You Keep the Stub

 

You Keep the Stub

a short story

The Anderson family decided to go to a movie after an early supper. Dad, mom, Katie and Kevin got into the family’s van and headed over to the Markhem multiplex on the other side of Markhem River. They hoped that a 6:30 showing they wanted to attend wouldn’t be too crowded. To their surprise, the parking lot was empty except for one car. They were even more surprised to be the only ones standing in line for tickets. They knew from the promos that the movie was “box-office smash hit”. Dad told mom that it was probably just a quirk that no one was there at that time.

At the concession counter each asked for a tub of popcorn, a soda and some candy.  The guy from the ticket booth was now behind the counter. Now Dad noticed that the guy’s arms were covered in black thorny vine tattoos. The jagged vines went up under his short sleeves and then appeared again on his neck and into his hairline.

“Wow, for such a big place I don’t see many employees.” Dad spoke trying not to stare at the guy’s arms.

The guy answered, “Many of my friends left to work somewhere else. Something about feeling claustrophobic.”

“I’m glad you’re here!” dad pointed at the concession guy and then opened his hand. “But where are all the customers?”

“You don’t see them?!”

Katie looked around and scrunched her nose. “Daaaad?”

“Don’t worry, Katie, he’s just joking. We’re in a movie theater. We’re here to be entertained.

When the concession guy heard that he broke a half smile. He then directed the family over to the velvet rope cordon. The Andersons followed.

“We meet again!” dad joked.

The concession guy now turned usher tore off the tickets and handed them the stubs. He told them to keep their stubs. He pointed them to theater 2 where the movie, A Future Worth Fighting For, was playing.

 

The movie was the topic of discussion the night before. As the Andersons sat around the dinner table, a promotional commercial came on TV. Kevin pointed to the screen. Katie left her chair, headed over by the TV and told her parents, “That’s the movie everyone in my class has seen. I have to see it.”

Dad and mom learned from the promo that the movie was another in the Clash of Eco-SuperBeings series. Kevin and Katie filled in the movie details after dad had them turn off the TV and come back to the dinner table.

Katie began by telling mom and dad about the main characters, Vinica Tru and Wither.

“They’re Eco-SuperBeings. Vinica Tru has the power to create beautiful gardens and forests with lots of color. She directs light to make things grow. Wither also uses her power to control the environment, but in a bad way. Wither hates color. Wither wants to control light. Whiter wants to control how people see things. The web site says she’s an anti-chromatic fiend, whatever that means.”

Kevin jumped in.

“I think anti-chromatic means that Wither absorbs light and won’t reflect it back. She wears all black and a black hood. Black absorbs light and becomes heat. I learned that in physics class.”

Now dad jumped in.

“That’s my boy! Go on Kevin.”

Kevin told his parents about the super powers of Vinica Tru and Wither.

“Vinica Tru has two green thumbs. She uses the power in her thumbs to cause things to grow, like fields of flowers and prairie grasses and crops. She has the power to create over a thousand shades of green. She can shoot emerald rainbows into the sky out from between her thumbs! The rainbow falls to earth and things grow!

When Vinica Tru and Wither are not fighting, they said Vinica Tru is a watercolorist. Bill’s mom told me that Vinica Tru is an artist who paints with watercolors.

Wither is the opposite of Vinica Tru. Wither has the power to suck color out of anything. After she sucks in color she can spray a hot black fog out of her mouth. She says that the world must be colorless, that nothing should have color. Nothing should stand out. It should all be black.

Wither can also cast weeds and thorns out from her black thumbs. She destroys beautiful things like flowers and sunsets and …”

Katie interrupted.

“Wither hates rainbows. A rainbow in the sky means that beautiful things can grow. Wither will spray her black fog at rainbows in the sky to stop things from growing. But Wither is OK with rainbows that are not in the sky or are like the ones I see in puddles. Wither is OK with rainbows that don’t make things grow. I don’t have to take biology to know all that. Katie stuck her tongue out at Kevin.

Mom jumped in.

“That’s my girl? Go on Katie.”

“Like I said. If Wither sees a sky rainbow she sucks in their colors and sprays out a black rainbow to replace it.”

Now Kevin spoke.

“Wither wants to control the environment. She calls herself an environmental activist.”

 

The movie was everything Kevin and Katie had said. And more. Dad and mom weren’t used to the earsplitting sound effects. Dad wondered why the only lights in the otherwise dark theater, the red “Exit” lights, would flash whenever Wither appeared on the screen. Mom wondered why Katie was fidgeting so much. Both mom and dad noticed that whenever Vinica Tru used her green thumbs the theater became cool and energized, like a breath of fresh air. And whenever Wither breathed out the black fog, the air in the room became stuffy, stale and suffocating, like they had been placed inside a tomb.

 

After about an hour into the movie, Katie could not sit still. Mom asked her if she had to go to the bathroom. Katie said no but then changed her mind ten minutes later. What felt like prickly heat on Katie’s arms had become unbearable. Both her arms now felt like they were sunburned. How could that be? She hadn’t been out in the sun much at all.

“Mom! I’m going to the bathroom.” Katie whispered as she headed for the aisle.

“OK, honey. Come right back.”

