What’s a Dot To Do?

A Fable

Once upon a time there was a Dot. Let’s call him Fred. Everywhere Fred went, he met squares, circles, lines, ovals and all sorts of shapes. In all his far-flung travels to the nooks and crannies of the four corners of the world, he came across hundreds of shapes. No other dots.

He came to appreciate all those other shapes as he traveled about. Oh sure, circles would roll right over things. It was just their way. But every shape had a useful purpose. For instance: What would a baseball field be without a diamond? What would prevent accidents on a one-way street if not for the arrow pointing the right way? What would a plate be without a circle? Nada. Nowhere. A big, fat zero, which is a circle, by the way.

From time to time, Fred’s neighbor, Mrs. Arrow, gave a party. She invited all her arrow relatives. Invitations also went out to the ovals and the circles, and the lines always received an invite. The lines liked to roar. There was no better place to roar than at a party. Every shape in the neighborhood was invited. Everybody but Fred.

He was always the left-out kid. Over the years, he came to feel his dotness was a curse. Especially when he overheard one oval yell at another, “Go dot yourself.”

His dotness became such a burden of loneliness he often thought about ending it all. Perhaps stretch himself from one end of the neighborhood to the other until he pulled himself apart into a thousand smidgens. The image gave him the shivers. He decided that was a bad idea.

One night he had a very bad case of the lonelies. Only a walk would do him any good. He passed a dance hall he had passed dozens of times before. Usually he didn’t go inside, knowing that it was full of disappointment. On this particular night there was a difference in the air. He wasn’t sure what it was. Maybe the music, maybe the bright lights streaming out from the hall.

He put on his best smile and walked inside. The hall was packed, the music jumping. A couple of rhumbi rhumba-ed their rhum-busses off. A few quadrangles partnered for some quadrilaterals. A group of squares square-danced. The circles rolled in their sweet babies’ arms. Even the arrows were doing the pointy-ointy. Each shape danced to the same music, but heard a different drummer from the other shapes.

There were some solo acts around the floor. None wanted to dance with Fred. He asked. They said, “You’re not my shape.” One nasty oval put it bluntly, “Why don’t you just shape up or ship out, bud?”

Disappointed as usual, Fred returned to the empty streets of Shape City, began the slow slog of a walk home. He made up his mind for the five-hundred-and-eighty-eighth time that never ever would he let his hopes soar off to some pie-in-the-skyski that turned out to be mud. There was no dancing partner for him and there never would be. No other dot in the world and that was that.

He was so lonely that not even the night masked his agony. He came to a bridge, looked out at the water. He contemplated jumping into the water but he knew he wouldn’t drown. He would just float away into the night. Gazing at the full moon, mooning him, he clinched his hand into a fist, shook it at the sky and cried, “Please, Mr. Moon, please.” He fell to the street and sobbed, “Have some compassion on this little dot you see here.”

“Are you a dot?” a soft voice above him asked. Hesitantly it continued, “I’m a dot too.”

Fred stared at the cold, hard cement, afraid to look up, fearing that it was a voice from his imagination, an imagination that had fooled him many times before.

“Please,” the female voice said. “I’ve been searching–”

Fred dared not hope.

“–for so long,” the voice continued. “Years and years.”

It couldn’t be, could it? Fred asked himself. He slowly turned his head upward toward the voice. “You’re not a circle?” he asked timidly. “You’re a dot?”

“Yes.”

It had to be a trick. He was sure that there was no other shape like him in this god-awful, dot-free world. There wasn’t. There just wasn’t another dot. But there she was, standing above him.

A dot. The most beautiful shape he had ever seen.

“All my life,” she said, “I have never met–”

“–another dot,” he said. She was a dot. She was a dot. Fred’s heart danced for joy. “Me neither.”

The two dots embraced, each desperate for the touch of another dot. For the first time in their lives, they were not alone. After minutes, maybe longer, they released their embrace.

“I’m Fred.”

“I’m Ginger,” the words tumbled out of her. “I saw you at the dance. But I was afraid. Thought I was dreaming. I have seen so many dots who turned out to be nothing more than small circles.”

“I didn’t see you.”

“I was in the shadows. I’ve been laughed at so many times that I always stand in the shadows.”

They sat down on the side of the street and talked. How square the squares were. How the circles sang out of key. And, my god, the ovals. What were they about? The two laughed at the same jokes. Like “how many circles does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, because light bulbs don’t believe in circles.” It was the same with so many things. Music and poetry, movies and food. They even had the same impressions of their travels, realizing they had often missed each other by minutes at so many of the places they had been.

He reached over, took her hand, felt her warmth. Under that full, round, yellow moon of a night, they danced for the first time the first of many polka dots. Suddenly the moon was a dot. The stars were dots. The trees were sprinkled with dots. The water below shimmered with dots. It was a night of dots, and nothing but dots.

Fred and Ginger knew that they would never be alone again.

“I’m not coming home”

“I’m not coming home,” Denise speaks into her cell, then smiles at Sarah across the table.

