THE PHANTOM CESSNA

Sam blinked and looked again. His heart was racing, and he felt distinctly damp underarm. He was trained to handle stress but had never felt so drained. A Cessna 152 had materialized out of nowhere and was heading for the runway on which Sam was directing incoming Air France from Paris to land.  The Cessna, with its distinctive red markings and G-BRNE written along the cabin made no response to radio contact. Sam deduced that it must be an idiotic training flight gone amiss. Until the Cessna had appeared the Air France landing was textbook; aircraft flying eastward, the runway west-east, gentle wind from the east, sun setting in the west. Her pilots François Flagel and Claude Canty were veterans they had landed on this runway many times. Sam yelled,

“Runway obstruction, abort, abort!”

“Merdre! Impossible!” came François’s astonishingly calm voice.

Sam continued watching even as he put out an emergency alert. He stared, still in disbelief. The Cessna missed the runway and landed on the grass beside it. The small plane shuddered, wobbled to a standstill and disappeared. Sam blinked; it was gone as though it had never been. Sam returned his attention to Air France. It made a perfect landing. He alerted emergency responders that his alert was a mistake – he murmured a vague apologetic comment about birds. When Air France was safely at a gate with jetways attached, Sam could relax for this was the last flight of his shift. Although he looked forward to his time off, he did not immediately jump up and head out. Instead he leaned back in his chair and breathed deeply to relax his body. He absent-mindedly reached up and pushed a strand of his still blond hair from his forehead. At fifty he was beginning to bald, but he nurtured his wrap-over locks, like the one he now pushed aside, with the mistaken belief that they concealed the truth. Now he was faced with a new truth. He decided that the Cessna must have been a delusion. Perhaps a reflection off the mirrored glazing being installed in the new airport hotel under construction.

During his short drive home, Sam attempted to sort out a plan of action for himself. He knew ATCO (Air Traffic Controller) standards to be high. Too many lives were at stake. If anyone knew about his near miss and the phantom Cessna, they would put him on leave and, at fifty would probably insist that he skip waiting until fifty-five to take his mandatory retirement. On the other hand, he needed to discuss what he thought that he had seen. He needed assurance that he was not going crazy, that he was not hallucinating, and that he was still alert and fit enough, to be an ATCO. He instinctively knew that even Davis his closest ATCO buddy would not understand, so his confidant had to be his wife.

Sandra, Sam’s wife agreed that the Cessna sighting must have been a freak illusion reflected off the new hotel’s glazing. They lay together in bed and stared at reflections of objects in the room which appeared to be reproduced in the space outside their bedroom window. The simple explanation soothed, and they slept.

A month later Sam heard Davis yell,

“Abort, abort.”

 There was a slight gap in airport activity freeing Sam to walk over and stand behind Davis’ chair.  His body froze, Davis’ situation was worse, a Cessna 152 was taking off in the path of an incoming flight. For a split-second Davis turned to look at Sam.

“No radio contact” he gasped.

“What the hell?” Sam’s body shook in this moment of shared pain with Davis.

The two men watched, helpless as the incoming flight collided with the Cessna and continued on down in an uninterrupted perfect landing sequence. The air where the collision must have occurred was undisturbed. The Cessna had disappeared.

The two men put in an urgent request for a meeting with their superiors. They discovered, to their amazement, that there had been several other similar incidents at other airports. In one incident there had been two identical Cessnas involved.  A Cessna manhunt was put in motion. The FAA working with the FBI researched records of all 7,584 Cessnas which were manufactured between 1977 and 1985. The few which were still flight worthy had good records and none had been near the airports where the sightings had taken place. Most were now dedicated for training purposes rather like the Cessna modules offered in Microsoft’s Flight Simulator.

Sam’s son, Sammy Jr, was an avid Flight Simulator player. Initially, he was drawn to the game because his father was an ATCO.  As Microsoft developed new modules he was drawn, as were most of the game’s participants, by the game’s pledge of realism which kept getting better. Sam enthusiastically bought Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 when it came out. He told his dad that the advertising hype that scenery, airports, weather conditions and aircraft would be closer than ever to reality was true. He added that third party vendors were contributing enhancing add-ons to enable a player to sit in front of a computer and experience flying in conditions closer and closer to reality. The only problem with the Flight Simulator world was that it was static. Each scene was physically accurate in its depiction of runways, scenery, and buildings but lacked the realism of real time people, vehicles, and aircraft.

