Dirk’s Destiny

Dirk strode up the driveway, past the cat sunning itself in the front window, tail sweeping back and forth in slow motion like a conductor in a symphony only he could hear. On the porch, Dirk thumped the front door several times with his fist. He cocked his ear, listening for signs of life inside. His stomach rumbled with nervousness. He fiddled with the empty computer bag slung across his torso.

Around the back of the house, his buddy Jim would be checking for a possible entrance into the house. Dirk’s little nondescript pickup with the camper cover sat in the alley, tucked in next to a bush to keep it from view of the street. Today could be the day.

The phone in Dirk’s pocket chirped. He pulled it out. It was the all clear from Jim. Time to meet his destiny.

Jim kept telling him the big haul was their destiny. Dirk wasn’t so sure, but didn’t think Jim would lead him astray. Thoughts of being used because he had a vehicle fought with the desire to be part of something for once in his life. Dirk focused on the door willing the thoughts to shut up and go to their own corners of his brain.

After a few minutes the front door opened and Dirk slipped inside. They did a quick check of all the rooms to make sure no one was home.

Jim pushed open the door to the master bedroom. Dirk’s breath caught in his throat. There in the chair by the window was an elderly lady. Eyes closed. Perfectly still. They watched for a few moments until Jim crept slowly over to the chair. He poked the woman’s arm. Nothing.

coffer-281253_1280_CC0“The old broad is dead.” Jim crowed the words and moved into the walk-in closet. “Bingo, I found the safe. You get the jewelry. I’ll get this sucker open.”

Dirk went to the dresser and lifted the lid on the jewelry box. The heavy wood was inlaid with a single rose. It reminded him of his grandma, God rest her soul. She’d be so disappointed in him.

Jim’s voice came from the closet, “I can’t believe we got lucky enough that she’s dead. Who knows how long before anyone realizes we cleaned her out. By that time we’ll have made our fortune.”

A shiver prickled the skin of Dirk’s neck as he grabbed a handful of rings and necklaces and dumped them into the computer bag. The sooner this was done, the better.

Behind him a whisper of movement grabbed Dirk’s attention. Before he could turn he felt something hard pressing into his back.

“The old broad’s not dead, but if you don’t get your paws off my jewelry, you will be.”

Fear mixed with the smell of denture cream and talcum powder. Dirk tried to suck in air, but the world grayed around the edges. As he slipped into darkness he heard her crackly voice, “Sheesh, I didn’t even shoot you, coward.”

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Party of One

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Becky surveyed the table. All the same potluck foods lined up in a hodge-podge of a mess. Sweet and sour meatballs languished in crock pot nestled next to a platter of celery stuffed with cream cheese. Really? Who brings something like celery to a party?

There really were other places Becky could be tonight. Like home. With a book. In front of the fire. The thrill of parties had long since died in her, but this one was different. This one had possibility. Homecoming weekend always drew the old classmates back to the fold.

A group of guys bumped the end of the table. An apple fell off the top of a basket and plunked into a bowl of red Jello. A blob flew up and landed on Becky’s white sweater.

She threw a distasteful glance at the men, and her breath caught. There he was. Matthew Holland. Warmth swept up her neck and into her cheeks. His Polo cologne mingled with the tangy aroma of the meatballs and danced around her nose. Her mind drifted back to the few dates they’d had in high school. When Matt kissed her on the front porch that last date, Becky thought her life was set. He never called again. But he was busy getting ready for college so she didn’t worry too much. If she waited patiently, surely he would one day remember and come back to her. She moved closer to his end of the table.

“I’m just saying, Dallas is all in this year. Be surprised if they didn’t go all the way.”

“I disagree, man.”

Ugh. Football talk. What was it with men and football? Becky looked down into an empty silver platter, frowning at her reflection. The red blotch on her sweater glared at her and she dabbed at it, smearing the mess even more.

Matt patted Rick on the shoulder. “You can disagree, but that doesn’t make you right.” He shuffled to the right and stabbed a meatball with his fork. “Oh hey, Becky. How are you?”

