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The Fourth Wall

15 Sep

The Fourth Wall*

 

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Charlie Dipple walks into the modest living room from his bedroom and stands in the middle of the space, just behind the large couch that forms the anchor for a seating area. Two comfy chairs are on either side of the couch and are perpendicular to it, framing three sides of the area. End tables with Tiffany lamps help define the seating area. An oval oriental rug with an ornately carved round coffee table forms the focus of the furniture.

Doors leading to his bedroom, a bathroom, the kitchen and a second bedroom are located on three of the four walls. The apartment door is on the far right wall, and has a peep-hole as well as several locks fastened to it. The fourth wall is comprised of two glass panels separated by a two-panel sliding glass door. The sitting area is oriented so that it faces that wall.

Dipple looks out the glassed wall at the skyline of Manhattan. He walks around the couch and one of the chairs and sits in that chair. He plucks a newspaper from the coffee table, switches on the lamp next to him, pulls out his black-frame half-lensed reading glasses and opens the newspaper with both hands, spreading it before him above his lap.

Then he hears it.

A cough.

Putting the newspaper down on his lap, his head cocked to one side, he says, “Miriam? Are you home from work?”

No answer. He shrugs and resumes reading the newspaper.

Again, a cough.

“Miriam? Sounds like you’re coming down with something, Dear,” he says, assuming Miriam has not heard him call to her, and that she is busy in the kitchen.

“Shall we have the leftover veal, or do you want to try the new French restaurant on West 64th, or would you rather go to Buvette? I don’t really have a preference. The veal would be fine, but I am in a bit of a French mood.”

No answer.

“Can you not hear me talking, Miriam?”

No answer. He puts the paper back on the table and gets up to walk into the kitchen, disappearing behind the mahogany swing door.

“Miriam?” His voice is muffled behind the door.

Dipple re enters the living room, a look of consternation on his face.

“That’s odd! I could have sworn Miriam coughed from one of the rooms!”

Cough.

“The bathroom!” He hurries to the bathroom door and knocks gently. “Miriam, are you in there? Is everything okay?”

No answer.

“Maybe the guest room,” he says, and crosses up to the guest bedroom door and exits, closing the door behind him.

He re enters and stands perplexed, scratching his head.

“You are losing it, Charlie Dipple!” He crosses to a wet bar buffet against the wall and pours himself a drink from a crystal decanter. “Bottoms up!” he toasts himself, and swigs the drink.

“Ahhh! Nothing like a smooth bourbon to calm my nerves. Really, everyone hears things that aren’t. And everyone talks to themselves, which is also normal and you don’t have to worry,” he said, crossing back to his chair. “Unless – unless you begin to talk to yourself in the process – which is EXACTLY WHAT I”M DOING!”

A wave of laughter.

He stands abruptly, and walks to the glass wall, looking out.

“Okay! THAT was NOT my imagination! THAT was someone laughing! Not just someone, but a whole shitload of someones laughing!”

More laughter. And a cough.

Dipple puts his nose against the glass wall, staring intently, his hands cupped on either side of his face in attempt to ward off the fading sunlight. His liquored breath steams the glass in a roundish pattern. Then he stands back, and moves upstage to his chair. He grabs the newspaper angrily, shaking it open, and begins to read.

Another cough. And a laugh.

He continues to read, gripping the newspaper tightly.

Silence.

A titter.

“I’m ignoring you,” he says through clenched teeth, still obscured behind the newspaper. Then, very slowly, he drops the newspaper on the fourth wall side, peering around the paper.

A low wave of laughter.

He jumps to his feet and storms back downstage to the window, crumpled newspaper in one hand.

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”

More laughter.

“Are you SPYING on me? Are you the government, for God’s sake – ‘cause I pay my goddam taxes. Reluctantly, I will admit.”

More laughter.

“Who and where ARE you? You can’t be out in the air! We’re thirty-eight stories up!”

Titter.

He begins to feel the glass surface with his hands, rubbing as though cleaning it.

“No microphones. I don’t see any drones outside. What the effing-hell is going on here?”

Laughter.

“I’m warning you! Shut the eff up or I’m gonna do something really drastic – I mean it!”

More laughter.

He exits upstage to his bedroom and comes back in a moment with a handgun, which he frantically loads with a bullets.

“I am NOT kidding! I don’t know what the eff is going on, but it is NOT funny!”

More laughter.

He takes the gun with both hands, walks down to the glass wall, and draws the gun up level to his eyes, pointed at the window.

Laughter

“PLEASE! PLEASE STOP LAUGHING! DON’T MAKE ME DO THIS!”

Hysterical laughter.

He shoots six times until the revolver is spent, and only the click of the hammer is heard.

Silence.

Dipple drops his arms to his side, gun in one hand, and begins to sob.

Slow, crescendoing clapping.

Dipple looks up, and realizes the clapping is for him. He stands straight and tall, arms to the side, and bows deeply from the waist, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Bravo! Bravo! BRAVO!

He exits into the bedroom and shuts the door.

All the lights in the apartment dim to black.

A few moments later a loud bang is heard from the bedroom.

Silence.

A key rattles in the lock of the door to the apartment, and the door cracks open. A woman’s hand slips in through the crack and flicks the light switch on the wall next to the door.

The lights come up.

A dapper woman, attractive, enters, laden with several shopping bags.

She crosses toward the kitchen door.

“Charlie, I’m home! I’ve got some things to go with the leftover veal, but if you’d rather, we can go out. I’m kinda in the mood for Italian.” And exits into the kitchen, the swinging door flapping to a close behind her.

Laughter.

†††††

 

*All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players
;

– William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene vii

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The Projects: Updated 09/14/2017

14 Sep

 

The Projects

Updated 09/14/2017

 

Click here.

 

 

 

 

The Projects – Updated 09/13/2017

13 Sep

 

The Projects

Updated 09/13/17

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2nd Edition, Through the Glass Darkly

19 Aug

 

Ray Ferrer’s cover illustration for Through the Glass Darkly

I’m making the manuscript of my second edition of Through the Glass Darkly available –after many attempts to figure out how to do it – for a limited time.

You are free to download and read the manuscript, as well as share it with others if you so care.

As I do plan to publish it, I hope you will benefit me with your comments, including which stories you liked and why, as well as those you didn’t care for. I will leave this page posted for your comments, but will dismantle the link to the file eventually.

Comments on plots, characters, dialogue, flow, etc., are all important to me. Not so much, “I liked this story” (which I used to say when I wrote book reports as a kid), but, “I liked this story because …”

I post to and maintain my online writing studio on WordPress because I seek feedback, as I imagine you do also. Whether positive or negative feedback, it is all beneficial to me in terms of my growth as a writer and poet.

Thank you in advance for those thoughtful comments.

LSM, 19 August 2017

Click the following link for the manuscript. Please alert me if you have any difficulty opening this file.

ThroughtheGlassDarkly_2ndEdition11-26-2015-TEST

The Projects

16 Aug

  

The Projects

By L. Stewart Marsden

Forward

Sometimes, just before waking, in that twilight of dream-sleep and consciousness, a thought or image or story or scenario will flit through my mind. Like a glint of light reflected off some shiny object. It’s there, and it’s gone.

Two thoughts – spawned perhaps by subconscious mulling over Charlottesville and the last several years of police action.

What if a person convicted of a hate crime – who had served the time – was paroled with the stipulation that he/she (mostly he, is my guess) served lots of hours working in the neighborhoods of the very people the hate crime was committed against? Impossible? I say this because on CBS evening news, a former member of a hate group was interviewed. This person, Christian Pitulini (sp?) joined a hate group at the age of 14, and quit a few years later to form an organization that actively works against hate groups. 

Second, below is another whimsical thought – the beginning of a story that addresses one possible way to span the chasm that exists between minority communities and the police officers who are charged with serving them.

– LSM

†††††

The Projects

Pastor Jeremy Tolbert rapped the table with his coffee mug amid the sudden outbreak of arguing.

“Folks, please! Just give me a moment to clarify things!”

The chaos continued.

“FOR THE LOVE OF JE-SUS!” he blasted, slamming his cup down, freezing the moment as if he had sprayed everyone with ice-cold water. “Please! Sit down!”

One by one his parishioners sat, still somewhat shocked by Tolbert’s anger.

“This is not the same old same old. It’s a new idea on a very old problem, and the Lord knows we need to try something new. Amen?”

Amen, came the reply in unison.

“Keydets are key people of all ages who live in each block. Young, old, men or women. Black, Latino, mix. Straight, gay. Liberal or conservative.”

“We got any conservatives in the hood?” piped up Simeon Crouch, and the room relaxed in laughter.

“We got one or two, Simeon. They just don’t want you to know it!” said Tolbert. “Here’s how it is different: we are the ones who choose our neighborhood block Keydets. Not the police department. Us. And there won’t be no uniforms or badges or guns or billy clubs issued.”

“How anyone gonna know who a Keydet is, then? And how they gonna enforce the law?”

“They won’t enforce anything. That’s not their job.”

“What they gonna do, then?”

“They will play a key role in communicating between the neighborhoods and the police department. We will know who they are because they will be trained to go into their blocks and areas and organize. In a few weeks, a Keydet is going to knock on each of your doors to sit down with you.”

“Organize what?”

