She flushed the toilet. “Yes, Anthony, I’m fine. Something came on really quick, you know.”
“Ahh…” The floor creaked. “Well, okay. I have to run. I’ll call you next week, okay?”
Moments later, she heard the front door open and close.
Shit, shit, shit. She eyed herself in the mirror, threw her shoulders back, raised her chin, and clicked her tongue against her front teeth.
Her doctor was handling her breast like it was a stress ball. He shook his head a bit, like he still smarted from removing a splinter from his finger. The thin calm she’d nurtured for the two days between grazing that lump and sitting on that cold examination table evaporated. She’d been unable to find the discoloration she’d read about. She’d been paranoid, right? Her shifting legs rustled the parchment paper under her thighs. She imagined what her two children would say when she told them. She hadn’t shared her little discovery because they would have had her at the emergency room immediately. Over-reactors, much like their father had been. “Let’s get some blood work.” Sal, her doctor, rolled up her sleeve and turned her forearm. He felt for a vein.
In a few minutes, he had her arm tied, her arm swabbed, her vein stuck, and the vial filled. As he set the band-aid on her arm, his eyes focused the way men’s do when they are holding something back, bracing you for something they feel stronger to burden. Just be out with it, Sid, she’d wanted to say, as he had been setting the Band-Aid on her arm; don’t stall because the big “C” lingered on your doctor-of-a tongue. But her mouth was dry.
“We’ll see what we got here. If you like, you can return to the waiting area. You might be more comfortable.”
He nodded and left.
Oh Walter. He’d passed three years ago from cancer. Hadn’t this family paid their cancer dues? Her eyes swept the sterile environment, pausing at that glass jar stuffed with pure white cotton balls, and stopping at the hazardous logo on a box on the counter. Now she remembered why she had trouble taking her cat to the vet some times.
When she was a girl and her baby front tooth finally wiggled, her mother declared they would be off to the dentist. She could feel the dress that would be worn for that trip: damn velvet collars and ridiculous frilly fringe. Cutting corners where he could, her father rifled through his rusted tool box. She saw the ball of twine in his hand and bolted for her bathroom. She unspooled some dental floss and made her own lasso. Bye-bye tooth. There would be no visit to the dentist for her anytime soon, thank you very much.
She stared at the pristine white ceiling. Why do they call them test results in this context when they start something, not end it? She checked her watch and swung her feet. Theresa sitting there, blowing on her tea, flashed in her mind. Carol clenched her fists. Why hadn’t she at least grabbed a magazine from that damn waiting room?
Eventually, the door knob finally clicked. Sal entered, and his eyes studied the floor like they were looking for change. He closed the door. “Well, Carol, we had to make sure.” He’d worn this face when he informed them that Walter had stage four cancer. She had steeled herself for this conversation all afternoon, and now she cleared his throat. “We ran a few different tests. Carol, you are HIV positive.”
Time slowed, like when she’d sat with Walter through his cancer diagnosis; crawled, like when she’d held his shaking hand through his last breath; and stayed silent, like the whole time she’d sat in the front pew watching people’s mouths the day of his funeral.
Sid rested his head against the door. Before she could protest, she realized this was no negotiation: the deal had gone through. HIV positive? At 61? She was light-headed.
Sid placed his hand on her shoulder. He grabbed a stool.
“Carol, now, whatever you know about HIV, you need to know that the treatment has advanced significantly. People live with this disease in ways unheard of a decade ago. But, unfortunately, this disease affects older people differently than younger people. Because of a lot of the recent effective drugs’ side effects on high blood pressure and diabetes, your treatment will be more challenging than if you were, say, 30.”
“The blood test didn’t reveal any signs of cancer, so it is probably just a cyst. Though one that should probably be removed.”
“Would you like take some literature with you?” He reclined on the stool. “In fact, I need to insist.”
“Not now, Sid.” She passed him, but not before she snatched the papers he pressed into her hand and then shoved them into her purse.
After a few days, her “condition” settled into her mind. Her second Campari and soda hummed in her veins as she thumbed through photos from her wedding, the kids’ high school and college graduations, Rebecca’s wedding, little Callie’s second birthday, and Brent’s commitment ceremony. God, that was a beautiful day down on the shore. She cried. The ice cubes collapsed in her glass on the side table. She tossed the crumpled, shredded tissue on the carpet. She stood, poured herself another drink and went upstairs.
After drenching a washcloth, she cranked the box fan, killed the lights, and draped the washcloth over her eyes. The water soaked her. Pity party, table for one. Could she keep this from her children?
Her thoughts revisited her coffee date with Rita yesterday.
“These new arthritis creams are doing nothing besides leaving greasy stains on my furniture.” The conversation had found this topic for the third time. She wrung her hands like they were a dish rag.
I want your problems, she wanted to say, but Rita had a right to her pain, as did Carol, and perhaps that was why Carol didn’t steal her thunder by mentioning her news.
On her bed, the water streamed. The comforter dampened at her shoulders.
Your wife needs to know, Anthony. Carol’s conscience demanded this. So why couldn’t she grab the phone? Anthony. She pictured him writhing above her, his nails pulling her back. Inside her. She didn’t realize she’d been clutching the comforter. Now that too had been taken from her. If only her bitterness would get out of the way of her guilt. She blamed him, though she shared in it. She knew this. But had he knowingly infected her? Joking about menopause being the best form of birth control? She wanted to smack that smile, that light from his eyes. He was supposed to be her escape, her release from her grief for her husband.
She turned on the lights, and grabbed the phone. Her eyes found the ‘HIV and You’ pamphlet on the nightstand. Her fingers dialed the last 8 before she had time to dissuade herself.
It rang. Please let the voicemail pick up. It rang. You’re probably busy ironing your napkins or embroidering something worthless and can’t be distracted. It rang. She was probably curled up with one of her insipid James Patterson books. It rang. She felt Anthony’s breath on her neck, his whispering in her ear. It rang. Carol hung up.
She should call her children. They deserved to know and they might even lighten her mood. Staring at the phone, she imagined Rebecca trying to remove gum form Callie’s hair using peanut butter; the phone tucked under her chin, she’d breathe heavily, a sign that she’d be biting her tongue. And Brent, what would he say? “Oh, Mother,” in that sad, isn’t-there-something-you-could-have-done voice. The last time she’d heard that she was telling him that the dog had to be euthanized. Yep, can’t wait for that. They’d call one another and devise a plan to help Mom, as if they were parents caucusing about how best to coach a child through an Algebra class. Great, she would become a project.
She snatched a pamphlet that had functioned just fine as a coffee coaster. There was a support meeting Thursday. Did she have anything to lose?
Her engine idled. Parked in front of the community center, she’d let the meeting begin ten minutes ago. She imagined the small talk prior to the meeting, the kind you do at Easter with your in-laws. Damn, this was going to be awful. She would be a freak show among them, the granny whore who got tagged, someone to help them feel better about their own situation. Turn off the engine and get out of this car.
She wedged herself in the back row among the well-groomed people, most of whom were facing forward. Where’s the circle, where’s the Kleenex? At least the coffee on the entryway table smelled fresh. The last time she’d endured hard plastic chairs like this, she’d been sifting through magazines, waiting for Walter. Doctors were about to pull her into that room to tell her Walter’s last round of chemo didn’t take. She’d already known—she’d felt the defeat in his drooping eyes as he moved slower to the bathroom, his shoulders sagging at the dinner table. He would soon be gone. She found her own Kleenex. Why hadn’t the meeting started yet?
Everything tensed for a moment, like when the water quieted right before the tea kettle whistled. A young man with longish hair, tattered jeans and a t-shirt too small for even his small frame had stepped before them. He needed a bagel.
Sheep. She just moved her lips.
“My name is Steven. I got infected with HIV last year. I was out partying; doing some meth, then went home with these two guys and had unprotected sex.”
Her thoughts wandered to her son, Brent; how adventurous had he been in his life? Pictures of Anthony surfaced. She stared at this child speaking, his hands trembling in the way they do when they’re hopeless. His eyes studied the balled-up tissue in his hands, his voice wavering. She felt this boy’s pain in a way that only the mother of a son could. But these young men and women (could any of them be out of their 30s yet?)—some even looking too young to be in a bar much less someone fighting against this thing inside of her right now—couldn’t understand her pain or anger. She didn’t feel cheated in the way that they probably did. She had lived her life. But she was done with the race, coasting on her hard work—her marriage, raising her children, embracing her retirement after Walter died. This sounded selfish—perhaps pathetically naïve—but she would not breathe the oxygen in a room that couldn’t provide her with genuine hope.
A couple of people watched her scoot out the door. Damn these creaking chairs. She needed coffee. She opened the door and… oh shit.
“Hello, Carol.” Her chilly voice was not surprised to see her.
Once the shock passed, circulation returned to her limbs. She wished she’d handled this over the phone. “Theresa.”
“Bored?” She dunked three sugar cubes in her Styrofoam cup and then blew the steam. Carol wanted to smack those upturned eyes. She’d found something tangible to hate in those pursed lips blowing air in that affected way.
“I suppose you aren’t going to bother asking what I’m doing here. And I in turn won’t ask you. I suppose the answer is obvious. Agreed?” She’d resumed her blowing.
“As you like.” Carol stepped towards the door. Maybe she could skip the apology.
“Still thinking that you’ve been cheated, singled out for something you didn’t ask for and don’t deserve?”
Carol’s hand clutched the door handle as if it were the cord of a parachute. Only God knew what words would leave her mouth if she turned around. Perhaps she bit her tongue because she knew Theresa had every reason to despise her. That taunting tone in Theresa’s voice didn’t help. She watched Theresa’s reflection in the glass. Carol’s finger tips burned.
“What, no response? Same old Carol, the one who thinks life is all tidy and neat, and too complicated yet too easy to navigate unless you possess the necessary virtue and tested will. Perhaps that is why you always loathed the mainstream books in our group. Life doesn’t exist for everyone the way it does for you, you know. Nor should it.” She blew that damn coffee. “Sometimes people want to know that things can be resolved, that there is a chance for life to be like that too. And sharing their lives on the page is no different than sitting in a room listening to one speak about problems you’ve never experienced but perhaps would kill for. Perhaps you would rather have had blinders on forever or have had them removed earlier?”
The bitch had done it. “I’m sorry if you hate me, Theresa. But don’t dare judge me. I have my demons, just as you must.”
Carol’s blood pressure rose.
“Silence again? That is why you are here, right? Because Anthony infected you?”
The sound of his name for the second time nipped at her ears, but she didn’t itch those ears, for fear that Theresa might notice. Carol turned. She wanted to draw strength from Theresa’s anger, but she saw peace in those eyes. After a moment of silence, “I am sorry, Theresa, I really am, I…”
“Save it. You’re not the only one. And besides, if you’re feeling sorry for me, as if I never knew, about the others, about this disease, take your pity elsewhere.” She approached and Carol stiffened. She leaned into her ear and whispered: “An old lover called me out of the blue a few months ago and told me. Apparently, I’ve been infected for years and never knew. So, you see, silly woman, as far as I know, I gave it to him. As far as Anthony, well, for all I know, he has no idea. So tell him if you like. I suppose I should tell you why, satisfy what will be your curiosity, but why would I waste that explanation on you?” She stepped back, and her eyes danced with victory. She grabbed her coffee and walked through the doors. As they parted, a man’s voice filled the room.
The next day, on the couch, one TV program bleed into another. At least she’d left the bed. The answering machine clicked. Brent’s voice coasted through the speaker—the concern strangling his voice because he hadn’t heard from her in two weeks. She’d bought a few days. There had to be people like her, people to share with, people to learn from, people who would get her. Her children were not these people. Brent finally hung up.
I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this.
