Revolution

revolution wonder womanEmma might have known Brian would become a stalker. Her phone lit up with hundreds of calls and texts at all hours. His footsteps kept pace with hers on dark streets, she glimpsed his car in her rear view mirror, and woke in the night to smell his cigarette smoke drifting through her bedroom window. She told herself Brian would soon tire of expending so much effort for no pay-off.  But he didn’t.

She called him and suggested they meet and talk things out. They sat across from each other in the diner booth, thick white coffee mugs in hand, and she said, “Brian, this has to stop. We’re not dating anymore.”

“But we should be,” he said. “We’re perfect for each other. You just don’t realize it yet.”

“I meant it when I said we should move on. I’m not going to change my mind. Find another girl. You’re a nice-looking man; you have a lot to offer.”

“And I’m offering it to you.” He wore a look of mulish obstinacy.

“I’m telling you as clearly as I can; please believe me. It’s over. I want you to leave me alone.”

He smiled indulgently, as if she’d said something funny. “Oh, no. No, no. It’s not over and I won’t ever leave you alone. You just need to come to your senses, and you will, eventually.”

~*~

Brian was as good as his word; he didn’t leave her alone. Sleepless in her silent apartment, her fear was gradually replaced by anger. How dare he harass her like this? An idea began to take shape. What if she became the hunter and Brian the hunted?

By the next morning, she had a plan. She phoned her boss to say she needed some personal time.  Then she approached the concierge in Brian’s apartment building, a man who’d too often borne the brunt of Brian’s ill-temper.

“All I need is for his door to be left open tomorrow afternoon. I’ll make it worth your while.”

The concierge looked skeptical. It could be more than his job was worth to help this girl. And yet, he remembered a hundred insults that he’d taken from Brian, unable to say anything in return except “Yes, sir.” How could he pass up an opportunity for revenge, even second-hand revenge?

“Sometimes people forget to lock their doors,” he said, as a hundred dollar bill changed hands.

The next day, she slipped into Brian’s studio apartment, noting with satisfaction that he’d left his laptop on the table. Pulling a perforated metal can, a length of wire, a screwdriver, a couple of screws, an umbrella and a lighter from her backpack, she went to work.

When she was finished, she positioned the laptop beneath the room’s sprinkler head, opened the umbrella, flicked her lighter and held it up toward the sensor. In seconds, a downpour doused the room, soaking the bed, carpet, furniture, drapes, and best of all, Brian’s laptop.

But she wasn’t leaving, not quite yet. She slipped into a utility closet across the hall, leaving the door open an inch. She didn’t have to wait long before Brian appeared carrying a bag of fast food. She heard him mutter when he found the door unlocked, and the crash as he fell over the trip wire she’d strung at ankle level. The carpet squished beneath him.

“What the…? What happened in here?” he yelled.

He roared when he discovered live bait wriggling on the carpet. She slipped along behind him as he marched angrily to the lobby.

“Max, what the hell! Why was my door unlocked? Who was in my apartment today?” he demanded of the innocent-looking concierge.

“No one that I know of, sir,” Max said. “Could you have forgotten to lock the door when you left this morning?”

“No, I did not forget to lock my door, you incompetent dolt,” Brian said through clenched teeth. “Everything’s soaked, my laptop’s ruined, and there are worms all over the carpet.” His face wrinkled in disgust as he pulled a pink wiggler from his hair. “I’m going to the gym to shower and change. You’d better have a clean-up crew working in there when I get back.”

Brian stomped to his car, turned the key and placed both hands on the steering wheel. That’s when he discovered the Gorilla Glue.

Emma stepped into his field of vision and blew him a kiss. “Enjoying the sushi?”

She never saw him again.

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Storage Unit

storage unit

When you have so much stuff your house can’t hold it anymore, what do you do? Donate? Discard? No. Nooooooo. You get a storage unit. Because you might need that stuff some day.

Akin to the wisdom of leaving your second-most costly possession, your car, out in the weather because the garage is full of worthless junk, a storage unit permits you to pay monthly fees to hang onto forgotten objects. We opted for storage when we finally got around to clearing out the basement and were faced with what to do with the extras. Here’s a sampling:

Lathe, hasn’t been used in ten years. May get back into wood-working some day.

Plastic bin containing almost-worn-out sheets. Too good to throw away, and they could come in handy as paint drop cloths, right?

Six electric fans. Well, what if the A/C goes out?

Wicker bar cart. Could need this when we give that big party we’ve been planning for thirty years.

Legos, Cabbage Patch Kids, Big Wheel, too many stuffed animals to count. Save for future grandchildren. Besides, such memories!

You get the picture. (We had several of those, too.) So off we went to check out the closest storage facility, which happened to be just a mile from the house. Those places seemed to be everywhere, which gave us the comfort of knowing we were not alone in our feckless hoarding.

The young couple who ran the place bubbled with such enthusiasm, it almost made up for the fact we were agreeing to send them a monthly check.

“You can have access to your items any time, day or night,” the young man assured us.

“And the place is totally secure,” his pretty wife chimed in. “You’ll have the code to the gate and the key to your unit. We live right here, so we keep an eye on things twenty-four, seven.”