In the bathroom Katie looked in the mirror. Both of her arms were lobster red and they burned.

“Whaaa?! What is going on?!

Katie returned to her seat and quickly forgot about her arms. The movie had more effect on her.

 

When the movie ended they walked out of the movie theater into the main hallway. Dad and mom couldn’t account for why all four of them had the chills and why they all felt so exhausted. Mom said, “I hope there wasn’t something in the air.” The thought of that had them head straight for the parking lot. On their way out, they noticed that the theater hallways were empty again. Outside they looked at each other and saw what looked like sunburn on each of their arms. Dad said, Wow! That VirtualMax gets under your skin!” Mom didn’t smile.

Once in the car they headed home without talking. Their minds were in a fog. The hot glow on their arms was all that concerned them.

The next morning Katie was the first out of bed. She headed to the bathroom and turned on the light. She looked at her arms. What she saw made her jaw drop. Her arms were covered with jagged black vines!

“Mom! Daaaad!” Katie cried.

Mom and dad rushed into the bathroom. When they saw Katie they both jumped back. Then, they looked at their own arms and saw the same black jagged vines. Looking in the mirror, the vines appeared to be growing up into their hair.

After several minutes in front of a mirror where he was trying to rub off the black, dad tried to make light of what he couldn’t understand. He said, “Wow! That VirtualMax gets under your skin!” But nobody smiled.

Dad, ever the optimist, was now dealing with a situation of seeming Biblical proportions beyond his control. He began looking for a positive outcome.

“Remember last night? They showed the promo of the sequel, The Abiding Battle where Vinica Tru battles Wither to restore color once and for all? The promo said, ‘In the final showdown, Vinica Tru uncovers the source of Wither’s colorlessness. Wither was once green but will never be green again.”

Dad rubbed his arm again. This time with a rag soaked with rubbing alcohol.

“This is not coming off. I guess we’re going to have to wait for the sequel. I’ll buy the tickets as soon as they come on sale next year.

Mom, looking at her horrified self in the mirror said, “I’m not waiting! I am going to start a garden!”

The next morning the Anderson family began their garden. After digging up and turning the black soil they tossed their ticket stubs into a hole and buried them. What the Anderson’s later learned was that certain ticket stubs have a way of growing into thorn bushes. But, to their great relief, as those thorn bushes grew, the black jagged vines on their arms began to fade away. But the black jagged vines left their mark, as if a tattoo had been removed.

Seeing no further improvement in the coloring of their arms, Dad decided it was time to cut down the thorn bushes and dig up the thorn bush stubs and be done with them. As he did he placed the prickly branches and the jagged stubs in a pile. He then doused them with gasoline and stood back. The burning heap crackled and hissed and gave off Sulphur fumes. A gathering column of blackness billowed from the screeching blaze, its only course toward the blue sky to meet its eco-fate – Vinica Tru.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2018, 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

The Empty Box

 

What?! Christmas morning?! Ryan raced to the tree. Mom and dad had left the tree lights on.

“Mom and dad!”  Ryan yelled from the living room. He wasn’t going to start without them.

Mom and dad appeared in the hallway. “We’re up. Go ahead, Ryan.”

Well, it didn’t take long for Ryan to rip through the wrapping paper on each package. He got almost everything he had asked for.

After all his presents were opened and he lined them up near the couch, Ryan saw something had hadn’t noticed before. “Hey, what’s this? It’s got my name on it.”

Mom went over and looked at the package. She shook it and looked at Roy.

“Did you put this under the tree Roy?”

“Um, No. I don’t remember a package that size.”

“Well, go ahead and open it Ryan,” Mom handed Ryan the present.

Ryan tore into the wrapping paper. A plain box appeared. It was stamped “Not as Fragile as You Might Think”.

Now mom was curious. Dad came over.

Ryan lifted one of the box lids and then the other. He looked inside. His mouth formed a “Wow!”

“It’s empty, mom, dad!”

Mom looked inside too. “Where did that come from? Did your grandparents put that under the tree last night when they were here? Roy, did your dad put that there?”

Roy called grandpa who was always awake at 6:00 reading the paper.

“Dad, did you and mom put a package under the tree? Ryan opened it and its…empty.”

“Roy, you know I don’t put empty packages under the Christmas tree. Are you sure its empty? Look again.”

Roy looked this time.

“Dad, I don’t see anything.”

“Have Ryan look, too.”

“Ryan, look inside again.”

Ryan picked up the box. This time it was bigger. When he pulled the lids back he thought he heard a loud pop. “Whoa, what was that?

“I didn’t hear anything Ryan, “Mom said.

“Roy, do you think that your parents forgot to put a present in?” Ryan’s mother asked.

“Anything is possible with my dad. C’mon. Let’s eat breakfast”

Ryan then remembered Swedish Pancakes with Lingonberry sauce. It was a Christmas morning treat in the Miller house.

 

 

That night, mom had Ryan pick up his toys and bring them to his room. Ryan filled the empty box and carried it to his bedside. He sat down on his bed. And that’s when Ryan’s eyes closed. And, that’s when the dreams began.

