Everything but…

Four missed calls turned into five, then six.  The joy of being on-call was overshadowed by the joy of being on-call with an absent supervisor.  However, I was a dutiful worker and answered the seventh missed call that came shortly after the sixth.  It was still early in the day; the sky was already filled with light and waiting for the sun to break through the morning clouds.

“Puney, we have a real emergency,” a man exclaimed.

Finally, I thought, a real emergency.  Not just that someone left their window open and a swarm of bees moved in or that smoke was filtering up through the floorboards from the boiler room.  It was a real live emergency, possibly something to make this on-call business worth-while.

“What’s going on?” I asked skeptical of his claim.

“We caught the big one last night,” the man rushed on excitedly.  “He been in there since about one this morning, he fought real hard at first.  We all heard him shaking the cage and hissing and slamming around trying to get out. Then it rained and now he’s just shivering.  You got to call the pest guy to pick him up, he’s really shaking.”

This did qualify as an emergency, Mr. Big was finally in captivity. We were to meet face to snout, at last.  I grabbed my bag, slipped into a pair of boots and headed out on a rescue/removal mission. 

Imagining the creature cold and wet all night, frantically trying to escape from his wire prison filled me with an irrational guilt.  We were at war, I shouldn’t have any feelings for the enemy.  Mr. Big knocked over the trash cans and dragged litter across the lawn almost every night, he taunted the neighbor’s cat and most recently had jumped out of a trashcan at a child.  Although provoked, Mr. Big scared the parents enough to get the neighborhood riled up and on the hunt for a raccoon of monstrous proportions and a luxurious coat.  He was at the wrong place at the wrong time but that didn’t matter, his fate was decided by the fear mongering crowd that day.  

Parking outside of the building, I ran around the back to the dumpster where half of a trap stuck out from underneath of a sheet of plywood.  A motionless, wet lump of dark fur was curled up in the back of the cage, like a pile of old grease rags.

“He’s dead,” I declared with no small amount of sadness and disappointment.  We had been at odds for so long, dealing with his mayhem was a part of the job.  For it to come to this cruel end, I felt responsible and regretted my part in hiring Gary, the self proclaimed answer to all pest problems. 

One shiny black eye was open but unblinking and there was no sign of breathing.  I pulled up my sleeves, pushed the fear of rabies out of mind, and prepared to start CPR.  You’re not going to die on my watch, Mr. Big.  Not after all this time.

Then the eye blinked, saving me from the life saving measures I was prepared to undergo to bring the creature back into the world.  The pile of fur began to inhale and exhale as it righted itself and shuffled to the end of the cage to greet its prison warden with a friendly wave.

To my shock, the animal was surprisingly small with thin fur, more of a miss than a mister, and almost certainly an imposter!

We caught the wrong one.  Mr. Big outsmarted the world that conspired against him, yet again.  I gave a little cheer under my breath, forever a fan of the underdog.  

In the words of Paul Harvey, “and now you know the rest of the story.”

mr big 

Simple Witness

The man slowly slouches into the room; he is distracted and distraught. His jeans are thin and faded with a rip across his left thigh.  He wears yellowed tennis shoes, each with a cracking sole that threatens to separate from the rest of the shoe.  I want to give him a tube of superglue, help him to put things back together.  It’s clear what is going to happen, sooner or later.

Then I remember, they aren’t my shoes and it isn’t my walk. This isn’t what he wants.

He begins to speak and I am a thousand miles away, considering the distance between us. We are the same age, babies of the 80’s.  Yet, we are so different.

At his hip, he carries a Bowie knife. I carry a tube of chapstick.

At night, he dreams about a noose made out of razor blades. I dream about an early retirement.

Tears well and begin to slide down his face. His voice cracks as he tries to explain what is inside of his head. He is haunted and I am a simple witness to his suffering, helpless to ease his pain.

Simply a witness.

Simple

My Treat

Two grey haired women sat across from each other. They arrived to the café just a minute earlier and were shown with their many bags and layers of clothing items to a quiet table in the corner with a vase of plastic flowers in the center.

“And now I hear you have worms. How delightful,” the first woman said to the second.

The waiter arrived with a notepad in hand. He pulled a pencil from behind his ear.

“Can I offer you a cup of tea or something to snack on?”

“The worms can wait,” the second woman replied and pulled out a pair of bright red reading glasses from one of her many pockets.

The waiter pretended not to hear their private conversation, while the women stared at their menus, intently studying the options.

“So many delicious things to try,” the woman mused over the list. “I do believe I’ll have a cup of stink bug tea,” the first woman said.

