The Homecoming

 

The airport was especially crowded. Parents were waiting to pick up their college kids for Thanksgiving break. Alyona waited for her youngest daughter Sophia. She checked the flight information screen. The flight was on time but the plane was sitting on the tarmac waiting for a gate. When the plane finally pulled up and the passengers began deboarding she looked at each passenger coming out from the boarding ramp. She thought he saw Sophia. The eyes were the same as Sophia’s but this person looked so different.

This person walked toward Alyona. “Hi mom.”

Alyona stood for a moment looking at her daughter and then embraced her. A look of disbelief was still on Alyona’s face when she let go of Sophia. “You look so different!”

The first thing Alyona noticed was Sophia’s pixie haircut. Her long naturally blond hair had been cut short and died jet black. The second thing she noticed when she hugged her daughter was the tattoo on the side of her neck. It was a creeper, a vine with colored flowers that originated somewhere below on her torso. Alyona put her hand to her mouth to contain her thoughts: “Those three piercings she’s wearing on her face could come off but the ink …”

What did come out: “Wait till your…” but she stopped herself. “Sophia was home now”, she reflected, again with her hand pressed to her lips. “And by the looks of her, home is where she needs to be”.

Sophia put on her backpack and looked at her mother. “I wanted to look different than then the lily whites on campus…Mom! Don’t you know that plastic straws are destroying the earth!” Alyona had been sipping a coffee drink waiting for Sophia. Alyona took a long sip and then threw the cup into the trash.

“Looks like I’ll have to schedule a stagecoach for your return to campus, Sophia. C’mon, let’s get your luggage.”

With Sophia’s luggage and art portfolio case in hand they walked to the car and drove home.

Alyona began the conversation in the car: “How’s your artwork coming along?”

“Good. I am working on a graphic novel about climate change. The main character – I named her Zara – has a degree in climate science. She comes home from the university after graduating. She attends city council meetings every week. She tells the council that the way to fight climate change is human recycling, you know, eating people. The people laugh at her so she takes things into her own hands, so to speak.”

“That sounds gruesome. How did you come up with this?”

“There’s a lot of environmental activism on campus. That’s how I heard about a scientist in Sweden who’s advocating eating human flesh after a person dies …to save the planet.”

“We’re having turkey again this year. We’re not eating your dead grandmother.”

“Mom, I’m serious. There is a climate emergency. If we don’t do something the world will end in our life time. I read a study that says parents should have fewer children to reduce CO2. Overpopulation and overconsumption will bring on biological annihilation of wildlife. I ‘m going to have only one child.”

“You’re my last. I don’t want to be accused of CO2ism and “biological annihilation” of wildlife. Whew! I wish there was more common-sense activism on campus.”

Sophia screwed up her face and said, “Mom, you don’t want to be a climate denier. Those people have no common sense.”

“Listen, Sophia, your grandparents are coming for dinner tomorrow. Spend some time with them. And don’t forget. We go to church on Thanksgiving morning. So, get in the shower early tomorrow.”

“Mom, I’m not going to church tomorrow. I’ve decided that I don’t want to be among a bunch of dominionists who care about saving souls but not the planet. Besides, my friends at school don’t believe in God and neither do I. I’m above all that nonsense. I’ve found something better to do with my life – climate activism. Instead of sitting sit around praying and singing old songs and listening to sermons I can do something that matters, something about the planet.”

“Wait till your…” Alyona stopped herself once again as she parked the car in the driveway. Her brows were now furrowed and she began biting her lower lip. Seeing his wife’s face as she entered the house, Aleksey, Sophia’s father, thought it had to do with Sophia’s changed appearance.

“Who’s this? I thought you went to the airport to pick up our daughter. You brought home a stranger.”

“See for yourself. It is your daughter.” Alyona said this with her eyebrows raised and her hands raised, the palms of her hands facing up.

“Well, I’ll be.”

“Hi dad.” Sophia hugged her father. “It’s just grown up me.”

“There’s something growing on your neck.”

“Yeah, dad. I have a tattoo to remind me of the need to save the planet.”

“I seeeeee? The planet needs saving? You’ll have to tell me all about this.”

“Yes,” Alyona injected, “tell your father everything.”

 

Before dinner that night Sophia talked with her father. He sat and listened quietly. He was stunned and perplexed at the change that had come over his daughter. He wondered about the point of departure from what she had been taught. Was it her friend’s influence? Her profs? He was glad that she had become assertive and was no longer the unassuming young woman she had been. He had hoped for that. But she come into her own or into another’s?

After an hour of hearing Sophia talk about her climate activism and about her graphic novel and about her new found atheism, he said, “Well, we’ll talk more later.”

Before he left the room, Sophia prodded him. “You’re not a denier are you dad?”

Aleksey turned to face Sophia. “I don’t deny that humans affect the climate but that effect is miniscule and not catastrophic to any extent. And, I don’t deny that there is a God and that eating human beings is not the answer to any problem.”

“Dad …. c’mon. You’re an engineer. You understand data and the data points to a climate catastrophe.”

Aleksey returned to the couch and sat down. “Sophia, climate data is based on computer models and those models provide projections based on assumptive inputs. You know the saying ‘garbage in, garbage out’. As an engineer I use formulas and data – constants -that provide proven outcomes. The outcome is predictable. Climate science is not iterative in that respective. The scientific method involves experimentation. Scientific observations have to be repeatable to be validated. Climate scientists cannot control all the variables that effect climate. And though there have been many observations made in very different circumstances on different instruments by different observers, the observation must be validated with past results and successful future predictions to test for falsifiability. If it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.

Climate science ‘experimentation’ is based in computer modeling and virtual reality. Climate change projections have never been validated by experimentation. You can’t conduct an experiment on a natural system such as the Earth’s climate system in the same way you can conduct a controlled experiment in a physics or chemistry lab. As I said, climate science modeling is based on many assumptions, …like, the climate is unchanged without the effects of greenhouse gases and that the sun’s intensity is the same day after day and that any change in the climate is caused by humans emitting trace amounts of “greenhouse” gases into the atmosphere. And yet, some climate scientists still make their world-ending claims. They don’t say “maybe this will happen”. They say “It will happen!”

And, Sophia, if you take God as a constant out of your life’s equation and His validation the outcome will not make sense. You will end up inputting variables to force the outcome you desire. Your friends will, no doubt, approve of your values but they will not incur any consequences for their outcome. But you will. Their attitude will be much like the climate scientists who point to evidence in their own science journals. Without God, at some point Sophia, you may even begin to despair of life itself. These are hard words but they needed to be said.”

Sophia looked at her dad indifferently, thinking to herself “I am above all that. You’ll see.”

Dad, looking as if he had seen the future he just described, was no longer able to talk. He got up and told Sophia to go into the kitchen and to help her mother with dinner.

“Dad doesn’t understand what’s at stake,” Sophia thought. “This is a backwater town. I’ve seen the future and what really matters.” She set down her sketch pad and walked into the kitchen carrying her attitude with her.

“Mom, do you need help?” Alyona, at the sink, turned to see her daughter. She relaxed her furrowed brows and put on a smile.

“Soph, snap those green beans for me please. They’re for my casserole. Tonight, we’re having burgers and fries.”

“Mom, I’m a vegan now. I’ll just eat a salad. Can we make a tofu turkey tomorrow?”

“Listen, Missy, we’re having turkey tomorrow. Consider it less turkey CO2 in the air.”

 

The next morning, the air crisp and clear, Alyona and Aleksey drove off to church. Sophia slept in. She had been up late texting her friends. She wanted to make sure her resolve didn’t wane. On the kitchen counter, Alyona had left a list of things for Sophia to do to prepare for the Thanksgiving meal. After an hour-and-a-half Alyona and Aleksey returned home. Sophia was still sleeping. The list was untouched.

Sophia finally wandered into the kitchen in her pajamas. Mom, frustrated and yet compensating, told herself, “Sophia is home”.

“Hey, kiddo, we have a lot of work to do. Grandpa Mo and grandma Jean will be expecting dinner at one o’clock sharp.”

Sophia looked at her mom with cow eyes, hoping for some latitude.

“I’ll have some coffee and get in the shower and then I’ll help.”

“You’d better hurry. Dad is cleaning the house and I need your help.”

Sophia left the kitchen with her coffee and a cinnamon roll and proceeded to her room and then to the shower.

The smell of sage and roasting turkey began to fill the house. The familiar aroma brought back memories of family times for Sophia.

At noon Grandpa Mo and grandma Jean were at the door. Dad, still wearing an apron, greeted them.

“Hi dad. Hi Mom. Did you have a good drive over?”

They both responded. “Oh yeah, except for the guy who drove the speed limit in the inside lane. He wouldn’t move out of the way. That’s why we’re a minute late.”

“Well, the turkey is in the fast lane. It will be ready to cut into at one.”

“Good. I brought the wine.” Grandpa handed dad the wine.

Grandma walked into the kitchen and set down the apple and pumpkin pies she had made. She gave Alyona a hug and asked, “How’s my granddaughter?”

Alyona looked at her mother-in-law with pursed lips. “Well …she’s …she’s …she’s home. Thanks for making the pies. I’m sure glad you brought the wine. I could use a glass right now. What’s this?”

Grandam showed Alyona the multi-colored afghan she had made for Sophia.

“Beautiful!” came Alyona’s response.

“Could you use some help?” grandma offered.

“I sure could. I left Sophia a list of things to do while we were at church but she slept in and didn’t do any of it. She’s in the shower right now. …the same old Sophia and the new Sophia are in the shower right now.”

Not sure what to make of that, grandma put on an apron and started peeling potatoes.

In the living room, dad and dad were laughing. Grandpa Mo had begun telling his corny jokes.

“Why can’t you take a turkey to church? Because they use such fowl language!”

“What did the dry cleaner say to the impatient customer? Keep your shirt on!”

“I am reading a book about anti-gravity. It is impossible to put down.”

Aleksey put his hand on his father’s shoulder and responded in kind: “What did the baby corn say to the mama corn? Where’s pop corn?” Grandpa had a good laugh.

“Hey, where my granddaughter?”

“She’s in the shower. You won’t recognize her. She has a new look and a new attitude.”

Grandpa looked at his son quizzically. “Nothing a few bad jokes can’t cure, I’m sure.”

After fifteen minutes Sophia emerged from the bathroom. She was wearing a robe and her black hair was spiked out in all directions.”

“Hi, grandpa.” She called into the kitchen. “Hi, grandma.”

Grandpa looked her over and said, “Say, that’s a new look for you isn’t it?”

“I’m just catching up with the times.” She hugged him

Grandma came out of the kitchen, “Dear, what have done to yourself?”

“Grandma, it’s just a new look. I cut my hair short.”

Grandam looked at Sophia’s neck and said “Hmmm”. “Here, I made this for you.” She handed Sophia the afghan. “This will keep your neck covered.”

“It’s beautiful, grandma! Thank you!” She hugged her grandmother and walked to her room.

Grandpa Mo and Grandma Jean looked at each other and shook their heads. Grandma spoke. “Life as we know it is coming to an end.”

 

Before calling everyone to the table, Alyona looked over the place settings Sophia had put down. The table set and the turkey resting on the stove, mom lit the tapers. The flames reflected in the silver and the goblets. Looking up from the table and outside she could clearly see the Autumn Blaze Maple trees along the property line. Through the kitchen windows, fogged from the cooking, they appeared as an artist’s palette smeared with oranges, reds, and yellows. As she looked, stiff khaki-colored leaves from the neighbor’s lawn tumbled across the lawn, lifted by the cold wind. Alyona called everyone to the table.

