Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Spoil Hastens

“Maher-Shalel-hash-baz, Maher-Shalel-hash-baz, Maher-Shalel-hash-baz.” The chorus of voices increased in volume and intensity. “Maher-Shalel-hash-baz, Maher-Shalel-hash-baz!”

Adrian ran out of the room. He could no longer stand the chanting and the crazed behavior. Adrian had joined the group as a lark. He thought it was just strange enough to be entertaining and slightly intriguing. But now it was just disturbing. At first the lark was fun because he was with his old college buddies. They had invited him for beers several months earlier. They had a blast remembering old times and then invited him to their group meetings. A monthly meeting did not seem to be too great of a commitment, plus Adrian had been feeling lonely.

Catherine had left him six months earlier proclaiming that she could no longer stand the boredom. She was sick of his boring, boring life. His incessant online gaming was “no way to maintain a relationship with a woman”. Adrian had spent the last six months working off his little belly fat, which Catherine had described as disgusting, and had infused his wardrobe with items other than sweats, blue jeans and T-shirts. He was determined to act his age -- which was not that much beyond a university graduate.

He left the university with high hopes, inspired dreams and enough zeal to send him thrashing into the marketplace with glee. That glee and zeal had been quickly crushed by brutal competition. His academic adviser had promised easy job placement because of the excellent degree he had shaped for Adrian. It became very apparent that Adrian's academic adviser was somewhat removed from reality due to disassociation with the actual marketplace or his literal disinterest in Adrian’s success. Be that as it may, Adrian was now stuck in a job that did not pay half of what was needed to meet his expenses.

Adrian's parents consistently warned him of living beyond his means, but he ignored them as any young son would. He consistently got credit card offers in the mail and took them up based on his fundamental right to freedom. It was only now that Adrian began the slow but sure realization that freedom did indeed come with a price. Determined that his parents never know, he covered himself with confidence and numerous white lies. He was fiercely independent and completely afraid. No one must know.

His college buddies were all doing very well. Two of them already had wives, one had a baby on the way and all had excellent high paying jobs. As they met each month he learned more about their jobs through their casual conversation. Adrian occasionally became too curious, asking questions about bonuses, gross vs. net pay, etc. The flashing eyes of his friends were ample warning that he was going places he should not go. This struck him as odd because they had talked freely about everything in the dorm rooms.

As Adrian ran down the street the strange words were ringing in his ears, “Maher-Shalel-hash-baz”. He had never heard anything near this kind of language before, despite the fact that he had taken two languages at the university. His hands shook as he put the car keys into the ignition and started the car. He could see nothing outside yet as the rush of defrost pressed itself against the interior of the windshield. He tossed his head backwards and took a deep, cold breath. “Maher-Shalel-hash-baz”. His mind reeled with the strangeness and curiosity. Maybe it was some kind of strange code the group had made up. Maybe it was something they had learned in their fraternity. He had never pledged because he thought fraternities were a waste of his time. Maybe... His cell phone rang.


“Adrian, dude, where did you go?” It was Vincent.

“I forgot that I had to contact my broker tonight.” A lie confidently replaced the truth.

“Oh, well, that’s a good man. Keep that money jetting around the globe!” Vincent’s voice was filled with satisfaction and delight.

“Listen we’ll let you off this time!” Jovial as ever, Vincent wasn’t going to let him off the hook. “So, be sure to not miss the next one, eh?”

“Sure, sure. Hey, it was good seeing you guys.”

“Until next time! Arrivederci!” Vincent was decidedly more European than he was American. His exotic Italian mother had always been the apple of all the boys’ eye, but now his French wife had taken his mother’s place. She was not nearly as beautiful, but there was something alluring in her as well. If there had not been, Adrian supposed that Vincent would never have been drawn to her.

After the phone call he could see sufficiently out of the front windows and was determined to get off of this street before the meeting ended. He looked at his watch and saw that within minutes the rest of the group would be leaving soon. Dashing down the street and making the first right he could, Adrian accelerated toward his apartment as quickly as possible. It was late and he had to be aware of the stealth cops hiding in alleys with their speed guns, but he was familiar enough with the area to know their haunts.