One evening Jr., invited his dad to join him for a flight. He told Sam that he was about to see his ATCO work from a different perspective. Jr was excited because he was intending to use the beta version of a recently launched program enhancement known as the “Jordan-holo.” The “Jordan holo” was developed and marketed by Jordan, a brilliant young programmer. His program combined hologram and global positioning technology to enable the Flight Simulator player to project a hologram of his plane into space. Jordan hoped that one day he would be able to create a continuous hologram of each flight showing the aircraft from take-off to landing.  His beta version could only project holograms in the vicinity of buildings on the ground such as those in airports. That evening when Sam watched over Jr’s shoulder, he realized the root of the ATCO problem. The phantom Cessnas were Microsoft Flight Simulator holograms!

GIFT FOR A PRINCESS

A GIFT FOR A PRINCESS.

On a glorious April morning, Elizabeth stands in a field of Bluebonnets in Austin, Texas. She accompanies her daughter’s family, and watches as her daughter and son-in-law attempt to arrange their three children into photographic poses. The bluebonnets are spectacular and stretch in a carpet of waving vibrant blue under a clear cloudless sky. Elizabeth can see other groups going through the same antics. Her family seem to be having the most trouble.  Their problem is that the toddler wants to toddle and pull the blue blossoms while his sisters want to dance and swirl in their pretty dresses Not one of the three can be induced to stay still with a smiling face long enough for a photograph. The girls giggle and squirm, their voices are loud and happy. They proclaim to the world that they are princesses.

Elizabeth lets her mind wander. She goes back in time and space to her youth in Durham City in the UK. To the time when she and her younger sister were the same age as her two dancing granddaughters. She remembers that they also, thought of themselves as princesses. They lived in a large imposing house named “Hillcrest.” It stood on the top of one of the hills surrounding the City. Hillcrest was their palace and its extensive garden their palace grounds cascading down the hillside into the valley below.

She recalls the time of the birth of their brother when their mother sent her and her sister on a special errand to buy eggs at the general store in May Street located at the bottom of their garden. She immerses herself in their willingness as they descend the zig/zagging garden terraces of Azaleas, herb gardens, a lawn and, towards the bottom, a beech tree woodland. It is the end of April, and the ground under the trees is covered in bluebells. The damp woodsy smell of the ground rises wrapped in the distinctive scent of bluebells. Streams of sunlight dapple the ground serving to enhance the impact of the bluebell carpet. Elizabeth’s eyes are now closed, and she is there as her youthful self, enchanted in a magical glen.

At the bottom of the bluebell woodland is a gate. The girls open the gate and emerge into another world. The world of May street is one of poverty and hard surfaces, the only green, an occasional weed, thrust through a crack in the sidewalk. Rows of identical red brick attached houses stand, each with a front door opening direct into the narrow sidewalk. The two-up two-down homes have tiny rear yards in which their out-houses are located. The aromatic air of the woodland behind the gate is replaced by the combined smell of smoke from the chimneys and the stench of human waste. Elizabeth’s memory does not take her to the store or the egg purchase, she only recalls their return to the gate.

Although Elizabeth’s youthful self was sure that they had fully closed the gate it now stands ajar. They hastily pass through and make sure that it is securely fastened. They are happy to leave the hard-unyielding poverty of May Street to reconnect with the enchanted bluebell woods. They are astonished to hear the cry of a baby and momentarily wonder whether their mother and their new-born sibling are about to appear. Elizabeth remembers the sickly whimper of their new-born. She instinctively knows that the cry that they now hear is not the same baby. She recalls her mother murmuring regretful words, Down’s syndrome, major heart defect, death. Young as she is she wonders whether the errand to get eggs from the May street general store was an excuse to occupy her and her sister while their parents tended to their dying baby.

The lusty cries of a healthy baby demand attention. Elizabeth and her sister morph from princess to pharaoh’s daughter. They look up the slope and see the bluebell ground as the River Nile. It cascades down the slope in waves of billowing blue. They see a baby basket placed close to their path. They scan all directions to see if there is someone accompanying the baby. There is no-one, no sound, only the wind rustling the treetops. They shout,

“Anyone there?”

There is no response. Elizabeth hands the eggs to her sister and picks up the baby and its basket They hurry up the path, run up the terraces and burst into their palatial home.

Some-one tugs at Elizabeth’s arm; it is her daughter. She reluctantly leaves her reminiscing and returns to the present.

“Mom, time to go. Were you day-dreaming?”

“Yes, dear, the bluebonnets reminded me of the bluebells at Hillcrest.”

“Oh, that’s our favorite story; were you remembering how you and Aunty found Uncle Moses?”

