Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hunger

Eugene Strange went out for a smoke. He hated the fact that he had to “go out” for a smoke. He relished the memory of being able to pull his pack of Marlboro’s out, light one up, drag this elixir of life slowly into the lungs and watch the rings float cautiously through the air as he exhaled—all from the comfort of his office chair. Those were the days. Now his sodden anger was projected onto all those so-called health reformers who lobbied long and hard enough to beat down all the smokers in the State legislature. He often wondered where all the smoking legislators went to smoke. More than likely, he mused, they took his hard-earned and begrudgingly given tax dollars and built an elite cherry wood paneled smoker’s lounge—complete with high-end ventilation, expensive lighting and leather chairs—somewhere deep in the bowels of the State capitol building. His hatred for the government grew drag by drag.

Eugene’s employees were privately glad for his outdoor reprieve, especially those who worked for him before the reformers got their way. These employees almost daily informed the new ones how blessed they were not to acquire lung cancer through no fault of their own. All the employees, though, were grateful for Eugene’s cigarette breaks for reasons beyond the smoke itself. It gave them respite from the scowling presence of their overlord. There was often a quick water-cooler gathering when the slamming of the back door echoed through store. For nearly five minutes they could talk freely about Friday night’s home game or laugh and joke across the aisles. But as soon as the latch clicked open all was silent again and the mice scurried back to their places.

Eugene had strategically stationed Althea at the cash register closest to the front doors. She was the youngest and best-looking clerk he had. She would always put a good face on the store. Plus he liked walking by her on his hourly rounds. Althea always found something to do as he walked by. She hated how he looked at her. Counting pennies was an appropriate work-related function to keep her mind occupied on something other than his lurid gaze.

Althea had little choice but to work in this store. She had applied to so many places she couldn’t even remember how many or how often. Unfortunately she had moved to this mid-sized town just in time to stand in line with thousands of others who had difficulty getting a job as well. “Fifth Worst Year of Unemployment”, the headline read. She hardly understood either her bad luck or her inattention to reality. She made her decision based on cost-of-living comparison and beauty of the city. It was cheaper and prettier here, but how beauty would pay the rent she did not know. That was something any savvy and calculating business person would have considered, but not Althea. Her friends back home would say that Althea always looked for the good and the beautiful. She was a bit ashamed at even the thought of how they might respond if they walked into this trashy, little grocery store and found her counting pennies.

The automatic doors begrudgingly swung open and several local patrons shuffled in. At this time of day it was mostly the old and lonely people who came to the store. They were always glad to see Althea at her post. It gave them a sense of comfort and joy. She was very pleasant.

“Good morning, Stan and Dorothy. It’s good to see you out and about.”

“Well, good morning to you!” Stan exclaimed as if it was a surprise she was at her post. Dorothy just grinned and then promptly shut her mouth before her dentures dropped down. Stan latched on to a wobbly grocery cart and Dorothy stopped to extract their precious shopping list from her over-sized purse. Althea knew enough by now that there was little in that purse by way of money or items. Dorothy just liked it because her daughter had given it to her several Christmases prior.

As Stan and Dorothy moved down the aisles, Althea spotted Earnest near the newspaper stand. As usual Earnest was doubled over with one large, gnarled hand grasping the rack on his left and his right hand fingers pressing his glasses closer to his eyes. Earnest was desperate for news but too cheap to pay for a paper. He flatly refused to enter the computer age, so suffered greatly from the lack of news at great length. His dissatisfaction over the television’s “lady broadcaster” was verbalized frequently.

“Is Eugene here, today?”

“Yes, Mr. Earnest, he sure is.”

“Humph.”

Althea smiled as the ritual concluded. In a previous year, Eugene had been out of town for some corporate meeting and Earnest had taken liberties with the paper, opening up to the farm page and skimming the section. Althea had watched from her peripheral vision as Earnest, satisfied with his deliberate end-run, had carefully folded the pages and returned it to its pristine, un-read condition. Earnest was proud of his run-in with the law and fairly strutted around the store that day. But now he waited with agitated impatience for the next time Eugene would be absent.

Elaine scurried up to the register and shot a heated glance in Earnest’s direction.

“I don’t like that man,” she whispered loudly to Althea. “I don’t like him at all.”

“I know, Elaine. Something about him troubles you, doesn’t it?”

“That’s none of your business, missy,” she hissed.

Althea smiled gently at Elaine and rang up her food. Althea passed her the receipt, but Elaine stood transfixed at the counter. Earnest had not moved away from the front of the store yet and she was not about to have any kind of encounter with “that man.” Althea thought better of trying to help her by engaging in further conversation and started counting pennies again. As soon as Earnest’s broad back was to her, Elaine shot for the front door. Althea was surprised at how nimble Elaine was for a ninety year old.

One corner of town was dedicated by its residents as the place for homeless and wanderers. A leaning building called “Hope House” stood on the corner and beyond that were overgrown fields left idle by aged farmers. The barbed-wire fences were anything but taut and it was easy to jump over and around them.

Hope House was run and maintained by a few of the local churches. Each church was supposed to provide one good hot meal on a Friday if necessary, make contributions to the food pantry, have someone wash the linens and clean the bathrooms at least once a week. The floors were always a bit dusty and the windows were dingy. But it was a good place, especially during the winter, for a body to find the absolute necessities. The House was willed to the city by its long-time owner and builder Frederick Hope. Once Mr. Hope had died the city did not know what to do with it and it sat vacant for many years.

A young minister from Santa Barbara, California, who ran into town to start “the New Testament” church again, latched onto it and urged the city council to deem it a place for the forlorn and oppressed. They did, believing that the enthusiastic rookie would sustain the ministry and rally the church-troops around his noble vision. He had not. He had fled the town one year later, shaking the dust off of his feet and proclaiming to his seminary friends that no one in that town cared about the ways of Jesus or the poor. What a good number of the folks in town knew was that his agenda was to make a commuter church out there so that the languishing city-folk could drive their SVU’s forty-five miles one way to hear his incredible preaching. He had spent the entire savings of his little church—all $10,000 of it—on glossy 5 x 9 flyers sent to the spiritually desperate people of the nearest large urban neighborhood. No one in town had received a flyer. So Hope House was now the shared burden of a dozen little churches close by. The most compassionate folk of those congregations kept it maintained out of a desire to feed and clothe at least some of the world’s poor.