Vincent watched Adrian as he ran from the room and then he grinned. Turning back into the circle and without breaking the rhythm of their chant, he winked at Peter across from him. They almost laughed, but keep their voices trained on their mantra. The ritual now complete, the young men turned to the small, old bar near their table.

“This scotch is getting low.”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re always complaining about it. Why don’t you get some this week instead of me?”

“You know I can’t do that.”

“What’s the matter? Is Johnny’s little wife a bit particular about her Scotch?”

“Yes she is. And you know that. Now shut up and make sure you don’t forget it next time.”

“Yes, sir!” All three others saluted him in sloppy mockery of the armed forces.

“Sit your butts down, fools. We need to go over the list.”

Sitting down, they all pulled folded sheets of paper from their coat pockets and spread them out on the table.

“We have more freedom now since Adrian left. So, let’s start with you Max.

“I found a connection for more lists. I can buy them for $.10 each in lots of 100. That should keep us busy for a while until we can train Adrian. Then we’ll be able to bulk up more.”

Vincent glanced at his list and grinned broadly again. “I was able to download 1,000 more this week.”

“Dude,” it was Jason-the-Cautious, “You need to be a little more conservative! That’s a big company your father-in-law has, but somebody’s going to notice if you don’t start biting off smaller chunks.” Jason punched Vincent in the arm. Vincent barely flinched and glared at Jason.

“You know he’s right, Vincent.” Peter’s voice was firm. “You’re putting us all at risk.”

“Alright, alright, you wimps! Smaller bites. Peter, what do you have?”

Peter cleared his throat meaningfully. “Gentlemen I hold before you the keys to the kingdom. With great patience and planning,” he paused to glare at Vincent, “I have the perfectly crafted resource for our needs.” He pulled a manila folder from his briefcase and laid it in the middle of the table. “Gentlemen, before you is the gold mine of gold mines.” Peter slowly opened the folder and the three leaned over with gasps escaping their lips.

“Dude, where did you get that?!”

“I don’t have time to give you the details, gentlemen, but it’s ours for the taking. I wanted to give you a glimpse of it tonight.” Peter withdrew the folder from their midst. “And, if Adrian is not here next month, I’ll lay out the plan. In the meantime, be sure to know that the influence I hold with this document will be used carefully and wisely.”

Max got up slowly from the table, rubbing his hands through his hair. He walked over to the bar and got another drink and walked back to the table. No one spoke until Max broke the silence.

“This, gentlemen,” Max tapped his left-hand fist on the table, “represents our next move upward. We must belay any fears or desires that will put this movement in jeopardy.”

“Oh, shut up, Max! You sound like a general on the field of battle.”

“Alright, but I’m serious. I would like to make a suggestion that Adrian be excluded from the group from this point forward. Too much work and effort have gone into this to let a rookie foul it up. Even if we just let him work on Max’s list he would have too much access to us. And I just don’t see how that is any good.”

Jason was eager to jump on this bandwagon. “Yes. I agree. Adrian should never come back. Did you see how he ran from this meeting tonight? Even if he really forgot a meeting with his broker, he was definitely afraid. Definitely afraid.”

Consensus seemed to be brewing and the room grew quiet. Peter was the first to say something again.

“Look, the loss we might incur from not bringing on a fifth member will certainly be absorbed by Peter’s plan. Agreed.”


“Then, Vincent, why don’t you give Adrian a call in a day or two and tell him that we’ve disbanded. Maybe in a couple of months we could make an invitation to pizza or something and then cancel, then let the connection die out.”

“I think this is an excellent idea.” Max was anxious to get going. His wife would be too curious if he was much later.

“Look I think we should find a new place to meet, too.”

“Agreed.” Vincent took command as usual. “Jason, pack up the liquor. There is a box behind the bar. Let’s put the chairs and the table back where we found them. Peter, get a broom and sweep some dust over this area, too.” All four men quickly set to work, not wanting to disappoint Vincent’s wife. They might not be invited over for a while if he was late.