Everyone was finally seated after calling Sophia to the table several times. Dad asked grandpa Mo to give thanks. Heads bowed, except for Sophia’s.

“Father, it was written long ago that the earth is yours and the cosmos and all who live in it. Nothing happens without you knowing it. In your providence you see a sparrow that falls to the ground. We give Thee thanks for keeping an eye on us sparrows this past year and for sustaining us. Make us wise stewards of the bounty we enjoy. And may everything that has breath praise You. We ask for your blessing on this wonderful-smelling food. Amen.”

Dad echoed the “Amen” and said, “Let’s get these dishes passed. I’ll go slice the turkey.”

Grandpa, with a twinkle in his eye, looked over at Alyona. “I was hoping for a glutton-free meal.”

Grandma looked over at Alyona and rolled her eyes. “Your father-in-law… Go easy on the potatoes, Mo. Save some for Sophia.”

The dishes began to be passed and the wine was poured. Mouths were too full to talk. Only “Mmmmms” could be heard and heads nodding “Amen” could be seen.

Minutes later dad returned with a platter of turkey. Grandma said that Alyona had outdone herself, “The food is delicious!” Grandpa and dad seconded.

From the table each could see the maple trees in the yard framed by the picture window in the dining room. The trees were overlaid with November sunlight. The trees, resplendent with fall color, seemed to respond to the sun’s attention by fluttering their leaves as standards in the wind. Seeing this, grandpa recounted his and grandma’s recent trip to the Smokie Mountains. “I got in some plein air painting. There were so many hues …reds, oranges, …the yellow birches and shagbark hickories were golden.”

While grandpa talked, Sophia ate with her eyes glazed over. She was deep in thought. She imagined the world coming to an end and her family eating turkey and engaged in meaningless conversation. “I should never have children because of what I know about their future.”

Grandpa noticed her despondency. “Sophia, how is school? Do you like your art teachers?”

Sophia perked up. “Good. I like Professor Nulin, my graphics art professor. He’s helping me with the narrative for my novel. He says that we have lost our way and must return to the narrative of the indigenous people who lived in ecological equilibrium long ago. He thinks we need to become more human by learning to live in balance with nature and to have a reverence for nature as they did. He says that to be human is to live as they did, in harmony with the cycles of nature. He thinks we need to take down civilization to a pre-civilized world to do this. He says that the religions of the world lead folks away from the divinity of the land. He says that industrialization is destroying the planet and creating climate change.”

Grandpa wiped his mouth. “Wow. That’s a lot to digest. It seems that climate change research has moved into the arts and social sciences. How’s your graphic novel turning out?”

“Oh, fine, grandpa.” Sophia went on to describe the narrative. “…and Zara is the main character. She has a band of Climate Change Confronters. I’ll show you the panels I’ve created after we eat.”

“That would be great. It sounds like you have given it a lot of thought. My old art professor, Mr. Smithers, who always wore argyle sweater vests that looked like a diagonal checkerboard, would lecture us with his glasses perched on top of his bald head. “Class,” he would say, “to create art of lasting value, it must be created within the enduring context of humanity and give dignity to the human drama. “You must read history and good literature if you want to understand that context!”

He conveyed to us that art should help us to see the world as it really is and then the viewer’s imagination can move him beyond immediate initial emotion to a consideration of the sacred and redemptive. He warned us about fantasy. “Works of fantasy”, he said, “mimic and mock reality. They begin with emotion and end with emotion, leaving the viewer frustrated and empty – with a diminished sense of objectivity. They are created to make you feel something for the sake of feeling something. They deal in sacrilege and the profane”.

Grandpa continued. “Look around. There is a surfeit of fantasy today – in pornographic images, in movies, on TV …. I saw a commercial for a movie the other day. It had graphic images depicting a specter of world-ending apocalypse and superheroes swooping in to save the world. Kids today eat this stuff up and can’t get enough of it seems, by the many previews just like it …”

Seeing Sophia’s arched eyebrows, Dad broke in. “I think it is time for some pie.”

The meal over and the table cleared, Alyona brought out the coffee. Grandma brought out the pies she had made.

Grandpa, taking his son’s cue to change the subject, asked, “How’s you work going, Aleksey?”

“I was made the responsible engineer for a greenfield project. We will be installing a new substation, transformers, circuit breakers and transmission lines. The project will take a year to complete.”

“Does it involve renewable energy?”

“Not in this case. This project is basically power distribution. But our company does do engineering for wind farm and photoelectric clients. We also work with businesses and institutions who want us to design “island” microgrids using wind and solar. The ‘islands’ can be switched to distributed power as needed. Soon, there will be microgrids using small modular nuclear reactors – SMRs. Those projects will involve both our nuclear group and our distribution group.”

Alyona, hearing the details about Aleksey’s company for the first time, asked for Sophia’s sake, “There is so much talk about fossil fuels today. Is your company involved with fossil fuels?”

“Our fossil group engineers CO2 capture projects …what you don’t hear talked about, Alyona, is that greenhouse gases make up only one to two percent of the entire atmosphere. Nitrogen and oxygen make up a majority of the atmospheric gases. And, CO2 comprises only about three-and-a-half percent of that one to two percent of greenhouse gases. Of the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, humans cause only about three to four percent of the annual CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. So, the anthropogenic effects are real but minimal.”

Aleksey stopped for a moment and finished his pie.

“And don’t forget. Without carbon, there would be no green bean casserole. Sunlight and carbon are required for the greening of the earth, for photosynthesis. And, to answer your questions, yes, our company has the anthropogenic effect of engineering and distributing clean energy. Nuclear plants alone provided fifty-five percent of the country’s clean energy last year. Renewable natural gas is also gaining in use.”

“It sounds like you and Sophia have things in common.” Grandpa wanted to restore transmission with the brooding Sophia.

Dad looked over at Sophia. Sophia looked over at her dad, her eyebrows again arched.

Dad looked over at his wife. “We do. But I think we will need to redirect some energy, dad.” Alyona looked over at Sophia and gave her a reassuring smile. And dad felt that there was more that needed to be said.

“It occurred to me as you were talking dad that what makes the enduring context that you were mentioning even possible are the physical constants in the cosmos which make life possible. These constants could not have happened by random chance. Not all scientists accept that premise, of course. Some choose a multi-verse theory as the random ‘creator’ instead of God. But scientists of all worldviews agree that the physical constants of the universe, which made possible the precise fusion of the carbon element on which life depends, are finely-tuned. It’s as if, as one scientist said, that the universe must have known we were coming.”

Grandpa wiped pie from the corner of his mouth. He looked as if he was about to say something. Everyone looked at him, hoping that he would not ask another question. They were all full and had started pushing back from the table when he began to speak.

“All this reminds me of the two goldfish in a bowl. One goldfish asks the other, “If there is no God who changes the water?”

With that and a smile everyone got up from the table. Alyona began to clear the dessert plates. Dad and grandpa offered to help. Alyona asked Aleksey to help in the kitchen while she and grandma talked. “Sophia, show your grandfather your art work.”

Sophia went to her room and came back with the graphic panels she had created. She sat down and sidled up to her grandfather on the couch. She talked about the narrative: indigenous people were in tune with the land and with the seasons; indigenous people were uncorrupted until the white man came along and began destroying natural resources with his greed; industrialization is wreaking havoc of the earth and poisoning the atmosphere; indigenous people considered the earth sacred; true religion is that which cares for the earth; we need to return to a dark green religion. She went on to explain to her grandfather who Zara was and her band of disciples -the Climate Change Confronters. “They will challenge, protest and do whatever is necessary by any means necessary to restore the mother earth to its health.”

“Sophia, you put a lot of thought into this. Your work shows a lot of promise. I like your draftsmanship. Have you thought of going in the direction of representational art? I think you would enjoy realism. I know of an atelier where you could learn. I know the owner. He lives on a farm about thirty miles from grandma and me. I’m sure he would take you in.”

Sophia looked puzzled, not sure if grandpa understood the direction of her work. Seeing the look on her face, grandpa responded to her narrative.

“Now, what makes you think that God would allow mankind to destroy His creation? You know the story of the flood. God stopped the destructive indigenous people before there was any talk of CO2. I think that there is a bigger picture that you need to take into account.”

Sophia sat there still looking pensive. “Maybe, but I still think mankind has lost its way. The planet needs to be saved from anthropogenic effects.”

“You are right about that. But then, God knew we were coming and He was prepared for the worst mankind could do. He ‘engineered’ a solution.”

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2019, All Rights Reserved

The Dinner

 

The Friday afternoon of Labor Day weekend Marvin was finalizing his response to the client. He sat before his two monitors. One monitor held the client comments regarding the marked-up drawings stacked neatly to his left. The monitor on the right held the recipe for beef bourguignon. He was making plans for a quiet dinner Saturday night and the start of a new book.

As a lead engineer Marvin’s desk was inside a cubicle configured with partitions on three sides. The opening in the cubicle faced a wall and an aisle. The cubicle was at the end of a long aisle that traversed the first floor of the engineering firm. His desk was secluded from all the other engineers. This was of no consequence to Marvin for he kept to himself. Detachment from others meant that he could concentrate on his work without being disturbed by any human drama. The only semblance of his life outside the cubicle was a calendar of military planes that reminded him of his time in the air force.

Before leaving for the weekend, Marvin walked over to confer with another engineer. Landry’s cubicle was at the other end of the first floor. As was his manner, Marvin walked with a deliberate military gait without looking at the other engineers along his path. Any engineer seeing him pass might think of Marvin as an animated stick figure. The pencil thin Marvin conserved his motion and his emotions for the necessary.

Any female engineer, and there was one on the first floor who did, would notice that Marvin wore the same grey twill pants, black shoes and a version of a plaid shirt that he wore every day. On his belt hung a TI-36X Pro engineering/scientific Calculator. If asked, he would tell you that it was the same one he had used for his FE/PE engineering exams years ago. He would also tell you that the calculator replaced the slide rule he had carried on is belt during his days at the university. The shirt pocket pen pouch remained from those days.

The same female engineer seeing Marvin walk by also noticed Marvin’s dispassionate single-minded gaze beneath his dark unkempt eyebrows. And, that his disheveled dark hair and a stout mustache that covered his pursed lips gave Marvin an austere manly look, a no-nonsense guise. It seemed to her that the university geek, now in his early sixties, had continued to live in cerebral austerity. The never-married Marvin appeared to be married to his thoughts. This, she supposed, figured in Marvin’s lack of human interface except as required to complete the challenges presented to him.

Marvin conferred with Landry, a mechanical engineer who was months from his retirement and who gave a glib reply when someone asked him how he was: “I’m here and I’m loving it!” At Landry’s cubicle drawings were spread out on two desk tops. There was talk of the reactor coolant pump the client wanted for the nuclear plant. There was talk of length of pipe and the location of the pump, of water head pressure, of horsepower, of vendor drawings, of the calcs required and of a redundant system. They both noted that there was a labyrinth of pipes and conduits to contend with.

Marvin Left Landry’s cubicle after responsibilities were delineated. He then returned to his own cubicle to respond to the client. He sent his client an email outlining the work to be done and stating the date for the sealed engineering drawings to be handed over. On the other screen he looked once more at the beef bourguignon recipe and decided beef stew would be a good choice for a quiet Saturday dinner. He printed out the recipe and shut his computer down. He was weekend ready.

On Saturday morning, as was his manner, Marvin got up at 3 AM. he took his usual two-mile walk. When the sunlight began festooning houses with gold overlays, he drove over to the market to purchase the ingredients for his beef stew. With recipe in hand Marvin then drove over to a nearby liquor store where he found a burgundy that the recipe called for. He also purchased a bottle of aged bourbon that he would later pour into his “U.S. Air Force” engraved decanter and rocks glass.