The Hope House door stood slightly ajar. Micah pushed it open just enough to slide through. That simple push of the door spun enough dust into the air to be illuminated by the sunshine chasing it through the doorway. Micah’s “hello” bounced softly down the hallway and elicited no response. All the doors in the hall seemed to be open and catacombs of light cast themselves onto the floor at regular intervals. Still everything was silent. Micah peered cautiously into each room, which obviously had been offices in an earlier life. Now each room had a single bed, a nightstand, one lamp and a straight-back chair. Each room was sparse and neat. As institutional as it appeared, Micah sensed a peace to the place. It eased him some, but months on the road had taught him to be cautious. He kept his backpack on his shoulder and gingerly pushed another door open. Just before he walked through he glanced up to see thumb tacked above the casing a hand-lettered piece of paper—“Restrooms and Kitchen”.

Micah found a spacious kitchen with a small table and chairs for four in the middle of the floor. A tattered plastic table cloth lay across the top and a black book sat in the middle. In faded gold leaf lettering he could discern the word “Guests”. In the nearly barren cupboards Micah found outdated boxes of macaroni and cheese, cans of government issued vegetables, powered milk and some canned meats. Another hand-written note gave fair warning to leave the only can opener in the drawer where it had been found. “Think of the next person,” it demanded. Micah wondered how many they had replaced.

The restroom was a welcome sight. Micah quickly relieved himself then went out the back door to check the perimeter of the building. Again he moved cautiously through the high, dry weeds carefully scanning the shrubs and small trees nearby. There didn’t seem to be anyone else on the property and no signs of recent foot or bicycle traffic.

When he reached the front door again he felt fairly confident that the place was uninhabited. It was then that he noticed the faded sign near the door. “This is Hope House, maintained by four local churches for the poor and homeless. We ask that you stay no longer than 3 days and 3 nights. God bless you.” Micah smiled at the poor grammar. He wondered if the churches were really for the homeless or was it just Hope House.

He sat on the front step, pulled out some beef jerky and began to watch and listen carefully. If he was going to stay the night he wanted to get accustomed to as many of the sounds of the property as he could—grass rustled by a cat on the prowl, birds darting between the trees, dogs barking in the distance. Since his arrival Micah had not seen one car pass by. The nearest building seemed a good half-mile away and it was also leaning a bit with several windows boarded up. If Micah squinted he could see a bit of activity deeper on the horizon and assumed that it was some sort of town. When it got dark he would be able to get some sense of its size by the amount of light it cast up into the night sky. As the beef jerky was crushed slowly between his teeth he decided to stay one night, but made no further mental commitments. Life on the road was always a wait-and-see life.

Eugene got the final notice from corporate on Tuesday afternoon. He would have to get gas in the morning because Harold Perkins always jacked up the prices by Thursday to maximize his profits from the weekend travelers. This, however, never proved profitable because everyone in town knew his ploy and gassed up on Wednesday. Harold’s capitalistic strategy also always failed because real travelers were few and very far between in this part of the state. Eugene would need to get there early, too, so he could avoid any conversation with the Wesleyan minister who was always seemed to be there in the mornings.

So, Wednesday at 7:00 a.m. it was. Eugene would pack that night and prepare himself psychologically for the corporate hyperactivity that would follow at the twenty-fifth annual meeting of managers. He hated these meetings. The four days away from his store would cause him far more anxiety than the four days of having to pretend he was vested in the business. At least Althea would help to keep everyone under control. She had a calming presence in the store. He paused for a moment while he packed to ruminate over her young body.

Earnest’s phone rang around 7:30 p.m. It was Dorothy who had been told by Nadine that her Stan had seen a light on in the back bedroom of the Hope House.
“Earnest, do you know anything about this? Was someone in earlier today to clean and left the light on?” Earnest tolerated the pleading, urgent tone now as he had for years.

“I don’t know, Dorothy. It is possible.”

“Has anyone told you that there is a guest there? Have you talked with any of the other parishioners from the church?”

“No, Dorothy, I haven’t spoken with anyone today and I don’t know of anything else.” There was a slight twinge of irritation in his voice.

“Have you talked with any of the parishioners from the other churches?”

“No, Dorothy, I haven’t talked with anyone at all today.” Eugene could feel his blood pressure rise and knew that if he did not end the conversation soon, he would hear the second tone type that generally came out of Dorothy—that of the mournful martyr.

“Why don’t you call the Presbyterian minister, Dorothy? He usually knows what is happening.” And before she could slip in another breathless phrase or get her feelings hurt, Earnest said goodbye and hung up the phone as quickly as he was able. He knew her phone calls would not stop until she had spoken with every Hope House representative in each of the churches.

Earnest drew the small space heater closer to his chair, pulled the afghan his niece had made over his tired legs, picked up his whittling and started to pray for whoever was in the Hope House that night.

When Althea announced Friday morning that Eugene would be gone for four days of corporate meetings the rest of the staff rejoiced with great joy. Frank immediately ran back toward the loading dock.

“Don’t turn it up too loud,” Althea yelled after him. “We still need to work!” The canned music could finally be heard in every aisle. And although they could not change the tracks—the player was locked in Eugene’s office—they could adjust the volume to everyone’s delight. Eugene would never know how happy and productive they all were when he was gone, especially because he was too cheap to buy surveillance cameras.

Stacey was humming along as she restocked the bread. Ivan tossed the fruits and vegetables in the air a bit before he arranged them in the bins. Stephen whistled as he pushed the dairy products to the front of the racks. Jerry was sliding up and down the aisles like Fred Astaire with his mop.

“Attention, fine employees,” Althea’s voice lilted through the loudspeakers and over the music. “The store will open in three minutes.” Random cheers could be heard from the different aisles. Althea forgot to let go of the button on the microphone next to the cash register and her laughter rang out over the speakers but ended with an abrupt crackle as she released it. Stephen saw a twinge of rosy embarrassment rush to her cheeks as he headed toward the front of the store.

“You really should go into radio,” he teased her while unlocking the doors.
Earnest knew it would be a good news day when Stephen unlocked the doors. Eugene was gone! The paper was his. Stan and Dorothy were moving far too slowly as they shuffled in front of him. But he decided he could wait. He would read as much of the paper as he could until his back hurt too much. Then he would buy something obligatory and necessary like oatmeal or fiber mix to pay for his guilty pleasure. He remembered the days when a paper was only five cents and just could not bring himself to pay a whole dollar for the ones today.