“Well, help the neighborhoods know how to protect itself, and to know what to do to identify crime and criminals, and what to do about that kind of thing.”

“So they snitches.”

“Yeah, undercover cops!”

“NO!” Tolbert leaned forward on the table, his arms stretched out in front of him, palms down on the battered wood surface. “No.”

He surveyed the group. They comprised the leadership of Seventh Avenue AME Zion Methodist Church, where he had served going on two decades. He knew and loved each individual. He could talk spiritually to each person, and knew their stories intimately. How they struggled to make it in a world that seemed to keep them down and “in their place.” How they feared for their children, worrying that the streets would eventually drag them down into lives of crime – or worse. For many of them, that had already happened.

“They are not going to be snitches. They will be – for lack of a better word – Aarons. They will interpret our people and our ways of struggle to those who are charged with our protection.”

“Preacher, why you say Aarons?”

“You know, great as Moses was, he had one major problem. He told God he was slow of speech and tongue.”

“He had a speech impediment,” said Mabel Howard, fanning herself with the flat of her hand.

“Yes. So God appointed Aaron to speak to Pharaoh for Moses. And that’s what our Keydets will do for the community. They will interpret to their partners from the police department how we feel, what we need and what we want as a community from them.

“Our job is to identify these people.”

“You said they will interpret to their partners from the police department.”

“I did.”

“Who they?”

“Like our Keydets, they will be police officers of different ages and races and backgrounds. But a key part of the program, is these officers will have a history of misunderstanding our community.”

“What? Like they’s the ones that beats us up?”

“Not that extreme, Buck. But officers who have something in their history that lets their superiors know they will profit from being involved in the program. It will help to change their attitudes.”

“And how’s that gonna happen, Preacher?”

“In addition to choosing our Keydets, we are also responsible to train the officers.”

Once again the room exploded into vocal chaos. This time Rev. Tolbert waited, drumming his fingers slowly on the table. Gradually the storm passed, and the room quieted.

“The police department will train our Keydets. Observation and questioning skills. Recording skills. And some personal defense. The only equipment the Keydets will have will be an inexpensive cellphone they can use to contact their partner.

“We will train the officers. That curriculum will include a variety of things: our ways and how we view police; our hopes for the neighborhood – such as crime-free; and some basic language skills.”

A laugh rippled through the group.

“The only snitching to be done will be on each other. The Keydet will report to us, and let us know what his or her partner needs to work on. Same thing for the officer, who will report to the police trainer about what the Keydet needs training in.

“The goal, at the very least, is that these two people from two very different backgrounds and experiences, will come to understand and trust each other. They are our Adam and Eve project, in a way. And the hope is that a new and positive relationship between our neighborhood and those sworn to protect us will be the result.”

THAT IS HOW sixteen-year-old Jehwan Tyree Johnson and forty-two-year-old Officer Gabriel Sean O’Hare came to be partners in the southeast Mulholland District of the city.

†††††

“So, we gonna get paid to do this?” asked one of the potential Keydets. “I mean, seems if we gonna do all this work, we should get something for it.”

Heads nodded in the room and a low murmur ensued as those gathered whispered agreement.

“The grant does provide funds to compensate you. Not a lot. You won’t get rich if you choose to become a Keydet.”

“Then why should we care?”

Captain Irene Daniels resisted the urge to roll her eyes. All eyes in the room scrutinized her every move, word and voice inflection. Anything that detracted from “the sell” could mean potential failure. And, as the Chief of Police as well as the Mayor and District Attorney had carefully explained to her weeks earlier, there was no room for failure. The violence in Mulholland last spring could not be repeated. Nor the ambushing of police officers. Nor the display of brutal or fatal force against citizens on the part of her officers.

“Maybe you shouldn’t care. That’s for you to decide. Maybe it doesn’t matter that the anger and rage continues.”

“No, Ma’am – it matter,” said an elderly black man as he rose to his feet in the back of the room. “We have come too far since Dr. King was kilt. Now, maybe that’s not far enough for everyone, and you angry on a cause of that. But now? Seems we be slippin’ backwards towards those days don’t none of us want to ever see again. My boy couldn’t see straight ‘cause of he was mad! It got inside his head to where he couldn’t do nothin’ but hate and fight. Now he’s dead. No, Ma’am – it definitely matter.”

“Thank you, Mr. Terrell. I hope that this program will end the “we” and the “they” mindset we’ve all fallen into. So, yeah, the pay is not great. But you will be doing something positive to change this neighborhood and yourselves – plus the police force – for the good.

“Sergeant O’Hare is going to pass out your cell phones. These will be used for you to contact your police department partner, or they you. Don’t lose these, please. If something goes wrong with them, bring them back in and we will either repair or replace them.”

A large bear-like officer cradled a cardboard box, and began handing out cellphones.

“Hey, Chief!”

“Captain,” Daniels corrected.

“Oh yeah – Captain. Can you text with these?”

“You can text. But you cannot get on the internet. They are not smart phones.”

“They dummies!” a voice blurted out, and the room tittered.

“Make sure the phones are charged, and that you can bring up the phone number for your phone.”

“How you do that?” said an older woman.

“I’ll show you how, Miz Cruise.”

“Thank you, Jehwan. It is Jehwan, right?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“Sergeant O’Hare is your police department partner, Jehwan.”

“No shit? Uh – sorry, Ma’am. Really?”

“Really.”

†††††

“And how old are you, Juwan?”

“Jehwan. Like a J with a wan. You know, Obi Wan? But it’s J-wan.”

“You’ve seen the movie?”

“Who ain’t?”

“So, J-wan … how old are you?”

“Sixteen. I’ll be seventeen next October.”

“Ah! Me too!”

“Damn! For a seventeen-year-old, you musta had a really hard life!”

“Smart ass! I meant I was born in October! You a Libra, then?”

“Nah. Scorpio.”

“A leader!”

“And a lover! Least that’s what the ladies tell me.”

“I’m a Libra. Intellectual, we are,” he said, trying to mimic Yoda.

“Didn’t know – ah, no – never mind.”

“Never mind what? You can tell me. We’re partners, right? Partners can tell each other anything.”

“I don’t know …”

“Go ahead. I’m a thick-skinned Irishman.”

“I thought the Irish were a little sensitive. Quick to get mad.”

“That’s a myth. Now, what were you gonna say?”

“What I was gonna say was I didn’t know cops were intellectuals – per se.”

O’Hare stopped in the middle of a spoonful of his ice cream soda. Jehwan could tell he was thinkin’ fast.

“How’s your Sundae?” he finally said.

“Oh, it’s fine! Very fine.”

They continued to eat their desserts silently.

“So, tell me: what are your superiors concerned about you?” Jehwan asked.

“What concerns? What’re you talking about?”

“Preacher Tolbert said, when we was recruited, that the police partners was chose based on – you know – some problem they has with people like me.”

“People like you?”

“Black people. People who live in Mulholland. You hit somebody?”

O’Hare put his spoon down. He was slowly turning red in the face. Jehwan wasn’t sure if the color change was anger or not.

“It was nothing. I made a mistake. I said something to somebody that I shouldn’t have said.”

“Yeah? What was it?” Jehwan’s eyes were wide with interest, and he leaned forward over the small table toward the officer. O’Hare said something – but it was garbled, and Jehwan didn’t understand.

“Say again?”

“You know. The N-word.”

“Wha?! You called somebody Nigger!”

“Shhh! Not so loud! I was angry, okay? The guy was a junkie. He was a worthless piece of shit!”

“Oh, my!”

“Let me ask you – why is it okay for a black person to use the N-word but not a person of another color? I don’t call all blacks the N-word. Just the scum-buckets. And don’t you call white people Honkies? Should I be upset about that? I mean, I’m not.”

Jehwan laughed out loud.

“That funny to you, is it?”

“Nah, man. Either way, nigger or honkie ain’t right. But that word you used. Scum-buckets!” He laughed again.

“That’s what they are! And so I called one black scum-bucket the N-word. What the hell is so wrong with that? Tell me, please!”

“It remind me of this YouTube video I seen where Eddie Murphy was like this old man in a sweater in some kind of kid show.”

“Mr. Rogers? Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was a great TV show!”

“That’s it! Yeah, but Eddie was the black version, and he’s talkin’ ‘bout his landlord, and he looks into the camera and says all nice and all, ‘Can you say scum-bucket, boys and girls?’”

“Ha! Yes! I remember that one, too!”

They laughed. Then Jehwan drew himself as tall and as straight in his chair, trying to neutralize O’Hare’s size.

“So here the thing: it ain’t cool for a non-black person to use the word ‘nigger.’ That’s our word. We own it. Least that’s what Chance said when Bill Maher said it on his show. And besides, mostly we use ‘nigga’ – not the other one. So I ‘preciate that you do not use the words around me or my kind.”

“And I appreciate you not calling me honkie – or worse: carrot top, or spudfucker.”

Spudfucker!? Agreed.” They fist bumped to seal the vows.

“Well, that’s what got me into trouble. And that’s why the Captain assigned me to the program. And that’s why you and me are partners.”

“Not like you beat somebody up or shot them – like what’s been happening.”

“Just so you know, cop lives matter, too.”

“Shit! I don’t even want to get into this!”

“If we don’t, we won’t make any progress.”

“Progress. You don’t even know, man!”