 

 

Dreams. How do you describe them? They are whacky and yet they seem to make sense. Here’s what Ryan told his mom about one dream:

“I was floating. It was all dark. Then there was a Pop!” Ryan used his finger and popped it out of his mouth. “There was a big cloud of dust all over me. I coughed and coughed.

“Then the cloud went thuup! and it was gone! And then things started flying all around me. They looked like tiny balls bouncing everywhere. Some of balls stuck together like they didn’t want to be alone in the dark. They were hissing and crunching and…I became scared when I saw a shadow that was darker than night. But the shadow was tossed away by a hand. Then I felt better.

“Did you know mom that numbers are alive? They all dance together!

Then, mom, the together-balls became dust balls. And they became huge, like bowling balls, like bowling balls of fire. Then they exploded and there were more dust balls. And the dust balls became marbles.

And the marbles became globes with smaller globes going around them. Then there was light coming right at me. It was so bright that I had to turn around. When I did, I saw a planet right behind me. The planet had a mouth.

The planet said, “Come and see.” So, I flew toward the planet. As I did, the planet handed me geodes and fossils and rocks, all kinds of rocks. Some were like the red quartz and Jasper that you and dad gave me for my birthday. Then I saw aquariums full of fish. I saw sharks, whales and guppies and Neons and Tetras and…

I looked down into one aquarium. On the bottom of aquarium, I saw belchers. They looked like what we saw at Yellowstone last summer. They sounded like your Christmas coffee maker. “Ururururhhhh Blup!” Urururururhhhh Blup!”

I saw…I think dad calls it… a ter..rari…um… full of bugs and worms and salamanders and lizards and then a brontosaurus showed up and then a Triceratops and then,…

Then I saw a plate. On the plate was Jell-O. But then the Jell-O was two Jell-Os and then four Jell-Os. There were globs of Jell-O everywhere. Do you know what happened next, mom? The globs of Jell-O became Gummy worms.

There was a lot more that happened mom, but, I can’t remember it… Oh,… yeah,… someone poked me and said, “Ryan, Little King, Come and see.”

Then, I was inside a temple, like the one in the picture you showed me one time, mom. Inside the temple were billions and billions of tiny temples. Inside each tiny temple there was a blue light stick. Crazy, huh, mom?

 

When Ryan’s sixth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a rock tumbler. Ryan had begun a rock collection during the family trip out west.

When Ryan’s seventh Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a microscope. Ryan’s dad was a biology teacher. He brought home slide samples of all kinds of microscopic life.

When Ryan’s eighth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a telescope. Not only did he get the telescope but his parents took him to an observatory during Christmas break.

When Ryan’s ninth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for an atlas, a map of the world and astronomy charts. Ryan’s mom and dad also gave him a barometer, a thermometer, a hygrometer and an anemometer. They did this so that Ryan could build a weather station in their backyard.

When Ryan’s tenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a pair of binoculars and a book about birds. At that time his mother also began to teach Ryan about flora. She showed him how to press flowers into pages of a book.

When Ryan’s eleventh Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a mobile of the planets. He also asked for a compass and for a pencil and some drawing paper. He wanted to draw everything he saw in his head.

When Ryan’s twelfth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a book about the human body and a skeleton. He also asked for a ham radio kit.

When Ryan’s thirteenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a periodic chart of the elements. He also asked for element 82 and for horseshoe magnets.

A Few of My Favorite Things 2

dad’s coffee

When Ryan’s fourteenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a spectroscope. He received a prism, a magnifying glass, a physics book and a box of watercolors. 

When Ryan’s fifteenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a Calculus book. Dad looked at him and said, “Are you sure?” Ryan replied, “I can’t function without it.” Ryan got his book.

When Ryan’s sixteenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a book about genetics and a DNA helix and a set of keys to the family car. His mom and dad gave him the book. They also gave him pipe cleaners and colored beads and instructions how to build a DNA helix model. The car keys were handed to him after his homework and chores were done.

When Ryan’s seventeenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a chemistry set. Dad said, “I’ll give you the set but do the experiments in the garage”. Ryan moved his science lab to the garage. He also began to pack for college. He filled the “empty” box with as much as it could hold.

 When Ryan’s eighteenth Christmas came around he said to his mom and dad, “Thank you for everything. You know what? The world is not badly made. I’ll see you during Spring Break.”

 

When Ryan’s eighty-fifth Christmas came around he gave his grandson the empty box as a present and said, “Here, Mikey, you won’t be bored.”

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

 

Nobody Does It Better

 

It was almost 5 AM when Carl finished his workout. Carl headed for FoodNation to buy groceries for the day. Once inside, there was no mistaking the smell of freshly baked carbs. Carl smiled. He remembered an old cartoon where an enticing aroma was shown to lift a character off of his feet, draw him along and then place him in front of its enticing source. Carl decided not to be a cartoon character today.

Carl walked past his wafting imagination. He walked past the aisle of styrene-encased carbs and the men in knee pads reshuffling and restocking dated poly-packaged carbs. He walked past the sugar-covered carbs.

Carl walked past the frozen carbs, the cryopreserved carbs.

