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TO THE HEIGHTS, AND DEPTHS AND BREATH

J.P.’s father had given up the ghost. Or at least his body did. His heart carried on the struggle.

John Panella, Sr. had battled liver cancer for the last four months, relinquishing fourteen of the months he had been allotted. But he had lapsed in and out of consciousness, flirting with coma for the past three days.

Here lay a man who had been the pinnacle of who J.P. wanted to be. He wondered how a man of such lofty stature could fall so far, so quickly. Sedated now, morphine became his extreme solution in heavy doses.

“To make him comfortable” the nurse offered.

“To render him unreachable” John Jr. thought.

As so he sat at his father’s right side; his sister on the left. They took turns talking to the man who had given them every bit of life he could.

“I love you, Daddy!” his sister Louise whispered to her un-hearing father.

John smiled at the sentiment. But the reality hit him sharply. He couldn’t remember the last time he and his father had exchanged such words. It just wasn’t the way the men in his family handled things, he thought. He surely knows, J.P. thought.

Hours spent clamped to their father’s bony hands, black with necrosis and faintly gripping back. Breathing was a chore he had no energy to undertake, but it kept insinuating itself into his routine. The elder John gagged and gurgled. His children thought it was his last gasp. They held their own breath as well. But his chest fell and rose again. Still erratic, but still expelled.

John Panella, Sr.’s face was ashen and his eyes occupied deep depressions in his skull. His lips were turning blue and his hands were cold and still. His eyes flashed momentarily and a slight smile graced his face. His chest rose one last time ending in a long drawn-out exhalation. His last breath.

J.P. noticed that death felt the same as life did mere moments ago. His father’s battle was over. He needed not fight any longer. Now John Jr. and his sister could breathe easier.

The young man leaned close to his father’s right ear to whisper what had always remained unsaid.

 

Copyright © Walter J. Wojtanik – 2012

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TRES AMIGOS

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Every Sunday for twenty-two years, Peter, Paul and Frank met for dinner and drinks. It was a reason play catch-up. It always turned into a reason to get “three sheets to the wind”!

They were three friends, the “Tres Amigos” – Pedro, Paulo and Francisco, each with their own charm and specific diversion to drink. Pedro preferred the “Cuervo”; it’s golden elixir cured his ailments. Paulo had a palette for cerveza preparada, a strange blend of beer mixed with tomato juice, hot sauce, or salsa.

But Francisco kept his taste simple and his living clean. Frank was averted to Perrier water. It was of a different tongue both linguistic-wise and libation-wise! But he liked what he liked.

Francesca liked walking in the Spring rain. She liked satin sheets and had a passion for the theater. She was exceptional at interior design. She… wait, did I just say she?

Every Sunday for twenty-two years, Peter, Paul and Frank met for dinner and drinks. It was a reason play catch-up. It always turned into a reason to get “three sheets to the wind”! This Sunday, Frank’s secret came out. And so did Frank!

Salud Tres Amigos!

 

Copyright © – Walter J. Wojtanik 2012

NO ACCOUNT

Hiram Fletcher had a seemingly impossible task. Even as the dust settled on the city of his birth after the unspeakable horror of two airplanes explosively hitting the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Bureau of Information had assigned him to get an accounting of the victims.

Oh, there were people getting the names of the fallen and the First Responders who bravely went in to the buildings as other hurriedly rushed out. An easier task than befell Hiram.

He couldn’t figure out why the information he sought would have any bearing or historic significance on the tragedy. Fletcher needed to find out what political affiliation these people held.

When he hit the streets he saw the devastation. And the depression and the utter disbelief that something so illogical could befall New York City and reverberate throughout America. But he had an assignment and his duty to his superiors drove him onward.

“Excuse me, Sir?” Hiram approached a gentleman clutching a photograph of a woman with two children. “Have you lost someone?” he absent-mindedly asked.

“Are you with the government?” the man started holding out his portrait. “My wife? Have you seen my wife?”

His tears fell. His words coming in thick sobs.
His friend and partner. His wife; the mother of his two children. Nowhere to be found.

“No sir, no I haven’t seen her. Could you tell me something?” Hiram said almost afraid to ask. “What was you wife’s party affiliation?”

The man looked at Hiram incredulously.

“Wha… my wife’s par… YOU SON OF A BITCH! FUCK YOU!”

The man stormed off glancing back at Hiram briefly before continuing.

Hiram felt the piercing thrust of the man’s painful daggers gouge out a piece of his heart. He went in search of another survivor.

A woman stood motionless. A blank stare filled her eyes. Looking for the towers of that impressive landmark.

“They’re not there” she mumbled. “The towers… they’re… gone!” she turned to Hiram. The pain that resided upon her face made Hiram move on to find another person.