With a plan to eat at 5 PM sharp, Marvin gathered up the ingredients: chuck roast, carrots, pearl onions, garlic, bacon, beef broth, olive oil, tomato paste, mushrooms, seasonings and the burgundy. At 3 PM he placed the recipe on a book holder. He began the process, methodically and carefully. There could be no room for error. After following the recipe to the letter, he placed the Dutch oven in the oven at the called-for temperature. Dinner would be served at 5 PM.

Just before 5 PM Marvin took the stew out of the oven and let it rest. He set his place at the table and poured into a wine glass the balance of burgundy. He set bread on the table and some butter. The smell of the stew filled his apartment. At 5 PM sharp he placed the Dutch oven on hot pad just before his place at the table. A large spoon was put into service as he opened its lid. Just then there was feverish knock at the door. “Now who could that be?” Marvin growled. He got from the table and headed for the door.

Through the door’s peephole he saw a concave figure of a woman who was nervously knocking again. “All right! All right!” Marvin snapped. He opened the door and became dumbfounded at the surreal sight before him. Somewhere under woman’s clothes and a wig was his neighbor Arturo. Before Marvin could say anything, Arturo rushed in and said, “You gotta help me!” Marvin stood holding the door open hoping the illusion would leave the way it came in.

“What?! …What is all this about?” Marvin had no calculus for what he saw. And he had no patience for any of this nonsense, as his beef bourguignon and a quiet night were waiting for him.

“You see …,” Arturo, frantic, started but he broke off as if to find words that a military man would understand. “You see…” Arturo started again, pushing back a wig curl that kept covering his right eye. “I …I …well, you see, it’s like this.” Again, Arturo broke off as if his next words would seal his fate. “You see, my friend (as if to cushion Marvin’s response) I … I … well, I put on some of my wife’s clothes while she is out at a church gathering with her girlfriends.”

Marvin looked Arturo up and down and said, “I’ve heard it said that in marriage the two become one but I didn’t think…”

“No, No, it’s not like that. I mean it is like that, but not like that.” Arturo thought that by not making any sense that he could persuade the unmarried rational Marvin with some secret knowledge of marriage that he, married to Martha, must possess. But Marvin wasn’t buying it. The food was getting cold.

“What do you want from me? I just sat down to eat.”

“I … I … locked myself out of the apartment. I took the garbage out…”

“Wait! You took the garbage out dressed like that?”

“Ah …mmmmm … ah I did”, Arturo turned eyes away from Marvin as if to hide the truth.

“So,” Marvin responded impatiently, “what am I supposed to do? There’s a simple solution. Call your wife and tell her that you are locked out.”

“It’s not that simple, you see …, my wife has no idea and I don’t want her to know about this.” Arturo waved his hand from head to toe.

“I can see why.” Marvin said sternly. The smell of the beef stew was now making his stomach growl.

“You’ve got to help me. Can you check the windows of my apartment to see if any are unlocked?’ Arturo petitioned Marvin.

“You want me to sneak around outside your apartment and look in your windows? The people around here will think I am as batty as you? And worse! And, besides, you have already made yourself known to the neighbors.”

“I … I …I learned my lesson. I cannot go out again.” Arturo was pacing back and forth as he spoke. The look on his face was one of holy terror.

“My wife will be returning, she said around nine-o’clock. I don’t want her to see me like this.”

“So, I get the privilege?”

“I sorry, my friend, to bring this to you but I have no where else to go for help. You are a smart man. You can think of things.”

“Right now, I am thinking of my dinner which is getting cold.” Marvin folded his arms across his chest.

“Say. What is that marvelous smell?” Arturo turned his face towards the kitchen.

“It is beef bourguignon and I am hungry. You can join me so I can eat. If you remain quiet.”

“Maybe you can think of a plan while we eat,” Arturo continued to ply Marvin’s ego as he sat down. He figured Marvin might respond better to the situation than to his makeup varnished face.

Marvin brought out another place setting and a wine glass and an uncorked bottle of red wine. He never had a guest eat with him before. He hoped that he could eat in silence and gain some semblance of the quiet evening he had planned.

The two ate in silence and finished their meal. The silence was broken when Arturo, noticeably agitated throughout the meal, queried Marvin. “Any thoughts?”

Marvin looked up from his plate. As was his manner he spoke dispassionately to Arturo. “My new found ‘friend’, I have no flow chart that can show me the next step. If you were a deadheading pump, I would have options. I could put in a piloted relief valve or a bypass or an unloader valve downstream system of the pump to allow excess pressure to be relieved and flow to continue through the pump and back to the tank.”

Arturo thought for a moment and then said, waving his hand over his body from head to toe, “This must be my relief valve.”

The red wine Marvin was drinking came out through his nose. Little droplets of red wine now hung precariously from his mustache. He wiped his mouth and got up from the table. As he walked to the kitchen he said. “It looks more like a Catch 22 situation. No entrance without a key and no key without an entrance.”

Arturo winced when he heard those words. He knew his fate was sealed. He went to the window and peered through the slats of the blinds. His wife had not come home.

In the kitchen Arturo helped Marvin put the dishes in the dishwasher. As he did black jagged lines formed beneath his eyes. Mixed with tears his mascara had run, giving him the appearance of a freakish clown.

When Marvin had finished in the kitchen, he told Arturo that he was going out to the patio for some bourbon and a cigar. He told Arturo to grab a glass and join him if he wanted to. “You look like you could use a drink.”

Arturo followed Marvin onto the patio but only after he looked around to see if anyone was looking. Then he ventured out and sat down. There, much like the privacy of Marvin’s cubicle at work, two sides of his apartment and one side of high bushes enclosed the space. The open side was the lawn.

Marvin poured bourbon from the decanter into the “U.S. Air Force” engraved rocks glasses. He handed one to Arturo who then sniffed it. Speaking with a quaver in his voice Arturo said, “Thank you for my last supper,” “Cheers,” said Marvin and he clanked Arturo’s glass.

Marvin lit the cigar his colleague gave at the close of last ASME IMECE congress meeting. Taking a long draw on it and, as was his manner, he looked dispassionately at the open space making mental notes of what needed to be done on Tuesday. Arturo, on the other hand, crossed and uncrossed his legs in nervous rapidity. With each cross and uncross his dress hiked up to mid-thigh exposing more of his hairy legs.

Martha’s dress was a size 8 floral print. On six-foot two 220-pound Arturo, the dress looked ready to burst at the seams. The dress’s three-quarter sleeves came to just above his elbows. They had a solid grip on his upper arm as did the wig on his head. Rivulets of sweat ran down Arturo’s forehead; the wig was so full and so tight that the breeze Marvin enjoyed came nowhere near Arturo’s scalp. Unable to fit into his wife’s shoes with his size 12 feet, Arturo wore her flip flops. The only evidence of them being worn was the thong between the big toe and the rest of the toes.

After crossing and uncrossing his legs once more Arturo stood up and said, “Excuse me. I’m going to see if Martha came home.” Marvin continued his dispassionate gaze into Tuesday.

Arturo went into the living room and peered through the blinds. Martha’s car was in the parking lot. Arturo rushed back to the patio in panic mode and told Marvin. Marvin got up with the hope that he could find the reverie he had promised himself the week before. They both went to the window and saw Martha’s car. But then they saw her taking out the garbage to the dumpster at the end of the parking lot. Arturo rushed to the door, opened it and saw that the door to his apartment was ajar. He ran out yelling “Not a word! Not a word!” Marvin closed his door and then peered through the peephole. He wanted to see the return of Martha.

Martha returned. But instead of going to her door she knocked on Marvin’s’ door. Marvin waited a few seconds and then opened the door.

“Have you seen Arturo? Martha asked.

Marvin opened his mouth and hesitated. With a darting glance at Arturo’s and Martha’s front door he said, “I can’t say that I have.” Marvin stood there in a plaid shirt, grey slacks and black shoes with a dispassionate look.

Martha searched the curious look on Marvin’s face. She wondered if there was a smile underneath his mustache. She had never seen him smile. She then looked over at her front door. It was still ajar.

“OK. Sorry to bother you. Good night.” As Martha walked away Marvin shut his door and breathed a sigh of relief.

Back on the patio Marvin sat down and took a swig of bourbon from his engraved rocks glass. He relit the cigar a colleague gave him and took some puffs. He opened the book that he had been waiting to read: “Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto”. After reading for several minutes he took a long draw on the cigar and held the smoke in his mouth. As he breathed out the smoky cloud, he had a thought: “It would be easier to explain the trajectory of a space probe traveling billions of miles from earth to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt than it would be for Arturo to explain his recent trajectory to Martha.”

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2019, All Rights Reserved

If You Call Now

 

Mack had no one to blame. He blamed himself. His dream, well, just listen…

The other night Mack dreamed of being in New York. He didn’t know how he got there. He did remember driving around the Great Lakes. In New York Mack stopped along a highway in town, got out of his rental car and started to look for a store which sells maps. He returned and found that his car was gone. Mack became distressed.

Then Mack saw his car return but it was not working. The battery was missing. Someone stole it. Then Mack’s brother showed up because Mack’s mother was concerned – about both of them.

Mack asked his brother, “Is there a place where I can get a big breakfast?” Mack was hungry. His brother did not know where to get food or a map. His brother stood there. He looked like he wanted to help, but he didn’t offer any.

Then, both Mack and his brother were in a garage where things are fixed, batteries replaced. Mack received his car back working. He is hungry. The dream ends in New York on a highway in town with an able car and not knowing where to go next.

 

When Mack, whose given name is Macauley Andrew Naughton, applied at Central Commercial Chillers he was told that the job required 15 percent travel. But after his hiring, the on-the-road service schedule grew to near 80 percent at times. The fact that Mack had devised such good software to run the chillers within less than one degree of set point now meant that he had to go to the field and install it into every chiller sold by Central Commercial Chillers. After downloading the software, he had to commission the chiller and make sure it did what was promised. So, Mack spent a lot of time on runways, in rental car lots and in hotel rooms. The desk job had become a suitcase job.

Last week Mack was in Kansas. This week Mack was in New England servicing chillers. Tonight, he ended up at a motel in Connecticut. Tomorrow he would service a chiller nearby.

Mack entered the motel room and switched on the TV. He liked the ‘company’. It was all he had.  His ex-wife also sent him packing, something to do with pornography. Being alone was nothing new for Mack. And, loneliness came with the service guy turf, Mack figured. Fill the void with work, food and TV and hit “Restart” every morning.

After a shower and a quick burger at Friendly’s Ice Cream Mack came back to his room and settled into bed with the remote. Flipping through the channels he came a cross a show he liked. The show soon went to commercial.

“…If you call now, you’ll receive one free WonderPan with every order. Only pay for shipping and handling… A surface that cannot be scratched or matched…Someone is standing by now to take your call. Call now.”

The program returned after two minutes of commercials. But by now Mack’s eyes were heavy. He fixed a pillow under his head and watched the TV through squinting eyes.

Another commercial break came. There was a commercial for a sex chat line. Call them, it said, and they will make you feel “spontaneous”. Mack thought about sex on the phone. It seemed to fit his isolated lifestyle. And, sex seemed to be going on everywhere but not with him. His phone sex ears were wide awake but his eyes were almost sleep. The voice in his head told him don’t deny yourself. “But, Tanya, I’m tired,” Mack said and fell asleep.

“…If you call now, you’ll receive one free sex chat with one of our beautiful and sensual ladies. With each sex chat that you purchase receive one free chat the next time you call…. Someone sexy is waiting to talk to you right now…”

 

The chiller service trips had taken Mack to Sonora County Mexico, to Saskatchewan, to Rio De Janiero, and to most of the fifty states – wherever plastic parts were being injection molded and thermoformed. The unique plastic parts he came across were matched by some interesting characters Mack met along the way.