Brighter-eyed Althea greeted them cheerfully when they came through the door. While Dorothy fumbled in her purse, Stan stopped close to Earnest and the two spoke quietly and seriously for several minutes. Earnest nodded several times and returned to his reading. Stan leaned into a cart to catch up with Dorothy.
Althea was very curious. She had never seen Stan and Earnest ever speak to one another much less make eye contact. She wondered if this was some kind of anomaly or if she just hadn’t been around them long enough. She was startled out of her thought by the intentional and urgent clearing of the throat of Elaine the dodger.
“Oh! Elaine. I didn’t even see you come in. How are you doing today?”
Elaine quickly beckoned Althea to come closer, which was quite difficult because of the width of the conveyor belt and the height of the check writing stand. But she leaned over all the same.

“Young woman, if you don’t move that man away from the front door I will write a scathing letter of reproach to your boss. And you know I will do it.”

Althea did not know that Elaine would, but decided to take some evasive action anyway. An old metal folding chair was behind the shelf just to the right of the newsstand.

“Good morning, Earnest. I was wondering if you would like to sit down and enjoy that paper since Eugene is gone and all?” She winked quickly at him. Earnest was taken back a bit because of the sudden proximity of Althea, but found great delight in the fact that a chair was so close at hand. Without a word, he promptly sat down in the chair and opened up the paper as if he had done it this way a thousand times. Althea had placed the chair at an angle so that Earnest’s back was to the door. Nothing would interrupt him or draw his attention away for quite some time. She was sure of that.

Back at the cash register Elaine did not acknowledge Althea’s kindness to both of their needs, but spat out the fact that she needed four quarters for a dollar. It was store policy that no change was to be given unless a purchase was made, but Eugene was gone and so she cautiously placed the coins into Elaine’s outstretched and demanding hand. Elaine took a quick glance toward the door then bolted past Earnest. When Elaine was out the door Earnest looked up over his glasses at Althea and smiled quickly in an impish sort of way.

“Mr. Earnest! “ Althea exclaimed. But he was already reabsorbed in the newspaper.

Micah’s side ached terribly. The mattress had springs pushing through layers of compressed and thin fabric. He opened his eyes and rolled over, which he had been doing all night. He saw someone standing in the hallway. He thought he remembered closing the door. Through the haze of waking he thought he should be startled, but his resources were not yet rallied fully so he simply sat up.

“Good morning, young man.” It was a quiet, old voice that apparently belonged to a man.

“Good morning,” Micah scratched out.

“Sorry to disturb you, but we didn’t know if a light was left on last night or if a person was here.”

“It’s no problem. I’m just glad for a place to sleep.” Micah rubbed his bruised side while the man started to gently close the door.

“We’ll be fixing some breakfast in the kitchen. Come on down the hall when you are ready.”

Micah lay back down and attempted to stretch his whole body, but the springs made a good stretch impossible. So he got up, put on his pants and filthy socks, and headed down to the kitchen. To his delight he smelled coffee and bacon. It had been a long time since he had had bacon. When he pushed through the kitchen door he saw a small, white-haired woman barely able to reach into the pan. Her sleeves seemed alarmingly close to the gas flame. The ties of a gingham apron were secured across her back and there was evidence of flour on her elbows and forearms. Micah slid past her quietly to use the restroom. She started a bit when he accidentally brushed her elbow, but then she shot a quick, genuine smile his way and returned to the task at hand.

When Micah came back into the kitchen the two older people were already seated at the table and seemed a little anxious for him to sit down.

Althea saw a stranger come through the door. He was a younger man and yet his affect seemed far too seasoned for his age. He smiled briefly when Althea caught his eye but avoided contact after that. He went immediately to the fresh produce ection and was lost from the line of vision of any of the employees.

Micah was hoping to find a piece of fruit to quell the longing for something fresh that the Lord made. He had several dollars in his pocket, but had learned enough to know that he had better save that for an emergency. Today, though, he would surrender a few coins for a piece of the fruit. The fruits and vegetables looked bountiful and it seemed to Micah that there were acres of abundant harvest. He scanned the entire produce aisle stopping every few seconds to let himself recall the taste of a Granny Smith apple, the sweet smoothness of the apricot meat and the clear juicy nectar of the pear. After permitting himself the blissful agony of those kinds of memories for just a short time, he settled on a small, black plum. It looked so small in the palm of his hand. He stared at it for a few minutes wrestling with whether or not he should indulge himself in such a way. Micah knew it would only awaken deep desires for goodness that would last for days and perhaps weeks. This was the kind of desire that could drive a man to the edge of desperation. It would take great discipline to overcome and he knew his investment today would come at that kind of cost. But his present longing for something real and fresh was very great. Micah turned quickly and headed for the cash register avoiding any sideways glances at other produce. His mission now was to get out of the store before his greed put him at risk again.

Althea had not heard him approach and was a little startled when she turned around to see the man standing and waiting at her register. She looked down to see one small black plum lying on the conveyor belt. It seemed silly to activate the belt but the stranger had put the plum at the far end. As the belt lurched into activity the plum wobbled sideways then forward settling again with its stem leaning into the belt. Althea reached to pick it up and smiled gently at the man. She saw small drops of sweat on his forehead and did not know exactly why this was happening. His eyes were not dilated and his hands were not shaking nor was it hot in the store. She rang up the fruit and declared its price to the customer. The coins were already in his hands and he carefully selected just the right combination to make the transaction.

“Do you want this in a bag?” Althea asked softly.

“No, thank you.” His voice was low and quiet.

A little grin dashed across his mouth. It was indeed a ridiculous question but the young woman could not to be expected comprehend how ridiculous. As he quickly left the store he was grateful she had not yet laughed.

Earnest looked at Althea over the top of the paper. Althea just shrugged and smiled a little sadly. The young man’s hands had been clean but worn. She would feel a little sadness for him throughout the rest of her cheerful day.

Dorothy shuffled up to the register with Stan in moderately hot pursuit. Althea engaged them with light chatter as they set their dozen or so items on the belt. On their way out Eugene signaled for Stan to come over and the two engaged in another short and urgent conversation. Both men nodded in some kind of surreptitious agreement. Stan drove the cart out of the store knowing he needed to catch up with Dorothy so that he could open the car door for her. She could not stand in the sunshine for very long.