JUSTICE – a short story

This is a re-print of a story that I published 10/31/13 under the title “My Husband” It recently went through some new editing and so I decided to republish it. I apologize to any of my readers who remember reading it in 2013.

In nature it is delightfully calm after a storm, and so it was with us. Spousal abuse is always bad, but even while I suffered from my injuries, I savored those violence-free times of calm and tried to eke them out and make them last as long as possible. The period after The Event was especially sweet, that is because, this time, I effected a personal transformation and knew, from the onset, that it was to be the last time that I was hurt.

The Event had temporarily sobered him. Perhaps the shear impact of the violence and cleanup affected him; with the result that he spent more time than usual at home. He still jogged in the morning, and I loved to lie on the bed and watch him get up. He slept in the nude so that I could admire his beautiful body. When he arose and donned his jogging paraphernalia, I’d watch the ripple of every well-tuned muscle. During this period, after The Event, he would reach over and gently stroke my glossy hair before he left. While he was gone, I’d arise and prepare myself for the day so that when he came back, I could greet him at the door and give him a taste of my feigned love. For, yes, after The Event it was feigned, although sometimes I, with my newfound resolve, still got temporarily sucked into his charm. I made a rule for myself that, even though it disgusted me, I should greet him when he returned from his run. I would let myself rub against his wet skin to seal the illusion of my undying adoration.

We always ate breakfast together, he a bowl of cereal and milk, and I, milk. After he left for work I’d go for a walk, often a very long walk. Sometimes I’d be gone all day, involved in other activates, but I made sure that I was home, groomed and waiting at the door, when he returned in the evening. At first, after The Event, he would arrive home early so that we could sit together on the sofa and watch television. His taste didn’t match mine but I pretended to watch with him. Sometimes I even sat on his knee although I could tell that he didn’t like this much.

Soon, as I had suspected, he began to slip into his old habits. It began by his returning in the evening with alcohol on his breath. I suppose that he was dropping in on a bar to have a couple of drinks on the way home. On these occasions I continued to meet him at the door. I silently braved his off-time kicks, in my desire to maintain the illusion of my uncompromised love. It got even harder when he began to bring girls back with him. Before The Event he had never brought them to the house although I knew, knew only too well, that he was unfaithful to me. Now, I suppose, he thought that he could do anything, even flaunt these women before me. I pretended I didn’t care and greeted them with the same appearance of affection as I did him.

The moment after The Event, I knew what I had to do, although I hadn’t any idea how I would accomplish it. Over the weeks of the calm I had time to work out a strategy. It all hinged on his indulging in another drinking spree for only then would he be vulnerable enough for me to entice him into his basement. The trick was going to be how I could avoid getting hurt again during the encounter. The basement was quite small, more undercroft than a true basement with only one, very small, ventilation louver. During the calm I spent some time digging in the garden to make sure that the ventilation louver was completely covered in dirt. Initially he kept this lower level locked but he took to storing his alcohol down there and as time went on he became careless so that when he was out I could go down and inspect it.

It was as I expected, and smelt musty with a distinct odor of rotting which was not well disguised by the two by six rectangle of newly dug earth in the middle of the otherwise well packed earthen floor. It was that spot which had concluded the activities associated with The Event. He had a few bottles of water stored down there. I made sure that they were all broken and spilt. I even destroyed the whiskey bottle from which he had imbibed immediately after The Event. Sometimes I would sit on that two by six slightly mounded rectangle of dirt to gain strength and resolve from it. It took me several weeks to modify the support to the rustic wooden access stairs, but by the time he was bringing the women back to the house, they were so rickety that I knew that they would soon collapse. I half hoped that he would take one of his women down when he went for another bottle, thinking that their combined weight might cause a collapse.

I was patient, very patient and one day in late October I knew that my moment arrived. He came home much later than usual and was as inebriated as he was on the day of The Event. In the end I  didn’t have to do anything; he did it all himself. As he lumbered down the rickety stairs I heard them groan and collapse. He yelled as he fell and was then silent. I had him. I backed up against the basement door and heard it give a loud click. For several days I heard him moaning and complaining but the sound was muffled on the outside by my carefully placed dirt and on the inside it didn’t matter. After a week I was convinced that he was dead and that I needed to let someone know.

I slipped outside and sat upon the front doorstep and started to wail. The mailman noticed me but at first he did nothing. At the end of the second week the mail and newspapers had accumulated and even he began to look concerned. When the police arrived I rubbed up against them wailing miserably.

“Here Kitty Kitty, what’s the matter? Where are your master and mistress?”

