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.”

“Nighthawks”

Andy entered the large cavern that was The Bookstore. It was his favorite place of all his favorite places. A world of treasures, and there was always a new treasure to find. Stacks and stacks of books, new and used, and five floors of them. He hurried past the cashiers. There were three of them, and always ringing up this or that customer.

He bounded up the stairs to the third floor after his favorite book. Someone borrowed his copy. Not just someone. His girlfriend, Tallis. She returned his book of Edward Hopper paintings with a third of the pages missing. She didn’t even apologize. “Here is that damned fool of a book you’re always bugging me about,” her lips said. He was deaf. “I don’t like it, and I don’t like you.”

He came to the shelf where the American artists were found. Where he first found the book of Hopper’s paintings. There were Andrew Wyeths, Grant Woods, Jackson Pollocks, Georgia O’Keefes. “No Hoppers. I can’t believe it. They’ve sold out. No ‘Nighthawks’.” There was a truckload of disappointment in his voice. He tried several other shelves to make sure he had the right shelf for the Hoppers. They were all gone.

Andy made his way back down the poorly lit, narrow alleyway of an aisle and toward the main thoroughfare where he knew there would be a clerk to help him. “May I help you, Mr. Harris?” The young female clerk recognized him from his many visits. He choked back his frustration and got out the word, “Hopper?”

“We’re sold out. There is a big conference on Hopper at the University and all the bookstores are sold out. We can order a copy for you if you like.” Her lips moved slowly so that he would get the words.

He shook his head no, then was back down the stairs and crashing out into the light of the midday sun. The light hurt his eyes. He blinked, then put on his sunglasses. He went to his left and toward the university. He had to see the painting, “Nighthawks”, one last time. One last time before his eyes gave out. One last time before he was blind.

Andy remembered the very first time he saw it. It was the day his hearing disappeared. His mother handed him a book on Hopper, her favorite artist, and he opened it right to the two-page spread of the painting. Until that moment, he had been frightened. He was going deaf. “Nighthawks” settled him into the courage to accept his fate. He was pulled into the painting and his isolation, his loneliness was their isolation, their loneliness. Many times since he had gone in search of that diner or a diner like it and never found it. Now he was searching for the painting for one last look.

Things were beginning to blur as he walked through the gates of the University and toward the conference. Would he make it in time? His walk changed into a run. And finally he found the auditorium.

The auditorium was filled with conference attendees. At the front and on the stage was “Nighthawks”. Andy could barely see it. But he could see enough of it to know that it was his painting. Each step toward the stage was lightened by his excitement. It might be the last thing he saw but he was going to see it. The audience watched, entranced, frozen, staring at the gray-haired man. The speaker stopped his talk.

Andy touched the steps to the stage, then he was on the stage, one thing on his mind. “Nighthawks.” Then he was in front of the painting. The canvas was large enough to give his eyes their fill of the pleasure he felt. There were the three people having their coffee. His friends, his parents who always made him feel loved. Loved. Tears blurred his eyes. Everything went dark. Everything fell into the darkest night.

But then he saw it. “Nighthawks” on the dark canvas of his blindness. And he knew he would never be alone again.

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.