It sounded good, so we went home to fill our pick-up truck, returned to our new space and proceeded to unload, box and stack our stuff neatly. How lovely to have all that room!  We meticulously labeled the cartons with a black Sharpie. It was a far cry from the chaos of our basement. But then, suddenly, the unit was almost full and there was a  lot left in the truck. We resorted to haphazard shoving, a blitz of get-er-done. Our intention to make a master list of contents went a’glimmering, so by the time we eased the overhead door down barely clearing the contents we already couldn’t remember what was in the back.

Then we met our neighbors.

“Hey,” said the yellow-tinged, extremely thin man who emerged yawning from the unit next door.

“Hey,” we responded cautiously.

“Y’all rentin’ that space?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Cool. Whatcha got in there?”

“Oh, just stuff. Should have thrown it away. Nothing of value, just junk, really,” we babbled.

“Uh huh. A’right, then. See ya.” He disappeared back into the shadows, from which emanated an aroma of dirty clothes, old food, feet and pot. We caught a glimpse of a bare mattress on the floor as his overhead door came down.

Next came a white-haired couple, holding tightly to their walkers as they made their perilous way to us.

“Good morning,” the lady said. She had a sweet smile, like everybody’s favorite granny. “Say, honey (to my husband), could you lend us a hand?”

Two hours later, Honey returned covered in cob webs, sweat and resentment. “They made me clean out their whole unit,” he said, brushing frantically at the webs in his hair. “I had to load their truck, pack up their walkers and help them both up into the cab. They offered me five dollars.”

“Did you take it?”

“Darn straight! We’re gonna need it. We’ve got a monthly storage fee to pay.”

Absolutely. We might need that stuff someday.

 

 

 

The Golden Door

 

statue of liberty

Jemma and Sam were hungry. Their day of hunting had been unsuccessful. They’d scouted for rabbits, but found only berries which they were afraid to eat until one of the Wise Ones pronounced them safe. Instead, they ate leaves; it helped fill their painfully empty bellies for a little while, but they knew leaves wouldn’t last long. They were both growing, or trying to, and they were hungry all the time.

The elders made food stretch as far as possible, often going without so the young ones could have more. Everyone looked forward to summer when they’d plant seeds carefully hoarded from last year. The resulting plants tasted delicious, although the elders said they were different from what grew in the past, just as the children were different with their extra fingers and webbed toes.

Sam and Jemma joined the group at the fire, hoping to be distracted from their gnawing bellies. One of the Wise Ones was always there tending the flames, and at night everyone sat in a big circle for warmth, companionship, light and safety.

“Shall we look at it again?” Jemma asked. She didn’t need to specify what.

There was only one book in their settlement, although they’d heard rumors that other tribes had more. They planned to visit those places as soon as the Wise Ones said they were old enough. Fascinated by the stiff covers and thin sheets full of little black shapes, the children studied the book for hours. The Wise Ones could tell what the shapes meant, but no one else could. Still, the children liked to hold the book in their hands and think of the stories held magically between the frayed covers. Best of all was when the oldest Wise One, who said his name was Leo, would talk from the book.

“I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country…”

Leo said the name of the book was Robinson Crusoe, and what he was doing was reading. That meant he knew what the black shapes meant. Sam and Jemma could recite much of the story right along with Leo, but reading it for themselves was something they’d never even considered. All their daylight hours were spent foraging for food.

What little they knew about life before Now came from Leo. He told them about a place called a city where millions of people – millions, how could that be? – lived in structures higher than the tallest trees, so tall you couldn’t even see the tops on cloudy days. The children agreed between themselves that Leo might have made up that part. He told about people with skins all different colors, colors like midnight, dandelions, snow. Those people once lived right here, he said, in this place where Sam and Jemma and their tribe lived.

“What happened to them?” Jemma asked.

“They fought with each other,” Leo answered.

“Why?”

“Oh, some didn’t like where others came from, or their skin color, or their language, or what they believed.”

The children shrugged. It made no sense, but that was adults. You could never figure out why they did things.

There was only water where Leo said the city had been, but occasionally something would surface. Once it was a huge green hand that Leo said was made of metal. When it washed up on shore, he had the children touch it and they marveled at the texture and density. Everyone gathered to look at the hand before the rising water took it again.

One day Sam and Jemma were hunting on the edges of the great water when they stumbled on an object hard, jagged and flat. Cautiously, they touched it.

“Metal,” they said, nodding wisely.

It was covered in slime, but when they rubbed their hands over it they saw there were shapes like in the book. Panting with effort, they carried it to Leo.

“What does it say?” they asked.

Leo was silent for a long time. Then, haltingly, tracing the letters with his finger, he read,

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The children didn’t understand why Leo wept.

 

 

 

Jesus is Calling

Jesus is Calling

When Callie’s Aunt Norma died, there was nothing else to do but gas up the car and head for Alabama. Callie’s husband, George, might have had other ideas, but he wasn’t consulted. Family deaths meant you turned out for family funerals, and that’s just the way it was, so off they went on the long drive between Atlanta and Bugshuffle, Alabama.