I answered by arching against their shins and followed them into the house. I waited by the basement door but it was the last one that they opened. The smell that emerged was strong and even I had to draw back. A ladder was brought and they examined his body which lay on top of my grave. I didn’t stay to watch them dig up the mounded dirt of my makeshift resting place. I didn’t want to watch the exhumation of my murdered human body. I was now free. I quietly glided away to live the rest of my lives in peace.

Face-Time with Honduras

Every two or three days our medical missionary daughter calls from Honduras. She always calls in early evening as she sits on her north-facing front porch. She is enjoying a breeze which releases the heat of a humid tropical day without air conditioning. Initially she appears to be alone but as we talk the shouts of playing children are captured by the cell phone. Before her stretches a green swath of meadow shared with two other widely spaced homes. The site overlooks a steep slope down to the Caribbean Ocean. On clear days you can see the islands of Cayos Cichinos dim on the horizon. They are mystical, and reputed to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. They wink and beckon, just as Bali Hi beckoned in the Rogers & Hammerstein musical “South Pacific.” In the middle of the foreground, partially obstructing the view of the ocean, is a low growing spread-out knurled tropical fruit tree. A perfect climbing tree, it frequently sports several children in it branches. My daughter tells me that there have been times when the tree had a dozen children concealed in its twisted canopy. The children’s chatter is akin to that of a flock of birds gathered in preparation for migration. Occasionally one will drop out or hang head down momentarily visible, with legs hidden, wound around a low branch.

On three sides the site is flanked by steep tropical jungle ravines. Most often these steep narrow ravines with their dense vegetation appear as protective barriers of tree and undergrowth. Colorful tropical birds hop and squark among the leaves. If you stand on the edge and look down the ravine the bottom is dark; it is shaded into almost nocturnal gloom by the dense overhead canopy. Above this abyss Howler monkeys often visit as they rustle and leap from tree top to tree top. They eat the flowers, fruits and foliage. Sometimes this jungle threatens, epitomized when a male monkey begins to howl. He utters a noise reputed to be the loudest animal call on earth. It resounds over five miles. At other times a giant eight-foot-long Boa may slither into the sunlight. It comes to nab a free-range chicken kept, not so much for its egg laying capabilities, but rather to control the scorpion population. The ensuing battle is noisy and proves the end for both assailant and victim. After swallowing the chicken, the snake moves slowly and is target for a Honduran gardener who captures it with a noose around its head. The snake is proudly displayed and dragged off. The Honduran says that it goes home with him to become a rodent control guardian. I wonder if an alternative is that it will become someone’s dinner.

Our face time is periodically punctuated as my daughter hurls instructions to her children.

 “Josiah, don’t pick the watermelon. Leave it alone. It’s not ready!”

“Gideon, don’t’ do what I just told your brother not to do.”

“Madi, rescue the rabbit don’t let it get into the drainage conduit.”

I observe that my daughter looks tired. She confirms that she spent most of the night in the hospital, located on the other side of the ravine to her right. She was working to save a very sick baby which was born in a make-shift Honduran “taxi’ on the way to the hospital.  I can’t imagine how this was accomplished for the Honduran taxi is a glorified three-wheel motorcycle. My daughter goes on to add that during the first half of the night Isaac, her husband, joined a team administering to a lady who had been shot protecting her children and home. Apparently when her assailant arrived, she managed to lock the children in a backroom and then refused to give the thief money. She received four gun-shots.  The one to her head bounced off her skull, the one to her abdomen went through fat and missed organs, the one to her chest entered to the high right and went clean through diagonally to emerge without hitting an organ, the one to her arm also went right through. The medical team sewed her up and gave her blood from a matching donor on site.

My daughter sighs and goes on to tell me that the Corona virus has found them and that another Covid-19 patient managed to bypass their screening and arrive in the unprotected part of the hospital. By the time that this person was diagnosed much of the hospital staff had had contact. The horror continues as she tells me that their family has parasites which she is treating. I comment,

“Head lice – again?”

“No, not head lice, worms.”

“Yes, all children get pin worms from time to time.”

“No, not pinworms,” she sighs, “worms as big as this.” She holds up her pinkie. She goes on to mention a drug that she is administering to combat the worms.

“How does it work?” I ask innocently.

“They exit. When the intestinal environment is alien to them, they exit the anus. We found lots of them in the children’s shower.”