She listens for several minutes. Then she says, “No, I’m not coming home.”

A minute later, “But.”

Then, “No, absolutely not. I don’t care what you say. I’m not coming home.”

After more listening, Denise continues, “Look, understand, you’re just going to have to do this without me. I’m not coming home.”

Again she listens, then interrupts, “But, Mom…Mom.”

Sarah shakes her head, thinking, “Been there, done that many times over.”

Gritting her teeth, her voice revealing her frustration, Denise says, “Mom, I told you. I am not coming home.”

In frustration she ends the call, stuffs the cell into her pocket, turns to her friend, and says, “Well, I guess that’s settled. I’m going home.”

Afternoon Tea

“Tom and I … we broke up,” Frieda said.

“You didn’t?” Denise squeezed her friend’s hand to comfort her.

The two women, both in their early thirties, sat at a table in the Ponce de Leon, a small natural foods cafe. The girl behind the counter had her ipod turned down low, playing Oasis’ “Live Forever”.

“It’s so damned frustrating. Tom seemed to think he’s going to go on forever.”

“I know how it can be. Jeff and I have been together five years, and not once has he had a checkup.”

“It started over the CoQ10.” Another sip of green tea made Frieda feel better. “I told him it would add twenty years to his life.”

“All Jeff says is that he doesn’t want to live forever.” Denise slowly drank a little more of her tea. She loved the taste of the peppermint.

“He wanted to know if it was made from some CoQ10 animal they squeezed for the juice.” Frieda said. “Imagine that.”

“He didn’t?” Denise laughed.

“It took some work. A bit of bribery, you know,” Frieda winked suggestively to Denise, “and he came around. But it was the fish oil that did it.”

The music changed to Joan Baez singing Dylan’s “Forever Young”.

“Fish oil?”

“Heart disease runs in his family. But he insisted he wasn’t about to drink any fish juice.”

“Fish oil comes in pills too.”

“He definitely wasn’t taking ‘horse pills’. His exact words. We had a blowout, then it was over.”

“Over fish oil?” Denise was surprised at the other woman’s courage. After all, Tom and Frieda had been a couple for almost five years. That was a lot to invest in one fellow without any return.

Frieda drained her cup, then said, “I’m not about to stay with a guy that won’t take care of himself.”

“I guess I love Jeff way too much to put that kind of ultimatum on him.”

“Pretty soon you’ll be having unhealthy kids. Unhealthy because you’re with an unhealthy guy. How can you put yourself through that?”

“I can’t see myself without him.” Then Denise offered to get two more cups of tea.

When she returned to the table, she passed a cup over to her friend. Kenny G’s “Theme from “Dying Young” played from the ipod.

“I miss him,” Frieda said, “but there’s no going back.”

“Why not? You don’t think he doesn’t miss you as much as you miss him?”

Frieda nodded toward her cell phone. “No. He won’t even take my calls.”

“My God, I’m sorry.” Denise reached over and hugged her.

“It’s okay,” Frieda said, holding in her grief. Then a long pause. “Maybe, just maybe.”

“Maybe what?” Denise eased back into her chair.

“Naw … it was just a thought.” The warm smell of the tea wafted up to Frieda’s face and eased her sadness. A smile came to her face. “Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant,” she sang. Then she laughed, harder than she had laughed in quite some time.

Old friends fit like comfortable shoes

Searching for my old school buddy, Wayne, I moved through the ballroom and the New Year’s Eve party crowd. I hadn’t seen him in twenty years, not since high school graduation.

Then three weeks ago he’d called me out of the blue. Said over the phone that he’d like to see me, had something to tell me, and he’d be here at this party tonight. He’d leave a ticket for me at the front door if I’d come.

I told him I’d be here and hung up. Over the days that followed, I debated. Did I want to see him again? After all, I ‘ve changed a lot since I was no longer that seventeen-year-old kid he’d hung with. We’d both been on the football team. I was a quarterback and he my receiver, and we’d done everything together. Chased the cheerleaders. Cruised in the bright red Mustang we’d fixed up. Fought in the same fights, always standing up for each other. Gone to the best parties, seeing who could out chug-a-lug the other. We were the Boomer Brothers, the toughest dudes around. Everybody said so.

Then high school was over and Wayne left town. I never found out why. I only knew that he was the restless sort, always looking for a change. The last I heard he’d gone off and joined the Army.

Finally New Year’s Eve morning, I decided I’d come to the party tonight. I made my way through the crowd, checking out the features in each face, trying to figure out if it was really him. I looked across the room and saw someone who could be Wayne. I hesitated, then headed towards the guy. A few feet away I realized that it wasn’t him.

He isn’t here. Why don’t I just leave? Though I wanted to see him, I wasn’t sure how he’d take me these days. But, over the phone, he’d sounded like he really wanted to see me. I decided to keep looking. I guess I’ll find out real soon. If he’s here, that is. I’ve looked everywhere. Where could he be?

