Thursday, May 28, 2015

Pay Attention!

Pay attention! Jennifer Adams has a powerful voice and she knows how to use it. She has a lot to say about bullying. During an interview with Jennifer, she and I covered multiple issues that had to to do with her disabilities; she was born without limbs. No hands, no feet, but a beautiful voice that she uses as a professional singer, motivational speaker and as an advocate for those with disabilities. Jennifer has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a minor in Vocal Performance from Pacific Lutheran University, followed by a Master of Arts in Counseling from Faith Evangelical Seminary, along with a Certification in Applied Technology in Radio Broadcasting. She has been a working woman in the fields of Tele-communications, Radio Broadcasting, Public Speaking and Education. She has published two books, Discover Your Identity and Dreams Come True! And she won the title of Ms. Wheelchair America 2014.

While friends and family may forget about Jennifer’s disabilities, a lot of people are discomfited by her, for many reasons. As a child, Jennifer was bullied unmercifully in school, which demoralized her and plummeted her into depression. We discussed what makes a few people, especially children, behave so meanly towards her and others with disabilities. It is her “otherness”, not like a “normal” person. It is ignorance, a lack of social skill on what to expect from a disabled person, and how to respond to someone with limited capabilities. If you do not look like me, then you are in another category, one of “them” not one of “us”. 

Another facet of the “otherness” that makes people uncomfortable, is if a disabled person is more accomplished than I am, what does that say about me? Most adults lack experience with disabilities and find it embarrassing to be around someone who has obvious needs, but what are you supposed to do for that person? When I think I am being compassionate and helpful, am I being patronizing? What can I expect a disabled person to do for himself or herself? There is an element of superiority in an attitude of "helping" someone too much, to the point of disrespecting the disabled person by not acknowledging the person as someone who can think, act, and be valued as a person, just like you.

Jennifer is not to be pitied. It is not necessary to treat her like a child because of her limitations. Upon first meeting her, there is an alarming moment when you see her as vulnerable—"she needs help!"—but after only a few minutes being with her, you think “Wow! she isn’t crippled! She can do a lot for herself!” It is evident that she is very capable and independent, but recognizes that she did not get "here" without help from family, friends and strangers. There is the problem of mechanics, getting from point A to point B, all the physical barriers that do not present problems for most people. On a daily basis, it is the small kindnesses of those she interacts with; opening a door, making extra room for her wheelchair, reaching for that hard-to-get-to item, holding the elevator for her entrance, the small niceties that people do for each other. And in doing these things for another, one’s humanness is respected, rather than another’s "otherness". We are “pack animals”, with tribes, clans and families, all interdependent upon one another on a daily basis, all of our lives.

Jennifer would like to put you at ease with her disabilities, so that you can appreciate her, and those with disabilities, as persons deserving respect and acceptance. Jennifer is a strong, confident woman who has challenges, but also someone with a sublime voice that has a message for all of us. Be inspired by Jennifer Adams at

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Forcing the Hand of God: Chapter 11

Fate, thought Rodger, has a justice all her own. The last air raid had damaged their quarters and makeshift hangar. He would tell Mary Elizabeth all about it, sparing none of the details, and she would have to understand; she should be glad he got her out of there.

Rodger walked unannounced into the convent. He approached Sister Grace, her back to him, furiously sweeping the hallway. Before he could speak, she turned and shrieked.

Rodger met her uncompromising glare with a shrug. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I came to see Mary Elizabeth.”

“Come with me, honorable Major,” Sister Grace flicked the broom as if to whisk him away. “I will show you to LinChing and Father McBride.”

The other nun, Sister Pearl, stood by the kitchen door, facing the garden. Rodger nodded to her, making a sober face behind Sister Grace’s back. Sister Pearl suppressed a sad, little smile.

Father McBride and LinChing were seated in chairs under the litchi tree in the garden. As Rodger approached, a silence, like a shroud, enveloped them. Even the birds and insects were quiet. Leaves, overturned by the breeze, moved soundlessly, and the roving clouds blocked the sultry sun’s ray, casting a darkened shadow over the small group. The nuns excused themselves and with rustling habits, disappeared inside the mission.

Rodger sensed chaos beneath the calm appearances. He eyed LinChing, then Father McBride, who waved to an empty chair.

“We have a very serious problem, Major. Mary Elizabeth refuses food and water. Sister Pearl has forced some mush down her throat, but all our efforts are futile. She won’t speak to anyone—just sits staring or rocking back and forth.”

Father McBride, aged and beaten by circumstances, shook his head. “LinChing feels he must stay with her.”

Rodger remained standing. “No.” He looked directly at LinChing, bolt upright, his breath audible, sitting with his hands clasped in his lap. “I’ve got to have you back to repair our planes.” Rodger wiped away sweat beading along his forehead. He stepped closer to LinChing, maintaining eye contact. “I’ve got paperwork in the mill now to get you and Mary Elizabeth to the states, but it won’t be for a couple of months. We’re without a decent mechanic at Bose, and I can’t let you stay here.”

LinChing blinked but did not say anything. Frustrated, Rodger paced.

“Look, we’re only forty‑five minutes from here now. You can come back every night if it’ll help. Anyway,” Rodger swiveled in the direction of Mary Elizabeth’s room, “let me talk to her.”

LinChing would not reply. With a sigh of resignation, Father McBride gave his tacit approval with a wave in the direction of Mary Elizabeth’s room.

Rodger shoved the mission door open and strode down the hall to her room. At the door he paused, patting the pocket where he had put her present from Jimmy. He took off his hat and stepped softly inside. He stood rigid, shocked by her thinness and lifelessness. It seemed that he had been sucked into a void, into the vast and incomprehensible hell she had succumbed.

He watched her for a long time before he went over and knelt beside the cot, alarmed by her fragility. He placed his hat by her pillow where sunlight streamed down from the window, illuminating half of the bed. Mary Elizabeth huddled in the dark corner. “Listen, we had to move the base because it got blown up.” He swallowed hard, willing a steadiness in his voice. “Seven men died.” He made himself reach out and touch her thin arm, took a deep breath and kept his voice low. “God, I’m so thankful you were here. We’re up at Bose now, real close.”

She did not move. He leaned over close to her ear. “I brought you something from Jimmy.”

He took from his front pocket a travel-size comb, brush and mirror. “Here, Bright Eyes, look at yourself in this mirror. See how pretty you are?”

He angled the mirror and caught her reflection but she did not so much as blink. He wiggled the mirror shooting rainbows around them. He rattled the comb and brush in his other hand, but nothing he did caught her attention. He stopped his frantic motions, placing each item side by side at the end of the mattress near her feet. He walked to the opposite end of the room and leaned against the wall with his arms folded across his chest.

He considered what to do. With pounding steps, he went over and scooped her up, as best he could manage her awkward form. He thought of the night he held her as she grieved for the dead airman, Buck. She did not relax as he held her but remained in a tight, curled ball with jutting elbows.

He plopped down upon the mattress and his hat slid to the floor, as the mirror, comb and brush tattooed onto the floor. “Remember I told you about Ada? Well, the next transport out, you’re going to the States. You and your father. To the same town I was born and raised in. Wilmington. You’ll meet my sisters and have new dresses and lots of dolls. Ada will take good care of you, and I know you’ll love her. Just like me. I love her. She’ll know how to take care of a little girl. Your father’ll get a job so that you two can live like decent people and not like animals.”

He tried to hold onto to her, hoping to bring her back to him. But though she did not move, barely it seemed breathed at all, she slipped away from him.

He heard his words getting louder, echoing with desperation. “The Japs wasted us, Bright Eyes. They cleaned us out. But you know what? Your doll didn’t get a scratch on her. We still have her with us. You can come see us.”

