Be careful what you ask for

The light from the windows of her hundred-year-old house streamed out onto the lawn late that night in February. The light reflected the shadow of her silhouette behind the curtains of her second story bedroom. She was watching me, I knew, as I stood next to the fence across the street and waited. I had been here every night for one hundred days, in rain, in fog that came up off the nearby sea, and on clear nights. It was the key to the door of her heart.

I wondered if she would ever recognize my love for her. At first, I had sent her notes, then candy, then flowers, first one, then a half dozen, then a dozen. But she ignored them. When we had last spoke at our high school, she had urged, “Please don’t.”

But I loved her too much to give up and I knew she would come to love me. It was fated to be and only a matter of time.

Each night I watched her father arrive from some late night appointment and go into the house. He was always going and coming at night. But why? Why did he do this? After all, he was a successful lawyer who had an office downtown, open for appointments all day long. Why did he need to be out this late every night?

One night her father walked out of the house and headed for his car. I looked at my watch. Eleven o’clock. I decided to follow. I hurried around the corner and jumped into my old beat-up green Buick. I started it, then sat there. Her father backed out of the driveway and headed east.

I pulled in behind him, about twenty car lengths, and tailed him. We drove for thirty minutes or so until we came to an old rundown warehouse. He parked in its parking lot, next to the three or four other cars there. I pulled to a stop a block or so away and watched him enter a side door into the building.

I got out of the car and walked over to the partially lit parking lot. I went around to the side and listened in through a half-broken window. All I could hear was the sound of barking dogs in the distance. I pushed my ear closer to the window. Then I felt it. The cold metal in my back. It was a gun.

“Come with me,” the man behind me demanded and grabbed me by the neck and shoved me forward. Before I could turn around to see who it was, I was forced through the side door and into the warehouse. Before me stood several men.

“I caught this outside,” the voice behind me said.

“Welcome, Mr. Benedaro,” her father greeted me with a smile.

I was pushed toward the group of men and forced to drop onto my knees. I was in the center of a circle of these men.

From behind me, I heard her voice. “Now, Father?” she said.

“Yes, Daughter,” her father said.

I turned to see a large wolf, charging me with its teeth bared.

“What the he…,” I screamed as she bit into my neck.

Divorce in America

Maggie and I had been married for three years when the word “divorce” first came up. There we sat on our screened-in back porch, gazing out at the soft summer rain, sipping glasses of iced tea, day dreaming as if we had forever.

Then Maggie turned to me. “Jack and Anise are getting a divorce. Anise says it’s for the kids.”

I looked over at her. “For the kids? Nobody gets a divorce for the kids.”

“That’s what I said. But she insisted.” She went back to studying the lawn. “You think we should plant a rose bush over there.” She pointed to the back corner.

“It’s okay with me. Remember you are the gardener. I have the black thumb.” I gave it some thought. Maybe roses would look good at the edge of the yard. “What kind of roses?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“I would have liked to be a fly on the wall when they told the kids. ‘We’re getting the divorce because of you kids.’ Bet that was one heck of a conversation.”

Maggie reached over to the pitcher on the table between us and poured herself another glass of iced tea. “She said the kids had pretty much figured it out. They were troopers about the whole thing.”

I swirled the ice in my glass with my finger. The cold felt good. “I thought they were the perfect couple. Who’ll be next? The pastor and his wife?”

“Naw,” she said. “It would mean his job.”

“As if that would be a bad thing. His sermons are so boring that the devil wouldn’t have a hard time recruiting our congregation Sunday mornings. Anything to get out of that sanctuary.”

She giggled, then said, “You’ve got that right. Why do we keep him?”

“Nobody wants to hurt his feelings.”

“If she’d only have an affair. She’s the type you know.”

My interest perked up. “What do you mean? She’s such a tight ass.”

“The ones you least expect, you know.”

“Are you saying?” I couldn’t imagine this. Helen, the preacher’s wife? Who’d have the gall to sleep with her anyway?