Becky smiled. There’d better not be any spinach in her teeth from the dip. “I’m great, Matt. You look fab—”

“Matthew. It’s so good to see you.” A redhead approached with her arms open for a hug.

Matt set his plate on the table and swooped the woman into his arms. Her giggle jingled across to Becky. “Rachel. Oh my gosh. How are you? We had so much fun the other night. We should go out again soon.” He continued to hold her tight as she whispered in his ear.

Becky’s smile dropped off her face. She turned away as tears formed. People jostled all around her. Lady Gaga blared from the speakers. The room felt oppressive and sweat popped out on her temples. Becky pushed through crowd until she reached the front door. She found her coat in the closet, and slipped out before anyone could see the tears that now ran freely down her face.

One day he would remember, he had to.

Therapy Can’t Help Everything

Marta pulled her skirt taut and lowered into a chair across from her patient. She crossed her legs and tugged the blue material down over her knees. Her patient watched every movement as if trying to capture them on film. She watched as his eyes made their way down her calf to her ankle. The whole thing unnerved her.

She raised her hand, clicked her pen. The patient’s eyes snapped up from her ankle. A slight smile wavered over his face.

“Tell me Mr. Culicoidea, what brings you to my office today?”

He settled himself deeper into the plush brown couch. “Please, call me Joe.”

“Okay, Joe.”

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“Well, doc, life is just tough. I thought by this time in my life things would be different.”

Marta stifled a yawn behind her hand. Really? Another client in a midlife crisis? What kind of career had she built for herself if this was all she got? She should have gone into obstetrics instead of psychiatry.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Culicoidea, I missed what you said.”

“Agh. How hard is it to remember to call me Joe? I’m just a simple creature. I just want to do my job, get some respect.”

Joe rose from the couch and flitted nervously around the room. “I am so tired of being hated. Doc, that’s what I need you to help me with.”

“Well, why don’t you sit down and tell me why you feel everyone hates you?” Was this hour over yet?

The patient hovered in front of her. He stared. She stared. Finally she blinked. Ugh, what was with this guy.

“I don’t need to sit down.” He stared down at her calf again. “Why don’t you tell me, Doc. You seem to have developed the same distasteful look that everyone does when I’m around.”

Marta rose from her chair. She threw her legal pad and pen on the chair. Moving to her desk she grabbed a card and turned back to Joe. “I don’t think I’m the right doctor for you. Let me give you a referral to my partner, Dr. Black. You’ll be much more comfortable with him.”

She turned back to Joe. Anger flowed off him in waves. The look on his face caused her blood to pound in her temples. He moved right up to her until they were eye-to-eye.

“You’re dumping me?”

“No, I’m suggesting you see someone who will be better able to help you.” She took a step back.

“I disgust you, don’t I?”

“No, I wouldn’t say —”

With a quick dip, Joe sank his proboscis into her upper arm.

Marta sucked in a breath. “You want to know why everyone hates you? Because you do stuff like this. Try being nice sometime and not sucking everyone’s blood.”

Joe looked up at her. “I’m a mosquito. What did you expect, a nice little handshake?”

“You greedy little pest.” With that Marta slapped her arm, squashing her client. Guess I won’t be getting paid for this session.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

The Locked Room

You know…there is nothing more tempting than a locked door.

 

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When I moved into the house, the door to the extra room was locked. I tried to pick the lock with a hair pin to no avail. I know, you’re wondering, why a guy like me has a hairpin, but that’s not the point of this story.

I called the landlord. “So, the extra room is locked. I can’t get the lock opened. Can you bring me a key?”

“You don’t need a key. The room will remain locked.”

I ran my fingers through my hair, blew out a breath. “Look, I rented the house. I should have access to the whole house. I’m going to have a locksmith come out and change the lock on that door.”

“No, the contract is for a two bedroom house and that’s what you got. The extra room is of no concern to you. A locksmith can’t help you.”

The dial tone thrummed in my ear.

What the heck was this guy’s problem? I rented a house, I wanted all the rooms. I dialed the number of a locksmith and waited while the phone rang in some business a few blocks away.