We end the call when my daughter hears the distant roar of Isaac’s motorcycle as he returns from the hospital. It is time for their dinner. Once I might have envied her for the beautiful place where she lives; a place where children play outside. But then I wince as I reorganize that this place is laced with many silent horrors. It is good that she and Isaac are dedicated to a healing higher cause.

25th Wedding Anniversary

Twenty five years ago, on June 24, 1995, my brother, Wyon, married his girl-friend, Janet. Due to today’s nasty pandemic they are unable to throw a celebration, so they invited their friends and family to send them memories to share. I sent a photograph of them siting on a wall back-to-back and this short poem. In the poem I attempt to recapture 6/24 1995.

To you Janet & Wyon
After twenty-five years
We offer congrats and best wishes
To you and your son
For love radiating and shared,
May it always remain
As strong as that day
When you did it your way

No stuffy receptions, instead
We recall early guests met
At a farm to pick strawberries
Nuptial banquet table food
Luscious, sun baked, red
Delicious for the day that you wed

No wedding hall
In a manner house setting
Wyon, you stand, counting time
Among wild flower decorations
Beckoning red strawberries
And expectant assembly.
You are handsome,
Wrist-watch anxious
You stand in your red jacket,
With white flower corsage.
We note your dark pants, curls, and beard
Your love worn with humility
We see the appointed time come and go
We become fidgety, in whispers debate
The meaning of this uneasy wait.

Hark then with joy,
Distant music wafts to anxious ears
Soothing trembling hearts.
Then we see you Janet,
A stunning, fairy princess
Clad in shapely red dress
Your flowing red hair
Crowned with white flower garland
You float across the fields,
Surrounded by dancing nymphs
Pipe and string melodies
An ethereal bride, face radiant, blushed
We, the audience, are now hushed.

Wyon and Janet, you stand eye to eye
You pledge eternal love
Support, honesty and faith
You exchange rings
You share universal words
Prayers of antiquity
To earth,
To air,
To fire,
To water
To love defeating all strife
To your union for life.

As the wedding day wanes
You lead satiated guests
To hold hands in wide circle
To let meadow grasses
Crushed by our feet
Offer up sweet aromas
We dance in rondos,
As ancient as the land
Luxuriating in this memorable way
To celebrate a wedding day

As time marches goes on
May you continue together strong
May your love always give
Strength to the days you live
We, friends and family join in wonder
Knowing that you two will never sunder

Jane Stansfeld 6/24/2020

COVID-19

One of SDWG challenged members to write a “Covid-19” format poem. He described the format as C or 100 words and 19 or nineteen lines. The following is my response to his challenge.

Go away Covid one nine
We thought ourselves fine
Now a global struggle for life
Unites all in common strife.
It’s a world burst asunder
We stop, to watch in wonder.

We enjoy astonishing side shows
Beauty through sealed windows.
We readjust our living pace
To quit a harrowing rat race.
No rush hour frustration
Never a route to salvation.
We know isolation is fine
For we can all meet online.

Covid, please go away
Leave us alone we say.
Won’t you vanish to nowhere
Gone we will stare and share.
Saying, Yes, I was there!

96 words)
©20200 Copyright, Jane Stansfeld

DON’T STEP ON MY TIGER

I recently wanted to add a comment to a blog which responded by asking me to identify myself. The comment box asked for a little known unusual fact about me. I responded with a 118 word narrative to find that this became my comment on the blog submission . It was completely off base, but I rather liked it so I post it here.

DON’T STEP ON MY TIGER.
When I was very young, I had a pet tiger. He did everything with me. I was fond and protective of him and annoyed when people stepped into his space. That’s until my parents banished him. They said that it was unhealthy for a child to have an imaginary friend. A little later I remember their look of horror and behind-door whispering when I brought home my first art class creation. It was, of course, a clay model of a tiger. He sat with his tail sticking straight up into the air. I treasured him but when we moved houses he disappeared. Now, an old lady with Parkinson’s, I can hallucinate him back into my presence. No-one complains.

STONE TALK

It is a glorious spring morning in one of the Travis Country greenbelts. Sunlight dapples the ground under oaks and cedar. A man and his wife move through the underbrush, their objective is to reach the dry detention pond behind their home. They make slow progress as he keeps stopping to break off dead branches which he considers a hazard to his eyes. She is more interested in the flora and fauna and often pauses to watch forest deer or to stare up into the overhead canopy to catch glimpses of the various birds who serenade them.  She, joyful but unsuccessful, tries to interpret their song,  – “peeeek-a-boo”, “tweet -tweet’. They are both acutely aware of the union of life; and the song of the universe for even the limestone rocks in a dry stream bed communicates with them. At each turn,, they head toward the brighter patches of sunlit greenery where there is less undergrowth.