Gently, he eased her on the mattress. She began to rock back and forth. He grabbed her shoulders, but stopped himself from shaking her. This nonsense had to stop, now. He eased his grip, whispering harshly, “Hell, you think it’s all fun and games? You don’t think I care about you, your feelings? No! I only care about you living or dying. God damn it, Mary Elizabeth!”

He softened his voice. “I know how you feel. But I didn’t desert you. In the long run, things’ll work out for you and your father. Trust me.”

He let go of her. She continued to rock back and forth. He snatched his hat off the floor on his way out of the room and smacked the door shut.

Sister Grace walked down the corridor towards him. He stopped her with a hand on her arm. “Do you bathe her? Will you feed her and take care of her like…,” he faltered, “…like she is now?”

Sister Grace nodded. Rodger dropped his hand and she left him standing alone by the door. He stared a long time at the closed door before walking away. Once outside, sunlight blinded him, bleaching the trees, plants and walkway. He fumbled in his shirt pocket until he found his sunglasses. As he scanned the garden looking for LinChing, he recognized the rattling cries of pheasants and twittering of finches. He scattered a swarm of insects, batting a path to where LinChing knelt weeding.

LinChing stood and dusted the dirt from his hands and pantaloons. He faced Rodger squarely and met his gaze as Rodger spoke. “Listen, there’s no way for me to justify your being here. You have to earn your keep. The only way Mary Elizabeth can stay here, where she is safe, is for you to come back to the base and work. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Major.” LinChing replied curtly.

“All right, then. We’ll leave in a couple of hours.” He turned back to the mission, re-entering the side door.

Rodger came to Father McBride’s door and rapped softly.


Father McBride stood staring out the window, his hands clasped behind his back. Over the priest’s shoulder, Rodger glimpsed the countryside and thought of simpler days, wishing he could mount a good, swift steed to race along paths going nowhere in particular. Just somewhere.

Father McBride turned to face Rodger, unwinding an arm to point at the chessboard. “Are you game?”

“Sure. I could use a good match.”

Father McBride sat heavily into a chair. Rodger pulled another chair up to the table.

“I’m expecting news any day now from stateside about immigration papers for Mary Elizabeth and LinChing.”

“I’m not sure you are doing the best thing for LinChing. You’re forgetting how it must be for him to leave his homeland.”

“Look, I’ve got troubles enough. I don’t want LinChing to leave. He’s the best mechanic within a thousand miles, and I need him, at least until his replacement gets here. I went through hell to get a new mechanic. And now, Washington’s trying to break us up.” Rodger let Father McBride take his knight. “You’ve no idea what it’s like trying to play mother and God to a bunch of hot‑headed pilots.”

“Indeed.” Father McBride laced his fingers together, peeking over the rim of his glasses. “Perhaps, Major, you ought to let God be God and man be man.” He pushed his knight back to the original square and contemplated his move some more. “After all, you can’t force the hand of God.”

“I sure as hell can try.”

As Father McBride moved into checkmate, Rodger leaned back in the chair. The game was over in thirty‑three moves. Father McBride slapped his thighs and stood, pushing his chair away. He went to the bookshelf and snagged a large, black, leather-bound book down from the second shelf. He splayed it open and handed it to Rodger, pointing to the middle paragraph on page 47. “Our first game. Played in London in 1851. Right here, ‘The Immortal Game.’ ”

“Interesting.” Rodger compressed a smile. “Good bedtime reading.” He snapped the book shut and placed it on the desk. “Listen, doesn’t LinChing have any relatives around here?”

Father McBride rubbed his chin. “Yes, I believe Mary Elizabeth’s mother came here with her sister and brother‑in‑law. They, too, were missionaries somewhere across the mountains. I think I may even have met Tobias, once.”

“All the people would have been evacuated from that side of the mountains by now. Probably to Tenchong or Binyang.”

Rodger ran a finger along the spine of the book. “Can you get in touch with them? Maybe some kind of connection to her past would bring her out of...,” Rodger waved behind him, “…of that.”

“I’ll make inquiries, Major.” Father McBride pulled out a cigar for himself and offered one to Rodger.

Rodger leaned forward, accepting the cigar. “I’ve got something for you. Besides extra provisions.” He scooted the chair back, rose, and left with a nod to Father McBride. He returned cradling a bottle of scotch.

He presented Father McBride the bottle of Haig & Haig Five Star Blend. “Sometimes it works out that the loser takes all.”

The older man gazed lovingly at the bottle. “Join me?” he asked, turning to reach inside a cabinet for glasses.

“No, I’m going to collect LinChing and head out.” He paused at the door. “I told him that I couldn’t justify Mary Elizabeth staying here if he didn’t return with us and work on the planes. Maybe if you told him you would try to find Mary Elizabeth’s aunt, it would be of some consolation.”

“Certainly, Major. I’ll speak to him right away.”

Rodger smoked and paced beside the jeep as he waited for LinChing. After nearly half an hour, LinChing emerged with his few belongings wrapped in a new Army blanket. Without a word to Rodger, he climbed into the passenger’s seat.

Neither man spoke to the other on the ride back to the base. When they came into the new barracks, Rodger pointed to the hangar.

“Better’n the last shack, huh?”

LinChing simply nodded, and as the jeep slowed to a stop, he hopped out. Along the far side of the hangar a dozen or more coolies squatted, smoking opium pipes. LinChing walked passed them without any acknowledgment and through the gaping door to examine the interior of the hangar. Rodger followed, going on to his office where he poured himself a cup of thick, day-old coffee. He sat down at a long table with maps and a flight slide rule. A few minutes later, Will sauntered through the door with Steve and the Canadian pilot Raftly trailing in with two other pilots.

“You guys, come here.” Rodger placed his index finger on a target zone on the map in front of him. “We’ll brief at 0530.”

Raftly grunted, stuffing his goggles inside his shirt pocket. Steve and Will nodded in the direction of the canteen, and the men left as a group.

When LinChing came in from the hangar, Rodger stopped him before he could slip into a bunk. “Are we airworthy?”

“Yes. All six.”

“Listen, tomorrow after we’re all in from the sortie, I’ll take you back to see Mary Elizabeth.”

LinChing nodded.

“The next transport that comes in will bring your replacement. You and Bright Eyes are going to the States.” Rodger slapped his chipped coffee mug down. “The land of milk and honey.”

“Not my home, Major.”

“I know. But right now, you’re a man without land or people, LinChing. It’s the best chance for the both of you to have some sort of life.”

“Will replacement parts come for the P‑40?”

“Yeah, day after tomorrow.”

LinChing walked away. Rodger muttered under his breath, “Thank you, too.”

He and his men were eager to be airborne early the next morning. Rodger waved away the two ground men, then slid the canopy shut on roll-out.

The hum of his P‑40 Warhawk and the other P‑38 Tomahawk engines was a song he could harmonize with, letting his mind and body flow in rhythm. His company flew in syncopated camaraderie. Approaching the French-Indochina border, the flight swooped down. Rodger led as he and his men strafed the ground. Trucks, jeeps and machines scrambled for cover. Guns popped.

The ground lit up in bursts of fiery explosions, like candles on a huge cake. Another pass and in unison, they pulled away and headed for home base.

Then six Nates dropped on them.

Rodger and his wingman broke away. They had two strikes right away; Will and Steve pounced on a Zero and sent it flaming downward. Rodger caught the lead plane and pumped ammo until the plane exploded in midair. Debris flew across the sky, slicing into one of its own Nates like a huge razor, forcing the crippled plane to leave the flock.

Rodger regrouped in the air with his men. McGree’s voice broke the radio silence.

“All accounted for.”

