Still, I need another jacket. I stay warm enough but sleeping in this car, my legs take the chill. How can people sleep outside?

I can’t stand the shelters. Crowded, hot and stuffy. No privacy. Too many rules. Not interested in taking orders from anyone. I take care of myself. Need to stay shy of the cops rousting my parking spot.

Being the end of the month, I can barely buy gas for the car and a cheap jacket. With cold weather here, jackets will go fast. Gotta play the sure bet.

I spend ten at the pump and go to this thrift store known for its better quality cast offs. Their collection bins are in the best locales. Rich people wear something once or twice and let it go. I’ll take comfort over fashion any day. I can’t stand the cold. But if I can have both?

Inside is the claustrophobic, muffled hush all these places have. The air hasn’t moved in about a decade. I saw that dust mote the last time I was here. Everyone whispers like they’re in the church of St. Polyester. Babies cry. Little kids run down dim aisles, playing hide and seek. Parents, do you know where your children are?

I walk past the obsolete electronics, the wall of VHS tapes, the bank art and decrepit strollers and go straight to the jackets.

Why are t-shirts sorted by color and not by size? I have to look at fifty red mediums to find a single red large. Maybe rich people only wear medium. Sorting by sizes is above the pay grade, I guess. In a hand full of spades, a single heart will stand out, regardless the rank.

Today, there’s about a hundred white t-shirts from a failed sandwich shop. I don’t mind advertising for somebody, but why wear an ugly shirt? If their sandwiches tasted like their logo looked… well, never mind.

Spend enough time in these places and your eye gets trained. I spot the jacket. Quality stands out. It looks new, has a good cut and a leather collar. Wait, the lining is all ribbons. I shake it for bugs and try it on. Find a mirror. I look like a real sport. A regular dude. Perfect fit. And warm.

Eight bucks? Yikes! But there’s nothing else nearly so sharp. Let the winter rage.

Who destroyed the lining? Sometimes people sew things into the lining but this is outrageous. Hope they found what they were looking for. A friend of mine says he found five Benjamins down the lining. Fat chance.

I check the pockets and there is nothing, as expected. But wait. What felt like a pebble is… A tooth? A gold tooth! There’s two more. One with enamel still attached. Amazing! Someone forgot his gold teeth in this beautiful jacket? I check again, but that’s it. Three will do. Not bad for an eight dollar visit to the thrift store. What are the odds?

Nice jacket, plus three gold teeth. This guy was flush. Why in his jacket though? Were they his? It doesn’t add up. Payment for a bad debt? Tell me about the installment plan. Don’t miss a payment.

What happens when a gold tooth bites a gold coin? I’d rather have the coin but the tooth will do. I thought about biting one of these but, who knows where they’ve been? It might bite back.

Making sure I’m not watched, I carefully drop the teeth into my shirt pocket. Hate to lose them. I feel eyes watching and wanting my jacket or my spare teeth.

Standing in the checkout line, I see a bright future and changes coming.

I could skip that game tonight. Use the break. Get my kid out of hock. Doesn’t he have a birthday coming up? Get him something nice. Get a place together. Or get a car with a heater. Or fix this one. Install a really fine sound system. All of the above. The sky is the ceiling.

I lay the jacket on the counter.

“Can you give me a break on this? The lining is destroyed.”

She looks at the tag. “Eight.”

“I’ll give you seven.”

“Can’t go less than the tag. Read the sign.”

The sign states ‘All sales final. Bargaining not allowed.’

“But the lining…”

“Maybe that’s why it’s eight. A fine jacket. Look. Could be more.” She holds it up.

It is a fine jacket. But the lining’s ripped to shreds.

The crowd behind me murmurs a combination of approval over my ‘fine jacket’ and impatience for wasting their time. This last bit gives me an inexpressible satisfaction. Imagine, people waiting on me.

I fish for another dollar and she drops the jacket on the counter. Another pebble skips across the counter. Everyone clears back and scans the floor for the noisiest contact lens ever. The checkout lady smiles and holds up a loose button.

“See? Now I have to pay to replace that.”

“Eight dollars please. You want? You don’t want?”

I put the eight dollars on the counter. “Ring it up.”

She gives me the loose button. I drape the jacket over my shoulders and skedaddle. My escapade is nearly complete. Time to cash out.

Wanna buy three gold teeth? Slightly used, hardly worn. Bought them fair and square.

“Hey, Romeo!”

“What’s with Romeo? I’m not Romeo.”

“I just thought, ‘Romeo and Jewelry’ has a nice ring to it.”

“Don’t call me Romeo. What you got?”

I show him my recently acquired golden molars. He grunts and brings out a scale. He grunts again.

“Seventy-five.”

“That’s low. I’m doing you a favor.”

“That’s my best price. You want it?”

“That’s seventy-five each?”

“No. Total. Twenty-five each.”

“You must be joking. These are gold man. Gold! You know what gold goes for?”

“You want charity? There’s a church down the street.”

“They can’t be that low.”

“Every time you come in, it’s the same. Why waste my time?”

“You know me. I always bring good stuff.”

“Take them. See who will give you more. I don’t care. This is the best price.”

Visions of sugar-plums evaporate before my eyes. Seventy-five eases the coast to my next relief check, but jeez…

Romeo leaves me with few options. I can’t spend gas looking for a better deal. He always plays it straight. But so close to the bone.

Guess I won’t blow off that game tonight.  If I can parlay this windfall into some real money, I can cash in some of those dreams. Then I’ll be on my way. Maybe hit the road to Vegas.