When Micah headed back to Hope House he felt weary and satiated. He had found a small stream some yards away from the road and between the edge of town and Hope House. He had decided to sit at the foot of its lone tree to relish the one piece of fruit. His back rested against the dark and deeply crevassed bark. It felt like the spine of an old dog. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Here was a good and natural place to enjoy the fruit. After a moment of solemn reflection Micah reached into his backpack and pulled out the plum. The mid morning sun wrapped itself around his fingers and the fruit. He held it up to the sun and an edge of amber and deep maroon glowed like a halo. Micah’s eyes would not be diverted from the plum. The sunlight pushed deeper into the colors creating a tiny globe of light, texture and vibrating color. Micah drew the plum closer to his face and the aroma wafted into his nostrils. He knew this moment would be better than most. Just as the anticipation of a kiss was far more exhilarating than the kiss itself he knew that the first bite would be that kind of blissful moment. He decided to delay it just a few seconds longer, closed his eyes and breathed in the fragrance. Then suddenly he felt the juice on his chin and the meat on his tongue. He pulled his hand back, hardly daring to believe he had already succumbed. His jaw had severed the flesh to the bone of the pit. He felt a moment of pure fury. The taste and sweetness in his mouth had triggered the unmerciful roar of hunger in his belly. He could feel the juice run down his throat. Within a few seconds he knew that it was over. All that remained was the pit hard and brutal between his jaw and cheek. The pleasure had been almost immeasurably intense and satisfying. The dissatisfaction surprised him as much as an ambush. It boiled in his belly and demanded more and more and more. The battle was on. Those who said “mind over matter” had clearly never lived in poverty. Micah now had a choice: lie down and cling to his sides, pinching the skin to reroute the pain sensors, or get up and start walking. He got up quickly, threw his backpack over his shoulder and began to walk as if he was late for work. His legs churned through the gravel and the weeds and kept churning. He would walk until he no longer heard the roaring from his gut.

Earnest pulled his car up in front of Hope House and sat there for a few minutes carefully watching the door and windows for movement or shadows. Once it seemed he had fully taken stock of the situation he pulled himself up out of the car, one thick hand on the doorframe and the other on the steering wheel. He had long ago stopped begrudging his weakened legs. They had given him many good years on the farm—riding, digging, running and pushing. Now they just needed patience and assistance. So he gave them that. The three steps up and into Hope House would be conquered and then he could complete his mission.

Earnest stopped to catch his breath then pushed the door open. The building was still and uninhabited. Stan had told him that the young man was staying in the back room on the right. Earnest paused to look into the room before heading to the kitchen. It was neat and clean because the women had been there earlier in the day to do their work. Once through the kitchen door Earnest put the bags on the table with some relief. Standing there he leaned one mighty fist on the table and sighed deeply. He wondered how someone like this young man could get to this station in life. He had known just a few of these people before lending a hand at Hope House. And now these people tore at his heart. Without judgment he had taken them carefully and cautiously under his battered wing. It always seemed to be such a short time. But that did not surprise him. His small town was very near the middle of nowhere. There was little to no work available. Earnest might have entertained the idea of moving but his extended family hardly knew how to care for a headstrong old man. Plus, he had worked hard for his land and his house and had settled the matter long ago of never leaving what was most precious to him. A man without land was a man without purpose. Although his fields had been fallow for many years he felt a true connection to that piece of earth. Every now and then he would ride out to a distant tree where he had buried several faithful dogs and his favorite mule. He would just stand quietly there remembering the goodness of a good animal.

Earnest reached into the paper bag and set out the canned goods—hearty stew, fruit cocktail and hominy. He had forgotten about the bread and saw that it had been crushed on his short sojourn. He felt badly. He always felt a little chagrined about his inability to cook, especially with the great assumption that bachelor farmers were excellent cooks. He swallowed that thought again and arranged the cans in order of size. Folding up the bag he sat down and began to pray for the man who would soon take in this small gift as daily bread. He wished he knew his name. After a time of silence and intercession Earnest felt the pain in his knees and hip begin to bark. He took his slow journey out with a sense of fulfillment, closed the door carefully, wrestled himself back into his truck and went home. Dusk used to be his favorite time of day until his eyesight had started to fade. Now he needed to get home before the sun diminished any further.

Micah returned to Hope House well after dark. He was weary and exhausted. He quickly went to the restroom to relieve himself and then stopped back in the kitchen. There on the table he saw the cans of food. When he saw the cans of food he felt a little regret for not returning sooner. Although he had walked to relieve his hunger, his body still needed energy. So he retrieved the can opener from the drawer, opened the hearty stew, and began to eat it cold. As soon as he finished that he seized the can of hominy, opened it and consumed it almost as quickly. He sat back in the kitchen chair with a sense of relief, but satisfaction was nowhere near. He stared at the canned fruit for several minutes and then decided it would be best to wait until later. He tossed the empty cans into the trash and shuffled off to his room bone tired and needing some sleep. He rolled onto the warped mattress and let his bones rest. Within minutes he was sound asleep.

Eugene slammed the car door as hard as he could. Even through the thick automobile glass he could hear the sound echo through the parking garage. Eugene had left the meeting early acting as if he needed to use the restroom. To anyone watching from across the room it might seem as if he was having indigestion problems. His escape and was frantic and direct. After so many years of putting up with hyperactive special speakers, floods of statistics and stupid door prizes Eugene had finally had enough. He felt a deep well of rage within him. He knew it had been there for a long, long time but the crust of his earth had not yet broken open. Tonight fissures had appeared early in the evening. Then red hot lava began to push itself to the surface. There was nothing Eugene could do to stop it. His only recourse was to leave and really leave this time. He had used countless machinations at every other conference. But he seemed to have run out of new ideas and that even added further to his fury. With the kind of intensity and purpose of a young father needing to get to the hospital for his first child, but with far less joy, he had packed all of his belongings, thrown his keys at the concierge on his way out and plowed through the pristine glass doors. His one thought was to get out of that town as fast as he could. The accelerator could not go deep enough and he had no regard whatsoever for potentially patrolling cops. He had to get home.

Long into the night after several stops for coffee, gas and restroom breaks Eugene could see the state line. That strange, invisible line brought to him a remarkable sense of relief. He knew he would be home soon. The road was a dark, empty two lane road. This was a welcome contrast to the brightly lit and very noisy conference rooms. Eugene liked the dark. He liked it very much.

Micah woke up just a few hours after his head hit the pillow. He had been dreaming deeply and ardently. As he lay their staring at the ceiling he had but one thing on his mind. He could see rows and rows of fresh fruits and vegetables that had been laid out before him in his dream. All afternoon and into the evening he had fought hard against hunger. This was the kind of hunger that no can of food could answer. He became obsessed again. He got up, turned on the light and began pacing around the room. But that did not help. He went to the kitchen door, pushed it open and switched on the light. The canned fruit sat in the middle of the table. But the site of the grey metal with a dull label was not enticing. Micah quickly flipped the light off, turned on his heel, and returned to his room. He knew nothing else would satisfy him and so he made a decision. He believed that in such a small town the sidewalks would have rolled up long ago. He would make his way to the back of the grocery store and look in the dumpster for some fruit. It was still some time before dawn and he believed that he could do this without being discovered.

