Feed Your Heart

“Put your finger right there.”

Janie did, but without any charity in her heart. Esther made up the bow all pretty and just on the lid so’s the box would be real easy to open. “Janie, doin’ this ain’t hurtin’ you. Miss Betty is gonna like that we remembered her birthday.”

“Miss Betty has no clue this is her birthday. She’s so far into La-La Land, she doesn’t even react when you speak to her anymore. I don’t like going there; it gives me the creeps, all those zombies.”

“When you’s finished with yo’ attitude, bring you them cookies for all them to share and let’s get a movement on.”

Janie grabbed the handles of the carryall with the plain, soft oatmeal cookies and went to the car with her mother. “It’s ‘get a move on’, not ‘movement’.” She got in the passenger side and shoved the cookies between her feet. The fake nurses would wolf down all the cookies after they left; why feed them?

The main hall in the nursing home smelled of the plastic sheets and diapers and of sanitizers. Janie put one butter tub of cookies on each of the five break room tables and put the lid beside each one while her mother watched. She was irritated that nobody was up yet, this late in the morning and nobody was here to give her even one bare ‘thank you’.

Toes“Now honey, that weren’t so hard, now was it?” She reached inside the carryall and got out the manicure kit and a pair of side cutters from the toolbox. “Now I got to go do up Miss Nattie’s toenails, they’s in awful shape. You go give that present to Miss Betty and give her a kind word.”

All the rooms were doubles and Janie remembered Miss Constanza loved peppermints. She walked into the room and tossed the box onto the staring person on the right. She turned to the left and felt aroundStarlites in the carryall for her mother’s stash of candy. She held out her palm with a starlight mint. Constanza smiled and opened her mouth. Janie glanced back at the door as she peeled the wrapper. She popped the mint into the toothless mouth and left quickly.

Esther had finished with Nattie’s toes, thank goodness, and now sat between Nattie and Jerrita chatting. “Hi, honey! I was just telling these ladies how you won that piano competition. Maybe one of these days you bring that electric keyboard you got for Christmas and play it for these ladies.”

Janie thought, ‘Not a chance’ but said, “Maybe.” She sat in the worn chair and waited for her mother to wind it up. Perhaps she needed help? “Ma, you need to get ready for work.”

“Oh my, look at the time! Yes indeed, I got to go. You ladies take care now, hear?”

They got near Betty and Constanza’s room and as expected, her mother had to go in. Janie followed reluctantly, eyes on the dull floor tiles.Scarf to Face

Esther exclaimed, “Oh see there! Miss Betty likes it! Miss Connie, look over here at this! Happy Birthday, Miss Betty!”

Janie looked up. The poor old thing had taken the scarf from the box and was holding it to her cheek, even as she stared straight ahead. How could that have happened? Janie looked over to Constanza who opened her gums wide.

Esther automatically got a mint from her pants pocket and pulled the ends to twist it open fast. She popped it into the waiting mouth, and turned to Janie. “We done good here today. Janie, never doubt, you done yo’ part for the good done here today. You feed yo’ heart with that, child.”

Janie thought, ‘Huh. Maybe she’d like some music too.’

 

A Life of an Obscure Self-Published Book

Mack sat quietly on the shelf day after day with his 19 copies. The Word Master, the man who had spent long nights to move the words  from his mind to a page Mack carried had lain inert for several cycles of sun reaching and retracting across the wooden floor.

Soon after, others arrived and saw the Word Master in the chair. They shuffled around, never thinking to choose a book to read. A big man, aggression clear in his black eyes held a box to our shelf and scowled. What reason would he have to make such unkind faces at us? If only he would touch one of us, we could connect with him, teach him things.