“I’m just saying.” She laughed. There were times I wasn’t sure if Maggie was joking or serious. This was one of those times.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I don’t know for sure. I have my suspicions though. Just call it woman’s intuition.” That closed that subject. She brings up woman’s intuition and I knew that was it.

“So when’s the big day?” I asked.

“The big day?”

“When is Jack moving out?”

“As soon as the kids go off to college this fall. He’ll be there when they leave. When they come home, he’ll be gone. He’ll be coming over for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They’ll be one big happy family for the holidays.”

I shook my head. “That sounds nice and cozy. How long they been married? Twenty-three years and now they’re getting a divorce. And for the kids too. Did she say what she meant by that?’

“No,” she said, then leaned over and kissed my lips lightly. She had tears in her eyes.

I offered her my lap, then I held her, trying to fend off the fear I knew she was feeling. She said softly, “It’s Mom and Dad all over again. We kids go off to college and they get their freedom. Only it’s freedom from each other.” There was unforgiveness in her voice.

I didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say. I remembered the arguments between my parents. All the yelling, and they stayed together for us kids. At least, that’s what Mom told me at Dad’s funeral.

Maggie squeezed my arm and drew it closer around her. There we were, Maggie and I, sitting on the back porch of our new house and talking about divorce. Hoping it wouldn’t happen to us.

The Diner of Lost Souls

Max is hungry. The diner waitress brings him a breakfast that will satisfy his appetite. He takes a whiff of the eggs and grits and bacon and toast. It smells good, good enough to eat. “Now, that’s a breakfast,” he says to himself.

He starts with the bacon. It’s crunchy and greasy but good. He dips his fork into the grits, all buttered just the way he likes his grits. A story comes to mind that a friend, Chet, once told him. Chet and his wife, Irene, were driving south, moving from Pennsylvania to Florida. They stopped in a mom-and-pop restaurant in North Carolina. Having heard of grits for years, she decided that was what she would have. “I’ll take a grit please,” she ordered. The waitress and Chet bowled over with laughter, Then the waitress showed Irene what one grit would look like. Max smiled.

Max watches one of the waitresses follow a man to a booth, asking, “What are you doing off, Charlie?” Max would like to tell her what he was doing off but she didn’t ask him. He takes another bite of the bacon. Tries the toast. It’s good too. So’s the coffee, and the orange juice.

A large Indian, long black ponytail swinging down his back, stops, sits down across from him. He wears a suit and a tie. The tie is painted yellow with a brown Crazy Horse riding a mustang toward Max. “Know what I did last night?”

Max doesn’t know, doesn’t care. He wishes the Indian would move along, let him listen to his thoughts, make up his mind about things.

“I kicked some butt,” the Indian says, sees Max is only interested in his breakfast. Gets up. Towering over him, the Indian continues, “Well, if you aren’t interested.” Then he strolls over to the counter, like he’s stalking prey. Maybe he is. Maybe one of the waitresses is his prey.

Max stares down at his empty plate, pushes it aside, then takes a sip of his coffee.

“More coffee,” his waitress asks. He nods and she pours. “Don’t mind Dave.”

“Dave?”

“The Indian,” she says. “He does that to everybody.” She smiles. Her smile reminds him of an old girl friend he liked a lot. “Haven’t seen you in these parts before.”

“I haven’t been in these parts before,” he concedes. Then relaxes, “I’m just passing through.”

She invites herself into the booth and sits across from him. “Where you going?”

Max notices that she is Indian too. At least, part Indian. She has the darkest eyes he has ever seen. He returns her open smile with a smile. “I only wish I knew.”

She leans forward and halfway whispers, “There ain’t much here to see, that’s for sure.”

Max takes a chance and offers, “There’s you.”

The waitress starts to laugh, then realizes that Max is serious. She says, “I’d rather be on my way out of here.”

“Why don’t you? Leave, that is?”