***

The locksmith peered at the door knob. He scratched his head. “I only seen sumptin like this once before and it weren’t good. I can’t help you.”

“Seriously, dude, you’re a locksmith. I just need you to remove the door knob and put a new one in. One that I have a key for.”

He dropped his flashlight into his bucket full of tools. “Sorry. I just can’t help you with this one. I’d advise you to leave it be.”

“You know what, just get out of my house.” I pushed him towards the door.

“Don’t go gettin’ pushy on me. I’m leaving. If I was you, I’d leave also. Find a new place to live.”

“Don’t tell me what to do.” I yelled the words as he made his way down the walk.

When he was gone, I closed the door and returned to the locked room. One way or another, I was going to get in there.

***

The next day, I dialed the landlord’s number again as I stood in front of that locked door.

“Listen. This is stupid. Just unlock the door.”

His sigh whispered across the airwaves and tickled my ear. “No. Let it go.”

“Fine. Then I want out of my lease. Give me my money back and I’ll move out today.”

“Well, now, we have a contract and that says if you break it, you’re responsible for full payment of the complete year of payments.

“But I signed a lease for a house and you won’t let me in all the rooms. You’ve broken the deal, so I can leave without paying you.”

“Well, if you read the paperwork, you’ll see that room isn’t part of what you rented, so I haven’t broken anything. Move out if you want, but you’ll owe me for all the monthly payments plus you’ll lose your security. I’ll take you to court.”

I threw the phone across the room.

“If you want to play that way, I can play along.”

In the garage I found my old ax in a box marked “outdoor tools.” The heavy ax head swung slightly by my side as I went back to the room.

Taking a deep breath, I swung the ax against the wood grain of the door where it stuck. A few wiggles back and forth released it from the door.

“Take this you ornery old coot.” I screamed the words knowing the stupid landlord couldn’t hear me, but the feeling of success warmed it’s way through my core and I put the ax in the door again.

After a few good swings I was able to push through the door and grab the handle on the inside. I turned the knob and pulled the door open.

I felt my jaw drop open. A scream bubbled up in my throat, but caught on my Adam’s apple.

The old man was right…I should have let it be…

 

Fire

An obnoxious blaring rang out in the night. Elizabeth jolted awake, heart beating wildly. Heat surrounded her, enclosing her like a wool blanket. She opened her eyes, but an acrid smoke stung them and she squeezed them shut again.

She reached out to turn the alarm off, but the cacophony continued. Nothing was making sense. Why wouldn’t the alarm stop?

In the hall, a loud crack resounded. Putting her feet on the floor, she peeked around the door frame into the hall.

A scream caught in her throat.

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Flames danced on the little landing between her room and the stairs. Fear bubbled up in her stomach. She pulled back, grabbed the door handle, and released it as the metal burned her palm.

Her eyes welled up with the noxious smoke that swirled around the room. A little voice in her head whispered to her, “The good air is low. Get down.” Isn’t that what the firefighters had just told her first graders last week?

Obeying the voice, Elizabeth dropped to the floor. She’d have to try to get down the stairs. The window looked out on the parking lot, a two-story drop to the hard asphalt.

Please God. I need some help. Send me an angel.

A lot of good that would do. She hadn’t trusted anyone since her parents died when she was 10. Where was God then? Probably the same place he was right now.

Absent. Unwilling to help someone like her.

No, if she was going to survive, she had to do this herself.

The carpet scraped against her knees as she inched into the hallway. She stopped to make a plan. She’d have to get up onto her feet and try to step over the flames that were eating away at the top step.

Inhaling a deep breath brought smoke into her lungs instead of the burst of courage she’d hoped for. Coughs racked her body and she dropped flat on the floor.

Just give up. The fire swirled and taunted her. You can’t win against me. I’m too powerful.

No, she wouldn’t give in. Pushing up off the floor, she grabbed the banister. The warm wood didn’t burn as bad as the metal door handle. A large step forward and she was able to put her right foot on the second step.

Fire swirled around her left ankle and seared her pajama pants. Elizabeth swung her foot up and over the flames to land both feet on the step. Smoke whirled around her, tickling her nose.