Adrian slumped over his morning coffee. His little kitchen was cold and there was frost on the windows. He had finally remembered to put his slippers on this morning. Autumn had turned to Winter rather quickly this year. A short pencil started to roll off of the table and he grabbed it as it was about to plummet off of the edge. A napkin lay next to his stained coffee cup. He pulled the napkin out and started doodling on the corner. He had slept poorly and was finding little room in his head for serious thought. It was Saturday and he let himself relax into that reality. He found himself sounding out the words, trying to write them phonetically to see if his memory could recall anything associated with it. M-a-h-l-er, scratch that. M-a-h-a-r, scratch that. M-e-h-e-r-s-h-a-l- it was coming together pretty nicely, a-l-h-e-s-h-b-u-z. Eating the last bite of his toast he opened his laptop and did a web search for this but found nothing close to it. Disappointed, he got up and put his coffee cup into the filthy sink. Suddenly Adrian was struck with purpose for his day. He quickly looked up the hours of the library and trotted off to the bathroom to shave.

The sunlight was warm, despite the biting wind on his face. Between blasts he could feel the rays penetrating his skin. It felt good to be alive with purpose. In the back of his mind he understood that this purpose was short lived, for as soon as he discovered the meaning of the crazy word, he knew that purpose would fall away. He always loved to learn and he considered going back to school again. But that required more money. He leaned into the wind, hunching his shoulders to keep it from clawing down his neck. The library was only a few blocks away and he wanted to save gas and his parking place, so he pressed on despite the tingling in his legs and earlobes.

Inside the library he was delighted with the warmth and the quiet. The clerk smiled carefully at him and he smiled back. “Is there a reference librarian in today?”

“Not right now. She doesn’t come in until noon.”

“Where would I find her when she is in?”

The clerk pointed to the reference area to the right. “She’ll be there at noon.”

“Thank you.”

Adrian sat down at the computer not knowing where to start. “Start somewhere, idiot.” This was the voice that always taunted him. He knew he wasn’t an idiot, but that voice was always there. He started with languages and would go from there.

Adrian had fallen asleep in the carrel, books piled high around him. When he woke he felt the drool on his mouth and chin and was embarrassed even before he knew anyone had seen him. He was grateful when it appeared that no one had. His search had been fruitless thus far. As he rubbed his face to help awaken it, he hoped the librarian was in. Glancing at the clock he saw that she had been there for over two hours.

“Can I help you?” The librarian was quite nice, middle-aged with rust colored hair.

“I have been trying to find a definition for a word that I heard the other day. I’ve looked for several hours and can’t seem to find anything near related to it. Would you want to give it a crack?”

“Well, let’s see what we can find. The librarian turned to her computer, “How do you spell it?” Adrian laid the napkin down carefully in her line of vision. “I didn’t ever see the word. I only heard it a few times.” The librarian looked at it carefully for some time, typed something into her computer and looked puzzled.

“Do you have any idea if it is one word or more?”

“No. It sounded like all one word. It was spoken over and over in a kind of chant.”

She looked at him curiously and then glanced at the clock. “What have you looked at so far?”

“Ancient languages, Central American languages, a few religions. I can’t seem to find any kind of hook or lead.”

“It would certainly help if we had the exact spelling.”

“Unfortunately this is all I have.”

“Tell you what, I have a few minutes before a class I’m teaching. Why don’t you take a look at this?”

She was writing a call number on a piece of paper. “I’ll see what else I might find. If I’m not here when you get back I’ll leave a note with the clerk if I find more.”

“Thank you.”

Adrian pursued the book through the shelves as if it were the Fountain of Youth. He fumbled along the shelves and found the volume the librarian had cited. His finger quickly ran down the table of contents. Finding nothing he flipped through the index. A few false leads had him prancing through the pages, but his search again was fruitless. He browsed the books close by to no avail. His stomach growled and he was losing interest. He hadn’t spent this much time in a library since his university days.

Adrian stopped at the clerk’s desk, inquiring if the librarian had left a note. The clerk apologized. Adrian decided he would go home, cook a microwave meal and do some gaming. He was tired of this and hoped that it would not re-enter his dreams tonight.