They headed for home base. Near the airfield, the air churned with black smoke, streaked with colors of orange and violet. Swooping for a low overpass, Rodger watched in horrified fascination as the last fuel can burst into flaming pieces. The landing strip had been strafed.

“Take it easy, guys, it’s going to be a tough landing.” A chill zipped his spine at the sight of the devastation.

They all made it safely into the revetments. The prop still churned as Rodger bounded off the wing and sprinted for the smoldering hangar. He recoiled from the acrid smell of burning rubber but forced himself forward, yanking the doors open and picking his way over the scattered parts. Then he spotted the dark form of LinChing.

The mechanic lay limp and unconscious. Blood streamed in rivulets over his eyes, down his cheeks. Little drops of blood plopped onto the ground.

“Medic’s kit!” Rodger screamed. With one quick, unthinking motion, he plucked a piece of shrapnel lodged over the man’s eyebrow.

LinChing winced. The unlocked medic’s kit dropped beside him. Rodger jerked out a wad of gauze and stuffed it into the gash, yelling to Raftly.

“Bring that board. Get the jeep as close to the door as possible.”

Rodger and Raftly hefted the board sideways across the back of the jeep. McGree drove while Raftly and Rodger rode beside LinChing. Rodger pressed his body against the hardness of the wood to stay the jiggling. McGree cursed at dogs and people that moved or got in his way. The gauze grew warm and spongy beneath Rodger’s hand. It took three hours before they arrived at the hospital in Nanning. All three of them maneuvered the makeshift stretcher through the hospital doors and into the emergency room.

Rodger, McGree and Raftly sat silent in a waiting room where the stench of infected flesh and antiseptic wafted through the netting covering rows of wounded. Raftly, nicknamed Dragonman, sat hunched over, puffing on a cigarette, smoky billows pouring from his cheeks.

The head nurse beckoned Rodger. “Major! Your friend is going to live, but he lost a lot of blood. And most likely lost his sight. We’ve done all we can for him. Anyway,” she paused, directed the orderlies, then turned to look at Rodger, “you’ll have to find someplace where he can have complete rest until scar tissue forms.”

“Does he ... know he’s blind?”

“I expect he will when he regains consciousness. They usually do.”

Rodger felt a wave of nausea. “How soon can he be moved?”


“But he can’t be in any shape to be moved tonight!” Rodger protested.

The nurse cut him short. “I don’t run the war, mister. I just try to patch ’em up and send ’em out again.”

“That’s a helluva note, lady.”

She started moving toward the door. “I have no more time for you, Major. Move your men out.”

With a wave of his hand, he directed Raftly and McGree to the stretcher. “We’ll take him to Father McBride.”

They loaded the stretcher with LinChing into the jeep, careful to keep it steady. Rodger sat once again beside LinChing as Raftly edged into the front seat next to McGree.

McGree drove without a curse word, and the Dragonman stared listlessly ahead, only the slight flick of ash from a cigarette showing any movement. The closeness of the warm night air was comforting during the two hour drive back. The mission was dark and quiet. Rodger leaped from the jeep and pounded on the door.

Father McBride appeared, the door ajar. Behind him were the nuns with arms outstretched, holding lamps that covered their faces.

“Father, LinChing has been seriously wounded. The hospital had no room for him, so I had to bring him here.”

Father McBride turned and shooed the nuns away with orders in Chinese. He waved to Rodger. “Bring him! Bring him! Follow me.”

Rodger motioned to McGree and Raftly to bring the stretcher. Father McBride rustling in his loose Chinese pants, the nuns swishing about in their habits, and the padding of careful footsteps were the only sounds down the hallway. Rodger waited as the others went on. He pushed Mary Elizabeth’s door open and stepped inside her room. She lay on the mattress, pressed into herself and rocking, rocking.

“Now, goddamn it, you listen to me, Mary Elizabeth,” he whispered harshly, “your father is wounded, badly. He’s blind. Blind!” He squatted beside her, smoothed back her hair, and tried to reason with her. “He’s here, next door. He needs you. Do you hear me? You can be the eyes he doesn’t have!”

He reached out and pressed her shoulder, staying her incessant movement. “We’re just poor bastards trying to win a war that no one wants to fight. You’re not the only one hurt by it.”

With both hands he cupped her face, bringing her closer to him. “We’re all lost in our own way. It’s not just you. We all are.”

She did not open her eyes, but she lay still. Rodger listened to her breathing and the thrumming of his heart then kissed her forehead before he stood upright. “I’ll be back next week.”

He closed the door with a resounding bang and leaned against it, whispering, “Please, God, give us all a break.”

Father McBride hurried down the hall. “Major, LinChing is resting, and we’ll see that his wounds are dressed. We’ll do the best we can for LinChing.”

McGree and Raftly trailed behind the priest. Sister Grace eased out of the room, made the sign of the cross, and disappeared into another room.

“I’ll be back.” Rodger threw out his hand. “Thanks, Father.”

Father McBride gripped it and held it. “I’ve contacted the mission and expect to hear shortly about Mary Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle. I’ve sent word for them to come and visit us.”

“Does she know?” Rodger called out, gesturing at Mary Elizabeth’s direction as he and his men loaded into the jeep. He could see Father McBride in the dimly lit doorway, smiling faintly, nodding his head.

Back at their base in less than an hour and put down for the night, Rodger dropped into fitful sleep. Visions of grotesque, bloodied faces with gaping, toothless mouths made him bolt upright of out sleep. He got up from his bunk and went outside to smoke a cigarette.

He walked over to his plane and ran his hand along the wing. He had done what he could for LinChing; he just hoped that Mary Elizabeth would come around. She would, he repeated breathing deeply, she would. For the next few days, he would make himself forget them, trusting Father McBride, the nuns, and God would take care of Mary Elizabeth and her father.

Five days later, immigration papers for LinChing and Mary Elizabeth came in with the transport, hand-carried by the new, eager mechanic. So did the spare tire for his plane and a P‑38 carburetor.

Maybe this would auger a lucky break for them. With the packet of official papers and passports, Rodger climbed into his jeep and set out for the mission, whistling as loud as he could.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Do Unto Others…

To quote Evan McMurry, from Mediaite:
“The Lincoln Day Dinner dinner in Des Moines Saturday night, Senator and probable 2016 candidate Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he would have no problem droning potential ISIS recruits, and was so excited to do so he reckoned he might could skip the whole due process part.

Graham was responding to Senator and 2016 rival Rand Paul (R-KY), whose non-interventionist foreign policy he deplores.

Via Politico:
Graham, who has made a habit of trolling the Kentucky senator, also mocked Paul’s focus on civil liberties, picking up on his statement that the federal government should still “call a lawyer” to get a warrant before arresting terrorists instead of illegally spying.
“I’m not going to call a judge,” said Graham. “I’m going to call a drone and kill you.”

As you know from my former blog, I am no fan of the vile group known as ISIS, nor am I a proponent for Al-Qaeda, or for the Saudi Arabian government for its inhumane treatment of dissidents. I do not endorse an authoritarian statehood; I am a staunch believer in a republican government, where I, as a citizen, have rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. I feel it is the primary duty of the government legislation to protect me, and while I may be ambivalent about our country’s continuous involvement in military conflicts, I do support and appreciate the enlisted men and women who have lost and jeopardize their lives daily for my safe being. I am a law-abiding citizen; I pay taxes and vote every election, attempting to make sound, informed decisions.

So when I heard the words of Lindsey Graham’s speech, I was awed, as in astonished and fearful. Killer drones?!! Perhaps there should be an incentive to turn in anyone who seems like a threat, or looks like a terrorist. Maybe a give-away toaster, or a year’s supply of gasoline with every name turned in to a subcommittee investigating, i.e., rendering, the private lives of citizens. What would happen to due process?