Silence.

“So how’s your Sundae?”

“It’s okay.”

†††††

The police cruiser slowly passed Jehwan, who was walking quickly on the other side of the street. The interior light cast from the computer on the dashboard illumined the two officers, and he could see the one in the passenger seat was eyeing him carefully. Jehwan’s heartbeat stepped up several notches, and he slowed his pace to see if the cruiser would also slow. He put his hand in his pocket and clinched the cellphone given to him for the neighborhood/cop program. It was cool to the touch.

The cruiser did slow, and pulled over to the opposite side of the street and stopped. Of a sudden, the blue lights on its roof began to flash, and he saw the driver lean forward and a siren began to wail, as the car pulled out quickly, its howl subsiding as it sped down the street into the night and disappeared.

As on cue, the phone in Jehwan’s pocket vibrated in his hand, and he pulled it to his ear.

“‘Lo?”

“I’m running late, Jehwan. Go ahead and get started without me and I’ll be there shortly. Have to do something quick.”

“Yeah? Well get me one of the jelly-filled ones.”

“Jelly-filled what?”

Do-nuts! That’s where you’re going, right? To get coffee and doughnuts?”

“Ha! Only in the morning, my man. See you in a bit.”

Jehwan grinned, and stored the phone back in his pocket. He was glad to hear O’Hare’s voice, especially when he figured he was going to get waylaid by the city’s finest on a dark street.

He picked his pace up and turned the corner onto Seventh Avenue toward Seventh Avenue AME Zion Methodist Church, located across the street in the middle of the block. The only working street lamp on the avenue rose from the sidewalk at the foot of the church’s concrete steps, a wide swath that invited passers by to stop and climb them. During the day, the steps served as bleachers for spectators of pickup basketball games in the street.

The Reverend Tolbert had bought a portable basketball goal from Movement God and placed it across the street from the church steps. He had also put out a rubber garbage can full of street-ready basketballs. Jehwan always wondered why the balls were never stolen. Not one. One of his friends said if somebody ever did, they might end up in the river.

During summertime and on weekends, neighborhood kids swarmed the street to play three-on-three, and the goal had seen better days. Originally, Pastor Tolbert had leaned a piece of plywood against the wrought iron handrails of the steps. On it he painted “You must be this height or smaller to play basketball,” indicating a horizontal line drawn at about the five-foot level.

That didn’t go over well, and the bigger kids eventually started dominating the “court.” Of course he had to replace the metal rim and the backboard a few times due to kids dunking and hanging off the rim. And he went through a dozen or more nets. Someone told him he should put up chain nets like those used on the public playgrounds, but he refused to listen, remembering how he hated the metal sound of a swish compared to nylon.

“Only the best for my kids,” he said.

Parishioners laid out lane markings for the court, and spray-painted the lines with white paint. Then someone came up with the idea for an ongoing three-man basketball league, which Tolbert christened “Seventh Avenue AME Zion Methodist Church Trinity Basketball League,” a mouthful. Everyone called it The Trinity League, which suited Tolbert just fine. The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost basketball. The league grew, and so did Tolbert’s reputation as a voice of reason in the community.

Jehwan crossed the street under the basketball goal, flicking the bottom of the net as he passed. He thumped the garbage can full of balls and leapt up the steps to the church’s arched double doors. The doors were unlocked, as they always were, and he swung one open and entered the church.

The vestibule was small and covered in red carpet, which continued into the sanctuary and ran down the middle of rows of wooden pews. At the far end of the nave the chancel was elevated above the floor level. A baptismal font stood on one side of the chancel, and a dais on the other.

Seated on the edge of the chancel floor, feet dangling, Pastor Tolbert faced a small group of people seated haphazardly in the front pews. Only the chancel lights were on, the rest of the sanctuary shadowed in night tones. One one side of the aisle were people from the community, and on the other side, a variety of people from the police department, some in plain clothes, and others in uniform.

Tolbert looked up as Jehwan entered.

“Hey, here comes the last of our community Keydets! Everyone, this is Jehwan Johnson for those of you who don’t know him.”

Faces turned and people grunted various greetings as Jehwan eased into one of the pews toward the back of the group. Jehwan raised his hand and waved briefly.

“Where is your counterpart, Jehwan? Sergeant O’Hare?”

“Oh, he be here directly. He said go one with the meeting.”

“Okay, that’s a good idea. I know everyone wants to get started on time. All of your time is valuable, and I so appreciate your willingness to be here. May we begin tonight’s meeting with a prayer? Good!

“Dear precious Lord, we are set with a task that is bigger than any one of us. The wounds of this community gape open, and we seek your healing touch.”

Various impromptu responses of “Amen” sprinkled from the group.

“So we ask humbly, dear Heavenly Father, that you unite us as one body, with one accord and resolution to do whatever is necessary for this healing to take place. We know it will not be either a quick or an easy task …”

“Yes, Lord!”

“… as the gulf that separates us has slowly widened over the years and decades …”

“Uh-huh!”

“… and the distance between us is steeped with stubbornness …”

“That’s right!”

“… and ignorance …”

“Oh, my!”

“… and preconceived notions and falsehoods …”

“Je-sus!”

“… on all – I said ALL sides …”

Clapping, and arms raised, heads nodding and shaking back and forth.

“… There is no one but You, Father God, who can provide what we need today and evermore …”

“All right!”

“… which is the miracle of your healing hand …”

“Yes!”

“So use us, Lord, as you used Moses – use our mouths and our hands and our feet to lead this community out of its attitude of slavery …”

“Oh, Lord, do!”

“… into one of servitude to one another, that we may do unto others – NOT before they do unto us – but that we may do unto others as we would have them to do unto us. Amen.”

“Amen!”

†††††

The keydette training and officer training was difficult. Not physically arduous – but strenuous on a mental and psychological level. For Jehwan, the process of realizing that not all cops were racist or bullies or imbued with a disposition to prejudge anyone of color, or from another country, or who worshipped anybody other than Jesus – was, as he told the police instructor, “Tough as shit.”

On the other hand, Sargent O’Hare strained against second nature that had been ingrained through three generations of police officers in his family. He was used to throwing back a couple of beers at O’Malley’s On The River, and trading jokes with his fellow officers.

“A Jew, a Wop and a Wetback walked into a bar …” kind of joke.

Racist, he was told.

“By God and by Jesus! Them’s ninety percent of my joke repertoire!” he said, smiling in anguish. It was anguish over the loss of his favorite jokes, not that he was racist.

“You tell me the definition of racist!” he challenged Rev. Tolbert.

“Racism, in a nutshell, is the belief, however conscious or unconscious, that you are better than someone else because of the color of your skin. And in the case of your jokes, that extends to national origin, religion, and other things – like gender preferences.”

“Oh, well! Are you telling me we aren’t different? Are you telling me some people aren’t better than others? That a law-abiding citizen isn’t better than a low-life drugged-up gang-banger?”

“If you can, Sargent, try to strip away how one behaves from those attributes that define who one is.”

It baffled O’Hare that anyone could separate what someone does from what someone is.

“A junkie is a junkie. A liar is a liar. A thief is a thief. And so forth, Pastor. Is it my fault the majority of these criminals are from a certain class or race or religion? Look – my ancestors came over to America from Ireland. The way they were treated when they got here was a crime. But did the Irish give in to that crap? Hell, no! We persevered and pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. There wasn’t no handouts for us. We had to succeed on our own! We are fighters! And that’s the only way you’re gonna make it in this world. You claw and scrap at anything and anybody who is in the way and you will eventually climb to the top of the heap! Period!”

“But you were never bought and sold, or separated from you wife or children, or hung because you tried to escape being a slave – all because you were Irish.”

IT WAS NO BETTER for Jehwan.

“So, the Man has always been there to keep us in our place – whether it was on the plantation or in the ghetto.”

“And by ‘the Man,’ you mean?” asked Captain Daniels.

“By ‘the Man’ I mean the ones who is in power. And mostly that’s white people.”

“Well, I have the power to keep the peace, and I’m not white.”

“You an outlier.”

“Nice word, and correctly used. But blacks have made great advancements since the time of slavery, or the time of Jim Crow.”

“Jim Crow’s coming back.”

“Why do you think so?”

“It’s so obvious! The most of us is still struggling to get somewhere and be somebody. We are a threat! I mean, what would happen if the black man was to somehow become top dog? All across the nation people – most particularly the Man – is gettin’ nervous and all about that very prospect. So he be cracking down by crackin’ us in the head. Or worse. And, by the way, the Man is using you, Brother. You think you have improved your situation, but have you really? I mean, you’re becoming just like him! The power has gone to your head! And to your billy club. And to your gun.”

“So what’s the answer, Jehwan?”

“I don’t really know. I mean you pull out these programs – like this one – and I don’t know if it’s to keep us quiet or to help. We are so far apart – I mean I not gonna hold my breath or nuthin’. It’s like Dr. King’s dream is just that – a crazy, unrealistic dream that not nobody gonna ever wake up to for real. That’s all it is, seems to me. A dream.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way.”

“Being sorry ain’t gonna change nuthin. Sir.”

Thus the Keydet program got off to a dubious, if not extremely shaky, start.