Micah heard little or no noise as he approached the alley behind the grocery store. He paused around the corner to listen carefully. When it seemed as if there would be no trouble he cautiously approached the dumpster. He walked around the battered metal bin for one more quick check before he opened the lid. Satisfied that he was in the clear he began to search through the boxes and bags. Thankfully the gabage on the top was fairly recent and the decomposition and smell was not overwhelming. He was grateful that he knew where he could wash his hands later. Hope House was well stocked with soap and paper towels. These items were rare and treasured for someone living on the road. As he fumbled through the bags and boxes, Micah lost concentration on the world. He had not noticed the man standing right behind him.

Eugene had passed the first stop sign heading into town when he made a quick decision to run by the store and make sure everything was secured. He had decided to go through the front door so that he could make a quick check to see if the shelves had been stocked properly. When he arrived at his office door he found several pink message slips taped at eye level. Just as he was about to yank those off he heard a noise outside of the loading dock. There was no window so he knew that he would have to quietly open the back door. He saw someone rummaging through the dumpster. For only a split second common sense ruled his brain. After that split second, though, rage that had been contained inside of his car and inside of his skull spilled out and covered his body. In an instant he had flown down the stairs with clinched fists and stood behind the person.

Micah barely had a chance to realize that the man was attacking him before he felt a hammer in his side. Deep and sharp pain permeated every part of his consciousness. Before he could do or say anything he felt an equally disarming pain in his right calf. Spinning around Micah was unable to register any facial qualities as the man’s fist smashed in his nose. The copper taste of blood began to fill Micah’s mouth. He tried to dodge a blow to his neck. As he turned and ducked the full force of the drive hit him in the side and knocked the breath out of him. It sent him reeling toward the corner of the dumpster. Micah fell and was trying to scramble to his feet when the toe of a boot seemed to penetrate his abdomen. The shock of the impact was so intense all Micah could see were bright lights. And then all went dark.

Eugene saw the man crumple beneath his first kick and felt such satisfaction in his violence that he continued to kick him for some time. In television movies he heard all kinds of grunts, moans, and yells. This was nothing like that. It was strange how quiet this struggle had been. As he felt his foot meeting the fleshy part of the man’s belly again his rage started to subside. Winded, he took a step back and for the first time felt some regret. But the regret was that he could not continue. He stood panting over the body wishing he had done something like this a long time ago. He felt purged and purified of his rage. It was unusually satisfying to see the work of his hands in this matter. This was no adding machine tape filled with perfect numbers or shelves stocked in perfect rows. This had been a man’s work. Defending his territory and protecting his store had unearthed some primal root. Eugene pulled his shoulders back and took in a long, deep breath. He looked up and down the alley, still dark and quiet, and decided that it was time to go home. The store was secured and he would just walk to the front where his car was parked. Eugene whistled an old tune on his way home. Parking the car in his garage he meandered through the house to make sure things were fine there, too. After getting a cold drink of water from the tap, he fell onto his bed and was instantly fast to sleep.

Stephen rolled up the door of the loading dock with the long chain banging against the frame. Just as he was about to turn, he saw a man on the ground by the dumpster. Stephen yelled out for Althea and the others. He jumped down and cautiously approached the slumped figure. There was dried and fresh blood around his nose and mouth.

“Be careful!” Stephen turned around to see the entire crew standing in stunned silence on the loading dock. Looking down they could see a pool of dark blood encircling the man’s torso.

“Is he alive?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t been close enough yet to tell.”

“He looks dead to me. Look how pale he is.”

“Don’t touch him.”

“I think I need to see if he is alive.”

“Don’t touch him!”

“I’ll call the sheriff.”

Stephen stared carefully at the man’s chest to see if there was any movement at all. He could hear Ivan’s high-pitched voice as he frantically told the dispatcher what they found. Althea went down the steps and stood next to Stephen. They both stared at the same chest hoping to see some rising and falling. Althea moved forward but Stephen pulled her back and made her stand a few steps away. He squatted down and tentatively put his fingers on the man’s cheek. There was no movement.

“He is warm. His skin is still warm.”

Althea turned and commanded Ivan to get some paper towels and warm water. Her second command was to Jerry who was to find a blanket and bring it as quickly as possible.

“What should I do?” Stacey almost whispered her question. She had never seen anything like this in her life. Althea respected her fear and simply said that it would be good to start praying now.

The sheriffs’ car quickly pulled up to the dumpster and the sheriff and his deputy rolled out with their hands on their guns.

“It’s alright, Dandy. He’s not moving. We’re not even sure if he is alive.”

Dandy told his deputy to check for the man’s pulse. He turned and grabbed the radio from his car seat and called in the need for an ambulance. While the deputy began circling the scene looking for evidence Dandy asked questions of Stephen, Althea and the rest. No one had any answers, just that when Stephen opened this morning he found the man.

It was a while before the ambulance came and the paramedics swooped in and began making their assessment. Althea and Stephen stepped back and leaned heavily against the loading dock, understanding little of the jargon or conversation furtively bouncing between the paramedics. They thought they heard that the man was still alive. The other store staff queried Stephen in hushed tones with questions he could not answer. No one realized that it was well past the time for the store to open.

Earnest decided to see if anyone was around back. It was very unusual that the doors were not open, nor were all the lights on. As he rounded the corner he was surprised to see and hear so much activity. He approached with some caution. He could see Althea and Stephen standing at the back of the ambulance speaking with the sheriff and a paramedic. He decided to watch and wait.

As Althea turned to head back into the store she saw Earnest at the corner of the building. She quickly moved over to him and began to explain what they found.

“I’m so sorry the store is not open yet. We’ll get it open in a few minutes.”

“It’s quite alright, Althea.” It was the first time he had ever used her name. “Do you know who it is?”

“No, but he seems kind of like a young man. His face was so bruised and swollen I couldn’t tell really.”

“Stan and Dorothy are at the front door. I’ll go around and tell them what has happened. Don’t worry about opening too soon. You need to regroup. Has anyone called Eugene?”

“Eugene is out of town at a convention. I don’t know how in the world I’m going to tell him about this.”

“Why don’t you let the sheriff do that, my dear? I’ll see you later.”
Earnest moved as quickly as he was able and found Stan and Dorothy standing at the door with annoyed looks on their faces. In a matter of seconds their faces changed from disgruntled consumers to deeply concerned citizens. Violence did not often happen here. When it did it was shocking.