The second woman commented, “Excellent choice, I’ve heard it helps with worm-anxiety and improves sleep.”

“I’m a simple woman with simple tastes, unlike some people.” She gestured with her eyes to the woman sitting across from her at the table.

“Just water and a piece of burned toast for me, unbuttered, please.”

“Ladies, I am sorry to disappoint you but those things are not on the menu. Maybe you would like a fresh cup of coffee and a croissant?”

They both looked up at the man and narrowed their eyes at him and his obvious lie.

“Not interested,” the first woman said.

The second woman chimed in, “Try again.”

“Actually, we might have what you are looking for,” the waiter said after a thoughtful pause.

The women looked over the table at each other with crooked half smiles.

“Hot water, two mugs,” the first woman called out after the waiter. “That’s all we want.”

She pulled out a small plastic container with holes poked in the top and said, “My treat.”

The container was filled with live stink bugs, crawling and clamoring over one another, equally as eager to leave and live as the woman was to make her special tea.

stink-bug

Air

Transformation
“I don’t think you really believe that, I think you are just saying a bunch of words,” the man flatly stated.

He filled the chair across from me with huge arms and legs and a puzzled expression. A huge silver cross hung from a chain around his neck.   It was possibly removed from a church altar but looked like a normal sized piece of jewelry on his chest.

Confusion and frustration triggered a tic, his left check twitched and his left eye blinked. He clenched his jaw and ground his teeth back and forth.  I almost reminded him of what his dentist recommended after his last visit but decided against it.  The timing just wasn’t right.

I was about to explain that the maintenance man was not leaving spiders in his bathroom, again, when Lazy Man rushed through the door.

“Puney,” he gasped, out of breath from the short shuffle to the office. His eyes were bleary behind thick lenses.  He wore house slippers and a white t-shirt with a hole in the center of his chest.

“My wallet has been stolen. I’ve torn my place up and it’s gone.  It’s nowhere.  I think I know who took it, too.”

He sighed, “She needs help but I need my wallet.”

Lazy Man sighed again and again.

If Lazy Man was a balloon, he would be almost completely deflated by this time, a shriveled piece of rubber begging for air.

The next day, Lazy Man returned.

He shuffled in wearing tennis shoes and jeans with a clean t-shirt. His eyes were clear and there wasn’t a single sigh on the horizon.

“I just wanted to let you know, I found my wallet. It was in my coat pocket in the closet. I hid it too well from myself.”

He laughed and shuffled back out.   A red balloon escaped from a bundle for a birthday and floated up to the sky, a bright spot of color against the sky of blue.

red

Judas

Embarrassing
The investigator barged into my office with the force of a tropical storm. She had a bad haircut and wore a masculine outfit of pleated pants, a button-up shirt and ugly, scuffed leather shoes.  If I had a proper warning, I would have boarded up the windows and left town.

“I’ve been calling and I rang the doorbell. Why didn’t you answer?”

My mouth opened to say that I had not received any calls in the past hour, the doorbell never sounded, and lastly, who the hell are you? Clearly, if I had notice, I would not be there waiting.

The woman continued in an almost apologetic tone, “It doesn’t matter. My name is Debra Dedmaus and I am here to investigate a claim of neglect.”

I snickered in spite of the uncomfortable tension.

“Is something funny?” she asked. “Because there is nothing funny about child neglect. Now, if you will take me to Alison F. Orgets apartment.  I will handle things from there.”

This was not a request. It was a demand.

I led the terrible Deadmouse woman down the hallway past the numbered doors.

One, Two, Three.

We stopped in front of Four. I knocked, with several light tippity-tap-tap-taps.  Deadmouse waited a second and commenced to pounding on the door.  Plaster crumbled from the ceiling overhead and landed on her dark hair.  Ha! I thought, serves her right.

The door opened a crack, a woman in a bathrobe stood behind it. She saw me and opened it the rest of the way.

“Hi Puney, what’s going on?”

Deadmouse stepped in front of me, wielding her official badge from her agency.

“I’m here to investigate a report of neglect,” she repeated the same line from earlier.

She glanced down at her clipboard and went on to add, “It came from a P. Bones. I assume you know each other,” she smirked.

Ali looked at me in disbelief. I used my mind powers to open a hole in the ground into which I hoped to fall until I hit the Earth’s core.  Again, my powers failed me and I remained standing. I didn’t feel so much embarrassed as I felt small and ashamed.  I set into motion an unstoppable chain of events which would prove to be as cataclysmic as the original sin.