I praise Allah, Jesus Christ, Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Dali Lama, rabbis, the Founding Fathers, and countless others who have devoted their lives to peace, and the betterment of humankind. What if someone decided to turn me in for alleged contacts with a terrorist group, or as a sympathizer? Oh, no that could not happen to me!

Wanna bet? Our country has a recent and shameful history of witch hunting; as in the Salem witch trials of Massachusetts and the McCarthy “Red Scare” and “Lavender Scare” hearings. In both cases, friends ratted out one another, family and strangers. In the Salem Witch Hunts, over three hundred men, women, children and animals were thrown into jail without due process. The nineteen accused never had a chance in the Court of Oyer when tried: some were tortured, one elderly man stoned and the rest hanged. 

From the legacy of Joseph McCarthy, (R-Wisconsin 1947-1957), comes the term “McCarthyism, ….. Today the term is used more generally in reference to demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents”(Wikipedia). The resulting actions of McCarthy and the subsequent closed-door hearings, destroyed countless reputations of public and private citizens and ravaged the lives of innocent men and women, and those of another targeted group, homosexuals. 

What turns decent human beings into monsters? Fear that is fodder for hysteria, that feeds the monster and justifies mob action. So to get to the presidency, Senator Graham stumps on a platform of fear, making anxiety vibrate with the threat of terrorism. His promise to keep you safe means you will give up your right to due process. Flawed as our judicial system can be, the Boston Marathon terrorist, Tsarnaev, despicable human being that he is, had due process and is sentenced to life in prison without parole. This is because we have the Bill of Rights, and specifically, the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution granting all, every one of us, due process.

Think twice before you abnegate your Constitutional rights. Once lost, they are hard to win back.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bully Dogs Chapter 10: Winning Combinations

I hugged the warm loaf of bread, liking the crunching sound of the foil as well as the aroma as I pressed my nose and inhaled as much as I could. Up the far end of the street I could see Dean delivering the evening paper. He looked my way and saw me, then waved back. “Hey, Fran!” he yelled, and I skipped down the street to meet him.

“Hi, Dean.” I fell in step with him. He pitched a newspaper right smack in the middle of the Simmons’ front stoop. “Hey, that’s pretty good!”

Dean smiled and shrugged. “That’s because I practice pitching a lot. My dad spends every Saturday coaching me. Like every weekend we play catch or one-on-one.”

“Well, you’re lucky. I only get a lot of advice, mostly from my mom.” He looked at me as if I had meant it to be funny so I smiled pretending I had.

“No, Fran, you’re luck-lucky.” I’d almost forgotten he stuttered until then.

“Why am I lucky? You’re not the one who has to listen to my mom lecturing me all the time.”

“Because.” He stopped, folded a paper and shoved it into a newspaper box. “It’s just my-my dad and me.”

I suddenly felt kind of sad, for I’d heard rumors Dean lived alone with his dad, but I hadn’t thought much about it. “Gosh, that must be tough, not having a mother.”

Dean squinted as he looked at me, and I could see in his eyes that it hurt him to talk about this. I wished I could have somehow shared my mom with him, which made me want to wrap my arms around her and give her the biggest hug ever.

I thought it best to change the subject altogether. “You know, you’re awfully good at basketball. I watched part of the game the other day.”

“I’m all right. I know I’ll never be a st-star, but I’m good enough to play on the team.”

“I wish I were as good.” I didn’t mean to sound all sorry for myself because I had been feeling pretty good about the way things had gone, after all, today.

“That’s just it—you-you are, Fran. S-s-some of the other guys think so, too. You just let Marcy bully you.

You don’t have to take that, you know. She might be athletic, and Ursala, too, but two people don’t make a team. I don’t want to be like Steve or Chase. It’s okay by me if they want to be superstars. I don’t mind being just a team player.”

“It doesn’t seem fair that others can’t just leave you alone.” I was thinking about him and me, too. “You know, let you do your best and leave it at that.”

“That’s what I was trying to say. You just got to do it. If you can’t ignore Marcy; stand up to her.”

I looked at him, not really mad or anything. “Everyone’s got advice to give, huh?”

He laughed. “Yeah. Like my dad says, ‘Take mine; it’s free.’”

“Do you deliver papers the same time every day?” We were getting close to my house, and I wanted to share my good news. “I’ll probably see you almost everyday.”

“Just about. It’s a pretty large paper route. You thinking about getting a route of your own?”

“No, I got a job walking the Wessenfelds’ dogs.” I pointed at their house, and the Three Musketeers were lined up at the fence, watching us, as if they were at the movies and we were actors on the screen.

“Boy! That’ll be a sight to see! I can’t wait!” Dean slapped a newspaper into the next box. “Fran s-s-streaking down the street.”

That was kind of funny, but I wanted him to know I could handle the dogs. “They’re not that bad. Mr. Wessenfeld said they’re really good on leashes. How far does your route go?”

“Over to Main and Camellia.”

“Yes, I guess I will see you when I’m out with the dogs.”

“Yeah, that’d be all right.” We came to my house, and Dean handed me a newspaper, sort of hanging onto to it for a minute until he had finished speaking. “Maybe you could come over to my house on the weekend, and we could shoot some baskets. I’ll show you some things I know that might help you.”

“Thanks.” I waved good-bye, wrapping the newspaper around the loaf of bread and went in the back door to the living room.

I sat awhile in my dad’s chair, wondering if I couldn’t make things better for myself at school, too, with Marcy and Sue, and maybe patch up the holes in the friendship with Annie. How much worse could it be than what I’d gone through today? I was probably as scared as I ever remember being in my whole life, yet I managed to get through it. I mean, I went into enemy territory and came out with a loaf of bread, a job, and some mighty unexpected friends, like the Wessenfelds and the Three Musketeers. Even better, I had a new source of paperback books that the local branch library seems to be so short of every week. Dean made it sound easy enough to stand up for myself, and I felt that I could make myself do anything I had a mind to do.

Well, it looked as if the only way I could find out if there was anything to this magic streak of mine was to give Marcy a call. I put the bread on my lap, sniffing that wonderful aroma as I dialed Marcy’s number from the downstairs telephone. “Uh, Marcy? This is Fran.”

I expected her to slam the phone down in my ear, but she didn’t, just breathed real hard and waited for me to continue. “I didn’t think it was right that Mrs. Hammershaw made you guys write that essay.”

“You can spare me your sympathy, Franny. I don’t want it.”

“You know Marcy,” I shot back, “you didn’t have any real good reasons for not liking me. If that’s really important.”

I figured I had her attention and could keep her listening for another minute. “You don’t have to like me, but I think it hurts our team when we can’t get along. I think we lost that last game because we couldn’t concentrate on the plays, like Miss Ford said. And we both know we can’t afford to lose anymore games.”

“So you’re not going to come to anymore games, Fran?” It sounded like Marcy started out wanting to be sarcastic, and then changed her mind. “Of course, I didn’t mean that.” But then she added, “I wouldn’t want you to tell anyone I said that.”

This was getting me nowhere, faster than I wanted to go. “You think you can win the game by yourself, Marcy? You’re good, but not that good, and most of the other girls think so, too. At least six people told me they wished you would stop trying so hard to do it all yourself. The idea is to be the best team, not the best player.”

“I don’t believe that six people would even talk to you, Franny Fruitcake!” she snarled, about to hang up, I’m sure.

“Wait, Marcy! You know it’s true! Only Ursala, Annie, and Sue talked to you after our last game. And half the team told Miss Ford that they didn’t really care if we made the play-offs or not. Just ask Miss Ford.” I listened to Marcy’s angry breathing even out then felt it safe to go on.