Elizabeth turned to face the nightmare on the landing. She put one foot on the next step behind her, then the other, and then dropped her hands to the step above her feet. She’d have to go down backwards to keep low enough to find fresh air.

She reached her foot back, toes slipping past the edge. She tumbled backward. Head over heels, her body bumped down the stairs.

With a thump she hit the landing at the bottom. She could see the front door wavering in and out in front of her. If she could get to the door everything would be okay. Her lungs ached from breathing the smoke.

Wonder if this is what mom felt as she died in that car?

Get a hold of yourself, Elizabeth. You need to move.

She reached a hand toward the door. The rest of her body refused to respond. Tears flowed down her cheeks. Please God. I need help.

Darkness folded over her mind. This must be what it feels like to die. Her hand dropped to the floor.

Out of the darkness a hand reached out to her.

Elizabeth felt her body being lifted off the floor.  Within minutes she felt the cool night air washing over her. She was laid gently on the grass. Her rescuer pulled his mask off and she saw him for the first time.

“Are you an angel?”

“No, ma’am. I’m Emmanuel. I’m a firefighter.”

“I thought God sent you. I should have known he wouldn’t help.”

“Dispatch sent me. Sometimes God works through Dispatch.”

 

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Do It!

A splinter pinched the back of Pete’s thigh as he shifted on the bench. Twisting his toe into the dirt, a small cloud of dust poofed up and settled over his cleat. The crowd stomping their feet in the bleachers pounded in his skull, rattling his brain.

Pete stood and stretched his hands up to run his fingers along the roof, then leaned forward against the rail of the dugout. Eye level with the field, he focused on the Dragons pitcher. Had to give it to the guy. Mark’s form was impeccable. Pitching hand resting behind his back as he planned his pitch. Never letting the batter rattle him.

Shifting his view to the catcher, Pete watched to see what pitch he recommended. There it was, the sign for a low, inside ball. Mark’s signature play when he was nervous. Pete chuckled. Same old Mark from high school ball.

“Hey, Petey, how’s it feel?” Matt spit his chew into the trash at the edge of the dugout and bumped his shoulder against Pete’s.

“How’s what feel?” Pete turned in time to see the smirk on Matt’s face.

“Pitching against your old teammate? Didn’t he recently steal your girl?”

“Shut up.”

The umpire’s voice roared from the field. “Strike three. You’re out.”

“That applies to you, too, Matt.” Pete grabbed his mitt and followed Matt onto the field.

Matt stopped and punched Pete’s arm. “I can see why she chose him over you. Dude’s a beast. If it were me, I’d bean him next pitch.”

Pete clenched his jaw. He pushed Matt to the ground and stalked to the pitcher’s mound.

At home base, Mark dug his toe into the dirt, setting his stance. He swung the bat up to his shoulder.

“Bean him. Right on his pretty little head. Teach him and her both a lesson.” Matt hissed the words as he trotted past the mound to first.

Pete shut the words out of his brain. He shuffled the ball in his hand until the threads rested beneath his fingers.

“You got this, Marky Baby! Knock it outta the park.”

There she was. Pete’s heart beat a rapid rhythm against his chest. How dare she wear the pink sweater he bought her? The soft fabric molded her curves. Her brown hair swung in a ponytail. Stop it, Pete. Let her go.

Mark blew a kiss to April. He turned back to Pete and geared up for the pitch.

I ought to wipe that smile off his stupid face. Sweat dripped from Pete’s brow, stung his eye. A vein pulsed in his temple. The threads of the ball dug into his fingers.

“Do it!” The words wafted over from first base.

He’d given April everything she ever wanted. Took her the places she loved. How could she dump him for that loser?

The crowd chanted. “Do it. Do it. Do it.”

“Come on, Pete. Whatcha waitin’ for?” Mark yelled.

“Do it.” Matt yelled.

Pink flashed up in the crowd. “Home run, Marky Baby.”

“As soon as he does it, sweetie.” Mark tossed the words over his shoulder.

Pete bellowed.

Wound up.

Released the ball.

Dropped his glove and walked off the field.

