Blessed Are Those Who Mourn; They Shall Be Comforted

Gaby got home around six. Opened her box and took out the mail. Climbed the stairs to her third floor apartment, dog-tired from a day standing before her sixth-grade classes, trying to teach them a piece of music they did not want to learn. Everything her students wanted to learn was out on the streets and not in her classroom.

Rifling through her mail, she found the special letter she had expected for the last few weeks. The one from Carl. She dropped her other mail on the table without looking at it. She lifted Carl’s envelope to her nostrils and smelled it. It had his scent.

She decided she would save it for a treat later. Besides she knew what it contained. A ticket to join him in L. A. She laid it lovingly on the coffee table. Then made herself a cup of tea and concentrated on the work ahead. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to crank it out.

Taking her tea and scone over to the computer, she booted it up. It was Friday night and time for her to respond to the email from her editor. His email contained three letters asking relationship advice. Her editor expected a response from “Aunty Jabberwocky” by Saturday afternoon.

The letters often were several paragraphs long. For each, she gave the editor a required two hundred and fifty to three hundred word response. Most of the time she wanted to respond with “Get a life”. But she didn’t. Her editor wouldn’t like it. He wanted a positive outlook from her. Something to soothe bruised egos and help them on their way.

She opened the email and read through the letters quickly. Though they were each different, they were in many ways the same.

“I’ve been married ten years. Now my husband is cheating on me.” Gaby’s response, in a diplomatic way: “Shoot the son of a bitch.” Advice she would never have followed since she was afraid of guns.

Or “I am seventeen years old and I am so lonely. My boyfriend left me because I wouldn’t have sex with him.” Gaby’s response, in a diplomatic way: “Ask the b/f why God gave him two hands.” Advice she never followed. She had lost her virginity at fifteen, giving it to a seventeen-year-old who wouldn’t even ask her out on a date.

Or “My mother is dating a new man. She wants to know if she should accept his proposal for marriage.” Gaby’s response, in a diplomatic way: “Tell her to accept. It will be a great way to get Mom off your hands.” This too was advice Gaby would never have followed if she had known who her biological mother was.

Sometimes she wondered how she, of all people, ended up doing relationship advice. She was no damned good at relationships. All of hers fell apart.

Four years earlier, she had been looking for a way to bring in some extra money for a cruise she wanted to take. So she answered an online ad for a local newspaper. “Need advice columnist. No experience necessary but the applicant must be able to write.”

Steve, her editor, liked her honesty and hired her on the spot. He figured anyone who had done as poorly as she had in the relationship department would have some ideas on what might work for other people. He slid a couple of relationship books across the desk and ordered her to go read them, then said he would email her the first three letters the following Friday. The answers were expected by Saturday afternoon for the Sunday edition of the newspaper.

In the beginning, she went to work at the job with a gusto that surprised even her. And the relationship advice she sent out was some she got up the courage to take herself. Each new guy she dated became Mr. Possibility. That is, until he became Mr. Dud. Over the four years, she had taken on four relationships, each one looking better than the previous. The first three ended with a thud. Then finally, at forty, she met the One.

Carl had everything she was looking for in a man. He was tender. His jokes made her laugh. He was a great Mr. Fixit. There was never any putdown from him the way the others did. He seemed to be able to read her mind when he would come out with the most outlandish suggestions. If she had believed in soulmates, Carl would have been hers.

He was twenty-five. But it wasn’t a problem for him. He told her that older women always attracted him. The younger ones, the ones his age, fell flat. And he felt like he and Gaby were perfect for each other.

When they first met at a dinner party, Carl had done several small roles in avant garde plays. For the year they were together, his skill as an actor and his roles grew. A month earlier, he had gotten a role in the pilot for a new series. It was to be shot in L. A. If it panned out, he told her that he would send for her. No use for her to give up her job if the pilot was not picked up.

So here she sat at her computer, writing relationship advice, and not sure where she stood. At least, until tonight and the letter. The letter on the table.