Adrian woke up mid-morning. He had been gaming with people in Japan and Russia all night and fallen asleep on the couch. His computer told the tale, “Game suspended. Retry?” He hoped that the other gamers weren’t angry with him. But he would probably never know. More than likely they had just obliterated his avatar and moved on. Maher-Shalel-hash-baz—there it was again! He must have been dreaming it. He thought that gunning down those avatars, beasts and mongrels would have pushed enough adrenalin through his system to destroy the word. But, that didn’t even work.

As he was shaving, Adrian was struck with the idea of attending church. He wasn’t really sure where this came from, it was just there. He mulled this over for a while. He had rarely gone to church. Every once in a while his cousins had roped him into it during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it was always boring and he rarely understood it. But maybe on this day he would go. While cooking his traditional Sunday morning eggs and hash browns he looked up churches in the area. He had never known that there was an Episcopalian church on the other side of his block. Service began in an hour so he was sure he could make it.

The church’s high ceiling and marble floors were braced by thick and dark wooden beams. Adrian paused for a moment at the door to the main meeting room—someone had called it a sanctuary—observing how people entered and where they sat. He decided to sit in the back corner so that he would look less foolish to those few around him. The music started and everyone automatically picked up a small, brown book from the rack in front of them. Adrian quickly opened one of these. People were singing and reading aloud. It was difficult for him to hear all of the words because the large number of voices bounding down the long hall. Frequently people changed books, from the small brown book to a modestly larger book bound in black. He had finally given up exchanging the books because he could not keep up. So, he stood with the small, brown book resting on his palms.

Eventually everyone sat down and someone who looked like a priest stood up near the front. There were several people who had on similar robes with golden tapestry scarves hung around their necks. A voice rang out from the front of the hall, “The Old Testament reading this morning comes from Isaiah chapter 7 verses 13-25 and chapter 8 verses 1-3, Hear the word of the Lord. Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, "Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.. ."

Adrian was finding it hard to listen as he frantically thumbed through the pages. Someone behind him gently tapped him on the shoulder and handed him an open black book. Adrian smiled at the man and whispered thanks. The man leaned closely to his ear and pointed to a particular place. “This is where we are.”

Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah . . ."

Adrian was trying hard to comprehend these words, but without any context whatsoever he simply read word by word.

In that day the LORD will whistle for flies from the distant streams of Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria. They will all come and settle in the steep ravines and in the crevices in the rocks, on all the thorn bushes and at all the water holes. In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the River. . .

Adrian’s mind started to wonder away.

. . . As for all the hills once cultivated by the hoe, you will no longer go there for fear of the briers and thorns; they will become places where cattle are turned loose and where sheep run.
The LORD said to me, "Take a large scroll and write on it with an ordinary pen: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.

Adrian’s heart leapt. What did the reader say? He eyes drilled in on the words.

And I will call in Uriah the priest and Zechariah son of Jeberekiah as reliable witnesses for me." Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the LORD said to me, "Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. Before the boy knows how to say 'My father' or 'My mother,' the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria."

The reading suddenly stopped, but Adrian’s heart was beating all the faster. He turned quickly to find the helpful man, but no one was behind him. His finger was pressed to the paragraph where he was reading the words for the first time. Four words. No wonder he could not find it as one. Everyone sat down but Adrian remained standing his eyes fixed to the page. Someone cleared their throat behind him and he jerked his head up and discovered he should be seated. He fell back in his seat, careful to not move his finger from the words. He heard another voice coming from the front, but all he could do was read that paragraph over and over. The voice droned on and on while Adrian’s focus became blurred from staring at the words too long. He looked up and he heard the speaker roaring indiscernible words in his direction. It was something about prophecy and judgment and God. He didn’t really care what was being said. He was scanning the page and its neighbor looking for some description, footnote or parenthetical statement to tell him what it meant. There was little there except the context of the words themselves and the words were a name. He flipped the cover closed over his finger to see what this book was and saw “Holy Bible” impressed on the cover. Adrian was even more confused now. Those college buddies were anything but religious. Where and why did they use this name? Adrian heard little more of the service, which concluded fairly abruptly. Not knowing how to hang on to this revelation, Adrian slid the Bible under his coat as he left the seat. He would have to take it home to find out more.

