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.”

Tartans – a short story

By tradition most of the tartans which you see today are registered as being specific to one particular “clan” or family. The best known red tartan is that of the Stewart tartan while the equally common darker blue/ green one is known as the Black Watch tartan. Black Watch is generally associated with the Royal Regiment of Scotland and may be worn by ‘anyone’ however, it is often associated with the Campbells. I won’t bore you with a prolonged history of Scottish tartans as this has no relevance to the story, which I share.

My story relates to the love between Angus Campbell and the beautiful Bonnie Stewart. Angus did everything right and before he proposed to Bonnie, he visited father Stewart in his Georgian town house, in an exclusive residential section of the early 1800’s portion of Edinburgh’s “new town,” to seek parental assent. When Father Stewart appeared reluctant, Angus quoted the Robert Burn’s poem “A Red, Red Rose”

O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.

After the first verse father Stewart raised his hand, “I know the poem laddie; it concludes:”

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.

The shared poem brought the two men closer even as father Stewart reminded himself that Robert Burns was an accomplished romantic and  renowned womanizer.. He scrutinized Angus, attempting to see into his soul, and then, gave begrudging approval contingent on a long engagement during which time he intended to monitor Angus’s behavior. Everything went well until the night before the wedding bans were to be announced in the Kirk. That is when Angus received an email requesting his immediate presence at the Stewart residence.  He drove over, parked in the street, and bounded up the steps to the regal Stewart front door. He rang the bell.

The door was opened by Caitlin, Bonnie’s younger sister. Caitlin wore an astonishingly short skirt and sheer top with plunging V-neck. She invited Angus in and served him a tumbler of scotch. She told him that the family were all out, and that she had sent the e-mail. She told him that, from the first time that she met him, she had felt a compelling physical attraction for him.  She suggested that there would be no harm in their ‘spending’ time together on this last day of Angus’s freedom.

“I don’t want to sabotage Bonnie’s marriage so this will be a one-night stand and no-one will ever know” she said, “It will be our little secret.” Angus’ eyes glowed at her suggestion for she was very seductive. She concluded her invitation. “I’m going upstairs now to get into something more comfortable. You finish your scotch. My room is the first door on the left at the top of the stairs.”

Angus finished his drink, set the glass on the coffee table and glanced up the stairs. Then he turned and went out the front door to vault the steps to his car. Imagine his surprise to be greeted at his car by father Stewart.

“Congratulations my boy” he said as he gave Angus an unexpected bear hug of an embrace, “you passed our test. You are, indeed, a man of principle and worthy of our Bonnie’s hand.”

Angus accepted the embrace and then, pleading fatigue, got into his car and drove off. When he turned out of view, he reached over and patted the car’s glove compartment. That is because there is a moral to this story. It is a moral which Robert Burns with his 12 or more children might have heeded. “Always keep a spare packet of condoms in your car!”

Confumbulum – a short story

The little girl, Terry, looked up as her mother lent over to serve scrambled eggs onto her plate. Although she was seven-years-old she was a skinny little thing who looked more like a five-year-old. She wore dirty green corduroy play shorts topped by a green sweater. Her clothing was dirty. She sat next to her nine-year-old sister who was clad in identical, equally dirty clothing. They had spent a joyful day playing outside in a wild garden making dens from branches, cut grass and leaves.  Both girls sat on newspaper covered chairs, so arranged by their mother to protect the chair seats.

Just as the scrambled egg was about to be served onto her plate Terry made her proclamation;

“Mummy, I don’t like scrambled eggs.”

“Nonsense” responded her mother “you have always loved scrambled eggs. I’ll give you one spoonful. You can taste and remember that you love them.”

“No Mummy, I don’t like scrambled eggs!” Terry was emphatic. She looked at her sister who was about to proclaim that she, also, didn’t like scrambled eggs. Their mother intervened and glared at the older girl mouthing the words.

“No, you don’t.”

The older girl kept quiet.

Their mother rasped to the older girl, “You eat your eggs and show Terry how good they are. I’ll also put some on my plate.”

“As for you,” she glared at Terry, “eat your toast while I go to the kitchen to see if there is anything else for you to eat.”

She returned with a look on finality on her face and announced with a flourish,

“Confumbulum, especially for Terry.”