Carl walked past the aisle of processed ethnic food stuffs. Carl walked past the aisle of colorful billboard-boxed carbs. Each box proclaiming vast health benefits with every “great” bite. Carl walked past the cardboard-boxed dried carbs. Carl walked past the aisle of unembarrassed in-the-bag sugar. Carl walked past the aisles of incarcerated-canned vegetables and the hitting-the-bottle jars of preserved condiments.

And Carl walked past the fashionable colors of carbonation in the liquid sugar aisle.

Carl reached the water aisle and pulled a bottle of drinking water off the shelf. He smiled. Like James Bond he would live to die another day.

 

Carl had come to his health care senses a while back. At that time, he didn’t feel good or look the part of 00Carl. So, there was no doubt – he had to make some changes. And beside his own topology concerns there was one, no, there were many other prompters that changed his health habits.

Carl couldn’t help notice that many men and women were no longer walking. Instead, they were waddling. To go forward they would rock back and forth, shifting weight from one bad knee to the other in a slow, plodding fashion, as if pulling a sled full of lumber. Some of the living dead weight moved though FoodNation driving their immense form around in the motorized shopping carts with the appearance of a parody parade float.

When Carl reached the checkout counter that day he waited while up ahead liters of soft drinks, boxes and boxes of cereal, bags of treats and goodies and packaged preservatives force-fed the conveyor belts.

Once the motorized cart had been emptied of its contents, Carl placed the divider down on the conveyor. Behind the divider he placed his bottled water, a bag of walnuts, a carton of eggs, a bag of mixed greens and a salmon fillet for dinner. Carl had decided to invest in his future. He needed his legs to make a go of it.

 

The end. (But not for Carl.)