“Look, Marcy, we have two more practices before the next big game. I don’t want to be your best friend or anything, but I don’t like us being mean to one another, either. I’m going to be there, and I’m going to sign up for basketball, too.” The funny thing was I hadn’t felt all that brave until I said aloud what I meant to do. I guess I might have come right out and said, “Let’s make a deal,” but I couldn’t quite do that.

She heaved a sigh, and I thought I was in for a rash of irritation. “We’re stuck with one another, then, huh, Fran?”

I waited for the nasty aside that didn’t come, so I spoke up. “Yeah, we’re stuck with one another.”

“We get on each other’s nerves, you know?” She was tapping on something, and the little ticking sounds echoed in the receiver.

“Yeah, like a bad habit.” I thought about what I had said and hurried to add, “But, hey, we could break a bad habit, you know?”

“Yeah, maybe. I’ve got to go, Fran.”

“See you tonight at practice, Marcy.” She hadn’t hung up mad, at least she hadn’t sounded as if she was mad, and I thought maybe she would think it over.

I felt pretty certain that Marcy and I were going to find a way to get along. But just what would I do if things continued on the same way? I drummed my fingers on the table, thinking.

Well, for one thing, I concluded, I wasn’t the same, so what would happen wouldn’t be the same either. I had made my mind up about playing on the volleyball and basketball team, doing my best, and being a good team player, and right now, I felt really good about myself.

I slipped the newspaper on the seat of my dad’s easy chair as I made my way into the kitchen where my mom was fixing dinner. I dropped the bread on the kitchen counter by the sink, then gave Mom a big bear hug and smacked a kiss on her cheek.

“Whatever was that for?” she asked, obviously surprised.

“Oh, because.” I scraped carrot peelings into the garbage and searched through the drawer for a black tie to twist around the top of the liner, making tracks for the back door. She just smiled when I told her about my job walking the dogs and how Mr. Wessenfeld wanted to trade books with me.

She looked real pleased when she spied the loaf of bread. “Did you remember...?”

“Yes, I remembered to say ‘thank you.’” I slid the shiny, foiled loaf along counter, then gave it a shove into her cupped hands. “And I know I still have to change my clothes, practice the piano and the trumpet, and do my homework. Are we having anything good for dinner?”

“Since you’re feeling so sassy, how about clam chowder?”

I grabbed my throat and pretended to choke to death because she knew I hated clam chowder even more than spinach. “If I don’t do all those things, what’ll we have?” That made her laugh, and I knew I’d scored a “gotcha.”

“We’re having your favorite tonight, Frances, steak and potatoes.” I gave a loud whoop for joy, but then she added, “And broccoli.”

Well, I guess you can’t have everything 100-percent perfect. “Peaches for dessert?” I asked hopefully.

She nodded, pointing to Mrs. Wessenfeld’s loaf of bread. “It’ll still be warm and delicious, too.”

“Yeah. You know what, Mom?” I snitched a cookie, knowing she’d let it go this time. “I called Marcy, and I think we’ve made a deal to get along. I bet you see a big difference at our next game.”

Mom looked sort of surprised; more like stunned. I smiled at her as I swiped the last cookie on the plate and headed for my room. I had in mind that I’d go over to Dean’s house late Sunday afternoon and shoot some baskets, then leash up the Three Musketeers to get them used to me walking them. That way, it wouldn’t be too hard to get into a new routine on Monday.

I had just about completed the last question at the end of the chapter review of “Water and Our Environment” when Annie called. “Hi, Fran. I didn’t copy down the science assignment. Did you?”
I had a funny feeling that she hadn’t really forgotten to do it at all. Her mom never let her use the telephone until after all her homework was done. “Yeah, it’s chapter eleven review questions on page fifty-eight.”

“Oh, great, that’s what I thought.” There was this pause long enough for a television commercial.

“Uh, Fran, I really am sorry about what happened. I don’t want you to be mad about it.”

Mad? Who me? I wanted to say but didn’t. “Aw, it’s all right, I guess.”

“You’re going to practice tonight, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, are you?” I know she is, because she never misses a practice session or a game.

“My mom can take me, but I need a ride home. Do you think your mom can bring me home?”

Boy, did I want to say something, like why didn’t she ask Marcy or Sue for a ride home, but suddenly I thought maybe Annie was trying to be my friend again. Why not? She had to write that stupid paper, and I could see that things were pretty even now between us.

“Hang on a minute and I’ll ask.” I knew my mom would say yes, which she does. “It’s okay, Annie.”

“Great! Well, I guess I better go. We’ll really have to work on our serves tonight, won’t we?”

“Yeah, but I think our team can get it together. We’re all really pretty good, as a team.”

“Yeah, Fran, you can say that again. Well, ‘bye.”

I didn’t have to say it again, because Miss Ford told us after practice that we looked terrific and she thought we could make the play-offs with no sweat.

I don’t know about the “no sweat” part, but we turned out to be a winning a team, after all. Marcy came over to me after the game, as everyone was leaving, and made it a point to shake hands with me, adding in an undertone, “Good game, Fran. We’re the best girls’ team around.” I couldn’t have agreed more.

Annie and I got back to being friends, but we saw each other mostly at school, not so much on the weekends, anymore. Which was all right, because I got so busy with my new job walking the Three Musketeers and shooting baskets Sunday afternoon with Dean and his dad that I didn’t have a whole lot of time for doing the things Annie liked to do with Marcy, Sue, and Ursala. Pattie and Carol came over sometimes, and then all of us would go over to the schoolyard or Dean’s house.

Fourteen girls tried out for seventh-grade girls’ basketball, which made our coach, Miss Ford, very happy. Maybe—no, more than maybe—we had another winning team.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Forcing the Hand of God: Chapter 10

The tapping of John’s cane echoed in the cool morning air. Ada threw aside the drape and waved. He paused to nod at her and smile, his full mustache quivering upward. Ada’s heart skipped painfully as her eyes followed his halting steps toward town.

She had been so harsh in her silent criticism of him, so quick to call him weak and faint‑hearted. She bowed her head, resting it against the frosted windowpane. She felt bullied by the current of emotions that ran hot and swift. She had come to understand so much about herself, so much about them all. She thought she might have preferred her ignorance, to have loved them without pain or guilt.

Slowly, as if she herself were crippled, she edged her way into the kitchen and retrieved Rodger’s letter. Her pounding heart finally eased as she settled herself comfortably at her sewing machine. She took a seam ripper and tore the envelope open.

The rain began. The wind picked up the shutters, slamming them against the house. Ada jumped up, spilling pages upon the floor.

She rushed about, grabbing at her coat and overshoes, flinging herself outside into the storm. She struggled to get the ladder between the windows so that she could lean to one side and snatch the flapping shutters and hook them down. Although exasperated, she found an odd sort of pleasure in being outside with the warm rain pelting against her cheeks, streaking down her glasses, and dripping from her fingertips.

She worked her way around the house. Just she finished, the rain stopped and sunlight filled the yard. Ada cautiously eased down the ladder, wrestling it to the ground so that it lay against the house. She paused in a pool of sunlight and peered through her glasses, raindrops catching colors from the light, distorting her vision.

Off a little ways, she saw John coming back from the bank. He inched down the sidewalk until he came to her gate and leaned against it.

Ada greeted him with a cheerful “Hello! I thought it was going to shower all day. But look!” she threw her hands high into the air. “Sunshine and rainbows.”

John’s smile soured. “Isn’t it funny how hard-pressed you can be to get one thing done, and a few minutes later, it doesn’t even matter?”

She shrugged. In spite of his ill-humor, she felt alive and magnanimous. “Won’t you come in for lunch? Maddie took the girls shopping.” She had come to him, the gate between them.

John straightened. “You mustn’t feel obligated to take care of me anymore, Ada,” he replied curtly.

