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HEADING TO GREENVILLE

“every shade of crimson and orange and umber filled her with wonder”

The trip had been planned for months, there was no turning back now. Even though the Weather Service has been predicting tornadoes throughout the Midwest, Hank and Emily were finally getting the opportunity to get away from things for a while. The farm had been left in capable hands, and this would be the honeymoon that they had never taken. Forty-three years in the making, there was no turning back now.

Emily loved to travel, always wanting to go where the four winds would take her. She wanted to be “a bluebird”; just sprout wings and fly. Across the plain, above the river; under bridges and over rainbows, she was finally getting the chance. Emily rationalized that this certainly wasn’t flying – Henry didn’t drive as fast as he used to.

The colors always intrigued Emily. The vibrancy of each tint and hue made life at home feel very monochromatic. It paled in comparison. But every shade of crimson and orange and umber filled her with wonder for One who could so create such beauty. She declared He was a wizard when it came to foliage! Henry smiled and drove on.

A few miles down the road, the skies started to take on an ominous cloak of darkness, muting the magnificent colorings. Henry followed the road, having a hard time keeping the car on the pavement on occasion. The pall of the storm gave a strange amber accent to the asphalt. Henry hadn’t noticed over Emily’s screaming.

The tail of a twister just seemed to lift out of the ground, sweeping across the road and levitating their automobile into the eye of the swirling behemoth. Emily’s screech was a continuous din now. Henry gripped the steering wheel tightly; his knuckles were ashy white. And then, just as suddenly, the storm released the vehicle and it spun to earth with a muted thud.

The road looked different, certainly not the route that Henry’s GPS had calculated. The car sat crosswise in the hub of an intersection of country roads bordered by cornfields. Henry rolled down his window and asked directions of a farmhand who stood in one of the fields waving away the crows from the lofty stalks.

The couple thanked the man and continued on their adventure. They were unaware of the little girl dressed in bloody gingham and her crushed dog who lay in the road where their car had landed!

PLAID DEFINED HIM

He was tall. Lanky, they called him but never by name. No one knew his name. Even he had no idea. And so far, no one came forward to offer any insight into who he was. Or from wence he came. He just wandered.

His facial hair was patchy, tinged with flecks of silver and bare skin. An unintentional beard for an unidentifiable man. Steel blue eyes revealed nothing of his former self. His past had indeed passed him by. All identifying features were random scars on his cheek and a nasty bruise on his right temple. Both appeared to be a symptom of what rendered his identity null and void.

His shoes were scuffed badly, having dragged him through mud holes and ravaging rivulets that ran from the building downspouts to the sewer receivers. There was a tear down his right pant leg, from just below his knee down to his pant cuff. Pockets were empty, no change for bus fare (and nowhere to go anyway). No comb to rake through his matted and disheveled hair. His back pocket held no wallet to identify him. The remaining pocket contained a tattered handkerchief.

“How you doin’, Sport?” the other indigents called to him. As far as he knew, that was his name. Ask him, and he’d tell you that and nothing more.

But the “tag” paid more attention to the plaid sports coat that was clutched to his chest, than the man in consumed. It had see better days. But then again, so had he. “Sport” had no idea where he belonged. And he knew that wasn’t a good thing. How could one fall so far that the face of the earth was not recognizable?  The guy in the plaid coat just didn’t recall.

BORN UNDER A BAD SIGN

The hospital was in a rundown section of the city. Streets wore litter like a torn overcoat – all tatters and held together by spit and chewing gum. The sum of all parts was still another negative, no matter what rule of mathematics you choose to ignore.

Louisa had spirited herself on-board the No. 13 bus heading up William St. She was worn and abused by her boyfriend. (She did her share of self-abuse as well). Her jacket was clutched to her breasts, doing a poor job of hiding the bump that protruded through the broken zipper. Louisa was cold and high and very pregnant.

So pregnant in fact was the reason she had boarded the bus at all. The Michigan Avenue stop would put her a block away from the Memorial Hospital. Ninety steps to decide if she was willing to go through with her responsibility.

The ride was bumpy. The upper end of William had been neglected and the potholes that remained from winter’s salty tirade gave the impression of riding through downtown Beirut.
Bloodshot eyes stared vacantly, flinching slightly as her labor pains intensified in strength and duration. Louisa’s bus was nearing her station.

The other riders, oblivious to her plight were absorbed in their self-importance to care that another crack whore was going to give birth to another addicted baby. The clinic could only do so much for the dark haired girl; she needed to step up and pay the price of motherhood.

Motherhood in the hood. Too many hoods to see straight. Mindlessly, Louisa disembarked the metro liner, shuffling feet in the direction of sanctuary, albeit for a brief moment. She stopped clutching her mid-drift. Doubled over in agony. She couldn’t do this.