I was Judas and had just delivered the kiss of death.

ju

The Fall

Dream

rosie

Falling makes you feel some kind of way, as my friend Mika would say.  It’s a feeling of disconnecting with the ground, going from upright to stretched out flat, and then wondering what happened and if your hip is broken that lingers long after you stand up again.  Falling is unnatural, uncomfortable, and overall, a brutal reminder of our mortality.

Someday, its ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

After a festival this year, my hubby and I walked behind another couple, we were equally overserved and unbalanced.  We laughed and sang and danced and gasped when Ann fell to the ground.  Her body tipped forward and she moved unrestrained through the air and reconnected with the ground in slow motion.

“Noooooooooo,” we yelled from behind her and grabbed the air, interrupted by a lack in depth perception and delayed response time.

Ann hit the ground with a force, and fortunately, her chin slowed the momentum of the rest of her body.  The woman came to a complete stop and lay motionless on her side; red beads of blood started to form on her face and shoulder.  She stared up at her partner, Mark, in disbelief.  He stood over her, wide eyed and open mouthed.

We followed his eyes further down to his clumsy feet, one of which stood firmly on a black flip-flop.  It was obvious, the fall was the flip-flop’s fault, clearly.

Tears blurred Ann’s eyes and she blinked hard, hoping the fat drops of salt water would disappear, reabsorb, and retract back into the depths from which they managed to escape.  The sharp pain in her skinned palms and the red blood gathering on her face and the crushing disappointment in her head assured her that this was not a dream.

“You were supposed to catch me,” Ann said as she looked up at her fiancé.  Her voice accused and questioned at the same as she came to terms with his lack of action.  She was establishing was what real from the ground up.

She was no longer certain that this was the man she wanted to marry.  The fall shook her sense of security in her uprightness and confidence in her destiny.  The world felt a little less safe, less predictable; it was something she might learn to accept someday.

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

Exposed

Pensive
A woman wearing a soft red beret on a mess of grey hair clutched her plastic bag of precious things to her chest. She leaned against the window as the bus rolled away from the stop.  Beads of sweat popped out on her forehead and trailed down her face.  The windowglass cooled her feverish cheek and temporarily grounded her thoughts which were racing high above public transportation.  Her heart skipped two beats and returned to its normal rhythm.

Good, it still works, she thought about her old ticker, grateful for the reminder. It was the answer to a pending question that the woman forgot to ask.  She felt a strange relief in the occasional proof of her vitality. She wanted to get home but still had two more transfers to go.

A young mother with a crooked wig sat across the aisle from her, distractedly holding a fussy baby. The overwhelming smell of a soiled diaper permeated the air.  It was impossible to ignore for the other patrons of the bus, yet, the woman stared out the window with blank eyes, nodding in and out of consciousness.  Every once in a while, she remembered the weight in her arms and gave it a jiggle before her head fell backwards or forwards, overcome again with sleep.

Another child stood on the seat next to the young mother and hopped back and forth from one foot to the other. He wore shorts and a dirty Superman t-shirt stretched tight over his round belly.  He looked at the woman next to him and licked the back of the seat in front of him.  He looked at her again and he licked the window.  He looked closely at the woman as she dozed with the infant in her arms and still saw no reaction; he grabbed hold of the seatbelt strap and started licking the metal attachment.

The woman with the soft red beret watched from across the aisle as the boy explored his world by taste and begged for attention. She stopped herself from yelling at the young mother, “Wake up! Your boy is going to fall or catch a terrible disease.”

Maybe the licking is a part of a terrible disease that he already has, she wondered, probably caught from licking the window on a previous ride.  She pursed her lips and bit her tongue; it wasn’t her place to say something.  You don’t tell other people how to take care of their kids, she reasoned.  Guilt made knots in her stomach as she nervously watched and hoped her next transfer would come before disaster struck.

The boy continued to lick the seatbelt, perhaps absorbing some necessary minerals otherwise missing from his diet. He was a little deer at a salt lick in need of mineral nutrients or in this case, bus goobers.  Then the baby began to move about.  She reached up with a pudgy arm and grabbed at her mother’s blouse; her chubby fingers surprisingly strong.  She pulled the edge of the shirt lower and lower, and exposed a single sagging breast, indecent even by the standard of bus culture.

And still the bus rolled on.

bus

 

 

Simple Things

sheets

 

Flourish

He stretched out on the firm bed and kicked off one dirty sneaker and then the other. They fell with heavy thuds, weighted with mud and water. He peeled off his wet socks, once white now brown, with little difficulty. The socks sagged around his ankles, stretched and unwashed. His feet were snakes shedding their skin for new growth, wrinkled and pruned in their newness. Without hesitation, the old skins were dropped over the side of the bed, following the muddy shoes.