At one small open area they encounter a pile of limestone masonry blocks. She comments that they must have been dumped by one of the home builders twenty years ago. He smiles,

“They are glad that we found them. I hear their talk.”

“You hear their talk? So, what do they say?”

“They commiserate about their expectation of twenty years ago. Harry reminds Heloise of their high expectations.’

“Harry and Heloise?”

Yes, Harry and Heloise, like in a children’s story. Anyway, they reminisce about how they had hoped to be selected for the fireplace façade. Back then they speculated that it would always be comfortable, warm in winter and air conditioned in summer. Now, Heloise reminds Harry how they had rationalized that the exterior façade would be better, less likely to be renovated in the years ahead, more interesting commanding a good view of exterior activities.”

“You hear all that?”

“Yes, and there is more, right now they are miserable. They are still horrified to be dumped here to be overgrown by grasses and dirt. They beg us, me, to rescue them.”

“But they are here in the middle of the greenbelt, and we must be at least half a mile from home.”

They walk on, the man is quiet. His wife is silent to let him think. They are thankful for this small distraction from the seemingly never-ending dialogue about the ongoing corona virus pandemic. They emerge from the undergrowth into full sun-light and climb through the long grass to the top of the dirt dam surrounding their local storm water management ponds, from there they head to a man-made swale with a two-foot-wide concrete bed nestled in four-foot-tall grass. They follow the swale careful to avoid ant hills. A bird flies up out of the grass. The wife looks for its nest, but he is impatient and urges her on.

At the end of the swale they take an artificial path mown by their neighboring teenage boy. She thinks of it as a boredom path.  The previous day she watched their next-door neighbor’s son, a blond-headed high-schooler, make it with his lawnmower. When he finished his parent’s lawn, he opened their back gate and struck out. He appeared to be equipped with the attitude of an ancient Roman road builder, for his mown swathe ignored the terrain and took a straight line struck out of his yard, across a flat area, up and over the earth dam, across the dry detention pond and up the other side. At this point he had turned to take the same path back.

When the man and wife are close to their back yard, they leave the boy’s path and walk across an area of long thin grass waving seductively over an undercover of brilliant yellow wildflowers. They pause and look at each other at their gate.

“I’m going to rescue them!”

“You are what?”

“I’m going to rescue them and build a flower bed outside our dining-room window.”

“But how, they are half a mile away in an inaccessible place in the greenbelt?”

“I’ll use the red wheelbarrow.”

Over the next two days the man and red wheelbarrow make twelve miles of round trips to transport the limestone blocks to his garden. He reports to his wife on Harry and Heloise’s happiness at their rescue. He tells her,

“During the trip they ruminated about their destination. They agreed that nothing could be worse than twenty years of unfunctional abandon in the woods. They whispered, but I could still hear, when they prayed that they are not about to be taken to the City dump. They agreed with each other, the dump would be worse than green-belt abandon.”

“You heard all that?”

“Yes, it unfolds like a children’s story. They were relieved and happy when we reached the garden, and quite ecstatic when I stacked them in a neat pile next to my construction site.”

“So, they are happy?”

“Oh yes, very happy. Their voices inspire me to keep going.”

Construction goes slowly. The man is deliberate as he builds foundations and arranges the stones out to make sure that their idiosyncrasies are properly accounted for. At last reports to his wife.

“No rain is forecast. Everything is ready, construction starts tomorrow.”

It takes two days to build the wall, another two to fill the resultant bed with a proper mix of dirt, and compost, and yet another to plant and water. The man listens more to the faint gasps of the plants as he carefully places them. He is content, but when he turns to go inside to look at his accomplishment from indoors, he loses his ear. It is now that Harry and Heloise sing. Their voices join the song of the universe.

An inside Job

Allen drives his Advanced Plumbing Services van up to an attractive suburban house. He is relaxed and happy; this is his last house call of the day; and it is Friday, his Bowling League night. He is greeted by the Mrs. Fry, the home owner, a sour-faced middle-aged woman. She scowls at him with the words,“You guys took your time.” She goes on to complain that she has guests and the sink in their bathroom is clogged. “Now, I ask you,’ she continues, “how could a sink which is hardly ever used get clogged?” She concludes “My guest bathroom, how embarrassing, how could you, plumbers, create such a stupid design with a sink that clogs itself?”

It annoys Allen that she should be blaming him for her problems, after all this is the first time that he has ever been to this house. He mumbles, “There could be a number of reasons. Let me see. Then, I’ll be able to tell you what’s wrong.”