Her scream pierced the moist night air as she plodded slowly toward the double glass doors. Passers-by paid no heed. A gruff nurse dragging on her cigarette turned her back to the wind and Louisa, shielding herself from both. The rickety doors slid closed behind her.

Louisa found a seat in the waiting area, in the corner of the room out of view. Sweat poured down her brow and the wince of child birth graced her face. Reaching between her legs, she clutched as her daughter came into the world in the waiting area, in the corner of the room out of view.

Nurses rushed to the weakened sound of a newborn’s first cry. They found her laying in the rack of the local newspapers, under the banner “Take one – FREE!” She had a slim chance to make it past midnight.

Louisa’s lifeless body was found at the end of a trail of blood where she had waited for the return bus in the shadow of a “DEAD END” sign.

DAY THIRTY-SEVEN

Caruso was a desperate man and his only hope rested in this clear glass bottle.

Coconuts!

“I’ve eaten every last one on this island. If I EVER see another, it won’t be too soon!” Rob Caruso lamented.

His boat had run aground on the south end of this island. If it had been a storm that wreaked havoc upon him and his dinghy, he’d be more OK with it. But taking that dare in his drunken stupor was… well, it was stupid. Set adrift with no cell phone, no compass, no shoes (?), and a half empty bottle of Jack. Oh, he owed those guys big time! It he would ever get out of here!

It was on this thirty-seventh day that Rob felt as if he’s never see civilization again. Even if one of the local natives came along to help him along, he’d be better off. But, here it was, another Friday had passed and he was alone.

“Are those assholes even looking for me?” Caruso wondered as he chewed on what was left of his right sock.

It was starting to get to him, all this isolation. Mirages popped up all over the place, but no oasis awaited Rob. He freaked out when that battered volleyball washed up on shore and tried to engage him in conversation. He ended up kicking him in the face, sending him floating off with the current.

Caruso was a desperate man and his only hope rested in this clear glass bottle. The amber liquid had long since been consumed, so it served him no other purpose. He scribbled a note on a torn piece of cloth from his shirt. He had cut his foot on the coral off-shore so Rob Caruso used his blood to mark the swatch.

“HELP!
I am stranded on an island in the middle of nowhere. There is a big tree in the center of it and I can faintly make out a land mass way off in the distance to my right. I’m out of sustenance; no more Jack and down to my boxer briefs. I can’t go on like this. Please, bring me another bottle and some ice, otherwise this party will remain a dud!

Signed,
Rob Caruso”

He dipped his crew sock into the water sucking on its nectar, and waited.

SHIP AHOY!

You dance with the sea like you dance with your woman.

Capt’n Jaines stood on the helm of his back porch situated miles from the open seas. He felt the waft of the winds stirring up the surf on his crop of wheat. The stalks churned like the golden waves of grain they were. Jaines was very aware of the storm front approaching. Instinctively, he lowered the flag that whipped high upon its pole to raise the weather warning.

But as the stars and stripes of his banner came to eye level, the realization hit him as if his keel had run aground. He was retired. A seafaring gob turned gentleman farmer.

It was hard to release the trapping of his former high adventure life for what he saw as a mundane romp in the weeds. From his back veranda, Cap saw the hint of horizon rising above the low lying ground fog that gave his crop the illusion of floating; a mighty ship of chaff and grain rolling in the silence.

He had a telescope mounted on the porch rail and he would scan the distant view, a “seescape” under his watchful eye. Vern, Jaines long suffering wife, had been worn down by his extended absences at sea. Yes, she had married a sailor and all that that entailed. But she wanted a life with him, to finally enjoy each other’s company – to rock on the porch and roll with the waves of life, watching it creep by.

She made every effort of assimilate Capt’n to this life on solid ground. As far as Vern knew, no one ever went under walking on terra firma. But she had her brother install a helm wheel on the rail next to his sight glass. She knew it would please him. Every so often she would spy her husband standing astride the planks with his gnarled hands firmly gripping the spokes. She admitted he looked more natural there.

Vern brought two cups of coffee out to the porch. She noticed Cap withdraw his hands from the spar quickly, hoping she had not seen. But she always saw.

“You really miss the old girl, don’t you?” Vern inquired.

He returned his hands to the wheel.

“She was a fickle mistress.” he began, talking in a confessional voice. “She had broken my heart many times, but she made sweet love to me as well!”

And Cap glanced over his shoulder at Vern. He smiled his haggard old smile. She never felt jealous when he talked of the sea. For Vern knew the sea kept him faithful. It seemed a shame that he had to let her go.

But Vern understood. You dance with the sea like you dance with your woman. Cap tended to the two of them with a loving eye. She looked forward to the rest of this journey as his First Mate.

“SHIP AHOY!”, she yelled to the crows circling the wheat as she came to stand beside her Captain. She felt his arm wrap around her shoulder as they set sail for the horizon.

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.