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.

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.

Near 500 words: Just about perfect

Another lyric adventure.

Love is just about perfect,
This and so much more,
Love is just about perfect,
So open up that door.

It’s a lovely morning.
All the colors are out.
Showing off their stuff
As I get on and about.

The sun’s making me smile,
A breeze upon my skin.
Could there ever be
A better day to walk in?

Love is just about perfect,
This and so much more,
Love is just about perfect,
So open up that door.

Oh, what the street gives up
On this Sunday Sunday:
Neighbor washing his car,
The birds having their say.

Kids doing kids’ play
Water bombing a lawn,
Dog chasing his tail,
Street having its fun.

Love is just about perfect,
This and so much more,
Love is just about perfect,
So open up that door.

Soon the day quiets down
When the sun tips his hat
On his way out of town
Letting us know he’ll be back.

Moon slips across sky,
Crickets sing her praises,
Nightly kisses good night,
Love ever amazes.

Love is just about perfect,
This and so much more,
Love is just about perfect,
So open up that door.

Uncle Bardie’s Movie Spotlight: The Light Between Oceans

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is “The Light Between Oceans” (2016):

If you had to choose between the one you love and your conscience, which would you choose? This is one of several themes of “The Light Between Oceans”.

Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) returns to his native Australia from the battlefields of World War One. He is a wounded man and he knows he is a wounded man. He can’t get the war out his head. To find some peace, he volunteers to be a lighthouse keeper. The lighthouse is on an island miles off shore.

Running away from life, he finds life in a woman who lives in the Western Australian town that is the jumping off point to the island. Isabel (Alicia Vikander) falls in love with him and he with her. Alone on the island, he realizes he wants to say yes to her proposal of marriage.

Tom and Isabel are happy on the island in the early days of their marriage. Their life together on the island seems perfect.

On the island, Isabel loses both of her babies during pregnancy. Then a row boat comes from the sea. On it are a dead man and a baby. Isabel wants to keep the baby; Tom wants to do the right thing and report what they have found to the authorities. This is where Tom’s dilemma begins.

At the end of the movie, I still can’t answer the question of whether I would have made the choice Tom makes. Just like I don’t know which child I would have chosen if I were Sophie in William Styron’s “Sophie’s Choice.” Or whether I would have made the choice Scobie makes in Graham Greene’s “The Heart of the Matter.” Would I have chosen the choice Danny’s father made in Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen”?  I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

Perhaps this is the moral of “The Light Between Oceans.” There is no right answer and there is wrong answer. There is only a human answer.

This Old House

A ceiling above my head
The floor beneath my feet
Four walls around me
This old house moans and squeaks

Shadows paint the walls
Summers and ice cream days
Autumn leaves and Christmas trees
And all love says and doesn’t say

Thanksgivings come and go
Like suns into the sunset
And Christmas Eves too
Pass me much too quick

Standing in this room of mine
A witness of a former self
A ghost who has memories
Of love that is love and so much else

These my memories run
Through my heart like a river
Laughing, dancing and singing
Carrying me into forever