The horrid man raised a mighty paw and swept all 20 copies into a box. No reverent touch, he seemed afraid to make much contact at all. Jumbled with his brothers in the corrugated coffin, Mack thought back to the Word Master’s prophecy: “No one will read these, I wasted by life. I should take them to the dump and jump in 201402 Dump 264with them.” The kind Word Master would caress each spine; Mack loved his calloused fingers tracing the letters A. Macquarie. As the oaf handled the box as if to bust each book into pulp, Mack felt the communal consensus. They and the Word Master were headed for the dump.

A stranger grabbed a brother and shook him, frightening Mack. Why had the oaf brought them to this disorderly cavern? He heard a woman say, “This not a set of encyclopedias, this is what Abel had left over from peddling this science stuff to the schools in the lower 48.” She dropped the copy carelessly, making the covers pop apart and the pages splay and curl as in death.

“I gotta get to work. Do something with them, okay?”

The woman calmed the situation somewhat by lifting and examining the covers of each of us. She stacked us neatly in the box and carried us to a far part of the cavern, to a door with ‘Goodwill’ written in red on it.

“Hey, you have room for this one more box?”

The door vanished upward with a rumble, then rumbled back down with a loud click. Rough motion and new noises. Mack and his brothers went for a long ride.

St Vincent Donation 11062014 003Mack had thought the previous room a cavern, but this immense space dwarfed it. People and machines roamed here and there, busy like the tiny black ants the Word Master would mash with his bare feet. Why someone thought he and his kin should travel with toasters and bundles of multicolored cloth items, he could not say. They all arrived at a smaller area and were handled without any attempt at comprehension yet again. Oh no, a shelf should not be alive! How long would they languish in the alcove of mites and tiny spiders?

The odd woman drove a chair, amazing. He could see it because she held him her dainty hand. She riffled his pages. She read the page with the proud proclamation that Abel Macquarie had written those words in 2000. Mack reveled; it was first time any of his words had been read! Then GLORY! She put the box on her lap, took us to a person standing AND PAID MONEY. The Word Cabin June 2015 065Master said he’d not sold one copy, not one red cent. Now 20 copies sold at once!

The sweet woman took us to her cabin and the wooden floors made us all so homesick. What had they done with the Word Master? As he wondered, she began wiping each of our covers and placing us on a crowded shelf.

The heady hope and excitement ebbed. Day after day passed with the sun filling the room and leaving the room.

She woke him by wiping his covers again, and flashing him with something. She opened the cover and made tapping noises on the brightly lit tray on her table. Warily, he was determined not to fall for the siren call again. As giddy as we all had been, she never had the need to consult his graphs, and never became a treasured READER. She placed him back on the shelf to wait in limbo.

One sunny day as she tapped away at the bright tray, she clapped her little hands. Her chair whirred and she laid out papers and odd things. She took me from the shelf and wrapped me in the paper. NOBODY COULD SEE ME! How would anybody ever read me if they could not see me? What had I done to deserve being bound this way? Darkness, noises, thumping and bumping, despair!

The lady that ripped the paper away riveted his attention. She had the same energetic, probing aura the Word Master had. She bathed his fiber soul in joy with the words, “Permafrost Cores and Analyses from 1949 to 1999! EXACTLY what I needed!”

 

The Curiously Curved Trees

To Arlen Jewel Crisworth,

Regarding your submission of July 25, 1867: Please sir, refrain from sending any further such rubbish. We shall return all other missives unopened.

With Waning Regard,

Pinkus Sooch, PhD, FJMD, Fellow GGLIOR, President of the National Academy of Science

 

Arlen lifted the top envelope to the edge of the box. Still with one finger, he raised the heap beneath it. He retracted his hand in a fist and punched the box off his lap.

“Damn them arrogant bastards! I wouldn’t give ‘em the time of day to catch the train to Glory!”

He heaved on his poles to roll his chair back from the scattered paper proofs of failure, craving solace from the trees out front. When he had come back to the cabin from the War his wife and daughter were in a single grave at the churchyard. He’d constructed his wheeled chair right after being dumped with his trunk from the Yankee minion’s carriage. With a choice of big old cart wheels and the little wheels from Jeannie’s toy wagon, he’d gone with the small ones for maneuverability. He’d made the seat high enough to reach the stove and such, making the knobby ash poles necessary.