She finished her email, then hit send and off it went to Steve for the Sunday edition. It was back to the kitchen nook for another cup of tea.

While she waited on the water to boil, she picked up the envelope with his letter and her ticket to paradise and smelled it once again. His faint odor, the odor of the earth, wind, water and sun. Just one whiff of him was enough to drive her into ecstasy. The kettle whistled. Like a train whistle, she felt the lonely would soon be long gone.

She pulled out a bag of mint tea, her favorite, and dropped it into the cup. Over the bag she poured the hot water. She waited for the bag to steep in the water. Her waiting seemed like an eternity. The cup of tea was ready. She walked it over to the coffee table, set the tea down and settled on the sofa.

Her trembling hand picked up the envelope. She sliced it open with her letter opener. Afraid to touch its contents, she shook them onto the table.

Five one-hundred-dollar bills fell out.

She shook the envelope again and nothing more. She ripped into the envelope. It was empty. No letter. No note. Nothing. The envelope had contained only the five hundred dollars Gaby had lent Carl to go off to California for his pilot.

Her body slumped deep into the sofa. She did not feel pain. She did not feel her heart break. She did not feel the loneliness.

Where once there were dreams, there was now only emptiness. Where once there was hope, there was now only a void. Where once there was a woman, there was only an old haggard body, ready for the Angel of Death to carry her off not to Paradise and not to Hell. To limbo, that gray netherworld where lost souls go to live out their forevers.

Across the room and on a bookcase, she spotted a black case. She tried to pull herself together but she could not. Her body sunk deeper into the cushion. She pushed herself off the sofa and onto the floor. If she could reach the case, everything might be better. Her hands pulled her dead body closer and closer to the bookcase. Finally she reached it. She raised her arm, her hand barely touching the case. She strained and managed to make the case fall onto the floor, almost hitting her in the head. She pulled her body up against the wall and unsnapped the black case.

In the case was a trumpet. She lifted it out of the case. She took the Yamaha 14B4 mouthpiece, spat into it, then rubbed it dry on her dress. She inserted it into the trumpet.

She managed to get herself into a standing position. The trumpet somehow gave her the energy to make her way to the window. The world of the city stood before her, and a lightly lit street below. A drunk stumbled out of a bar and into a dark alley.

Gaby lifted the trumpet to her lips. At first, nothing came out of the brass instrument. Then a little peep. Pretty soon she had that trumpet making a sound, and then more sound.

The sound she played filled her body, each breath giving the trumpet more sound. Soon it went to that deep secret part of herself that she had shared with no one, not even Carl. She became the sound and the sound became her, a requiem rising toward the heavens, mourning for what had been, a grief for what never was.

She breathed into that trumpet the way God must have breathed into the first man. The music became a living thing. She was in the deep water of the sound she played, heading further and further out to sea.

Her neighbors, who were prone to complain about any noise, did not complain. For some, the music sounded as if it was announcing the Second Coming. For others, it reminded them of all the loses they had ever had. For still others, it was the most beautiful noise. The music reached down into each of their souls and made them feel as if they had never felt before.

The music ascended like incense rising into the heavens, and the angels wept. It was that kind of noise.

Lost

Amber’s period came early, during the summer when she was twelve going on thirteen. That same summer her breasts filled out. The end of school that May she was a tall, gawky kid, and shy as all get out. By the dog days of summer, her body developed curves. She and her mom went shopping for a new wardrobe for her new body. They ended up purchasing several dresses that did not accentuate her body. They figured that would take care of what they saw as a problem. But it didn’t.

Amber had never been a popular girl. The first day of school the boys swamped her with their attention. Especially the older ones. This scared her. The worse part was the other girls, girls she had hung out with the previous year. They wanted nothing to do with her. She felt that they were secretly accusing her of a crime, and she didn’t know what it was.