She’d already tried the support group route. What else was out there? That warm blue. She pictured Theresa’s eyes so full of fire. How long had she really known? Had she drawn some sick pleasure in knowing she’d probably infected him? How many people had he infected without knowing? Why hadn’t she called him or even taken his call? Someday, maybe. The literature explained, the older you were, the harder it would be to maintain a healthy lifestyle. She read. The medications that were most effective didn’t work well for people—old people—like her, with her high blood pressure, potential liver problems. Yeah, that’s what Sid had told her. Her heartbeat thumped and thumped.
She dialed the phone. It rang. Please don’t answer, please don’t answer. Click, “Hello, Operation Outreach.”
“H-h-h-hi. I wanted… I was wondering…” The woman on the other end breathed with patience. Carol eased. If she didn’t do this, she would feel trapped for the rest of her life, as if she was hiding, hiding like Theresa, in the dark like Anthony, who was on the verge of having life snatched from him at any moment, not seeing the car barreling towards him, but could perhaps feel the trembling pavement. Could any of this have been prevented? A calm found her. She felt like a stubborn lock that had finally given way. She inhaled quickly. “Well, I wanted to know if you had any programs in my area so that I could volunteer.”
MEMORY: TIMBERLAWN PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITALBefore all this, mental institutes, Hollywood, the gas station, and, after law school, is San Mateo: apartments in Dallas—pool, walk-in-closets, and struggling divorcees, got back together Peggy and Sandy. They sort of slide back into the city, he a cer-ti-fied lawyer who didn’t make the grade, and , she, much more astute, successful, as it were. A U-Haul truck marks their arrival and an empty apartment fireplace full of promises, doubt and old lovers ashes. They hold themselves out for a while as “international” , Peggy, especially, fluent in Spanish, and, he , Weldon, with perhaps really only the law school hornbook (International Law) tucked away conveniently. Resumes, contacts, knocking on doors, networking, etc., ….nothing pays off, Peggy, landing a car salesperson job finally, and, the now joke, Weldon, staying in the apartment smoking pot, occasionally appearing at Labor Force at Six A.M., and , then, one day, at last, acquiring a car wash boy job at the dealership where his wife is. Where once there was love there is now a cold bitterness, the ivory towers of scholarship and grades withered to rent and food and any bargain sex can strike.“I sold a car today to a man who does, exporting—you ought to talk to him.”Weldon nods, allowing his wife to continue.“If only you could find something—you know, get a start!”“Yea,” Weldon agrees. “ But,…” he starts to touch on some vague truth but only shies away from it waiting for her to finish hitting off the joint they’re smoking. Stephen, now about nine years old, watches T.V. as slowly the buzz of commercial chatter thickens; and, they try to be together as a family—Stephen, neglectful, slovenly, Weldon, apprehensive, paranoid, and , Peggy, full of the wine of nights rather best forgotten. While television heroes sock it out; and, Steve nibbles priggishly at pizza, Weldon at last yields a newer version of his most recent philosophy:“…without transaction cost to establish ourselves in a small business we have no choice but to participate as slaves in the work-a-day world, a world in which we don’t seem to have a place.”“Then why did Sammy see you acting crazy in the car wash?”Stephen says, “Mom,” desperately to forestall an argument.“Yea,” Peggy reiterates, “…like you’ve become a flake, a weirdo.”“The reason,…” He’s cut off.“The reason,” her voice rising, “…is that your always ‘tripping,’ going crazy. That’s why we can’t get anywhere! You’re a goof-ball ; and, I didn’t want you back to begin with!”“Mom!” Stephen cries.
“Shut up darling,” she says. “Either you act straight or I want you to leave—go back to your mother.”
“I thought I would try to make sense about our predicament.” Weldon tries to crack the ice that’s frozen the room, but, the three consult each other with stares and a kind of brutality, nothing to stand on and nothing to feel proud about—indeed, at that spot in the road where life has become hopeless and to go any further only a bottomless suggestion. Stephen falls asleep by the T.V. , Peggy crashes on the bed; and, Weldon, finishes the last of the joint and steps outside on the balcony of their new residence to stare at the darkness. The luxury of books and pens and notes and teachers has turned not just sour but to Weldon and no doubt his once “little girl” something surmounting to crime and revolution and bloodshed. While daily he attempts to glorify his car washing—keeping a fresh chamois, a clean rack, and turning out spank, shinny cars—he, nevertheless, has no future having by now , he realizes, wasted twenty-three years of schooling. Similarly, there’s always talk of affairs, and escapades and sex and rumors of the same , etc., so that when one day Jack Scruggs, the new car sales manager, fires Weldon in a word for being late on washing a car , a picture of not just cold jade is conjured up but also a memory of crime—assault!
“You’re a son-of-a-bitch,” Weldon confronts him sheepishly. And without another word Jack begins to take a swing at the car wash boy, held back, fortunately, by another man. The job is ended (with cause or without) , only an academic afterthought.
Society holds no place for him, again , condemned to the apartment patio, the solitude of the balcony, the books that bear no fruit. A guitar Peggy gave him in the first years of their marriage is silent and symbolic of such horrible despair , Weldon smashes it in the apartment Dempsey dumpster like the torn heart he feels. He puts on his cheap suit he once thought would get him noticed in interviews and confronts his wife , at last, a couple of days after the firing.
“You need to see a psychiatrist,” Peggy comes up with.
“No, I, ah,…” her husband mutters.
“If you don’t, I’ll file for divorce.”
Stephen’s not there but neither are any witnesses to their domestic war. Weldon’s feelings hardly evidence of anything, and, Peggy’s ultimatums only stock and trade barroom tactics. A few days pass—jobless cigarette chains of day and night, sun and moon, hour upon hour , when, at last, no alternative in mind, Weldon does , indeed, put back on his cheap three-piece, gets a bus and goes to Parkland Hospital, Dallas, Texas,
United States of America, where he can receive evaluation: Peggy, yelling all the way!
MEMORY: TIMBERLAWN PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL
Like some unidentifiable black civil rights leader about to be slain, an indeterminate goofy mass about to be bonded, a molecular pool ball sailing off a table, Weldon sits on the bus unaware of any legal status or scientific state. Twenty three years of education and mediocrity on a kind of pilgrimage, he hopes will at the great Canterbury—Parkland Hospital—resolve itself—go by, Dallas landmarks he has known from childhood punctuating the tiresome journey. The asphalt the tires wade through in the summer heat sound sticky and provide a kind of relief to the doldrums of another hot day, a day in which in less than ten minutes an agent of the State, County of Dallas, Parkland Hospital, Southwestern Medical School, finds Mr. ‘Sandoosky’ to be insane. Whatever pre-gas station consciousness it is he has, Dr. Ronsayro terms, schizophrenia, and , whatever force he contrives to open the door back out into the summer passes like a bullet in the air. Another meek protest follows, a telephone call to Joe Hill Jones (a family lawyer friend of Peggy’s), some fleeting images of his son perhaps saluting the now disposed general and habeas corpus legal talk begins with the fellow inpatients who . likewise . are not insane and who , too, seek immediate discharge. Whatever the issue was he had hoped to raise :
“Open the door!” Weldon fully dressed in his three piece says to a little Blackman. “Open the door!” Like stabilized digital events the history repeats itself—the telephone call, “…and I don’t know that you don’t need to be there!”… “…and I don’t know that you don’t…!” “Mr. Jones! Please!” cries Weldon. “Mr. Jones…”
is now a legal fact—no question –fact. FACT!
At about four P.M. that day he is given medication; he attempts to refuse, then, threatened with reprisal, he swallows what is known as thorazine—for psychosis. Not only delusionary, euphoric, grandiose, anxious: Weldon is, too, psychotic!
Family consultation has taken place , unknown to the hapless patient ,and it has been decided to transfer him to a private mental hospital—Timberlawn—likewise in Dallas, likewise where he will be drugged with Thorazine and held against his will in confinement, amounting essentially to a minimum security prison . No more cars to wash, no more San Mateo, no more joints, no more of anything he once knew and based his life on…
“You needs to get in you’—night clothes,” says a psychiatric aide.
It’s now about seven thirty P.M. There’s a pay phone like the hangman’s noose in all State institutions at the end of the hospital’s cheap hallway. tables for dominos and playing cards and a plastic flower basket, a PEOPLE magazine (ripped) and old and series of seedy nurses and tarnished physicians who , from a distance, look like they smell or stole something.
Some bogus legal documents are signed, some remaining habeas corpus exchanged between inpatients and, what once was a philosophy is now an issue, what once passed as another mystery, a fact—the car, the phone, the door! The car, the phone, the door.
Who , now, are hostile witnesses—Peggy and Lloyd (Weldon’s brother)—drive him mouse-like to the psychiatric hospital across town, the asphalt hot under the summer sun and the world fragmented into a thousand pieces. Like the lobotomized hero of countless stories, Weldon can no longer communicate rationally: the medication given daily and the world secured by locked doors guarded by psychiatric aides.
On Christmas, Peggy and Stephen visit “Dad” , who, now stands in a continual thorazine shuffle—walking in place as it were—and, who, now dribbles saliva at the mouth. Doctors—Mark Unterberg, Looney and others shake their heads in dismal acknowledgement of mental illness.
“Sandieeeee,” Wayne Mize says as they snack at snack time, before shower time, before bed time, before breakfast time, before group time, before activities time, … “ …will we ever get OUT?”
“I don’t know,” says Weldon, unable to concentrate and smoking Pall Mall Gold incessantly. “I don’t know!”
“Habeas…what?” Wayne looks into Weldon’s eyes through the smoke.
“Corpus,” says Weldon , blowing off a fresh cloud. “Corpus is ah, where,…” says
the institutionalized attorney.
“Oh, I don’t really know.”
“Or care,” says son-like Wayne.
Then they play dominoes or walk the halls or smoke another cigarette or get drugged or eat or try to talk to someone as health care professionals say, about ‘…their problems…’ . Peggy sees him one more time and with a social worker—Dan Bruce—says, “I WANT A DIVORCE!” None of it makes sense – the car, the phone, like a noose behind him…or , the locked door. A mystery? A corpus? A story? A witness. A trial that never …LOCK … takes place. She goes out a door at the nurses station, free; and, they sort of yell , ‘Bye.’ The government has spoken, Peggy has spoken and
Before ever any words of any particular import or any acts of any “ordinate” significance or any girls or any bonds or atoms or DNA or Hiroshima or Zonko—Bam—GaZong—there was Sanklee.
“Yes,” she says in a little kitchen, in a little house, in a little voice far away.
“Is this a drum?”
A tree glows pale in the darkened living room; and, he rubs the Christmas paper like it were some lover’s skin.
“An ottoman,” she replies.
“A what?” says Sandy, Sanklee, Weldon, now thumping a singular guitar string as if to change things.
“Just wait ‘till the morning,” she says. “Your brother will come and …” Her voice halts, there’s another thump from the string of the Sear’s Harmony guitar and the house not far from the front yard near White Rock, not far from San Mateo, not far from the lake itself, not far from Hollywood, not far from the gas station, not far from Restland, where just Thanksgiving his father was buried, is cold and dreary and the loneliness agonizing—thump—the memory providing not just a big moon tear but a stream of little tears that fall like rain sometimes.
“Is dad really dead?”
“Yes.” She says assertively.
“Will I die?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can I open my gifts?”
“Are we going to eat?”
And, so on a table his aunt gave them, on a Christmas eve when Jesus was born, Mother, widow and son, share the holiday pretending like all poor people Santa will come and they will receive their ‘just do’ even if that becomes just a song.
A guitar , stolen, smashed, borrowed for the night, bought new, is always somewhere like an alter ego or, to be sure, a shadow—no lyrics , nothing really to say but just thumps.