She placed a hand on his forearm. “I’d love the company of a good man. I have a letter from Rodger.”

The wrinkles in his brow unfurled as the tension left his face. He pushed the gate open and followed her with labored steps into the house. She felt the warmth of their friendship spreading over her like a gossamer veil.

“Let’s sit out on the patio, shall we?”

John paused, leaning heavily against his cane. “Perhaps you would share a ripe tomato with me, my fair Eve.”

Ada held the door open for him. “You’d better be mindful of who you go about tempting, my friend. Your ribbing could be costly.”

John grunted. They laughed together as they went through the living room and out the kitchen door to the covered patio. Ada took tarps off the chairs and waited until he seated himself in his own awkward way.

“I’ll get the letter.” She hurried back into the sewing room, flinging off her overshoes and coat, and scooped up the pages.

She sat opposite John. He pointed the top of his cane at the garden.

“Ada, you’ve enough produce for the whole neighborhood.”

She laid the letter in the middle of the white wrought iron table. He turned to examine her.

“You really miss Rodger, don’t you?” He tapped the letter with the cane. “Anymore about those refugees he spoke of sending home?”

Ada licked her dry lips. “Rodger said that two new mechanics arrived, and he finalized the papers. I’ll know in just a few weeks when the arrival date is for Mary Elizabeth and her father, Lin...,” Ada grabbed the letter and scanned it, “LinChing. They should be on the next transport.” Ada looked carefully at John.

He leaned on his elbow across the table, whispering. “Do you really want them to live with you?” His eyebrows knitted together, emphasizing the deeply etched wrinkles. “You’re taking on quite a load. I sure hope you know what you’re doing.” He reached for her hand and held it.

She felt as if his words had hooked her, and he was reeling in the line ever so slowly.

She jerked upright. “Why don’t you like the idea?”

He held fast to her hand. “I’ve just lately realized how involved in our family you’ve become.”

Become! Become! She screamed inwardly. Rodger had sucked her into his life so long ago. She had nurtured him then, and would yet. Her anger dissipated suddenly. She had gotten as much as she had given; perhaps she had been a careless gardener, refusing to prune a prolific bush, letting her involvement with this family grow beyond sensible boundaries.

“Rodger and I always had our own kind of understanding, something that made our friendship special.” Maybe it was John’s candor and the warmth of his touch that made her rush on. “He was so much different from Stevie or Dan, so I don’t think it could have been a means of replacing anyone.” Ada stopped short. It was as if Madeline stood between them, judging them by their words.

“I honestly believe, Ada, Madeline wouldn’t have been able to cope with my weeks of recuperation without you.” He squeezed her hand. “Neither would I.”

Ada silently studied John’s long, sensitive hand upon her own.

“You’re so...,” he wavered, considering her for a moment, “generous.”

He went on as though he were discussing a fine point of an abstract. “Maddie’s hidden inside of herself, more layered.”

Like an onion, thought Ada.

Picturing Madeline as an onion made Ada chuckle. Then in trying to suppress it, she burst out in loud gasps of laughter. John sat shaking his head. He was so serious, making it all the funnier. Ada laughed until the tears spilled from her eyes. She wiped them away with the back of her hands, sobering up. John had turned away to stare at the upturned rows of weeded tomatoes and overgrown cornstalks.

Ada jumped up and walked briskly to the corn, plucking the top ears from five of the first row. She pulled up her apron, cradling the ears, and walked back to John.

“I’ll put these in a sack for you.” She leaned inside the door and took a bag. “You ought to pull your chair out into the sunshine and enjoy it.”

“I think I’ll go home and take a nap.” John shuffled towards back gate. He held the sack a little ways from his body, rocking on his cane. “Won’t you join us for supper?” Ada would have liked to reach out and steady him, but she must always pretend he was no different than the man he used to be. As he righted himself, he grimaced. Ada stepped away from him. She, too, grieved for him, for what could have been for them.

“No, thanks, John. I have the house to spring clean for my guests.”

She stood still, only turned her head sideways to watch him inch along the fence until he reached his own gate. Her phone began ringing, but she made no move to answer it until she saw Madeline’s car pull into the driveway and the girls tumble out, clamoring for their father.

She didn’t hurry as she usually would have done. When she finally picked up the receiver and heard Kyle’s voice, rivulets of shock coursed throughout her body.

He paused. There was an embarrassing long moment before she could answer him. Chicago would be a whole day’s venture.

“I’d love to go. I’ll be ready.”

She hung up the phone and paced the kitchen. Then she went to the bedroom and flung the closet doors wide, pulling out dresses and shaking them. “No, this one will never do,” she scolded.

In the midst of the culling, she stopped. She was committed to spending tomorrow with John and the girls!

Crumpling her favorite dress against her, a gauzy, voile floral in red and brown tones, she sat upon the bed pondering her dilemma. She shouldn’t worry about Madeline’s reaction.

It was John she would hurt. And for a moment that was more than she could imagine doing.

“I should have said no, damn it!” The sound of her own voice echoing down the hall, disrupting the silence, disconcerted her. The clock pealed five.

With sudden firm resolve, Ada raced to the kitchen phone and dialed Madeline.

“Maddie, how are you? I have to let you know that I’ve had a change of…”

“Oh, Ada, I’m so glad you called! We’ve gotten the cabin on the lake for a long weekend. John, the girls, and I are leaving after supper. I hope you don’t mind?”

Ada could barely contain her delight. “No! I think that’s wonderful!” She wondered if Kyle had arranged that. “Do you need extra bedding?”

“Oh, heavens, no! You’re always so kind!” Madeline’s words rushed out. “So much to do, I really must run. Thanks ever so much, Ada.”

Ada replaced the receiver and clapped her hands. “Voilà!” she sang out loud, tripping lightly across the floor into her sewing room. “What this lady needs is a new dress!”

She rummaged through her fabrics until she came upon a bolt of unused lavender chintz printed with violet and crimson swirls. She took to her bedroom and held it up to examine her reflection in the full‑length mirror. She touched her cheek. With a bit of rouge and a touch of lipstick, it would go well with her graying hair.

She laid out the cloth, began cutting, methodically working until midnight tolled. She was done. Satisfied and happy with herself, she slid between the sheets and immediately fell asleep.

The morning hours vanished. Ada re-pinned her topknot and applied a little more Raspberry Kissproof Indelible Lipstick ™ just as she heard Kyle’s two short raps on the front screen door. As she greeted him, she quelled the nervousness in her voice.

“Did you order this beautiful morning, Colonel Mansard?”

Kyle stood holding open the screen door. “It would seem if anyone could command this, you might, Ada.”

In a moment of horrible silence, they stared at each other. Ada had a chance to study his face for the first time and take in just how well-proportioned his features were, without blemish or scar, and how his gray-streaked hair lay short and neat. His crystal-blue eyes were highlighted by his walnut‑hued tan.

Immediately self‑conscious, Ada looked down at the floor, unable to stifle a giggle. She felt as though she had sidestepped her real self to become Cinderella. Kyle touched her arm and they moved off together toward the car.

“You look lovely, Ada. I better tell you that while I’m thinking of it. I’m much better at commanding than I am complimenting.”

It was a strange admission, leaving Ada without any rejoinder. One beat off, she managed, “Thank you.”

Time slowed, but as Ada watched the snapping images of countryside flash past, she felt serene. Idle thoughts drifted through her consciousness. Kyle said little on the way to Chicago, which suited her. She enjoyed being in the company of this self-possessed man, who reminded her of Rodger in so many ways.

He pulled out into the main stream of traffic. “Would you like to go to the Art Institute? I checked and they have a limited collection for viewing.”