She escorts hm through her home, past expensive furnishings. Allen spots an elegant gun display case. He thinks how interesting this would be to his bowling partner Tommy. They reach the guest bathroom and Allen looks under the vanity. He immediately has an answer to her question. He explains that the air conditioning overflow drains to this sink. He tells her that it is a common problem. Over time the slow drip pan overflow blocks the drain with small scales of dirt and drip pan residue.

“Hmm, crazy design!” she comments, “I suppose, you’d better fix it.”

It seems to Allen that this grumpy Mrs. Fry is blaming him for the blockage, but he ignores the implication and gets to work. Generally home owners help empty cabinets to create a workspace but this woman stands and watches with a look of distain. Allen is annoyed by her lack of assistance, but he still takes care as he places extra toilet rolls, hair dryer, soap and towels on top of the granite vanity. Soon he is on his back, with his head thrust into the cabinet. He turns his wrench slowly as he tries to coax a particularly tight P trap into coming loose. He has a bowl ready to catch the black junk which he expects to gush out when the pipes come apart. This job is so routine that he lets his mind drift. He thinks about home, and his two children who always give him a hug when he arrives home. He thinks pleasurably about his bowling night with the boys. He wonders if he will tell Tommy about this job, but thinks not. He feels content, he tells himself that “Life is good”.

The P trap comes loose and suddenly Allen’s routine task becomes more complex. Along with the offending black gunk something heavy falls into his waiting catch-all. It hits the bowl with a clink. Allen pokes the object with his wrench. He expects a child’s small toy or a toothpaste cap but, instead he sees a woman’s ring. It catches the light and shines as it nestles in the dark slime. He glances toward the door. He is alone, the watching home owner has stepped away for a moment. Allen scoops up the ring. He stands and rinses it in the second vanity sink.

Allen knows little about women’s jewelry but the ring looks like a bigger, nicer, version of the diamond and gold engagement ring that he gave his wife years ago when he proposed. He suspects that it is valuable. He doesn’t know what to do. His conscience tells him to give it to the homeowner; such an action would confirm the position of trust expected of all APS employees who make house calls. On the other hand, he tells himself, Mrs. Fry is wealthy, and treats him like the scum in her clogged drain. He thinks that no-one would know and she doesn’t merit a surprise gift. He stands reminding himself that he has been honest his whole life so he ought to do the right thing.  On the other hand, he knows that his bowling buddy, Thomas, would be able to find a fence and sell it. He smiles as he thinks about what he could do with a little extra cash. While he is hesitating Mrs. Fry returns and stands, arms akimbo, in the bathroom door. Her critical stance puts Allen on the defensive.

“Well?” she demands “Why are you dawdling? Have you forgotten where you are?”  Allen Looks at her angry face and slips the ring into his pocket.

“I was right. It is the P-trap” he tells her, “I’ll have it all cleaned up and reassembled in a jiffy.”

Normally Allen is helpful and, after his cleanup, helps put anything disturbed back in their place. Today, his disgust at Mrs. Fry is magnified by his own guilt and he leaves the vanity strewn with the lower cabinet’s contents. He remains perturbed while he drives home and thinks about what he should do about the ring. He decides that he will mention it to Tommy. He suspects that Tommy lives slightly outside the law because every week he surreptitiously presses Allen to become a look-out and to tell him about his house calls and in particular which houses have valuable contents.

“Did a strange job today.” He tells Tommy while they watch a gutter ball swirl toward the pins.

It is Tommy’s turn, “What do you mean?” he asks as he lifts his ball from the carousel and prepares to throw. Later, when they are sitting side by side Allen elaborates, “A ring fell out of a P-trap that I was unclogging. Never happened before.”

“So, what did you do?”

“Kept it. That’s the weird part.”

“How come?”

“You see the house was affluent, full of antiques and gun cabinet collections and things. Even then I’d have told the owner, Mrs. Fry, except she was so snooty and condescending, I just couldn’t.” Allen says this in the hope that Tommy understands and to exonerate his action. It almost makes him feel justified.

Tommy is already ahead of Allen, “Yes, yes, I’ll fence your ring, no problem. What are friends for anyway?” He pats Allen’s knee and goes on, ‘But the house, you say that it is full of guns – now that is interesting. You can do me a return favor and give me the address. After all she is an affluent undeserving bitch isn’t, she?” Allen, flushed because he just threw a strike, tells himself that it is OK to share this one address and gives Tommy what he wants.