 

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Turtle Girl has a Friend

Turtle Girl has a friend.

Turtle Girl and Peacock Boy have become friends. One day Peacock Boy tells Turtle Girl that he is no longer a peacock.

“See, TG, I have this wig. I’m now a lion! You can address me as King because I am the new king of this zoo.”

Turtle Girl asks, “Why, PB, why do you want to be a lion?”

“Because the lion is majestic. People flock to the zoo to see him. He prances around his cage and the people ‘oh’ and ‘ah’. I want people to do the same for me. I can be just as good a lion as Lion Dude can.”

With that Peacock Boy plops the fuzzy wig on his head and parades around the zoo.

Turtle Girl watches as he preens and struts. The visitors stop and stare and laugh, then move on. Peacock Boy drops the wig and runs away.

Turtle Girl searches high and low to find him. She worries about him. Finally she finds him in front of Lion Dude’s cage. She hears lion as she walks up behind the boys.

“But Peacock, I don’t understand why you want to be me? You’re free to wander the zoo while I can only pace my enclosure. People can come right up to you in the park and are okay with it. If I were to be loose in the park people would run and scream. You have it made.” Lion Dude shakes his furry mane at Peacock Boy.

“Well, I can go wherever I want.” Peacock Boy nods. “But, people want to be you for Halloween. When was the last time you saw anyone being a peacock for Halloween? You are handsome and people are awed by you.”

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Lion Dude looks over at Turtle Girl and the crowd that is gathering behind her. “Tell you what, PB. You know all those fancy feathers you’re dragging on the ground? Puff them up like you do. Strut your stuff. Be who you were created to be. Go ahead, do it now.”

Reluctantly Peacock Boy raises his tail feathers and turns around. Seeing the smiles in the crowd, he primps and struts. He busts a move and the crowd goes wild. Light bulbs flash as the paparazzi strain to capture him in all his glory.

Peacock Boy looks over at Turtle Girl. “They don’t even realize that Lion Dude is back there. They’re taking pictures of me!”

She winks. “See, LD was right. You are amazing just as you are.”

“You both are right. We are different, but that doesn’t mean he’s better than me. I’m gonna be the best Peacock Boy I can be and let Lion Dude be the best he can be.”

“Good plan, man.” Lion Dude roared his approval and the crowd cheered for both the boys.

The Littlest Bird

Long ago, in a snowy land, a little girl sat at her desk by the window. She held a pencil in her hand and every so often would scribble words across the page. In between her musings, she would stare out the window where the sun sent shimmering beams of light bouncing off the snow.

nature-365801_1280 red bird CC0          A flitter of red caught the girl’s eye and she turned to see a tiny bird sitting on the sill of her window. The bird began to sing a sweet song. Even through the glass, the girl could hear bird. She sang a few words, then clamped her mouth shut.

The little bird stopped singing and tapped its beak on the windowpane. When the girl opened the window the bird asked, “Why did you stop singing?”

“I can’t sing. You have such a beautiful song, but when I try, I just sound like the chickens when they’re hungry. I wish I could sing like you.”

“Oh, I’m just a small bird. I have just a little song. I see the big birds with their loud songs that soar across the sky. No one notices when I fly because I’m so small and barely seen.” The little bird hopped down onto the desk and tapped the paper. “What’s this?

“I’m writing a story. Would you like to help me?”

“I can’t hold a pencil and I don’t know how to write words. How I wish I could write stories like you. Then people would notice me.”

Pink crept across the little girl’s face and she shook her head. “They’re just silly stories. No one cares what I write.”

A cough echoed from the corner of the room. The bird flew over and looked down on the woman in the bed. Flying back to the desk, he asked, “Who is that?”

Tears fell from her eyes as the little girl said, “That’s my mama. She’s very sick and I don’t know what to do to make her smile. If I could sing like you that would be a great gift.”

“There’s an old lady who lives down the road. She’s a wise woman. I bet she will know how to help us. How about we go talk to her?” The bird flew to the window. “Get your coat and let’s go.”