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

~~~

When will a grocery store be designed for health instead of consumerism? Along the same line, have you noticed the horrible and often offensive background music?

Mission Impossible Theme>>>

The Life of the Party

 

The office of the Director of Behavioral Management Services (BMS), Social Sciences Division, Administration Building No. 1 of 20, Government Dept. of Social Services, Godwin Ave., Washington D.C.:

A knock on the door.

A voice from inside, “Come in.”

“Life Coach Tidd reporting sir.”

“How did it go today, Tidd? Have a seat.”

“Thank you, sir.” Tidd takes a seat.

“It went well I believe. This morning I coached client Xym to continue his lifestyle. He was questioning whether his former church would accept him. I told him, ‘No matter, this government accepts you as you are. You are free to be yourself. If you are not yourself you will be unhappy. And our mission at Behavioral Management Life Coach Services is to pursue happiness with you, the client. Happy clients are the best advertisement tax dollars can buy.’ Xym seemed relieved.

My ten o’clock client, a youth pastor, I once again had to remind him of our Uniform Behavior Code which must be presented weekly to the youth. He was more than a little hesitant…”

“Remind him, Tidd, about our Universal Morals Seminars. Sounds like he needs a refresher course. We must teach our youth to be nice, pleasant, respectful. We teach them self-improvement and doing one’s best, and feeling good about oneself…and all that. We must form our youth while we can, before any thoughts of You Know Who enters the picture.

Let me remind you, Tidd, that our core mission is to generate self-happiness. We want our clients to feel good about themselves. You Know Who is not particularly interested in our daily problems. That is why we are here, Tidd. We are here for them. We are inclusive and You Know Who is not. We listen, we coach, we improve the life process for each and every one of our clients. And we do it for free!”

“Sir, this youth pastor asked me if I knew about grace. I said of course I did. I watch Will and Grace.”

“Excellent response, Tidd. Keep redirecting his thinking. We must deconstruct any inherited meaning so that we can construct what the people want constructed today, here and now. And besides, it makes no sense for this youth pastor to get all mucked up with some ancient spiritual mumbo jumbo when our Moral Code is so…so relevant and compassionate. Religion is values. But we are a values organization based on settled social science. Keep in mind that we Life Coaches are precursors to our clients in the discovery of truth. No savior from on high delivers like we do. ”

“So true, Sir. Sir, I also talked to Anna, you know the one, the feminist. I encouraged her to go ahead and write her article laying out the case for women in the work place to be promoted every two years. I told her that she is a wondrously talented person who has been sinfully suppressed by males running a patriarchal system and that the feminine had been imposed upon her by superior forces and reinforced by a culture of romance in art and literature. You should have seen her swoon.”

“Good work, Tidd. You remind me of myself when I life coached in the field.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

“Tidd, I am going to promote you. But before I do I want you to attend the “Cultivate the Imperial Self” training course. It is mandatory for all level three Life Coaches. The training will give you a chance to brush up on yourself. You will also learn how to do consciousness raising and how to cultivate indignation and righteous resentment and to have both directed at metanarratives. In other words, there will no longer be one voice. Also, as part of the training you will learn how to make your clients suspicious of any written word and how to liberate language from the shackles of dictated meaning. And, critical to our mission, you will learn how to build consensus among our clients. Consensus building insures our client’s happiness. The more “Likes” the better, and all that.

Before the end of the week, Tidd, let me know if any of your clients want individual rights. As you know they must fill out an application first and then I will talk to the Department of Rights. They usually issue guaranteed SCOTUS honored rights in a matter of five business days. It sounds like your client Anna needs a right to be promoted every two years. Let me know about that one. Janet, the head of our Rights on Demand Department -Rodd – will ram it through for you. Get my gist, Tidd?”

“Yes, sir, and quite funny at that, if I may say so. Thank you, sir.”

‘In any case, individual rights are the wellspring of our organization. Without them where would we be? Hand them out freely. But remember to tell them what equality says, “No rights without their duties.”

“Yes, sir. And, before I go, here is my list of follow-up appointments.”

“You are coming to the dinner tonight, Tidd, aren’t you?”

“Oh, yes, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Good. See you there.”

 

Later that night:

“Life Coach F.E. Tidd we are awarding you the 2017 Pat ‘Em on the Head Kick ‘Em in the Ass Achievement Medal for Life Coaching Excellence.

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

Six Other Degrees of Separation

 

Six blind men live in Metropolis, Illinois. They were born in the eighties and have been blind from birth.  

These six men consider the earth to be round. They came to this understanding during their grade school education which included handling of the classroom globe. Their day-to-day experience told them that the world was flat and with many sharp corners.

From Mrs. Foley, their high school physical science teacher, these six men learned about Ptolemy and Copernicus. They learned that the sun and not the earth is at the center of our universe. Their day-to-day experience taught them that their universe was a big as the darkness in which they lived.

One day in August, as they listened to the news on the radio, these six men heard about a total solar eclipse. To their delight the path of totality, the announcer said, would be through Carbondale, Illinois.

When the morning of the total eclipse came, the six men took a bus to Carbondale. When they arrived the men soon became separated by the rush and noise of the crowds. While sitting on the bus the men had agreed to return on the 6:30pm bus to Metropolis.

One blind man found his way to a corner where there was talk of a shuttle bus to the viewing site. He got on.

The second blind man asked for the directions to where everyone would be for the event. A young couple said, “Follow us”. The blind man held onto the woman’s arm.

The third blind man heard a man with a loud speaker say that people should park “over there and walk to the university.” So, he found his way to the university.

The fourth blind man was hungry. So, he asked anyone who could hear if there was food nearby. An old man stopped and said, “there’s a hot dog stand around the next corner”. The blind said, “Thank you” and found his way to the hot dog stand.

The fifth blind man was tired. The noise and confusion made him tired. He found a bench and sat down. Soon he fell asleep.

The sixth blind man heard some street vendors hawking tee shirts and eclipse glasses. He followed the footsteps.

 

By late afternoon the six men had arrived at the bus station. At 6:10 pm they boarded the bus. The bus headed back to Metropolis at 6:30 pm.

As they rode along the six blind men began to talk about the day’s event.

The first blind man spoke. “The eclipse is of great spiritual value. I heard street people everywhere as I walked. They were offering remembrances and spiritual items like incense candles, crystals, and, and, special glasses to see it with. One kind man told me that no one should look at the great phenomenon without special glasses. But since I am blind, I bought a tee shirt instead. They told me it says, “I survived the 2017 Total Eclipse”.

The second blind man spoke. “No. How can it have any spiritual meaning? It is just a novelty, something unique-‘a Magic Shadow-show’. It only happens once every so many years. People should go to the carnival, have some food and entertainment, enjoy themselves. The eclipse is good times.”

The third blind spoke. “The eclipse is inclusive. It brings people together. I heard a woman say that she heard that all her friends were coming to view the eclipse. So, she had to come to. ‘Everyone was doing it,’ she said.”

“What?” The fourth blind man jumped in. “Not everyone is doing it. Someone told me that the older Navajos will not look at it when it is happening. They fear bad things can happen if you look during the eclipse, like health issues. The eclipse is taboo.”

The fifth blind man spoke. “All I know is that the eclipse is eerie. When I heard the people around me say “It’s happening,” it was like the earth stood still. I suddenly felt a chill like the sun had been unplugged. And the birds even stopped tweeting. The eclipse is scary.”

The last blind man spoke. “It’s worse than you can imagine. Someone next to me said “This is super cool. I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life.” I looked up for a long time but of course I saw nothing. But now, my eyes burn so much I want to tear them out. The eclipse is a deep burning darkness.”

 

 

 

© J. Ann Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

 

~~~

 

August 21, 2017 – 1:21p.m. CDT

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

Wonders Never Cease

 

Nora kept her glasses perched on the end of her nose. She made sure not to miss the annotations of life. And today, the annotation before her read, “Full sun. 77 days to maturity.”

The package of tomato seeds went into her cart. Nora didn’t know anything about patio gardening, but she wasn’t about accruing boredom with time on her hands. Aisle 8 had the 24“container and bag soil mix she needed. The internet had the video instructions to create a patio container garden:

“You need the right container: either 18” or 24”

“You need 6-8 hours of sun daily.”

“You must use the proper soil. Never use garden soil or landscape soil. Always use bag soil mix for vegetables.”

“You will need to fertilize every 10-14 days. The fertilizer must contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.”

“Start the seedlings 6-8 weeks before spring thaw, before transplanting outside.”

“After transplanting, stake the seedling plant.  There will be plenty of foliage and growing tomatoes will weigh things down.”

