THE CANDY – a short story

Please forgive my posting this Halloween story way after October 31st. My excuse is the prolonged and enjoyable visit by my daughter and family. They live in Honduras, so we don’t get to see them very often. The grandchildren 2, 5 and 7 are a handful of restless motion. Image grandparents run ragged!.  Apart from the tardiness of this post the following story has no relevance to the Honduras invasion, – I mean visit.

“It is a pity, Joe thought, “she’s a such a sweet child.”

He stood in the hall that Halloween night watching the family’s preparations. He was fully prepared in a sinister black Frankenstein costume. His new wife Susan, handed him three Halloween-wrapped orange bags filled with mini Snicker Bars. He tore them open and poured their contents into a wicker basket. They looked decorative with their brown wrapping and bold blue letters announcing “SNICKER”. He placed the basket in the hall close to the front door in readiness to hand out to ‘Trick or Treaters. He watched and waited while his wife, Susan, and his step-daughter daughter, Lisa, changed into their Halloween costumes. He paused to listen to the child’s happy voice, and slipped his hand into his pocket to touch the three laced mini Snicker’s bars which he had prepared, in secret, shortly after their marriage. “Yep,” he thought, “it is a pity but can’t be helped.”

When Lisa bounded downstairs in her fairy costume she ran up to Joe and gave him a loving hug. He lifted her up and swung her around, “Fly fairy, fly” he said. Their contact further eroded his resolve for her bubbling nature touched him. Momentarily he rationalized that perhaps the insurance money wasn’t worth it, but he quickly dismissed the thought. Everything was ready, and he had the insurance documentation hidden in the bottom of his desk drawer ready for him to “find” at the appropriate time. He told himself that “This is no time for sentimentality”.

They ate pizza for a hurried dinner and then took to the streets. It was a balmy evening full of fellowship and neighborliness. The one time in the year when everyone took to the streets and greeted each other with comradery. Joe was glad to see that several houses gave out mini Snickers bars. He managed to slip two of the bars from his pocket into unsuspecting children’s pumpkin tote baskets. He hated to do it but this had to look like the random work of a malignant terrorist / mass murderer without any specific target.

When they returned to the house Lisa poured her spoils including Joe’s contribution onto the coffee table. While she negotiated with her mother on what she could eat immediately several groups of boisterous groups of teens with their pillowcase totes rang their doorbell “Trick or Treat”. Joe and Susan took turns answering their calls and proffered their basket of candy. Joe was getting anxious as he endeavored to keep track of the doctored bar. Lisa sorted the candy into four piles, one for her mother, one for her new step-father, one for herself, and one as a tithe for the church. Joe nudged the laced bar into Lisa’s pile. “May we eat one now?” asked Lisa. Her mother nodded and all three tore open a Snicker’s bar. The doorbell rang to the sound of “Trick or Treat” from yet another boisterous group of teens. “Can you get it?” Susan asked Joe, “and then, let’s turn off the porchlight, no more trick-or-treat tonight.”

Joe was reluctant to leave the table at this critical moment but did so. When he stood up, somehow Susan’s foot got in the way and he tripped, knocking the coffee table sending some of the candy onto the floor. By the time that he got back to the table Lisa had retrieved the items and the coffee table looked rearranged as it had been before the interruption. They ate their snickers bars. Joe thought his candy to be rather bitter but put this down to his anxiousness, he smiled at Susan and Lisa and ate.

Joe wasn’t sure how quickly the poison would work. He sat watching for Lisa to show signs of distress. He was annoyed at himself when he began to sweat hoping that this didn’t give him away. But, when he felt a wave of nausea, he realized that he must have ingested the laced bar. He threw up and shouted to Susan, “Call 91, I need an ambulance.” Susan called. She sent Lisa outside to hail the ambulance down. Then, she gently wiped his brow. As he passed into oblivion, he heard her whisper in his ear, “Sorry, dear, I also have a hidden insurance policy!”

Two Dandelion poems

It is fall now, not spring.
But,
dandelions have one last fling.