The hours they spent wending through the corridors went too quickly. Ada didn’t feel any need for small talk, just a comment or two, a few vague generalizations about the Impressionists as they toured. She tried to watch him through sidelong glances, wondering if his long, intense look meant a judgment upon her.

As they were leaving through the doors, they were momentarily separated, Ada pushed off to the side while Kyle pressed onward with the crowd. She spotted him by one of the bronze lions. His head twisted from side to side, and the alarmed expression on his face pleased her. When he caught her eyes, he motioned her to come to him. Waiting for a break between the huddled mass of people, Ada exhaled deeply and willed herself to relax.

“God! for a moment I thought I’d lost you to some avant‑garde painter in there!”

“Well, to tell you the truth, I think I belong in Rubens’ era.”

He twined her arm over his, bent close to her face. “Don’t you find something alive in the turn‑of‑the‑century artists? Like an expression of dissatisfaction with the status‑quo?”

She sucked in a deep breath, vainly searching for an answer. She could only reply with the truth. “I’m afraid that you have gone beyond my simple understanding of art. I liked maybe two of those hundreds of paintings.”

That seemed to have pleased him as he hugged her arm to him. “Well, my dear, perhaps you are the discriminating sort of connoisseur.”

They were strolling along the sidewalk, arm in arm. His arm felt solid and strong beneath his uniform.

They passed by the Hutchinson Wing. Kyle stopped. “Shall we eat lunch at the garden restaurant?”

The sun shone brightly; there were smiling faces all around. “That would be lovely.” Ada smiled and upon being seated, discreetly slipped out of her shoes.

Kyle wiped his face with the linen napkin and set it beside his plate. “Would you like to walk up Burnham Park?”

Ada raised her index finger. The moments were slipping by too fast. “One more cup of coffee, please.”

The waiter appeared at her elbow. He poured coffee and cleared away the plates.

“We’d better take the car.” Kyle had evidently spied her shoes off. “I must remember we’re not on a company hike.”

Ada worked her shoes around so that she could stuff her swollen feet into them. She was glad to get back to the car and savored the respite before they started walking up 56th Street. They were drifting together in their silence.

Kyle halted, easing her hand into his. “Look, Ada, the park has rowboats. Are you game for a short glide upon the lake?”

Laughing, she nodded, picking up the tempo of their walk. As she stood aside while Kyle arranged for the small, wooden boat, shivers raced up her spine. She frowned down at her new dress. She would have to step carefully and seat herself prudently.

She caught the strains of someone lowly humming “In the Good Ole Summertime,” and looked to see it was Kyle. He had extended his arm for her. Grinning, she exaggerated her movements, throwing her head high as if adorned with a wide‑brimmed hat and arranging her make‑believe parasol.

Wordlessly they positioned themselves. Ada found herself charmed by this man. But, perhaps she had made this outing into something more promising than it actually was.

“Dark thoughts crease the brow of my lady.” Kyle set the oars so that the boat flowed effortlessly in the water along a straight path.

“I was thinking of Rodger. Sometimes I feel like I’ve lost him, that I only know the boy and not the man.” Had she said too much? Perhaps she assumed that he knew Rodger better than he did.

Kyle looked at her intently. “I thought it awfully curious that he would ask you to take in those foreigners. It seems a bit much. Or is it?”

He had gotten to the core of her concern.

“No, not entirely. Rodger can trust me. He knows that I will love that Chinese man and his daughter simply because he does. I don’t know if I’m flattered or what.” She burst out suddenly, “But I know that I am confused.”

She had said too much. Kyle looked long and with knitted eyebrows at her.

“I don’t what it is, but I can’t make myself clean up the bedrooms.”

“Are you jealous?” Kyle arched an eyebrow. “You haven’t had to share so much of Rodger’s affection before.”

Ada looked at him, horrified. How would he know so much about her relationship with Rodger except through Madeline?

Kyle leaned forward, his eyebrows knitted together. “I didn’t mean to be presumptuous, Ada. Rodger told me you were more a mother to him in a lot of ways than Madeline.” He picked up the oars and began to row. “I’m not making a judgment on Maddie, but there is no love lost between the two of them.”

The three of them. The thought flashed through Ada’s head, along with instantaneous guilt. She blushed. Tears welled up in her eyes, so that she averted her face from Kyle, looking toward the shoreline where the children played.

She struggled to keep the tears out of her voice. “Maddie had her hands full with the babies. She found Rodger a difficult child.” She gestured to the mothers and children on shore. “It was lucky for us all that I lived next door.”

“Lucky indeed for Rodger. It is too bad that he and John had a falling out. John thinks it’s over that incident with the Cajun man, Big Red.”

Ada was taken aback. These little facts so innocently spoken were like great waves upending her. Maybe Fate sandwiched messages in chance meetings.

She forced herself to meet Kyle’s penetrating stare. Coolly, she managed, “I’m sure it isn’t about that.” Kyle shrugged, waiting for her to continue. “Perhaps it has more to do with John’s guilt than Rodger’s indifference.”

Ada brushed her hand across her lap, wanting to get past this. “Rodger still writes home often enough. He’s trying to get leave to come home. I’ll drop a hint or two in my next letter that he might write more often to John.”

“Soon Ada.” Kyle heaved the oars, as if to emphasize his warning. “I don’t think John has time on his side.”

Anger rose in Ada, retorts tumbling one over the other. The doctors had been optimistic about John’s recovery. Everyone said he had begun to look like his old self. How could Kyle be so arrogant as to think he knew so much more than anyone else? But with a jolt, she realized Kyle had verbalized her innermost fear.

The sun, nesting behind a twilight cloud, burst forth, dazzling Ada. She placed a hand to shield her eyes, to no avail. It brought to mind Tiresis, the blind Greek soothsayer, the reluctant teller of truth. She leaned forward as Kyle steered the boat toward the shore.

“Have you noticed the gorgeous sunset?”

“Yes, but it’s merely landscape to compliment you.”

Ada blushed, conscious of his stare. She closed her eyes, imagining the pastel sky overhead. Ever so low came Kyle’s humming again. She could play his lady, if only for the night. It would be easy, should they lay the truth to one side and bare only their naked bodies. What would there be for them but a night walk through a graveyard of half‑dead desires?

She feared he was more than a man who sought gratification of his lust; he extracted something from those around him, though they be willing or not. Knowing this, she need not be his victim. But should he want more from her, oh! if he asked her a Tiresisian question! She would be bound to tell him the truth, ripping away the façade. Right now she could at least have this man, though he would not stay. It wasn’t that she didn’t need more from him, but she wouldn’t ask. Desire gnawed at her and, in his presence, grew to an overwhelming passion to have him.

She would fulfill a fantasy and be nothing more. For too many years she had used her memories to pad the sharp edges of reality. Indulging in memories was like sitting down before a banquet of waxed foods—-so appetizing, yet unable to satisfy one’s hunger. It might be a sin to indulge her carnal appetite, but right or wrong, she was starving.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Bully Dogs Chapter 9: A New Perspective

I felt like someone’s hands were around my throat, strangling me so I couldn’t tell Old Man Wessenfeld that I thought his dogs should be kept in the yard and not be allowed out to chase me every day to school. He still stood at the gate, and I still stood on his driveway, and we still stared at each other. I don’t know what would have happened if Mrs. Wessenfeld hadn’t come out just then.

“Why, isn’t it Frances Reed, Mary’s daughter? My, it’s been such a long time since I’ve seen you!” She stood on the bottom step of their porch, drying her hands on a dish towel.

“Hi, Mrs. Wessenfeld.” I felt somewhat embarrassed, like I should have explained why I hadn’t been around in a while, that I hadn’t joined the Girl Scouts this year, so I didn’t have to sell any cookies. Instead, I shifted from foot to foot, watching the dogs dance around her, whining like dogs do for attention.