The girl slid the window down and slipped into her coat. She opened the door a crack and squeezed through, closing the door after her. She skipped after the bird as he flew toward the gate.

A short way down the lane, he beckoned with his wing and flew over a hedge of evergreen bushes that grew along the road. The girl slipped through an opening in the gate to find a small cottage. The girl climbed the steps and knocked on the door. A hunched up old woman with silver hair and blue eyes opened the door. “Yes, what can I do for you?”

“I live down the lane. My friend and I need some help. He says that you are very wise and will know how to help us.” Looking into those blue eyes, the little girl held her breath until the woman spoke.

“Come in out of the cold. I don’t know how wise I am, but I will try to help.” She opened the door and let them sit by the fire. “Tell me your story.”

As the little girl and the red bird told their story, the woman set a cup of cocoa, a cookie, and a small bowl of birdseed on the table. When they were done with their story, the woman sat quietly for a few moments.

“Well, can you help us? Can you make me sing and my friend write stories?” The little girl demanded from the woman.

“No, only God can give gifts such as you ask. But I think if you look inside yourself you will see that you already have your gift.”

“That doesn’t help us.” Pushing back from the table, the girl put her coat on and left the house.

The bird flapped his wings frantically to catch up with the girl. “Don’t cry, my friend.”

“But I have nothing to give my mother to help her get well. What will I do?”

The bird flew down and perched on the girl’s shoulder. “Well, maybe I can sing for her. That might help her get well.”

She smiled and stroked his head. “I would like that. I bet it will make her feel better.” She opened the door to the house and saw her mother sitting in the bed.

“Mama, I brought my friend to sing you a song.” The little bird began to sing a sweet song. A smile covered her mom’s face. The girl smiled along with her and when the bird was done, both clapped for the bird.

He puffed out his chest, proud to have made her feel better. “Why don’t you read your story? I bet your mom will like that.”

So the little girl got her paper from her desk and read a story about a tiny red bird that flew across the sky and landed on her window sill. When the bird realized she was writing about him he puffed his chest even more.

When the story was over the mama clapped her hands and the bird flapped his wings. The little girl beamed from ear to ear.

“That was beautiful. Thank you both so much for sharing your gifts with me. I feel so much better now.”

As the girl let the bird out into the yard she smiled. “Maybe we didn’t need the old lady after all. Maybe God has already given us the gifts we need.”

When Mable had Enough

chicken-516146_1280 CC0Stuff Richardson was a man who could look at you and make you feel like you were two cents and waiting for change. Mable followed his progress up the gravel road from the barn with that stupid chicken following him.  Her heart beat a rat-a-tat-tat rhythm against her rib cage. Steam from the soup she stirred on the stove floated up and fogged the window, obliterating her thoughts with it.

The door in the mudroom slammed, Mable jumped and soup slopped over onto the stove. She grabbed a towel and sopped up the mess. His breath reeked of tobacco as he stomped up behind her.

“Soup again. Mable, you worthless lump. Can’t you cook nothin’ but soup?”

She tried to move, but he pinned her against the stove. “Stuff. Get away from me.” Mable poked her elbow back until it made contact with his rib cage.

He spit a word at her and stomped away. When the chair squeaked across the floor, Mable turned.

“Mama hated when you talked like that.”

His laugh came out as a snort. “Mama’s been in the grave for 40 years and she was as worthless as you.”

“Why you so mean?”

Stuff pushed his chair back and took two long steps toward her in the small kitchen. His hand came up, and he laughed when she flinched. “You don’t deserve nothin’ more from me.”

“I never did nothin’ to you for you to be so nasty.”

“You stole Pappy’s love. Before you came along, he loved me, but then you stole that.”

A smile snuck across Mable’s face.

“You cow. If you’d had to put up with Pappy and the things he did —”

Mable threw the towel on the counter. “Don’t you talk about Pappy that way.”

Stuff reached out and grabbed a fistful of her gray hair, “Yeah, you have to cling to him. He’s the only one whoever loved you. No one else can stand you long enough to love you.”

Pulling away, Mable backed toward the door to her room. “That’s not true. Bobby loved me until you made him go away. You couldn’t stand that I was happy. You don’t know love. The only one you ever loved is that stupid Thelma.”