I offer two dandelion poems (accompanied by an apology to Jane Sturgeon to whom I have already quoted them).
The first poem is one, which I memorized in elementary school, and still comes to mind every time that I see a dandelion. It is written by Sir Edward Arthur Drummond Bliss.
The second poem was written by my daughter, Anne Catherine  Hofer, in 1999, when she was 16. It complements the former poem and may well be my daughter’s response to my frequent quoting of the Bliss poem.
My hope is that the pair make you smile.

dande 1

The Dandelion

The dandelion is brave and gay
And loves to sit beside the way;
A braver thing was never seen,
To praise the grass for growing green;
You never saw a gayer thing,
To sit and smile and praise the spring.

The children with their simple hearts,
The lazy men that come in carts,
The little dogs that lollop by,
They all have seen its shining eye,
Any every one of them would say
They never saw a thing so gay.

dande 2

Dandelion Puff

Hey you, yes you, come over here!
Come let me whisper in your ear.
I won’t sting you I promise, please?
(unless of course I’m filled with bees)
But really, look I’m only fluffy
There is no reason to be stuffy
Don’t you just feel the urge…
The desire… the NEED…to ..
pick me?
I don’t care a bit
I do declare, go ahead!

But that is not enough you know
Why don’t you go ahead and blow?
I am so frail, oh can’t you see?
A puff of wind would total me.
It will take place eventually,
So go ahead and hear my plea
Send me scattering through the air,
And please perform it with some – OH!
Why ….thank you.

You won’t regret it….
…next year…..
… I’ll bring……
…..a lot of friends!

Apple – a short narrative

IMG_0015

“This isn’t happening to me.”

I moaned as, I sat down at our breakfast table and took deep breaths to calm myself. If I hadn’t become so upset, I might have been able to put everything in perspective. I might even have had a good laugh at the irony of my situation. It was Monday morning and only the day before our scripture reading and sermon had been about the shepherd who left the ninety-nine to search for his one lost lamb and the woman who spent the day searching for a lost coin. If I had paused to think, I might have taken comfort in the thought people have been losing things for centuries. By now it was already nine am, school traffic on the road outside had abated, and the sun poured in through our east facing windows highlighting dust particles in the air and throwing patterns of promised heat on our polished hickory floor. I could have enjoyed this quiet moment of life, but instead here I was ignoring its promise and agonizing over the loss of a phone. Or was I worried more about the fact that I had been stupid enough to lose this essential modern-day communications tool, rather than by its loss. I think that it was the former which concerned me most. I thought that finding might enable me to recall how I had lost it.

My husband and I had looked everywhere: in the car; under the car seats; in my bedside table; in the folds of my favorite chair; in any of my purses; in my side table; in the bathroom; by my desk; the list went on. My husband called me on his phone and we ran around the house and garage like wild cats hoping to hear the phone’s faithful ring – no luck! All this commotion, I     thought, about a phone which in my youth was firmly attached to a wall in the house. I vainly tried to remember when I had last seen or used it and had no luck in this endeavor. To distract myself I picked up my I-pad and clicked on the utility “Find Phone”. A few seconds later the I-Pad found itself which was distracting, and then, a few more seconds, and eureka it found my phone.

To my surprise and chagrin, it located my lost phone in Buda some fifteen miles away. I was glad to have it located it but didn’t consider it found. I mean, really, in Buda fifteen miles away and still with power enough to be locatable. My husband called it yet again. It didn’t answer but a few seconds later it called back! My husband picked up but the line went dead. Now I became more stressed for the call indicated that someone in Buda had my phone. I wondered if this person could have discovered my password to unlock and use it. Unlocked, that smart phone is more than a fancy phone with a camera built-in. It holds ALL my contact information and a lot of happy software. My husband speculated that the new holder of that phone could probably access everything we own. Due to my husband’s meticulous care about data, the phone had archived itself to the cloud a couple of days earlier. We visited the archive, and using the data, changed relevant account access codes. I began to believe myself lucky as it didn’t appear that any personal information had been compromised.