“I hope it’s not that young man at Hope House,” Dorothy said.

“We can go over and check,” offered Stan.

“No, no. You two go on in and do your shopping. I’ll run over there then meet you back here.”

Earnest loped to his truck wishing he was just a little bit younger and faster. He would still need to be very careful getting in and out, as he had almost fallen last week. But the sense of urgency pushed through any pain or stiffness he might have felt.

Once inside Hope House he went directly to the room he knew the young man had been staying in. There on the bed lay his backpack. Earnest’s heart starting beating all the faster. He leaned out in to the hall. “Hallooo.” No one replied. He went to the bed and carefully opened the backpack and found a tattered wallet. The one identification card revealed the young man’s picture and his name as Micah Folsom. Earnest gathered all of his belongings and then thought it best to leave a note, in case the patient was not Micah. In large scrawling letters he wrote: I took your backpack to the hospital. If you are not in the hospital, please do not panic. I will bring it back soon. Earnest Standish, Hope House Rep.

Althea pulled all the staff together near Eugene’s office. She wanted to assure them that everything was being done for the man and that they just needed to keep their eyes and ears open for anything that might give some clues about what had happened. She reminded them of the sheriff’s instructions about calling if they found something further. She told them that Eugene would be back in two days and that by that time this should be all settled. If anyone would just happen to get a phone call from Eugene they could just have him talk with her. The staff seemed somewhat assured, though still on edge, and they all returned to their regular duties with somber faces. Stan and Dorothy reflected their affect when they were finally let through the front doors. A new and unusual camaraderie had evolved from a very disturbing event.

Earnest was a bit frustrated while in the reception area of the hospital. He had driven nearly thirty miles to get there and knew this was where the young man would have been taken. However, no one seemed to know much or care. He really was uncomfortable in big towns. Earnest was greatly relieved when he saw Dandy and the deputy coming out of the Emergency Room.

“Dandy!” Earnest waved as if he was across a football field. He did not want Dandy to miss him. “Dandy!”

Dandy came over immediately, glad to see Earnest, but with a curious look on his face.

“What are you doing here, Earnest?”

“I think I found the young man’s I.D. at Hope House.” He thrust the backpack at the sheriff. As Dandy looked through the backpack, Earnest explained how the church people had been in contact with the young man and he expressed deep concern over his condition.

The sheriff held up the I.D. to inspect it closely. “Well, Earnest, it looks like he’s been beaten up pretty badly. He’s got some internal injuries and will probably be in here for a while. I think this is him alright. Why don’t you come with me and we’ll talk with the doctor.”

Earnest followed Dandy into the ER and stood by bed of the young man. The sheriff handed the I.D. and backpack to the doctor and instructed him to call with any news. The doctor assured him that they would do their best to get in touch with any family members. Earnest hesitated when Dandy turned to leave.

“Aren’t you coming, Earnest? It’s getting kind of late, it will be dark soon.”

“I think I’ll just stay with this young man tonight, Dandy. If that’s alright with you, Doc?”

“Suit yourself, but I don’t want you driving after dark, especially on that road.”

“I won’t, Dandy. I’ll just stay through the night and get back home in the morning. I want to make sure he is alright.”

“O.K. then. See you tomorrow. Call me if anything happens.”

Earnest felt a little forlorn as he watched Dandy leave, but a kind nurse pulled up a chair and set it next to the young man’s bed.

“Would there be a newspaper anywhere near by?” asked Earnest. Within minutes parts and pieces of the day’s paper were in his hands. He took one long look at Micah, inhaled and exhaled slowly, then began to read the paper. It was going to be a long night.

Eugene woke with a start. He sat up and realized that he had slept all night in his clothes. He needed to use the restroom so stumbled down the hallway to relieve himself. After washing his face in cold water he surveyed the stubble on his face and decided he had better shave. He took off his white shirt and was curious to find dark red specks on the front. In a matter of seconds he remembered everything. His hands started to shake. He turned the hot water on and shoved his shirt under the stream, but then remembered that hot water would make blood set. Switching to cold water he scrubbed at the spots trying to get them out. He picked up the bar of soap and pressed it into the fabric furtively trying to erase the evidence of his violence. The images of the beating flashed across his mind and he had to throw up. His empty stomach heaved as he leaned over the toilet. Acidic saliva dribbled out of his mouth. He continued to dry heave for several minutes until his sides ached. He slumped to the floor, his mind reeling with disbelief. That couldn’t have been him! He put his head in his hands and sobbed.

Spent from terrible emotions, Eugene crawled to the living room. The terrible taste in his mouth was nothing compared to the horrors in his memory. He tried to stand up, but found his legs too weak to hold. He crawled up on the couch and curled into a ball. The bright morning sun was pouring in through his front windows and the heat radiated across his back. It was too much. He pulled himself up and clung to the arm of the couch while leaning over to pull the curtain shut. Then he shrunk away realizing that someone might see him doing this. He slowly reopened the curtain, got down on all fours and retreated to the kitchen. At least that window was at the back of the house.

The nurse checked Micah’s I.V. bag one more time. It was nearly empty and she glanced up at the clock on the wall. Her fingers pressed against the veins in his left arm while she watched the second hand sweep around its predetermined track. Micah eyes did not move from her face. He had been watching her quietly ever since she came in the room. She had been very kind to him throughout the night, but now he could sense that she wanted to go home. There was just a slight annoyance and brevity in her speech as she updated the doctor who had just come in.

“Well, Micah, how would you like to go home?” Micah didn’t say anything.

The doctor spoke quietly with the weary nurse and then turned back to Micah. “We’ll get you free from these tubes and then I want you to go home and rest for at least two weeks. No heavy lifting and you come in or call right away if you feel dizzy or have any abdominal pain. Like we’ve talked about before, you have been through a pretty brutal attack. Make sure you give your body time to heal. Do you have someone to pick you up today?”

Before Micah could respond, an old gravelly voice answered for him from the corner behind his bed. It might have startled Micah but his senses were still dull from sleep and medication.

“I’ll see that he gets back.”

“Is he a relative of yours, sir?”

“No, but he’s a neighbor of mine. We’ll make sure he lays low for a while.”

“Thank you. Nurse, let’s get Micah released before noon today.”

Earnest came into Micah’s peripheral vision with a gentle smile. Micah smiled back carefully. He had learned to distrust people fairly quickly and now, after his first physical attack, he felt he had no room for trust at all.