“Got a kid. Joe’s his name. Cutest little five year old you ever wanted to see. Want to see his picture.” She pulls a photograph out of her pocket.

Max takes the photograph and looks at it for a minute or two, then hands it back to her. “That’s some kid.”

She takes the photograph, looks at it, smiles and puts it back in her pocket. “He wants to play baseball when he grows up.”

“Where’s his dad?” he asks, then thinks better of things. “Sorry, didn’t mean to pry.”

“The son of a bitch ran off to God-knows-where. I sure don’t. Left me knocked up in this God-forsaken place.” Her face says everything about disappointment. “I had a ticket out of here.” Then pride comes to this same face. “Had a scholarship and all.” She stands up. “I’ve got to get back to work. My name is Lyla. If you need anything, let me know.”

He watches her leave. He lifts the coffee cup and takes a sip. The coffee is hot, but not so hot as to burn his mouth. Just right hot, he thinks. For the first time since, he walked out of the divorce court and got into his car and drove away from that life a thousand miles ago, a life that just about destroyed him; for the first time since, he sees some hope on the horizon. Maybe there is a Lyla where he is going.

Max finishes his coffee, then pulls himself out of the booth and drops a five on the table for a tip. He goes over to the cash register. It’s not Lyla that rings him up. She’s taking food over to the Indian. Max takes his change and walks out of the restaurant and into the morning. The desert sun fills everything with its brightness, washing out the world around him with its light.

He heads over to the old green Chevy. Just about on its last legs but with still enough life in it to get him where he’s going, He backs the car out of the parking lot and onto the highway and heads west. He starts going over in his head the phone conversation he had with his son, Jake.

“C’mon out here,” Jake had said. “You can get a new start with me and Ash.”

“But I’d be a bother. The two of you have your life.”

“You’ll be no bother. You have to get away from that place. After what Mom put you through, you deserve to get away.”

Max pulls the car over to the side of the road. Stops it. Then decides. He turns the car back toward the town he just left. He parks in the half-empty parking lot of the diner and gets out of the car and makes for the restaurant door, hurrying before he loses his courage. The door jangles as he opens it. Lyla is at the cash register, ringing up a customer.

She finishes and looks over at him. “Did you forget something?”

“I did.” He hesitates, then finishes. “I forgot you.”

“What?” she whispers.

“And your son. You want to go to California.”

“What?”

“To California? You want to go?”

Lyla isn’t sure what to say.

Max says, “You’ve got one minute to decide.”

Lyla still hesitates, then her body says to hell with it. She unties her apron and throws it on the counter and goes over to him and says, “Let’s go.”

He takes her hand. They laugh as they make for the car. Then they are off to pick up Joe and on to California.

A Dawg Named Sam

I want to talk about a dawg. His name was Sam. Least that’s what he called hisself. Others knew him as Dammit or Git or Sumbitch or Git-on. That’s cause he was a tramp. He walked from place to place, calling no place home. Wasn’t that he didn’t want a home. He did. He wanted one mighty bad. Yet nowhere did he find any hospitality for the likes of hisself.

He was about knee-high-on-a-six-foot-man tall and what you’d call a half breed, half this and half that and half something else. His coat all caked up with mud and so it was hard to tell what color that coat was. If you looked hard, you’d see some brown and some black and a bit of red.

Mostly he was passing-through, getting his meals wherever he could. Got real good at finding a dumpster that might have a feast every coupla weeks. He stocked up his stomach real good, then moved on. Cause he knew nobody wanted him. Tween dumpsters he’d find a garbage can, then someone’d see him tearing at the trash and throw a rock at him. With that, he moved on some more. Long time ago, he’d decided he didn’t want to be any bother, and he tried not to be. But it’s hard when you’re a dawg and nobody cares and your stomach is as empty as a pauper’s bank account.

There were times a dog catcher showed up. Tried to outrun him and net him down. Sam was smart and he was fast. So he ended up on the no-catch list. By that time, he was on his way to another place, another town, another neighborhood. It wasn’t no matter where it was he was going. All that mattered was that he was going.