When spring thaw came to the earth around her patio, Nora planted her starter. The tomato seedling was 3 inches tall with what the video called “true leaves”. Nora stuck it in the center of the 24-inch container, then she staked it. She watered it. It looked dwarfed in the mass of black mud but green leaves always looked promising. Tired, she put away her trowel and sat down in her patio chair.

It was then that she could see a neighbor woman across the apartment complex driveway opening her patio door. The woman was wrapped in a floral housecoat. She crossed her arms to hold her housecoat closed in the breeze. Nora noticed that the woman was glaring at the seedling container. Nora stared back wondering what the woman was wondering. What was her neighbor’s fascination with her tomato plant? After a minute the neighbor went back inside. A TV could be heard when she opened the door.

“If you give me some tomatoes little one, I’ll give her some.” Nora coaxed the tomato plant.

Nora was a loner and she was OK with that after ten years. She began living more and more alone after being divorced. The divorce, she was told, was meant to achieve another’s happiness. Over time Nora’s older children moved out to begin their separate lives. She was happy for them.

Nora was used to ‘living in her head’. A former high school physics teacher, Nora now filled her days reading journals and doing projects that interested her. When Nora retired from her teaching position, her daily associations ended. Yet, ‘living in your head’ and talking to yourself came to a loner naturally. But finding close friends did not come naturally.

In that void, Nora filled her life with regimen. Nora attended church where she saw “the regulars” as she called them. She shopped at the same grocery store each week and saw the checkout “regulars”. On Saturday mornings, she attended Bismarck café and saw those “regulars”. Nora’s life was a routine of brief time-place associations and nothing more. She wondered what a 3-D association would look like, glasses or no glasses.

Nora knew that a close friendship would be a way to mitigate extreme loner-ness. She had an aunt that lived alone with cats and saw no one except for the Preachers on the TV. Nora wasn’t one to be detached from others. She knew she needed space to think and also close friends to share that space.

Never thinking of herself as lonely, Nora just felt the absence of interaction – opposite and equal interaction. She desired dialog where kidding each other and push back were OK. She wasn’t looking for a romantic relationship. Besides, she figured true friendship was a greater gift than romantic love. She saw herself spending time with male or female friends and then going home at night to her bed.

She remembered her childhood friendships. Feeling alive together was all that mattered. Nora and her friends would drive fast with the car windows open and the music loud and the feeling of life streaming through her car. Motion made her feel alive and the faster life came at her the better. Swimming laps at the health club now just wasn’t the same.

 

After 77 days, large red fruit was ready to be harvested from the container garden. Nora cut off one of the tomatoes to sample. She washed it and sliced it. She made a BLT sandwich and said, “Perfect!”

Now it was time to visit her neighbor and to bring her some tomatoes. Now, too, she would find out why this woman stared over at the plant all the time.

 

Nora approached the neighbor’s patio. The woman was in her housecoat and staring back in the direction of Nora’s patio. The woman ignored Nora completely.

“Hi,” Nora put one foot on the concrete patio.

“Oh, hi,” the woman said while her eyes outlined Nora’s form.

“I brought you some of my home-grown tomatoes. Would you like them?”

“Why, yes indeedy!” The woman, holding her housecoat closed, reached her left hand out.

Nora reached over and placed the bag’s handle around the woman’s hand.  The woman’s good-humored response gave Nora the feeling that maybe they could be friends.

“I’m Nora.” After Nora said this she watched the woman’s dark eyes roll back and forth in the top of their sockets.

“I’m May. Nice to meet you. Do you live nearby, Nora?”

“Yes, I live right over there in that apartment.” Nora began to point and then pulled her arm down.

“Can you take my hand and point it in that direction?” May asked. “Then I’ll get my bearings.”

“Sure.” Nora turned May’s arm in the direction of her apartment. Nora pointed her index finger and Nora directed the finger.

“Yes, over there, across the driveway.” Nora said.

“Thank you.” May brought her arm down. “I’m still getting my bearings. What do you do, Nora?”

“I am…I was a high school physics teacher. I am retired and live alone.”

“I never studied physics. I did have an English teacher who taught grammatical structure.” May chuckled. “She outlined it on the blackboard. I heard her pulling the chalk across the black board. It made my skin crawl. She had me sitting right at the front of the class so that I could hear everything. I just couldn’t picture in my mind, though, what it was she was trying to convey. Nouns and verbs…the whole shebang came together in my mouth when I needed them, though. And thankfully when the teacher had me recite poetry to the class.”

May’s black eyes rolled upward, ‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil’. I remember the rest of Hopkin’s poem to this day.

“What about you?” May looked over to Nora. ‘What have you been doing?’

“I am a retired but I don’t like the word ‘retired’. I’m not out to pasture, I’m out of students and out of kids, at least until my grandchildren come along. My four kids are all grown and moved out.  I turn 65 this year, but only on paper. “

May laughed. “OK, how did you get to liking physics?” May asked.

“I always liked knowing how things worked. I got this from my father. He was always amazed at how things worked, how they came together. He was a high school math teacher. He taught me trig and calc. And, he would always quote G.K. Chesterton, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders,” whenever I balked at my homework.