†††††

The phone call awoke O’Hare from a vivid dream. He reached over on the nightstand for his cellphone and turned on the lamp. His wife, in a harrumph, turned her back to him and pulled the bed covers over her head.

It was Jehwan. And it was two am.

“Jehwan? I know we’re supposed to be bonding, and all – but …”

“You got to come get me – now!” The urgency in his voice was enough. O’Hare threw his clothes on, grabbed his keys, gun and badge, then fairly leaped down the stairs and out the side door to where he kept his old Fiat.

The weather was cold and damp, and it took several tries to get the engine revving. He swung out of the drive and gunned down the dark streets. He had enough time to get a location from Jehwan before the boy hung up: Tyrone’s Bar-B-Que.

Jehwan was huddled in the small alcove of the front door of the restaurant. He wore a thick dark hoodie to protect him from the wet cold – or to keep him from being identified on the streets, though the Sargent . O’Hare stopped and unlocked the passenger door, and Jehwan jumped into the car. He was shivering – his eyes wide with fright.

“Let’s get the hell outta here!”

Before O’Hare could respond, the rear window on his side of the car shattered.

“What the hell – !?”

“GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE!”

O’Hare floored the gas peddle. The Fiat sputtered, then shot forward, leaving a thick trail of smokey exhaust in its wake.

“What the hell is going on?”

“I’m in trouble.”

“No shit, Tonto! What kind of trouble?”

“I don’t think I can be a Keydet anymore.”

O’Hare slowed the Fiat and pulled to the side of the street under a street light.

Jehwan looked about nervously, casing the area carefully as he spoke.

“I got a visit tonight.”

“From who?”

“Let’s just say it was peoples that is not too excited about having somebody spy on them in the streets.”

“Spy? You’re not a goddam spy, for Chrissakes!”

“Yeah? That’s not what’s goin’ ‘round. Two other Keydets got visits earlier this week. A message is being sent – just like that bullet through your window.”

“For me, it’s nothing new. Don’t get me wrong – I might have pissed my pants. But cops get shot at all the time.”

“You not in your cop car, Sargent. You in this – this – what the hell kind of car is this?”

“Fiat. 1998. 250,000 miles and runs like a dream if you’re not awake.”

“They don’t pay you shit, do they?”

“My wife has the good car. Dodge Stratus.”

“Damn! Look – you can see they mean business.”

“And who is ‘they?’”

“The Cyclops.”

“A bunch of punks, Jehwan. Real fine citizens of your community!”

“The brothers got guns – big, bad-ass guns. And they ain’t afraid to use them.”

“Yeah? Well they ain’t very good shots,” O’Hare said, nodding toward the shattered window.

“If they had wanted, your head be busted open like a watermelon.”

“And their message to you?”

“Get out of this program. Or worse.”

“What could be worse?”

“Be dead. Or do like they want, and be a snitch on the inside.”

“What?”

“Keep them posted on you guys – the cops.”

“We got no secrets. Unless maybe a planned bust.”

“Exactly my point. You and I is a threat to their business. And they don’t tolerate threats, if you know what I mean. The next shot won’t miss, in other words.”

“I don’t want you to quit the program, Jehwan. These guys need to be kicked out of the neighborhood. They are the reason things are the way they are.”

“You may think that, but the way things are? It’s a lot more complicated than a bunch of gang members sellin’ dope. And everybody lives here knows that.”

“Well, we gotta start somewhere. You should stay in the program. Help turn things around. Get the gangs out of here.”

“How we do that? You think this is gonna do anything more than make things worse you are dreamin’, Man.”

“Like Dr. King said, ‘I have a dream …’”

“This is not a dream. This be a nightmare! And as far as they concerned? You and I are the Bogeyman.”

“So you’re gonna quit.”

“Man, this is my life we’re talkin’ about! They will kill me! Or, if not me, my baby sister, or my aunt, or my damn dog! And they wouldn’t blink twice about it. They been three drive-bys in the last six months!”

“I know. And we’re working on that.”

“Well, whatever you doin’ ain’t done shit!”

“That’s why this program –– ”

Fuck this program! Already things has not gotten better, but worse! You think the Cyclops gonna be rehabilitated? What they gonna be rehabilitated to? Shit, man, they wearing gold bling and got real diamond ear studs – real diamonds, I said! Got more weapons and ammo than the National Guard! Drivin’ fine cars! They own the neighborhood. They not lookin’ for more power ‘cause they is the power! Now you tell me –– they gonna give that up for a minimum wage job at Mickey Dee’s?”

“They’re a bunch of dumb thugs. There are at least ten ODs here every month, and out of those, six don’t make it. They are killing off the very customers they live off! You okay with that staying the way it is?”

“First, they ain’t dumb. They smart enough to not get caught up in the dope theyselves. And, ain’t but a few ever see jail –– but even so, they know they can catch up when they out. And they know they kids is protected and has food and rent money.

“Second, they don’t give a flyin’ fuck if somebody ODs and croaks. They’s always somebody lookin’ for a fix. And schoolyards of future customers.”

“Wow! I can’t believe I’m hearing this from you.”

“Why? You don’t think I understand where they coming from? Get a education, they say. That’ll give you a future! It ain’t no future possible if all the rest of the cards is stacked up against you. It don’t matter you can read or spell or do algebra if the door is always closed. Sure, they’s one in a million gets a chance to break out and make it. What they do then? Why, they move out of here and live in some exclusive neighborhood. Like they’s white, or something. How does that help me?”

“Yeah, but Obama ––”

“Don’t do that. He the outlier. He the exception. The man don’t even talk black. Now, if Jesse Jackson had become President? He a black man’s black man. He knows. He identifies. Where Obama now, ask me? He not down here with me. He busy sticking up for DACA. Am I glad he was President? Damn straight! It was about time that happened! But what happenin’ now? Cops beating up and shooting blacks every other day …”

“So what do you want me to do?” O’Hare had heard the rhetoric seemingly endlessly. It was a dead end street to him.

“I don’t want nuthin’ from you! Not no handout. Not no special consideration.”

“But what do you want?”

Jehwan leaned his head back, cradling it with both hands, arms raised.

“Opportunity. That’s all. Same considerations for me and my eventual children, based on my ability and my willingness. I want to work hard and earn respect for what I do and who I am –– not be seen or not seen because of the color of my skin. You ever look at a black person’s hand?”

“What?”

“My hand.” He reached out to O’Hare, palm up. “Look at it. See, the inside of my hand is the same as yours. Got the same kind of lines. Not too far from the same color, either. My hand is lighter on the inside than the backside.”

“So?”

“It ain’t no gorilla’s paw. They’s black on the back and the palm. I am not a ape.”

“I know that.”

“Do you? Really?”

“Look, Jehwan –– I am not your prejudiced person. I got plenty of black friends. Hell, I work for a black woman who gets paid more than me and can order me about. She’s more educated than me, and lives in a better neighborhood –– which, by the way, is mostly black.”

“That’s supposed to mean something to me?”

“I don’t know –– but it’s a start.”

“We been hearing ‘it’s a start’ since the Civil War! That’s like sayin’ ‘Well, you should be satisfied with the progress you’ve made and what you have, not with what you don’t have.’” He trumped up his voice to sound white.

“So you’re saying progress hasn’t been made?”

“Sure it has. But on a superficial level. And now, they’s whites that has put up with it and now are afraid and want to go back to the dark days.”

“C’mon –– you don’t believe that’s gonna happen.”

“I honestly can’t say it won’t. Especially given all of the evidence to the contrary.”

“So you’re gonna quit, and just let everything go the way it will. Not try to make a difference. Because, frankly, I kinda had this feeling this program was gonna collapse. Not because of the cops, either. I became a cop to make a difference. I want to be a peace officer, not an armed thug looking for somebody to pick on. Not all cops are in it to beat up and shoot people. We just want to get the bad guys off the streets so the good guys can live their lives with what you said –– equal opportunity.”

They both sensed it. Stalemate. Like a game of tic-tack-toe. No winner. No loser. The silence was thick, like the cold pouring through the shattered window.

“So, you gonna report this?”

“Report what?”

“The window.”

“Won’t do any good. I’ll tell the insurance company somebody tried to break into my car and they’ll cover the window replacement. Actually, that’ll probably cost less than my deductible, so I’m screwed because it means they won’t pay for any of it. Maybe I should drive back through here every night and get all my windows shot out. Then, at least, I’ll get something for all the premiums I pay. I mean, why even have insurance, right?”

“Well, least you got a car. Two, if I remember. And a police cruiser.”

A bit more silence.

“So, are you gonna quit or not?”

“And miss these philosophical interchanges wid you?”

“But what about the Cyclops?”

“What about them? They a problem no matter if I am a Keydet or not. Who knows? If we made it to the moon and back, maybe there’s hope.”

“Want a ride back to your apartment building?”

“Please.”

†††††

Frank Garver had a lot to live up to, and a lot to live down. Like most cops in the precinct he came from a long line of law enforcement, as in four generations long. “It’s in my DNA,” he often said.

Frank’s Uncle Stew Garver had forever set the bar for those Garvers that followed. Uncle Stew was hustling groups of people down the inside stairwell of the South Tower of the World Trade Center at around 10 am, September 11, 2001. Frank Garver was 17 at the time, just beginning his senior year at Queens Academy in Flushing. He could see the large plumes of black smoke rising in the distance through the classroom windows, and watched the television monitor as the tower began its slow, surrealistic implosion.