He found a firefighter, dust encrusted and composing himself for another foray into the mire.

“Can I help you sir?” the First Responder asked.

“I’m… um, with the Bureau of Information. Can I… um, ask you…” Hiram started as the young man rose to stand.

“Look, I’d love to answer your questions, but right now I have to get back there. My brother is missing. I have a lot of “brothers” missing here.”

“Just one question? Your brother was he affiliated with any political party?” Hiram blurted.

The Responder exhaled deeply. “Buddy, let me give you some information for free. Don’t go around asking that question of too many people. People have died here. Friends, and brothers and wives; husbands. Fine people all! Does it matter if they were Republican or Democrat or whatever? Leave it be!”

And he walked away.

Hiram proceeded to perform his job finding much truth in the firefighter’s words. He walked all afternoon meeting the same resistance. Fletcher’s report would be a surprise to his supervisor.

There were no Republicans killed in the tragedy. No democrats fell silent. The number of Conservatives and Liberals were equal. Zero.
His breakdown was very brief and spoke volumes.
The people who died were Americans.

Attached to the report, Hiram Fletcher included his resignation. What did it matter?

OLD BLACK MEN OF CERTAIN IMPORT

But mostly they would sit and watch the world go by.

Calvin Watkins had been around the circuit for a long time, playing the jazz clubs in Chicago, and Cleveland. He even made it back home to Buffalo to serve up his sweet trumpet sound at the Colored Musicians Club. He recalled the nights he had spent in the smoky dimness listening to the likes of Ellington and Basie, Ella and “Lady Day”. His big break came the night Art Blakey invited Calvin onto the platform to fill in for his horn player. Blakey picked him up for the tour, travelling down South on the “chitlen’ circuit”. Calvin had stories to tell, for sure.

But his biggest accomplishment came when he met up with William “Boney” Claxson, who along with Claxson’s cousin, Edwin James, formed the Calvin Watkins Trio. Three musicians steeped in the roots of jazz, tempered in the blues, and honored countrywide for their smooth and soulful sound. They didn’t just make music. In a way, they reinvented it!

Eventually, the sounds evolved in many ways. And the fifties started to toll the knell for musicians such as the trio. The small intimate clubs started to disappear, opting for larger venues. And people wanted to hear the “new music”. The rock and roll train was catching steam, and although having had its roots in old gospel, rhythm and blues, it steered away from its origin in many ways.

The trio had a good run. But they had seen better days. Calvin still frequented the clubs that remained, resettling in Buffalo and the CMC. “Boney” joined him years later when James had been killed in a drive-by shooting while exiting the corner store. Edwin’s luck had run out as he clutched his lottery tickets, slumped on the pavement in a pool of his blood. He was dead before any response had been affected.

Calvin and “Boney” would sit on the bench outside of the club and reminisce. They traded stories about the great musicians they had known, and the clubs and the discrimination that they faced both as black men and musicians. They’d play their version of “Name That Tune”, whistling melodies from the day. But mostly they would sit and watch the world go by. And Calvin and Claxson never let a day go by when they would not pay homage to Edwin James and the talented men and women of the Colored Musicians Club.

Their memories brushed the same years. “Brothers” who battled their age and their fears. Oh, what a time it was…

CLICK HERE FOR A HISTORY OF THE COLORED MUSICIANS CLUB

A NICE DAY FOR A WHITE WEDDING

Jennifer stood under the pergola. She was the epitome of grace and beauty.
(Photo by L. Kolp)

Malcolm Colquit sat on a bench in the clearing by the lake. It was a wonderful spring day. The air was cool, but not enough to be uncomfortable. The shadows were short as the sun hung low in the April skies. He fed the swans swimming just off shore where Malcom sat, and he conversed with the squirrels. It was a great day for a ball game. It was a good day to fly a kite. It was a nice day for a wedding.

“Look at her” Malcom told his bushy tailed friend. “Can you believe she’s wearing white?”

Jennifer stood under the pergola. She was the epitome of grace and beauty. Malcolm’s heart still held a special place for the woman he had called his own at one time. She was radiant in her happiness. Colquit thought the groom looked like a dork, but she looked good. Malcolm had a hard time understanding why she never agreed to marry him, totally missing the fact that at no time in their nearly three years together had he ever asked her.

Malcolm heard a refined cheer in the distance as the “happy couple” kissed for the first time as husband and wife. Colquit raised his brown bag to his lips, kicking back for a guzzle of his distillation, dripping it down his chin. He slumped over on his bench disillusioned, disheveled and disparaged. The swans swam away from the clearing near his seat. His friend the squirrel scurried up the nearest tree, knowing the supply of nuts had dried up.