“My daddy was a mailman who read poetry to us kids, you know, like Langston Hughes: “Help me to shatter this darkness, To smash this night, To break this shadow, Into a thousand lights of sun, Into a thousand whirling dreams, Of sun!”

I’m not out to pasture either, Nora. I am out of place. I’m from Mississippi. I came up here to be with my daughter after her husband Roy died in a work accident. An I-beam fell came off a crane hook. It came right down on his head. His skull was crushed.

When it happened Roy and my daughter had just had a child.  You’ll have to meet my granddaughter, Magnolia. My daughter was so broken up that I just had to come up and be with her.”

“I am so sorry to hear about Roy. Why do things like this happen to good people?” Nora put her hand on May’s arm.”

May’s black eyes searched back and forth. “You just don’t see things like that coming at you.”

There was a long silence. Then, Nora spoke.

“May, these are fresh tomatoes from my container garden.”

“Container garden? I’ve heard of them. Thank you for these. Tell me about this container garden.”

Nora explained to May the details and the waiting and the wondering if the tomatoes were going to make it. And then Nora said, “If you like I can help you set one up on your patio.’

“I think that would be fine. I love fresh tomatoes. You know, I miss my home in Mississippi. I miss the garden. I miss the smell of the magnolias. I come outside when I can and face that away.” May pointed in the direction of Nora’s patio.

“From that direction comes the smell of earth being dug, of new construction and of flowers.”

May looked up to the sky and spoke in measured tones, ‘And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things’.

May looked over to Nora. “If you would help me set up a container garden, with whatever will grow this time of year – vegetables, herbs, flowers – then, I must give you something in return. I’d ask you to teach me physics, too, but I have an aversion to the sound of chalkboards.” They both laughed.

“Well, I don’t hear much poetry these days.” Nora said. “In fact, I read technical journals on physics. Can you teach me some poetry?”

“I think we have a deal.”

From that day forward, Nora and May spent many hours together chatting on a patio. As they conversed they created a container garden together with Magnolia’s help. Over coffee May recited poetry. Life was coming back around and not just in the container garden.

On any given summer day, if one were riding along on highway 103, one would see Nora driving and May in the passenger seat speeding past you with their windows open and the music loud.

 

 

 

 

 

© J. Ann Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

The Dream Weaver

 

Jack opened the door and rolled his suitcase into his apartment. He put the bird cage down on its shelf by the window. He threw his keys onto the Feng Shui bowl of rocks.  There was no cat to greet him. He didn’t like cats. There was no dog to greet him because he traveled 90 percent of the time. There was no wife to greet him. His wife divorced him because she needed someone 200 percent of the time. There was Henry, the parrolet, and the recliner and the comforter his mother made.

Jack switched on the answering machine.  The last message: “Rid your lawn of weeds and brown spots. Have a thicker greener lawn today! This offer is for a limited time only. Act now!”

After apologizing to the cactus, Jack watered it. And then he remembered he hadn’t eaten since Atlanta.

The freezer held empty ice cube trays and a cheese pizza. Tomorrow he would buy some groceries for the weekend. He’d be on a plane again Monday morning. Pizza would do.

After setting the oven temp, Jack sat down and poked the remote. The same old nothing was on the TV: political back and forth that was going nowhere; commercials for drugs to put a smile on your face if you could stomach the side-effects; dramas of cops and robbers and adventure flicks about mayhem and superheroes to undo the mayhem. Jack settled on a baseball game, his version of Feng Shui.

“Order now.”

“What?” Jack looked over at Henry. “Does my sister must leave the TV on all day long, Buddy Bird?”

“Order now.”

“We’ve been apart too long.”

“Order now.”

“Ugh.”

 

Jack wasn’t about to watch Andy of Mayberry again. He watched Andy and Barney almost every night that he was on the road.

Jack found Andy of Mayberry on a channel in his Ramada Inn room in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. He found Andy and Barney on his room’s TV in Rio, Brazil. He found Andy on his TV in Bialystok, Poland, and in Seoul, South Korea and in Hermosillo, Mexico and in the rooms of the fifty states he traveled to for his job. The program was Jack’s version of a friend, as was Henry.

Now Henry stayed with Jack’s sister Linda when Jack traveled. Linda loved Henry’s tiny robot-sounding voice. Until tonight, “Like it?” was Henry’s standard answer to any verbal cue. He would bob his head up and down as he said it over and over. Linda would keep the conversation going for several minutes, bobbing her head up and down, parroting Henry. Jack figured they were both entertained while he was on the road. He had Andy of Mayberry and the endless commercials telling you to order now before it’s too late.

The oven was ready. Jack unwrapped the pizza and placed it on the oven rack. He set the timer and then sat back down.

“Order now.”

“I ordered my pizza, Buddy Bird.”

“Order now.’

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Order now.”

“I wish this catcher would order a fastball right now.”

When the oven timer went off Jack shut off the oven. He removed the pizza and sliced it into quarters. He plopped down two slices on a paper plate and sat back down.

“Oh, that was a beauty.”

The pizza filled him and made him tired. Jack’s eyes watered. His eyelids, heavy, closed. Then, a weird commercial played.

“If you order today, you will have a friend for life. But hurry, this is a limited time offer. Our inventory is going fast, but if you order now, you will have a much-needed friend.”