I still hadn’t a clue how that phone got itself to Buda; but now I cared less. If it had been stolen I couldn’t pin-point where or when and decided that reporting something this trivial to the police would be merely an annoyance to them. I rationalized that phone was old and Apple now has newer, better ones available. Every time that we go to Barton Creek Mall I take time to gaze at the unique Apple store. It flows invitingly into the Mall with a pair of enormous floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors slid perfectly behind two additional like panes which complete the store’s security barrier at night. A single hanging illuminated medallion of a white apple with a missing bite identifies the store. Inside, rows of phones, I-pads and other items for sale are displayed, uncluttered, on simple wood tables. At the very back a huge screen provides color and light in ever changing images. There are no checkout counters no drawers of goods only a sea of people made up of customers and Apple assistants wearing simple black tops. It is a perfection of understated elegance and retail design ingenuity. We go to Barton Creek Mall and as I enter the dream-like store I feel gladness that,

“This is happening to me.”

Our sales assistant takes no time in confirming my lost phone’s location in Buda. He asks if I’d like to have it disabled and wiped clean. I already have my cloud back-up so I signal an OK. I am amazed that this can be done remotely. While the deed is being done I erase it from my memory. It is gone. Our sales assistant, a charming young man, young enough to be my grandson, flicks back his thick locks of black curls, smiles and gently escorts us to a display of iPhones. After a detailed discussion about their relative merits, features, and costs we select a model. I am so mesmerized by the luxury of this experience and beauty of design that I am able to accept the high cost. I remind myself that I am not merely purchasing a phone, I am getting a phone, a three lensed sophisticated camera, a game machine, a reading library, a window to the world, and more all in a small flat rectangle that I can slip into my pocket. We progress further into the store, closer to that gorgeous rear screen. I select phone case and screen protector. I barely notice their costs which seem slight in comparison to what they are to protect.

On the move again, this time to a simple wood table close to an array of wooden boxes acting as seats for those who may wish to watch the mesmerizing rear screen. I surrender my credit card, sign an invoice on our associate’s screen, agree to e-mail confirmation and am presented with three boxes which have materialized out of nowhere. Our sales associate gently removes the thin plastic wrapping from the larger elegant box. He thrusts the removed paper into his jeans pocket as there are no waste baskets or trash cluttering the pristine floor. He pushes the box toward me, and says,

“Open your new iPhone.”

It is better than Christmas. I fondle the white box, it is so smooth, so clean. I admire how the front image of part of a globe with swirling colors isn’t printed on the box but set into it. The lid slips gently off. Inside I pull a white tab and draw this treasured object into my hands. I stroke it and hand it over to our sales associate. He works lovingly as he downloads the contents of my old phone onto this new gem. He applies the screen cover and puts the phone into its case. We bid goodbye and exit with new iPhone and white sack containing the boxes, including the phone’s box containing ear phones and recharger nestled into their own custom white fitted compartments. I shall treasure this box almost as dearly as my new iPhone.

“Yes, this did happen to me.”

 

THE MIND-BODY EXCHANGE

This story uses the premise of a mind  / body exchange as used in my last post.

For over thirty years I, at present a very wealthy man, was a lowly security guard serving the once billionaire, George X. I remember that I hired on the same day in June 2020 that Oxford University announced their breakthrough development of a mind-reading machine which could facilitate memory downloads similar to the Vulcan mind reads made by Dr. Spock on Star Trek. I hoped that a position on George’s staff, would enable me to read George’s mind and find and imitate the means of his success. I envied him as a strapping thirty-year-old self-made man who had just turned his first billion. I thought how good it would be if I could do likewise. However, over the years, the closest that I came to mind reading was what I heard as I stood at the back of his lavish office. I was the suited. silent one, ever alert, ever watching, witnessing his many suspect dealings. They were always astute, always unyielding, and always to his betterment. Regrettably, all my attempts to mimic George’s transactions back fired. My only consolation was to observe the inverse relationship between George’s personal life and the size of his fortune. Year after year, the richer he became, the more his personal life suffered until, over time, he degenerated into a very wealthy, lonely recluse.