He was his uncle’s favorite nephew, and a member of the American Legion baseball team his uncle coached.

After graduating from the police academy, Garver pursued the most rigorous assignments, and never complained about the hours or the pay or the disrespect he was subject to on his various beats. That dedication paid off, in his estimation, when he was appointed to the undercover division of his precinct. It’s also when his anger and guilt began to eat away at his soul. That erosion took the form of risky behavior, initially, and led to alcohol and drug abuse later.

The department moved mountains to help him rehab, which he did. Several times. But the hook was in, and Frank Garver struggled like a snagged bass, doing everything he could to free himself.

Finally he had what he called a cathartic experience, when he was put back on the beat and his partner, John Llewelyn was killed in the cross-fire of rival street gangs. He had gone to church in the early morning after drinking away his partner’s wake, and, kneeling at the altar in St. Patrick’s, broke down. After three years sobriety, he was reinstated to the undercover division.

Most of the other cops gave Garver a wide berth, and figured he was destined for some catastrophic end. He didn’t care. Camaraderie was overrated in his book.

Garver sat bent over on the bench in front of his locker, going through his Rosary, when O’Hare entered the locker room and began to dress for the day, hanging his starched uniform on a hook in his locker.

“So how’s it goin’, Frankie?”

Garver looked up from his beads and smiled.

“Couldn’t be better, Sarg.”

“That’s good.” O’Hare began to undress to his skivvies, then don his uniform.

“How’s the Musketeer thing goin’, Sarg?”

“Musketeer? Oh. The Keydet Program. Actually, I think it might make a difference. I wasn’t sold on it at the start – but now, I don’t know.”

“I wouldn’t hold my breath if I was you.”

“Why’s that?”

Garver turned on the bench and propped his feet up, facing O’Hare.

“Word on the street.”

“Which is?”

“I understand the Cyclops are not too happy about having cops and people in the neighborhood gettin’ all chummy. And, I heard you got a new rear car door window.”

“How’d you know about that?”

“Like I said, word on the street.”

“I figured there’d be some kickback on the part of the thugs. But when the fumigation is complete, them cockroaches will scatter like the pussies they are.”

“Maybe. But cockroaches have a way of coming back, no matter what kind of poison is used on them. Oldest animal on the planet, I heard.”

“Then why are you still a cop if you feel that way? If what we do doesn’t do anything, why the hell do it?”

“I owe people. The fucking terrorists and the fucking gang-bangers. Anything I can do to shorten the life of one of them, I figure it’s the least I can do.”

O’Hare nodded toward the Rosary beads in Garver’s hands.

“So, are those beads – or notches?”

Garver grinned, and slipped the beads into his jeans pocket. “Hard to say. So I guess the world has been turned upside down for you now.”

“How so?”

“You’re seeing Mulholland with new eyes, right? I mean, what has been the festering hole for some of the worst shit for human beings suddenly now has raised your expectations! Hope!”

“What’s your beef, Garver? I thought you had an ‘experience’ with God! What the hell is wrong with developing a new attitude, for chrissakes?”

“Nothing at all, my man! But be a cop, first. Everything isn’t always the way it seems. That’s the first rule of stayin’ alive.”

“What the hell do you mean by that?”

“Your Keydet. Jehwan, is it?”

“How – ?!”

“Leopards don’t change their spots, Sarg. Just remember that.” Garver slipped a hoodie over his head, closed his locker door, and walked out of the locker room.

“Asshole!” O’Hare said.

†††††

A gloved hand, finger covers missing, gripped the door to the Captain’s office and gave a gentle turn. Locked. A second gloved hand inserted a straightened paper clip into the keyhole, and wriggled the piece of metal until the lock yielded, and the door opened with a soft click.

The Intruder slipped into the office, leaving the lights turned off. A small flashlight helped navigate chairs and tables to the large desk dominating the floor space. The paper clip and a few seconds was all that was necessary to open a large file drawer in the desk. The Intruder sat in the Captain’s chair, wary of the sluggish night activity in the precinct room outside the glass walls of the office.

Fingers quickly rifled through the hanging file folders until a specific folder was discovered. Typed neatly on a label was O’Hare/Johnson: Keydet Program. The Intruder slowly pulled a manilla folder out, and slipped it under a worn wool sweater, tucking the bottom of the folder under the top of his jeans. He closed the drawer, and stood to leave.

“Hey! What the hell are you doing in the Captain’s office?” The ceiling light suddenly flickered on as an officer stood in the doorway of the office.

“I had a meeting with Daniels this afternoon and left my cellphone in here.” The Intruder raised his gloved hand that held his cellphone. “See? I came in to find it.”

“In the dark?”

“First rule of investigative search, my man: turn the lights off and use a flashlight. You see things easier that way.” The Intruder flicked the small flashlight on and off to demonstrate.

“You are such a case,” the officer said.

“Fuck you,” replied the Intruder, shoving past his discoverer. “I got duty tonight. Have a pleasant evening.”

†††††

 

O’Hare burped loudly, and pushed away from the table.

“Sean!” his wife responded.

“What can I say? It’s a compliment in some cultures,” he grinned.

His son laughed out loud, and forced his own burp.

“See what you’re teaching him?”

O’Hare patted his son on the shoulder as he walked into the living room.

“The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, my Dear.”

He sat in his favorite lumpy chair and grabbed the remote, flicking on the flatscreen. He knew the UFC channel by heart, and turned to a bout between two rugged and muscular fighters. As he leaned back to fall into his customary after-dinner snooze, his phone vibrated.

“Damn!”

It was Jehwan. A text.

I need your help! Can you meet me at the church by the basketball goal?

WHAT’S GOING ON?

I don’t have time

ON MY WAY

“Marie, I gotta go.”

“What this time?” She said it as though she had said it a thousand times before, with a tired, defeated tone.

“Hey! Sorry, Hon. It’s Jehwan.”

“That boy will be the reason I divorce you.”

“I know,” he replied gently, and kissed her on the forehead. He grabbed his coat and waved at his son as he opened the door to leave.

“Bye, Dad!”

And was gone.

†††††

The Fiat literally smoked through the night streets. O’Hare was a bit miffed, like his wife. But he understood. He decided to talk to Jehwan and stress how little time he spent with his family. How police work wasn’t a 9 to 5 job. How his wife always worried if he would return home, whether or not she said it.

“This’d better be something,” he grumbled to himself as he turned down Seventh Avenue. He could see someone who looked like Jehwan sitting on the church steps in the light of the street lamp. He pulled over and parked and got out.

“What’s the problem?” he said in a loud voice.

“What? What’re you talking about? I was going to ask you the same thing!” Jehwan said, walking toward O’Hare in a huff.

Then it dawned on the cop.

Damn! We’ve been set up! Get into the church – quick!”

But it was too late.

†††††

The decision to hold services for both Sargent Gabriel Sean O’Hare and Jehwan Tyree Johnson met resistance from no one. Not O’Hare’s wife and son; not Jehwan’s mother or sister or other family members. And to hold it at Seventh Avenue AME Zion Methodist Church in the Mulholland projects was also a unanimous choice.

The day was not gray with clouds, nor maudlin with dreary rain, but the contrary. A beautiful blue sky looked down two communities gathered to morn and celebrate their lives and contributions.

Along Seventh Avenue officers of the Twenty-first Precinct lined the street on one side, dressed immaculately in their formal blues. On the opposite side of the avenue gathered those who knew, as well as those who did not know, Jehwan and his family.

Two shiny black funeral limousines turned down the street, headed for the church. Flags and flowers decorated every foot of the short drive from the corner. A line of six police officers, dressed in Scottish garb, marched slowly down the street in a wide line, bagpipes to shoulders, regimented in every movement. The lonely shrill of the pipes echoed Amazing Grace in the canyon of the avenue, the pipers turning at the steps of the church and splitting evenly on either side of the stairway.

The first limousine held Jehwan’s coffin. Eight pallbearers stepped forward as the coffin was rolled from the rear of the car. Four of the pallbearers were police officers, and included Captain Irene Daniels. The four other pallbearers were family members of Jehwan.

The second limousine held Sargent O’Hare, and again, eight pallbearers stepped forward. Four officers, and four from the community – including Pastor Jeremy Tolbert.

As the two coffins were lifted and carried up the stairs and into the church, the bagpipers fell into double lines behind the procession. The coffins were placed at the front of the church on either side of the midline.

Pastor Tolbert climbed to the pulpit and held onto either side of the wooden structure, gazing into the faces and eyes of those gathered. He nodded, and the piped song ended at the next refrain, the pipers slowly splitting to either side of the sanctuary where they stood at attention.

“What a beautiful day to honor two beautiful people: Sargent Gabriel Sean O’Hare and Jehwan Tyree Johnson.

“As they have become a part of us over the months, as they have struggled and succeeded – yes, succeeded in helping to bring us all together – we have much to be thankful for.”

Scattered amens echoed in the sanctuary.

“Sargent O’Hare and Jehwan came together as a part of The Keydet Project. Many of you know about it, and many of you are participating in it.

“And just as this program was indeed a project here in what many call the projects, so were Sargent O’Hare and young Jehwan.

“As are we all. Projects.