Terry looked at the pink food, with the consistency of scrambled eggs. She stared while it was being served onto her plate.  If her mother hadn’t looked so stern she might have declared another dislike. Instead she accepted the honor of a special food and  murmured “Confumbulum” as she ate.

 

 

 

Long Time Dead – a short story

Iris opened her front door to a crack and peeped outside. A bright sun shone through the trees, throwing dappled shadows on the ground. She shielded her aching eyes accustomed as they were to the closed-in-gloom of her copious home. She wished that she hadn’t accepted the Shaw’s invitation for this meant that tonight she would have to make herself presentable and emerge from the safety of familiar furniture and food. She shut her eyes, and continued her attempt to come up with a plausible excuse which would allow her to cancel. As she stood there, riveted in thought, a shaft of sunlight fell upon her upturned face. It felt warm, possibly even reassuring. It softened her mood. In the far distance, she could hear the Cathedral bells announcing evensong. Brief moments like this afforded her some satisfaction for her choice to live in Durham so far north from her son’s residence in Cambridge. Her wildest dream was that her husband would return to her and take up his position at Durham University.

At 6:45 pm Iris emerged to take the short walk up the road to the Shaw’ home. Their invitation was for 6:30 pm, but although Iris had spent the best part of the last three days preparing for this outing, she was incapable of being on time. Even as she shuffled along the street, she continued to go through the litany of excuses that she had reviewed to enable her to skip the dinner. When she arrived at the house she stopped and let the aroma of stocks planted in the front garden wash over her. She turned, although the stocks smelt pungently sweet, she thought that she could hurry home and call Mrs. Shaw to claim an acute allergic reaction. She stood and rummaged in her purse in search of a handkerchief with which to authenticate her excuse; a tall thin sickly-looking woman, casting a long shadow across the blue and white flowers. Before she found a suitable handkerchief, the front door opened and Mrs. Shaw, an apron around her waist came out. She grabbed Iris’ hand and offered warm words of welcome. Iris followed her inside.

Inside, Dr. Shaw greeted her with a “gin-and-It.” She accepted the drink and exchanged small talk with him and the Evans, who were neighbors from further up the road. At 7:00 pm a bell rang, and they adjourned to the dining room where they were joined by the Shaw’s two teenage children. The dining table, with a highly polished mahogany finish was elaborately set with silver, crystal, and china. It glowed invitingly. Someone had prepared name tags in rich black calligraphy. Iris wondered whether these were the same ones that had been used the last time that she had had dinner with them.

Iris groaned inwardly when she saw the dinner service, how she hated those plates! She assumed that they were used to stimulate conversation. After all who could resist a dinner plate carrying a pungent Scottish proverb such as:

“There is no greater fraud than a promise not kept.”

Wasn’t this a proverb that could steer conversation into a lengthy analysis of the current political debacle?

As she walked around the table, Iris quickly read each plate’s message. She wondered whether the placement was random, or whether some were placed to aptly describe the person who was to use it. For example, could;

“It’s a sad house where the hen crows louder than the cock.”

refer to the Shaw’s marriage in which Mrs. Shaw was clearly the dominating spouse?

Or could,

Bees that have honey in their mouths have stings in their tails.”

refer to Mr. Evans, who spoke so kindly, yet in Iris’ experience, had never performed a single neighborly act?

Or could,

“Alcohol does not solve any problem, but then neither does milk.”

define why Mrs. Evans, married to that bastard, drank so heavily?   if so, then the explanation and confirmation came with her possible retort?

“You speak of my drinking, yet you don’t know my thirst.”

Maybe, Iris thought,

“Many people are alive only because it is illegal to shoot them.”

aptly described the Shaw’s delinquent teenage son who was excessively rude to his parents? Then again, perhaps he was better than he seemed. Certainly, his mother doted on him. So, could,

“Do not judge by appearances; a rich heart may be under a poor coat.”

describe him better?

All these questions mellowed iris’ mood, but when the saw her place setting, she hesitated with an inner anguished palpitation. This did not alter her Parkinsonism frozen face. “Why, oh why” she thought, am I given the same plate every time, clearly it isn’t random. Why do they always give me the one engraved?

“Be happy while you are living, you’re a long time dead.”

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!”

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!”