The bed was covered in a bright patchwork quilt of connecting rings and had fat down pillows in white cases. Patiently, the pillows waited for his weary head, while resting on tightly wrapped sheets with perfectly folded corners. The man struggled to loosen their hold and released the smell of sunshine, still fresh from drying on the line.

He hesitated, the bed was so clean, but he was so tired. Giving in to the tiny invisible hands pulling his eyelids, he dropped onto a pillow and let his eyes close. His head slowly sank deeper and deeper. He wrapped the colorful blanket around his aching body and gave into the sinking.

The stars searched for the man, they watched him drift into sleep last night as they had for the past thousand nights. They watched him curl up in pile of moldy blankets under a tarp, tucked into the back lot of an abandoned property. They silently twinkled and worried, never knowing if a few good nights of rest could restore a man’s heart and ability to plan for the future.

Boiled Peanuts

South
Earlier this year, I met a select group of people in Georgia who believe that the South will rise again. They shout things like “Roll Tide” and snarl with all of their teeth if you happen to mention the Obamas or women in power or healthcare.  They drink cheap beer and sing bad karaoke. They like to eat boiled peanuts and wear confederate flag t-shirts and camouflage pants.

Although my Yankee sensibilities were initially offended, I have to admit that there is very little difference between these folks and those special few of my hometown with Trump signs in their front yards, impatiently waiting for America to be great again. Just swap out “Roll Tide” for “Hoo-hoo-hoosiers” and there you have it, home away from home.

Sadly, I find myself a misfit at home and far away when in the midst of these conservatives.

Yet there is something that we can all agree upon, if given the chance. Something the South can share with the cooler states of the North, just as the conservatives can share with the liberals and we can all find a common ground on which to build a better future.

Boiled Peanuts.

They are whole peanuts boiled in various concoctions of salty liquid ranging from spicy to spiciest, scooped into a paper or Styrofoam cup, and sold at gas stations, stands in parking lots, and out of the trunks of cars.

Those hot and juicy little treats are so packed with sodium your fingers and lips start to swell almost immediately after messily removing the nut from its softened shell. They are not for the faint of heart or taste, but they might be the single best product of the South that the North would do well to adopt.

We can become a Nation strong again, unified through our love for goober peas, as they were first called, if we just give ourselves the chance.

bp

Buddy

buddy

Buddy
Buddy appeared as unexpectedly as he disappeared. A flash, a flame, and he was gone.

It was a steamy hot, summer day in northern Indiana, the backdrop to all of my childhood memories, when he came into our lives. Tar bubbled up from the road and squished underfoot. Birds sighed in their nests and old men carried around handkerchiefs to wipe off their sweaty foreheads and dripping noses. Everything felt hot, unless we were lounging in a tree or swimming in the “pool.”

The “pool” was actually a large, yellowed plastic container, originally used for farm chemicals with the top cut off. Nobody knew that chemicals absorbed into plastic at that time and if they did, it didn’t matter.

We were the invincible riff-raff. We ran around topless and barefoot, living on red popsicles and white bread baloney sandwiches and only coming in at dark.

Yes, we were those kids, living that life, if you happen to be wondering.

Brains, my brother, and I splashed around in the pool.  We zipped back and forth across the plastic container, dodging horseflies and pretending to be otters, when Brains popped up from the water. We heard the same things, yipping and barbed wire banging against a fence post, the rustling and shaking of something big and wild.

“Puney, let’s investigate.”

I nodded at Brains. Investigate was our favorite word for adventuring into an abandoned barn or open garage. We jumped over the brittle, plastic edge of the pool and shook off like little wet dogs.

Like the little wet dogs that we were, we trotted off after the noise. We made it across the hot road, popping tar bubbles with each step and discovered the source. A dog with shiny black fur and white teeth, whimpered for help. Its powerful back legs were twisted up in the barbed wire fence. The more the animal fought, the worse its predicament became.

“Brains, this is bad,” I said.

My little brother nodded, “Let’s get Mom.”

He took off for help, a first responder and action taker from an early age, and returned with a basket of garden tools.

“There’s no time to find Mom. We have to do this now.”

With a pair of wire clippers and four little hands, the dog was liberated from the fence.

“There you go, Buddy. You’re free.”

The dog looked at us with gratitude in its deep, brown eyes. And like that, Buddy was off leaving behind only a ruined barbed wire fence, but that was for the grownups to figure out.

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