Having removed the front door to act as a ramp at the porch steps, he gathered speed through the sitting room to gain the momentum he’d need to get a few feet out into the yard. Balance! Bump! Whoosh! Getting back inside would be hell, but the smell of the leaves and the rustle of the trees made it worthwhile. He breathed in deeply; when opened his eyes he saw a peculiar man not two paces from him.

June 13 031Arlen sat bolt upright. “Who, Sir, might you be?” He wanted to reach over and feel the material of fellow’s grayish overalls that had sleeves, all in one piece, no buttons. “And where on God’s green Earth might you hale from?” Where could the man’s horse be hidden? Arlen glanced up the path to the road beyond the stranger without any answer. He caught the man’s amber eyes once more. “I have nothing you could want here.”

The pale man’s thin smile seemed foreign to his narrow face. “You do have something here I would like to see.” He stepped carefully as if fearing the ground to heave. “May we discuss the contents of the box that your neighbor up the road dropped off for you this morning?”

“You heard my theories about these trees! “ Arlen’s hunched shoulders fell as did the feeling of having heavy weights on this back. “I’d go get that box for you, but have some difficulty moving about these days. Walk forward through the cabin and you’ll see it. The box got knocked over, so you’ll need to scrape the papers up. Bring that box and a kitchen chair if you don’t care.”

The stranger performed his tasks without comment and placed his chair opposite Arlen. He appeared to know just which packet he sought and passed a letter across. “Can you please explain this document?”

Arlen read it quickly; yes this was the initial effort to explain what caused some trees Cabin march 022hereabout to grow with wavy or off-kilter trunks. He looked up to see the fellow patiently waiting. “There are two forces that cause plants to point one direction or another as they grow. One is the sun; little, fast growing plants aim at the sun and generally grow straight up as the sun passes overhead each day. Ah, the average sun position is up but you can sometimes see the bloom follow the sun throughout the day. This effect coincides with the effect that Newton fellow calls gravity. I figure a big, slow growing tree would be more affected by gravity because the sun’s relatively rapid cycles are a simple blur of light for the poky tree.”

The placid man made no argument or derisive comment, so Arlen ploughed onward. “I’ve learned a thing or two about gravity the last few years. I know a thing naturally wants the least area askew from straight up, as gravity pushes directly down. A person standing has this push on his shoulders and head. A man sitting has this plus the push on his extended arms and his upper legs. Thus I pay more gravity tax than you!” He grinned for a second with no response from his companion.

Cabin march 052Arlen sobered. Now for the meat of it. “A tree feels this same gravity force and naturally grows as close to be in line with gravity as possible to reduce unkind stresses upon it.” He stirred restlessly, his broken body crying to pace. “These trees are like any other on God’s magnificent Earth. They grow in line with gravity.” Great Heaven, his body screamed to escort the stranger to witness the oddly grown trees. Tears streamed from his eyes. “Go to that poplar over there and peer back toward the road. You’ll see trees, mainly white oaks as that is the main type here, that at different stages of growth grew toward a gravity that DOES NOT match that which we share today.” He’d said it, so be it. He awaited laughter as he rubbed his face dry.

Instead of levity, the man appeared more intent. “What may explain the observation that trees in the same vicinity exhibit varying curving effects? What may explain a tree growing one direction and abruptly adjusting that direction? Could it be caused by strong winds?”

“You mean why they don’t all bend in the same direction even if they look to be the same age and all. That comment about wind is a stray dog trying to drag the conversation from reason as the trunks for most would have been too stout to do naught but break were the wind fierce enough. The only reasonable response is that gravity has varied in a manner not uniform over the lifetime of these slow-growing trees.” He held his breath.

The strange man stood with a somber mien. “My friends and I have been drawn to this area for many years. It is we who placed what you might call cameras around the spring that your grandfather had tapped for your drinking water. You are the only child here that has benefitted from that water from conception.”

