Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Shame on You!

It is interesting to me how in one week I have read two articles, extreme in opposite of content; one about shaming children on social media, by Robbyn Peters Bennett in the Sunday, August 23, 2015, edition of Seattle Times and another from the writer Susan Sontag’s journal, “Don’t Reprimand Him Harshly", published in the July/August 2015 issue of Reader’s Digest. Both articles speak to parenting skills; one highlights the most damaging form of discipline, public shaming by bully parents, the other, a mother’s eleven commandments on how to discipline her son, while respecting his personhood.

My favorite from Susan Sontag is number one: “Be consistent.” I had an informal discussion with a group of women who were mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, and unanimously all agreed that consistency was foremost in establishing authority with children. That is a concept easy to put down into words but hard to achieve. But, oh so necessary to establish a parent/child relationship. Not only are daily routines important for the child, but for the parent as well, to create boundaries and develop skills for children to learn to live in the world within and outside of the home.

The other question I had put forth to the group of women was, “How did you cope with temper tantrums?” An angry child in the throes of a fit can trigger hurtful words or harsh punishment from a caregiver. Children under the age of three are the most vulnerable for child abuse; this is the age when children have a compelling need to become independent, but no skills to negotiate. A parent often times ends up in an escalating war of words and wills; frustrated beyond endurance. You find yourself in a situation where you have lost authority and how do you re-establish it?

It is a critical time to show by example how to deal with a negative situation. In the best scenario, this is without resorting to physical punishment. In one instance a parent, pressed for time, had gotten into a habit of yelling at her child to turn the TV off, get your shoes on, let’s go! One day, after the threats did not work, the tantrum began when the TV was turned off, the parent stopped screaming back and said simply, “I am taking this mad and throwing it out the door. I don’t want to be mad at you.” She opened and shut the front door; took a step back. Her child did the same, with a little bit more drama. In that moment, both parent and child learned a coping skill; not always effective, but a stepping stone to better communications in a softer voice, and it broke a habit of negative interaction.

Another parent told of the nightly battle of the bath. One night the father simply scooped the child up, clothes and all, and both of them took a shower. Messy but efficacious. You do not have to give in to your child’s demands, nor use physical punishment to discipline a child to change the behavior.

Most of us agreed that the best and hardest thing to do is walk away (making sure the child is in a safe spot) and leave the erupting child to fizzle out; and always speak in a low voice, never labeling a child with words like ‘stupid’, ‘brat’, ‘disgusting’; it is the behavior you do not like, not the child. That is a big distinction, especially for older children, and basically anyone. I am not going to listen to you when you don’t like me.

There is a fine line between parental authority and bullying; shaming a child publicly crosses that line. The worst crime committed is when the parent uses shame as a weapon of choice and the worst example I can think of a bully is the parent posting a ‘shaming the kid’ on social media. Public shaming is not a new tactic, but posting it on the internet is condemning someone to a lifetime sentence; anyone posted on social media is there forever.

Shaming is wrong in any form, but especially in front of others; it is physiologically damaging and physically painful for anyone to feel the toxic effects of shame. One parent’s posting on YouTube drove a thirteen-year-old girl to suicide when her father made a video of cutting her “beautiful” hair off and scolding her. It is not cute, it is not funny, it is not effective. Perhaps the young girl knew better than her parents that what they had done is make her shame visible for the rest of her life—and the only way out for her was to have no life.

Our role as parents is to protect our children; our children should not need to be protected from us. Posting an image of shaming a child breaks a fragile line of trust between parent and child, and the consequences can be everlasting. In an interview with Michael Shaughnessy in 2010 for, we discussed cyberbullying, and the consequences of posting inappropriate text and pictures that cannot be deleted. That compromised image of your child being shamed and posted on the internet stays in cyberspace forever—and can be seen by a college recruiter, a potential employer, or anyone doing a search for information on your child.

The whole thing about raising children is ensure they get to adulthood with skills to live on their own. So, it is by example that parents and caregivers show children how to behave and cope with the process of living. If you show respect for yourself and others, your child will know respect; if you disregard another’s feelings, especially
with bully tactics, you will teach your child to be a bully. And that child will teach his or her children to be bullies….on and on and on….

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Forcing the Hand of God: Chapter 17 (part 2)

“Did you talk with your mother?” she murmured. Aunt Carrie dipped her shoulder, turning slightly to look pointedly at Rodger, ignoring Adele.

“Yeah.” Adele entwined her hand with his. “She’s glad to have me home.”

Adele stared hard at him, pinching his hand. “You have such charm, sometimes.”

“Always.” He winked at her.

Madeline glided to the couch and dropped the four small boxes into Rodger’s lap. Then she went to the liquor cabinet and poured herself a brandy.

Carrie stopped in mid‑sentence. Kyle nodded and smiled at Madeline and walked over to her. He clinked Madeline’s glass, and Adele cupped her hand around Rodger’s glass as he held it up.

“A toast to the homecoming.”

Carrie pointed to the boxes. Rodger ignored her and scooped them into his hand. Adele nudged him gently. “We must be off. Rodger hasn’t seen our new house yet and I have an early doctor’s appointment.”

Rodger dropped the boxes with the medals into a pocket as Adele helped him into his coat. Then he went to Kyle and thrust out his hand. “Buy you a beer tomorrow night.”

Releasing Rodger’s hand, Kyle downed the last of his drink. “Looking forward to it, son.”

Rodger strode over to Madeline and draped an arm around her shoulders.

“We’ll stop by sometime tomorrow.” He hesitated, then kissed her cheek. “And thanks, Mother.”

Madeline’s shoulders sagged; she said nothing, giving him a sad, half-smile.

Carrie elbowed Adele out of the way. Rodger noticed how broad the older woman’s back was, the flowered print dress with the rolls of fat bulging like sausages. Even Aunt Carrie’s shoes splayed out from fat feet. In contrast, Adele in her straining maternity top still seemed lithe and tall, simply an adjusted version of her former self.

Aunt Carrie gripped Rodger’s arm. “I do hope we’ll have a chance to talk tomorrow.”

“Certainly.” Rodger gave her a brisk nod. Laying his hand under Adele’s arm, he escorted her out the door.

“She is such a bitch,” muttered Adele. “Carrie’s done nothing but harp about all the things that weren’t done right by your father.”

“Well, as long as I’m here, the heat’s off you.” Rodger slowed his step to accommodate his wife. “We’ve other things to think about.”

Adele entwined her arm though his and crooned softly,
When I look into your eyes,
I see my world anew,
When I look into your eyes
I fall in love with you.
Words will take us back
To that night I looked into your eyes
And fell in love with you.
Speechless, Rodger stopped and, pressing his face close to hers, looked at Adele for a moment before he could stammer, “Did you compose that? For me?”

“Well,” she blushed and tugged on his arm, taking a step, “yes.”

He felt like a schoolboy with his first love, shy and so much in love that he feared he might do or say something stupid and ruin it. He hugged Adele to him, matching his steps to hers.

Adele gasped. “Oh!”

Rodger pulled up in alarm.

She panted. “Just a stitch. It’s not labor.”

“Maybe I should take the car tonight.”

“No, no, it’s only another block home. You can get it in the morning.”

Rodger felt awkward around this woman at once familiar yet transformed. Still, a wave of tenderness for her washed over him as they strolled along, holding hands, up to the gate of their house. He felt in love with her all over again as she unlocked their front door and walked about the house.

“Nice job on the house.” He walked from room to room. “I like it.”

“Ada helped me.” Adele grabbed him by the hand and pulled him along the hallway into the bedroom. “I guess I should say, a lot of people helped.”

“I’m glad you and Ada are good friends. I knew you would be.” Rodger smiled as Adele stripped him of his coat, shirt, then unbuckled his pants. He kissed her neck. “Just remember I’m not used to sleeping with anyone, so I may hog the whole bed.”

“We’ll hog each other,” Adele kissed and bit his neck, then gave him a shove onto the bed. She climbed in beside him.

After a tense and serious moment of trying to find each other over Adele’s bulk, they burst into laughter. Adele purred as Rodger stroked and explored her new form. She came to him. He relished her loving hands over his body, her kisses deep and binding. He let himself fall into her, and she into him. And between them, the baby. Their baby.

As Adele’s breathing became more rhythmic, Rodger eased his hand out of her fist. So many ways to love. So many different loves. Adele sighed. Rodger scrunched the pillow beneath his head and lay thinking of his father most of the night.

Shafts of morning light filtered through the blinds. When Rodger woke with a start to the banging of pots and pans, it had to mean Adele was up and about.

Rodger sprang out of bed, only to be cut short by painful stiffness in his shoulder. He massaged his neck on his way into the sunny, small kitchen.

“Aren’t you the busy one! Adele, it’s only six in the morning! Are you all right?”