Picturesque as a postcard, the Bugshuffle Church of the Assembly of Saints nestled among the towering pines beside an unpaved, one-lane road. Callie and George were greeted at the door by effusive hugs from the church ladies, and tantalizing aromas.

“Dinner on the grounds,” Callie whispered by way of explanation.

The church ladies had been cooking non-stop since Norma’s demise. Out back under a tin roof stood long pine picnic tables, soon to be laden with fried chicken, fried okra, fried catfish, barbeque, cole slaw, mashed potatoes, sweet potato souffle, potato salad, cornbread, corn muffins, corn fritters, corn casseroles, congealed salads in every color of the rainbow, and then there were the pies and cakes and banana puddings. George felt his salivary glands salute. Things were looking up.

He and Callie made their way into the sanctuary where Aunt Norma lay in state. Approaching the open casket, they beheld her going-to-glory get-up: tightly curled iron-gray hair, spectacles firmly in place over closed eyes, liver-spotted hands crossed primly on her navy-blue clad middle.

“Don’t she look like she’s just sleeping?” a fellow mourner said softly.

“She purely does,” Callie replied, her voice suddenly a honeyed drawl, “like she could open her eyes any minute, as natural as can be. Bless her heart.”

George looked at his urban wife in surprise, wondering where this country girl had been hiding. They turned to inspect the floral tributes. The ones he liked best were the garden flowers, pink peonies nodding fragrant heads and spears of blue iris arranged in Mason jars. But pride of place clearly went to a huge red and white wreath of mums supported by its own easel.  Nestled in the flowers was a little toy telephone and a purple ribbon reading, “Jesus is Calling.”

George tried to turn his snort of laughter into a cough, but Callie knew him too well. Her sharp elbow bruised his rib and she hissed between clenched teeth, “You behave yourself, you’re at a funeral!”

They took their places in the front row with the rest of the family and settled down to hear the sermon. Unfortunately, the preacher had decided to use Jesus is Calling as  his recurring theme, and every time he said it, George grew more hilarious. He hid his face in his hands, but his shoulders shook with what he could only hope looked like weeping from behind. He believed he might have at least two broken ribs from Callie’s jabs, but even the pain didn’t dim his mirth.

Finally, the preacher wound up with an old-school altar call. “You could be the next one a’layin’ in a coffin,” he told the mourners solemnly, “for we know not what hour may be our last. Yes, brothers and sisters, heed His call, for truly Jesus is calling.”

And at that moment, George’s cell phone – which he’d forgotten to turn off even though Callie’d told him to – at that very moment, it rang. Worse yet, his ring-tone was the opening bars of the University of Georgia’s rally song, Glory, Glory, and there he was in the midst of a crowd much more likely to Roll Tide right over him.

Options flashed through George’s mind: make a run for it; pretend to have a heart attack; actually have a heart attack; but then he was struck by genius. He answered the phone.

“Hello, Jesus? Yessir, she’s ready. We’ll send her on directly. ”

The congregation murmured a soft chorus of “Amens”. Beside him, he heard Callie say, “Bless your heart.”

 

 

Anonymity

anonymity 2

“Yes, sir, right away, sir,” Ethan said. He smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes. His job was to be at the service of anyone who came in the door. If he wanted tips (and he did), he had to be pleasant and friendly. All day long. To everyone.

Sitting in his darkened room with only the glow from the computer screen lighting his way, he typed furiously. It felt good. He might have to be cheerful and compliant at work, but that ended at five p.m. Social media, look out. He’d tell those idiots out there a thing or two about politics and religion and race. You can say what you really think when it’s just you and the keyboard.

*All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?

Weekends never failed to disappoint even though Mia’d looked forward to them for five days. The relief of not having to get up early and fight traffic gave way to the reality of a list of chores that seemed to stretch out the door.

“Excuuuuse me!” she barked at the white-haired woman who was blocking the grocery aisle. She bumped her cart, rattling the contents and the woman, who scurried to get out of the way. Nothing made Mia madder than when someone stood gazing at the crowded shelves, debating on prices or reading nutritional information. Old people! They had weekdays to get their cat food and Rice Krispies. Why did they have to bumble around on weekends, when she had a thousand things to do? She was careful not to make eye contact.

All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Luke couldn’t remember feeling rested. The new baby started crying every evening and kept it up most of the night. No matter how little he’d slept, Luke had to show up for work every day. Sometimes he felt like an overinflated tire; just one more puff of air and he’d explode.

BEEEEEP! He lay on the horn. That blue Honda had been tailgating him for miles, and now it was trying to cut in front of him. Well, not happening, jerkface. He stomped on the gas, never letting up on the horn, missing the Honda’s back bumper by a hair. He smiled when he saw the other driver give him the one-finger salute. Oh, it’s on, he said aloud, swerving toward the blue car, accelerating to pass, then braking sharply. The adrenalin rush was intoxicating. For a moment he felt energized with rage. He’d never see that guy again.

Ah, look at all the lonely people…

 

*From Eleanor Rigby by John Lennon and Paul McCartney