“George, open the gate for Frances so that she can come inside. I’ve just made some fresh lemonade and have an extra cold glass on hand. Come along and let’s chat for a spell.”

I was terrified when Mr. Wessenfeld unlatched the gate and it swung open. The dogs, yipping and scuffling, made a dash for me. I braced myself, expecting to be eaten alive.

The Lab plowed into my legs, just about knocking me to the ground. The cocker spaniel sniffed my shoes, while the golden retriever nudged my hand, as if to make me pet him.

“You see, young lady,” Mr. Wessenfeld adjusted his thick, black-framed glasses, while pointing to each dog, “Aramis, Porthos, and Athos won’t hurt you.”

I looked right at Mr. Wessenfeld. He might have thought highly of his precious pets, but I certainly didn’t. And I didn’t think much of their names coming from such noble characters. “The Three Musketeers? You can’t be serious!”

“My goodness, no!” chirped Mrs. Wessenfeld, flipping the dish towel over her shoulder. “I really think they’re more like the Three Stooges!”

That certainly fit the image I had of them lined up at the fence, looking kind of goofy. I started giggling, which made them even more playful around me, so much so that I couldn’t move without pushing them out of the way as I walked. Finally, I just stopped and petted each one, keeping my face away from the flapping tongue of the big, black Lab, Aramis, as he tried to lick me. Porthos, the cocker spaniel, brought over a ball, which I threw, and all three dashed for it, leaving me just enough time to scoot by Mr. Wessenfeld and through the front door where I met Mrs. Wessenfeld. She handed me a glass of iced lemonade.

I almost sucked it all down, but I remembered how annoyed my mom got with me when I did that, so I took about four gulps to finish it. I gave Mrs. Wessenfeld back the glass. “Thank you.”

“Come into the kitchen and I’ll pour you and George another glass.”

Mr. Wessenfeld followed me as I followed Mrs. Wessenfeld. I was reminded of a scene from Heidi, probably because of the happy feeling I got when I walked into the sunny kitchen with big windows lined in planters of blooming marigolds, pansies, and impatiens and home-baked bread right out of the oven.

“Wednesday’s baking day for me. I’ll send you home with a loaf.” Mrs. Wessenfeld dusted off a loaf of white bread, sprinkling crumbs along the counter, and then turned around. She sort of chuckled, her hands on her hips, her face soft with a big smile. “I can’t get out of the habit of making enough to feed a family of six, although it’s just George and I nowadays.” She tilted her head, her eyes twinkling. “If you don’t count the dogs, that is. And they’re just like children in a lot of ways, but we don’t let them eat at our table.”

I thought she was funny and warm and kind. She looked a whole lot different than my granny, taller and plumper, but she felt like the kind of grandmother every kid would like to have. I didn’t know much about grandfathers, but I just couldn’t imagine why she had married such an old grouch like George. However, I didn’t say anything about that. “I came over to ask if you’d keep the Three Musketeers in the yard on school mornings. They chase me, sometimes all the way to Saint Mary’s.”

Mr. Wessenfeld sat down in a bar stool at the far end of the kitchen counter, laying his book cover up so that I sneaked a peek at the title, Mything Persons. It took me totally by surprise that he, of all people, would be interested in a science fantasy book, especially a series that dealt with magicians, dragons, and demons and had puns for chapter headings. For a moment, I forgot that I didn’t like Mr. Wessenfeld.

“Did you know that Mything books are a whole series?” I sort of blurted it out, catching Mr. Wessenfeld off guard. He jerked upright in his seat, picked up the book, looked at the cover, then me.

“Didn’t give it much thought. My grandson gave me some books to read when I was in the hospital, and I’m just getting around to this one.”

“You should read them in sequence, you know. It makes more sense that way, and you can keep track of all the new characters and past events,” I pointed out logically enough.

He looked at me like I had spoken about an R-rated movie that a kid shouldn’t know anything about. “So you say.”

I thought it too bad Mrs. Wessenfeld had to live with such a grump. She crunched foil around the loaf of bread and set it in front of me where I stood by the end of the counter. “Now, don’t forget to take this home, Fran. You must read a lot; you seem to know so much about books.” Her voice had a nice lilt to it as she spoke.

“Oh, yeah, I do.” I nodded, working an end of pinched foil back and forth. “Eight, nine books in a week. Sometimes more, especially in the summer, if my mom doesn’t have chores for me to do.”
“Goodness! You and George! You two should have a lot to talk about! He reads all the time, more now that he’s recuperating from his stroke. Pretty soon, though, he’ll be back to his routine and exercising the dogs regularly.” She stopped and tapped her finger alongside of her face. “Oh, that’s right, you’ve come to talk about a problem with our intrepid trio.”

Mr. Wessenfeld interrupted her. “I don’t see she has one. The dogs won’t bother her now that they know her.” He almost smiled at me, I thought.

I hadn’t thought of that. It seemed I didn’t have a problem, anymore. I also didn’t have anything else to say.

Mrs. Wessenfeld steepled her fingers, pressing them against her lips, as if she was lost for a moment in her thoughts, before she spoke. “Fran, I just thought of something.” She paused and looked at me.
I knew that adult-look, and it gave me the shivers. I was being sized up by Mrs. Wessenfeld, but I was curious to know what her scheme was all about.

“Do you think your parents would let you have a part-time job after school?” She arched an eyebrow, knowing full well she’d snagged my attention. “If you would like a job, how about exercising the dogs on leashes?”

“You know,” Mr. Wessenfeld cleared his throat, “it’d be like you were the caboose behind the
steam engine.”

I liked that, the way he put it. I’d probably still huff and puff, but at least I’d get paid for it, and I’d be running behind the bully dogs instead of in front of them. Although, now, it was kind of hard to think of the Three Musketeers as mean. Really, they were only silly dogs that needed to let off some energy.

“I’m sure my mom wouldn’t mind if I did it after school. Except for Tuesdays, and I could do it later, after my piano lesson.”

Mr. Wessenfeld made a sour face, which made him look sort of like a dried-out apple. “Why is it all children take piano lessons? It’s not the only instrument worth playing.”

Mrs. Wessenfeld clucked her tongue. “Don’t mind George. He’s played the trumpet since he was nine but couldn’t get one of our four kids interested. But he still plays in a quartet at least once a month at the Elks.”

I mean, could you believe this? I sort of laughed and shook my head. “I play the trumpet, too. Miss Kray says I’ll make first chair before school’s out, the first time a girl’s done that!” I know it sounded like bragging, but it was the truth.

“Well,” groused Mr. Wessenfeld, “you have more sense than any of my own children or grandchildren. But I like you anyway.” He waited to see if I’d laugh, which I didn’t. But I smiled.
“You have any of Asprin’s other books?” he asked, rather nicely for him, I thought.

“Yeah!” I nodded, so hard I almost gave myself whiplash. “I’ve got the whole series.”

He stood up, book in hand, and started walking towards what looked like his den. “Tell you what,
Franny old girl. Bring me the first two, and maybe we can trade some books from library. Deal?”

“Deal, Mr. Wessenfeld.” I scooped up the still-warm loaf of bread, matching smiles with Mrs. Wessenfeld. “Thanks. I’ll ask my mom about walking the dogs and let you know.”

She walked me to the door, where three wet noses instantly appeared in the opening. “Or just come by after school tomorrow,” she suggested.

When I stepped outside, I immediately became tangled up in wanna-be playmates. I kept the bread high over my head as I made my way to the gate, stopping to scratch first Athos behind the ear, then Porthos, and giving an extra minute to Aramis because he laid his big, black head in my hand with a huge, contented sigh before he let me go on my way.