I couldn’t understand George’s one odd, seemingly out of character, business transaction. It was the way that he poured cash into the Oxford University research. Following a scary bout with prostate cancer he increased his funding and took to calling Oxford every Friday morning. At last, almost thirty years to the day I had to admit that George had the Midas touch for Oxford announced, with a few reservations and caveats, that they had constructed a machine which could accomplish  the complete exchange of bodies between two willing persons. It was one of those “ah ha” moments for me – I was sure that my sixty-year-old employer, now cancer free, but forever complaining about his physical aches and pains, wanted a new body. I was right and watched him set aside funding and begin his search for the ‘perfect’ match.

It didn’t take long for Nations around the world to respond to Oxford’s discovery by declaring all mind / body exchanges as illegal and defining the individual as a sacred, inviolate combination, of mind and body. George was, as usual, unphased by legalities. He called in his representatives, increased their remuneration and bound them to secrecy. The search was to continue. I am proud to tell you that it was I, the silent security guard, who found their man. I had Nathaniel, or Nate, the son of one of my drinking buddies, to introduce himself to the search committee. George’s specification called for a healthy thirty-year-old so that he could pass off the exchange as his prolonged youth. I must say that Nate looked remarkably like the George I met when I was hired. Nate said that he was willing to undergo the exchange for the hefty fee of one million per year differential, or thirty million. He said that he intended to use the money to pay off his debts and establish leisured affluence for himself and his relatives.

I stood, silent as ever, as I listened to George making his plans. He arranged for the clandestine exchange to take place in Oxford. Immediately thereafter, he planned to go to Switzerland to spend a month in a Sanitorium so that he could return to his life with an explanation for his renewed vigor and youthful looks. The thirty million was transferred to a Swiss Bank account set up in Nate’s name. When asked about his plans, Nate said that he intended to go to Nepal to join an Everest expedition so that he could answer inquiries about his rapid aging by blaming the conditions of the climb.

Before the exchange took place, I was dismissed back to George’s New York penthouse. I was instructed to await his return. Imagine my surprise when, less than a week after the exchange, who should I see but George entering the granite and glass lobby. I was perplexed; if the exchange had been aborted or gone wrong, this was, indeed, George in his own body. However, if it had gone ahead, this couldn’t be George in Nate’s body, it would have to be Nate in George’s body. I stood transfixed wondering how I ought to respond to this unexpected anomaly. The man I saw came up to me and shook my hand. He inquired about my family and invited me to dine with him. This confirmed my suspicions as over all our years together George had never asked about my well-being, or invited me to dine with him.

Nate was miserable. He told me that he had come to the building because this is where his body wanted to come. His explanation seemed odd, but I am a good listener and let him talk about his issues. His unhappiness was on three scores. First, George’s body was far more decrepit than he had been told. He said that he was finding it difficult to adjust to the reality of a sixty-plus year-old body. Second, George’s body had a mind of its own; keeping doing things that it wanted, such as returning to George’s penthouse, rather than doing as Nate wanted. He said, even over the short span of less than a week the body’s desires were becoming increasingly persuasive. Nate’s saddest woe was that when he went to withdraw from his newly set up Swiss bank account, he found that it had been emptied of all but thirty thousand. We went to George’s penthouse and called Switzerland and received confirmation. “Yes,” they said, “Nate himself came in and drained the account.” So, the thief was George who now looked like Nate. I didn’t put it past George to  do this as I  knew him to be a despicable, greedy, double crosser! Over our dinner wine we commiserated together and thought about George’s meanness. We asked ourselves how could George, one of the richest men in the world, steal like that? We speculated on the lost thirty million. We went on to commiserate on all the philanthropic things that George could be doing with his fortune if only he were a better person. In fact, we spoke as though the fortune was ours, and we were sharing it for the good of others. Out of pity for Nate I paid for the meal.