There was New Jersey Rick. NJ Rick was an intense smoker-guy, a middleman who contracted guys like Mack to service his clients. At night Rick liked to go to the strip clubs until the wee hours of the morning. Mack went along once thinking he owed it to Rick for the business. Mack knew better. He would not get those images out of his head. And the next day was brutal.

In Tennessee, there was the Tony, a proud Italian who also did service work. Tony liked to pick up women at the bar and bring them back to his hotel room. Mack found this out one morning. Tony knocked on his motel door and said, “Hey, Mack, you gotta come see this.” So, Mack went and saw a naked woman passed out on the bed. Mack kept his distance from Tony after that. He couldn’t get that image out of his head.

In Terre Haute there was Javier, a six-foot five Mexican. He serviced equipment and women. Javy would go to the dance clubs at night after work. He’d dance, flirt in his muy macho style and then take someone back to his motel room. Mack went along some nights because he was lonely and he was tired of Andy of Mayberry reruns. Javy needed the shared rental car every night, so Mack was dropped off at his motel room before Javy drove his new catch to a nearby bar. Mack couldn’t rid himself of these images.

In De Ridder Louisiana, waking up to the paper mill stench was enough to turn Mack’s stomach. Along with the awful smell, the behavior of his friend Ron unsettled him. Ron was a co-service guy with Mack. There were sites that needed a lot of mechanical help besides software upgrades. Ron did the mechanical work which involved a lot of walking. But this seemed odd to Mack since Ron had a hard time walking. Ron’s permanent limp came about after he fell out of a tree during an acid trip.

Ron, despite his home-grown defect, liked to think of himself as a man’s man – he didn’t just fall out of a tree, he FELL out of a TREE and survived! He would boast about his manliness to Mack and to the women he tried to dance with night after night after work. Ron, like Javy and like Tony, was married when he was at home. All the other times he was in compensation mode – find someone quick or die from loss of reinforced manliness.

During one meal Ron told Mack about his disorder – Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder – so Mack decided that he would drive the rental car from that point on. This meant that Mack was the chauffer for Ron Casanova’s adventures night after night. Mack now had his own flashbacks.

 

The chiller at Automated Plastic Parts worked just as promised – within one degree of set point. Mack had the client sign the service report and then headed back to his hotel room for a shower. After the shower Mack went to Friendly’s for his supper. He didn’t want to have to think or make another decision. He was flat out hungry and all thought out.

Back at his room Mack undressed and got into bed. The TV sputtered light into the space before him. Images came and went. The drone of constant noise weakened his resistance. Mack fell asleep.

 

Mack looked up and saw a stairwell with service men walking up and down the stairs. The men going down the stairs were carrying framed pictures which they dumped in a garbage can at the bottom of the stairs. The men going up received new batteries. And then suddenly, next to Mack stood a man. The man said, “I making a service call. Remember, “If you call now, I will give you a free map. You’ll be driving within one degree of set point in no time.” 

 

Mack woke up with a crick in his neck and vowing to move on with God’s help.

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2018, All Rights Reserved

Jake’s Midnight Dust Up

 

The last day of 2017 found Jake alone in the empty house. The movers had come and gone. Earlier that day Jake sent his wife Rachel off with their two kids to their new home in another state. Jake stayed behind to clean up the house for the new owners. The house belonged to them at midnight.

Rachel was Jake’s second wife. His first wife Leah divorced him after she found out about Jake’s cheating. And, so that there was no more cheating, child support for Jake’s and Leah’s six sons and daughter was deducted from his paycheck. Jake wasn’t proud of what he had done but he was a survivor.

His mother, though, who had taught Jake from his childhood to “get what is yours”, was proud of him. So was Jake’s manager Aram Fields. Aram liked Jake. Jake’s sales record chart was given pride of place in the break room – on an easel next to the water cooler. During the twenty years Jake had worked for Aram, he became Fields Pre-Driven Cars’ top salesman seven years in a row. Jake became family when he married Rachel, Aram’s daughter.

Jake could pitch like no other salesman Aram knew. And, Jake’s mark-up-the-interest-rate-2-or-3 % financing was his specialty. Jake also knew each car’s history and could promote each one as “slightly used but highly prized by its previous owner”. Jake had a way of convincing people to “get what is yours”.

 

Well, that night, while Jake was in the kitchen cleaning the oven, there was a knock on the front door. When Jake opened the door, there stood a man with a tool carrier.

“Hi…uh…I didn’t call you. I…what are you here for?’

“What is your name?”

“Jake.”

“I’m at the right place.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Yes, I am.

“No. I didn’t call anyone. This is still my house.”

“Your house?”

“Yes! Now I have to get back to work. Goodbye…” Jake tried to close the door but the man put his foot in the doorway.

“Hey! Now you are making me mad! Get out!”

“I’m here to fix what is broken.”

“What?! What is broken?”

“Are you sure you didn’t call me?”

“I would know if I called you, wouldn’t I?”

“I have the tools. Let me in.”

“I have my own tools. And, I have what it takes to fix things in my own house.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hey you! You know what?! My manager Aram thinks I have what it takes. He pays me pretty good to make things happen.”

“You like to be rewarded for your efforts?”

“Yes, of course!”

“I am here to reward you for your efforts.”

“Huh?”

“I can fix what is broken.”

“What?! What is broken?”

“Are you sure you didn’t call me?”

“I would know if I called you, wouldn’t I?”

“I have the tools. Let me in.”

“I have my own tools. And, I’ve been fixing things all my life.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hey! We just went through all this before. You are wasting my time.”

“I did offer to help.”

“I don’t need help. I am my own man. I’m not just another senior citizen you can manipulate. I’ve been around the block.”

“Look, you bicker with me and you bicker with others. You’re good at bickering to “get yours” and at getting other people ‘theirs’. Tell me your name again.”

“Jake! I told you!”

“I’m at the right place.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Yes, I am.

The back and forth between Jake and the man went on for what seemed like hours. Neither Jake or the man gave in. Jake, at last, became exasperated.

“Listen. I didn’t call anyone. This is still my house. I’m in charge”

“Your house? What time is it?

“Time for you to leave! Get outta here!” Jake pushed the door against the man’s foot.

When the man saw that Jake was not going to let him in he grabbed an envelope from the tool carrier and handed it to Jake. Then he asked, “You are Jake Houseman? You purchased 763 Peniel?”

“Yes.”

“Your new property…this is what the bank came back with. You purchased the foreclosure with cash but there is a property tax lien against it.

Jake opened it and saw the notice of notice of lien on his new property. His face wrenched.

“Hey, hold on!” Jake grabbed the man by the arm as he tried to leave. “We’ve got to work this out!”

The man said, “Let me go. I have to be on my way.”

“No way. You are staying until we get this business sorted out!”

“I will work it out. You have my word.” Jake loosened his grip and let go.

“Besides,” the man said, “you are no longer Jake Houseman. You are now Jake Newhouse.” The man winked and then turned and left.

“Hey, what’s your name?”

“I knew your father and your grandfather,” the man called back from across the yard.

The man walked past the neighbor’s house and was then out of sight.

Jake stood in the doorway. The rising sun cast his long shadow onto the floor of the empty house behind him. Jake stood there stunned and tired and hurting. After several minutes of looking at the lien and rubbing his forehead, Jake went back inside. He picked up his tools and cleaning supplies. He placed the extra set of house keys on the kitchen table, walked out the front door and then over to his car.

At the sidewalk, Jake, with his face still wrenched, turned to look back at the house.

“I bought someone else’s lemon. What a ball-breaker that guy is! But, I’ll live. Lesson learned. Goodbye house on Jabbok.”

And so Jake saw the sun rise on another year.