Arlen’s breath left his lungs like a popped bubble. “You jiggered the water? My wife and Cabin Curved treedaughter drank that water as well! Did you and your confounded friends kill Rosella and Jeannie?”

“No harm came to any that partook of the spring. The water has properties that should not be perceptible to you or yours and should not have created any behavioral or metabolic changes. Your women died of a contagious disease as did many others in this general area.

“’Should’ don’t mean for sure ‘did not’. Your shenanigans might have made them more susceptible to whatever fever passed this way.”

”True. Very few things are proven, solid facts. Most things are gradients of true or false, always or never, positive or negative. I believe we had no part in the tragedy which occurred here.”

“I know what probability is. Our Major was a college professor before the War. He bequeathed me his books as he lay in gore at Caney Creek. I know them by heart now.”

The stranger turned to leave with no parting words, nothing.

Cabin 026Arlen shouted, “Your camera doodads each stayed up by manipulating its very own gravity field and that’s what bent the trees!” When the fellow stopped, Arlen continued more civilly. “Those doodads were there for decades, watching us, not moving for years at a time. Won’t you for God’s sake tell me what you were seeking by hovering over my family night and day as our lives blossomed and withered?”

The white-haired head bowed. The stranger returned to the chair and sat. “We could not interfere with what happened here. We could not halt the horrible War, nor could we prevent what happened to you.”

“Could not or would not?”

“We are not permitted to take action that might change the natural course of events. Please ask no more of me on this.”

Arlen ran out to energy, his meager eating habits catching up with him. “Very well. May I not learn the reason for your visit at least?”

“You have discovered evidence of our presence which was not meant to happen. I must plead with you to end your effort to make this phenomenon known. We do not wish observers to arrive and make similar deductions.

“You watched my wife and babe die in agonizing misery. You had the means to save them but did not.”

“Yes.”

“Be gone and trouble me no more.” Arlen attempted to roll back but a rock thwarted him. He loosened his grip on the poles and set his mouth in a strict line. “If you cannot aid me or allow me to interact with the world as I see fit, leave me be.”

The man pulled Arlen up the makeshift ramp and left him in the sitting room.

The next morning, Arlen found another box on his porch. Inside scampered yellow chicks, a dozen or so, cheeping away. That box sat atop a portable desk like he’d seen some officers use. He opened it to find several pencils, an eraser and a thick sheaf of fine paper. By all that lay a sack of flour, a sack of meal and a beautiful large and sharp knife in a sturdy sheath. Beyond that his jaw dropped to see a set of perfectly sized wheels for gripping; no more muscle-wrenching poles. His heart surged with forgiveness. He dearly missed his poor wife and child, but they and the others who perished now dwelt on high, free from the world’s cruel pains. Who was he to demand anything from beings that could play havoc with the very forces of creation? Let them follow their own heartless edicts!

He looked over the bounty before him. His visitor was under no obligation to provide these precious items, and would perhaps incur wrath for his largesse. Arlen considered that his scrawny self might well survive the coming winter now. To enable their continuous study? Because the Almighty interceded on his behalf? Or because the pale man really did possess a heart and conscience. He smiled that he had such questions and possibilities to ponder. All because had he noticed the curiously curved trees.

Dark Woods 1

Old Dullard

Used to be, my pool cleaning business operated by homeowner contract. They would whoop and holler and cavort in their pool until it got too many leaves, or until the kids were seen playing fetch with Dullard the retriever or whatever they called their mutt. They would call me and put old Dullard in the house and I’d do my vacuum and net thing. Most of the time, they’d leave cash on the front step under a rock or something so they wouldn’t have to talk to the hick-accented Kentucky boy with the imperfect smile.