The spaghetti slurped through Adrian’s pursed lips as he held the Bible in his other hand. He had read and re-read the section that had been read in the church, but he still could not understand it. Carefully marking the page with a long piece of ribbon and taking another drink of orange juice he flipped backwards in the pages until he came to what looked like the beginning of a section. “Isaiah” was printed in large bold letters across the top of the page. He decided he had better read it all the way through, then maybe he could figure it out. Leaving the plate on the table he carried the book to the living room and sat down to read.

The phone rang. Adrian was startled out of his study, and reached for the phone.

“Hey, dude. How in the world are ya?” It was Vincent.

Adrian’s voice caught in his throat for a moment. He closed the Bible quickly as if Vincent could see it and recovering into cheerfulness he responded, “Hey, Vincent. What’s up?”

“It was great having you at the meeting the other night.”

“Yeah, thanks for inviting me.”

“Hey, listen we decided to disband the meeting. It was getting a little too time consuming for all of us.
The wives, you know!”

“Oh, well thanks for letting me know.”

“But we don’t want you to feel left out. We’ve made some plans for a pizza party at Max’s pretty soon. I’ll give you a call then, O.K.?”

“Sure, Vincent, that sounds great.”

“Well, you take care, dude. I’ll talk to you later.” The phone was dead in the next instant.

Adrian was a little confused again. Vincent had told him that the guys had wanted him to be part of the group several times. He had assured him that this would be a good, long-standing group to be part of—which made this quick and cheery dismissal all the more curious. As uncomfortable as he had felt at that last meeting, though, he was very relieved to never meet with them in this way again. He would much rather hang out and have pizza than approach some old warehouse in the dark.

The librarian was delighted to learn how the words were spelled and that it was a name. Librarians were always delighted with new knowledge. She informed Adrian that their catalog included very little Biblical reference works, that there were a few things in a particular section, which she pointed to, and that there was a seminary library on the other side of the block. It was right next to the Episcopalian church. Adrian thanked her again sincerely, very grateful for her referrals. He rummaged through the section the librarian had directed him to and was met with frustration again, not understanding how to use the few books that were there. He would spend some time at the seminary library even though it made him a little uncomfortable being so near so much religion.

The seminary library smelled much older than the public library, and was obviously less traveled. But the reference desk was easy to approach and a man’s broad back was bent over the desk behind it. Adrian cleared his throat lightly.

“I’ll be with you in a moment.” He could see the man shaking his head up and down and heard a low tone of curiosity humming through his lips. As if alerted from a bystander, the man wheeled around to greet him. Adrian was pleased to see the man who had helped him in the church. At least this was a not a cold meeting. The man smiled more broadly than before. “And how can I help you today, young man? By the way it was good to see you in church.”

“Oh, thank you. It was nice to be there.” This last statement was true only because he had discovered the source of his haunting. “I was wondering if you might be able to help me with a particular Bible section.”

“Well, sure! I should put the emphasis on ‘try’. Sometimes we can’t always know exactly what we see in the word of God, but the Lord helps us with our misunderstandings, too. Are you a new seminary student? I haven’t seen you around before.”

“No, I just live around the block and have been doing some scouting.”

“Let’s scout some more, shall we? Tell me what passage of Scripture you are looking at.”

Adrian then realized that he would be presenting the Bible he had stolen from the church. He couldn’t remember what the section was called, so the only way to tell this man was to reveal his hand. Turning a slight shade of red, he pulled the Bible from his coat and handed it to the man.

Immediately the man recognized the Bible and tried to put Adrian at ease. “It’s good you took the good Book. Many people are lost without it.”

“I’m . . . I’m sorry . . .” Adrian stumbled over his words.

“Quite alright, young man. Quite alright. May I ask your name?”

“Adrian.” This came out a little more timid than Adrian would have liked, but it had been a long time since he had been caught stealing something. For a moment a similar situation from his 8th year of life wrenched his gut again.