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

~~~

Chagall – Jacob Wrestling with God

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schoenberg: Die Jakobsleiter: Friede auf Erden, Op. 13. Orchestral version

Try to Remember

 

The bumper sticker in front of Tom read, “Try to remember what you wanted to be.” Tom thought for a moment and then the light changed. He remembered that he didn’t want to be late for his date with Sherry. Pulling up to the next light Tom remembered that he wanted to be a missionary and a band conductor and a secret agent and a shortstop and an army guy and someone other-worldly, like a saint or an astrophysicist. At the next light he coughed as he said, “I never thought I’d end up as a welder.” 

Tom knocked and Sherry came to the door. “Dinner’s almost ready. C’mon in.”

“Wow what a day. How about that heat? I had to keep lifting my helmet to wipe the sweat off my face. I came home drenched.”

“You did take a shower, didn’t you?” Sherry joked.

“Yes, my dear. I see you did, too.”

“Yeah. I had the same problem you did. Welding that half-inch plate, I couldn’t see for all the sweat burning my eyes.”

“Maybe we should be welders in Alaska.”

“Yeah, and then could eat fresh wild-caught salmon and caribou.”

“You know the way to a man’s heart, don’t you kiddo?”

“As long as we are on the same path, I’ll know the way to your heart.” Sherry smiled.

Tom and Sherry sat down, gave thanks, and started eating the chicken tacos Sherry had prepared.

“I saw a bumper sticker on my way over here.”

“What did it say?”

“‘Try to remember what you wanted to be.’”

“I remember wanting to be Weather Woman on TV. I wanted to tell everyone what the weather would be while wearing nice clothes. I was ready. All my clothes were solids and not patterns.”

“You can tell me the weather forecast anytime you want Weather Woman. I hope I’m on your radar screen.”

“Yeah, you’re a blip.”

“Ahem. I remember wanting to be more than a blip. I wanted to save the world from the bad guys and run fast like Flash and play baseball like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Look at us now. We are both welders. You know, I read in Welder’s Weekly that…”

“Welder’s Weekly?” Sherry looked puzzled.

“Yeah, I am the only subscriber. Anyway, the Bead Column said that welders should date welders. “

“And why is that?”

“They’ll carry a torch for you.”

“I see why you are the only subscriber.”

“And there were bumper stickers for sale, too: “Be the Bead” and “If the Weld Smells Like Pork You’re on Fire.”

Sherry choked on her food. “That last one is hilarious.”

Sherry cleared her throat and said. “Well, you had me at first arc. C’mon. Help clean up. We have work to do.”

After putting the dishes in the sink, Tom and Sherry went to the garage. They set up the gas welders and the welding rods. They worked together creating a sculpture for a nearby church garden.

After a couple of hours, they came in for dessert – Key Lime pie. It was then that Tom gave Sherry the ring and said, “many are called, one is chosen.”

 

Later that night, while sitting together on the front porch, Sherry asked Tom a question.

“Tom, have you ever wondered why you and I were born in this time and place?

“I usually ask that in the middle of laying a bead and the temperature is ninety-degrees. But, what are you thinking?

“When I think of the millennia of time which has passed and the millions of people who have gone on before, I think we were born here and now to be a who we are-man and wife-to continue what God has begun, to continue creation.”

“Well, when you put it like that, welding makes sense in the cosmos. Joining two metals to become one creates something greater than the individual pieces.”

“You’re a philosopher now, Tom?”

“A stitch-er of thoughts, more likely. When I was on the road in New York and Indiana and Louisiana MIG welding together these towering static mixers I told you about I had time to think. There inside a hollow eighteen-foot diameter shell of twelve-gauge steel I realized that I am here for a purpose greater than me and greater than me welding together something that will benefit somebody today but will fall out of use some day. I saw that I am. Why that happened right then, I don’t know. But after what you just said, we make sense together. I better get home. I am exhausted.” 

Sherry looked at the ring on her finger and then looked over at Tom. Tom reached over and gave Sherry a kiss and asked, “Do you know how diamonds are created?”

“No, Tell me.”

Diamonds are made from the residual carbon of the earth’s first land plants. The carbon is exposed to extremely high temperature and pressure in the earth’s mantle. They are pushed up to the earth’s surface by volcanic activity.”

“Did you read this in Welder’s Weekly?”

“No. I read it in A Brief History of Welding.” Tom grinned like Alice’s Cheshire cat.

“So, to reach our Diamond Wedding Anniversary we will be subjected to high temperature and high pressure?”

“There’s only one way to find out and we’re going to go through it together.”

Tom gave Sherry another kiss and said, “See you in the morning. Don’t forget to wear cotton. It’ll be another hot day. Oh, I just thought of another bumper sticker: “Welders keep you in stitches.”

“You are exhausted. Good night.”

 

A year later, Tom and Sherry began marriage counseling with pastor Dave. The wedding date had been set.

During the first session with Pastor Dave, he asked them, “How did you two meet each other?”

Tom responded. “We met at Marsh Technology Center. We were both in a welding class. She flipped my lid.

Dave laughed. Now you have my interest. Explain.

“Yep. It was the first time I put on a welding helmet and I was trying to adjust the tension. Sherry flipped my helmet up and showed me how to adjust it. The tension has to be just right. When you are ready to weld you need to flip the helmet down to cover your eyes. Your hands are full so you flip the helmet down with a jerk of your head.” Tom showed Dave “the flip.”

During that first session pastor Dave asked about their family back grounds. As the session was wrapping up, Dave said, “Everyone who gets married comes to marriage with a lot of baggage. Each of you can share the load of the other but don’t think that the other will somehow resolves whatever issues you brought to the marriage. You own those issues like you own your credit report. It is yours to correct. Your spouse is there to support you but is not there to fix you.”

The second session was about finances. “You each come to your marriage with a certain way of dealing with money. Marriages break apart over how finances are handled. Marriage is a coming together-an intimacy-of finances where you must hold each other accountable. Set up a budget spreadsheet. Set up an accounting of debits and credits using available software. Set up financial goals for a home, for children, for retirement and most importantly-for giving. Remember. You cannot give what you do not have.

Look at each other’s credit report now before you get married. Look and see what each of you has done with their money. Love covers a multitude of sins, but a pile debt sticks out on credit reports. Stay away from consumer debt. It will eat you alive. Become financially savvy.”

During the third session Pastor Dave talked about in-laws–keeping one’s marriage separate, away from meddlesome in-laws. He said that becoming one takes focus. What Tom remembered was “Location, location, location.” What Sherry remembered was the ache in the pit of her stomach.

The fourth session: “long live intimacy.”

“Intimacy is the every-aspect-relationship that you have with your spouse. You have to work this out together day by day, minute by minute. And, don’t compare. Don’t ever read a couple or watch a TV show and say to your spouse, I wish we were like that couple.

Your marriage will face a test of wills. Your goal is to become one. That doesn’t mean the one is dissolved into the other. It means that the understanding, forgiveness and love you each bring to the other is forged-welded, is the better word for you two-to become one stronger whole.

Intimacy is broken when there is no forgiveness. Do not got to bed angry. A root of bitterness likes to grow in that kind of harsh unyielding soil. Do not apologize and say, “I’m sorry. I said it because of what you said.” You might get slapped. Holding grudges will quickly destroy your marriage. If you are angry, take some time to cool off and think about why you are angry. Are you angry because of what happened reminded you of something that happened earlier in your life that your spouse doesn’t know about and had no hand in? Beware. Unresolved anger is self-justifying as means of protection. Unresolved anger places others into exile. True forgiveness removes people from exile and embraces them. You may feel strongly about some wrong done to you. If so, tell your spouse that you are angry and why you are angry. Tell your spouse that you need some time to process your anger and that you do not want to reman angry with him or her. See what happens next. And, deal with your past baggage now so that the present and future are given to your spouse.

Intimacy is not sitting in front of a TV with your spouse. As it says, “make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Find a church community which supports this truth. I recommend staying away from TV. Don’t make TV a third person in your marriage”

Tom interjected. “Neither of us own a TV and we don’t plan on having one after we are married. I think of the irony that so many people will go buy organic foods or be vegetarian or try to eat healthy and workout and yet they fill their minds with all kinds of trash from the TV. There is too much in this world to explore and to wonder about for us to sit in front of a box.”

“Good.” Pastor Dave replied. “Now let’s talk about sex.”

Both Tom and Sherry looked at each other and then rolled their eyes up to look at the ceiling.

“My wife Karen will talk to you, Sherry, and I will talk to you, Tom, alone. Let’s go.

Sherry met with Karen. Karen talked about sexual intimacy with a man and how to prolong a man’s excitement.

Pastor Dave talked to Tom. He began by drawing a picture of a vagina and then asking Tom to draw in where the clitoris was. Tom had no idea so, Dave drew it in and circled it. Dave then talked about how women are in no hurry to achieve orgasm but men are. He said that the two becoming one must find a happy oneness.

During the fifth session Pastor Dave talked about having a faith community that will support your marriage. He said to find a church where truth and beauty are combined into the daily life of the church. A church which is all preaching and teaching is missing the inexplicable and the transcendent. Find a church, he said, that loves mystery and encourages adventures of discovery. Find a church where art, music and drama play major roles in worship and teaching and are not considered asides to some pulpit ministry.

Pastor Dave’s sixth session: “When children come, life is turned upside down. Be prepared. Your marriage will be put to the test because everything you are came about during childhood. Having children is like attending a therapy session: the past is brought up and you are forced to confront it as little Tommy Jr. decides he will not obey, no way and no how. Rearing children requires patience you don’t think you’ll ever have enough of. Rearing children requires discipline for yourself and for your children, so know what and how that looks like. Listen to other parents. Learn to set and enforce proper boundaries for your children. Children feel secure when they bump up against sure and solid.

Their wedding day was a month away when Tom and Sherry came to Pastor Dave’s seventh and final marriage counseling session. Tom wondered why he was sweating sitting in Pastor Dave’s air-conditioned office. Pastor Dave surprised the couple by showing them the Princess Bride wedding scene. Tom was no longer sweating. Instead, his Cheshire cat grin reappeared.

“Alright then. You’ll need a sense of humor for your marriage to survive all the stuff thrown at it. Now, I want you two to focus on what I am about to say: Marriage is a rose that enfolds the mystery of truth and goodness and being within itself and then opens for the world to behold its beauty. A Kingdom marriage means taking vows-a sincere and binding promise made with full understanding. Together you will help each other to flourish. You will witness and worship together. Together you promote the glory of God. Together you will discover and uncover the mysteries of the universe.

And you should know that God created the gender identities of male and female not just for procreation of the human race. I believe that God’s creation of two distinct gender identities, both rooted and fixed in sexed bodies, was also for the creation of mystery.  You see, men and women who come into a marriage relationship begin a journey of discovery. Men discover and grow into their maleness and women discover and grow into their femaleness. Within the give and take of a marriage relationship the mystery of your gender identity and the other’s gender identity is explained and affirmed. The same thing also happens for a single person in a healthy Christian community. God created mystery for us to discover Him and each other and His whole creation over a course of a lifetime. We should never be bored.

God, in His infinite-personal love, created mystery and romance. Look at how much we do not know about the universe. Our God is surrounded in mystery.  Clouds and thick darkness surround him. God does not do boring, to put it another way. Reason alone cannot tell you all you need to know. Emotions and your senses cannot tell you all you need to know. No, we discover what we do not know when we are in relationship with Him and with others. Your marriage, the dancing embrace of male and female, will venture off into God’s uncharted universe to go where no man or woman has gone before.

“Bead me up,” Tom replied.

Pastor Dave looked over at Sherry. “Do you really want to marry this corny guy.”

Sherry looked over at Tom who was grinning his cat grin, “Well, he does keep me in stitches. That’s his welding joke.”

“You two were made for each other. Now for the welding. I mean the wedding.” Pastor Dave prayed a blessing on the couple and then dismissed them after discussing the wedding details.

 

At the wedding Pastor Dave again prayed a blessing on the couple. As Tom and Sherry drove away from the church Tom noticed the same bumper sticker that he saw before: “Try to remember what you wanted to be.”

“I remember what I wanted to be. It is what I am with you.” Tom leaned over and kissed Sherry.

Their car’s bumper sticker read: “With This Ring, I Thee Weld.”

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

The Dreamer

 