At lunch in the school cafeteria, she took her tray over to a group of four girls she knew. They immediately got up and left her alone, ostracized. One of the older boys, a kid in the ninth grade, all the girls thought was God’s gift to girls, he came over and sat down next to her.

“How ’bout you and me,” he said, “we go out sometime. Maybe Saturday afternoon.” Then he shoved some food into his mouth, thinking she’d already accepted his invitation and glad to get it. After all, every girl in school wanted to date him.

“I’ll have to check with my mom,” she said after several minutes of hesitation, not knowing what the socially acceptable thing to do was.

“You don’t have to do that,” he said. “Just tell your mom you’re going to the mall with some friends. Maybe we’ll go to a movie.”

“Well, okay,” she said, not knowing how to get out of the date.

“Oh,” he said, standing up, “and any other guy asks you out. You tell them no. You’re my girl now. ‘k?”

Not knowing anything else to say, she nodded her head and agreed.

She got home that first day and she ran to her room and she cried. She cried and cried. She didn’t even like the guy who’d asked her to the movie. But all the other girls did.

Saturday afternoon, and the two met at the mall in front of the movie theater. “You got any money?” he asked.

She nervously nodded her head yes.

“Good,” he said, taking her hand and pulling her over to the ticket counter. “‘Cause I figure it’s a date, you’d be paying.”

“But I thought–,” she stuttered.

“We going to the movie or what?,” the boy said.

“Yes,” she said, discouragement in her voice. She reached into her purse and pulled out the money and gave it to him. He got the tickets. They gave them to the ticket taker. “Want some popcorn?” he asked. “‘Course you do. What’s a date without popcorn and a coke. Right?”

Amber bought the treats, then they walked into the darkness of the movie theater. The trailers had already begun. The boy pulled her to the last row of seats and they sat down. “You’re going to love this movie,” he leaned over and whispered in her ear.

The movie began, two men in metal suits shooting at each other with lasers. The boy reached into the bag of popcorn and took out a handful. She settled into her seat to watch a movie she did not think she was going to like. During the first third of the movie, he went through his popcorn and hers. Every so often he’d whisper a loud “Yes” when one of the metal suits shot a robot.

When the credits appeared at the end of the movie, Boy turned to her and said, “Wasn’t that awesome?” Then he asked, “Want to do something?”

She thought about saying, “I thought we had.” Instead she said, “Sure.” It was still early and she had told her mom that she wouldn’t be getting home till later.

“‘k,” he said. “We’re gonna do something I think you’re going to like.”

It was late afternoon. He led her down one of the side streets. They came to an empty baseball diamond. He ran up one of the bleachers and called out to her, “C’mon up here.”

She climbed the bleacher steps. He sat down and pulled her to his side. For the first time that day, he looked at her. It was the first time she had really looked at his face. He had a handsome face. More than handsome, it was angelic.

“This is my favorite spot,” he said. “You have a favorite spot? ‘Course you do.” Then he went all quiet.

Finally he said, “I’m sorry ’bout today. Sometimes I just get carried away with a thing.”

She took a chance, afraid she would upset him. “You are a little pushy.”

“A little pushy? I must be slipping. I thought I was a lot pushy.”

His humor made her smile. “You were a lot pushy,” she agreed. “I was trying to be nice.”

“I know. It’s just that…well. I get nervous when I am alone with a girl.” Then she felt like he let a wall between the two of them come down . Then he said, “Can you keep a secret?”

She said, “Yes. I think so.”

“If I tell you, you can’t tell nobody. Not even your mom. Moms can be the worst at keeping secrets.You understand?”

“I promise I won’t tell anybody,” she said. “Not even my mom.”

“I’m gay,” he said. “And I need you to be my girlfriend so nobody will find out. Can you do that for me?”

She thought about it a little. Then she said, “Only if you treat me special. Not like today.”

“I will,” he said. “I promise.” He breathed a huge sigh of relief.

For the first time since she had returned to school, she felt like she had a friend. A real friend. And she would keep his secret forever. She promised him.