“I’m Franklin.” Franklin’s kind eyes and light tap on Adrian’s arm seemed intended to dispel any shame.

“Why don’t we go over to the table there and you can show me what you have been looking at.”

As Adrian described his recent study of the section and the whole part called Isaiah, he could see Franklin’s eyes dance with delight. He told Franklin how frustrating it was to figure this all out on his own and that he would welcome any help he could get.

“Tell me what part is the most distressing to you.”

“This name here—Maher-Shalel-hash-baz—I just can’t find any description or meaning for it anywhere else in Isaiah.”

“Ah, that’s because it is an ancient word.” Franklin was careful not to jump into any seminary lingo and scholarly words. He had seen Adrian struggling with some of the most rudimentary descriptions of what they were looking at.

“If you have some time I would be more than happy to show you how we find such things.”

“I’ve got all day.”

Franklin fairly sprung into action, running to different parts of the reference area, stacking books on top of each other, going to another part of the library and bringing several more volumes. When he came back a bit breathless to the table, he looked a little chagrinned after seeing the stunned look on Adrian’s face.

“Oh, dear, I probably got a little ahead of myself. We won’t need to go through all of these books. I’ll just pick out two or three that will help.”

Adrian smiled quickly to relieve the older man of any discomfort. Franklin sat down next to him and started rummaging through the books, mumbling while he verbally sorted his thoughts. At last he seemed pleased with his selections.

“First of all, let’s see if we can find that definition right away.” Franklin pulled a thick book towards them. “This is a Bible dictionary, much like any dictionary you would find. If we’re lucky we’ll find it right away.” Franklin’s fingers and eyes raced over pages, flipping them quickly to find a match. “Ah ha!” Almost too loudly, Franklin declared his search was over. He laid the book in front of Adrian.

“Why don’t you read it for us.”

Adrian felt like he was back in grade-school. He grinned into the book remembering how wonderful it was to have a good teacher. “A symbolical name (‘the spoil hastens’, ‘speed the spoil’, ‘hasten the prey’) given to one of Isaiah’s sons to signify the quick removal of enemies . . . “ Adrian leaned back, more confused and unsettled than ever.

“What is it Adrian?”

“I don’t know. I just can’t figure out why they would use this name.”

“Who is ‘they’? Maybe that would help us understand why they chose it.”

Adrian was talking quietly in the air. “If this was a prophecy about removal of enemies . . .”

Adrian turned suddenly to Franklin.

“Franklin, I’ve got to think about this some more. I’m sorry if I’m being rude. But I’ve got to think about some things.”

“Of course. Of course.” Franklin did not appear to be too disappointed, hoping the young man would come back soon.

“Thank you, Franklin. I’ll probably be back next Saturday. Thank you.”

Adrian left the library deep in thought, as he would be for many more days.

Adrian found his scissors and shuffled to the kitchen table. There on the front page of the paper were the pictures of his old university pals Vincent, Max, Peter and Jason. Above their heads was the bold headline—Four Arrested in Massive Financial Scam. The article was riveting and disturbing. Literally millions of dollars had been skimmed off of Medicare. In addition to this, the four had been in the identity theft business since college. Adrian was dumbfounded. He sat down and just stared at their faces, now ugly mug shots from the police department. He drank his coffee slowly still having a hard time taking it in. He felt a profound sense of relief that the group had been disbanded. Or had it? Maybe they just did not want him in it. That was quite alright—especially now. The article made some brief reference to the groups’ code word of Maher-Shalel-hash-baz, an ancient Hebrew name. Beyond that there was no further explanation.

Franklin was delighted to see Adrian again. The young man had come back several more Saturdays and was showing real promise as a student of the Bible. They went to their usual table and Franklin was about to head off into the stacks. Adrian put his hand on Franklin’s arm, pulling him gently into the chair next to him.

“Franklin, I need to show you something. It will help you understand why I have been so curious.” Adrian unfolded the newspaper article and Franklin looked at him curiously.

“I read that this morning, Adrian. It’s so sad and alarming.”

“I went to school with these guys.”