As I went home, I pondered on our talk with the Swiss bank. That is when, it hit me, if George, in Nate’s body could pass as Nate and be able to transfer money out of the account into another account under George X’s name then why couldn’t Nate, in George’s body, claim to be George, and move it anywhere he wanted? I found Nate early the next morning. I shared my thoughts with him. He laughed so hard that I feared that his old heart might give up. But no, laughter proved therapeutic. We began with the millions stolen from Nate’s account. The transfer went so smoothly that we decided to reach deeper into George’s horde. We knew that we only had a month. We worked hard combining Nate’s computer and interpersonal skills with my knowledge of the intricacies of George’s business gained during my decades of silently standing on guard in the back of that sumptuous room. By the time that we expected George to leave the sanitarium we had everything wrapped up. There was so much money that we split it 50/50. In the span of a month we had both become billionaires.

We wished that we could have seen the face of George, in Nate’s body, when he left the sanitorium, and discovered that he could no longer access his property. We speculated on how long it would take for him to realize, that the world now saw him as Nate, with two assets; his young body and the thirty thousand that he had, so “generously,” left in Nate’s account. We gave each other hi fives and placed bets on how long it would be before George, in Nate’s body came crawling back with an offer of a reverse exchange accompanied by a payment. My friend,Nate in George’s body, said, when the time came, he’d gladly do it for twenty-nine million, nine-hundred and seventy-thousand. I told him that he was being unnecessarily generous.

THE EXCHANGE SUMMER CAMP

Sandi always remembered date of the day that the Vulcan technology was announced because it was on the same day that her daughter, Grace, was born. It was June 2030, and the news was that scientists at Oxford University in the United Kingdom had managed to perfect a process whereby a trained person, assisted by drugs and a “Vulcan” machine, could tap into the brain of another. Oxford named the process the “Vulcan” in honor of Star Trek’s Dr. Spock. They suggested that within a decade, the breakthrough technology would be as universally available as the mobile phone. Speculation ran wild globally. Everywhere people tried to imagine how their lives might change without lies, even white ones. The legal profession launched a smear campaign to save itself for they realized that if one could tap into the brain of an accused or accuser and obtain accurate information, then lengthy trials would no longer be necessary.

Sandi was so focused on the joys of motherhood and her intimacy with her baby, that she paid little attention to the Vulcan whirlwind. Soon a year had passed, and she had to return to work. She had difficulty with the transition for, up to that time, she and Grace had been inseparable. They had been together twenty-four / seven. Sandi had so morphed her life to revolve around Grace that she had no need of the theoretical Vulcan machine to know exactly what Grace wanted before she expressed herself. They had done everything together, swum at the Y, played in the playground, had extensive “play dates” and gone for daily walks. Sandi knew everything Grace ate, every dirty diaper, every minute of sleep, every tiny whimper. She felt herself bursting with love for her child. Consequently, the drive to her mother-in-law’s house where Grace was to stay while she was at work was agony. Sandi attempted to calm herself and address her feeling of guilt by talking to Grace. She told the child how much she adored her and how she knew that nothing could ever displace that love. Grace responded with happy gurgles and by kicking her legs. Despite the fact that the drive took less than ten minutes by the time that they arrived Grace had managed to remove her shoes and socks and dispatch any toys within reach to the floor. Sandi merely smiled as she retrieved the lost items and lifted Grace and diaper bag tenderly out of the car.

By the time that Grace was in Middle School the Vulcan technology was reported to be advancing, but the promised “universal truth machine” had not gone into production. This may have been because nobody wanted to be fully exposed and all agreed that some subterfuge is necessary in most people’s lives. Alternatively, it could be that the scientists involved were too caught up in developing Vulcan to its logical conclusion. Grace meanwhile matured into a precocious, attractive child. She excelled in school and won a number of local and State academic competitions. One science competition offered a prize of place in their month of June “Exchange Summer Camp.” The school told Sandi that this was a great honor, and that she ought to allow Grace to go. Sandi felt cheated for she saw her life as one continual process of letting go of the person who she loved most in the world. Sandi deemed a month too long, but at the school’s urging and Grace’s enthusiasm, she admitted to herself that she could best manifest her love by letting Grace go. The Camp sent a list of needed clothing and supplies and Sandi and Grace had fun shopping and checking items off the list. Sandi helped Grace pack and surreptitiously slipped mementos and love notes in among the new clothes.