“We come together today as unfinished projects; as projects that are in some way crude, with a long way to go before we are finished products.

“But, rest assured, we are in the Master’s hands, and he will see each of us through to the end.”

Amens and hallelujahs.

“I know this is a hard time for the family and friends of these two. My heart aches, and I would like more than anything we were not gathered here for this occasion, God knows.”

Well!

“But this I know: that in that day I will stand in the presence of God Almighty, when I hope, through his Grace and Forgiveness, that he will say to me, “Well done!”

Tolbert turned and nodded at a young black woman off to the side who was dressed in a deep red choir robe. She stepped forward and began to sing.

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll …

Her voice started out light and soulful, the notes filling the sanctuary with reverence and pain. Then she stood straight and resolute, arms to her side, hands balled into fists, her eyes looking up into the great arch of the sanctuary.

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say …

She became more than a conqueror on the last line, raising both arms and hands high above her head, her voice trembling with emotion.

It is well, it is well, with my soul!

Tolbert stepped to the side of the podium, and motioned to the congregation to rise and join in the chorus, well-known by some, awkwardly unfamiliar by most.

It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul!

The grand blend of voices crescendoed and hung in the air, as the drifting sound of bells knelling on a distant hill.

Tears flowed freely, and handkerchiefs flapped like flags throughout the congregation. Tolbert returned to the podium, and raised his hands for silence and attention.

“I do not think it inappropriate to ask the members of my community, and the members of the police community, to move from where you currently stand and to integrate – if I may use that word – into one united body.”

Then he nodded and directed with his arms as the attendees slowly realized what he meant, and began to mill and mix with each other, shaking hands, hugging, and exchanging quiet and brief words to each other.

As family, friends and neighbors and police officers became indistinct from each other and melded, Tolbert began to sing.

A-a-ma-zing Grace, how sweet the sound

And as others joined in, the bagpipers began to play. The pallbearers resumed their positions, bearing both coffins back down the center aisle and down the steps to the awaiting limousines, followed by the bagpipers and the congregation.

At the end of the street, parked off to one side inconspicuously, was a sleek Ford Mustang. Its passengers were shaved bald, with greenish-black tattoos running up their necks, and covering each arm with sleeves of diabolical renderings.

The driver put on dark sun glasses, and lit a cigarette, then reached down and patted the handgun resting on the console. He looked around and grinned at his passengers, who took the safety locks off their guns. Then the driver reached to turn the key in the ignition.

The End

Note: This is the germ of a story on a contemporary problem. The central idea is two persons of different backgrounds are thrust together, not necessarily in accordance with their will, to try to work towards some semblance of understanding and cooperation for the good of all. Kind of like Congress, too. If you would like to see more of the story unfold, please say so. If you have any contribution or ideas as to how the story should/could progress, comment on that also. Thanks for the “likes,” but it is your comments I’m more interested in. LSM.

Expectations of the Anticipatory Kind

2 Nov

Expectations of the Anticipatory Kind

By L. Stewart Marsden

He stood in an awkward way,
Fidgeting with the watch in his pocket,
Rubbing his thumb over the smooth glass face and the protruding stem,
And remembering the words to the telegram,
Now indelibly etched in his memory:

Coming.
Stop.
Taking the 511 out of Philly 3 Oct.
Stop.
One trunk of clothing.
Stop.
Three day trip unless delays.
Stop.
There is no turning back now.
Stop.
Jane.

He leaned back and closed his eyes.
The late afternoon sun warmed his lids red from the inside.
He was reminded of a trip to a beach when he was young back East.
He lay on the sand, bathed in radiant heat from the sun.
Nearby waves crumbled onto the shore, creeping ever closer.

Notice:
Retired school teacher looking to relocate to the midwest.
Single, unmarried.
No children.
No emotional baggage.
Reasonably attractive.
Hard worker.
Marriage or companionship, preferably the former.
Respond to Box 14-U, …

And over the year, a conversation by mail.

I don’t know your name …
Jane
But if you don’t mind a small and simple house
Small and simple is fine
And a man who is straight-forward
I prefer an honest man
Who is sober
I do not drink whiskey
And is content to live within his means
I own two dresses and a ring my mother gave me, that is all
Then perhaps you will consider my proposal
Without a doubt!
To continue writing in order to know one another better
As you wish.
I was married before
I am fine with that. I have never been married.
But she died during the birth of our son
How heart-breaking!
And I have been making the best of life since
Perhaps a good woman might help fill that empty place?
As you can tell, I am not a man of letters
I prefer a simple man
And I am not inclined to attend church on Sundays
I understand. I can read my Bible by the fire.
But do, on occasion, go into town for levity and square dancing,
I have been known to dance on occasion myself.
I have 16 acres of land adjacent to a creek, which provides water
It sounds delightful
And I raise 20 or so head of cattle which I calf and keep along with the milk cows
Very pastoral! You could teach me to milk the cows?
Other than my best bull, the rest are sold and I make out okay
Again, I am not a presumptuous woman
I keep chickens and a few hogs, and have a small garden
You are a self-sufficient man, indeed!

The iron steam engine hissed into the station, coming to a gradual stop.
Porters and baggage men hopped into action, aiding and unloading passengers and luggage.
He stood straight up, pulled off his best hat, and spit-smoothed his hair along the sides of his head.
He yanked his britches up, and tightened his belt.
The end tip of a laced parasol appeared from the steps of one of the passenger cars, and a porter reached up from the platform.
A gloved hand next extended to take the offered help.
He stared, and held his breath.

The Blink, Conclusion

9 Jun

The Blink

Conclusion

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Like Sequoia, Adams had eventually slumped down over the hours awaiting nightfall. As the sky and the forest darkened, members of the tribe stoked the campfire into a roaring blaze, which they continued to heap wood into. The heat from the fire roasted the two prisoners. Adams was able to twist partially around, and cool himself. Sequoia, whose feet were a few inches above the ground, was not able to twist as easily as he.

The members of the tribe were busy with preparation for the evening’s ceremony. The women painted the men’s faces and bodies with colors mixed from clay and ashes and berries. Fearful scowls were drawn on the already somber profiles, and here and there came a “whoop!”

Children sneaked close to Sequoia and Adams, dared by their friends to touch or prod one of the two. Her being a witch, and him perhaps being a Wanderer lent more than a measure of bravado to the antics of the young “warriors.”

As dire as the situation was, Adams remained strangely calm. He had no idea what tests he might be subjected to, but he could imagine. Cutting, perhaps. Impalement of parts of his body. He had seen enough movies of white men tortured by the Red Man. Who could know how accurate those depictions were?

Adams wondered if push came to shove, whether he could make his escape by willing himself to blink a special blink. Obviously any blink was not the trick. He had already blinked many thousands of times since noon to no avail. If he could somehow learn how to manage this — what? Gift? He started to laugh. This “gift” was the reason he was how many years into the past? Was the reason he was trussed up like a pig, almost. Was the reason whatever bad was going to happen, was going to happen to him.

He countered the bad with the good. He had never seen the earth, or space, or the galaxies as when he first traveled. He had never seen the world so green, or the skies so clear. He had never smelled the rain so fresh, nor tasted water from a creek that he was not afraid to drink. He had never seen such a ravine-haired beauty as Sequoia, her large eyes filled with life and wonder, her round face begging for his touch.

He shook his head to return to reality.

The activity of the tribe abruptly became more frenzied. Warriors began to dance and leap around the fire, which was fanned by their activity, and spewed sparks into the smoky air. Several drums began to beat in the dark parameter of the clearing. Women joined the men, and children joined the adults.

It reminded Adams of the scene in Lord of the Flies when the hunters reenacted their chase and frenzied killing of the pig.

Someone’s going to die soon, he thought, still unafraid for himself. It was Sequoia he feared for. They believed she was a witch. They banned her from the tribe, and then went out to hunt her down. She was the target of this rage and insanity.

It depended on him. Her life was in his hands. And whatever was necessary, Adams braced himself to save her.

The drums stopped as suddenly as they had begun. All of the tribe members fell to the ground where they were. The tall man emerged from the darkness and walked into the circle close to the fire to be seen by all. Half his face was painted white, and the other, black. He carried a long spear, adorned with white feathers from the stone blade to the end of the shaft. He slowly thumped the ground with the spear three times.

“Unelahuhi approaches on the light of the stars,” he said. “She will judge the pale man. She will prove his metal, and as a result I will know how to deal with Sequoia. Bring him here and truss him.”

Adams was cut down from the horizontal pole and crumpled to the ground. Two men grabbed wither arm and dragged him to the tall man. Other men brought three poles which were about as long as Adams was tall. Two were crossed and midpoints, forming an x. The third pole was lashed at the crossing, and extended backwards, the opposite end thrust into the ashes at the edge of the fire, supporting the x at a slight tilt backwards.

Adams was lashed to the cross, his wrists on the upper ends, and his ankles to the lower ends. The fire behind him, Adams struggled against the poles, but it was useless.

The tall man approached the bound prisoner, and pulled a large stone knife from a leather sheath. The blade was glassy in the firelight, chipped to a fine edge. The tall man cut away the leather shirt top Adams wore as though it was paper.

“Who are you?” the tall man asked.

“My name is Kyle Wyndham Adams.”

“Where do you come from, Kyle Wyndham Adams? Where is your tribe?”