Earnest urged Micah to get up and move his legs off of the bed, while the nurse began to disconnect cords from the wall and tubes and needles. Micah grimaced in pain as he attempted to sit up and he felt Earnest’s hands on his back. The old man was surprisingly strong. He heard a small groan from Earnest as he pushed Micah forward and upward. “Now get yourself into that bathroom and get your clothes on. I’ll go pull the truck up to the door and we’ll get going.”

Eugene woke at 3:00 a.m. He had only slept for an hour. During the darkness of the night he had laid a plan that he thought just might work. He packed the same bag with the same clothes he had taken to the convention. Quietly he left the house and drove back an hour in the direction of the conference. Pulling into the parking lot of a cheap hotel, he silently paid the clerk and then slipped into the dingy room. Within twenty-four hours he would leave, drive home, and then arrive at the store around four p.m. as he would be expected to do. He believed, with little hope, that everyone would be unaware of his earlier and violent arrival.

The cab of the truck was silent for the most part. Earnest’s beard was showing after two days of not being able or willing to lay a hold of someone else’s razor, or worse yet one of those cheap, plastic razors. He missed his razor and strap at home and was willing to wait, even if he felt embarrassed to have such stubble showing, to get a clean shave like no other in the privacy of his own home. Micah was somber and equally as quiet. He could hear his stomach growl. Earnest heard it growl, too, and spotted a fast food place a few blocks ahead. He pulled in and had some trouble navigating the curve up to the drive-through. He would have had the two of them go in, but he was afraid his hip was going to lock up on him again and he didn’t need to have the young man exerting himself trying to help him. He was the helper right now and that young man needed some food. He spoke to Micah directly for the first time since getting into the truck at the hospital.

“I’ll be getting you some lunch. What would you like? And don’t be shy. You need to eat and so do I.” Earnest despised fast food but he was very hungry, too. The hospital cafeteria food had been cold and unappealing so he had eaten just enough to get by. It would be another hour before they got back to Hope House and he knew they both needed to eat.

Micah hesitated for a few seconds and then meekly requested the Number Two with a root beer. Earnest ordered two orders of Number Two with root beer and smiled a little sheepishly at Micah. Micah’s smile matched the old man’s. Earnest drove a mile or two to a small outlet he had stopped at many times before in his life. It wasn’t much to see, but there was a beautiful oak tree that sat to the West of the outlet. They would eat their lunch there.

“I hope you don’t mind me praying before we eat, Micah. I’d just like to thank the Lord for this food.” Micah nodded and quickly closed his eyes. Earnest’s voice was quiet and respectful. “Lord, we do thank you kindly for giving us this food to eat. And I thank you for saving this young man’s life. Bless us now and help us. Amen.” Micah was surprised at the brevity of the prayer, but very thankful for the shortness of it because the smell of the hamburger was about to make him go wild. He was so very hungry.

The two of them ate with the kind of quietness that was possible between the crackling of the wax paper and the slurping of the root beer. At one point Earnest leaned forward to get his root beer and let out a little yelp which was immediately squelched.

“Just my hip, son. It reminds me that it doesn’t like twisting a certain way every now and then.” A quick flush covered his cheeks at this admission to weakness. Micah chose not to acknowledge his neighbor’s weakness to help preserve dignity. Plus, he was so appreciative of the old man’s kindness he could hardly express it to himself. Even if the old man turned on him later these last hours had been far beyond just kindness. They had been mercy.

“I love that old oak tree,” Earnest blurted out. “It’s always been so healthy from the time I moved here. I was only twent-one, but I’ve counted on that tree being there every time I have passed this way.”

It was suddenly very quiet in the truck again. The meal was over, the wax paper had been wadded up and put into the bags and the root beer was all gone.

“Now when we get back to town, Micah, you can stay at Hope House for as long as you need to recover. Don’t you worry about getting out in three days. That’s just a rule so that people don’t take advantage of hospitality. I’ve talked to the other folks and someone will stay at the House every night until you feel that you are healthy enough to stick around and earn your keep or move along. We don’t want to impose on your plans. But you’ve got to get healthy, so no rush, alright?”

Micah was quite stunned by this sudden burst of more mercy. He knew that he was in no shape to go anywhere for a while and was deeply moved by the work that had already been done on his behalf.

“I thank you very sincerely, Mr. Earnest. It means a lot to me.”

“You can just call me Earnest.”

The truck engine roared to life and Earnest pulled into the road. A long, old green car swerved and raced around them.

“That Eugene Strange! He is the worst driver I’ve ever known. He must have some all-fired emergency to be driving like that.”

Stan, Dorothy and Elaine, were standing anxiously at the door when Althea came to unlock it. They rushed in as if there was some new sale going. “Good morning, Althea,” three rushed voices pealed out as they hurried to grab shopping carts.

“Well, what in the world is going on this morning?”

“Earnest called from the hospital a while ago and he’s bringing that young man to Hope House. We thought we would have more time, but now we’ve got to get those cupboards stocked and we want to get a meal ready before they arrive. Are there any fresh flowers in the refrigerated area?” Dorothy was almost spinning she was so wound up. Stan was trying to help her find the shopping list in her big purse and Elaine, who had picked the loudest cart in the store, could be heard racing up and down the aisles throwing in canned goods and nearly shouting out her frustration in not finding what she wanted for “that all-beat-up man.”

Althea was delighted with their activity and deeply appreciative of their efforts. Everyone who knew about the beating had been talking quietly about it in the store, at the coffee shop and at the post office. It had unnerved the whole town. Sheriff Dandy had yet to find any leads and the mystery deepened by the hour. Stephen had expressed many times how grateful he was that they had been at the store in time to call the sheriff and the ambulance. The idea of someone dying behind the store was completely overwhelming to most everyone.

Althea went to the back of the store to tell the other workers what the Hope House volunteers were doing. They all pitched in a few dollars toward the effort. At least they could help out in this way. Althea found Stan and quietly put the cash into his hand, saying it was from the rest of the grocery store crew. Stan quickly counted the money and grinned, showing his delight that they would be able to give even more care to the young man in the days ahead.

Althea heard the front door open and raced up to the cash register. She knew that Eugene would be back in today and did not want to found abandoning her post. As she rounded the corner of the aisle she was shocked to see Eugene standing there. He was scanning the store with a strange look on his face. It was very unusual for Eugene to come through the front door. In fact, in the time that Althea had worked there she had never seen him come in that way. He was pale and very, very quiet. There were no lurid glances at her thighs or breasts. He was not pacing, he was just standing there. After a few minutes of undecided silence he greeted Althea with a terse smile.