Now if you’d got up real close to Sam, you’d see the kindest eyes you ever did want to see. You’d know there was no danger in this dawg. There was only love. And you’d see lonely too. When a dawg is on the move the way Sam was, it was rare that any human person would get that chance to see them eyes of his up close.

Where Sam started out, he couldn’t have told you. Some distant memory of a family lodged deep in his brain but that was a long time ago. These days there was hurt and there was fear in that heart of his. As I said, the wandering life is a lonely life. So from time to time Sam would find a tree to keep him company and lie under that tree and dream. He preferred an oak tree. He would wonder if there was a human in his future. He wasn’t choosey. Any human would do. But if he’d had his druthers, he’d like a human who had a bit of kindness in their ways.

Sam must have been on the road four, five years with no particular destination. Seems he’d been looking for something or someone all those years and still had not found what he was looking for. But you know, you may just find that which you been wanting, if you search hard enough, and you search with a pure heart. Sam sure searched hard enough, as hard as any, and it was for sure that he had a pure heart.

Maybe it was that some angel came up to God, pulled on his sleeve and said, “Sir, You might want to take a gander at this here dawg. He’s a wandering dawg. He’s in need of a friend real bad. I been watching him a long time and I guarantee he’s worthy.”

Well, that was why God had angels. So they could watch for things and folks that He might miss. When You are God, You have to keep Your eye on the Big Picture. Which means He didn’t often get a chance to see the little things.

God looked down on Sam and a tear fell from His eyes. Seems that God had a soft spot for dawgs like Sam. So God started doing some thinking. He thought and He thought and He thought some more. Then it came to Him. He knew just the thing for Sam. He called over to one of his extra-special angels and told her the plan He had in mind.

Sam had been tramping for a good four days. His stomach growled mighty hard as he made his way down a dirt road. He thought there might just be a farm nearby. Seems it had been aways since he last saw anything that he could reasonably call dinner.

In the distance, he heard some crying. Sam was a curious kind of dawg. That curiosity got Sam in trouble way too much, but still it was crying he heard. Even though humans had treated him unkindly, you’d think he would’ve not taken the chance. But he did. The crying came closer and closer as Sam edged hisself through the field of grass. Then he came upon it.

It was a human person. Must have been something like five years old and she sat there on the grass, bawling her eyes out. Sam being Sam he felt compassion for the little person. He walked right up to her and gave her a big lick like he’d known her his whole life. She stopped her bawling. Sam did another lick. This little girl started laughing. He did it again and she laughed harder.

Sam did not hear it. He sensed it. He made a quick turn and there was a rattler staring him right in the eye. That rattler was about to strike. Not at Sam. At the girl. The rattlesnake went for the girl. Sam went for the snake. Just as the snake was about to hit the girl, Sam bit into it. He bit that snake so hard, he bit it in two. Then he threw the snake’s head over aways.

Nearby a man stepped through the grass. Saw Sam and thought the girl was in danger from the dawg. He raised his rifle and aimed. Just as the hunter went to fire, he stopped. He saw the dawg throw that snake away. Then the dawg dropped down in front of the child. The girl went quiet.

The man ran over to the child. Sam bared his teeth. Nothing was going to hurt this child, those teeth said. The man dropped to his knees and said, “Easy, boy, easy. This is my Naomi and I am not about to hurt her.”

Sam liked the softness in the man’s voice. He picked himself up and moved away from the girl. The man lifted his daughter into his arms and hugged her. “Darling, we been looking all over for you. How in the world did you get here?” The girl giggled.

The man walked over and picked up his rifle as Sam saw his opportunity to sneak away.

The man looked at Sam. He said, “Where do you think you’re going?”

Sam did not know what to think. Should he trust this man. He went to run away.

The man called after him, “Sam,” he said. “It’s about time you came on home with us. You look like you could use a meal, some cleaning up and a home. Don’t you think?”