“Not till forever,” he said. “Just till I can figure things out.”

The two hugged each other. As he walked her home, neither of them said anything. He escorted Amber to her door, then said, “Good night, Amber. And thank you.”

She returned his goodnight. “Good night, David.”

The Beach

Beck stepped onto the sand. His sneakers sank a bit but not much. He looked out at the sea and thought about all the men who had died on beaches. His father at Normandy. His first wife’s father at Dunkirk. And his uncle storming the island of Iwo Jima. Tears came to his eyes. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have to face an enemy, spewing bullets down on him as he hurried up a beach.

Three times he’d been married. Three times marriage had failed for him. Why? He always wondered. Who knew? As he stood on the beach, he gazed out at the sea. Men used to go to sea to prove their manhood and see foreign shores and meet girls in sarongs. He’d never been more than one hundred miles from the house where he was born. He didn’t have an adventuring soul, his wives accused. It wasn’t that.

His feet were planted in the earth where he’d been born. He’d seen pictures of other places. None had the beauty of his home. The green grass in spring. The summer breezes. The autumn leaves. The winter snows. And God, the setting for the farm was absolutely gorgeous in the fall when the harvests came in. It brought tears to the seventy-seven-year-old man.

Soon all that would be over. Beck had cancer and his days were numbered. He hadn’t told his children yet. He’d have to do it soon. He came to this beach to put his life in perspective.

He stripped down to his shorts and ran toward the water. It hit him in the face hard. It felt good. It felt so good.

The Woman in the Window

From her second story window, the old lady peered out onto the street below. Daily this woman in black watched the world of the street below. The cars. The walkers. The neighbors. Some said she was taking names and getting numbers. Mostly she just kept watching. And watching. Some didn’t like being spied upon. Others didn’t care. “She’s not any harm to anybody,” they said. No one inquired about her. They all speculated but they didn’t knock on her door and wish a friendly good morning. Only a local delivery boy did that as he brought the latest round of groceries. People just weren’t all that curious. After all, it was an old woman. No one to be concerned about. In her room, she stared down on the world below, craving something other than curiosity. But what? If someone had asked, she might have blurted out, “Charlie. He’s my son. He’ll be home from the war. Soon.”

Enter Hamlet

A little touch of Harry in the night. Henry V Act 4 Prologue.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 1. Scene 2. On one side of the stage, there is a party going on. King Claudius and Queen Gertrude and a roomful of courtiers, dancing, boogeying to the music of The Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Five. It’s a bit James Brown, Rick James and ABBA, thrown into one big stew. The crowd is really getting down as Rosencrantz sings their signature hit, “By the Time I Get To Wittenberg”.

Out on the dance floor, Claudius and Gertrude are so happy. Maybe they are like Ronald and Nancy Reagan. They love each other to an extreme, even above the children, and always singing, “I only have goo-goo eyes for you.” One thing is for sure. They are one happy couple. Of all the couples in Shakespeare, they may be the happiest. Happier than Romeo and Juliet or Anthony and Cleopatra anyway. And they put the Macbeths to shame.

The folks on their side of the stage are really with it. The booze is good. So is the food. And the comradery is the comraderyest. Folks are lining up to shake hands with the king and get a good gander at the queen’s new dress.

Alone on the other side of the stage sits a man in black. I would call him the Man in Black but Johnny Cash already laid a claim to that one. He has such a gloom on his face that it would make one think he invented melancholy. His name is Hamlet. He is the son Gertrude and the Daddy Hamlet, a Prince and heir to the throne, nephew to the current king. He is also the star of the show. He is the reason the play is called “Hamlet”. Otherwise it would have been called “Laertes” or “Ophelia” or “Claudius and Gertrude Make Whoopee Big Time” or “All’s Not Well That Ends With All The Main Characters Dead”.

Claudius glares over at Hamlet. He is thinking, “That young snot of an s.o.b. Who does he think he is? Sitting over there in the corner and taking the spotlight off Claudius.”