Pink cat tableauNow I get these jobs. The rich folks have flown the coop, going to estates in the Rockies or Atlanta, a bunch sending prices sky-high in Atlanta. Denver was already sky high, ha! Anyway, they gone and the majestic Pacific is lapping that old front step come winter storms like the one just last week. Wouldn’t know it was winter here in San Clemente except for the calendar as it goes from hot to danged hot year to year.

The call today was from the City and they wanted certification for each property on the list for the pools being empty and not harboring creatures and not creating a fire hazard and on and on for insurance purposes. I know all the forms and make them happy with honest work and pictures to prove it. I used to let my helper Elsie who is also my daughter do up all the forms. I would take her the pictures; she stayed back to the office which is my garage. SheLaptop with Ale did real good, professional like. Now she’s off and married; no time for old Dad anymore. I do okay for a codger.

The first three properties was easy, raking the debris up from around the drains. I leave one and lock the gate up tight, leave the bagged debris on the curb and move on to the next one.

I cannot believe what I see, a live dog, a big one, German Shepherd lookin’, standing down there in a foot of water. “Hey, Dullard! How come you so stupid to get down in that pool? Chasin’ birds?” I quit laughin’ when I consider that dog is probably mighty hungry and could bite my arm plum off when I go in to rake off that drain. He does look ragged. Now typically at this point, I would expect that dog to be barkin’ his head off. Is he that weak or what? Now is the appropriate time to call the Animal Control folks who will arrive accoutered with radios and rifles and such. Poor old Dullard.

knifeWhen I get back with the little sack of dog food, that old dog had walked up closer to my end, the shallower and dry end, and was on his haunches staring up at me. It was like he read my mind and knowed I was coming back. I split the bag down the middle with my Puma pocket knife, better than any other brand, any day. I lean over saying, “Hey, Dullard! Looky here! Here boy, come and get it!”

I must confess, I’m grinning like no tomorrow. When I dropped that bag he went after it, tail a-wagging away. I hustle on around to the ladder with my rake to get the job done. When my boot lands on the floor of the pool, the reek nearly swoons me. The dog trots over and goes to a pile of rags. Sure, it turns out to be a dead old guy, fly covered and bloated. Holy cow, you’d think the fence and gate and cameras and patrols would keep these guys out! I wade around him, yep, dead as a doornail.

I climb back up that ladder and see the busted cameras on the ground by a backpack, solvin’ that mystery. I skip back down the driveway to dig around in the truck ‘til I find the rope and a wide strap with hooks on either side. Back down I go and I get that strap under the dog, right behind his front legs. Um, her legs, turns out Dullard is a female and not very old, maybe three or four years, if that. I’d thought he was a ball-less boy, you know how they do. I hug her neck saying “You be still now” right in her ticky ear.

I climb back up again, sure getting my exercise, toting that dog food sack tight under my arm to keep it from dribbling. I pretty quick lift that dog out of there and put her in the back of my panel truck with the sack. I say, “Lay down and hush” and she does. “Good dog. I’ll be back in a little bit.”

Once I rake the drain and all Dullard’s paw prints is swept, I call 911 and say I found a body while Woods 021draining the pool. They easily believe I was too idiot to know there was a dead guy until I had the pool drained and swept up – all I have to do was talk down home way and raise my eyebrows like Gomer Pyle.

I figure I’ll do the rest of the houses on the morrow and tell the cops that. After an hour or so, they let me go on home and I say a prayer for the old guy as I pass them heaving his carcass into the ambulance. When I get to the truck, Angel is sitting in the front passenger seat, neat as could be. Angel you say? She looks at me with them big melty-chocolate brown angel eyes. No Dullard she.

The Nefarious Dr. Spelov

Lindsey woke abruptly, sat up fast with a rigid back and tried peering through the darkness. She hugged her drawn up knees, straining to hear something besides the constant drip-drip of the water pipe in the far side of the dank basement. She felt a nearly weightless spider cross one set of knuckles, then the other. No Spidersfootsteps crunched the gravel outside, no stairs creaked, no anguished hinges betrayed a slowly opened door. Spelov, her captor, might be away.