Franklin shook his head. “How quickly some fall.” In hushed tones he asked, “Were you a part of this group?”

“No, thank goodness. They invited me in, but I was unnerved by their strange behavior.”

Franklin let out a little sigh of relief.

“Through all of your teaching about Isaiah chapters seven and eight I have not understood.” Adrian’s finger ran across the words referring to the name that the group had used. “And while I have some idea, now I really need to know why they chose this name.”

Franklin studied the article again. Shaking his head, he opened several books he had collected in anticipation of Adrian’s arrival. He shook his head again.

“It is strange that they chose this name because, in the context of this Scripture, it is in reference to the defeat of Judah’s enemies. The spoils are God’s, not the enemies.” Franklin looked Adrian in the eye. “The only explanation I may have is that they did not know the Scriptures themselves. Perhaps they got confused and thought that it would be an appropriate name for stealing and oppression. I just don’t know for certain.”

Adrian laid a hand on Franklin’s shoulder. “Franklin, I think that may be the best answer we can get to on this matter.” They both sat quietly staring at the faces of the young men in the paper.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


She could see the images tumbling like Monarchs through the trees. The colors were always brilliant and buoyant. If she closed her eyes, she would have to completely succumb to them, so she kept her eyes wide open, hoping the images in her head would subside.

She was a visual schizophrenic. There was always a new image that imposed itself on her--particularly when she was relaxed. Sometimes pictures would superimpose themselves on each other, sometimes they would arm wrestle for dominance, but always there were far too many to paint or even draw. She had learned early in her artistic training—and it had taken some time to let herself be an artist—that if she gave in to all their demands, she would never sleep, never eat, never stop painting.

And then there were the pencils and ink pens lying in wait in the foxholes. If she kept them visible and handy they would attack her outright, demanding attention and allegiance even more ardently than the images themselves. They were the means to the end--these pencils, pens, and brushes. And they were in league with their compatriots--the canvas and paper.

She frequently wondered about this barrage. Where did it all come from? Why did she see the world in pictures and not words? Perhaps it was a mad rush against the reality of her blind, deaf, and mute muse: her grandmother, the one from whom her parents derived her name.

Her grandmother had been an artist in her own right, one who before the vision vanished in her eyes, had produced delicate and intricate crochet work. The works of others’ were always cumbersome and lumpy. Her grandmother’s were like snowflakes—yes, like snowflakes.

Throughout her house her deceased grandmother’s keepsakes were hidden. For the first time this struck her as odd. Why they had remained hidden she did not know. Even after this moment of realization, they would remain hidden. Perhaps it was too painful and frightening a reminder that the senses she now enjoyed, even the ones she herself had suppressed, had been systematically taken from her grandmother.

Her first and terrifying memory of her grandmother was when she was introduced to her by means of sign language. Her son had patiently signed into his mother’s hand the letters of her name m-a-r-t-h-a. The moment the last ‘a’ left her palm, her grandmother erupted with pure joy and crazy guttural expressions: “Gul! Marpha! Gul!” Her light and long fingers had fluttered wildly over the terrified grandchild’s eyes, nose, cheeks, lips, and hair. Marpha! Gul! She was her Martha, her girl, the oldest daughter of her only son.

She remembered being paralyzed with fear as she was pulled simultaneously into her grandmother’s warm arms and the cold steel of her wheelchair. The joy and delight on her grandmother’s toothless, blind face was equally astonishing. This hung like a beautiful, ravenous painting in her granddaughter’s mind for years to come. Rarely had she experienced such joy and absolute acceptance in all her life.

Yet, like the persistent and random images, she did not have any true sense of history with her grandmother--only gul and marpha and those long and tender fingers touching her face. Like a million butterflies brushing her face, her grandmother and the hundreds of colors had been with her for a very long time. They sustained her. They had given her hope. They had encouraged her and filled an otherwise gray life with color more beautiful than the autumn aspens.

Perhaps that was why she selected very carefully the images and colors she would apply to paper and canvas. If she put them all out there, perhaps she would lose them and lose the courage of her grandmother. This she could not do. This she would not do.