“Thelma ain’t stupid.”

“She’s a chicken, you dummy. Just cause she follows you around don’t mean she loves you. It’s the chicken feed she loves.” Mable disappeared into her room and slammed the door.

Stuff pounded on the door. “Don’t you ever talk about me or Thelma that way again.” He wiggled the knob and forced the door opened.

“Get out. I’m done with you. Hank is going to take me away from this hell hole.”

A laugh erupted from Stuff and hung in the air between them. “Hah. He don’t love you. No. You will stay here and cook my dinner every night for the rest of your useless life.”

“Get out. Get out. Get out. You’ll be sorry, just you wait and see.”

~*~

The next night, Mable put Stuff’s dinner on the table just as he pushed the door open. He stumbled over the suitcase that sat just inside the door.

“What do you think you’re doing, Mable?”

Mable came into the mud room. “I’m leaving. I’m going with Hank and I ain’t never coming back. I’m done with you, you mean old cuss.”

He grabbed her arm. “No way you’re leaving. Hank don’t want you.”

Hank stepped between the two and peeled Stuff’s hand from Mable’s arm. “We don’t need any drama. She is coming with me.”

“Whatever. She’s your problem now.” Stuff nudged past Hank and Mable and sat at the table. He grabbed a drumstick off the plate of fried chicken and ripped a piece off with his teeth. “Who’s gonna cook for me?”

“I made you one last meal. Then you’re on your own.” Mable took Hank’s hand as he grabbed the suitcase and opened the door. “Oh, and enjoy your time with Thelma.”

“What?” Stuff looked at the plate of chicken and then at the back of his sister as she disappeared through the door. “Thelma? Nooooooooo.”

I Was There

Ted pulled his jacket close to his neck as he stepped out of his truck. Light snowflakes mingled with the last yellow leaves floating down to the ground. The church parking lot was almost empty at this time of the day. Late afternoon sun threw shadows across the pavement as the mountains slowly swallowed it up for another day as Ted headed towards the back door of the church.

A blast of warm air hit Ted as he pulled the door open, and the smell of strong coffee followed the air. In the sanctuary, Spence worked at changing a light bulb while Pastor Rob held the ladder.

“Hey Spence, Pastor Rob. See you started without me. What do I do first?” Ted threw his coat on the first pew and rolled up his sleeves.

Rob waved a hand. “Hi Ted, First up I could really use some coffee. Would you mind?”

“Not at all. Just black, right? What about you, Spence?”

“Sure thing. You know me though, lots of sugar in mine.” A hearty laugh rumbled out of Spence.

“Just like you; as if the caffeine isn’t enough you have to add tons of sugar. You know, Pastor Rob, as long as I have known Spence he hasn’t needed any stimulants to amp up his personality.”

Rob chuckled as Ted left the room muttering, “One black coffee and one sugar with some coffee coming up.”

By the time he got back, the guys had begun to set up for the project of the evening, re-staining the rail that ran around the altar.

“Thanks for helping with this project guys.” Pastor Rob sipped his coffee. “This old rail has seen many a parishioner kneeling in prayer or communion or confession over the years. It’s no wonder the stain has worn so thin.”

Spence swirled his coffee in his cup and looked at Ted, “Yep, Ted knelt there himself just last Sunday but refused to tell me why he went up when you asked for prayer.”

“Now, Spence, you know that’s a private matter between Ted and God. He doesn’t need to tell you what it was all about.”

Quiet settled over the room and while Spence and Rob finished their coffee, Ted grabbed a brush and dipped it into the stain.

“Hey dude.” Spence grabbed a brush. “Did you see the news yesterday about the bombing in Fallujah? Was that close to where you were?”

“Yeah. We patrolled that area often. I got an email from a buddy over there. One of the guys in his squadron was one that was killed.”

Rob joined them. “Ted, I’m so sorry. That must have been hard to hear.”

“They say you get used to it after a while.”

“I don’t know, Ted, I can’t imagine getting used to something like that.”

Ted squirmed under Rob’s intense stare.