Charles pulled open the door to the Gravity Pub and went in. The near campus bar was dark and full of conversation coming from TVs and crowded tables. Charles found Dimitri and sat down next to him at the bar. The bartender placed two beers and two shot glasses in front of Dmitri and Charles. The bartender returned to fill the shot glasses with vodka. Dimitri placed a twenty on the bar and the bartender made change. “To respect!” Charles toasted. The two drank down the shots.

“Congratulations Charles.” Dimitri gave Charles a slap on the back. “Now that you have a master’s degree in social justice, the world is your oyster, as they say.

“So far the world is my headache.  I have received no job offers since graduating.”

“Give it time.  Here, let’s have another shot”, Dimitri offered and threw a twenty-dollar bill on the bar.

After two beers and several shots of vodka, Charles stood up next to Dimitri and pointed a finger in the air above him.

“My friend, for too long the one perthent have exploited tax loopholes making them richer. The rich are taking their wealth and all of the income and moving their profits overseas making the poor pay the bills. Their gain is our sthruggle!”

Conversations in the room stopped.

“Sit down tiger”, Dimitri pulled on Charles jacket, “These jokers already heard all this stuff.”

“I’ll not sleep until income inequality is error…radicated.”

“Give it time.  Here, let’s have another shot”, Dimitri placed two twenty-dollar bills on the bar. He told the bartender that he was ready to settle their bill.

Charles sat down again. He looked despondent. After an hour he said goodnight to Dimitri.

Charles pushed open the door to the Gravity Pub and went out. The brisk night air in his lungs made him yawn. Looking up at a sodium streetlight he proclaimed, ” A mather’s dugree…now maybe I’ll get some re…thpect …Joe …he rethpects me… I gave him a two dollar thip!” Charles stood colorless under the yellow light proclaiming to passing cars his grand achievement.

After some time, Charles made his way home. He plunked down on the futon in the basement. He tried to remember how he got home. His thoughts were not working in any order. He lay down. His eyes, heavy with sleep, closed. The room settled down, became dark and then a large room opened before him. A room with chandeliers. A room with a large audience. The audience was looking at him. There were cries of “Speech! Speech!”

“Friends, today is a good day for the world. You have recognized my worth. I want to eradicate inequality…for too long the rich have stuffed their mattresses with wealth. The rich have the entire world’s money and their trickle down has never worked. When the rich get richer, the middle-class doesn’t benefit. No, the rich stash their cash. They buy trinkets. Their money was made on the backs of underpaid workers. Automation technology destroys the working class…Save the …”

In the next moment, a man in a tux looped a medal around Charles neck. It was the Nobel Prize. The audience stood to their feet applauding. And then a white figure with a halo came toward him. Inga was bringing him roses. As he reached for them he found himself in a ballroom dancing with Inga. She asked him, “What are you going to do with all that money?”

“I will buy a drum set. Yes, I will buy a drum set!”

“Charles, wake up.” Mick, Charles’ younger brother, thumped Charles on the head with his forefinger.

“Ow! Wh…what do you want?”

“You were talking in sleep. Hey, can I borrow a dollar?  I will pay you back with my allowance.

“Aw, go away. My head hurts. Bring me aspirin and some water.”

“Aw, go away.

 

A week later Charles met Dimitri at Gravity.

“We’ll have another beer, Joe.”

Joe the bartender set the beer in front of Charles and Dimitri. Charles looked at him and asked, “Joe, how much do you make?’

“I make enough to take care of my wife and two daughters.”

“I mean how much do you make?

“I make minimum wage plus tips. This is a second job.”

“See what I am saying Dmitri? The greedy one percent has drained this man of his humanity.”

Joe gave Charles a puzzled look and walked away.

“Those rich greedy bastards. Those fat cats hoard money in Swiss banks.  Wait till the world sees what I can do to make things right! I have no patience for the rich. Who are they to have so much when Joe has so little?

“See that framed dollar on the wall”. Leon pointed to a 4 x 6” frame above the liquor bottles, “I will frame the first dollar I take from a rich man.”

At that moment Charles phone rattled on the bar. He picked up the phone and saw that this mother had called. He pushed 1 and his mom’s number was dialed.

“Mom, what is it?”

“Several boxes arrived today for you. What are they?”

“It’s a drum set. I’m gonna play drums in a band.”

“You are also going to start paying rent to stay here.”

“Mom, not this again. I need to pay off my student loan. I have no job. The rich have made it almost impossible for people like me.  And why should I work for minimum wage when I have a Master’s Degree? Look how much I have invested in myself.”

“You have to start somewhere. Your dear departed father worked for fifty years so that you and I had a roof over our head. He wouldn’t want you to be a leech. Now, either you pay rent or you are out. Get home now and get these boxes out of the living room.”

“Mom, I’ll talk to you later.”  Charles ended the call.

“Dmitri, can you buy me one more beer and shot?’

“Sure. Trouble at home?”

“Ah, my mother wants me to pay rent. As if I was made of money.”

The bartender placed two beers and two shot glasses in front of Dmitri and Charles. He returned to fill the shot glasses with vodka. Dimitri placed a twenty on the bar and the bartender made change.

The two raised their shot glasses. Charles toasted to the end of the oppression and they drank. When the beer was gone Charles stood up.

“I better get going before my mother has a conniption fit. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Charles walked out. Pushing open the door to the Gravity Pub he went into the night air yawing.

At home Charles moved the boxes down to the basement. He opened them and checked the contents. When he couldn’t stop yawning he lay down on the futon and closed his eyes.

In the descending blackness he came upon daylight. He saw himself outside his mother’s car in front of a store.  The car was running and the car keys were locked inside. His Nobel medal hung around the rear view mirror. Frantic, he looked around for help. His professor came by and said, “You shouldn’t have done that”. A politician walked by and said “Someone will come along to help, trust me”. A man in a Mercedes pulled up and said. ”Hey I’ve got just the thing you need.” The man opened his trunk and pulled out a Slim Jim. The man proceeded to unlock the door through the car window’s weather stripping. When the door opened the radio blurted out, ”Mama may have, papa may have, But God bless the child that’s got his own, That’s got his own.”

Charles opened his eyes, winced and held his head. “Damn”, he moaned, his mother was playing her music again.

As years went by, Charles went on to become a respected professor of Social Justice at his alma mater. After tenure Charles received a six-figure salary. He summers in Costa Rica where he gives lectures about the one percent and income inequality. He went on to write “Structural Marginalization, Social Justice and Solidarity Action for the Education Challenged”. The book was well-received by his peers but did not sell in the open market. Soon after the book release Charles became the owner of Gravity Pub. Dimitri went on to start a hedge fund that gave away fifty percent of its profits. Charles’ mother died in her home with an unused drum set.

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

Soul Woman and the Chosen Remnant

indiana storm

Saturday morning and the wet putty-looking sky appeared ready to ooze. The drive to Urbana from Chicago would take Daniel about three hours, three monotonous hours, he decided. Driving Fear and Trembling, his ’74 Toyota Corolla past the 200,000-mile odometer reading might provide an unwanted distraction. But then again, Daniel pushed himself and everything around him.

An automation engineer for a major utility, Daniel spent his week days programming relays and SCADA systems. Today’s trip would be a welcome break from the uncompromising detail of parameters and protocols. The Preacher would be speaking at three that afternoon. If all went well, Daniel would make Kankakee, the halfway point between Chicago and Urbana for a quick lunch and then head out to find the location of the tent meeting. He hoped there would be some signs along the way.

Heading south on I-57 the FM reception became intermittent and garbled after several miles. Daniel poked the AM button. The AM reception offered farm reports – corn, soybeans, wheat and livestock futures. He rolled up the window. The smell of hog farms was overpowering. “No wonder the prodigal son came to his senses,” Daniel chuckled trying not to gag.

Daniel recalled his early church years. They seemed no different from driving in this morning’s grey sanctuary. Every service was a font of recycled baptismal water. Sing a hymn. Listen to the choir or a soloist. Sing another hymn. Welcome and announcements. Then, pass the offering to the organ’s melodramatic droning. Sing another hymn and then settle in on a hardwood pew for evangelistic preaching. At the coda of the sermon there would be the invitation from the pulpit to come forward. You were told your options beforehand: one could receive Jesus; one could rededicate their life to Jesus or; one could choose missionary service in the name of Jesus. A trifecta of submission was sure to put smiles on the faces of those still sitting in the pews. Not unlike those folks Daniel had imagined who, at the end of a prescription commercial on TV, had received their medicine and were now brimming with wellness. It seemed to Daniel that placebos were being doled out by the Great Physician’s assistants.

Daniel cringed at the thought of the same words, the same preaching and the same altar calls week after week – a stagnant pond that never saw fresh water. Wash, rinse and repeat with the same water, the same people, Sunday after Sunday. Come thou Fount of Every Blessing!

But in the Bible Church the Lord’s Supper, a Remembrance only, was thrown in at monthly intervals. The hiatuses were necessary, as Daniel was admonished from the pulpit by Rev. W.E. Staputis, so as to not make the congregation too familiar with the Lord’s Body and Blood. But it must have been OK that the rest of the hidebound dog-eared script would be acted out week after week until “we all get to heaven.”

Later, when Daniel began to attend an Anglican church, the irony of attendance to ritual wasn’t lost on Daniel. But inside the liturgical tradition he found sacred beauty, a beauty that had been stripped from the Free Church. And he found at its center the Eucharistic Feast.

Multiple times each week the Eucharist was provided. The rector had told him that he could meet the Real Presence of the Lord in the Body and Blood. This resonated with Daniel like nothing else had. The search for the Real Presence was how Daniel had begun his pilgrimage to wholeness. The journey would end at the feet of Jesus.

When Daniel told his family about his new church, they wondered about his Christianity. “Just so long as they preach the gospel and sola scriptura,” Daniel’s father said.

Daniel told his father that there were Scripture readings. He told his mother that he benefitted greatly from The Book of Common Prayer. And he told everyone who would listen that The Great Feast was the pinnacle of the service and not the sermon. And he told them about the altar call – Christians who wanted to meet the Lord in the Body and Blood.

 

Rain splattered in waves onto the windshield. The wipers were squeaked into service with a twist of the steering column arm. Bored, Daniel turned the AM dial. He tuned in a commercial.

“Today, the Covenant Faithfulness of God Church will hold a tent meeting near the Urbana campus at 3:00. The Preacher will be speaking: “Many of you have been raised under a nuts-and-bolts systematic post-enlightenment dispensational theology or Classical Mechanics. And with those Mechanics your theologians have built a large palace surrounded by high walls. But they live in the guard house! They want you to live in the guard house, too! The church’s Classical Mechanics are ever vigilant against non-rational elements, against non-mechanical elements. But you, if all you are under the microscope is DNA, then you are of all men most pitiable!

Mystery and paradox have been turned away from the gates of your theologian’s Rational Mansions. Newtonian preaching does not allow for uncertainty and mystery in such a clockwork universe. Wonder and beauty have been scrapped. Instead, canned Post-Enlightenment theology feeds the church’s ennui and anti-intellectualism. And did God create the world in seven days? No! Was creation recorded in seven cartoon strip panels so as to satisfy idle Sunday minds? No!

Now many of you who are world-weary have made a leap toward Epicureanism. You avoid pain of thought and persecution of the sensate by seeking pleasure and positive reinforcement from mega-church preachers who demand nothing of you but your time and dollars. My work among you is to be a corrective to your loss of passion and the subjective, to help you discover something thought cannot think – a Quantum Theology, if you will. I will be making difficulties everywhere. I will not be talking theological niceties!”

Daniel tried to make sense of The Preacher’s words. Daniel tried to make sense of The Preacher – Mary Nard, formerly Mark Climacus. What was a woman like Mary doing in the same man space as Jesus?

By now, though, such absurdities were welcomed by Daniel. They posed a mystery outside of the color-inside-the-lines Bible Church. And, the radio sound bites of The Preacher had pinged his very soul. This presented another mystery that Daniel hadn’t made sense of: the fact that he felt like crying at odd times.

It wasn’t the aloneness. Daniel had lived alone for many years. He had come to see this peculiarity as a blessing. Why, even some of his best friends had once talked of living as ascetics and becoming monks. And, in the solitude Daniel’s imagination had come alive and with it a desire to seek revelation.

Daniel thought of his past church life as having been served within the cinder blocks of reason and the mortar of sentimentality. Beauty and extra-Biblical anything had been “Calvanized” for fear of idol worship, of worshipping the creature and not the Creator.  Worship of the Bible was considered OK, though, as were the Sunday School’s coloring pages of Jesus. And how could he forget the huge sign above the choir loft: “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” Maybe that was why he felt like crying at odd times.

Or, was his sadness due to anticipating getting what he deserved or the dread of what he desired? He was convinced there was something to his inopportune melancholy. It had him dragging his feet but never to work.