It was a glorious June morning, the air crisp and fresh, when a small crowd of parents and children gathered in a downtown parking lot. Two dark windowed tour busses stood waiting. Sandi wanted to hold Grace as long as possible but Grace began talking to another little girl the same height as herself. This girl introduced herself as Amie. The two children chatted with animation. Sandi saw similarities between the two, but also noted their differences; Grace, blond with fat braids; Amie, brunette with a head of short curls. They each turned and briefly waved as they climbed into the bus. Sandi returned their waves and when the bus pulled out ran to her car to hide her tears. She returned home and wrote a letter every day.

The month of the camp was the longest month of Sandi’s life. She admitted to herself that it was even longer than the ninth month of her pregnancy. She was the first parent to arrive at the parking lot where the bus was to deliver the children back to their families. It was a warm evening. She stood under a giant oak and waited. The crowd was large when the buses finally arrived and opened their         doors to discharge the children. Each jumped or bounced down the bus steps, then hesitated to scan the crowd before a dash when they recognized their families.

Grace was one of the last to descend. She walked slowly toward Sandi and said,

“Hi Sandi.” Then she paused, and looking awkward, continued her greeting with the words, “You love Grace, don’t you?”

Sandi flinched; Grace had always called her Mama not Sandi, and she never referred to herself in the third person. This reunion felt awkward. Sandi began to feel annoyed. After another pause, she responded:

“What has this Exchange Camp done to you? You don’t seem yourself.” She felt guilty for letting her feelings show. She added, ‘yes, dear, of course I love you. How could you have ever doubted?”

“No, Sandi, Grace never doubted your love, but now you have to tell me, which part of Grace do you love?”

There it is again thought Sandi she refers to herself in the third person. This is very odd. She responded, “why? I have loved all of you from the day that you were born; no I loved you from the day that you were conceived! I loved your first cry, the day that you walked, your first word. I love brushing your hair, our cuddles at night, the lovely person you are becoming. Everything.”

“OK Sandi, but say The Exchange Camp had some advanced Vulcan technology, so amazing, so progressive, that Amie and I could exchange bodies.”

“What on earth are you talking about? What are you saying? Why are you hypothesizing about this ‘advanced’ Vulcan nonsense? If you are, please don’t because it worries me. I don’t like it. If it is a joke, please stop, this isn’t the time for jokes.” Sandi paused as she watched Grace’s face take on a blank look. She breathed in and said, “All right, start again and tell me what you are trying to say.”

“Well, Sandi, Vulcan is not nonsense it is real. So, I, who am now talking to you, am not 100% Grace. I am only part Grace! The reality is that I am Amie inside Grace’s body.”

“Come on, that’s impossible… isn’t it? Silly girl, stop this nonsense. If you are Amie in Grace’s body,” Sandi was panicking, “then what have you done with Grace?”

“Simple she is in Amie’s body talking to Amie’s parents. She is asking them the same questions that I’m asking you.”

“Darling, I just don’t get it.” Sandi stopped looking at the girl in front of her and turned her tear-filled eyes toward the Amie group. Amie was stamping her right foot just as Grace did when she was frustrated. The girl in front of Sandi put her hand on Sandi’s arm,

“We shall probably change back next year at Camp, but right now you have to choose. Do you want me, Amie, in Grace’s body, or her, over there, Grace in Amie’s body, to go home with you? Do you want the persona or the body?”

Sandi gulped; she knew that she loved her daughter with all her heart. If this girl who looked like Grace but didn’t talk like her went home with her might she, Sandi, be able to overlook the inconsistencies and love this new person? Another advantage would be that the rest of the world would never know. But then she thought about all the things she and Grace had shared and instantly knew that she wanted the persona that she loved not the temporal body. Sandi reached out and hugged the girl before her.

“Dear child,” she said, “I accept, go back to your parents and send my daughter, Grace, to me!”