Viscous mud had oozed from the wall-floor joints in her sleep period, slick on her bare skin. Day? Night? Pointless to wonder. She leaned forward to place her lands on a dry patch of concrete and heaved up, careful as she stood straight to not let her feet slip. She stooped to dredge up mud and proceeded to smear it liberally across her breasts, down her boney ribcage and past her narrow hips.

Raising her hands and bowing her head she chanted, “P-R-O-B-A-B-L-Y, PROBABLY.” The feeling of the mud transforming into golden armor gave her the confidence she would sorely need.

Spelov clapped his hands and laughed from only a few feet away, his grating voice reverberating. How had she not sensed him so near? She stood firm, not frozen from fright but because of will.

She heard him shuffle closer, feeling his breath as he growled, “Girl, I will break you yet!”

The lights came on brilliantly, blindingly. She blinked and saw him leering from the corner of her eye. In dismay, she realized the gleaming armor she’d created covered only her front. A cookie in one hand, he now reached to place his other hand on her unprotected rear.Oaty in hand

She instantly shifted to face him, splayed fingers extended stiffly to ward him off, chanting, “N-E-C-E-S-S-A-R-I-L-Y, NECESSARILY.”

Bells suddenly pealed at a deafening, head-pounding volume. She fell to her knees and looked through slitted eyes at her enemy. Spelov faded away, laughing manically until he vanished into sparkling cookie crumbs. She had won this round, yet remained his captive. Would the cacophony never end?

 

Lindsey grabbed the phone off her pillow and touched ‘snooze’. What a weird dream! Trying to recall it brought up memories of last year’s 7th grade effort.  C-O-O-K-I-E, COOKIE. WRONGwrong WRONGwrongWrong! Sirens and howling wolves! CookY! Why? Because we wanted to humiliate you! Injustice and chicanery! Judged using an archaic spelling book! A-R-C-H-A-I-C, C-H-I-C-A-N-E-R-Y. Not this year. She zipped her jeans decisively. Not this year.

 

 

Y’all Keep Them Eyes Peeled!

A year ago, Ma and I trolled the cloth store picked out yards and yards of cotton prints for shorts and skirts. Now she sits and stares at nothing, and getting her attention is iffy. Some days are better than others but the good ones are getting further apart. Now at the cloth store she sits at the pattern catalog counter while I look around.July 2013 Circle House Damage 018

I got a” set-up going that looked real smart on paper, but it hurts my ragged heart to have to leave my cabin home real early every Monday morning to get to work in town. I’m still in Kentucky, but have to go from the middle of it to a big town on the Ohio River. Then all through the week I live in a crusty old house with the floors propped up by sticks in the basement. When Ma moved in, I got the running water and furnace fixed. I’m 15 minutes from work, and eliminated all that wear and tear on me and the Subaru. I count the hours until I can get home again.

Anyhow, driving from the cabin to town is a despondent hour or two, depending on the weather. It’s an ordeal to get Ma ready to go so early besides gathering all my plunder. I don’t have time to make coffee and clean up the pot and all, so it’s tough to stay alert. Having a zombie to ride with does not help in the least.

So here I am winding through the narrow rural roads to get to the highway that goes to the Parkway right at Butterfly road 2sunrise. Though I knew it to be a worthless effort, I told Ma to keep her eyes peeled for deer. Then for some reason, I started talking with a high pitched deep South accent, seein’ as she was born and raised on the barrier islands off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina.

“Y’all keep them eyes peeled for them there deer. Now if you were a tater, y’all would have eyes too, but if ya peeled them, they’d be long gone. So watch how ya peel them eyes, ya hear?”

She laughed! I mean actually listened to what I said, understood it and thought it was funny. I was so stunned, I almost missed my ramp to the parkway.

Me: “Looky there at them there RAIN clouds, you see that straight up gray in the sky over yonder?”

Ma: “Yes, that must the RAIN.”