“I come from far in the future. Beyond your grandchildren’s grandchildren. Beyond the edge of the sky. Beyond the light of the moon. Beyond all dreams you will ever dream.”

“Are you a Wanderer?”

“I don’t know.”

“Your blood is silver if you are.” The tall man made a thin cut from Adams’ right breast across his chest and down to his left side. Adams bit his tongue from crying out. He could feel his blood rush out from the cut and run down his belly to his thighs.

The tall man looked intently at the blood.

“Unh! It is red.”

He then made a second cut from Adams’ left breast the opposite way across his chest, forming a large x.

Sweat poured from Adams’ face and neck, and his clenched jaws and taut neck and shoulders belied the pain. He was quiet.

The tall man took his finger and traced it across Adams’ blood swathed chest. He looked at his finger in the firelight.

“Unh. Once again, it is red. If you are not a Wanderer, what are you? A coyote? The dog that follows Sequoia? If I put my knife where the bloodlines cross, will you not change into your true spirit? Yes, you will — or you will die!”

With that, the tall man took the knife in both hands and placed its tip at the intersection of the bloody x. He closed his eyes and tilted head back to look at the full moon that bathed the clearing in its blueish light. He inhaled deeply, and tensed every muscle in his neck and shoulders, arms and hands.

“FATHER! NO!” came a loud scream from where Sequoia still hung from the pole.

Adams blinked, and everything slowed to a near stand-still. He felt his spirit pull away from his body as before, yet as before, his body was still alive.

As he rose with the sparks of the fire, he looked where Sequoia was tied. Her body seemed to hang in the air, and as he watched, Sequoia twisted and jerked frantically against the pole, breaking free. At that instance, she turned toward the tall man where Adams’ body still struggled against crossed poles, the tall man’s knife beginning to prick at the center of the bloody x.

She leaped, jumping incredibly high and towards the two. As she soared, Sequoia’s body became a blur. It shifted from that of a woman into a large black cat. A puma? A leopard?

The tall man dropped his knife and turned towards the beast, which crashed into him, throwing him to the ground. Then, turning and slashing Adams’ body free from the rack, the animal bore him on its back and disappeared into the dark forest.

Above the fray, Adams’ essence tried to follow the escaping animal and his body. Instead, he was forced higher into the dark night, and shot up into the air high enough to see the surrounding countryside bathed in moonlight.

He continued up. To the stratosphere. To the edge of the galaxy. Into deep space, all the while wondering what he had seen and what had happened.

Far into the deep he finally stopped and turned, and began the journey back, feeling his arms and legs drag behind. Back to the galaxy. Back to the stratosphere.

Finally, he came back down to the curving switchback road and the sports car, where he leaned in the direction of each turn, ascending to the top of the mountain.

His head and face throbbed with his pulsing heartbeat. He tried, but could not grasp or clarify the instantaneous flash — a dream that was blurred to the point he could not bring it into focus.

Adams parked and carefully picked his way on a well-worn trail that snaked through the rock formations until he stood — nearly alone — on an outcropping of rocks.

The sun had begun its slow descent in the western sky. All along the undulating rises of mountains separated by darkening valleys were hundreds of mountain homes. He sighed and wondered what it might have looked like a thousand years before. When everything was unspoiled and pristine.

A slight gust of wind whipped over the outcrop and blew into his face, and there was the faint aroma of a campfire, wafting up from the valley below.

Kyle Wyndham Adams blinked.

§ § § § §

Author’s note:

The Blink is intended to be one of five stories compiled under The Sugar Chronicles. Each story will be inconclusive in many ways if considered separately, which may frustrate you as a reader. Be patient. Each story will be woven from similar themes and characters. Or perhaps ancestors or descendants of characters. If you are reading this and are a writer, you know how coveted are comments, and not of the “I loved it” or opposite reaction variety. The whys are critical for any writer to hear. Why did you like a particular character — or not like the character? Was the dialogue convincing? Were there challenges in terms of storyline, credibility, consistency?

— LSM

The Blink, Chapter Three

2 Jun

The Blink

Chapter Three

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

They were bound to a pole that rested on their shoulders, hands crossed and lashed with leather thongs above the pole. Sequoia walked behind Adams. The men walked along either side and at the front and rear of the processional. They carried their spears at the ready. None spoke.

They followed a feint trail through the woods. Where the pathway was too narrow, the side guards waited, and caught up when it widened.

Adams wished for the urge to blink, and even tried to make it occur by will, but nothing happened.

I suppose this is what is to be, he thought to himself.

The group crossed the creek several times, wading through the water. Adams wondered if his moccasins would begin to tighten on his feet and wear blisters on his heels. He figured that was the least of his worries, and then realized he wasn’t worried for some reason.

The lead warrior suddenly made a loud whoop sound, which was moments later echoed deeper in the woods by another voice. The trail broadened, and spilled into a large clearing. At the center of the clearing was a large fire, crackling with nearly transparent flames in the noontime sun.

About the clearing were huts built of wooden pole frames and covered with various animal skins.

Old men and women and children were busy about the camp in various industry, from weaving to cleaning skins to preparing fish to eat. Large bulbous bags hung from tree limbs, and dripped water slowly. They did not appear to Adams to be skins, but perhaps the bladders of large animals. Perhaps deer or even bear.

The tribe came alive with talk and noise when the group entered the clearing. Many drew near and spat derisively at Sequoia. Some threw small stones and sticks at her. The guards made no effort to stop the assaults, but pulled the two to the edge of the clearing, and tied the cross stick horizontally to a birch, making sure the two captives were secure and unable to escape.

Their chatter was initially merely jabber to Adams. He tried to blink once more, and as if wax had fallen from his ears, he was able to hear and comprehend.

“The witch!”

“And her coyote!”

“Sequoia will see her end tonight. It is a full moon.”

“Do not say her name! You will incur the wrath of the night demons!”

“Look how pale her dog is!”

The two were poked and prodded by those who timidly approached and quickly reached out, as if expecting either Sequoia or Adams to suddenly free themselves from their binding and leap out.

Chatter rose and fell as more of the tribe entered the clearing from the woods and the lodges. Soon no distinction could be made of the chorus of voices, which quickly grew louder.

A tall man entered the clearing from one of the lodges. He wore a tall headdress fashioned of a broad leather band across his forehead with plumage from several different fowls. Across the man’s chest were scars that appeared to be part of some design — straight lines running diagonally and parallel from each pectoral muscle across to his chest to his abdomen from either side.

The man strode with purpose to where Sequoia and Adams were tied. His expression was not anger, but stern. His looked at Sequoia and she bowed her head. There was a strange mixture in his eyes, as of disappointment as well as love. That turned to curiosity when he looked at Adams, and stepped towards him.

“You are very pale,” he uttered in a low, gravely voice. “Where is your tribe?”

“I have no tribe — at least not in this place or time.”

The man looked closely into Adams’ eyes, as if to peer into his soul.

“Are you a Wanderer?”

Somehow Adams knew exactly what he meant. “Yes. You have seen other wanderers?”

“I have heard of them. My father and his father and their fathers were aware of wanderers. You are the first I have seen.”

“What will you do with me?”

“You will see tonight.”

“And Sequoia?”

“Her fate is yet to be known.”

“You will kill her?”

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“On if you are truly a wanderer, or something else.”

“What something else?”

“Ah, I think you know.” He turned away and motioned to the crowd to disperse. Two of the men with spears crouched down to either side of the bound prisoners.

The tall man motioned to one of the children to give Sequoia and Adams something to drink, and one of the water bladders was brought for them to drink from.

The water was cool, and tasted slightly of offal. Adams guessed it was an acquired taste, and resisted an immediate urge to vomit. He knew he needed water, however different the taste.

The pole supporting Sequoia and Adams had been tied to the birch at a height that he was flat footed, but because she was much shorter, dangled a few inches above the ground, her weight on her tied wrists.

“Are you okay?” he asked in a whisper.

She groaned in reply, “What is ‘okay?'”

“It means are you well?” He realized how saying something and getting someone to understand what you mean is a challenge. Especially in this particular situation.

“I am not well. The leather cuts into my wrists. But I can tolerate this. I have known worse pain.”

“What are they going to do to you tonight?”

“As the Wise Man said, that depends on you.”

“How?”

“You will be tested.”

“For what?”

“To see if you are a Wanderer, or something else.”

“How will they test me?”

“We should not talk of this any longer. You need to rest your mind and your spirit. That will be the best way to prepare for what is to come.”

“But what is to come?”

“You will see.”

 

§ § §

The Blink, Chapter Two, continued further

31 May

The Blink

Chapter Two, continued further

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Three things happened in that instant: a tomahawk, thrown by one of the men who were chasing them, stuck with a loud thud into the trunk of a white birch tree just to the right of Adams head; he grabbed Sequoia’s hand and they were transported immediately to the top of a rock outcrop; and, he understood her.

They stood amazed. She, that they had suddenly escaped to the mountain top, as if by magic. He, that he could understand her.

“You are a god!” she declared in awe, dropping to her knees and bowing low to the ground.

“No! I’m no god!” He touched her on her shoulders and urged her to stand, but she remained trembling at his feet.

“I saw you come to earth yesterday! You were like a burning star, and came down near the mountain of the old man. In the sudden storm you came.”