“Yes, it just takes me so long to do anything. If you are to have any breakfast, I have to start early.”
Rodger groaned inwardly. Breakfast, ugh.

“Wonderful.” Stacked pancakes, afloat in butter, with a pitcher of syrup beside his plate, awaited him. He sat down before them and pushed his fork in the middle. “What time do you have to be there?” He swallowed whole, unchewed bites.

“Nine.” Adele sipped on orange juice. “First patient of the day.”

“I’d better get on over to Mother’s for the car.” He bolted from the table, pushing the plate with half‑eaten food onto the kitchen counter. He shaved, wrestled the toothbrush and powder, washed and dressed in a clean uniform.

“Adele! Could you help me tie my shoes?”

She waddled in the bedroom and he regretted asking. He lay back on the bed and stuck his foot in the air, nose level, making Adele giggle as she grabbed his foot.

“You’re rather vulnerable, my dear man.”

“You better not play with me, woman, or we’ll miss your appointment.”

She stuck her tongue out at him and plopped onto the bed, cradling his foot, tying the shoelaces. She motioned for his other foot.

“There, now go and let me finish getting ready myself.” She leaned over and kissed him fully on the mouth before pushing him out into the hallway.

He stopped at the front door. “Maybe I’ll ask Ada to borrow her Chevy.”

“No, Rodger. Your mother is counting on you to use hers.” Adele popped her head around the corner of the hall door; her tone was firm and unyielding. “Don’t make it a contest between them to see which one you’ll choose. It wouldn’t be fair to either your mother or Ada.”

Rodger sprinted the two and a half blocks to his mother’s house. He let himself inside and listened for anyone about but found no one up yet. He quickly found the keys hanging in their old spot next to the back door and scooped them up, hurrying out to the garage where his knapsack rested against the door. He grunted as he grabbed the handle of the garage door and swung it up. He pitched his knapsack into the trunk, then jumped into the driver’s seat, gunned the engine and backed the car out, leaving it idling while he dropped the garage door back down. He zipped along, enjoying the feel of being behind the wheel. He parked and waited beside the front door for Adele.

“Allow me.”

He offered his arm and hustled her to the car, seated her and got inside, rapping his fingers anxiously on the steering wheel while she nestled into the seat. He almost forgot about her as he accelerated along the main street.

“Don’t speed, honey. We’re there,” Adele pointed to the white wooden older house converted into a professional office, with the bold, black-lettered “Dr. Adams, General Practitioner” across the front of the door.

Everything took so much time. Rodger found himself wanting to shove Adele in and out of the car, through doors, into the doctor’s office. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Waiting in the waiting room. Nice office, though with comfortable wooden chairs lined neatly against the wall across from the receptionist. Not much to look at there. He twisted his chair to look out the window and stared at Old Man Jenkins’ place, trapped in childhood memories.

Down this street, to the corner of Main and Melrose, he had gotten into his first childhood fight at eleven years old on a hot, sunny August morning. He had been walking with his dad to the Longhorn Bank, trying to tell him about what his mother had done to him, making him wear a diaper the whole day.

“Son, we’ll talk about this after work, I promise. I have to open the tellers’ boxes.”

“Oh, sure dad,” Rodger had said with a shrug and waved his dad good-bye.

He had raced back to the corner of the street where his gang would be. He’d suggest they all go fishing.

Two bigger boys were standing by his best friend Tommy. Three other friends stood apart, glancing up and down the sidewalk, waiting for Rodger.

Even now, remembering, Rodger’s neck muscles tensed. No one had smiled. As Rodger came closer, he made out the faces of the two twelve-year-olds, Mike and Bobby. They turned to face him.

“Where’s your diaper today, little baby?”

Rodger looked at Tommy, wanting his best friend to move out of the circle. But Tommy didn’t move. He didn’t look at Rodger either.

“We don’t want babies slowing us down. So run along home, sonny, and play in your play pen.” Mike and Bobby laughed. The taller one, Mike, pretended to cradle a baby in his arms. He pantomimed throwing the imaginary child up in the air and then catching it. On the third toss, he let it fall.

“Say, Rodger, could we borrow your diaper to clean up this mess?”

His body had turned to lead. He couldn’t move. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears and feel his palms sweat. At least Tommy hadn’t laughed.

The other three were wide‑eyed, with stupid grins across their faces. So much for friendship.

“Say Rodger, do you get a bottle or something better?” At this, Mike pantomimed unbuttoning a blouse and pulling out a breast.

Bobby pursed his lips, cooing loudly, “Momma, momma, hummm, good.”

The thought of being smothered in his mother’s arms infuriated him. He could see her as she squashed his baby sister against her. His face flushed in mad‑red splotches. Heat burned through his body, dissolving the numbness.

Before Mike could say anything more, Rodger jumped at him, swinging his arm wide. He missed Mike’s face, but hit him on the shoulder. Unprepared for a fight, Mike took the second punch square in the stomach. Bobby didn’t move. When Rodger went for him, he turned his shoulder, butting Rodger off balance. Then Bobby clobbered Rodger with his right fist.

Rodger thudded on the sidewalk, scraping his elbow. Mike stepped toward him, but Rodger rolled out of the way of a kick. He sprang up and went for Mike, but Bobby shoved him in mid‑flight, sending him sprawling again on the concrete. As he got to his feet, knuckles mashed into his nose. The pain splayed outward, washing his eyes in greens and reds.

Whoosh! came a fist into his stomach. He recovered enough to shield his face from the onslaught of rock‑hard hands. Then he lowered his head and rammed blindly into one of them, grabbing him about the waist. Together they landed on the ground, holding desperately to one another, rolling over and over, each pushing and clawing at the other to gain the advantage. Rodger jabbed his elbow hard into flesh before being pulled off and kicked in the side.

Winded and unable to move, he figured he had had it then and lay waiting for more painful blows. But none came. A strange voice drifted around his aching head. He turned over and squinted up to see the face of Mr. Jenkins.

Mike jerked his arm free of the old man, glowering at Rodger. “I’ll take care of you another day, little baby.” Mike backed away, scowling as Bobby turned and crossed the street.

The doctor’s office began to fill with mothers and small children. One little boy, fast on his feet, darted about the room, flinging magazines on the floor. His mother corralled him, yanking him by the arm into a seat.

“Sit right there, young man,” she commanded, handing him an opened picture book and pointing. “Here, why don’t you look at this? See the pretty pictures?”

The fidgeting youngster shook his head and sprung the pin on his diaper.

“No want.”

His mother slapped his hand, making him howl.

Rodger turned away from them and searched for the vacant lot he remembered as a kid. A house with a big, green front lawn stood there, now. It hadn’t been like that the day of the fight.

Rodger had eased himself up onto his feet, brushing vainly at the dirt‑clotted blood on his knees.
“Rodger Brown! You could git yourself killed by such foolish acts.” The old man peered steadily at Rodger. “You better learn to box before you take on someone twice your size. You git yourself on home and let your mother tend you.”

“I’m all right.”

The blood still dribbled from his nose, tasting salty on his lips. His body tingled and stung all over.
Retreating into his house, the old man shooed them away, “You boys git along home now.”

Rodger stood against the others, staring them down.

Tommy finally blinked. He moved from one foot to the other. “Uh, do you still wanna go see Tom Mix in Galloping Herds today?”

“After lunch. Meet me back here at one.”

The others stirred, yet would not go. Tommy moved closer to Rodger. “You better do something about your nose. It’s still bleeding, Rodg.”

Rodger wiped his hand across his mouth, shaken by the streak of bright red blood. He felt sick. He couldn’t go home like this. His mother would get hysterical. His pants were ruined. She’d hate the mess.

Rodger walked over to a vacant lot, where a worn-out, abandoned shack still stood. He went around back, where once a porch had been, sat heavily against a broken step, and picked at his elbow. His nose throbbed, and he winced as he scraped at the encrusted blood. He played his finger in the trickling wetness of his own blood. His left eye twitched spasmodically.

He sat a while, absently watching the passing clouds, chasing one another across the sky. Even though he ached all over and was sure to be in a mess of trouble, he was proud of himself.

Miss Ada. That was it! She’d been swell about having him spend the night with her, and giving him the underwear. Rodger could still imagine the diaper lying upon the navy and red striped bedspread of Ada’s extra bedroom. It had been her son’s bedroom.

Funny, she didn’t seem like a lady that once had a kid. She certainly wasn’t like his mother. Miss Ada would never make an eleven-year-old kid wear a diaper. Bloodied and bruised, he’d gone to Ada’s house. Ada hadn’t winced at the sight of him. She’d cleansed the wounds and mended his pants. He had loved her more that day than anyone else, ever.

“Mrs. Berkeley, you and James can see the doctor now,” the nurse called, snagging Rodger from his reverie. He laughed softly, causing the receptionist to look up at him. He arched his eyebrows, wiggling them until the wizened old lady looked down again at her books, and his thoughts returned to the most unforgettable days of his life.

He had met Big Red the next day after having met Ada.

At lunch time he’d gone and waited by the back door of the bank for his father to leave. First thing his dad had said was, “Are you in trouble with your mother?”

He had explained in detail about the fight with Mike and Bobby because of the diaper. He mentioned how Miss Ada had helped him.

“You mean to tell me your mother put a diaper on you and made you play outside?” Although his father had looked steadily at him, his mouth was set in a way that let anyone know not to fool with him. Rodger watched him as he tapped his teeth with his right index finger; it always meant his dad would come up with a really good solution.

“That diaper might be a blessing in disguise, son. Come along, I’ll introduce you to a good friend of mine.”

And what a good friend Big Red had turned out to be. Seven years of training and boxing. Made him into a Golden Gloves champion. If only there was a way to get in touch with Big Red, tell him about Adele, the baby, and his Army career.

Rodger jingled the change in his pocket then found the ivory bead that Mary Elizabeth had given him. He played with it. He checked his watch again. What could possibly take Adele so long? Rodger picked up a magazine and thumbed through it, not settling on any one article.

The little boy whizzed around in a circle, touching every chair as he passed. He stopped before Rodger, smiling. Rodger tried to ignore him. Other mothers in the room regarded the child with tolerant smiles. The little boy laid his hand softly on Rodger’s knee. The boy’s mother jumped up.

“Don’t bother the man, Nathan.” She jerked at his arm. “Sorry, but all he has ever seen is a picture of his father in uniform.”

Rodger nodded and surveyed the room. The doctor’s office reminded him of his elementary school classrooms. Cramped. Never enough chairs for everyone.

He snapped his gum. The receptionist scowled at him.

Adele appeared at the doorway, Dr. Adams behind her.

Doc Adams still looked the same. Rodger remembered him from the days he had been ringside and had laid a few heavy bets on a smoker or two. Rodger had made him some money.

Adele plodded out to the chair next to his and sat.

“Your turn. The ‘new father’ lecture.”

“Do I —?”

“Yes. The sooner done, sooner over.” She gestured to the door.

As Rodger went into the door, he collided with little Nathan. He stopped, put his hand on the child’s head, and pushed him away.

“You’d be a great boxer some day, kid. Use all that energy up.”

The little boy did not make a sound, just stood and watched him. He was fiddling with the pin on the other side of his diaper and popped that one. The diaper dangled. Rodger laughed, turning into the doctor’s office.

The doctor, a small man with a face straight out of a leather‑bound text book, sat hunched over papers at his desk.

“Sit down, Rodger.” His eyebrows shot up in approval. “Colonel Brown.” He waited. “Do any boxing in the Army?”

Rodger crossed his arms. “Some. Mostly against Navy. Won a few, lost a few.”

Framed degrees littered the wall. Mahogany paneling made the room dark like a dungeon. A headless, grotesque mannequin, sliced through the stomach to reveal a fetus nestled in the womb, squatted on top of a mountain of ragged‑edged journals.

The doctor pushed aside his papers and leaned back in his chair. “There may be complications with Mrs. Brown’s pregnancy. I can’t find a heartbeat.” He raised his hand. “It may not mean anything. Or, it may mean the baby’s stillborn.” His lined face hardened. “Mrs. Brown will go into a normal labor. Best not to say anything to her.”

“What the hell!” Rodger sat on the edge of the chair. “You mean the baby could be dead?”

“Could be. I don’t know for sure.”

“And she doesn’t know it?” Rodger pointed behind him. His stomach roiled.

“No. And there’s no reason for her to know. Yet.” The doctor laced his fingers in front of him. “Colonel, there are some things that only God knows for sure.”

“Is Adele going to be all right? Or does only God know that, too?”

“There’s no need to get belligerent, Rodger. Your wife should be all right. There’s no good explanation why these things happen; sometimes they just do.”

Rodger clenched and unclenched his fists. “That’s it? That’s all you can say?” He jumped to his feet. “That’s a hell of a note, Doctor. In other words, we play it as it comes.”

“Exactly. I would hope you would be with her at all times. Except during the delivery.”

“I should be with her then.”

“Not done, Colonel.”

Rodger hissed. “Make me an exception to the rule.”

The doctor shook his head. “Hospital regulations. You understand.”

“Yeah, I understand.” Rodger just caught the door from slamming on his way out deciding not to antagonize the old man.

Adele’s beatific smile as she gazed on a mother holding a sleeping infant transfixed Rodger until she saw him.

“Were you appropriately new-fatherish for Dr. Adams?”

He helped her up. “I’m the best new father in town. Just ask him.” He guided her into the front seat of the car. “I’m going to drop you off at Mother’s for a while. I want to go to the cemetery.”

“I could be with you.”

“I need to be alone.”

He felt all of the unspoken love between them as they drove up to his mother’s house. Adele squeezed his arm. “I’ll be nice to your aunt. I hope I can have some time with Kyle.”

“He’ll arrange it.” Rodger opened the gate for her.

“I can manage it from here.” She threw out her chest, making herself even larger. “I’m invincible!”

As he drove off, he thought of Adele. Strong enough to take on the live ones. He gripped the steering wheel until his hands hurt.

He’d take on the dead ones.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

YNK (You Never Know): Chapter 7 - IMHO (In My Humble Opinion)

“Oh, Fran! Guess what?” Dusty talks so fast I could hardly guess what she is saying. “We’ve been asked to give our presentation at the All Schools Festival Saturday!”

I am just as caught up in her excitement. “Dusty, that is like hundreds of people!”

“I know! This is so awesome!”

I instant message Annie. She IMs back she knows about it: Brian, Collin, Justin, and Timothy will be the featured first act.

Back to Dusty, I say, “Are we going to take a bus to the university?” I just cannot picture us in our togas on the bus, targets for the badgers.

Annie texts me: cn’t b thr mall rats. Which means she is going shopping.

Dusty has slowed her speech down to normal. “No, parents can come, too. Tho, I think my Mom may not be able to stay for the whole thing. Do you think your Mom can pick us after the reception?”

I put my celly down and holler, “Mom!”

She doesn’t answer me. “I’ll call you back, Dusty. Bye.”

Mom is right next door to my room in the computer room. I stare at her for a whole minute. “Mo-m! Can you take me and Dusty to the university for the festival?”

She ignores me. “Mom? Anybody there?”

She finishes typing and turns to me. “I am not going to respond to you yelling at me, Fran. Show a little respect.”

Sheesh, what a frumpy grump. I go to her and tickle her ear. “Dusty and I have been invited next Saturday to the All Schools Festival to do our little toga thing.”

“Well,” she laughs and slaps my hand away, “I guess I could.”

So it is arranged. “Dusty, we won’t have to be on the bus with the badgers.”

Dusty and I squeeze in a rehearsal during the week, making Dean sit through it and critique us. Mrs. Connor offered some advice, too, about speaking to the audience and making eye contact.

“I have math and science finals. Boy, I’ll be glad to have this week done!”

Dean and I simultaneously turn to wave good-bye to Dusty.

“Yeah, me too. M-m-my Dad says he’ll take me to Montana for a fishing and camping trip if I get good grades.”

“No-brainer! You and Dusty have straight A’s!”


“One B. But it sure helped to ace Mrs. Hammershaw’s class!” We stop before we get to my front door. “See you at lunch.”

That adorable half-smile of his. “Bye.”

The week was frantic with cramming for science and English, but it helped to sit with Dean and Dusty and study during lunch, and review some during our walks home.

Saturday of the festival, the sun broke out in the blue sky, making me feel like God smiled on us. Our presentation went smoothly, lots of applause, but Brian and his badgers wowed the audience. Even I had to hand it to them they were extraordinary. They even looked good in their suits and ties.

Dusty and I changed into jeans and tees after the reception and met Dean outside. He walked between me and Dusty where we were to meet my mother, a block from the bus stop where Brian, Collin, Justin and Timothy were horsing around as the bus pulled to a stop. People poured from the metro, spilling around the guys. Justin craned his neck, caught sight of me and hollered, “Hi! Fran! Hey!”

I gave a little half wave, hoping that would be enough for him. Please, let that be their bus, I prayed silently. I turned my back to them and asked Dean how he thought we looked on stage.

“V—ve-very good. Course, I knew it by heart, so probably am not the best judge.”

“Can’t you just give a compliment, Dean?” Dusty playfully punched his shoulder. “We were awesome and you know it.”

Then profanity interrupted our conversation. Brian and the badgers were arguing with some unfriendly guys about something.

“Uh-oh, looks like it’s getting ugly,” Dusty pointed to the one mean looking dude with a skateboard yelling obscenities.

“I think porker met his match,” I had hoped that someone, some day, would come along and teach Brian a lesson, and maybe today was just that day.

In a flash, a skateboard whacked Collin upside his head. He slumped to the ground as the assailants fled. I gasped, holding my breath. I could not move a muscle. In the weirdest way, it seemed everyone had disappeared but Brian, Timothy, Justin, me, Dean and Dusty.

Dean ran. Dusty and I sort of grabbed each other and ran, too. Dean was kneeling beside Collin. Blood oozed down the side of his head, pooling around his ear.

“He’s not breathing!” Dean loosened Collin’s tie, then began CPR.

“Call 911!” he barked.

“They’re coming!” I yelled back.

I watched a thin red line of blood trickle out of Collin’s nose, edging around his upper lip, down his chin.

The operator kept saying, “Miss? Miss? Could you tell me your name?”

The insistent voice of the operator got my attention. I answered all her inane questions. I wondered if she could hear me, my heart beat so loudly. Finally, the police and ambulance and my mother showed up all at the same time. Or it seemed that way.

Brian, Timothy and Justin were talking with the police as the medics rushed to where Collin lay. I heard one of the medics tell Dean that he had done the right thing, probably saving Collin’s life.

Dusty and I gave lame descriptions of the assailants. The only thing I could remember about the one who had the skate board is that he wore a dark blue or black watchman’s hat. Other than that, I hadn’t seen his face for his scraggly hair.

We were pretty quiet on the ride home. Even my Mom had the good sense not ask how the presentation had gone.

“My backpack! I left it on the sidewalk!” I wailed.

“I did, too!” Dusty and I both looked back, like we might see our backpack with legs running after us.
“I got them,” my mother said. “Yours, too, Dean.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Reed.” Dean sort of melted back into the car seat and closed his eyes.

“Are you going to be sick?” whispered Dusty.

Dean shook his head ‘no’. Both Dusty and I sat in silence until we got home.

“What do you think is going to happen with Collin?” Dusty asked, to no one in particular.

My mother scanned us. “I’ll try to find out and let you know. Say a prayer for him.”

I gave Dean his backpack, then Dusty hers. “See you later.”

Before either one moved, I added, “Unless you want to go for a walk with me and the dogs.”

The Three Musketeers must have sensed what mood we were in, for they all were toned down about three octaves. The three of us each had one of them and we walked without talking.

I took Porthos’ leash from Dusty when got to her house. “Bye!”

She turned before going inside. “Fran, in spite of what happened today, I think we were great! And, Dean, nice move on the CPR.”

“Th-thanks. We should all take a class.”

“Yeah, good idea!” I said, and Dusty chimed in with her approval.

Dean and I walked back to the Wessenfeld’s discussing only what the dogs were doing, not doing, should be doing and of course, did.

“You know what was weird?” I opened the gate and let the dogs in as Dean followed and latched the gate. He helped unleash the dogs.


“The only thing I could hear was the slap-slap of my sandals as I was running. That’s all I can remember until the phone call to 911.”

Dean brushed his hand across my arm. “I’m going home now. Bye.”

“Bye.” Porthos torpedoed me just then and I had a moment of complete terror of knocking Dean down, but he caught me and steadied me.

For some reason, we both cracked up and couldn’t stop laughing. Finally, Dean let go of me, darn it! and gave me a sweet half-smile as he left.

When I got home, I checked my email. Nothing from Annie and she hadn’t texted me or answered her cell. I wanted to talk with her and tell her what had happened, wanted her to know what I know. Well, I hope that she’s having fun. I gave up and practiced the trumpet until dinner.

Nothing from Annie Sunday. Mom talked with Collin’s aunt at church and found out that he was in a coma. I felt like I was in limbo.

Monday morning I got to school early for music practice. Outside by the main doors, I saw Marcy and her fan club. I had just about gotten past Marcy without her noticing me, but she looked up with a twisted smirk. “Hey, Fran! Heard about Annie?”

My stomach cinched and it hurt to breath. I was so afraid to hear what she was going to say.

“She got busted for shoplifting.”

A thousand thoughts raced through my head. All I could do was hard stare Marcy. I had the presence of mind to walk away.

I didn’t see Annie at school for the next three days. Friday morning was our last day of finals and I had only my trumpet solo. Dean and Dusty and I walked together to school. We didn’t speak about the incident, except to tell what we knew about Collin’s condition, which hadn’t changed. I didn’t say anything about Annie, but of course, everyone knew.

Annie always came to school with Ursala and Sue to hook up with Marcy at least fifteen minutes before first bell. I thought it odd when I saw Annie climb out of her mother’s car.

Gad, she’d been shorn of all her hair! It was short. And it made her look like a little girl.

She bounded up the stairs to join the group. Marcy turned to her, with one scan and sniped, “Well, if it isn’t Saint Ann.” Then Marcy turned her back on Annie.

Poor Annie! Her shoulders slumped and she stared fixedly at the ground as she turned away.
“Annie!” I called out to her. “Come over here!”

She hesitated before she joined us. “You heard? I couldn’t call you, my Dad threw my celly in the trash. No computer, except for homework.” She wouldn’t look at me.

“Are you all right?” Dusty asked her, and I was surprised because I suspected Dusty didn’t like her much.

Annie didn’t say anything.

“Sit with us at lunch, Annie. We’ll talk about this.” I reached over and took her hand. “We’re your friends.”

It was a long morning until lunch. Annie stood at the end of the food line, staring over at Marcy and her mimes, before coming to our table. Dean scooted away from the middle, leaving a space for her to sit next to me.

She pushed around the mac-and-cheese with a fork. “Well, you might as well hear the whole story. I got busted in Target. A bottle of wine. Cops came. Called my mom and dad. They came. Had to go to the police station. See a counselor.” She speared a noodle and twisted it, over and over, without eating it. “It’s called the Diversion Program. I have to do community service and restitution. And community service hours for the school.” A tear slipped down her cheek. “My life is pretty much over.”

Dusty didn’t say anything right away but watched Annie for a minute. “Your life isn’t over, Annie. It seems to me you’re lucky to have gotten a second chance.”

“I can’t ever go back into any Target store, anywhere until I’m eighteen and my record is erased! Like, what is the big deal?! They’re like one of the biggest corporations in the world. It’s not like I hurt anyone. Oh, so lucky am I!”

Dean made a funny face. “Well, maybe you are lucky! Collin isn’t so.”

“You’re so not funny!” Annie throws her fork down. “What do you know, anyway?”

“Annie, please,” I grab her hand and hold it, “don’t get mad at us. We’re trying to lighten things up. It’s not the end of your life.” I’m thinking that it could have easily been the end of her life if she hadn’t thrown up the booze and pills. “How many hours of community service?”

“From today until the start of school. All summer. Every day, even Sundays, something with the church. No exceptions. No vacation.” She swallows hard. “My dad asked them to put one of those ankle monitors on me, you know, for alcohol. They wouldn’t do it.”

Dean doesn’t know anything about Annie’s family life. “Maybe he’s just trying to keep you sober.”
“Shut up!” Annie hisses.

I don’t know if I’m mad at him for saying that or not, but in a strange way, he’s right. “Annie, listen to me. Maybe this is your second chance, you know, to be someone you’d like to be. You know?”

“Et tu, Frantu?” She glares at me.

The bell clangs, ending our conversation. We all exchange quick glances before collecting our backpack. As Annie stands up, Marcy passes by, catches Annie’s attention, and makes an ‘L’ with her fingers on her forehead. Dusty picked up Annie’s lunch tray and took it away. Annie stood for an eternity with her hands dangling by her side before she finally snatched her backpack and hurried to class.

Dean walked beside me to my locker to get my trumpet. “Are you mad that I said that to Annie?”

I shrug. Then consider it. “No, friends tell each other the truth. Annie needs to hear the truth. Only,” I look at him for a long moment, “her dad isn’t the nicest guy in town.”

I’m next to the last one to present my piece. I’ve been thinking of Annie the whole time and my heart is heavy with mixed feelings of concern and dread. I play Call Me When You’re Sober with Annie in mind. I play the piece. I really play it.

The band instructor is impressed. How ironic. Let me use all this pain for an A, thank you, God.

Collin died the morning of the last day of school. The announcement was made at the awards assembly. His funeral is Saturday morning.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Forcing the Hand of God: Chapter 17 (part 1)

It had been a long week without any letters here at Tripler Hospital in Honolulu. He had to admit he had mixed feelings about going home on a medical leave; it meant time with Adele, but his airmen needed him back, too. He took a copy of Tarzan and the Ant Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs from his duffel bag and left the confines of his hospital room, making a beeline down the hall for the exit to the front lawn outside the gaudy pink building. He flicked his last cigarette butt and watched it skid along the concrete as he yanked out a lawn chair, put on his sunglasses, and sat, his mind a blank.

He reached in his shirt pocket for the letter from Adele about his father’s death. He tried to find any thread of feeling, but he felt none. Not yet, anyway. Images of Mary Elizabeth, Sam, LinChing and Sister Mary scrolled through his thoughts, but he dismissed them all. Fleetingly, he wondered if he would ever feel anything anymore. Every day he sat in the sunshine here, reading or doing nothing. Another week of this and he’d start flapping his arms to get himself home. His wound itched. He flexed his muscles and wiggled his arm. All around him nurses hurried by.

“Not disturbing you, Lt. Colonel, am I?” boomed a distinctive voice.

Rodger turned his head to see Kyle. His hand shot out and met the other hand in a solid grip.
“Good to see you again, Uncle Kyle.”

“Yes, you, too. Congratulations on your promotion and medals. Pretty soon, you’ll have more than your old man.” He released Rodger’s hand.

The noise of an outgoing transport drowned out Kyle’s words and Rodger nodded as if he had heard him, although he had missed part of what his uncle had said.

“Well, so you’re a fan of Burroughs?” Kyle gestured to the book. “He lives here in Honolulu. At hotel Niumalu. Major in the Business Men’s Military Training Corps. Has a son stationed at Hickham. The man is the oldest war correspondent in military history.”

Rodger flipped the book over to expose the cover. “I’ve read every one of his Tarzan series. This one’s the best.” He half-smiled. “Even the hundredth time.”

“You’re looking healthy.”

“I’m in the pink, so to say,” he rolled his eyes and waggled his fingers at the hospital buildings.
“There are two stories about that coral color. General Richardson liked the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki so much he designed this complex after it. The other is Colonel Wood looked out at the red dirt of Moanalua Ridge and told the architect that the color better be as close to dirt as possible because that’s what it would look like when they got through building. Personally,” Kyle scanned the landscape, “I think it’s charming.”

“As charming as a hospital can be, Uncle Kyle.” Rodger shrugged.

“What do you say to a beer?”

“Swell.” Rodger ran his fingers through his newly cut hair, aware that they sat exposed to a bevy of white uniformed personnel. Kyle was a man of many resources, though.

“A man might die of thirst around here,” Rodger said with a regretful shake of the head. “All they have is juice or water.”

“Go pack. I sprung you.”

Rodger jumped to his feet, stabbing the air with a thumbs-up. “I’ll meet you out front.”

An orderly brought him his belongings, and then stood by solicitously. Rodger inched his bandaged shoulder into his coat, dismissing the orderly. “Thanks, I don’t need any help.”

The man hesitated. Rodger paused, his hand on the strap of his bag, and stared unblinking at the man. The orderly backed out of the room. Rodger hefted the bag onto his shoulder, his gaze sweeping the hospital grounds through a closed window.

He walked to the end of the hall and cracked the door. He poked his head through the opening and waved to the men side by side in beds lining the walls. The last bed on the north wall had been stripped of its sheets.

“Hey, guys, it’s been swell! Hate to take all the poker winnings, but you know how it is! See ya later.”

Several men called after him, wishing him luck.

Rodger stopped a nurse rounding the corner. “What happened to Lt. Green?”

The nurse shrugged as she jammed her hands into the front pockets of her uniform.

“Sorry, Major. I don’t know.”

Rodger’s jaw tightened. “You know, goddamn it, you know. I know.” He spun on his heel, then looked over his shoulder. “And it’s Lt. Colonel Brown.” He stormed out the front door to the parking lot where his uncle sat mindlessly tapping the steering wheel.

Rodger slung his duffel bag in the back of the jeep. Kyle recoiled from Rodger as he thudded into his seat.

“What’s got you so riled up?”

“Why the hell can’t I get an honest answer from anyone around here?”

Kyle laid a restraining hand on Rodger’s shoulder. “Every place has its own rules, Rodger. You can’t always buck the system.”

“How much does it cost to give an honest answer?”

“Sometimes your life.”

Rodger grunted. “Where are we going? Know any good bars?”

“To my place. We’re under martial law, curfews and blackouts, island currency. Shortages of nearly everything. Even Sears is out of pins and thumb tacks.” Kyle, in an uncharacteristic agitated gesture, waved at the barracks along the Palm Circle Drive. “Turning those into offices; the biggest one is the US Army Forces. Should’ve seen this place after it was strafed. Palm trees shattered. Unbelievable. Look at it now, beautified.”

Rodger mentally chided himself for his oversight. He just felt so comfortable in wartime conditions.
Kyle shifted gears, slowing to show his pass and return the salute from the guard on duty as he eased through the gate. “But I can give you a good, cold beer.”

“God, I’m thirsty.”

They parked and walked to his quarters. It might have been a vacation bungalow but for the blacked out windows and gas mask on top of a table by the entrance.

“You’re lookin’ down in the mouth, son.” Kyle propped the ice box door open and extracted two bottles of beer, handing one to Rodger. “Not that I blame you. Sorry about your dad.” Kyle raised his bottle and Rodger did likewise. “Glad to have you with me.”

“Thanks.” He clinked bottles. “Here’s to us.”

Like his wound, questions itched to be scratched. His uncle had always been forthright, and Rodger felt he could freely speak his mind. “You and he were good friends, weren’t you?” The first sip exploded deliciously in his mouth and he leisurely let the cooling liquid slide down his throat.

“From day one. Knew your dad when he was an engineman with Burlington and when he became a sergeant in the Army.”

“My dad?” Rodger choked on a swallow of beer. “World War I?”

Kyle frowned. “Didn’t you know? Hell, he got four medals.”

“I’ll be damned!” Rodger boomed. He eyed his uncle.

Kyle ticked off four fingers. “Good conduct, expert horseman, expert marksmanship, and the silver star.”

“What’d he get the silver star for?” Rodger drank more beer, savoring this moment of satisfaction before his bitterness returned.

“He pulled his squad leader and two other guys to safety. Don’t know all that much about it, just what I’ve learned from Fred Hewling. Your Dad wasn’t much of a talker, especially about himself.”

“Fred Hewling?” Rodger had always thought of Fred as his dad’s best friend. “Grew up with his kids.” Rodger traced a bead of water down the bottle with his finger. “A hero. My father the hero.” Rodger snorted. “And I thought he was hen-pecked.”

Kyle scratched his ear. “Son, there are three kinds of heroes.” He tapped his bottle in time with his words. “Quiet. Showy. Scared.” He swigged his beer. “The showy ones gotta tell all, be all. The first ones to volunteer. That sort.” He paused. “The scared, most of us intelligent men,” he raised his glass in a salute, “are forced to act honorably.” Kyle looked squarely at Rodger. “Your father was the quiet kind. Did what had to be done and went about his business.”

“So why he’d never tell me about his days of glory?” Rodger threw his hand up in the air. “No, let me guess. A married man is not a hero, away from his family, fighting a war.”

“Listen, Rodger, Madeline didn’t want your father to be a military man. We were always uprooted and moved from one end of the country to the other. She figured the kind of life she had as a kid wasn’t what she wanted for her own children. She only wanted what was the best for all of you. Don’t be too hard on her, son. She means well.”

“She’s vain and witless.”

“No, Rodger, Madeline is not stupid. I can understand your resentment; sometimes I wondered myself what the hell she was thinking raising you, but your mother is not stupid. Vain, maybe.” He tipped his bottle and drank with a smile.

“Dad should have married a woman like Ada.” Rodger watched Kyle. He detected a hint of embarrassment in the old man. He wondered if Ada would ever say anything to him about Kyle. “But I guess it’s better in some ways he didn’t.”

Kyle cleared his throat. “There aren’t many women around like Adele, either. I think you’ve got yourself one hell of a wife, Rodger.”

“Yeah. She’s all right. We’re good friends to boot. And she knows planes.” Rodger grinned. “She’s like a wool sweater. Warm but itchy and you always know you’ve got it on.”

Kyle slapped his beer bottle down. “…might take in consideration...ah...Adele being nine months. I remember when your Aunt Louise was pregnant and…”

“You didn’t get any?” Rodger quipped.

“You understand.”

Rodger couldn’t suppress a smirk. “Yeah.” He didn’t mention how forthright Adele could be, especially in her letters. “I know what to expect.”

Kyle feigned a yawn. “God, I hate this early morning business at Pearl Harbor. We’re still investigating the bombing. Though,” Kyle rubbed the back of his hand across his forehead, “it had to have happened.”

“Did you know about it beforehand?” Rodger hoped to get an honest answer from his uncle, though he did not expect one from the Army intelligence officer.

Kyle stood up, scraping his chair on the linoleum. “We better get some shut‑eye. You can go with me in the morning to Pearl.”

“All right. I’d like to take a look at the planes.” Rodger worked his shoulder and moaned. Kyle pointed to the bedroom, but Rodger indicated the couch with a stab of his thumb. “Much easier to brace myself against the back. You go ahead.”

Kyle threw down a sheet and blanket, then plumped a pillow, causing Rodger to laugh aloud as he came out of the bathroom. “Thanks, Uncle Kyle. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.”

Early the next morning, Kyle woke him at 5:30. “Hey, son, up and at ’em. Have some coffee and breakfast. I’ve got some business and I’ll be back in an hour.”

Stiffly, Rodger eased himself up and shook off sleep.

“Best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time.”

“Good, good,” Kyle replied, on his way out the door.

Rodger stretched, then eased himself up to his feet. He had never been big on breakfast. He buttered a piece of toast, and poured himself coffee, eating over the sink. He yawned, stretching until the pain pulling at his shoulder made him stop. O-six hundred and already sweat trickled down his neck. His wound twitched.

He gulped down the coffee and went in the bathroom. His movements were so damned restricted by the bandages, and everything took so long. He pulled at his whiskered cheek and closed his eyes to imagine being home. With Adele. His temples pulsated and the images wavered. He forced the air from his lungs and opened his eyes. With a wry smile at his reflection, he began to shave.

When Kyle returned, he found Rodger sitting on the couch, resting his arm on the pillows and folded blankets.

Kyle waved at the door. “All right. Let’s go.”

It might have been any Army base. The buildings had been patched, the green lawns mowed and manicured, the streets paved and kept clean. Then the harbor came into sight, where the Missouri lay crippled on her side. The thought of the dead and wounded hit him with an unexpected blow.

Kyle drove to the staff building and parked in a reserved spot. He pointed across the lawn to a huge metal building. “You’re cleared to go over there. I’ll get you when I’m done.”

Rodger hopped out of the jeep and walked the short distance to the hangar. He strolled down the line. Tiger Moths. Trainers. The replacements. But the thought that fewer than eighty of the original 231 planes had been left saddened him. He searched the skies, alert for sounds. Nothing. He thought of his own men flying their daily missions and willed them home. Safely.

“Rodger! All done,” Kyle’s voice floated across the yard.

They drove back to Kyle’s quarters and packed for the trip home the next day. Rodger put Mary Elizabeth’s doll at the bottom of his knapsack then piled his other clothes on top of it. He frequently checked his pocket for the ivory bead, surreptitiously pulling it out and examining it when he was sure not to be seen. He pushed aside her memory and thought of Adele.

His hands ached to touch her again, to bury himself in the warmth of her love. And she would understand so much without explanations.

He smiled to himself. Ada would be happy to see him, too. He’d have time to sit and talk with her like before.

Kyle plopped his solid body into a chair. “It’s not going to be happy times back home, Rodger. But,” he reached for a cigar, “God seems to have a way of balancing life, doesn’t He?”

“A birth for a death?” Rodger blew out a short laugh. “Funny, I was thinking the same thing.” He accepted a cigar and light. “Another funny thing—I don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl.”

“Hope for a son.” Kyle screwed up his face. “Girls are sweet when they’re little, but…”

Rodger chuckled and tapped Kyle on the shoulder in mock seriousness. “Carrie and Madeline will be overjoyed to see us. Aren’t you looking forward to a reunion with your sisters?”

“Hmph! More like a firing squad.” Kyle puffed his cheeks and blew out smoke rings. “Everything’s my fault. Always has been.”

Rodger stood up. “Might as well fortify ourselves then. Last meal and all that.”

“Right you are, old boy.” Kyle pulled two beers from the icebox and a left-over ham that he sliced neatly and put onto a plate before Rodger. They drank more than they ate, and spoke in monosyllables the next morning as they gathered belongings to leave.

Hung‑over on the next day’s flight, time stretched mercilessly as the C‑47 transport’s engines droned on and on. Rodger would have liked to ask questions of the pilot and crew about this new Skytrain R4D, but during the long flight home, he never quite had the energy to swim out of his lethargy.

Neither he nor Kyle spoke much until they landed in San Francisco. They hustled their gear, pulling rank to get through the lines. Finally, after what seemed hours and endless repetitions of filling out forms, they boarded a train bound for Chicago.

They sat side by side in the front section of the train. Three days and they couldn’t get a sleeper car. It was a going to be a long ride home. Shoulder to shoulder, jostled back and forth, Rodger tried to block out the ceaseless clack of the wheels on the rail. He slept. Kyle paced the corridor, stopping once in a while to chat with an enlisted man.

The second day of traveling, in spite of the rumbling voices and smoky car, Rodger slept most of the time. When he awoke, the collage of greens and browns and reds of the countryside flashing across the windows mesmerized him. He drifted, aware of the ache across his left side. He vaguely remembered eating with his uncle. Most of the time, Kyle’s seat was empty. Rodger smiled. Kyle played poker.

At last the train pulled into Chicago. Rodger stood, glancing at his watch. Fourteen‑hundred. Right on time. People began to press in on him, moving him along the corridor behind Kyle. Kyle leaped from the steps, pushing through the crowd.

Rodger struggled with his baggage, using it as a shield for his left side. He spotted Ada.

“Hey! Ada!” he cried, waving his good hand.

He searched for Adele, but could not see her in the swarming crowd, not until she cried out his name and he looked up to see her rushing toward him.

Rodger sucked in his next words as Rachel and Heather ran to him, encircling him with a thousand arms, pulling at him, shouting his name.

“Wait a minute, girls,” Rodger stared at them. How they had changed! His head throbbed. His eyeballs hurt. “I mean, young ladies,” he said softly.

Rachel let go and smiled at him. “Bet you didn’t recognize me, huh?” Hands on her hips, she twisted her lithe body so that she blocked Heather from Rodger.

Heather’s fawn eyes stayed on Rodger’s face. He grinned back at her. “Look at you! You’re not a baby any more.”

Adele finally reached him. Rodger set his baggage down. “You look,” he faltered, then threw his arm around her neck, crushing her into him, “so wonderful, Adele.”

She blushed, then arched back to look up at him. Rivulets of tears coursed down her cheeks. He pulled her close, pitching sideways to get around her stomach to kiss her.

Suddenly, they were laughing. Everyone around them was laughing. Rachel and Heather held hands and giggled. Adele sought and clasped Rodger’s hand. Ada dabbed her eyes. Kyle stood close to Ada, grinning. But his head moved back and forth over the faces of the crowd.

Never catch his uncle off guard, thought Rodger. Not even now.

Rodger went to Ada with Adele in tow. Ada stepped up to him and flung her arms around him. With Adele’s hand still in his, he hugged Ada, crushing them all together. “You’re lookin’ good, Ada. Real good.” He patted her back, reluctant to move away with the rest.

“I bought Chinese silk for you and had it shipped to your address. I thought you might like that. Hope you don’t mind.” He felt the others pulling at him, “I also put in some things for Adele, and the girls.”

Ada gave him another quick kiss and let go of him.

In a bunch, like a giant caterpillar, they lurched to the car. Once inside they huddled close to one another, as if to keep the warmth among them. Heather sat up front, between Ada and Kyle. Rachel, Rodger, and Adele sandwiched together on the back seat. Everyone talked at once. Then they all grew silent.

“How long, Rodger, before your shoulder is healed?” Adele’s voice trembled. Her foot touched his foot, his knee rested against hers, their thighs glued together.

Rodger squeezed her shaking hand. “Two minutes and fifty seconds.” He tugged on her hand, then leaned over and kissed her, slipping his tongue quickly over hers. “There, I’m good as new.”

She lightly slapped his right shoulder. “Can’t you ever give me a straight answer?”

He placed her hand in his lap, so that she could feel his hardness through the material, seeking her face in the dim light.

She nuzzled his neck, biting his ear. “Later,” she whispered.

The chatter started again, until they got home. Ada eased the Chevy into the driveway and beeped the horn, exclaiming merrily, “I wish we had fireworks!”

They hopped out the back seat, gathering around Rodger.

Rodger put his left hand on top of Rachel’s head and waggled it so that her long hair flipped back and forth. “We’ll declare it a national holiday.”

“Rodger’s day!” squeaked Heather. “Our own holiday!”

“Goose!” scolded Rachel. She took Rodger’s hand gently into hers. “Mother’s been so worried about you. Now everything will be better.”

Like attached weights, all the responsibilities of being a son and husband and brother returned. He stopped himself from swearing out loud.

“We’ll do what we can, Tagalong.”

Heather jumped up and down as Rodger, Kyle and Ada hauled the baggage out of the trunk.
“You girls help Uncle Kyle take in his baggage. I’ll leave mine out here by Mother’s car.”

Heather dragged Rodger’s knapsack over to the garage as Rachel battled Kyle’s duffle bag. Rodger turned again to Adele. “Do you mind? I’d like to see Mother alone. Uncle Kyle told me about my dad, and I want to discuss it with Mother. ”

“Rodger, please, there’s so much going on. She’s been in a flurry getting ready all week.”

Rodger stiffened.

Adele sighed. “All right. I’ll settle the girls. I’m sure Kyle will have his hands full with Carrie.” Adele puffed out her cheeks and made the whites of her eyes show, making Rodger laugh.

Rodger caught up with Ada by the porch, with Adele following.

“I’d like to spend some time alone with you. Maybe tomorrow?”

Ada waved as Rachel led the others to her house, through the front door. She turned to Rodger. “I’d like that, if you have time.”

Adele pecked Ada on the cheek. “We’ll stop by after the doctor’s in the morning.”

Ada stayed Rodger with a slight pull of his hand, and he bent to hear her words.

“I’m glad you’re home. I’ve worried about you.” Then as he straightened, but before he could speak, she encircled his face, rubbing his cheeks between her two hands. “So good to have you home. So good.”

Rodger pressed his cheek against her hand. “I thought a lot about you, too. Not that it showed in my letters.”

“I understand, Rodger.” Ada dropped her hands. “Like I told your father, I know how to read between the lines.”

“Was he...” Rodger jerked upright, “…oh, you know, happy? Did he have a lot of pain?”

“No.” Ada hesitated, then continued with conviction. “He spent his last afternoon with me.” She gestured behind her to the dark patio. “We sat in the sunshine and talked. About you. And a lot of things.” She clasped Rodger’s hand in hers. “He went quickly. Adele and I were at his side.”
“I’m glad it was you.” Rodger kissed her hand, gripped it tightly in his. “I guess I better go on. Adele’s just to the porch. I can be at the door before she can.”

Ada chuckled, releasing his hand. “I’ll be home all day tomorrow. Come over anytime.”

Rodger dashed to the porch, leaped up the steps, and opened the door for Adele. “Such gallantry,” she said, stopping to kiss him. She walked into the house, calling the girls to her. “Upstairs, now. I’ll go up with you.”

Kyle edged around Carrie, but she cornered him. “Not a word from you! Really, I do worry about you!”

Carrie spied Rodger. “Oh, my goodness! Rodgie, it’s so good to see you!” She advanced on him.
Rodger braced himself. As she moved to engulf him, he stepped back, his hand over his wound.
“My shoulder. Still tender.”

Deflated, she slapped her hand across her heart.

“Oh, how could I have forgotten?”

Rodger patted her arm reassuringly. “No, no, it’s an easy thing to do.” Seeing Kyle pour himself a drink from John’s liquor cabinet, Rodger nodded to him. “Scotch.”

Aunt Carrie clucked. “Tch, tch. You would be much better off without alcohol. Have something to eat. There’s still plenty left from the funeral.”

Madeline walked out of the kitchen and approached Rodger.

“Rodger,” she placed a hand on his forearm. “I’m so glad you’re home. It isn’t the happiest time for us, but now that we’re together…” her voice quivered. She crinkled the uniform beneath her hand. “Are you hungry?”

He looked down sideways at her.

“No, Mother.”

But seeing her now, so frail and older than he remembered, he softened, though his bitterness towards her lay just beneath the surface. He patted her hand.

Aunt Carrie sniffed as Kyle shot the drink past her into Rodger’s outstretched hand. She shifted sideways so that, once more, she could concentrate on Kyle.

“It’s disgraceful how you let mother’s grave go unattended! Why just the other day I was saying to Mildred...”

Rodger lowered his voice, bending slightly so that he spoke into his mother’s ear. “Let’s talk in the other room.”

As they left the room, Madeline said with a little wave of her hand. “Please excuse us. We…we’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Rodger took three steps into the hall. Madeline followed, with Carrie’s voice trailing after her. Rodger went into the kitchen, turning so that he had his mother cornered.

Rodger sipped the scotch. It burned sweet down his throat. He stared down into his mother’s eyes.
“Get me his medals.”

Madeline bristled. “You’ve no right to speak-”

“You had no right,” Rodger snarled. He felt the back of his neck flush.

His mother’s face spotted red with anger. “I did what I thought best.”

He backed her up to the wall. “You’ve made a few errors in judgment.”

She placed her hand against his chest and shoved, then flicked his shoulder with her fingertips. “So have you.”

Madeline turned abruptly and went upstairs to her bedroom. Rodger returned to the living room, heading straight for the liquor cabinet. Glancing over to Kyle, he caught his aunt’s anxious face but ignored the curiosity in her eyes, pouring more scotch for himself. Kyle raised his glass to show that he had taken care of his own drink. Adele came downstairs and sat heavily beside Rodger on the couch.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

YNK (You Never Know): Chapter 6 - NBD (No Big Deal)

The last two weeks of school is class project presentations. Dusty and I spend one entire Saturday printing and folding our brochures, making six piles of five each.

“This is printed crooked,” Dusty tosses it aside, making a tick mark on a sheet of paper. “We’ll have to run off four more.”

I laugh at her. “You really think anyone is going to notice?”

“Well, I will.”

I carefully fold another into thirds. “I am so amazed! Look!” I jab a finger at the majestic picture of the Coliseum. “Do you think the Romans appreciated their own fine architecture?”

“Makes you wonder if we miss something in our times, huh?”

“Historical perspective.”

“Or hysterical perception!”

“We’re done!”

Dusty swoops up the piles, recounts every one, as I muse aloud. “We could make togas for ourselves and really look the part.”

Dusty stops what she is doing and gapes at me. “Brilliant!”

My Mom has good, but thread worn golden-striped sheets for us to cut up. We don’t have a pattern to work from so Dusty and I scroll through websites looking at pictures until we agree we can do this. Mrs. Connor offers to put zippers in, so our costumes go from being frumpy to tailored. We stand before a full length mirror, turning this way and that.

“Wow! Is this not awesome!” Dusty screams in delight. “I mean, look at us! We are Romanesque!” Dusty holds up her toga to show me her knee-hi gladiator sandals.

“Way cool sandals! I’ve got some leather ones, not as cool, but it’ll be the ‘look’!”

My Mom calls my celly. “I found some fake laurel wreaths for you two. I’ll bring them over with your shoes.”

She and Mrs. Connor help us to put the wreaths on, adjusting our hair, straightening here and there. My Mom takes out her celly and snaps a picture. “For my wall paper.”

I find this hilarious, so does Dusty. My Mom looks confused, Mrs. Connor bemused.

I stop laughing. “How are we going to get dressed before our presentation? I don’t see how this is going to work.”

“No, I guess we can’t walk to school dressed like this.” Dusty removes her wreath and stands there twirling it. “It was almost a good idea.”

Well, I do have a talent for throwing a monkey wrench into the works. Everyone is quiet, considering.

My Mom has a funny way of pursing her lips when she’s scheming. “Why don’t you ask Mrs. Hammershaw if you can be the first? I’ll take you two to school and you can make a grand entrance. I’ll have your uniforms with me and you can change after the assembly is over. It wouldn’t take all that much time.”

Dusty does her happy dance. “That’ll work! That’ll work!”

And it did, wonderfully well if I say so myself. Even Marcy, Sue and Ursala were impressed. I could tell by what they didn’t say.

The day was full of surprises. Brian, Justin, Collin and Timothy sang Bohemian Rhapsody a cappella, and they were sublime. Everyone was spellbound throughout their performance, especially me. How can someone like Brian who sings like that be so insensitive, so mean?

Marcy, Ursala and Annie did a rap about ancient Rome that had everyone in stitches, especially Ursala miming Nero fiddling. Steve and Dean did a powerpoint on ancient Roman culture, with music and roaring lions.

But no one looked as good as Dusty and I did, and our brochures were a big hit with everyone, too. Except Brian.

After our last class, while I was at my locker, Brian slithered beside me and with a whoosh! threw confettied brochures all over me.

“Look! It’s raining Romans!”

Dusty and Dean came running down the hall. “Back off, Brian!” Dusty shouted.

“Ohhh, you are so scary, Dust-up! Oh, and look! Dean, too!” Brian made an ‘L’ with his left thumb and index finger and smacked his forehead. Then he closed his index and thumb, making an ‘o’, stuck them onto his right index to form a small ‘d’, “Losers-d! Isn’t that fitting?”

I could hear snickers all around us. Brian reached over and snapped my bra strap. “You fit in with ‘em, F-F-Frannie.”

I so wanted to slap him. Instead I whirled around and spat out, “Go away, you singing pig!”

Now everyone laughed at him. Even his friends. Just then, the janitor appeared at the end of the hall.
“Oh, Fran! What a mess you made! Clean it up, now, before Mr. Schuster sees it!” Brian turned to his buddies and waved for them to follow.

Mr. Schuster leaned on his mop and watched for a few minutes before he offered a trash bag. Dean and Dusty helped me scoop up the scraps of our brochures.

“Who did this?” Mr. Schuster asked. “I’ll report whoever did this.”

“No, it was just a joke,” I swept the last of the shreds into my hands and dusted them off into the bag. “No big deal, anyway.”

Mr. Schuster took the bag and left. Dean and Dusty were silent until he was out of sight. Then Dusty turned to me.

She glared at me. “You should say something, Fran! Don’t let Brian get away with that!”

“Yeah, and then what? It’ll only make him mad and he’ll find meaner things to do. We know that, don’t we?” I looked pointedly at Dean. “I wish I could keep the Three Musketeers with me all the time.”

Dean held my books and trumpet as I put on my sweater. He handed them back to me, touching his hands to mine for a minute longer than he had to.

“We’ll stay together, walk home together, eat lunch together. At l-l-least,” he stuttered with conviction, “we’ll be three against them.”

We all agreed. Tacitly, we all said nothing to our parents, either.

Annie, constantly texting me, sent me an ‘urgent’ message Friday night. Tired, I called her instead of texting.


“I want you to come over tomorrow! Just a little get-together.” She said breathlessly. Annie has been practicing her sexy repertoire. “And,” she paused, I could see her in my mind’s eye with a pouty purse of her lips, “Justin will be here.”

Oh, boy! This is not going to be easy! “I thought you were on restriction?”

“Neah, my parents forgot all about that! Besides, they won’t be here. They’re gone all day at a convention.”

“I…I don’t think I can,” I hesitate long enough for her to interject.

“Oh, come on, Fran! My sister’s home from college, she’ll be here. Tell your mother that.”

So Annie figured it out. “I’ll ask. But no promises.”

“Well, I guess you don’t need my friendship, anymore?”

I wanted to point out to her that she had Marcy, Sue and Ursala at school and excluded me from that group—although, to be fair, Annie had tried to get me and Marcy to make nice and be friends. Which isn’t going to happen. Not in my lifetime.

“I said I’d ask. Annie, one thing. Leave off the matchmaking, okay?”

“Oh, silly, okay. Bye.”

I could tell my Mom was not pleased when I asked her if I could go over to Annie’s house. “Elizabeth is home from college and she’ll be there, Mom. I haven’t seen Annie, except at school, for three weeks. Just for a little while?”

“You have your cell phone with you and have it on at all times.” She looked at me like a prison guard might look at a parolee. “And you call me if there is anything amiss, promise?”

“I promise! I promise!” I held up celly. “I’ll charge it up right now.”

I emailed Annie that I would be over after I walked the dogs. My hair looked especially good and I liked what the mascara did to make my eyes look bigger. I just hoped that my jeans and tee shirt were acceptable. I patted the pocket with my celly as I waved good-bye to my Mother.

Justin answered the door, which totally surprised me. “Come in, m’lady. Join the par-tay.”

I should have turned around and walked away. The house was packed with Elizabeth’s friends and Annie’s. Empty little bottles, the kind the airlines sell, littered the carpeted living room. Trails of crushed chips led from the kitchen to the bathroom, where Annie was throwing up.

“Annie, are you all right?” I knelt down beside her and the toilet. “You look awful.” Raccoon eyes and pale skin and she smelled of vomit.

She smiled a crooked smile. “Ugh, booze and diet pills don’t mix.”

I helped her to her feet and steered her to her bedroom. I got a wet wash rag and put it on her forehead. “Annie, you’ve got to stop this. You’re going to kill yourself.”

She swiped at me, missing. “Oh, Fran-the worrier. I’ll be all right in a few. Go downstairs and talk with Justin. Go. I’ll be fine in a few minutes.”

Justin met me with a drink. I pushed it away. “No, thanks.” I looked around for Elizabeth. “Where’s Annie’s sister?”

“Somewhere.” Justin shrugged. “Why?”

You might be good looking, dude, but you aren’t very bright. “Justin, this place is trashed. Annie’s parents will be coming home, you know.”

“Who made you the party police?” sneered a tall, older guy, obviously one Elizabeth’s friends. He pushed away from the wall and wobbled over to the couch to grab a cigarette from a pack on the coffee table.

Justin downed his drink and threw the plastic cup into a big, black trash bag. “We’ll start with the kitchen,” he indicated with a nod of his head for me to go to the sink. I started the hot water and pumped soap into bubbles. Justin started collecting the throw away bottles.

“Where are you going to throw that out? You don’t think that Annie’s parents will see that?” I nodded to the full bag in Justin’s hands.

“Oh, right, Fran, I’ll get someone with a car to take it home with them, okay?”

“Franny! What are you doing?” sang out Elizabeth. “Come here and give me a hug!!”

She planted a wet, smelly kiss on my cheek. She reeked of alcohol and cigarettes. “How’s my favorite sister’s fittle, ohh, ha, ha! lit-tle, friend, huh? You two have changed sooooooo much! I am so jealous of you!”

Elizabeth draped her arm around my shoulders and dragged me along with her into the living room. “Everyone! I want you to meet Fran! She’s Annie’s best-est friend!”

A cacophony of “Hi!”, “Hey!”, “Yeah!”, rose and died as quickly. I pulled on Elizabeth’s arm, tugging her into the kitchen again.

“Liz, listen. Annie’s been drinking and taking diet pills. Talk to her. Tell to her to stop it. It’s dangerous.”

Elizabeth tsked. “She won’t do that again, I promise. I told her how stupid it was to do that.”

But who got her the pills? You’re letting her drink! But I say instead, “Liz, we should get this place cleaned up before your parents get back. Maybe you should tell everyone to go home.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “You and Annie are such little mother hens.” She glanced at her watch. “Oh, my god! You’re right!”

She dashed out of the room waving her arms, proclaiming, “Party’s over! Clean Up!”

In a whir of activity that impressed me, everyone pitched in to tidy, vacuum and throw out the evidence. The place looked good after all the “trash” had left.

Justin was the last out the door, but not before he pulled me to him and planted a smacker on my lips. Just in time for Annie to emerge from her bedroom, looking wonderfully refreshed.

She ran over to me as I closed the door, grabbed me in a hug. “Isn’t he cute? You make a good couple!”

I dislodged from her and stared at her. Two hours ago she had looked like death itself, but now she bubbled like Mentos™ in soda.

Before I could answer, the door swung open and Annie’s parents came in. Elizabeth came downstairs, showered, and with a towel in hand, drying her hair. A deathly silence hung in the air as everyone followed Mr. Trevor’s line of eyesight to the liquor cabinet. The door was not fully shut.

Mr. Trevor, in two steps, stood before Elizabeth and with a crack! that sounded like a broken tree branch, hit her across her mouth. Blood gushed.

He turned around and focused on me. “Go home, Fran.”

I backed into the wall. Annie caught my hand and led me out the front door.

“An-annie, are you going to be all right? Is he going to hurt you, too?” I was shaking so hard my teeth hurt.

“No, don’t get so emotional about it. It’s no big deal. He’ll lighten up after a few hours, apologize to Liz, and probably give her a couple of hundred dollars to buy something pretty. He never means it.”
I can’t believe what I’ve just heard, it makes no sense at all to me.

“Go!” She waves me away, then motions me back. “Don’t tell anyone about this, okay?”

Oh, Annie! Annie! But I nod and on my way home I think about what Mrs. Aster said: ‘guilt by association’.

But I’m not sure what I’m guilty of; so many thoughts swim around in my addled brain, I feel like I’m car sick. I’d like to lay my head on my mother’s shoulder and cry, cry and cry. I don’t want to betray Annie’s trust. I don’t want Annie to do something stupid and die. I don’t want to be around Annie or Elizabeth or Justin or anyone of the others.

When I come through the door, my mother calls out to me.

“Fran! You have a message from Dusty!”

I go into the computer room. Just as my mom stands and hands me a slip in her neat penmanship detailing “Good news!” I lean into the crook of her neck and sob.

She rubs my back as I sputtered out bits and pieces of the story. “He hit Liz so hard, he split her lip.” I drew a breath and shuttered. “There was so much blood!”

“I’ll call over there. This isn’t right.”

“No! Mom, please! I promised Annie I wouldn’t say anything! Please! Hasn’t enough gone wrong for me? And you’d get Annie in trouble. Please!”

I pat the splotchy place left on her blouse by my mascara. She takes my hand.

“It’ll come out in the wash. Most things do.”

Well, as it would happen, my mom didn’t have to make the call. Annie’s mom called to apologize for me having to witness that scene. She assured my mother that everything was all right, it was just an unfortunate moment when Annie’s father lost his temper. It would never happen again.

My mother hung up, came into my room and sat heavily down on the bed beside me.

After a long silence, she spoke softly. “This explains a lot. I just never could connect all the dots. It’s not the first time he has hit one of them, and it won’t be the last.”

She sighed. I sighed. “You can’t go to Annie’s house. Ever again, Fran. But she can come here, anytime. I’ll try to do something for Annie’s mother, but I doubt that she’ll leave. But you understand, you are not ever to go into that house again?”

“Yes,” I whisper fiercely, relieved. I never want to go back there.

She pats my knee, then gets up and leaves me alone. After a while, after I unscramble my thoughts, I’ll call Dusty and find out what the good news is.