 

 

The Boy

It had been one of those hot airless days on the South Dakota prairie when the air shimmered in hazy distance. The boy, stood staring across the land. He searched for evidence of the world beyond the place where he stood. There was nothing to see, for the land was flat and stretched in three directions swallowed by intermingled fields of six-foot-high corn and grain rippling like waves on the ocean. He gazed longest to the east for it represented his physical outlet to the fascinating world beyond. He shook his head as he remembered their neighbor’s ferocious dog who always attacked their car as they drove past. Distance on three sides and a dog on the fourth effectively isolated him from the outer world. Even at six-years-old this precocious child longed for the excitements that he believed to be waiting for him beyond the farm.

For some time, he held his position. He had watched his father return from the fields and hoped that he would soon emerge to take a trip to town. He thought that this might be possible for the previous night he had lain in his attic bed of their tiny homestead listening to his parent’s animated discussion. They spoke in a low German dialect which their ancestors had brought with them, first during a hundred-year sojourn in Russia courtesy of Catherine the Great, and subsequently in this their new home in America. He knew that his parents discussed their financial woes – the fact that they were always one payment away from losing their farm. Sometimes the discussion resulted in a drive to town to talk to the local banker. Even after his parents had gone to sleep the boy had remained awake worrying about their future and listening to the distant roar of trucks trundling down US16 somewhere to the north west and to an occasional train clanking into the distance.

Now, as he waited in the farmyard surrounded by geese, he thought about taking another dip in the farm’s stock pond where he could cool off and was teaching himself to swim. He did so by walking toward the earth dam until he became submerged and had to move his arms in an instinctive dog paddle. He was about to put his plan in action when his father came out of the house and strode toward his car. The boy ran up,

“Take me with you! Pleeeeeeeease.”

His father, a slender dark-haired man, was clean shaven except for a small pencil moustache. Like his son, he wore one-piece overalls. He always went to the bank wearing work clothes with a tasteful smatter of manure on one of the legs. He told his son that he did this as a message to their banker that he was a hard-working man. He turned to look at his pleading son letting his face crinkle into a gentle smile.

“All right, yes, hop in.”

The boy climbed into the passenger seat. As they drove, he put his hand out of the window to lie on the wind swooping up and down like an airplane. He withdrew it when they passed the dog’s house. The dog ran at them barking and attempting to nip the car’s tires. Once beyond the dog, the boy became increasingly animated, for he was now in the mysterious fascinating world outside the oasis of their farm. They stopped on Main Street; the boy knew the routine. His father visited the bank while he waited outside. Today was different for, parked in the center of Main Street, were two travel busses. The painted signs on their sides announced them to be housing a traveling display of wax statues of World War II leaders. A queue of people stood outside waiting their turn to walk through the display. The boy was smart enough not to ask his father about visiting the exhibition before the bank visit. He waited patiently until his father emerged. When he did, he looked happy and the boy took his callused hand,

“Dad, may we visit, Please.”

They walked slowly through the exhibits, and as they did so the boy’s father told him about each person. They began with their present President, Dwight D Eisenhower, and continued with the exhibit’s entourage of World War II leaders. The figures included: Adolf Hitler; Joseph Stalin; Winston Churchill; Benito Mussolini; Franklin D. Roosevelt; Harry S Truman; Hirohito, Douglas Mac Arthur; Hideki Tojo; and others. The visitors moved slowly past the display. The wax statues were so realistic that none of the visitors would have been surprised if one of them had stepped off their dais and joined them as they walked through. People lingered longest in front of Adolf Hitler’s figure. The boy’s father told him that Hitler had committed suicide when Berlin was taken and that his body was never found.

The boy studied Hitler with his pencil moustache and then looked at his father. When he saw them standing side by side in the subdued light of the bus, he discovered a startling resemblance. Could it be, he thought, that the outside world had already invaded the isolation of the farm? Could it be that the isolation is intentional? Could it be, he thought, that he was the only one who knew that his kindly, German-speaking father, with his distinctive pencil moustache, the man who had a hard time making the farm pay, was really Adolf Hitler in hiding?