Jack roused when the game announcer yelled, “He got back to first, just in time”.

But his eye lids and now his stomach felt heavier. Jack laid his head back down on the recliner. He pulled the comforter up to his shoulders. He dozed off in the dimly lit room.

The room where he found himself was dark except for a vignette of kitchen table. Sitting across from him at the table was a familiar face. Ken spoke. “If I win this hand of poker I want you to put on this Speedo and be my houseboy, my amusement. I want you to clean up my house. This offer is for a limited time only. Act now!” Then Jack saw himself face down on a bed and Ken trying to rope him to a bed frame. Jack broke free. He began riding his bike as fast as he could, his heart pounding faster than his feet could pedal.

Jack lurched upright in the recliner. Then his legs kicked straight out. As they did they almost knocked over the TV tray. Jack shook his head as if to shake the dream out of his thoughts. “Man!”

A commercial for window cleaner was airing: “Your windows will be spotless, your view spectacular. This product has been specially formulated. Buy one bottle now and get the second one free. That’s right! Buy one bottle now and get the second one free. Shipping and handling will apply.”

The game was over. Jack got up and covered Henry’s cage. He sat back down and covered himself in the comforter. He watched the news.

“The Peruvian mudslide has left thousands homeless. Intense rains over the last several days have dislodged acres of soil swamping homes in mud. An eyewitness had this to say:”

“There’s a person there!”

The on-the-scene reporter walked over to the man and spoke to the camera: “She is referring to this man now completely covered in mud. We learned that he had just dropped his two daughters at school and was feeding his pigs with his wife when they were pulled into a landslide. The man’s wife told us that they had climbed a tree but the trunk broke.”

The news program broke to a commercial. Jack blinked his eyes several times hoping to stay awake. He just got home from a long road trip. He wanted to savor being home. He wanted to submerge himself in home.

As he let himself sink deep into that pleasure an image came up. He saw himself in his old dorm room lying on his bed. He turned over and saw his college roommate staring at him. Tim was sitting next to his bed watching him sleep. Tim climbed into his bed and threw his arm over Jack. Tim whispered, “I am in the business of love. This night has been specially formulated. Shipping and handling may apply.” Then Jack saw himself scurrying out of his 35th floor dorm window and climbing a tree. Then the tree broke and mud washed over him. “Help! There’s a person here!”

Jack awoke with a chill. The comforter was on the floor. “Man! What’s going on in the ether tonight?” He shook his head to discharge the dream. He shut everything off and went to bed.

 

On Saturday Jack finalized his travel plans. He’d get up early Monday morning and try to beat the snow storm out east. The weatherman was forecasting a winter storm. It would affect the northeast. Jack took note, as he would travel to Albany, New York on Monday. “Oh, great. More airport lounges,” he thought out loud.

 

Sunday evening Jack drove to his sister’s house. He was dropping off Henry.

“Hey. Here’s your favorite bird.” Jack lifted the cage and showed Melanie. “Go easy on her Henry. She can only handle a few words,” Jack teased his sister.

“Mel, no more commercials for this guy. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.”

“Shakespeare it is for you Mr. Henry.” Mel smiled. “To be or not to be.”

“Like it.” Henry chimed in.

“Are you asking or telling?” Jack queried the bird.

“Order now.”

“Ugh. See you next Friday kiddo.”

“Have a good trip.” Mel hugged Jack.

 

Once back home Jack packed his bag and set the alarm for 3:30 AM. He cooked himself a steak and settled down in front of the TV.

He laid back and began thinking of his travel plans. At one point he thought he should get up and check his flight online again. But gravity was holding him recliner bound. He fell asleep.

And that is when he saw himself standing in the hallway of his dorm. The RA asked him to come to the lounge to talk. The RA told him that Steven his new roommate had been killed in a car crash on the way to his wedding rehearsal. The RA said a snow storm caused the crash. Then Jack could see the snow. He could see the crash. And then he saw himself at the bottom of a deep well. Aunt Bee was there. She was showing Jack the comforter she had brought for him. On the comforter was a tag which said “I knit all things together for good.”

Jack then realized that he was holding a large bucket in his left hand. The overflowing bucket was sobbing. It occurred to Jack that the bucket contained loneliness, pain and suffering. Jack looked over at his right hand. A hand in his was pulling him up. Another hand placed the comforter on his head like a shawl. The weight of the bucket in his left hand was causing a terrible strain across his arms and shoulders. He cried out, “Help me dad!” Jack was in so much pain he couldn’t speak. But there were words without words. His speech had turned to loud groaning.

Then, out of his insides came a rush of anguish and sadness so great that he thought that he would be turned inside out. His legs were now being lifted off the ground. He stretched them down to touch the earth. As he did he felt a painful contraction in his left leg. Jack let go of everything and when he did he heard a warning sound. His eyes flashed open.

The alarm clock was beeping. Jack tapped the “Off” button. He noticed as he reached for the alarm clock that there was a severe cramp in his left leg. The stabbing pain made him cringe. He messaged his leg for a minute and then pulled himself out of bed. Other than the pain in his leg, he felt strangely warmed.

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved