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There were long lines at the market again, and Elsa groaned as she took her place at the end of one of them. What is it this time? she thought, fretting about the loss of time. Last time, they were checking to make sure everyone had money before entering. To fight crime, she thought, but she’d had no idea crime had gotten that bad. Well, I guess it’s good to stop shoplifting, which she viewed as a despicable crime. She used to see all those secretive, furtive strangers every day, obviously up to no good, stealing and who knew what all. She was glad they were gone. As the line got nearer the door, she could hear murmuring and saw several people quietly leave the line. One gave her a long worried look before disappearing into the shadows. When she got to the door a riot trooper in full gear demanded to see her papers. She noticed a couple more troopers standing behind him, watching her closely.

“What papers?” she asked, with a sense of relief. She was born and raised right here in this town. She smirked as she pulled out her wallet and presented her driver’s license to the patrolman. She smiled at the woman behind her, confident of her country’s dedication to law and order. Why, there hasn’t been a foreigner or weirdo of any sort here for months now, she thought with pride. No queers, neither. Nothing left but real citizens.

“No, ma’am.” The trooper said, holding her driver’s license. “We need your citizenship papers.” He scowled at her. “They’ve been issued. Where are yours?”

“No, you don’t understand,” she said, lifting her shoulders and giving him an indignant look. “You have to be a citizen to get a license. The license is proof! I’ve no need for special forms.”

“You haven’t any papers?” the trooper asked in stentorian tones. She noticed the two troopers who had been watching step forward so that they surrounded her on three sides, while the woman behind her stepped back, distancing herself while holding her papers in front of her and looking at Elsa with barely concealed contempt.

“No. I’m a lifelong citizen . . .” she trailed off as one of the troopers grabbed her tightly by the elbow.

“Come with me,” he growled, and forced her to go with him as the second officer fell in behind. She noticed a couple more troopers coming forward to take their places as he pulled her towards a table with a couple of immaculate looking, officious young men in perfectly pressed uniforms and wearing visor dress hats sitting behind it. There was a pile of bags and wallets beside the table, but she barely gave them a thought. She’d become adept at not noticing certain things.

“Thank goodness!” she exclaimed. “At last, someone in charge. Listen, I’m a genuine citizen. My license proves it. She gave a start as she realized the first trooper still had her license back at the door. “Your man back there,” gesturing toward the door, “still has it. It’s all we need here. It’s got my picture. I’ve lived here my entire life. I voted for the leader. I . . .” Her voice trailed off as she realized that the man behind the table was glaring at her while the other was busily writing something in a notepad.

“No paperwork is a serious offense, ma’am.” Looking down at the table, and not giving her another glance, he droned, “I hereby sentence you to the rehabilitation camp.” He banged a gavel on the table loudly. Another trooper grabbed her purse and threw it into the pile of bags and wallets by the table, as the first two troopers dragged her away, one gripping each elbow.

“What? No! Wait!” she wailed, as they drug her off, her heart hammering and her face showing terror and shock. “Not me! Not the camp!” She struggled all the way to the detention cage.

Back at the line, the woman who had been watching stepped forward and handed her papers to the trooper. “The leader is cleaning this place up just fine,” she said, smiling triumphantly, and watching proudly as they escorted Elsa away.

The trooper just scowled at her, and handing the papers back, let her pass as he tossed Elsa’s license into a box with a dozen others.

“Next.” he called.

Addiction and Enjoyment

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I am an addict – no less addicted than hypodermic carrying persons that are part of our culture. When separated from my drug of choice, I begin to look for ways to satisfy my craving.  At that juncture, any printed material will usually do, even ads that show up on a regular basis in my mailbox.  I especially like Bed, Bath and Beyond ads which also provide a 20% coupon off any purchase, no expiration date.  Thumbing through their catalog can provide entertainment at least through lunch. Long enough to realize that I really don’t need anything they are currently providing, but the pictures are pretty.

Some people read for knowledge, some for pleasure, and others for pure escapism.  I read for any reason at all.  When separated from the printed word for a few days, I begin to get anxious, and my thoughts drift from conversations.  I have been known to hurry meals and tuck children into bed early in order to create time for my fix.

Should anyone casually mention a passage from a book they have read as meaningful to them, you will soon see me in the library looking for it, for I cannot bear the thought of books lying about that have not been touched, opened, and at least partially read by my own eyes.

Time spent in a bookstore is my idea of soul fulfillment.  I can peruse book shelves all day, read passages, make lists of those I wish to read and leave the store empty handed, but feeling completely satiated.

Truly, I think I need a 12-step program, but I know deep down in the marrow of my bones it would not help, for I do not really wish to stop.  Books hold me together like a set of fancy bookends.  They keep me from sliding into a morass of endless duties that bear no reward for having been completed.  They provide me with the Way and the Light.

The story of my addiction began at an early age; Summer vacation and within walking distance of a library.  As a youngster I was not socially active, thus the pursuit of literature for stand-in friends.

We lived in a suburban area of a middle-American blue-collar town.  Tract homes built at the end of WWII, all alike except for the color. A long cement porch running across the front with two steps up and another fifteen to the front door, 3-bedrooms, attached garage and fenced backyard.  My parents called it an American dream; for me it was simply a convenient place to develop and perfect my habit.

Once in the library I would start in fiction A-C, and from there it was a downhill path along the book shelves, fingers running softly along the book spines until a title would stop me cold.  Carefully removing it, I would look at the cover, read the first page and decide if this one was going home with me this time.  It was a pattern I would repeat every two weeks, and one I have never been able to kick completely.

Today I feed my addiction in a chair by the fireside, sometimes traveling great distances while not moving an inch.  For traveling is best when taken through imagination, and infinitely more satisfying, at least for me.  No packing required.  I can visit different cities and countries in one day or several.  I can listen to the seagulls on the coast of Maine or to the sea lions on the coast of California, look at a stormy sky – that great God-like vision – or a sky that is serene and blue with clouds meandering through it in no particular hurry to get anywhere. 

No, I guess I really don’t want to kick this habit. I will keep seeking; keep searching for the perfect book, the one that will finally put an end to this quest of mine.

Will it be yours?

Nightmare at the County Fair

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Linda Burk is a member of the Writers Unite writing group at the Hollywood Senior Center in Portland, Oregon.

County Fairs are a big thing in Pennsylvania. Folks gather to see the spiffed-up farm animals, chickens and rabbits of every color and size, old fashion farm equipment, and the 4-H display of art, sewing projects, canned goods, and delicious-looking cakes and pies. Blue ribbons were sprinkled throughout the display hall indicating the best of show.

When my coworker asked me to be a baked goods judge at a small county fair, I jumped at the chance. I thought of all those delectable pies and elegant-looking cakes. With some difficulty I found the small county fairgrounds on the appointed day. It was a miniature version of the country fair that I had attended. They had a fenced-in arena for the pigs and sheep, stalls for the horses, and cages of chickens pecking at the hapless bugs that landed in their cages. And of course the food carts, with the aroma of frying funnel cakes, inviting all to reach for their wallets regardless of the time of day.

I found the baked goods judging area and received my assignment. I was to judge the kid’s baked goods. I stopped in my tracks, wide-eyed and mouth open, when I saw the six-foot table loaded with cupcakes.  There must have been 40 cupcakes of all colors and descriptions: chocolate with white icing, white with chocolate icing, icing with sprinkles, a few with blue or pink icing, and several with cherries. It seemed like every kid in the county had entered the contest. My job was to judge each cupcake on appearance, texture, and taste. Appearance was a snap, but texture and taste was more difficult. I had to take a bite of each of the forty cupcakes! They gave me a bottle of water and a knife. After tasting four or five cupcakes, my taste buds went numb. The cloying sweetness was overwhelming! And I had thirty-five more cupcakes still to taste! Some of the little girls were standing by the table, eyes wide as I tasted their special cupcake. It was like cupcake hell! I am sure it was punishment for my love of sweets all these years.

I slowly made my way through the remaining entries, randomly placing blue and red ribbons on the nearest cupcakes. My stomach was churning, my head aching, and I had enough heartburn to last a lifetime. I swore off cupcakes forever. It was months before I could touch anything sweet. I still shudder when I walk pass Saint Cupcake. Those little cakes may look inviting, but I know what is lurking with that first bite.

 

Stop the Wedding

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Candace Olvera is a member of the the Gresham (Oregon) Seniors’ Writing Group.

There was something wrong, but she could not put her finger on what it was. She was invited to a wedding on December 31st, 1795, at 12:00 A.M. That was the bewitching hour, people were telling her.

Who would want to get married at that hour? No one will go, it is too late. Everyone that was invited said they were not going, and would rather be in bed asleep than be out in the cold. Why would anyone want to be married in the cemetery anyway? All the people there are dead. What a morbid place to hold a wedding. Did Pastor Poe say he would perform the wedding there at that time? Yes, I heard it is a go, and everyone is to wear all black. Even the bride is going to wear a black wedding dress. I heard they are releasing 13 ravens after the ceremony. What is up with that?

Does anyone know the bridegroom? Where he came from, or anything about his family? They have not been dating very long, as far as I know. How did they meet, anyway? asked one of the invited guests. Those are good questions, said another. We need answers before Angel marries him.

By the way, what is his name? I heard it is David Dracula. His family is from some place in Eastern Europe, from way, way back, centuries ago. He is quite mysterious, but I did hear he is of royal lineage. I think he may be a duke, or something like that. Maybe that is why she is marrying him, because she wants to be a duchess or something, the maid of honor told the others.

All her friends and all of Angel’s invited guests agreed that there’s a wedding that needs to be stopped. At least until we can find out more about the bridegroom and his background. We only have two weeks to find out what his intentions are, and why he is insisting on having the wedding in the town cemetery at the strange hour of midnight.

Flying Solo

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Mark Alejos lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.

                                                          Flying Solo

The shaken mother shielded her son, grabbing both of his shoulders and jerking him to safety behind her. She stood ready to strike. “You think you’re funny?!” she yelled at me. “Scaring a little kid? What’s the matter with you, you sick freak? Look at you! I should call the police!”

Short trips out in public had become increasingly difficult. I had been drawing too much attention, almost all of it negative. A life as “just one of the flock” had become a thing of the past.

The first sign of trouble appeared in the bathtub one morning. I had just turned off the water, and was drying off. I did my usual vigorous back and forth, sweeping the area, then swiftly moving the towel to the front of my body, when something snagged on my lower back, and then released. It hurt just enough to take a look. I was able to see the area in the mirror, and noted a small spot of blood. I dismissed it as a plucked random hair. With age, hair was growing in uncharted territory, at unreasonable lengths. I finished drying off and while reaching to close the shower curtain, noticed something that had no business being in the bathtub. I didn’t think much of it until I picked it up to throw away—there was fresh blood on its tip.

It’s never a good sign when a boisterous group of teenagers notices you on public transportation. There’s always a ringleader, and the ringleader gains confidence with each laugh he or she triggers from the followers. It can be extremely unsettling to the victim of the group’s attention. “What’s with the costume? Are you for real? Aren’t you a little old? Wait . . . is it Mardi Gras? Were you actually born like that?” Other passengers looked on, thankful it was me, and not them.

The second sign of trouble came while I was changing my shirt, getting ready for bed that same evening. I felt a patch of something on my lower back. Again, I went to the mirror. And there it was—a small area filled with at least seven or eight. A space the size of a Japanese hand fan. I tried not to be alarmed, but the noise in my head was getting louder and louder. This was not normal. I removed the patch as best I could. There was blood, but nothing a few squares of toilet paper couldn’t remedy. I packed the paper in my t-shirt, covering the unwelcome mystery, and went to bed

After a restless sleep, I rose in the morning to a growing nightmare. My entire lower back was covered. There was too much to remove right then, so I took a shower and hoped the problem would wash away. It didn’t.  I found my doctor’s phone number and paced around my apartment until his office opened. The woman who answered the call thought I was joking when I told her my issue, but the desperation in my voice eventually swayed her. She fit me in that day. “He’s going to love this one,” I heard her say to a co-worker, as she hung up.

He poked, prodded, and pulled. “I’ve never seen anything like it, Martin.” He shook his head. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” He breathed deep. He sat stumped, on a rolling stool. He took his glasses off. He put his glasses on. He took off a latex glove and stuck a finger in his ear, turning it back and forth reflexively. He put on a new glove. “We’ll take a sample and send it to the lab,” he said, in an aha moment. “You’re healthy, Martin. Nothing says it’s going to spread. How’s your diet? Are you stressed? Have you been exposed to any foreign substances lately? What do we have you on? Maybe this is a one-in-a-million side effect of some medications that are mixing.” He looked at his laptop, scrolling through my history. “Hmmm . . . nope, nope, nothing here. I haven’t prescribed anything for you in years.” He took off his gloves, removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes with both fists, then looked again, blinking excessively. “Let’s keep an eye on it, and see how things progress. If, things progress. Aaahh . . . the mysteries of the human body…. We just don’t have all the answers . . . yet. Stop by the front desk on your way out and schedule an appointment for next week. Good to see you.”

DIAGNOSIS:  Ya got me….

I didn’t schedule another appointment. But I did keep an eye on it. It was hard not to. My condition worsened over the next few weeks. When it became too much to hide, I took an extended leave of absence from work. I told them I had a “personal matter” that needed immediate attention. My boss seemed concerned, more about the work getting covered than me personally. No surprise there.

It was happening while I slept. I don’t even know how I was able to sleep because that’s when it was happening more rapidly. Other noticeable changes occurred. For instance, my eyesight had steadily improved as the condition intensified. I’d worn glasses my entire life, but during this time, I saw with the sharpness and precision of the Hubble telescope. As a child, I had always dreamed of becoming an Air Force pilot—to fly with the birds. But after college I was denied entry into the Air Force Academy’s pilot training program—because of poor eyesight. The recent retinal good fortune was too late. I was too old for the Air Force. Another notable change was that I was going to bed earlier, getting up at the crack of dawn—sometimes even singing—not because I was happy. The crooning came out of nowhere, which was even more frustrating. I was losing control. The other night I spotted a mouse in the hallway and surprisingly, as well as what seemed like instinctively, swooped in to capture it. Before I could think about what I’d done, I had the mouse in my mouth, its tail wiggling desperately between my lips. In the moment, it felt so right. But in hindsight, it was a horrifying act.

Recently, I woke to discover that my forehead had filled out. There was too much to remove. I would have been a bloody mess. It would have made an incredible Halloween mask, but this, was not that. I quit my job over the phone that day. It was no use. There was no turning back. It was unexplainable, unacceptable, unmanageable, and unsightly. I couldn’t go out in public anymore. I had scared too many children and heard more than enough jokes and insults. I would probably have made a great ‘Weird News’ story for the wacky about-town news guy. But the last thing I wanted was to be the main character is someone else’s story. I wanted to be invisible.

As time passed, my entire torso and thighs had become completely covered. The condition had worked its way up to my shoulders, and was starting to appear on my wrists and forearms. I had given up removing thickening signs of it from around my ears.

The worst morning of my life occurred on my fiftieth birthday. At fifty, I expected to have a bird’s-eye view of my past, as well as my future. But when I awoke, I discovered a future in question. While sleeping, my fingers had transformed. Basically, I had no hands. My ability to perform fine motor skills was gone. I would never put on clothes or unwrap gifts again.  I would never sign my name. I would never floss. I would never change another light bulb. And worst of all, my mouth and nose had merged. I can’t explain it, they became one. Trust me

I was a freak. A sideshow. A poster boy for the bizarro. I was terrifying. And terrified. There was still a chance that people would want to come toward me, but only for a double-take. I however, would never be able to move toward them. Whatever I had, “normal” people didn’t want. I could no longer function in today’s world. Life was over as I had known it. And I knew I couldn’t live like this. So in my fit of self-pity and hopelessness, I decided to climb out an open window onto the building’s fire escape, thirty-seven floors high, and give up.

My plan was to end it. But endings don’t always go as planned. Oh, I went through with it. I jumped. But a funny thing happened as I plunged to my death. I put out my arms, or more accurately—my wings. And here’s the best part: next time you see a bird circling overhead, or watching you from a swaying tree branch . . . it could be me.

Grandma's Burden

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We are standing at the end of the sidewalk to our front door, mumbling into the drizzle between us. Mom says, “Don’t forget, Son, you can run and hide, but you always take who you are with you.”

I make a quick scan of her grey-blue eyes that catch reflections of the light drizzle that surrounds us as they slide from horizon to horizon. I’m not sure what she means, since I’m not going into hiding. A cryptic message she’s been saving for a rainy day.

Thirty years later, on an equally wet-gray day, on a bench in a park overlooking the Pacific Ocean, we have another conversation.

“What are you planning to do, now you’re retired, Mom?”

“I don’t know, nothing much, Son, perhaps some volunteer work.”

“Have you thought of moving near us, be close to your grandchildren?”

“I don’t want to get in the way. You know, I am so proud of you, all the children really, each of you finding your own way, resourceful, independent.”

We let our gazes drift to the Pacific, listen to waves rolling to the shore. A couple of seagulls’ screech, fog drifts away then toward us.

“Mom, you know what will happen if you do nothing, don’t you?”

“Yes, Son, I know,” her eyes float slowly to the horizon. I make no response. But I get her message, “I’m going to die before I burden you or your brother and sisters as your grandmother did me in those last years of hers, years filled with demential anger.”

Having encouraged us to seek our destiny, wherever that may take us, she stayed home and shouldered Grandma’s burden by herself. This is our way – bend to the task, keep the words to a minimum. Why say too much when words can easily lead us out of the cave where we might put feelings to words? Better to seek new horizons.

 

Less than a year later, her husband and most of her children have gathered from across the continent in a hospital room. Two sons, three daughters, and Mike, the man she married after Dad died and her children left home, accompanied by one withered body. All of us reluctant to look at one another. The room, with its cloud-blue-grey walls, white bedclothes and fluorescent illumination, offers no comfort. At the head of the bed is a panel with blinking lights, monitors, and buzzers. Strangers in faded blue and green cotton garb, offering nervous nods and sympathy smiles, come and go as silent as the breath of ghosts. In thick glasses, the grim-faced husband orchestrates the day, as if it’s his one-act play.

Throughout the afternoon, the two sons and three daughters, when the husband deems appropriate, are allowed into the room for short visits. After cursory viewings, we are invited to return to the waiting room where we can watch a thick fog collect into rivulets that drain down the window wanting to distort the Pacific in the distance. When the moment approaches, we are invited back in to her meager presence. One set of shriveled human bones, held taught in a fetal position, with either sunken eyes or protruding cheek bones or both, awaits us. The fluorescent aura, now fallen to an ashen glisten, drapes her face and hands in pallor. The bump and thrum of our heartbeats cannot overcome the stifling mechanical cacophony of the room. Mom offers the visitors nothing other than mumbles we dare not decipher.

As if she is lost in a last hunt for a horizon, with her head writhing back and forth, the moment comes. We gather in a tight circle, hold hands, her husband and one of her children clutching hers to complete the surround. Too soon, too soon, the electronic beep with its wavy green line, too soon, it becomes a straight, a horizontal, a lurid and lonely siren. Air and light melt into a puddle and drain the room. We pause; break hands. No one has anything to say. And, through a few tears, we almost hug. But not without respect, honor and, how shall I say it, love, a grey-blue-pastel love, as best we know how.

A few days later her husband whispers to me that she felt deserted by her children. “She was upset that you all left home, left her behind.”

I am stunned – isn’t that exactly what she told us to do, seek our own horizon?

 

 

The Lady and the Gunslinger

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“Hello there, young lady.“ A tall rugged man with a gun holstered on his hip addressed the woman seated at the table playing cards with three cowboys. She wore an off-the shoulder turquoise gown. Her auburn hair arranged in fat sausage curls hung over her left shoulder and glittered with diamante. An ivory cameo attached to a black velvet ribbon around her neck bore the name, Coral.

“What’s a purty thing like you doing in a dump like this?” He waved a hand to encompass the saloon.

Coral rose from the table, a scowl on her face. With a swish of her skirts she swept forward to within an inch of his nose. “This is my dump,” she said. “Get the hell out. Don’t want your kind here.”

“Whoa there.” The man took a step back. “No need to get het up. You know who I am?”

“Nope. Don’t want to neither.”

The man yanked a cowboy away from the table, whipped out his gun and held it to the fellow’s head. “You know who I am,” he said to the cowboy. “Tell her.”

The cowboy licked quivering lips and stammered, “He’s Riot Twerp. The baddest, meanest gunslinger in Texas. Maybe in the whole Yewnited States.”

“Like I said,” Coral told the gunslinger. “Don’t want your kind here.”

Twerp looked down at her nose, a bare inch lower than his. “Because I’m taller than you?”

Coral raised herself on tiptoe, which brought her eyes level with his fore-

head. “You ain’t taller.”

“Yes, I am.” Twerp dumped a cowboy out of a chair and stood on it.

“No, you ain’t.” She sidestepped another cowboy and stood on the table. “I’m still taller than you.”

The gunslinger eyed the bar.

“No standing on the bar,” Coral said. “Sign says so.”

“I don’t see no sign.”

“That’s cause my eyesight’s better than yours.”

“Oh yeah?” Twerp pulled an ace of spades off the table, tossed it into the air, and shot a hole through the center of the spade. “Can you do better?”

Coral grabbed his gun. “See that fly on the wall over there?” Blam went the gun. “Got it.” She returned the gun to Twerp.

“I didn’t see no fly.”

“You didn’t see the sign on the bar, either. Too blind. Too slow.” Coral took her place at the table.

“I’m braver than you are,” the gunslinger boasted.

“Prove it.”

Twerp looked around the saloon then walked over to the end of the bar, picked up a spittoon, and quickly downed the contents.

“Eww!” Coral said along with half the men in the saloon. “Doesn’t prove you’re braver, only stupider.” She looked up at him. “You ever give birth?”

The gunslinger blenched. “Hell no. Don’t want to. Ever.”

“Okay,” Coral said. “You’ve had your say. Now get out. Don’t want no high plains grifters like you in my establishment. Gives the place a bad name. Why don’t you mosey on down the street to Roseanne Carr’s place. You’d fit in there real well.

Riot Twerp crossed his arms against his chest. “Can’t make me.”

Coral put two fingers to her lips and gave a shrieking whistle. A short Chinaman appeared in the doorway. “Maybe I can’t, but Hung Far Low can.”

The gunslinger, almost twice as tall as the Chinaman, laughed. Coral yelled something in Chinese, and before Twerp could react, the little guy, with two forward flips and a half-twist, landed in front of him. In the flick of an eye, Twerp found himself hogtied on the floor.

“Get him out of here,” Coral said.

The Chinaman hoisted the gunslinger over his shoulder and, with the ease of an ant carrying a crumb, carried Twerp to the entrance of the saloon and tossed him into the street.

 

 

 

 

White Face

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In our continuing quest to showcase local senior writers, we are happy to post this first story by William Caldwell, who is the current facilitator of the Gresham (Oregon) Seniors’ Writing Group. Additional stories by William will be posted in the future. Soon we will post another story by Pat Morgan (a member of the Gresham Seniors’ Writing Group), whose first submission (Sir Robert Wiser Day) can be accessed by scrolling down this page.

                                                        White Face

I open the door to the waiting room where I feel out of place in a sea of dark faces, some sad, some angry, most simply lost. Masks of anger, fear, resentment, subservience, despair: welfare clients, all wandering in a shadowland of lack and hunger. A few faces stalk me across the room, as if I’m today’s target practice.

I’m on my way to interview Frankie Randle. She is an Aid to the Disabled client of my colleague Bob. I cover for him when he is out of the office. When he gets a call, she is in the lobby asking for him, Bob’s usual smile slouches to a grimace. He groans; picks up his note pad and releases a long, thick breath that wants to unravel the tapestry of his chest. Slumping past rows of desks and across the office, he trudges down three flights of stairs to the interview room. On his return, he usually wears a deeper slouch along with a thin, sour, scowl. Although my desk is next to his, I never listen to Bob’s debrief with the boss to get any details. The one time I do ask about her, he scoffs, raises his eyebrows, gives me a blank face and turns to stare out the window, searching for a glimpse of the placid bay I expect.

Since Bob is on vacation, it’s my turn. When the call comes, I rub my chin, grab a pencil and note pad, enter the stairwell and listen to the echo of my shoes on metal steps as I descend to the first floor.

I reach the battleship-grey metal door to the interview cubicle and open it. I am surprised to see a refined lady of striking beauty awaiting me. A perfectly combed pageboy hair style, complimented by just the right shade of lipstick with a touch of rouge, frames her smile. Her café au lait skin is smooth and beautiful. Large, compelling eyes engage me. Her calm demeanor commands the room and fills it with gracious ease. This is a woman who, by any standard, is quite attractive.

“Good day, sir.”

“Um, hello, I am Bill Caldwell.

“Mr. McCall isn’t in?”

 “Ah…” I have nothing to offer, except surprise and silence. It bears repeating, she is a well-composed, beautiful black woman.

“No; Bob is out of town and I am filling in for him.”

“Pleased to meet you, sir; I’m Frankie Randle, will he return soon?”

“Not for a couple of weeks. He is taking a vacation.”

“How nice for him. A vacation right now would be pleasurable, don’t you think? Perhaps he will finally get to the islands. I love the weather there. Have you been to the islands, Mr. Caldwell?”

We could be in a drawing room having a pleasant chat over cocktails.

Although she explains the reason for her visit, my astonishment at her presence, compared with Bob’s rolling eye exasperations, drives the details of our conversation from memory. Later, I realize the visit may have been about her meds, because I find myself looking for a doctor or clinic to refer her to.

She returns in a couple of days. I skip down the stairs, make my way to the interview cubicle and open the door. The odor of fresh paint assaults me. Sitting before me is a lady who reminds me of Frankie. Yes, this lady has the same features, same hair, and except for her face paint, almost the same make-up. Brown eyes and red lips excluded, this woman’s face is covered in a high-gloss white that smells of enamel paint. A glistening, glossy, white face! I make a guess: meds was the issue the last visit and it hasn’t been addressed. Bob later tells me that she goes off her meds and the white enamel appears. Nevertheless, even encased in white, her natural beauty holds my attention once more.

She opens the meeting by sliding her head side to side, giving the room a feral sniff. The fierce look in her eyes, the harsh tone, the abrupt gestures on top of the white face paint – what’s going on? Her glare lands on me, drills through me and into the institutional grey wall behind me. I wonder, do I have prey stink on me? She speaks. Her tongue is spiced with anger, her tone condescending. For my part, I am about overcome by the cloak of face paint perfume. She is a force of nature. This time I recall nothing of our conversation beyond the last exchange.

As we are about to wind up our visit, I am impelled to ask, “Why did you paint your face white?”

Before a heart can make a beat, the answer flies in my face: “Why do you paint yours white? You john’s are all the same.”

Sir Robert Wiser Day

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Once upon a time in the small town of Canterbury, there lived a mead maker named Robert Wiser.  He became known throughout all of England for his mead.  When the king learned of the wonderful mead Robert Wiser made, the king asked him to make special batches just for the court, and so he did.  The king was so delighted that he knighted Robert Wiser and declared that the fourteenth day of the eleventh month should be named after him and that everybody should drink only mead on that day.  And so it came to pass that November fourteenth was called Sir Robert Wiser Day.

Sir Robert was given a small castle on the outskirts of Canterbury under the condition that he continue to make mead for the king’s court.  And Sir Robert was very happy to do that.

In due course, he married a local squire’s daughter, and they lived happily in the small castle.  Over a period of several years his wife gave him three children. Two daughters and then finally a son.  Sir Robert decided to name his son after himself.  He declared that the boy was destined for great things, including being as good a mead maker as his father – if that were possible.

At the tender age of six, little Robert was introduced to the process of making mead, and by the time he was sixteen he was as good as his father.  But young Robert was not happy following in his father’s footsteps and being in his father’s shadow.  He wanted to strike out on his own. 

And so he looked around for something different he could make. He looked first at the making of wine, a drink that had recently been introduced into England.  He managed to finagle a trip to France from his father and spent a year there learning all about the making of wine.  But when he returned to England, he realized that the climate was too cold for growing grapes – at least the kind of grapes that would produce a wine as fine as what he’d tasted in France.  And so he gave up the idea of being a famous vintner. 

“You could always be a mead maker and a wine importer,” his father pointed out, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy young Robert Wiser.

So then he turned his attention to another drink that had been around England for many years – a crude peasant drink, which the local people referred to as “slop”, and slop it was.  Robert shuddered remembering the one time he had tried it.  What if, Robert thought, he could make a “slop” fit for the king?  Then he, too, could become well-known in his own right – to step out from behind his father’s shadow.

And so, he finagled another trip from his father – this time to the land of the Teutons, where it was rumored that a better quality of “slop” was made.  Robert spent a year with the Teutons learning the trade of making “bier” as they pronounced it.  Right away, Robert realized that he would have to change the spelling as he realized that his countrymen would either pronounce it “bier” as in “funeral bier,” or as “Bierre” as in the French word ”Pierre”.  And so he planned to call his beverage simply “beer.”

At the end of the year, Robert returned to Canterbury where he convinced his father to give him a few acres of meadowland to grow the malt and hops he needed to brew his own beer.  Needless to say, his father was very pleased with Robert’s first batch (made the Teutonic way) and pronounced it quite a relief from the too-sweet mead.  The local peasants were more than ready to give up their slop for some of Robert’s beer, and so in and around Canterbury, pubs began to spring up to sell the beer that Robert made.

But Robert couldn’t keep up with the demand.  He needed more money and more land to increase his production.  His father couldn’t help him as by now there were five more little Wisers.  And so young Robert made two special batches and carried them to the king for him to sample.  To make a long story short, the king was delighted with Robert’s beer, especially after Robert pointed out that it was the drink of royalty.  The king did give Robert a large tract of land to grown his malt and hops on.  In exchange, Robert was to deliver to the king such quantities of beer as he demanded.  The king told him that he was also interested in trying other types of beer if Robert was willing to experiment.  Robert agreed..

After a year, the king was so pleased with Robert’s beer that he summoned him to London to bestow knighthood on him, just as he had his father.

“I would like to give you a day just as I did for your father.  What day would you choose?”

“My father has the fourteenth day of November. Would you grant me the fourteenth day of October? We can celebrate by drinking all the beer we want..”

“Granted,” said the king.  “But there is a problem.  You are both called Sir Robert Wiser now.  How will the people know whether Sir Robert Wiser Day refers to your father, the mead maker, or you, the beer maker?”

“Hmm,” said Robert, and he thought for a few minutes.  Then his face brightened.  “Instead of referring to me as Sir Robert Wiser, why don’t you just name my day after my childhood nickname.  Bud.”

 

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