“Sequoia — I promise you — I am just like you. I am flesh and blood. No god!”

“How is it you speak Cherokee?” She looked up, but averted her eyes from his.

“How is it you speak English?”

“English?”

“You’re speaking it now. It’s my native language. My tongue.”

“Cherokee. You are speaking it now. It’s my native language. It’s my tongue.”

Adams crouched down to her level and took her face in his hands.

“I don’t know how to explain this. Whether I’m speaking Cherokee, or you’re speaking English? I guess it really doesn’t matter. The fact is that we understand each other.”

She nodded. “You made this happen. You are a god!”

He pulled her up to stand.

“Okay. I can understand why you think that. And to tell you the truth, I’m not sure if I don’t have some special powers. I don’t know how to explain it, though. Honest, I’m just your ordinary old guy, who is as confused as you are.”

“You are not old. You are a young man.”

“Thanks, Dear — but I’m sixty-six.”

She laughed. She took his hand and held it palm up.

“That is not the hand of an old man.”

He looked. It was true! Somehow his hands weren’t covered in loose skin, or overly wrinkled. He drew his hands to his face, and felt smooth, taut skin.

“Here!” She pointed at a small rock indentation that held water. He looked into the mirror-like water, and saw not the old Kyle Adams — but a young man, instead.

“Je-sus! What the hell is going on here?”

“Who is Jesus? What is ‘hell’?” Sequoia asked innocently.

Adams laughed, “Honey, I don’t have the time nor the inclination!”

He walked out to the edge of a rock ledge and swept his arm broadly.

“You see all of this? All these mountains and trees?”

She nodded.

“Yesterday — which, come to think of it, is really probably many tomorrows away — there were roads winding through the forests and up and down the mountains. There were houses and buildings and farmlands cut out of everything you see! The sky was hazy and not nearly as blue! There were many, many, many people and buildings and cars and airplanes as far as you looked.”

“I don’t understand,” she said somewhat fearfully. “None of that was here yesterday. It’s been like this since I can remember. It’s always been like this. It will always be like this. And what is a car and an airplane?”

“You have no idea! No, it won’t always be like this! It will be different, I promise you! And all of this,” he gestured again, “will no longer be. It will be gone. There will not even be a memory of it.”

“You speak crazy.”

“I guess it seems like that.”

“If you are not a god, how did we get away from the men of my tribe? How did we suddenly appear up here? Where did you come from? You were nearly naked when I found you. Why is your skin so very pale? What tribe are you from?”

“I can’t answer all your questions, and the ones I can answer, you won’t believe me. Hell, I don’t even believe it! Here is what I know — somehow I came to be here in your time. I — I blinked. And it all happened in the blink of an eye!” He laughed at himself. “So, for some reason I don’t understand, I was taken out of my world and my time and place here — in your world and in your time. Let me ask you something.”

“Yes?”

“Why are you out here alone? Why are you not with your tribe? Why were those men after us? Are they from your tribe?”

She turned her face from him and looked out over the sea of hills and mountains, fading like waves into the distance.

“I was banished from my tribe,” she said in a low voice.

“Banished? Why?”

“I cannot tell you.”

“Sure you can. I just told you about me. You at least owe it to me.”

“Yes, I owe you much. You saved my life.”

“What? You think those guys were going to kill you? I thought they were after me!”

“Yes, they were going to kill me.”

“What about me?”

“And you, as well.”

“Why?”

“Because you are with me.”

“Sequoia, why were they going to kill you? Tell me!”

“They believe I am an a-tsa-s-gi-li.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know that word. What is an a-tsa-s-gi-li, please?”

Before she could answer, several men emerged from the brush surrounding the summit and encircled the pair. They bore spears, which they held at the ready, the stone tips pointed at Sequoia and Adams. This time, there was no urge to blink.

“An a-tsa-s-gi-li is a witch,” she finally said.

§ § §

The Blink, Chapter Two, continued

29 May

The Blink

Chapter Two, Continued

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Kyle Wyndham Adams awoke in early morning, the time of day when everything is cast in a soft sepia light, and the sun is still well below the trees. The campfire smoldered, a curl of smoke barely visible. To the side of the fire were the remains of dinner — bones and soft tufts of fur. It was a rabbit. Adams’ stomach growled.

He could hear the creek nearby, and the chatter of birds overhead in the trees. He wondered whether he was still a front-page story in their conversations, or if the uniqueness of the naked man had slipped from their tiny minds.

His neck was incredibly sore, and he gingerly rotated his head, hearing muscle and sinew pop with the effort. He scanned the forest around the small clearing. She was nowhere to be seen, but he knew she was about. At his bare feet was neatly stacked doeskin clothing of some sort, plus a pair of moccasins. He twisted in his position, and felt the rawhide binding chafe against his wrists.

Then, as silently as a dream, the Sequoia emerged from the forest, caring what appeared to be a pouch or bag.

“I see you’ve been out shopping,” he said, breaking the natural silence.

She barely acknowledged him, and put the pouch next to the fire ashes. Kneeling, she carefully blew into the ashes, and sprinkled small twigs on her area of focus until a yellow flame licked up. She added more wood previously stacked by the fire until the campfire came fully to life, crackling with flame and heat.

She took another long twig and pulled something from her pouch, and skewered it onto the twig. It looked like some sort of crawling bug, but was difficult to see from where he was tied.

She pulled another “bug” from the pouch and skewered it as well, then lay the twig with its fare on a rock next to the flame.

Crayfish! They were crayfish! And they wriggled in pain on the skewer as the fire’s heat slowly cooked them. She pulled one of the crustaceans off the skewer and bit into its reddened head, juices running down her arms to her elbows. She brought the remaining crayfish to him, and offered the head to Adams. He opened his mouth slowly, conveying his reluctance with one raised eyebrow.

It was crunchy, but sweet to the taste. He chewed the head slowly, thinking at some point his mental revulsion would take over, and he would vomit it out. But he didn’t. The meat in the small crayfish tail was delicious, and even the shell and legs were good.

He smiled at her.

“You know, this would cost you a pretty penny in a New Orleans restaurant,” juices running unrestrained from the corners of his mouth.

She tilted her head and looked at him, as if pondering something, then pulled out her knife and cut him loose from the tree.

Di-le-di,” she ordered, motioning him to get up.

He slowly pulled himself up, feeling the resistance of joints nearly locked from long disuse. As he stood, she gathered the clothing and held it out to him. There were two pieces, a top, decorated with leather fringe, which he slipped over his head.

The pants necessitated him taking off his fern skirt. She stood and watched him until he looked at her and motioned she turn away and not look. When it dawned on her that he wanted his privacy, her face blushed, and she turned her back to him. She brandished the knife to let him know not to try anything foolish.

He slipped the pants on. They were ample enough for him to move and bend.

“Well, how do I look?”

She turned and gave a nod of approval. Then pointed at the moccasins.

“Hope they fit,” he grinned, sitting down to pull the soft coverings onto his feet.

They fit, although a little tightly.

“I guess they’ll relax over time,” he said. She looked on approvingly. He pointed at the moccasins and said, “Shoes,” then wriggled his toes on both feet and said “Feet.”

“Feet. Shoes,” she echoed back.

“Okay, then — now what? I mean, you didn’t go down to Stein Mart and pick up the clothes, right? And you didn’t go out and kill a deer and make this stuff. I mean, you might have, but it wasn’t last night or this morning. Which means there are more of you around.”

She watched him talk, obviously confused at what he was saying. She pressed her hand to his lips.

“Okay … I talk too much.” She pressed his lips again and looked away, as if listening to something.

“Shhh!”

She grabbed his hand and pulled him into the brush around the camp area, motioning him to crouch down and be quiet. He felt clumsy, but obeyed her silent directions.

Just behind the sound of the gurgling creek he thought he heard voices. He strained to see into the woods where the creek flowed, and thought he made out some thing or some one moving stealthily among the trees.

Yes! There was someone! He looked at Sequoia who once again urged silence with her eyes.

A voice from the trees.

Another voice, further to the side, and closer.

Adams looked at her to see what kind of trouble they were in. Maybe he should stand and announce himself and get over the growing tension. How bad could it be, after all. But Sequoia’s look was grave.

Two men, dressed much in the same clothing Adams now wore, stepped quietly into the camp area. One knelt to the fire and warmed his hands. He saw the pouch and examined it, pulling out a wriggling crayfish.

They were not particularly large men, but lean and hard-featured. The one that pulled out the crayfish bit into its head, sucking the shell of its content.

Tsi-s-du-na!” he announced to his companion, who walked over and looked into the pouch, disgusted at finding it empty. He threw the pouch to the ground and began to circle the area, looking for marks.

He pointed out the fern skirt Adams had discarded, and the two began to search more intently.

Adams felt a touch on his sleeve, and Sequoia tugged him gently, indicating with motion of her head it was time to retreat. He didn’t hesitate, and turned to follow her, crouching low. Unlike her, though, he was unused to being quiet — especially in the woods — and stepped heavily on a fallen tree branch, which snapped loudly.

The two men turned instantly toward the noise, and began to approach.

Shit! he thought to himself. The jig is up!

At-li!” Sequoia said in a harsh whisper.

“What?” As with his first experience, Adams felt the blink coming on.

RUN!

§ § §