 The newly married pair entered their horse drawn hansom and headed off for their reception. Jennifer looked over toward the lake as the carriage passed, noticing the rag-tag solitary figure slinking over on the bench. She could have sworn it was Malcolm.

They hurried away as the wind whipped up. The clouds rolled in and the sun lost its lofty position. Malcolm Colquit missed his opportunity.

And I was beginning to rain.

GREENER GRASS

Jared Kippler loved his Grandfather Gordon’s farm. Summer vacations usually included a stint helping out for a few weeks. He loved the openness and the freedom that his grandfather’s acreage provided. “You didn’t find that in the city” he always reasoned. The neighbors were neighborly and they liked it that way.

As Jared got older, the summer vacations got shorter as he spent more time in his rural retreat. Grandfather’s health was failing and it began to show through the neglected parcel of land. When Jared graduated from college, he made the toughest decision of his young life. He moved to the farm to live and care for the old man and try to resurrect the farm.

When Kippler arrived at his Grandfather’s he was greeted by a surprising sight. The neighboring yard, which ran alongside and behind the farm, had been completely enclosed by a thick fortress of a fence. Mr. Salazar had been farming his tract for as long as Gordon had. Francisco (Frank) had apparently taken ill and subsequently died. The resulting sale of the property brought a new set of neighbors with a different set of problems.

To hear his grandfather tell it, they were “uppity city folk, not very friendly”.

When he would say hello and wave, they would turn and ignore Jared’s grandfather.

“Your great-grandfather always said that silence was a fence without wisdom” the elder Kippler would recount to Jared. Now that silence took on a physical presence with the wooden enclosure.

Jared found Gordon Kippler’s assessment of their neighbors to be very accurate. And the land nearest the fence started to show the lack of attention it was getting. The grasses where waist high and higher where they did grow, and the ground was dry and cracked where it didn’t.

“Only two reasons for a fence” the sage elder continued. “You build a fence to hold stuff in, and to keep people out.”

Jared took it a step further. “You build a fence to keep love out and anger in!”

 

The openness and the freedom that Jared used to crave, and that his grandfather’s acreage provided, was all but gone. It was as if those “city folk” brought their urban banality home to roost. The once neighborly neighbors had been supplanted by arrogance and ignorance.

Jared felt it would be a matter of time before the neighbors got bored with their “Green Acres” dream, and the summer following his arrival proved him right. The tract of land was back up for sale and would sit vacant and more neglected as it ever was. The changes that Jared was enacting on their property were seeing some mild success, when Gordon’s tired heart finally gave out in late July.

The farm was never the same as his youth reminded. It was an isolated place; an island which was rapidly becoming deserted and desolate. Jared sensed what the Salazar’s must have felt when they were forced t dispose of their property.

After much soul searching, Kippler decided to stick it out a while longer.

Winter’s harshness gave way to the promise of spring. Jared had settled into Gordon’s life rather easily, and knew his grandfather would be proud of his effort and decision to stay. Another sign gave Jared hope. It was the one that said, “SOLD” and that sat in the Salazar’s front yard.

Progress has a very distinctive sound. Jared loved waking to the rumble of the tractors and backhoes that always seemed evident on the neighboring property now. Activity was the engine that drove that resurgence and seeing the work going on there encouraged Jared in his own endeavors.

Out back near the monstrous fence, Jared set out to paint the barn. He noticed that in the far corner a few sections of the fencing were gone. A group of people was working to dismantle the enclosure. One was clearly directing the others, as Jared saw a woman pointing at parts of the fence and gesturing signals to the rest of the crew. She noticed Jared observing their work. The woman gave a hearty wave in Jared’s direction.

“Howdy, Neighbor!” she called, sounding quite…neighborly.

Jared smiled and waved a “Howdy” of his own as he approached the fence to meet her. She was quite attractive, and her long raven hair and dark chocolate eyes bore witness. Her smile was warm and heartfelt. And very familiar.

“How are you Jared?” she began, catching him quite by surprise. “These places have seen better days, haven’t they?” she continued. Her manner and grace were intoxicating. “I remember the grass being much greener and the land so… open.” The woman smiled again, and Jared made the connection.

“Marisol?” he asked timidly. “Marisol Salazar?”

She smiled wider. “I thought you had forgotten. I’ve come home. God knows, this place needed me.”

Jared grew up summers with Marisol and her brothers. He always felt an attraction to the striking beauty before him. She was a few years older than Jared, but they shared the same passion. This land and all it had been; all it could be again. His workload had just changed.

Jared put his brushes and paint away and grabbed his hammers and pry bars.

Things would be much better now, the way they used to be. And without this horrid fence.