I started moving through the sea of faces again, glancing at each one, giving each a quick once-over. Still no Wayne. I looked at my watch. It was almost midnight.

Then, a foot or so away, I saw a face, his face. I would recognize those intense, dark blue eyes anywhere. They were his eyes alright. But that couldn’t be Wayne.

I took another look at his face as I got closer to him. It was definitely my old buddy. But what had happened?

Over the phone, I hadn’t recognized his voice at first. It had changed that much. And now I understood why. But how could I ever have guessed that he had gone and done what I had done?

I ran up to him and hugged him.

“Wayne, you’re a woman too,” I said, releasing him from my hug and acknowledging our sex change operations.

“My God, John, these shoes are killing me,” he said. “When I made the change, I never realized how hard it was going to be to get decent shoes.”

Mother of the World

Today being Mother’s Day and I’d like to celebrate it with this story.

It was over. The long night of his mother’s illness. The days upon days upon days of her suffering. She was gone. Only what was left of her empty shell of a body lay under the covers on the bed. All her life she kept her faith. Her last moments were no different. She whispered the word “Jesus”, then she gave up her ghost. Finally she was free of the weight of worry and pain and hard work she carried for her fifty-five years.

Soon his three younger brothers and one younger sister would be there to relieve him of his watch, and they would say their goodbyes. Soon the doctor would come to pronounce her dead and sign the death certificate. Soon the coffin maker would come. He would make her body up best he could and box it up and ready it for the cold, hard ground. Soon that tiny body of hers would be covered with the same earth that was to be found under her fingernails.

For the next little while, he was alone with the woman he called Mother for his thirty-eight years. He sat down on the side of the bed and lifted her very small hand. It was not quite cold yet. He started to make an effort to warm it up with his hands, then stopped. It was no use to try.

Nothing could bring back the warmth of those hands she used to cook and knead dough and mend and chop cotton with. Those hands that ran her fingers through his hair ever so gently. Those hands that folded into prayer thousands of times. Those hands that threw holy water onto her teenage boys to get them out of bed and ready for school, calling on the Name of Jesus to cast out any demons that they might have taken up with.

He felt the callouses embedded in that hand thin and gnarly. He laid the hand gently down by her side, then his hand slowly cupped her hairless skull, bald from the chemo that failed to check the cancer surging through her body. He pushed back what he could imagine was once her hair. The hair she’d taken pride in, hair once black and beautiful, its long tresses folded and pinned into a bun with a set of combs, an heirloom passed on to her from her Cherokee mother. The cancer stole that pride of her hair and left her bald.

His gaze lingered over her face, a face that always carried a smile when she saw one of her kids. The mouth never speaking an unkind word for anyone. And now would never speak comfort to him again with her mellifluous voice. He looked at the veins sticking out from her neck, then the body covered with the sheet and the quilt she’d made in the last two years of her life, that tiny body containing a great heart for all she met along her way through life.

Memories of her flooded through his mind, and they were memories of this woman who called none a stranger. They were memories of the times she sat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a listening ear for a neighbor and the burdens the neighbor  carried. Of the times she bartered with her children and negotiated their arguments, so they didn’t end up in knock-down-drag-outs. The nights she sang him to sleep with a lullaby when all he wanted to do was chatter and romp and take on the world with his five-year old bravado. The times she poured castor oil down his throat and rubbed his chest with vapor rub, telling him that there was no sickness they could not heal.

It was hard work to make a good man out of a boy, much less four boys and a girl, doing the raising all by her lonesome the way she did. It was a work that never let up but went on from sunrise to sunset day in and day out and all night too, and she did it with nary a complaint. Rather she applied her love liberally but she never hesitated with the discipline. It was amazing what some holy water and a switch could do to get a kid to tow the line. When all was said and done, there was a hug for her kids and her grandkids, when they were in need of a hug. And they knew that those hugs came from a love that reached deep down all the way to her toes and back again.

Then his mind turned to the men in her life. The tenant-farmer Pa, that Joseph of a man who took care of his two young’uns just like that long-ago man took care of the infant Jesus and his Mama. This man, whom she adored, was a blacksmith and a good provider and everything a Pa should be. But her three husbands, they were no darn good. They weren’t worth the dirt she walked on. Hank, the laziest man in the state; Jock, twenty years her senior who had thrown his anger at her in dozens of ways; Tor, the man who had stolen her savings and left her in such poverty she was forced to beg her children for help.

Tears welled up into his eyes and he buried his face in her body. He cried his grief, all his grief into this dead woman’s body, the body of the woman he called Mother.

He swiped away the tears and stood up and walked over to the window. Outside the sun dropped out of the sky and over the edge of the horizon. Streaks of purple, blue, orange, yellow and red colored the sky. Soon the sky turned blue and it was night. A breeze touched his cheek and it felt like a kiss. Then the woman’s soul slipped through the window to join what once was and what is, the then and the now and the forever. She was now a part of everything and everything was a part of her. He looked up at the stars and thought that he had never seen anything so beautiful before. And maybe he never would again.