Daniel embraced the complexity of automation engineering. He had coded SCADA systems which captured and controlled information. The system’s end process would conduct electricity from place to place. It was honest and rewarding work. Still, something had found his soul’s cyberspace address and was pinging.

Daniel pushed the radio buttons looking for another AM station. Finding a signal, he tuned the station and out came Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. It had been years since he had played trumpet in the university orchestra. He pursed his lips and began to buzz them.  Then suddenly the steering felt light and loose. He tightened his grip on the wheel, eased off the gas and muttered, “God help me.” The car came under control but the pavement’s accumulated rain continued to slosh up under his car. The force created a loud “scrusssh” that every few seconds wheezed up through the passenger side floor board sounding like cardboard tearing.  He had been divorced because of his snoring.

And since the divorce it seemed to Daniel that his life had been remanded over to purgatory, his ex-wife signing the decree. His children had weathered the excommunication trial but held their judgment inside parsed sentiments to their father who was to remain in exile.

“Classical hour’s programming has been brought to by Illinois Generational Farming. See their website for more on centennial and sesquicentennial farms, agriculture and Illinois family farm history.”

“I screwed up, God. I know. You needed to remind me today?”

“Today, the Covenant Faithfulness of God Church will hold a tent meeting near the Urbana campus at 3:00. Here is The Preacher: “And if your right hand trips you up, cut it off and throw it away. Yes: it’s better for you to have one part of your body destroyed than your whole body to go into Gehenna. And there are some of us who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. If anyone can receive this, let them do so.”

“Hear The Preacher today at three. Now back to our program.”

“Well, that will be an interesting. Now back to the classics. Here for you now is Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture led by Dmitri Shostakovich.”

“Ah, something I played in high school. Daniel wiped off the fog from the windshield. The Toyota’s defogger wasn’t keeping up.

“Kankakee” the sign read. “Gas and Guzzlin’” the next sign read. Daniel pulled into the service station. While the gas tank was filling Daniel checked the dipstick. It was down a quart. He looked under the Toyota to see if there was any oil on the wet pavement. There was an oil and water mix that reflected a spectrum of colors. A promise?  Of what? Daniel walked into Gas and Guzzlin’, paid for gas and bought a quart of 30W. Outside he pulled some paper towels from the holder, removed the oil cap and poured the oil. Daniel figured that at 200,00 miles his old friend had a right to be incontinent. Rain began to pound the canopy over his car.

Inside the Guzzlin’ part of the service station Daniel pulled a bottle of water from the cooler and paid the cashier. He reckoned that he didn’t have time for a sit-down lunch. The rain wasn’t letting up. And now there was wind. The rain was slashing through the air sideways. Reports coming out of the TV above the counter warned of a hail storm in the next county. “Swell.” Daniel wasn’t worried about the Toyota other than more rusted parts detaching. But he was worried that he would miss the tent meeting.

He opened the station door and looked around. To his left folks were scurrying from their cars toward the door. To his right was a row of potted Petunia’s. The rain was pummeling the blossoms. At the end of the row and next to the door was a pot of defiant-looking cigarette butts. He ran under the pump canopy and then got into his car. Once inside he noticed a sharp smell that reminded him of the time he spent working near a paper mill.  He looked over to the passenger side floor.  The red placemat from Lom’s Garden restaurant had become stuck to the cardboard.  The cardboard covered the softball size hole in the floor where the floor board had rusted through. The placemat’s red ink had leached onto the cardboard creating a blood-red mishmash of running words and figures. The semi-pulp smelled like rotten eggs.

Daniel carefully lifted the cardboard. He took one last look at the placemat before tossing it. He read out loud: “1952. You are a Dragon: You are eccentric and your life complex. You have a very passionate nature and abundant health.  Marry a Monkey or a Rat late in life. Avoid the Dog.”

The torrential rain meant he had to drive slowly. He turned the headlights on and the AM station and began driving.

“Today, the Covenant Faithfulness of God Church will hold a tent meeting near the Urbana campus at three o’clock. The Preacher will be speaking. Here is a short clip of The Preacher from yesterday’s meeting: “Wonder and beauty have been sieved from the living waters of the church. Many of you have joined the Church of the Four Newtonian Spiritual Laws and the Church of the Distant Shore. Many of you have joined the Church of Cheap Grace. What of your lampstands?

There are those in the church today who are mirroring and abetting a deist, an agnostic and an atheistic culture. They offer nothing of the Kingdom of God and the New Creation. The Kingdom of God is here and now. This is the age to come.

The threadbare intellect of many Christian is alarming! And where are the Christian artists, the composers, the writers, the playwrights and poets? God’s recreation of his cosmos is taking place here and now.

Forget the “We’re-Gonna-leave-this-screwed-up-world-behind” Manichaeism of the paperback novels. The world must know that we are here as God’s recreated recreators. We are to bring God’s restorative justice to His cosmos here and now! As it says, “God has created us in King Jesus for the good works that he prepared, ahead of time, as the road we must travel.”

Now, someone once told me that I would never be beautiful. But it was God who looked at my heart. And it was God who created me in his image and is now recreating me to conform to the image of his Son, to fit into His vestments, since I have clothed myself in Christ. So, how could I not be beautiful? Or, accepted by God?

And it was in the law courts of God where I was declared righteous. This was not because I was assigned or imputed righteousness. Rather, I was declared righteous when I trusted in God’s covenant faithfulness! God keeping His word from ages past is all the predestination you need to know about. God’s covenant faithfulness has been recorded in Scripture for all to see. Yet many theologians today have systemically parsed Scripture imputing Post-Enlightenment meaning onto Scripture. The whole of Scripture must be read in its context to begin to see the whole plan of God for renewing his cosmos.

Now, we must learn to be Kingdom people who walk in synchronicity with the Spirit. The flesh must not have its way. That is how all of us used to behave, conditioned by physical desires. We used to do what our flesh and our minds were urging us to do. What was the result? We were subject to wrath in our natural state just like everyone else.

We are to put off the flesh and become whole. And the church – the body of Christ – is to be the composite of each individual’s wholeness in Christ. With our differences and backgrounds, we must come together to glorify God with one mind and one mouth and tell all creatures the good news.

The church is not for itself. It is for the mission of bringing God’s Kingdom restoration to His creation. The church is not a supper club or a country club or a club of positivism thinkers. It is for equipping the saints to do this mission. It is to send us unto all creation to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord.” That is the gospel.

“Today, The Preacher will be holding a churchyard tent meeting at the Covenant Faithfulness of God Church, Urbana, at three o’clock.” The AM station then returned to music.

The rain never let up until Daniel crossed Urbana’s city limits.

 

It was past 4 o’clock. Daniel asked for directions to the tent meeting. Within minutes he was on the church grounds looking for The Preacher. The meeting had ended. The assembly was dispersing, heading to their cars. A woman holding a young child noticed Daniel craning his neck outside the car window. “If you are looking for her, she’s over there,” pointing to The Preacher standing in the far corner of the church yard.

Before he had a chance to shut it off the car’s engine shuttered to a stop. Then the car produced what sounded like a gassy sigh.  Daniel bolted out of the car and had to leap over a large puddle outside the car door.  As he did there was a loud popping noise under the hood and then a hissing sound. Turning toward The Preacher he began taking long zigzagging strides over the slick ground.  He reached The Preacher.

““Hi, I’m Daniel. From Chicago.”

“You have been listening to me on your way down here, Daniel.”

“How did you know that?”

The Preacher laughed, “I paid for a ton of air time on the AM stations and you are late. What can I do for you?”

“Well, yeah, I missed the meeting so I just wanted to give you thanks and a hug. You seem so down to earth now that I see you in paradox. I mean… in person.”

“Come here.” The Preacher and Daniel hugged.

“Have you found what you were looking for? The Preacher asked.

“Well, I need to find another car.” Daniel pointed across the yard to a cloud of steam and the onlookers.

 

 

©Sally Paradise, 2016, All Rights Reserved

The Housekeepers

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The five-day conference, “Alethea Lit Conference – Form without Substance? brought Irene to town. She was to lead the symposium O Still Voice of Calm on day three.

On Sunday evening Irene checked into room 351 and got settled. Pulling back the drapes she could see a terrace and beyond that the wooded campus of Indiana U. The late evening August sun etched the campuses’ limestone buildings with long sepia shadows; the heat of the day was receding.

After unpacking Irene went down for dinner. She returned an hour later anxious to kick off her shoes and put her feet up. Before retiring Irene was in the habit of reading. She chose Paul’s letter to the Romans for this week. But soon the day’s travel caught up to Irene and she fell asleep in the armchair. She awoke later with a terrible kink in her neck. She moved to the bed for the rest of the night.

 

Irene woke at the sound of her alarm clock, at 5:30. She showered, dried her hair and put on a jersey tank, an A-line skirt and a pair of flats. She was to meet her publisher Mark for breakfast. She gathered her loose belongings into her suitcase, left her open Bible on the desk and headed downstairs.

Antonia knocked. When she heard no answer she entered 351 and began her routine. Hotel housekeeping began at 7:30 during the week with the previous day’s laundry to clean. When finished, Antonia would then clean rooms until 2:00.

As was her habit Antonia turned on the TV when she cleaned a room.  She switched the station to her favorite talk show.  “Today, two couples each recount the loss of their child,” announced the host. Antonia’s turned up the volume and headed into the bathroom to grab the wet towels.

While dusting, Antonia saw the open Bible and moved it to the bed to wipe the desk top. She then changed the bed sheets after replacing the Bible.

“My son was eighteen when his car flipped over and he was killed,” the mother of one of the couples related.  The police found nothing to cause the accident. There was no rain, no alcohol, no other car – nothing! It just happened!”

Antonia watched the husband put his arm around his wife as she began to wipe her eyes. Tears welled in Antonia’s eyes.

Antonia adjusted the sheers and then went in to finish the bathroom. Seeing the makeup kit on the sink reminded her of what had happened the other day.

After work last Tuesday Antonia headed to her car. She grabbed her car keys from her purse loaded her soiled uniforms into the back seat and then drove off, leaving her bag sitting on the pavement. When she got home she couldn’t find her glasses and suddenly realized what she had done. She raced back to the parking spot and found that the bag was gone. Now she was frantic. The bag contained her wallet. The wallet held her ID, 40 dollars in cash, her credit cards and her hotel pass card.

Not finding the bag in the parking lot, Antonia went to the front desk to see if her bag had been turned in. It had. With that she breathed a huge sigh of relief, but then made sure everything was still there. It was. Antonia shuddered at the memory. Finished, she grabbed her cart, turned off the room lights and headed to room 353.

 

Tuesday morning Irene woke with her alarm at 5:30. She washed her face and then slipped on a pale blue dress and a pair of flats. After making a cup of coffee she sat with her Bible. This morning she would meet author Janice Fillmore for breakfast. Seeing it was 6:30 Irene placed her open Bible on the desk, gathered her loose belongings into her suitcase and headed down to breakfast.

Antonia knocked. When she heard no answer she entered 351 and began her routine. She turned on the TV and found she didn’t have to change the channel. After turning up the volume she proceeded to vacuum the floor.

“Today we have Chance Parlance, Senior Pastor of Broadway Church here to talk to us about his new book, “The Power of You.  Before we talk about your book, our viewers would like to know…You are asking each of your 200,000 followers to donate $300.00 so that you can purchase a luxury jet?”

“Yes. We want to safely and swiftly share the Good news of the Gospel worldwide…I declared it and God will do it!”

Antonia moved the Bible from the desk to the bed and began to dust.  As she gathered the garbage she noticed a brochure in the desk trash bin. She lifted it out and read the title out loud. “Alethea Lit Conference – Form without Substance?  Monday – Birthing The New Creation in Christian Lit.”

Looking at the time, Antonia put the leaflet into her apron and finished her cleaning. She had been given several more rooms to clean today. She turned out the lights and headed to the next room.

 

Wednesday morning Irene awoke before her alarm.  She showered, dried her hair and carefully applied her makeup. This morning she would lead a symposium before three hundred people. She put on a gray suit while coffee streamed into a cup.

Irene sat down with the coffee, her Bible and her notes. She had chosen her topic, O Still Voice of Calm, after spending several years practicing listening prayer. It had become her habit to sit in silence and to let God speak to her. She expected God to speak to her; God was constantly streaming His words to her. And Irene had come to realize that her creativity, her art, was born out of such times. Today she would introduce authors and publishers to listening prayer. At 6:30 she gathered her things and headed down to breakfast.