“Everything go alright while I was gone?”

“Yes, sir,” she answered instinctively under pressure. “Well, no sir, actually we had a pretty serious incident a couple of days ago. A young man. . .” Eugene cut her off with an incredibly frightening and intense look.

“I don’t want to hear about that right now. I need to get caught up with my work in the office.” Eugene lurched forward and headed straight for his office. Althea heard the door slam even in the front of the store. She could only imagine that he had had a terrible time at the convention. She and the rest would have to watch their P’s and Q’s for a very long time.

The note was in the center of the kitchen table at Hope House. Dorothy knew who it was from. She would take it to the next Hope House council meeting, but decided to read it beforehand anyway.

Thanks will never be enough for the kindness the Hope House people have given to me. I will never be able to repay you. Ever grateful, Micah


Althea saw Earnest heading toward the door. She ran to open it before he reached it first. With a broad smile on her face, she pushed the door open and greeted him cheerfully. Earnest scowled a bit.

“I thought Eugene opened up.”

“He’s told me to do it every day now, Mr. Earnest. He thinks you all like me better than him.”

“And he’s right!” Earnest’s candor was a bit surprising, but the truth was out.

“I don’t think Eugene wants to see much of anyone anymore.” She laid her hand on Earnest’s arm and whispered, “He’s quit smoking, too!”

Earnest was frustrated because he knew he wouldn’t be able to read the whole paper today. The thought crossed his mind briefly that perhaps he should just buy it today. But he put that thought out of his mind immediately. There was no real need for that.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Dog

She turned her head sharply right, immediately aware that the dog had trained his attention on her instead of on the running child. She told herself that the dog was nothing to worry about, yet she quickly assessed the distance between herself and the animal.

As usual her heart picked up its beat as adrenalin interjected its voice into the conversation. Continual self-consolations were ineffective, particularly as the stare of the dog was unrelenting.

She remembered the instructional dog show at the fair. It was there she had learned of a dog’s tail. If it wagged erratically no one should be alarmed—the dog was quite content. If it wagged like the tail of the cat clock on her great aunt’s wall she was in trouble. One brief glimpse and she realized she was sunk. The dog had no tail! Well, he did have a stump of a tail. It was such a stump, though, that it could not be seen to be moving. These animal mutilators did not have her best interests at heart! They clipped tails, ears, and who knows what else just to suit their revisionist eyes. Didn’t they know that God put a tail on a dog to warn her?

It was decision time. She took a quick and deliberate step to the right. So did the dog. Four feet versus two seemed hardly fair. She didn’t dare look into the dog’s eyes. That’s another thing she had learned. Well, actually she was suddenly confused. That man on television said you have to establish dominance, while someone else said you were never to look a threatening dog in the eye because that would indicate a desire to engage in battle for territory. Maybe she should just pee on the bush. That’s an act of dominance and claiming territory, isn’t it? Or maybe that would just be an act of public humiliation.

While she was distracted by this mental quandary, her heart started to slow its pace. She realized she was hearing all the street noises again. She didn’t remember not hearing them. Her hypothalamus must have closed its door. Her focus became panoramic, stretching like a yawn as her body relaxed from the initial rush of adrenalin. Then her focus drew in tightly and she saw, for the first time, the high chain-link fence that stood between them.

She took a quick right turn and was on her way.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

GRASS

She loved grass. And she had forgotten how much until her toes touched the verdant tendrils.

Her nerves picked up the cool and raced it to her brain. They hadn’t forgotten what a treat it was. And they were happy to remind her—with lightning speed. She remembered before the age of reason how much she had loved the grass, how much she trusted it. It had never hurt her, and she could never really hurt it. It always seemed to bounce back. And if it got too trampled, a bit of water would bring back its buoyancy. Water always helped.

She remembered the joy of releasing her feet from the cumbersome leather and plastic and feeling her toes embraced by the grass. The neighborhood children flew across the lawns, unhindered except by the jaded elders screeching warnings from windows and sidewalks.

There were things in the grass at times, but the grass did not put them there. Rusty nails, thumbtacks, broken glass—these things were not part of the grass. Someone put them there at night like the weeds in the fields of Jesus. It was not in the nature of grass to produce such things—not in its nature at all! That’s why she loved it.

And it’s why she hated asphalt. She understood now, in part, the need for asphalt, but it was so very ugly, hot, and dark. One couldn’t water asphalt and make it better. In fact, water was its enemy. Ha! Water always beats rock—always. And the water could run over the asphalt, down its sides, and into the grass. Water always wins. Maybe that’s why God put a boundary on it.

She remembered the time the bee had stung her toe. The bee was not the grass. She understood, even then, why it hurt. She would have bitten back if she had been stomped on, too. It wasn’t the bee’s fault, and it wasn’t the fault of the grass. It wasn’t even her fault. It was a harmonic convergence, an unholy collusion bringing little toes, grass, and bee together.

So there she was—post innocence—tossing her shoes to the side as if they were garbage. Oh, she wished she could just keep them in the heap. Perhaps burning them as a sacrifice to safety would be an appropriate rite of spring.

But then she remembered asphalt . . . and summer and the city. She was sad she needed shoes.

For Love of Words

It all began with her father and mother. Yes, they will have to take the blame. They surrounded their daughter with sheaves of paper filled with voluminous amounts of words. The family dinner table was (and often still is) filled with inquiries, sharing facts, recommending books, queries about why things are the way they are.

Then it happened! She discovered that she loved to write. And so she did.
Throughout her vocational life she found herself writing for many reasons—most of them utilitarian.

While being a closet creative writer for a number of years—smudged pieces of paper kept in old ring binders—she started to think about sharing these thoughts on a larger scale. Freelancing and doing art for art’s sake is now a necessary part of life. So here goes!

WRITING

She wished she had lined paper and pencil. She did have a pencil! But the paper was still the problem. She found a quarter-page scrap, the back of an old ticket. Yes! Eureka! Bravo! But that ran out far too quickly.

If she had only realized that the gully washer was coming. But who ever realized that anyway? She did not know how long this torrent of words had been building up within her, but let the water rise!

The words were tumbling around in her head. It was an enormous Laundromat dryer full of clothes that had become too hot. They had to come out and now!

As she pulled out the first piece, it felt so warm and inviting. But the second piece had hot metal buttons that seared her skin. They bit her, and she pulled back.

There were so many other pieces that she really could not—would not—take time to suffer the pain. Who knows what other delights awaited?

She must always remember to bring paper and pencil.