 

 

The Waiting Room – a short story

In the clinic waiting room the air-conditioning hums creating enough background noise to mask individual clicks of cell phones. It is a large room about thirty by sixty. The ceiling height is emphasized by the absence of a suspended ceiling; instead, there are floating acoustical panels and light fixtures accentuated by a black painted abyss of ducts, structure and conduit. The entry wall has tall glass windows overlooking a parking lot. It is hot outside. The room’s occupants are thankful that the air conditioning is so efficient and are scattered along the teal and blue seats on the room’s perimeter and around an ellipse-shaped island of seats in the middle. Most are occupied by their illuminated screens shrouded in internet anonymity. In a state-run psychiatric clinic like this the unpaying patients hesitate to look at anyone else long enough to make eye contact.

An emaciated, tall, elderly, lady with scrawny hair sits awkwardly in her chair, she has her mouth open and stares vacantly ahead. Occasionally the young man three vacant chairs away from her shakes his dread locks and surreptitiously glances at her before returning to his phone. An overweight mother with a toddler sits opposite. The child is absorbed by his game, but she is nervous and twists her hands together; she scans the room with unseeing eyes. Along the opposite wall sits, a heavily tattooed youth sitting next to a woman with manicured nails who appears be her mother: both are engrossed in their phone displays. The staff sit behind protective sliding glass windows on the innermost wall. At regular intervals, the door to the clinics opens and a nurse emerges to either usher a patient out or to call another to their appointment. “John, Lisa, Sue’ the names sound familial and friendly.

A man enters. He is talking to himself or to anyone who cares to listen. His voice is loud, all glance up from their pacifiers. He strides to the reception and bellows at the receptionist. When he turns, he shouts,

“I need my pills; they’ve lost my appointment. They are incompetent!” He rambles on with something about this being the only country in the world where healthcare isn’t free. The occupants in the room all squirm each hoping that he won’t come near or address them individually.

He mounts a chair beside a lady in a black tee and jeans on one of the center seats. She looks at him giving the impression that she is interested. He sits on the arm of the chair and takes off his red baseball cap. His head is partially bald with a 2” mohawk-like plume down the middle. He runs his fingers through his hair. He tells everyone,

“I cut my own hair.”

As he replaces his cap, he scans the room and continues his monologue,

” I have insomnia. I didn’t sleep last night. Been up since three.”

He jumps off the seat and paces, holding forth in a tirade of incomprehensible words including a recognizable quote from Shakespeare. He goes to the window and regales the receptions who sits behind her unopened window. He hitches up his shorts, takes off his cap, waves it around, returns it to his head, and remounts the chair next to the lady in black. She says something to him and he calms a little to respond. Then he is up again and exits into the parking lot with the words,

“I’m just a crazy guy!”

The lady in black remarks,

“You are right about that!” other adds,

“Yes, indeed!”

The cone of silence in the room is smashed. The expectant patients test their individual responses to this dynamic. They become a friendly group and ask one another questions and talk to eachother. Someone asks the lady in black,

“Are you with him?” She responds,

“No, I talk to him to try to calm him. To be polite. I hoped to make him sit down.”

Then he is back storming around the room talking about what his dog likes to eat in the morning. The lady in black remarks,

“I also have a dog. He’s a Jack Russel.”

A nurse emerges and calls his name. He strides up to her with the announcement,

“I’m jumping the line, Any one care?”

“No, they nod in unison, go ahead!”

While he is gone the patients continue to talk to each other and the lady in black strikes up a discussion about dogs with the man opposite her. She moves to the chair adjacent to his and their conversation intensifies; apparently, he is also a dog owner. Just as the room begins to relax the man comes out of the treatment door. He appears calmer, waves his red cap and strides resolutely outside.

As he exits the first police car arrives, then a second. Each discharges a pair of officers in blue uniforms, bullet proof vests, and arrays of combat weaponry strapped around their ample waists. Another can be seen to have appeared behind the reception area glass talking to the receptionists. Fifteen minutes slip by but the man does not reappear. The police evaporate.

The waiting room rapidly resumes its earlier silence ruled by the hum of air conditioning and gentle taps on cell phones.