Hamlet glares back. To understand what Hamlet is going through, imagine that your daddy suddenly dies. In two shakes, your uncle moves in and marries his wife, then the Board of Directors votes him Honcho-in-Chief to run the family business.

Hamlet (mimicking the crowd): Blah. Blah. Blah.

Hamlet (speaking to the audience): So why am I sitting my ass over here in this downright uncomfortable chair? And with a big frown on my face? They are saying that I look so unhappy Bergman could make an entire film of my sulking. It would show the Swedes a thing or two about melancholy.

Gertrude (to the audience): Gertrude here. But you can just call me Gertie. Everybody does.

Gertie’s thinking a Jack Nicholson kind of thinking when he played the President of the United States in “Mars Attacks” and said to the Maritans, “Why can’t we just get along?” Could be that she is a Libra on the cusp of Scorpio.

Gertie (To Ham): Why are you always spoiling the party? You’d think somebody went and died around here. Don’t you know that this is the very reason your dad and I gave you to poor Yorick to raise. Thinking you would cheer up some. But, no. Your sulk did even him in.

Hamlet: Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Gertie (to Ham): Sure, your father is deceased. But he paid no never mind to me. And to you neither. We were just fodder in his crown. A trophy wife and a trophy son. Do you know how many dumb blondes that man slept with? I don’t know either. I do know it was a lot. He kept a slew of lawyers settling paternity suits. And now you mourn for him.

Gertie (To the audience): Hamlet was a hard birth, you know. Took eighteen hours, and finally there he was. The doctors told me I couldn’t have any more children. I considered it a fair exchange for this one. (Points to Ham.) He was a handsome baby boy. He has his father’s red hair and my eyes and the cutest little dimple.

Hamlet: If I was such a favored son, why did you give me to a clown to raise?

Gertie: It was not my choice but your daddy’s. You were such a sulker he wanted to do something to cheer you up. I can see that it didn’t work. Maybe it’s all that thinking you do.

Gertrude (to the audience): That clown, Yorick, almost cured him of the sulks. Almost but almost only works in horseshoes. Unfortunately Yorick had to get a hold of some bad stew and die from food poisoning. Something called salmonella. That is English for bad stew. Hamlet was seven.

Claudius (to the audience): Claudius here. (To Gertrude) What Hamlet needs is a girl friend. A little whoopee never hurt no one.

Gertie: He had one. Ophelia. Polonius put a nix on that.

Claudius: I am going to have to talk to that Polonius about that.

Ham (again): Blah. Blah. Blah.

Gertie: That’s no way to talk your new daddy.

Ham: He ain’t nuttin’ but a hound dog. Cryin’ all the time. He ain’t never caught a rabbit and he ain’t no friend of mine.

Gertie: What’d I tell you about that sass.

Claudius: Now Ham, Gertie, can we not reason together?

Ham: Isn’t that what LBJ said when he got the USA into that Vietnam? “Can we not reason together?”

Claudius: There’s reasoning together, and then there’s reasoning together.

Ham: Go away. I have a soliloquy to do. I don’t need you listening in. It’s for the audience only.

Claudius (pouts): How come you get to hog all the soliloquies?

Ham: ‘Cause I am the main dude.

Claudius and Gert (together): Well, be that way.

Claudius (to Ham): We’ll leave only if you promise to stay in town. Your mother has missed you a lots and I want to teach you the king business.

Ham looks at his mother. There is a pretty please in her face.

Ham: I’ll stay just to please Mom. But I won’t like it.

Gertie: That’s a good boy.

Claudius and Gertie head for the door.

Claudius: Maybe I can arrange for you to have a soliloquy in “The Murder of Gonzaga”, Dollface.

Gertie: You would do that for me, Sugar Pops?

Claudius: I would even go downtown with you.

Gertie (giggles): Oh, that’s great. I love shopping.