Me: “That’s right, pourin’ down in great torrents. Ye doggies! Did y’all see that lightnin’?”

Ma: Ooo, I’m afraid of lightning.”

Me: “Aw, ain’t no cause for y’all to fear the lightning. Ain’t no way for one of them there bolts to get to the your scrawny little body. Ye kitties! Did ya see that one, haaaw!”

Ma! “That was a big one!”

Me: “They so danged purty, those glorious swords from heaven. They use those swords to chase out the stray animals Dog Puzzle 2that get up there; they don’t care for the dogs howling with the choir. You know if it’s stormin’ cats and dogs, y’all gotta keep them windows rolled up tight as we got enough dogs and cats already. Unless there’s a calico that is, ‘cause I could make you a fine summertime nightgown out a nice bit of calico.”

Ma conversed like a regular person, like she would have a year or two ago. She really participated and was interested. The magic had vanished by the time I came in from work. She sat on the screened-in porch in her rocking chair until very late, eating her supper out there. She didn’t recognize any questions unless I asked them three times, louder each time. She couldn’t remember my name.

It was grand while it lasted.

 

A Gift Must Be Given

Kenny hated birthdays. All a birthday did was let the city know you needed to renew your tags. Each one for the past several years, since Ginny died, emphasized to him that nobody cared about him, that nobody could be bothered to remember his birthday, that nobody probably even thought of his name anymore. He looked deep into the water, his toes gripping the wharf edge, then to the horizon. ‘No probably to it. Everybody loved Ginny. I ain’t worth shootin’.’ The flip-flops he’d thrown had floated pretty far out, bobbing in the swells.

Holland 357The water enticed him, a siren’s call. He relaxed his worn muscles. His innate will to live that had served him so well through war and disasters drifted away like the wispy smoke from a burnt out fire. With the tide going out, all he needed to do was fall.

A shadow intruded on the water. He frowned and turned to see a pair of hideously large purple sunglasses at eye level, topped by an equally hideous floppy straw sunhat with some sort of garland on it.

“Hi there! Do you think you could help me find an earring? They’re heirlooms and I shouldn’t have been wearing them so of course I did. They have real amethysts in them, for you see I adore violet and…oh, I’m so sorry, are you meditating? I’m disturbing your meditation. I tried that and it always put me right to sleep.”

He waited. The sunglasses didn’t budge. “I have not seen your earrings. Yes, I was meditating.” He turned back to the water, now tensed up all over again.

“I love a southern accent, the way you say you’re A’s and I’s is so sweet! Texas?”

He took a deep breath and blew it out hard as he turned back to the intruder. “Kentucky. I’m from the boonies of Kentucky.”

“I am so sorry, I can tell I’m annoying you.” Her brilliant smile disappeared. “I didn’t actually lose an earring. I was getting depressed and thought it better to drum up a conversation to get my mind off of it.” She turned away, head bowed.

Without thought, he called out, “To get you mind off of what?”

Her sunhat swayed in negation.

Vexed, he walked briskly past her and stopped in front of her. “To get your mind off of what?”

She removed her sunglasses and smeared tears away with her thumb. Looking up, her face expressed such eloquent sadness he nearly choked up.

“It is my birthday. It’s been so long since I had a real conversation with anyone, I tried to take a gift. You can’t take gifts, they must be freely given to be worth a thin dime.”Sack

“Is that credit or debit?”

A faint smile appeared. “Oh yes, and there’s ‘do you want that in twenties or smaller denominations?’.”

“I have direct deposit and do all my bills online. I get ‘sign for this’ a lot because I get my medicine by mail.” He thought for a moment. “My computer used to tell me I got mail, but it quit doing that a long time ago. I kind of miss it.”

“Heck, I miss the old ‘Paper or plastic?’; do you remember that one?”

He moved by her side and thrust out his rusty elbow. “It’s my birthday, too. Would you like to get a lemonade?”

“Only if you tell me your name. I’m Shirley Jean.”