That night Allen hardly sleeps. He keeps going over the events of the day. His inner voice tells him that, unpleasant as Mrs. Fry was, it was as wrong of him to give Tommy the address, as it was to have kept the ring. He decides that he can’t have Tommy fence the ring and he can’t throw it away any more than he can return it to Mrs. Fry. He tosses and turns and finally gets up and hides the ring in an old prescription bottle in his bathroom medicine cabinet. He feels better with it hidden and hopes that in time he will know what to do with it.  Only a few weeks later this decision is taken away when one of the guns missing from Mrs. Fry’s house turns out to be a gang related murder weapon. The police call on Allen with a search warrant. They look everywhere including the medicine cabinet. They find the ring. It doesn’t take long for Mrs. Fry to identify it as her daughter’s lost engagement ring.

Cathedral View Tea Party

Clara stood at the end of the driveway up to the Boy’s School dormitory. She chatted casually with the other mothers who waited with her. It was a fresh spring day, and she felt happily at ease. She looked forward with pleasure at the thought that today, she and her two girls, were to go to Mrs. Hughes’ home for tea. She had invested the preceding week in coaching the girls in tea-time proper etiquette. They were ready.

Presently, the waiting parents heard the distinct sound of children’s chatter, with their high-pitched voices blending peacefully with the normal urban backdrop. Clara smiled for she enjoyed this noise, which always preceded the emergence of her children. When they appeared, walking calmly in a neat two by two crocodile, she was happy to see that her oldest seven-year-old daughter, and her best friend led the group. The others, in descending ages, followed behind; their teacher, Miss Derry came last. She leased one room of the boy’s dormitory to house her school. In its confines, she miraculously managed to take fourteen children of varying ages and turn each out at age eight with a sound knowledge of reading, writing, and fundamental arithmatics, including multiple tables up to twelve, all based on a foundation of Christianity, world history and geography.

When they arrived at the bottom of the drive Miss Derry gave a signal, and the children dispersed to their parents in an orderly manner. Clara took her two’s hands and began to walk toward the Cathedral and River Banks. As this was in the opposite direction from home Mary, her eldest, pulled at her hand.

“Mama where are we going?”

“You remember, dear,” Her mother stopped, and turned to look at her daughter in the face “I told you at lunchtime. We are having a special treat. We are going to have tea with Mrs. Hughes.”

“But I’m hungry”

“Mrs. Hughes will have food for you.”

“Yes, but” Mary looked at her younger sister for moral support, “but Mrs. Hughes’ food is yucky!”

“You are going to be good girls. I know that you don’t like her dry sandwiches and fluffy store-bought whipped cream cakes, but you have to pretend. We talked about this at lunch-time. I want you to think of it as a game. Remember that you will be able to eat all your home-cooked, tea-time favorites when we get home”

“But Mama?”

“Yes, you are to take one sandwich and, then if you wish, you can say that you aren’t very hungry when she offers the cakes.”

“But Mama,” her younger daughter interrupted, “we’re really hungry.”

“Don’t worry. Be good, polite little ladies, and earn a reward. Forget the store-bought whipped cream cakes, when we get home we will have another tea with of all your home cooked tea-time favorites.”

Clara took her girl’s hands and walked briskly to the end of the road where they paused at a low wall overlooking the wooded ravine of the River Weir, locally referred to as The River Banks. They turned left down South Street with its magnificent views across the river to the west end of Durham cathedral. Its grey stones were high lit with a warm pink glow. Half-way down the street they stopped at the Hughes residence with its huge bay window facing across the narrow street. It commanded a view of the West End Galilee Chapel flanked by the west end towers with the central tower further behind completing the classic image of this magnificent structure.

Mrs. Hughes ushered them inside to her tea-table which was tastefully set in front of the bay-window commanding the cathedral view. Clara glowed with pride as she watched her daughters daintily handle their bone china teacups with their wood violet decoration. She watched each of them take, and slowly eat, a sandwich gently pushing it a round on their violet-decorated tea plates. Things were going well.

Mrs. Hughes took the cake plate off its pedestal and offered it to Mary. Clara watched Mary’s face and gave an inner groan when she saw that Mary was about to speak. She caught Mary’s eye and gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head.

“No!”

Mary responded, in a confident voice, “Don’t worry Mama. I was only going to say a polite ‘no thank you,’ to the store bought, whipped-cream cakes.”

Clara smiled and was about to turn away when Mary took a breath and forged on:

“Anyway, I know that you promised that when we get home we will have a real tea with of all our home-cooked tea-time favorites.”