“Well, you kind of have to. If you don’t, you’ll go crazy.”

“I’m sure it’s hard; life is so precious it has to hurt when you see it destroyed.”

“Nah, I bet you just tune it out. Kind of like when your little sister is whining.” Spence chuckled.

Ted frowned. “You know it’s easy to say life is precious and you have to keep feeling, but unless you have been there and seen it you just can’t understand. Tuning it out is impossible.”

“Like I said, whining sister. Totally understand.”

“No, you don’t. I watched as a young girl about your sister’s age was blown to bits by an IED. Two guys in my platoon were gunned down by a guy they stopped to help. It’s not at all like a whining sister. You should be grateful your sister is alive to whine.”

Pastor Rob stepped between the boys. “He’s right you know, Spence. It’s hard for us to know what Ted has seen. But, Ted, it’s not Spence’s fault.”

“I just get so tired of people thinking they understand. I was there and I don’t understand. Supposedly God was there, but how could he be when my buddies are coming back in coffins and little girls are left in pieces in the street.”

Pastor Rob didn’t speak for a long moment, but then softly said, “Suffering and pain are part of the human existence, Ted. It grieves God. Ted, he loves you, carried you through this, and brought you home safe.”

“Coming home safe was definitely important to me, but since I’ve been home I’ve had such a hard time understanding life. What was God thinking when He created man knowing they would be bent on destroying each other?”

“Let it go dude. You’ll never understand and you’re tearing yourself up with this. Hey, you know that Nickleback is in concert next month. We should totally go. That’ll get you back in the right frame of mind.” Spence played air guitar with his paintbrush.

“Man, you’re so immature. I can’t let this go and I’m not going to some stupid concert.” Throwing down the brush, Ted stomped away.

“What’s got his goat?”

“Spence, Ted has seen things that you can’t imagine. He needs time to process. Give him some space.”

“I definitely need space.” Ted mumbled under his breath as he left the church.

sunset-68713_1280 Pixabay CC0

In the parking lot, Ted climbed into his truck, started the engine, and floored the gas pedal as he tore out of the parking lot. He drove aimlessly for a while until he found himself on the bridge over the river. He pulled to the side of the road and got out of the truck. Leaning on the rail, he looked down into the rapidly moving water below. “I can’t take this anymore. Everything is so meaningless. I don’t believe God will make this better and I’m done.”

He swung one leg over the rail and then the other, heart racing he balanced on the narrow lip, hands gripping the rail as he stared past his shoes into the water.

Minutes ticked by.

Squealing tires broke into his thoughts.

“Hey, man, can I help you?” The man came up behind Ted.

“Don’t touch me. Get back in your car and mind your own business.”

“Sorry, can’t do that. You look like you need some help and I’m not gonna walk away and let you do whatever it is you’re planning to do.”

“I’m not planning anything. My mind is made up and nothing you can say will stop me.”

The Samaritan leaned on the railing. “I don’t know what you’re going through, but I’ve been through some stuff myself and I’ve thought about jumping from this very bridge. But, man, there’s always something good to look forward to. A sunset over the mountains, my niece’s face as she took her first steps. A concert with friends.”

“Great platitudes, but you haven’t seen what I’ve seen so your little words don’t mean anything.”

The man was quiet for a few long minutes. He finally said, “I spent 9 months in Nam in the 70s. Walked miles in the jungle trying to protect the people there and often, those same people would’ve rather kill me than look at me. Just before it was time to come home, I watched one of my good friends get shot down by a sniper. He had just become a father for the first time. Instead of sitting next to him on the plane, I sat in an airplane seat while he was in a coffin. They covered the coffin with a flag. Everyone made a big deal about him being a hero and he was; everyone over there was. But, no one understands what it’s like unless they’ve been there. I really want to help you. How about we get a beer and talk?”

Ted turned to climb over the railing. Adrenaline pumped into his veins as his foot slipped. The sound of the rushing water rose up to meet him. Reaching over the railing the man grabbed his shirt and pulled until both of them landed in a heap on the sidewalk.”

“I really could use that beer now.”