Sam barked. It was the first time he had barked in years. At least, the kind of bark that said, “Thank you.” Then Sam followed the man toward a nearby red barn.

God looked down from His cloud. He said to his angels, “It is good.” The angels all agreed. God smiled. Finally Sam had a home.

A Nice Day at The Beach

It’s a beautiful summer morning when you arrive at the beach. You thought you would get here early for some Me-time, just you and the sand and the water and the sun. And your companion, of course. But the beach is already beginning to fill with its daily allotment of sun worshippers.

You find just that right spot in the sand. Not too close to the water and not too far away. You throw your towel down and raise your umbrella for some protection from the heat. You turn to your partner and ask them to glop some SPF 50 on your back. Don’t want to get a burn, just a nice tan, so you can prove to your friends that you spent a day at the beach.

Your partner rubs you down like some greased pig, ready for a luau. You laugh at the thought and ask, “Where’s the pineapple?” Your companion gives you that look they always give you when they haven’t a clue as to what is going on in your head. It’s good to give them a little mystery. Makes life interesting on a boring kind of day.

Last time you were here, you spread out on the sand like some cowboy in an old Western the Comanche staked out for ant bait. You were sun bait and you didn’t bake nicely. You burned like a piece of toast left too long in the toaster. No amount of butter would save that toast and no amount of lotion soothed that burn. You’re not about to let that happen again. No, you’ve come prepared. You have your SPF 50 and you have your umbrella. It’s going to be a nice day at the beach.

Now it is your partner’s turn to be greased. You squirt some of the fluid on your hands. It’s got a nice cool feel to it. You rub their back and admire their lean physique as you do, how straight their back is, the muscles in their arms. Makes you happy that you don’t have to be ashamed of the person you’re with. Makes you feel like others can look at you with envy, their minds whispering, “Gee, why can’t I be so lucky?” When you finish, your companion leans over and gives you a thank-you kiss. Then they head out for the sea.

You look out at the water, glistening from the light rippling across the small waves that come in from the sea. It makes you feel that there is magic in the world. That water reaching out toward the end of the world where the unknown exists.

What great liners have followed that highway? The great ones like the Titanic and the Queen Mary. What ships have taken boys off to war on foreign shores? What explorers have followed the stars to discover exotic lands. What chanties the sailors have sung to pass their time in the rigging, searching, hoping for a South Sea island and some Polynesian girl to seduce? What sail boats have gone out to sea, freeing their captains of the troubles that all landlubbers face, giving them a sense of the grandeur and the awesomeness of nature?

The surfers are beginning to climb onto their boards and head for a distant wave. The swimmers splash and yell. Your companion returns and urges you to come on into the water. It’s such a beautiful day for a swim. But you’re enjoying things just the way they are, not a trouble in the world. You’re here on the beach and that’s enough as the morning makes its drift toward noontime.

You turn and see the lifeguard on his perch behind you. He is like some eagle, searching for his prey, waiting for his chance to prove his bravery. He turns his glasses slowly up and down the beach, like some doll on a carousel. His motions are like the movement of the music of a slow waltz.

Just what is he searching for? That woman with the large breasts he can meet and convince that he is her knight in shining armor? That girl who’ll be off to college soon? That opportunity to yell at a swimmer that they have gone too far? To return to the shore so he won’t have to come and get them and ban them from the beach? Does his eyes search for the fin of that shark that is readying for its attack?

Or maybe he too is dreaming of the tall ships that went far into the world and never returned. Of pirates that haunted the seven seas, searching for their bounty. Maybe he is thinking of Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian and Tahiti. Maybe he is building a story of ships that search the stars. Maybe he isn’t a dreamer at all. Just some boy trying to make enough money to save for the fall. Then he will be able to eat through the next year of college. Or maybe all of these things run through the eagle’s mind.

Or maybe he is thinking, “God, when do I get a break? I gotta go pee. I gotta go pee bad.”