Antonia knocked. When she heard no answer she entered 351 and began her routine. She turned on the TV and found she didn’t have to change the channel. The volume was the same so she turned it down.  But she didn’t feel much like listening today. Monday’s program had left her unsettled, like she had lost something she couldn’t afford to lose. She even discussed the show with her best friend Lily, a biology major at IU, the day before.

Lily’s dogmatic reply came out of nowhere: “Now, how could any god permit the death of any child? You saw the pain those families had to deal with! And there is so much injustice in the world. My god, it’s like the gods are off somewhere uninvolved and angry and just waiting to jump all over us with patriarchal oppression. The god nonsense is a placebo for the weak.  These things happen, you know.  Just live, laugh and party on if you can before you leave.  Make the most of your time. And who knows, maybe when you die you will be reincarnated as a god and you can do some good in the world.  And don’t forget about me, your best friend.”

That conversation had left Antonia more unsettled.

Antonia moved the open Bible from the desk to the bed and began to dust.  As she gathered the garbage from the bins she noticed another brochure in the desk trash bin. She read the title out loud. “Alethea Lit Conference – Form without Substance? Tuesday– Uncommon Grace: The Life of Flannery O’Connor, a documentary film and discussion

Looking at the time, Antonia put the leaflet into her apron and finished her cleaning. She then turned out the lights and headed to the next room. Her work for this week ended at 2:00.  She would start work again on Sunday morning.

 

Bonita knocked. When she heard no one answer she entered 351 and called out “Housekeeping!” No answer. She began her routine. Bonita would clean the hotel rooms until 2:00. Then, her kids would need to be picked up from her mother’s house. Little Alphonso and his older sister Lupe would be anxiously awaiting mom.

Bonita had worked for six years as a hotel housekeeper. The housekeeping hours allowed her to work while her kids were in school and then be home for them in the afternoon. During the spring and summer months Bonita’s husband, Alonzo, a landscaper, was gone from six in the morning until eight at night. During those times Bonita would bring her two kids to her mother’s house.

While dusting, Bonita saw the open Bible. She carefully lifted the Bible and read out loud, “In the same way, too, the spirit comes alongside and helps us in our weakness. We don’t know what to pray for as we ought to; but that same spirit pleads on our behalf, with groaning too deep for words.”

Bonita set the Bible down on the bed. She wiped the desk top. She then changed the bed sheets after replacing the Bible. She turned her attention to the bathroom.

On the bathroom ledge was a makeup kit. Bonita cringed. It was twelve years ago, in Sonora Mexico, that Bonita lost her first child Esperanza. The child died from pneumonia six months after her baptism.  For the funeral the mortuary had applied rouge to the Esperanza’ cheeks. Bonita’s eyes welled with tears as she cleaned the sink.

After Esperanza’s death, Bonita grieved for many months. After coming to live in Indiana she decided to remember Esperanza in a painting. Bonita had become a watercolorist after leaving Mexico.  She had seen many art fairs in her new home town. It was the water color portraits that had so moved her.

Bonita painted Esperanza in a white Easter dress, purchased in Mexico. Bonita applied a faint Cadmium red to Esperanza’s cheeks.

Bonita dried her eyes with a towel, gathered the towels, tossed them into her cart and sighed.

Being at home with two kids every day, Bonita appreciated the room’s silence. It felt like she was in the presence of something much more than herself.

Bonita turned out the lights and headed to the next room.

 

Friday morning Irene awoke before her alarm.  She showered, dried her hair and carefully applied her makeup. She would participate in a final symposium this morning and then head out. While coffee streamed into a cup Irene put on a jersey tank, an A-line skirt and a pair of flats. She gathered her belongings into her suitcase. When she reached for her Bible she noticed what looked to be a watermark on one of the pages. She closed the Bible, placed it into her suitcase, took one last look around, shut off the lights and went down to breakfast.

 

 

 

 

 

© Sally Paradise, 2016, All Rights Reserved

Good to the Last Drop?

 

That Terry thought he was a vampire didn’t seem to faze Teresa.  It did faze his parents and friends.

A mother tugged a small boy through the outside door.  A teenage girl came out the inner door, crossed the room and left behind the mother and son.  A therapist stuck his head out of the inner door and looked around the room and saw his next client, a thirteen year-old boy.  “Hi, come on in.”  The boy dutifully followed the therapist.  A fiftyish woman came in the outside door and proceeded over to the glass window to check in with the clinic’s receptionist. Terry no longer paid attention to the ebb and flow of people in the clinic’s lobby.  Waiting for psychologist Teresa to claim him, Terry sat in the lobby as he had ninety-nine times before and always dressed in black.

“Hi, Terry, come on in.”

Carrying his dog-eared Virtual Gamer magazine Terry shuffled through the held door.

At the beginning Teresa was made aware of his parent’s concerns, their disbelief. When Terry had started to cut his arms and stomach to collect and consume his own fluids, they called N.B. Clinic.  They hoped for some reparative therapy that would bring back their child from the “grave.”  So, Terry’s parents sat down with Teresa.

They wanted to know what triggered Terry’s transformation:  “Was it us?  And what makes Terry sleep walk every night?  And why did he only want play outside at night?”

Terry’s parents related how they would wake in the middle of the night, every night now, to find that Terry had left the house.  He would roam the neighborhood in his black pajamas hissing.  It had to be more than simple parasomnia.

When they did find Terry his face would be covered in blood and the remains of dead cats and dogs were scattered about. The sight and smell of blood gagged them. Terrified by Terry’s manifestation, Terry’ parents wanted to do anything to bring their son back to from this state. He used to play so gently with his stuffed animals.

But after ninety-nine sessions, Terry’s parents were now told to accept their son’s “vampirism”.  As Teresa had explained it on the phone, vampirism was becoming an accepted behavior and that Terry’s self-image and his dignity depended on his being a vampire.  “It is something that he cannot control and it makes him feel human.  Besides,” she said, “it’s likely genetic – Terry’s need for plasma.  He believes that has the ability to extract some kind of energy from living things to strengthen him. I see this kind of thing all the time at N.B. Clinic.”

 

“I wish my parents would accept me the way I am.”

“They are trying, Terry. I met with them recently.  Give them time.”

“I wish everyone would accept me the way I am.  I was born this way, you know, and it’s not what they think.  I know who I am now.  You can see that.   Why can’t others?”

“Well, Terry, the world is not always friendly to minorities.  But there are social justice warriors who are advocating for you right now.  They are making a difference.  Still, there are so many fundamentalists who reject the notion of nocturnal plasma-sucking activities that it is an uphill fight.  Give it time.”

Teresa continued, “But you need to be secure in yourself, Terry.  Last week I gave you information about a local Vampire Community support meeting.  Did you go?”

“Yeah, it was alright.  I got to be myself without having to hide my feelings.  A lot of the kids said they came out of their coffins to their parents.  I just wish my parents and friends… I just wish the whole world was a safe place for me and my friends.”

“You and I both wish that Terry.”

 

 

 

© Sally Paradise, 2016, All Rights Reserved

“And what we must not do, what we must never do, is turn on our neighbors, our family members, our fellow Americans for something that they cannot control and deny what makes them human,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch

“This is about the dignity and the respect that we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we as a people and as a country have enacted to protect them, indeed, to protect all of us,” Lynch said

Five Day Notice

 

When Janet first saw Dashawna, Dashawna was walking up the front sidewalk to the apartment building gripping a baby carrier in her left hand, a diaper bag in her right hand and over her right shoulder was slung a large bulging sack which seemed to stabilize her mid-step.

The apartment building complex where Janet and now Dashawna lived housed a “mix” of those with and without identity clauses.  The “mix” included Hispanics, whites and African-Americans.

Apart from working singles like Janet and Sally, who lived across the hall from Janet and down the hall from Dashawna, most of these residents were low income working class families with a mother and father.  And from all appearances, the apartment families had two parents who each worked. The mother and father could be seen coming and going at different times.

One assumed that the families were saving for a down payment on a house.  And after a few years, as their families and savings grew, they would move on. Janet saw them load up and go.

 

With her boyfriend’s help, Dashawna moved into the single bedroom apartment six years ago.

In such close proximity, Janet had tried to make the acquaintance of Dashawna but Dashawna did not open up much beyond “Hi.” Janet, though, was able talk to her son Kurtis when he passed by in the hall.

One night about two years ago, around 8 PM, the hallway fire alarm sounded. The three single women, Janet, Sally and Dashawna with her son Kurtis, who was now three-years old, bolted out to the hallway to see what was going on.  There was no smoke and no fire was reported by any of the residents.

The alarm had tripped falsely and nobody could shut it off.  Management and maintenance were called.  Finally, the men of the fire department came.  They had to break into whatever they break into to silence the pulsing alarm.

As they waited in the hallway the three women and the boy sat together at the bottom of the stair well, away from the deafening alarm.  Speculation about what set off the alarm created most of the conversation. Janet and Sally learned that Dashawna had called 911 when she heard it. After that Dashawna said little to Janet or Sally.  She huddled with her son. After the first six months, the boyfriend hadn’t been around.

 

A year and a half ago, Janet again saw Dashawna. Dashawna was walking up the rear sidewalk to the apartment building gripping a baby carrier in her left hand, a diaper bag in her right hand and over her right shoulder was slung a large bulging sack.  The sack seemed to stabilize her mid-step. Kurtis skipping, followed his mom.

Twenty-three-year-old Dashawna had no boyfriend to carry a baby mama’s belongings up to the second story apartment. In fact, no boyfriend ever appeared at Dashawna’s door. It occurred to Janet that a boyfriend hadn’t been around since the first year.  But in Dashawna’s twenty-third year a baby came around. The new baby girls’ name:  Nevaeh.

 

A month ago, Janet again saw Dashawna. Dashawna was being carried down the apartment building stairs by men to a stretcher on the front sidewalk.   Dashawna was gripping her face. Anguish and the word “overdose” were what Janet could hear through her blocked door. The paramedics had to balance their steps as they carried the wheel chair down the steps.

Dashawna’s mother arrived hours later to gather her grandchildren from the policemen who had waited. The next day DCFS left their card on Dashawna’s door.

 

Two days later, Janet saw Dashawna’s mother in the parking lot.  “How is your daughter?”

“She’s alright.  She’s down the road at Central DuPage Hospital.  She’ll be coming home on Sunday.  She was just overwhelmed.”

Janet offered to be of help to her daughter, “Dashawna can knock on my door any time.  Two small kids can be overwhelming.” Dashawna’s mother then wrote down her name and cell phone number for Janet to keep “in case.”  Janet has that card today.

Now Janet was aware that Dashawna’s mother, always alone, picked up Dashawna and her kids every Friday night, bringing them to her Chicago home. And every Monday night she, alone, would bring them back to their apartment.  Each journey required the loading and unloading of plastic bags filled with clothes, diapers, toys…a weekend’s needs. The racket of the return home usually awakened Janet from a sound sleep.

 

A week ago Friday, Janet saw Dashawna walking on the front sidewalk to the apartment building gripping a baby carrier in her left hand, a diaper bag in her right hand and over her right shoulder was slung a large bulging sack which seemed to stabilize her mid-step. She was moving out.

A U-Haul was parked on the grass. The man in the front seat smoking a cigarette got out when he saw Dashawna. He followed her up the stairs.  Soon others appeared and began carrying loads to the truck and to their cars.

 

The next day, Janet saw Dashawna’s mother in the parking lot.   Five-year old Kurtis and the year-and-a-half year-old Nevaeh were in the back seat of her car. Janet got out her car and went over to say “Hi” to the kids and their grandma.

“Hi, Kurtis.”  “Hi Nevaeh.”  “Why those baby tears?” Janet turned to grandma.

“How are you?”  “Fine.  We’re moving to a three-bedroom apartment just around the block.”

“It’ll be nice to have more room.”

 

Dashawna’s old apartment was cleared out over the next few days.  Two days ago a notice was placed on the door by the landlord. Yesterday Dashawna and her mother and a thirtyish male helped her complete the move. When done Dashawna tore the notice off the door.  Before she did, Janet came out to say goodbye.

 

Janet had a shelf unit that was perfect for her kids “stuff”.  She brought it out to the hallway, knocked on the half-opened door and called to Dashawna. Dashawna finally came out and looked at Janet and said “Oh, Hi.”. It was now apparent to Janet that beneath the zipped hoodie that Dashawna was wearing that she carried another baby. Janet offered Dashawna the shelf unit and her phone number and then wished her well.

Janet saw Dashawna for the last time. Dashawna was walking down the rear sidewalk, away from the apartment building, gripping plastic bags.  The bags seemed to stabilize her mid-step…until further notice.

 

 

 

© Sally Paradise, 2016, All Rights Reserved

This is a true story; I am “Janet”.