‘B a n g i n g’ !! “Quit that banging,” his mother always yelled long ago. Maybe then a strum. At the private psychiatric hospital his brother brings him a Checkmate guitar; but, Dr. Unterberg says there’s an issue with the guitar and it’s locked in a closet. For the front yard at White Rock, his mother buys him a Yamaha brand guitar. Never electric! Acoustic . Only. Acoustic. Even when Peggy purchases from a friend a Gibson Jazz Electric for husband Sanklee’s birthday—no amplifier. A circle of friends sit smoking pot around the birthday boy , ‘thumping’—a strum—then, a kind of fingering-a—look—look—look at me! Then , good-bye they all say like quarter notes filing out the door. In Hollywood, it’s an Epiphone. These days it’s a Mexican Fender Electric. And, then, someone dies…THUMP. Cancer, heart, zonko! Sanklee, while at the gas station, indeed, knows the poem—the car or the door or even the extended key parts—producing and performing in private on the Fender and a little four-track studio he keeps in a kind of coffin-like box on a banquet table more than two-hundred songs, most copyrighted and registered with BMI. “Demo” tapes of four or seven or ten songs are sent out—all over, back to Hollywood, to Europe, to New York, to friends, to his ex-wife (‘here,’ he tells her in the hallway of the motel in Alabama when his son graduates from Officer Training School—“like the White Album”) ; but, mainly, it’s just the old ottoman, auto man, what man , SANKLEE, he says—going at it, then, listening to the results like they were solid gold. There have been no deals, no offers, no compliments; but, then, every once in a while, the gift of a song pops up: ZONKO! “This Girl” by Sanklee. © year. Deceased 2026. Lunatic. Hobby: guitar. Basketball. Riding bicycle.
MIDNIGHT—THE GAS STATION
“…had hoped to raise an issue!” Yes, indeed, the course of human events has done not just that ; but, this night, the ebb and tide of (…Weldon is to the part where the coffee beans have to be “roused”…) has returned to him his son—the joint result of a private computer search and a telephone call to Weldon’s ex-wife’s husband, Ronald Edwards, in San Juan Capistrano, California—facts now known to neighbors, co-workers at the gas station, and, if it were Weldon’s judgment, the furthest corners of the earth! A kind of terrestrial king, a momentary Hispanic dictator, he watches the coffee beans swirl in their container. Stephen, Maggie—Stephen’s daughter by Mary-beth (Italian)—Chuck, Colby—her children (divorce , Mathis)…, Weldon reviews his family, while meanwhile a loud rapping on what could be a coffee bean has become increasingly audible. Weldon stares, thinking—“…how could a coffee bean?”—and , then, fixes in the correct frame a customer at the window.
“Oh, that’s all right,” says the experienced night man to what now appears to be a Dallas police officer.
“I need gas and a hard pack of Marlboro Lights,” he says, giving Weldon a twenty dollar bill which Weldon snaps adroitly and from the cash drawer produces at once the correct change.
“Five twenty seven is your change,” he says. The two pennies he even kind of clicks so skillfully the officer is given to a faint Mona Lisa smile.
“Have a good night.”
Returning to the coffee machine in the general fountain area, Weldon accidentally skids on a free bean fallen on the floor, nevertheless, momentarily reunited with his work. One piece in a previously distorted jigsaw puzzle has given the aging man a kind of youth, a rebirth of thumping emotions psychotic in overtone and worthy of evidence of the other hand. Weldon hits the -start- switch. While beans are joyously reduced to brewable size, the night man observes the serene lunacy of a near summer moon, crowds of friendly stars peering through the windows of the neon station. Successful, he draws a fresh cup and presides general-like over the flag colored pumps outside and his new world of hope, love and joy—standing there on the entire world, undaunted, victorious and quite unaware that Rueger and Gary P. are adjusting the color tint knob on their panel screen closed circuit television receiver across the street. Weldon’s shirt, once too blue, now contrast perfectly with his navy pants and what appears to be an approaching green BMW, license…RWL 154 , TX. Pictures of his son, ( number NL15704372 ), are superimposed at the bottom of the hidden screen as Rueger and Gary P. record the transaction and go about their midnight paper work—pages at the top denoted…HOUND DOG: File D3—Data Base—National Security. Section I.
Weldon pinches himself after a while, his coffee cup near drained, the green car gone, and begins stocking the cooler. So proud is he at having located his son , he pictures himself signed with a major record label, a cigar lit, basking in his fame—a public, hardly private, figure worth millions and his son and he and Mary-beth and their children all similarly admired by the envious general public. These illusions are promptly destroyed, however, as Weldon enters the cooler a riotous Mexican burst magically opening the cooler door followed by several trailing explosions so artfully done even Gary P. and Rueger giggle at the gas station employee.
Rueger comments wryly: “At least he had enough incentive to do a search.” He then “mouse’s” the cursor to page—
Notice Los Angeles Police Department
—Los Angeles—California—dateline, San Juan Capistrano…
Rueger is first surprised, then, rather taken back…
–Peggy, (Dorothy) Edwards—incident , 11:00PM, stalking…D3…1891724…case file sex assault . Unknown assailant, San Juan…Mexican, age 40-43, heavy set, driving green sedan, perhaps Camry. Last seen vicinity Edwards’ home, investigation continue…will advise—
MARY-BETH, STEPHEN, COLBY, MAGGIE AND CHUCK
While within the icy confines of the cooler, cashier composite Franco Lopez-Sanklee, chronic paranoid schizophrenic, Weldon is busy stocking soda and again using the no-man’s land of cyberspace to humorously draw his son, he thinks, perhaps into the gaseous realm:
“Where, where, where,…[blast], [blast], [blast],
Where is the man?
He’s probably somewhere doing the best he can.” [BLAST], ETC…
A waiting and puzzled customer looks vainly at the gas station cooler, the murky figure of someone amidst a chant-like series of farts only discernible. At last the customer knocks with a quarter on the window. Exeunt cooler, Weldon still absorbed in his drama is unaware as well of a California hacker’s success at breaking into Exxon’s security video system and with a web site producing a Northern California cable show called “El
Luno.” The purchase of Jolly Ranchers, Super Fruit Chew’s and some Marlboro Lights is thus seen by a new audience—added to a growing list of audiences and successful pirates who “tap” the antics of the conspirator.
Still concerned about Federal agency reports on the California stalking, Rueger and Gary P. are too busy tracking the site of a pirate known as BLACKBEARD to notice this new addition to the family of royalty thieves. As the customer is leaving
(a bathroom request denied), the phone rings, Rueger and Gary P. quickly monitoring the signal:
“Exxon,” says the night man.
“Dad, Steve.” A sergeant in the Air Force stationed in Goldsboro, North Carolina, his voice is like gold to be sure—careful, steady and pleasing to hear. What becomes a series of long distance Dallas-Goldsboro calls follows, the decision made finally and day-certain set for the father-cashier to visit in Goldsboro: the United States Air Force base, Seymour Johnson. Whereas some twenty years ago an arguably ‘schizo’ drunk stepped out of a failed marriage then onto Hollywood, today, a neat, tailored, sober man arrives by way of contrast in Goldsboro. Waiting in the airport are the children, Stephen and Mary-beth, Weldon first approaching and, yes, holding his gut hard not to let his emotions show. He hugs first Mary-beth, then, managing a dual-shake and hug with his son, sergeant, U.S.A.F. The children (Weldon peering as though indifferent) at Maggie, his granddaughter, to see if there are any resemblances, are mannerly—Chuck, a football sized fifth soon sixth grader and, Colby, a “picture-pretty” blond. Maggie has a straightforward appearance like her mother with , however, paintbrush features that along with Colby’s sand hair and Chuck’s manliness balance the twin-like father, Weldon, and, son, Steve. As they leave the airport, Mary-beth, a diminesque woman, has to inadvertently catch Weldon who falls down the escalator some two metal stair steps that disappear into each other as first they ascend and then descend out the airport lobby. Streaks of blood trail down Weldon’s leg, embarrassed and then offering the most credible explanation—imbalance. Intent still upon their introduction, a nifty Mercury Voyager, luggage carrier on top, makes its way out of the airport parking facility and onto a North Carolina freeway—pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that has been reassembled and, if it were up to Weldon, proudly, but cautiously, gleaming at his son, framed and put on display. The cooler and gas pumps are just suddenly other tiny pieces in a new life. Maggie is by now obviously a ball of fire as speechless they travel home. It has been twenty-two years between separation and reunion!
“Nice to have you here, Dad,” Steve acknowledges, their eyes kind of touching.
Not far behind the sovereign-like Voyager, its two still hapless generals motioning and signaling each other, are Rueger and shadow Gary P. carefully monitoring electronic surveillance equipment.
“Good signal,” interjects Rueger.
“Yea Steve,” the seeming ‘homo-ed’ , complacent night man says.
“If there is a conspiracy and you win in court…,”
“Unit 318,” breaks in Gary P. “Tape S.J. X -19-N.Carolina.”
“Not really.” Sounding unsure, Weldon leans as though to introduce Colby and Chuck, then toddler Maggie, “…the essence of the cause is not really the existence of some underground , but, the difference between love and sex as the cause becomes identifiable—an event, for example. The Church maintains marriage; the State-the police, force.
“How then…,” Steve begins as Mary-beth suggests better that he pay attention to steering the vehicle.
“Oh,” Weldon agrees as the Voyager slows to avoid the rear end of a slow-moving truck, touching Mary-beth on the arm to ease tensions.
“That Mary-beth,” Gary P. briefs Rueger, likewise an attentive driver, one-half mile behind the Mercury in an unmarked government unit, “…was a ‘tech-sergeant’…”
“Rank-up on the “sarge”, Rueger hits record on the console menu and Dual Play so that her file is played while the two vehicles randomly or not scramble on a rather modern map of signals likewise random or not.
“Rueger!” Gary P. rewinds the subject tape—800-200=625—“…here…” , “…diagnosed manic depressive.”
“Then any motivation might be diluted!”
“Like water!” agrees Gary P.
“…not withstanding…”, like some babbling poet touched by a fresh emotion Weldon now apparently is commenting on the future of the children—Colby, Chuck and Maggie—a toy car zooming to the floor—obviously his target, “Hitler or Titos or, yes, Montezumas—youth—there is always…”
“Dad,” interrupts Steve, the night man following his son’s finger to observe an Andrew Jackson historic monument as they drift up and over the bridge where once opponent Cherokee Indians fell to popular Jackson in a battle marked with debate and debauchery. Completely unaware of the surveillance unit the night man, reunited father is lambasting the Government, his son part in agreement, and, …
“Station ground Seymour assign Lufbery contact Adam: communication specialist.”
“Love is the Church …” at last his son insists—Mary-beth touching his arm gingerly.
While another vehicle sails to the car floor, Maggie, having apparently pulled a Franco Lopez, watches as Chuck cracks a rear window allowing the ripe molecules to escape. Weldon begins a new angle:…………
“No wonder!” the old night man is or was a mental case Rueger notes towards the conclusion of the Mary-beth tape. “He seems obsessed!”
“Yea,” notes Gary P. cautioning Rueger to maintain a good distance.
“And now there’re two of them,” he ends.
The Voyager and surveillance unit exit Goldsboro, their turn signals each a kind of
juxtaposed mimicry while at once secret, and, then, perfectly obvious together, and then not.
SEYMOUR JOHNSON: HOME
“Ground Zero, Adam…”
As the troop hits the base and receives clearance as well, the house at last appears—cute and on the corner with Sgt. SANDUSKY in black letters on the front eve of the roof. Steve parks, like Weldon used to, and, as all must do—home from the sea, journey’s end.
“Wait, Maggie,” Mary-beth says as with bomb-bay door like diapers dragging the almost ‘two’ child leads the pack to the front door, Grandpa last, carrying his luggage, his leg still blood-marked from the escalator fall, and, then entering: an adorable furniture filled, design couches, tables, T.V.—console, paintings included, living room, Maggie already sprawled on the carpet, her diaper being changed by Steve, the sergeant, and, obviously, very much in command father. Weldon occupies Chuck’s room, Mary-beth heads to the kitchen and Colby instructs fruitlessly their dog, ecstatic Franny, barking, Maggie, whimpering, Weldon (Franco) amazed watching the Labrador retrieve endlessly a musical terrycloth ball that when bitten hard enough emits several bars of a kind of electronic song.
Rueger and associate shadow Gary P. meanwhile fine tune a chorus of surveillance devices in a house cattycorner across the street. Chuck as though more aware always drifts into the background assuming a judgmental role, Colby, his sister, most often remanded and , then, he, Chuck, himself, by step dad Steve—a chain of command as it were. The ball musically bubbling in Franny’s mouth is friendly offered to the night man, Grandpa, who finds the dog then resists giving it up, beginning a kind of sequence: Colby, first, scolding the dog, the ball at once yielded thus to Grandpa, then,
Chuck admonishing his sister for being mean to Franny, and, he, likewise, in sequence, admonished by Dad.
“Everyone, start getting ready for dinner! Grandpa, do you want a shower?” Mary-beth is always straightforward.
“Why, yes,” says the now almost broken-in visitor, beginning to unpack, inspect his new surroundings , and, once shown the bathroom, entering and closing the door—a Mexican sombrero hung on the back, ornamental and giving Weldon a kind of resounding second welcome.
“Dad,” his son says from the hall. “Everything all right?”
“Yes, ah, yes,” says the night man. “Si!” thinking is it true-a national celebrity! “The Mexican, indeed, in the bathroom!”
SEYMOUR JOHNSON: HOMECOMING
As others of the family emerge from the bathroom, a beautiful main dish of manicotti is centered on a likewise beautiful ash table, chairs matching, in a what seems wave of colors from paintings hung in the living room, the dining room itself and even Weldon, now grandpa, then, Mexican in the bathroom, wearing a red, white and blue American flag embossed T-shirt. While Chuck is being scolded for erasing Colby’s game board from its present page, other dishes in Polish-stone ware are produced, Mary-beth obviously stealth like in and about the kitchen, seating, first, Maggie, a kind of centerpiece in the reunion drama. Her highchair is a combo chair-car seat strapped thereto arrangement, Weldon, just then, assigned to a side=table chair, then, Chuck, Colby, Steve and Mary-beth, last, taking their places. Noticeably, as all begin on what is indeed a delicious meaty pasta, salad, tea, bread, etc., Maggie’s fork is being congruously, slowly emptied on the floor where Franny waiting patiently like some accomplice gobbles up the airdrops. Steve returns, at once, a man, always like stepson Chuck, waiting to appear out of the background, to the current topic of an in progress cause of action in conspiracy, aiming a salad loaded fork at his dad to make the point:
“…so without a gun, you’re going to play guerilla trained hand-to-hand combat Marine.”
“Exactly,” Weldon agrees and rising directs himself to a container of tea in the kitchen acquiring an all too polite accord from Mary-beth on the way, Franny meanwhile torn between a fresh airdrop of Manicotti and the electronic terrycloth ball having unnoticed actually placed the ball in Grandpa’s chair. Weldon , still absorbed in the training part of the hypothetical , reseats himself in the land mined chair to engage a sudden hilarious burst of electronic notes from the activated ball. Steve scolds the now war criminal dog aptly identified , “FRANNY” , then, Granny, with a ‘G’, like the
missing family member-PEGGY and Mary-beth’s former husband-CHARLES. Other assigns and accessories to the eternal possibility of a developing ‘cause’ seem mysteriously ever present as well the North Carolina night in full progress, kind of cold; and, Weldon, at last blurting out…
“Steve! Chuck,…” the moon huge in the pine trees through the door to the backyard, “do you think Mary-beth would let us have dessert out back?”
“Sure, of course,” says the sergeant glancing at Mary-beth then at Colby, caught in the act of supplying enemy status Franny with a handful of manicotti.
“Coffee!” Mary-beth announces, pert and undeniably, and, then, everyone files out the door into the night. A sturdy green table and chairs Steve bought Mary-beth for Mother’s Day appear, canopy overhead, as well green in a wash of night and cold while with Italian cake and coffee intermittent electronic bursts (coordinates unknown) arise from various locations in the yard. Maggie, somewhat later, is indeed pinned down in a small sandbox , yelling for assistance then yielding to tears as Franny is at last quarantined on a leash. Military, order, family…, there is some balance of justice thinks Weldon in bed now.
“Night, Dad,” from the hallway, Steve announces.
“Oh, Goodnight,” he returns, and , satisfied somehow begins to sleep knowing that once love came in judgment, was held dead and buried only to rise again here in a sixth grader’s bed in a room with outer space jets, aircraft other, and ships—a huge poster of tiny men scaling a glacier-like sheet of ice on the side of Mt. Everest on the wall above his bed.
“Oh, well…raise an issue…:
“Hello, this is Lt. Sandusky.”
“Mr. Sandusky. This is Dr. Don Mierzwiak. I’m afraid I have some bad news…(like a wave from a sound from an atom from then nothing)…,ah, your father is dead. He had a heart attack—I had admitted him here into Robert Dedman Hospital. He stabilized briefly in Intensive Care but then the attack was complicated by heart failure…”
“Please, Dr. “
“Yes,” says Dr. Mierzwiak. “I’m listening.”
“I just graduated from Officer’s School, now I’m here ready to…”
“I understand your at Vandenberg AFB.”
“Yes Sir.” There is a pause, then, Steve continues. “He was fine when I saw him in North Carolina and seemed all right too at graduation at Maxwell in Alabama.”
“Steve, I understand your upset…” (nothing from something, indeterminate space from space, an atom from quarkish chaos)
“Doctor, I’m going to make a few calls and get a plane. I’ll be there as soon as possible.”
“Fine, Sir,” says the doctor. “Before he died he’d said he wanted you to know and thought you might come.”
“Yes, sir, I’ll be there.” The air is silent now, Steve phoning both Mary-beth in North Carolina and his mother, Peggy, in San Juan Capistrano, California, little vignette like pages creeping in and out of his mind—a lunatic, a failure, a gas station night man—as he packs enough for the funeral and a couple of days. The plane ride to Texas is uneventful—an album of memories Steve tries to collect so as to piece together some sort of consciousness he can rely on, a point of view from which he can negotiate values: a conspiracy! That’s what his father thought…
“Ah, excuse me.” A girl slides past and out into the aisle of the plane. A conspiracy! That’s probably why his father was considered a lunatic; but, then, there was never a trial, no hearing, no witnesses save the State’s witness, a doctor who read his diagnosis and then gave hearsay reports of people who believed his dad was dangerous.
“Excuse me.” The girl slips back into her chair and cracks a magazine. Steve kind of smiles and then sees the lunch cart at the far end of the plane. More thoughts and memories become like clouds the plane plows through outside the window, vague and speculative and circumstantial. Logic eventually becomes as well hypothetical and conjectural if not conclusionary so that within the distant whine of the jet engines and the occasional flourish of magazine pages (a man in a wine bottle), (the story of a one-armed hockey player), Steve falls to sleep, the food cart some chromium casket, his head now dissolved into the reclining airplane seat.
——-Awakened some minutes outside Dallas, the jet is on approach, Steve using the restroom quickly, then, buckling up prepared to land. The squeal of the wheels on touchdown turn to the forward motion of soon a rent-a-car, the man courteous and still thanking him for his business as Weldon’s son drives away. It’s a Tuesday afternoon in Dallas, the sky clear, the sun some awkward arrangement of yellow against a moon that’s still visible, the hospital EXIT sooner appearing. His cell phone reaches the doctor ; and, they schedule an office meeting. Thanking, then, Dr. Mierzwiak, the doctor replies, “Your quite welcome , sir.” No remorse or sorrow seems appropriate so there is none. A slight wait in the outer office and at last the two men shake hands , the unpleasant visit to the hospital morgue only yet a remote suggestion.
“It seems,” says Dr. Mierzwiak, your father’s attack was subsidiary to a block in the left ventricle of his heart, water had collected and briefly we thought in the I.C.U. he’d pull around, but, despite medication and another slight attack it was too much, the atrium and ventricle collapsing and necrosis of the surrounding tissue following…I’m sorry…oh, he wanted to be sure you got this briefcase—something about a conspiracy.”
“My father was a lunatic doctor, mentally ill.”
“I see. Nevertheless lets confirm the identity of the body and some papers must be signed and our business is done.” Like he’s got a gun Dr. Mierzwiak points his finger at the door.
Before the men start to leave, however, Rueger and Gary P. are at the office door flashing official I.D. and requesting a ‘hearing,’ bringing with them as well a search warrant.
“We’re with tactical intelligence—a unit of government associated with the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., doctor. May we see the briefcase?” Gary P. presents the warrant and while the two agents sift through what are medical records (the County Hospital of Dallas, Parkland, the State Mental Asylum in Terrell, Texas) , Weldon’s son protests as it were:
“It was your failures in procedures that got him locked up to begin with. He never had a trial; he didn’t even see the witnesses who had accused him of being dangerous. Meanwhile, my mother was a victim of assault! Now , here…,”
As Gary P. snaps the case closed, Rueger interjects, “Mr. Sandusky, I’m sorry about the mental illness thing. I’m not so sure myself. Actually what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think he was either crazy or dangerous. Under the law you got to be both and like you I don’t think he was either. “What…,” Rueger continues, indicating to Dr. Mierzwiak they’ll be done shortly, “…I do think is that he was manipulating the system—the airwaves—the national security—some way. Did you ever hear of FRANCO LOPEZ , the Mexican in the bathroom?”
Steve is startled. “I might have. I really don’t see…”
Gentlemen, Dr. Mierzwiak interpleads, Mr. Sandusky and I have business, if your…”
“Oh, we’re finished. My card , Mr. Sandusky.”
STEVEN RUEGER. UNITED STATES GOVT.
Washington, D.C. 1-800-…………
We’ll be in touch.” With that Rueger and Gary P. leave and the Doctor and Weldon’s son head for the hospital morgue, a series of hallways, an elevator and swinging doors and a sign NO ADMITTANCE. They go through and to a table at last among other tables with draped bodies. As Mierzwiak pulls back the green sheet , Steve acknowledges his father’s identity with a little touch on the dead man’s arm.
“Dad!” Steve quietly begins to cry.
The Dallas evening is cold as Weldon’s son leaves the hospital to find now his father’s apartment which the doctor has given him instructions to. The McDonald’s , the stadium…Steve pulls into Springhaven Apartments to the rear space—F 16—his father’s car still back at the hospital to be towed or whatever later. The rent-a-car assumes the space and the new tenant, as it were, with briefcase, finds the apartment. Making a quick call home to Mary-beth each of the children , especially Maggie, have to talk also. And while some pizza rolls cook , Steve composes a tossed salad from what his father left—radishes, lettuce, cucumbers—inadvertently in the process finding the handwritten will his father left by the telephone, exactly as he had said, other things now in the apartment—paintings, the Sanklee recording studio and boxes of tapes all neatly arranged as if his father had told him again about himself, belatedly, and , always with the kind of humility he used to relate to his son who studying the will and jabbing now at hot pizza rolls reviews, his eyes hot with tears and sleepy with the exhaustion the day has brought. A shower and general preparation for the night including inching up the thermostat in the cold room set the stage for an initial examination of what now appear to be mostly hospital records from Parkland and Terrell, the State Mental Asylum. Two commitments, one in 1977, the other in 1984, charted statements by Dr. Ronsayro, Dr. Petway and Dr. Chung concerning his father’s mental health, an order of protective custody (OPC) applied for by his father’s brother, Lloyd R. Sandusky, and, almost simultaneously Margie Hartnet stating they believed Weldon to be dangerous—threatening to bash Margie and her mother’s (Mary Hartnet) heads into a wall and on top of homicide to get a gun and commit suicide and to as well “take care” of the President. Threat making and earlier in ’77 either threats or attempts to jump off an apartment roof into a swimming pool and jogging in traffic connote the parameters of danger his father
represented. The Terrell State Mental Hospital records show , Steve is about to ascertain, when the phone rings.
“Hello,” he says thinking it might be a friend of his father’s.
“Mom,” he answers, recognizing her voice.
“Mom, Dad’s dead; he had a heart attack!”
“I know; Mary-beth called and told me. I’m so sorry. You know, I still love him.”
“Ah, yes, Mom. It’s too late now! Oh, Mom, dad wanted to be cremated—it’s in his will. There’ll be a (not funeral), but scattering .”
“We’ll be there, Steve…oh, son.”
About to say something, Weldon’s ex-wife says instead ‘goodbye’ promising to talk later as times and dates are finalized. Steve , still paused to hear something his mother perhaps wanted to say and didn’t , hangs up and resumes his perusal of the documents in the briefcase, stumbling to the place he was before the phone rang. Terrell State Hospital: Mr. Sandusky…(the document continues…in summary was ‘delusional’ and ‘detached from reality’ but the medical record , apart from any court records, never addresses the merits, or , to put it mildly, it is clear his father never had a hearing and was obviously adjudicated mentally ill based on State’s evidence—what L.R. Sandusky and Margie Hartnet said. They were never cross-examined or confronted nor were the statements his mother made subject to cross-exam or she to confrontation. Obviously, Steve surmises, there is a constitutional issue which was never addressed. Then, as though his Dad had pointed his finger, is the case: Chancery Clerk v. State of Mississippi and others , holding the same thing on the constitutionality of mental health commitments when LIBERTY interests are at stake. Satisfied there’s ground to stand on, Steve flips out the lights and goes to sleep, his father’s memory close and his feeling secure in something called love…fingers in the icy side of a mountain.
The garden where the ashes of WELDON are to be scattered is in North Dallas part really of Restland where his father and mother are buried, all not far from any other place birth and death like simultaneous lines meet. And, as if time spoke, the children—Maggie, Colby and Chuck prepare to distribute Grandpa’s remains not without giggling even under the strict scrutiny of Mary-beth who, demonstrating (somewhat exaggeratedly), lets the first spoonful disseminate like so many atoms of something that’s part of something else that Maggie insists are poisonous , the child running away to seek refuge behind a cement angel who, holding a bunch of flowers , allows her robes to conceal. Chuck and Colby, more maturely , scatter the ashes, symbolic, delicately, and , as though only certain spots on the ground of the garden are ‘correct’ spots.
“Why then didn’t you tell the doctors, Mom?” Steve’s voice on a wooden bench overseen by a Saint likewise near the angel, is almost loud enough to be overheard.
“Steve, your Dad…”
“Delusionary, schizophrenic, psychotic, and, you knew it was because of your relationships that he was that way. The divorce was only to cover for knowledge you were concealing. I can’t believe you just said nothing; and, let them think he was a nut. Why! Why!”
“You want to know why?”
“Yes, I want to know why; I’ve got to appeal this mess.” They stare at each other insistently.
“To begin with, Steve, it was I who took the abuse; I only thought if he (your father) did nothing, then, what would or why should the government do anything.”
“Nevertheless, it was you who should have spoke up, and, because you didn’t, they saw Dad as dangerous—a threat maker. He was denied his day in court and when it comes to something as fundamental as the sanctity of marriage that’s got to be unconstitutional.”
A large gray cloud is dispersed by the children in unison while a song, “About Love,” is played on the garden P.A. system. Mary-beth sees that her husband and Peggy are done, for what its worth , motioning everyone to gather in prayer—a final commitment of Weldon’s soul to eternity. There is unity at last, Peggy’s husband, Ron, clinching the group into a bonded whole, even Maggie, momentarily escaping near where the empty urn is—empty space, but, not just nothingness…
“Everyone, your presence in the coffee room, please.” The pastor of the garden and crematorium is a handsome man of reserve though ruggedly “nice” as if to say: “There’s no death—not even life—only ETERNITY.” (ETERNITY, boiling down to hot coffee and juice and cake for everyone.) While the children are as though suspended in some vague hope, Steve and his mother and Ron and Mary-beth review an old photo-album, Weldon appearing more than frequently even with his kinfolk, brother, Lloyd, their mother and Aunt Frances somewhere in Colorado by a pinetree outside a vacation home.
“He got cheated out of everything,” at last, says Ron, Peggy’s husband, who in turn frowns! “Did you know what he (Lloyd) was doing , honey?”
“No,” says Peggy, returning a glance to her son. “His brother, Lloyd, seemed concerned for Sandy’s welfare—that he intended to defraud the estates was nothing I had knowledge of.”
“Then why if a cool half million didn’t interest him, didn’t he say anything about Wisconsin—the divorce, your friends or the night here in Dallas when Mat Johnson, the
young kid you ran off with, and they (Lloyd and his wife) found your ‘ X’ on the bed drunk, in tears, and, Steve, deserted and frightened.” Ron stares at his wife like someone he’s rescued and deserves an answer from. While the children and Maggie hold down a kind of inferior court, Peggy continues to be drilled by her husband, Ron, and her son, Steve, until, at last, she explodes:
“It was I who got sexually assaulted in Wisconsin, it was I who put up with his failure for ten years, it was I who hoped a better man would come along. If no one was going to take of me, I decided to take care of myself! Sure bring on the government and let them explain why it’s women who are defenseless—little toys in a game: my sister, stalked and stabbed to death, my mother, assaulted and committing suicide, my sister, Marylyn, assaulted, Sandy’s mother, his aunt, my friends, the story is so old and so boring and so obvious, then, you try to turn it around—even you Steve—my son. What happened to Mary-beth?!!!!”
“Mom.” Steve almost shouts.
“No.” Peggy continues. “Mary-beth, her divorce, battery and assault!”
“Honey.” Ron adds, as his wife concludes:
“Appeal it and let the government talk all about women victimized and men who go insane like it was some kind of defense to cowardice.”
The pastor overhearing in part the diatribe begins to release balloons alerting the children to new activity and perhaps the adults to a more discreet level of conversation. The balloons quickly fill from a helium loaded cylinder and are next twisted by the multitalented pastor into animals—a giraffe, held and then abandoned to the ceiling, a snake, attacking Colby, next, Maggie, at last, manhandled by Chuck then exploding into residual strips of rubber. Coffee, fruit, punch follow, then, suddenly, as if he were insane, the pastor begins squeaking and manipulating the gas cylinder with series of fat and skinny balloons, hence, released, accompanying his act with the statement:
“Breathe deep homos,…Ayeeeee!!! CONSPIRATORS. Come to me now.”
Everyone is silent and shocked, staring at the empty urn outside through the window, then, at the pastor who, giggling, twists once more the cylinder knob, announcing:
“Hydrogenás…COME FOR THEM.”
Steve decides then to call Rueger! And with the families departure, Weldon’s soul rests in limbo, either he was crazy or there’s a conspiracy—not just, Steve thinks, involving Lloyd but also his mother and her concealment of about what went on and involving the hospital and there’s obviously, at least to Weldon’s son, a denial of constitutional rights going on. His dad, he concludes, was right.
Before they catch their plane, everyone, except Steve, who will remain, convenes on Grandpa’s apartment.
“Why didn’t Grandpa have a house?” asks Colby, prompted by Chuck, who, looking out the window, pretends not to be listening.
“Grandpa,” Mary-beth acknowledges, “…was poor, Colby. He was a cashier and didn’t make much money.”
“Was that him singing where the ashes went?”
“Yes.” Steve responds, dryly.
“If he,” insists Colby, “…sang and did law and science and art , why did he have to be poor?”
“That’s what we may find out,” Mary-beth interjects, looking at Peggy like some magnet had pulled her in that direction.
When their rent-a-car pulls into the apartments, Weldon’s vehicle is in its spot, no doubt deposited by the tow truck, so Steve parks alongside; and, they head upstairs sort of like a string. Steve opens the door and everyone begins to verbalize obscure affections for the paintings and in the center of it all , the four-track recording studio. Maggie, guarded by Chuck and Colby, Peggy by Ron, Steven and Mary-beth, quite now in command of what for all practical purposes is a worthless estate—some two-hundred copyrighted, registered songs, a few paintings, writings and personal effects save the survivorship of a cause of action against the County of Dallas for having furthered a conspiracy in which Weldon’s constitutional rights were taken without due process of law. WRONGFUL DEATH!
“This must be all the research he was doing at SMU,” Peggy says to break a kind of dismal silence.
“Yes,” says Steve, “…and all the hospital records are in the briefcase—the ones from the private mental hospital…I suppose, unless they’ve been destroyed!”
“Timberlawn,” Ron interrupts, nodding at Steve, Peggy now somewhat nervous a though her husband might seize upon a motive, “…and the ones from the State Mental Hospital in Terrell.”
Maggie as well as Colby are now being restrained by Chuck and his mom, Mary-beth, from touching the instrumental components of the recording studio. Steve, at last,
Yields to the W A V E of suggestion and inserts a Sanklee tape:
“This was his music, kind of unique , kind of just him—everyone, Maggie!” Steve holds the child.
Peggy, who, during their marriage, was used to guitar solos—now rock, now country, now folk—is unnerved by the masterful collection.
“I had no idea…!”
“He added a drum machine.” Steve points out.
“Oh,” says Peggy. “A one-man band; he sounds like a group.”
“Just Dad,” says Steve. “But quite amazing and not bad, really.”
“He tried the labels?” asks Ron.
“Yea,” says Steve, “…without any luck though.” As another number starts, the phone rings. It’s Steve Rueger wanting an interview before Steve leaves town which was exactly what Weldon’s son had in mind. The men agree on time and place ; and, Steve returns to his family.
“Peggy.” It’s Mary-beth. Her voice is cold.
“Yes.” She feels on the defensive, while her husband has anxiously engineered a pot of coffee in a Mr. Coffee maker Weldon kept.
Mary-beth is always direct. “Did you ever think he was this good before you heard this tape?”
“No,” Peggy replies. “He was always practicing writing songs. This tape shows him to be a performer—songwriter…I can’t believe it really.”
The CHILDREN have taken to the T.V. area of the little room, by Grandpa Weldon’s bed, while the adults gather in the kitchen-living room. Steve is ready to fire a question point blank: “Lloyd got the money, around a half-million, Mom, you remained quiet about your boyfriends, when that was one of the main issues in the commitment. That was the FIRST COMMITMENT—he had no trial, no lawyer, was diagnosed schizophrenic, psychotic and, with reports of threatening to jump off an apartment roof into a swimming pool and jogging in traffic, was viewed as dangerous to himself if not to others. Mom, you told the doctor (Dr. Ronsayro) that if he (Dad) did not voluntarily commit himself you would divorce him. Is that correct?”
“Yes,” Peggy agrees, with attendant stares from Mary-beth and Ron as though kind of inducement.
“With no trial, no attorney , and , arguably, a lack of consent, you took him to a private psychiatric hospital-Timberlawn. He was there nearly a year, drugged without his say so , and , then, on one of your visits, you asked for a divorce anyway.”
“You seem to know everything,…continue.” Peggy nods sheepishly at her family.
“At all times,” Steve proceeds, “… in this commitment, Lloyd is a confidant—he gives assistance, he’s there when you need him, he gets the insurance money to cover the hospitalization, he even gives Dad a guitar the Doctor promptly locks in the closet. He tells the doctor nothing about your relationships nor does he offer you any financial assistance. All that really transpires is that when Dad is discharged in March of 1978, his mother, executes a new WILL in downtown Dallas making Lloyd independent executor and dividing the estate assets half and half.”
As Mary-beth and Ron distribute the Mr. Coffee results into waiting cups, the children likewise share per capita in a chocolate cake and punch located in the refrigerator just like Weldon had left it there for exactly that purpose. With everyone in quiet repose, he begins:
“Then…,” Steve is without confusion, reserving his appreciation of the facts democratically, “…comes the clincher. IN OR ABOUT 7:30 AM, JUNE 15, 1984, two County of Dallas deputy sheriffs on information supplied by Marjorie Hartnett, and, separately, Lloyd R. Sandusky, arrest Dad on an order of protective custody calling for emergency detention of a lunatic and transport him to the County Hospital of Dallas, Texas…dba…PARKLAND HOSPITAL. THE SECOND TIME!!!!!!”
It is not until the trial, June 21, that he finds out the information Marjorie and Lloyd supplied the County Sheriff was—the threatened homicide of Marjorie and threats made against the President of the United States—at that time, Ronald Reagan.
“Wait a minute Steve,” Peggy says , pressing his arm gingerly, “…about a year—less than that, well, exactly, June of ’83, I filed a petition for $5000.00 back child support.”
For whatever conclusions can be drawn, Steve fills in, and, stabbing his finger into space as though to indicate a virtual ‘blank’ quickly says, “From the record at the State Mental Hospital and other documents that’s what Dad thinks he’s in trouble about—not murder or threats against the life of the President.”
Everyone is dumbstruck; Ron, with an almost Sherlock Holmes expression printed on his face at last saying, “Why doesn’t Weldon’s mother or aunt simply pay off the $5000.00. Easy case! Why have this Ms.Hartnett fabricate a story?”
“That’s where I’m stuck, Ron. In February of 1984—some three months before the arrest, Lloyd had Frances (Dad’s aunt), at the age of ninety-one, execute a LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT, indeed, a TRUST, actually, designating my father’s mother as beneficiary and appointing none other than Lloyd—TRUSTOR AND INDEPENDENT EXECUTOR, the same capacity as in their mother’s WILL. Incidentally, the trust corpus is $365,000.00 excluding certain real property as well as real estate. Steve continues, everyone puzzled at what is amounting to a mystery rather than a case at law:
“Money and boyfriends aside, it’s a piece of cake to have someone committed, “railroaded”, cert-ti-fied looney, but , the hanger is they got to be DANGEROUS, as in Charles Manson, DANGEROUS as in you can’t take care of yourself and you damn sure aren’t, if the State can help it, “taking care” of anyone else. My father says in defense that there’s a c o n s p i r a c y; and, nobody pays any attention. The theory came off like a lead balloon. Maybe, this Rueger guy can help, otherwise…”
“Otherwise,” Ron picks up the train of thought, “…women become victims of sex abuse and husbands become ‘patsies’, ‘pushover’s’.”
“You’ve got it,” says Steve. Kissing Mary-beth, Weldon’s son prompts the entourage to get ready to head for the airport. Maggie is last out clutching somehow a stolen tape, Steve retrieves it and returns to the departed Weldon’s room. It’s late Winter in the South now, the dead man’s quarters hot with the glow of human expression and the life children somehow always bring.
When Steve returns, Rueger is waiting, Gary P. taking a back seat in the government vehicle and Steve occupying the front.
“Where to?” Rueger asks.
“How about some coffee and a spot to eat. All I’ve had all day was cake at Dad’s scattering.”
“Know just the place,” Steve Rueger responds, the three men in a sense all ‘government’ (with the exception that Weldon is a private individual) hence sharing in common the patriotism and common purpose that working for the American enterprise of freedom brings.
“You realize, Steve,…” Rueger begins to build the government’s position as he drives to the restaurant location—“…that we thought your Dad was actively engaged in manipulating the piracy of unfixed artistic routines, i.e. that he was exactly what he said he was, a conspirator.”
“Not at all, Rueger,” Steve says turning to Gary P. in the rear seat and simultaneously pointing his finger cursor like. Steve, however, sees they’re pulling in the restaurant and withholds his explanation until they all get inside. They’re seated by a hostess, who, smiling, hands out menus; and, nods she’ll be back to take their orders.
Before they order, Weldon’s son corrects the government’s position. “When my father referred to a ‘conspiracy’, he was referring to the little number my mother and his brother played on him to get him admitted into private and state mental asylums. In admissions procedure there was a lack of investigation into family history—my mom kept quiet about her boyfriends and his brother likewise had a free hand to corner the estates of their mother—Mildred Sandusky—and their aunt, respectively—Frances Durham.
“Boyfriends?” inquires Gary P. like an echo from somewhere.
“Yea,” says Steve at the same time ordering, pausing and resuming the story while the waitress writes down their decisions.
“It seems as far as I can remember, she had become a pretty bad victim of sex abuse; there was always some stranger hanging around. When wanting a divorce got to be a shallow excuse for the problem, there was the line of reasoning that because my Dad was unemployed and jogged in the streets and acted ‘crazy’ and was going to (ha, ha) jump into the swimming pool from the apartment roof; he was crazy, dangerous to himself. She’d get ‘abused’ and want him to see a psychiatrist.”
“Lloyd?” his brother, “Right?” Gary P. wants to be precise, lifting one eyebrow as though exactly that, precise.
“Yea,” Steve continues, “…his brother sees it as the ideal way to set up his inheriting everything from my Dad’s mother and her sister—Aunt Frances. Familiar with legal corners, Lloyd’s wife, Claire, is not just friends with a Federal judge, Joe Fish, but has worked as a legal secretary in Downtown Dallas all her life.”
“i.e?” Steve Rueger ‘dead eyes’ Weldon’s son.
“i.e….it’s easy to have someone committed. Hearsay rules are relaxed, confrontation of witnesses is remote so that about the only remedy you have is an appeal claiming there’s insufficiency of evidence and at that you got ten days after judgment which is usually 90 day commitment periods.”
“They knew that?” Rueger reiterates.
“Claire knew that,” Steve insists.
“They conspired? They had a plan. They agreed. They…” Gary P. is urgent, precise.
“Not exactly. They…remember…my mother wants the lid put on her own sexual abuse; my Dad’s brother is after money. They’re only a little puzzle piece in a much bigger windmill. Sex assault is a felony, so is theft from an estate. My Dad lost his wife: no defense of habitat, no habitat.”
“Homeless!” Rueger looks back at Gary P.
“The bad guys all get away and the State—County Sheriff’s Department and the County Hospital, County of Dallas, Municipality of Dallas, hold the door open! Constitutional Due Process.”
“Right on!” Steve exclaims. “And not just procedural but substantive due process also.”
“Your over my head.” Rueger selects an oversized meatball from his plate and cuts it in half.
“All this is ‘70’s’ and ‘80’s’ law focusing on people wanting out once the police power is called on to put them in. The ‘90’s’, and, hereafter cases have focused on the right to adequate treatment once one is in. Mental asylums, e.g. Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, are no place to want to be so as early as the ‘80’s’ here came the “Fed” to clean up the mess; States were forced to sign consent decrees saying they’d comply with Federal Standards or else. Texas, in fact, was one of those states.”
Gary P. is curious. “Steve?”
“You know what your talking about.”
“Of course I do—I had a good teacher.” The men are silent, eating, looking around , when Rueger slaps a tape on the table…like a sound from a wave from an atom and then nothing…
Once back in the car the men select feature songs from the tape, admiring Weldon’s (Sanklee’s) virtuosity.
“Mr. Rueger?” Steve asks, hitting the eject button and securing the bootleg tape.
“Asks and you shall receive.” The men laugh, Weldon’s son still miserly clutching the tape. There is a period of silence the tires ‘humming’ on the cold winter cement, then, Steve says: “If you knew my father was an artist, why wasn’t his behavior, for example, “The Mexican in the Bathroom” , or , for that matter, any of his, at times, odd creations viewed as Art—not insanity or schizophrenia or delusions?”
“I see,” says Gary P. like a voice somewhere. Rueger ‘butts’ in “Yea, Steve. I , ah, see too.” There is more road silence, the cold, grey day reaching up all around the car . “We hadn’t made the connection between what you said and is of record he said he was, a conspiracy, and, what we were told to investigate: copyright violations, manipulation of the airwaves. Your dad made it easy, put it another way, for hackers and copyright pirates to have a field day.”
“Sure, right…at his death he was worth millions and never saw a red cent,” Gary P. adds emphatically.
“Actually,…” continues Steve Rueger, the data we were collecting was more exculpatory rather than convicting of any conspiracy on his part.” Rueger dodges a night bird walking in the street.
“Then why didn’t the judiciary not vacate the lunacy hearing judgment and issue an injunction. Why allow such an absurd situation to continue vis a vis abortion clinics, voting rights, police brutality.”
“We tried that,” Rueger says, looking at Steve and maneuvering the car onto the freeway; but, the State has its way, you know. The ‘Fed’ has to hold back its exercising authority over State’s rights least some slaphappy politician wants fireworks and there’s a BILL in the hopper.”
“I see what you mean,” Weldon’s son says complacently. “My mother had sought to get at the government by doing what came natural, hence, …using my dad as a decoy, the same sort of position she herself had been put in: a kind of unprotected sex object.”
“THE ESSENCE OF CIVIL RIGHTS!” Gary P. and Rueger recite the phrase like they heard it in a jingle.
“But, then, you think about it,…”Steve notes, “…if its hard to stand up for you rights on your own, what better party to pick on than the government.” Rueger and Gary P. are silent. As they near D.F.W. International Airport, Steve recognizes where he’s just come from, the car passing by the American flag like it were part of the fabric, a star or a stripe or really just a feeling they all have for America and its people now more and more even including Weldon, his ashes hardly chaos , though, no doubt, only still “blowing in the wind.” A song somehow dancing on the windshield, Steve holding still the tape his father had believed in, it now late towards evening and the gas stations and restaurants and motels pass like memories they all share. Rueger, at last, breaks the monotony of silence by saying:
“We’ll have you back to your Dad’s place shortly.”
Knowing an appeal will require his mother’s deposition, Steve begins, then, decides otherwise to enlist the government’s assistance, thinking, after all, that it’s his responsibility, his row to hoe. And, as the car drops him off at his father’s little apartment, Weldon’s son waves a salute like curt goodbye, knowing they will soon see each other again. Walking up the stairs, the darkness from the neon impression of daylight is broken by another night bird, confused and nearly hitting Steve as he, as if afraid of something, suddenly finds the door, opening it slowly like there would be some horror or even that his dad might be standing there. The cake the children ate is dismantled on its plate, juice cups still around, abstractly positioned, the briefcase, the recording studio. Steve sits in his father’s chair, calling Vandenberg, only to discover his family, nor Ron and Peggy are back yet. His eyes study the paintings as he thumbs through the discharge furlough from the State Mental Asylum, “…threatened to bash Marjorie Hartnett’s head into a wall, commit suicide and threatened to take the life of the President of the U.S. Mr. Sandusky is clearly dangerous to others and to himself…” Steve places the documents near one of his father’s paintings so that the light makes a shadow like a veil. He’s tired from the day; and, the young man prepares thus for bed. A little sniffle gives way to the sound of tooth brushing, a green glob of toothpaste disappearing in his mouth.
In the morning after breakfast Steve waste no time in contacting his old Air Force buddy, Greg—a man of about equal rank as himself though with the one essential qualification for what he’s about to set out to do, a law degree! With the Air Force’s advocate office he knows…
“Advocate Office, this is Greg.”
“A A A A AH so!” Steve announces, imitating their old saying from when they were stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
“Steve!” Greg is surprised.
“Greg, my dad is dead; I’m in Dallas…”
“Man, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Heart attack,” explains Weldon’s son.
“Anything I can do?” Greg is direct.
“Yea, well, there is Greg. As much as my father drilled me (though without a law degree), I understand he has or rather had a law suit against the County of Dallas for violating his civil rights. Ah, …constitutional due process rights.”
“Right, I’m familiar with all that—mostly Federal law.”
“If you could get over here—cause I got all the documents: hospital records, physical evidence—tapes…–tonight, my father’s little apartment—I’ll direct you by cell phone.”
“Sure, sure. Steve. No problem. I’ll even pick up some dinner for us on the way. How’s that?”
“Perfect,” nods Steve as if Greg were there.
“You’re a saint.”
“How about just an angel.”
Greg hangs up; and, Weldon’s son is secure in his success. He calls Vandenberg—Mary-beth—and then his mother in San Juan Capistrano, just South of L.A. Her phone is busy so Steve directs his attention to evidentiary details, at moments letting his thoughts slip into motive—Marjorie Hartnett’s, for example. His dad had suggested she was in it for antiques, as simple as that. When Weldon’s mother had died, the power of attorney Lloyd Sandusky had gotten allowed he and his wife, Claire, to conduct a garage sale; no doubt the Hartnetts were the first in line. Something of his mother’s, a photo neatly tucked in a small manila envelope, of one of his mother’s lovers—Roger Dietrich—and Steve, himself, age three, pictured by Roger’s van as though it appears Roger is his father and they’re about to embark on some kind of journey dressed in matching Mackinaw jackets; Roger sporting a pair of driving gloves. For a second, Steve tries to remember being three and can’t and places each of the documents from the box his father had them in on the table where he and Greg can later sort through them. By the photo he starts to put his father’s key ring as if some kind of trump card but decides better and puts the keys to the house, the car, and, the recording equipment where they belong, by the phone. He starts, aside from legal evidence, to begin to tally estate assets—paintings, song collections, but stops knowing their value is intangible and turns instead to his dad’s ‘porn’ collection, apparently, a distraction his father found himself close to either out of a kind of sordid necessity or as something, on the other hand, kind of artistic. Closer examination of hospital records reveals the interesting aspect of the case that the very diagnosis he is receiving—delusionary , schizophrenia, paranoia, dangerousness, threat-making—is exactly the reality he has been abstracted from. Like some vague, Hollywood ‘soap’ with sex and violence productive of the plot, the word conspiracy takes on special meaning not in that Steve hopes the issue has been decided; and , Greg and he have a line of cases to stand on, but, that , for sure, his father was no “nut” and that, indeed, he was misdiagnosed. There’s no mention in the record about his mother—her life, her relationships—nor is there anything about him, a child, then, of course—Steve’s cell phone beeps.
“Hey.” Steve is almost drowsy from recollection.
“I’m on the Interstate headed for Addison , and, bongo—KFC. The colonel’s on line one.
Steve laughs and then as a serious afterthought suggest , Original Crispy, Coleslaw and mashed potatoes.”
“Got it,” says the lawyer.
“Something to drink, your choice.”
He fixes the phone back in its cradle and begins to wait, tired of reading documents, deciding to indulge in a porn video selection from his father’s burgeoning collection. Momentarily…a woman is being dragged from a canoe into a wooded area and sexually assaulted—her underclothes gently removed like so many feathers and her lips kissed as if there were some love in the act. Ten or fifteen minutes into the movie Steve’s cell phone beeps… “Greg?” he says.
“No.” Recognizing the voice of his wife Mary-beth, Steve quickly remotes the video for a second leaving only the white-black dotted screen of the T.V. on , and, then, as well… “Yea.”
“The children miss you and I do to. Here’s Maggie wants to say something.
There comes a sharp, “Daddy!” They continue in a kind of staccato communication until at last Maggie , indicating she has scratched her knee returns the phone to Mary-beth who, as well, desires the attention of the young father. In turn , Chuck and Colby get telephone kisses and ‘see you soon’ parting words. The phone dead now, the video history, he waits for Greg. The apartment still seems to have the stamp of his father like some kind of document or , coldly, a gravestone. Steve returns to the table, seating himself like a naughty criminal delusional or perhaps with the flick of a button, violent.
As the evening progresses, Weldon’s son watches the clock on his dad’s makeshift desk until at last the footsteps of Greg coming up the stairs become audible as well as further Japanese fake martial art sounds. The knock and Steve opens the door like turning a page in some book. The men are military though such that the warmth of human kindness is quickly diluted by exaltations of possession—said property…one bucket ORIGINAL CRISPY KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN and though the colonel is absent and they are in the quarters of a dead man the chipper, thirtyish men have together a feeling, a nondescript rank in freedom like a whisper or the distant sound of a chain rattling on a flag pole.
“Sir.” Steve smiles like a memory.
“Whatever rights your dad had died with him. Except wrongful death; and, I don’t think he had a heart attack out of being declared insane twenty-five years ago.”
“How did you know,” Steve queries.
“Oh,” Steve says. “Big mouth,” he adds as a kind of rib, smiling half disappointedly in the news.,
“Unless, of course,…” Greg is quick to surmount the gloom, “Your mom stood in his shoes and claimed somehow her civil rights were at stake.
“But it was my father that got declared insane, no trial, no witnesses, hearsay evidence, a stupid ass appointed attorney-for-the-day.”
“Sounds familiar, like some neo-Martin Luther King , except in the area of mental health.” Greg is avidly combining Cole-slaw, mashed potatoes and chicken in grand mouthfuls.
“It’s like my mother…,” Steve pulls a wing from the bucket, “was the victim and my father took the rap.”
“Whatever,” says Greg, lawyer like conducting an imaginary jury with his hand. “Anybody can believe anything,” he suggest taking the photo of Steve, three, and his mother’s paramour, Roger, from the table where Steve has placed documents and other evidentiary items. “Your dad and you?”
“That’s not my father,” Steve interjects. “That was a lover. Ah, his name was Roger and my mom and dad got back together after all that.”
“Oh,” says Greg. “No wonder he went nuts.”
“Come on Greg,” Steve insists and adding promptly like a footnote, “If in legal terms my mother has to bear the cross of this litigation then so be it. Can she appeal the dismissal of his motion that there was a conspiracy in violation of his civil rights?”
“Either that,” says the attorney knowledgeably or file a new cause of action with just a new portrait of another victim of the same unjust mental health system. One, two, three, it’s done—same ball park, new batter or pitcher, however, you want to see it.”
“Here’s,” handing the lawyer some papers, the divorce filing and the later subpoena for child support, respectively dated August 23, 1979 and June 28, 1983. But look Greg! My dad mailed a motion to dismiss the subpoena on grounds of a conspiracy in violation of his civil rights, citing Title 18 the United States Code §241. His rough draft brief for the case alleges the Federal clerks office for the Fifth Circuit told him they had lost the §241 papers.
“Someone disposed of the goodies!”
“Yea.” Steve says. “He got arrested months later on entirely different facts, facts not dealing with child support at all but rather stemming from an altercation with a neighbor—Marjorie Hartnett and her mother, Mary, over where my father’s mother lived.
“Here, in Dallas?” Greg consumes an entire wing chased with Cole-slaw and the mashed potatoes.
“Right ! Here’s,…” Steve is excited nearly bumping the bucket with his hands, “…the order of protective custody for my dad’s emergency detention alleging he threatened to kill Ms. Hartnett, threatened the life of then President Ronald Reagan and was going to get a gun and commit suicide.”
“Why would a disinterested third party get involved in a suit your mom and your dad’s brother had going, said CONSPIRACY?” Greg ponders studiously the Wills of Weldon’s mother and his aunt, Frances. Greg suddenly produces from his coat somewhere a Sherlock Holmes looking pipe that additionally blows bubbles, the two men roaring with laughter as well as regaining interest in the fried chicken. “It’s like the chocolate got mixed up with the peanut butter, ah, the child support with murder. Pretty daring thing to accuse someone of!”
Steve agrees, looking for evidence that’s not on the table.
“We got…” summarizes Greg, “the County of Dallas in the Country of America putting away the wrong guy, once without a hearing and a second time for possession of a candy bar!”
“Come on Greg.” Steve is headed for his dad’s Mr. Coffee maker.
“Seriously Steve, fundamental rights are the big thing in Civil Rights, not so much, well, “little” but like abortion, the right to procreation, the right to die (assisted suicide), the right to vote, the right to be equal and on and on and on: “Is there??????” Greg triumphantly addresses both the imaginary jury and Weldon’s son with a chicken leg held high, “… a right to be free from getting committed to an insane asylum.” Greg drops the Terrell State Hospital file folder on the table with a thud, just as the coffee maker springs into life.
STEVE looks at Greg and Greg at the table in the room where night birds and pool ball molecules once rode on waves that told a story about love in a HYDROGEN atom, and, where, too, Steve’s father drew pictures of incongruous naked people and watched pornographic videos. No guns, no missiles, no maps, just a theory, a theory of conspiracy. Steve surprisingly like Franco Lopez tilts to fart ; Greg holding then a cup of fresh coffee, roaring with laughter.
A day or so finds Weldon’s son preparing to leave to return to his life—airport, Mary-beth, Vandenberg—turning to look at colors and sounds existing now only as a memory. He locks the door clutching, at once, the security of his things-to-do-list: moving company, household inventory, apartment mgr. , keys, rental adjustment, rent-a-car keys, his set of keys to his father’s car, the movers’ set and a thirteen gallon trash bag holding the Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket and assorted fast food ware Greg and he used. As he locks the door he is confident his father’s soul rests somewhere in the peace their reunion at Seymour Johnson brought , more than just a thought or wish—but, real, a table or chair. His father’s Last Will and Testament and other documents he has reduced to files uploaded to his house at Vandenberg. Steve turns one final time to see in an act he thinks sentimental, movie star like, but, none the less reassuring. He then gets in his rent-a-car and drives away, a little lump in his throat, the thought somewhere, “ God will take care of the details” lending a positive to all the negatives that only more and more seem distant expressions of the time he’ll take to get back home to California.
The airport is busy as always, taxi-cabs and hotel buses, his rent-a-car making its way to the remote parking facility where he returns it to the man and pays. On the terminal tram he rests his luggage near a young musician’s guitar case, then, looking out the window at the jets climbing into the sky, feeling the loss still, but, comprising plans nevertheless for his own family and his own future. Whatever his mother knew had to be balanced now, he thinks, against…Steve starts to call but instead clicks his cell-phone, off , in preparation for the flight, by now, the tram bus veering back into the traffic of the airline terminal’s parking garage; and, Steve, standing next on the sidewalk near the curb noticing again like a flashback the guitar case by a time zone parking sign, the man it belongs to checking his ticket for the right gate, Steve prompted to do the same and then vanishing into the terminal and onto the escalator, pausing at once to get “in step” with the fast moving steel steps. At the flight gate lobby the lieutenant checks his ticket information time, his security pass and his cell-phone. Secure in their status, he begins the ‘wait’ until boarding—the corner of his eye reviewing the various signs of restaurant fast-food outlets that line the terminal hallway, one a KFC, his eye stopping and slight smile finding its way to his face. He looks as well for the guitar case of the fellow, he could by now identify, seeing, instead, like some interruption, an elderly Mexican security guard, both entities—case and guard—by the lobby restrooms where Steve reasons the owner must have gone in. ‘How guilty was the government of furthering the problems his mother and father had’ Steve continues to think in a kind of reverie looking absent-mindedly about and playing with his cell-phone ,and, then, as the old Mexican guard takes an apparent tip from the young musician, waving the phone at both of them as though an instant message, obscure and meaning , nothing, as now, both men, Mexican and guitar owner enter the KFC, the ever present case poised by the colonel’s pant’s leg of where the huge celebrity stands as a neon symbol of “finger-licking” goodness. No sooner are the two men seated, independently, than the guard’s walkie-talkie (its frequency and band acceptable in the airport) aims at Steve who, looking at his ‘dead’ cell-phone, like an empty six-shooter and back at the men, begins to feel the aggression of hunger. Down the hall, and, certainly, less obtrusive is a pastry, coffee French place. At the same time realizing he might lose his seat, he gets up anyway and is drawn into the distant setting like some kind of moth around a light. With less than an hour of waiting to go, he points to an apple pastry and orders coffee with an after thought, saying, “…ah, ‘French coffee’…please.”
A gas truck lumbers up to the belly of the plane Steve supposes he’ll be in, the man attaching its hose to a panel open with gauges to indicate amounts, and , no doubt, pressure, then, like a ditto, the Mexican, Steve taken aback, appears in the hallway, the muffled sound of a walkie-talkie communication generated and, then, at once, moving on back towards the lobby restrooms. As the lieutenant finishes his coffee, in review of the airport operation as it were, the boarding call is made, the lobby crowd of ‘California’ people lining up quickly , Steve relegated to almost the end of the line. As though at attention, the Mexican guard now waves his walkie-talkie madly like a sword, the antenna “biting” the air and, rather inadvertently claiming “10-4,…all clear…” just as the line begins to be consumed onto the plane.
Sitting quietly for take-off, Steve wishes he could call Mary-beth; and, then looks out the window of the plane, the little gas truck still parked below and back, closer to the terminal, the French place, and, of course, the Colonel, the guitar case still intact, the young-man owner again no where in sight. Steve’s thoughts linger merging directly into the drone of the engines, then, to the run-way, and , at last, the exhilaration of take-off erasing the past of the scattering and even of Dr. Mierzwiak’s call with the news—DEATH.
In California, Steve—his step now more confident—is at the wheel of his own car, his own life, his own self, taking to the highway to the road home back to the life he understands and to his children he knows perhaps won’t be so unfortunate as his father. He stops at a gas station waving his Exxon transponder apparently fruitlessly at the Speedpass tiger only to have the prompter say “See Cashier.” Inside the station a huge black woman with ease waves the little black transponder to ignite the tiger into brilliant orange commenting that the outside pump Speedpass is disabled and asking if that will be all.
“Will that be all,” she says, Steve grabbing a pack of gum and then drawing a fountain soda, his mouth still with the aftertaste of French coffee. On the road Steve begins, as though momentarily possessed by some behavioral quirk, to wave the antenna-like- straw of the fountain drink at not just himself, but, giggling kind of crazily, at passing cars. “The road home,” he thinks to himself, maneuvering the car to the ramp sign VANDENBERG AFB, no distance given, no time prescribed, like a random note in huge green, holding the wheel now with one hand and unraveling in all his freedom a stick of gum with the other. “The road home,” “the road home,” a voice seems to say, “THE ROAD HOME,” when., like some dark shadow, a glass-like plastic truck passes on the left with what appears to be a load of guitar cases. Steve bites at his straw and lets the truck get way ahead not really wanting to see whatever it is being revealed. Through Santa Barbara and closer and closer back home the day is now a mere ditto to the Pacific ocean; he fuels again and resumes his journey to the Air Force Base, the white streak of a jet now and then appearing high in the sky and far, far away. When another green sign appears—VANDENBERG AFB 17 MILES—Steve reaches for his cell-phone, then, better, he thinks, he’ll surprise his family, suddenly lodged in time and space, a kind of time traveler, perhaps, or better yet, a stranger, armed and dangerous. He reaches for the fresh fountain soda he got in Santa Barbara and begins to pull furiously on the straw , the soda simultaneously drained pass almost the half-way mark. At last in time appears the guard house and entrance to the base. Steve presents his I.D. and on signal drives onto the base towards officer housing. Wondering now, home at last, what a blue U.S. Govt. car is out front he presents himself , at once, extending his cell-phone antenna, as he sees Mary-beth and, shocked, Steve Rueger and Gary P. They all eventually find themselves in the family room-kitchen area, when Mary-beth, prompted by Rueger, announces glumly:
“Steve your mother is dead—someone assaulted her in their home in San Juan, raped her and then, …” she breaks into tears, sobbing, while Steve looks at Rueger.
“Yea,” the lieutenant says.
“They hung her.”
“What,” he replies taken back and beginning to absorb the iinformation at first sitting down and then noticing his cell-phone is turned to ‘off’ , starting to call.
“This is impossible! First, dad ,and now.. When did all this happen?”
“Her husband left for work around 8:00 A.M. and whoever did it gained entry about 8:15 so around, oh, 10:00 o’clock this morning. We tried to call you, then, realizing you were on the plane…”
Steve is in shock still thumping his cell antenna and looking at the ceiling of the room. But she, I, …we have a case, Greg…”
“What!” Rueger looks at him inquisitively.
“Nothing.” Steve says…muttering, “conspiracy,” and, then, significantly, switching his phone to “ON” at once walking outside onto the veranda and looking into the sky as if not to notice anyone except the clouds far away. The children surround Mary-beth like so many book ends, while Steve Rueger and Gary P. find ways to say the same things Weldon’s son knows already.
The Box by Sidney Thompson
“I’m starting the video now,” said Finance Manager Kim Mickel, known in the sales tower as “Chemical.”“Do what?” said Claude, looking up at the corners of the ceiling.“No, smile right here,” said Kim, pointing to the camera mounted to the top of his monitor and aimed in the direction of Claude’s look of horror. “It’s standard procedure. To protect you as well as us. It’s a good thing.”Claude turned to consult Jodie, and she and Emma were unexpectedly serene. “It’s okay, baby,” whispered Jodie, barely audible, as she gently patted Emma’s small back with a pretty hand, saying, “Shhhh, baby, shhhh.”“All right,” said Kim, “how about we start with something easy, the Arbitration Agreement.”Claude thought of last night, how they were kissing and he broke the kiss to ask Jodie if he could have a taste, a short one.“A short one and that’s it,” she’d said. “The last time, Claude. I mean it.”“The last time?”“The last time,” she’d said.He’d debated, but there was nothing to debate. “Okay.”She’d rolled away from him, and on her back she drew her shirt up over her breasts. “Go ahead, I love you, but this is it, okay?”He’d nodded, then looked away from the night shine of her eyes and admired her chest in the faint light. He traced her nipples with his fingertips, then between her breasts, beneath them. They were as soft as two-month Emma was soft everywhere. Then he lowered his open mouth over the nearest nipple and cupped the breast in his hand, pausing a moment to slow the moment before sucking the sweet warmth onto his tongue and down his throat.
He’d believed he could take the PT Cruiser better if he thought of its color as baby’s milk. Not opal. He would always think of it as baby’s milk. Baby’s milk for Emma, from Jodie, his very last time.
“This what you really want?” said Claude.
When Jodie glanced at him, she was surprised and relieved he was looking at her, and not down or off somewhere unknown.
“We don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she said.
“Well, of course, we wouldn’t expect you to do anything you didn’t want to do,” said Kim. “Here,” he said reaching for his mouse, “let me turn this off.”
“I don’t want to,” said Claude.
Jodie’s eyes lingered on Claude’s. Not since the day they got married at the court house, right after they’d signed the certificate but before they’d paid for it, had they looked at each other full on like that before a witness. And then she turned away. “Sorry,” she told Kim. She stood. “Real sorry.”
Claude hopped out of his chair, scooped up the car seat, and got the door to follow Jodie and Emma out. Then he ran around to get the next door, praying their salesman—what was it, Gary, Garrett?—wouldn’t see them and call out, and then Jodie would have to stop and apologize all over again. But so far there was nothing but silence, it seemed like silence, not hearing his name called out as they slipped away gingerly into the warmer air with the stars, their 1999 Oldsmobile Alero with no air parked right there across the lane, like it was waiting on them, bald tires and all, like it was supposed to be this way awhile longer, their first car together.
Gingerly for Claude because his shoes were forever greased from KFC, where he worked as an assistant manager and had met Jodie a year ago. She was on break from the Pizza Hut next door and still wearing her name tag, so he said, “Hi, Jodie, how can I help you?” She was short forty-two cents. “That’s how you can help, Claude,” she smiled, and he said he had it covered, then tossed in honey sauce for her biscuit without her even having to ask.
Now, he groaned with relief and rattled the car seat high above his head, leading their slow but steady charge.
And hugging Emma closer, Jodie jogged after him, swearing Emma for the first time was laughing, was drooling, but Jodie was leaking and Emma was crying. They were all so hungry.
Book Review: Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint by Scott Holstad
Time Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I thoroughly enjoyed Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint. I tell ya, he rarely disappoints. In this novel, he’s his paranoid self, delving into alternate realities, but the beauty of this book is that it feels more “innocent,” I guess — much less like his later drug crazed paranoid freak show novels (which I still enjoy). This book was written in 1958, published in 1959, and I think it shows a fresher Dick at work, one who hasn’t been addled by psychosis as in the ’70s and later.
The story revolves around Ragle Gumm (odd name, eh?), who lives with his sister and brother-in-law in a small 1950s town. He makes his living solving difficult newspaper puzzles, for which he is paid, and because of which he has become famous. He has won every puzzle, every day for years. So, the tension to keep on winning is getting to him.
Everything seems reasonably normal until we get a hint of “differentness” while the family is playing cards with their neighbors, the Blacks. Vic, Ragle’s brother-in-law, goes in the bathroom and tries to pull the string to turn on the light, panicking when he can’t find it, flailing around. He soon realizes there’s a light switch on the wall, but KNOWS there was a string, even though no one else can relate. Ragle, too, starts experiencing odd goings on, with things disappearing only to be replaced with pieces of paper with words on them describing what they just replaced, like a soda stand. There aren’t any radios in town — just TVs — but when Vic’s boy constructs a radio using a crystal, they overhear people talking about Ragle and the plot gets crazy.
Ragle starts to realize all is not what it seems, especially so when he tries to leave town, only to get hunted down and returned to his house with his memory largely wiped. Late in the book, he and Vic compare notes and realize something is very wrong, so they try and make a run for it, using a stolen 18 wheeler. They get out, find another town, and find out they’re actually in 1998. 1959 is a farce. They’re living in a make believe world. And it all centers on Ragle and his puzzles, the importance of which we discover toward the end of the book.
The end of the book, like so many of Dick’s novels, seems a little rushed, a little too tidied up without the careful thought that went into the writing of the entire novel. Nonetheless, it’s unique and interesting, and it left me wondering why it had taken me so long to discover this entertaining novel. Many reviewers compare this book to The Truman Show film, and I can certainly see why. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but suffice it to say, the paranoia is valid, the alternate reality almost believable, and Dick was truly a visionary. Authors today can’t compete with what he was churning out 50 years ago. This is a short novel, at only 256 pages, and it took me less than a day to rip through it. I couldn’t put it down, even with a somewhat slow opening to the book. I heartily recommend this to, not only Dick fans, but to anyone who likes speculative fiction, as there’s not really too much pure “sci fi” in this book — anyone can enjoy it. Pick it up; you won’t be disappointed.
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Book Review: Philip K. Dick’s Ubik by Scott Holstad
Wow! Ubik was a wild ride, even by Philip K. Dick’s standards. Or perhaps a better way of putting it is the book meets the high standards he creates for his works, and then some!
As the book begins, we meet Glen Runciter, head of the world’s top anti-psi agency (to combat all of the psi organizations that have arisen now that it is 1992 — heh!), located in New York City. He confers with his late wife, Ella, who is dead and buried in a Swiss moratorium, where she is in a suspended state of “half life,” through “cold-pac” — something like our cryogenics. The world’s top psi’s are disappearing, and Runciter wants his wife’s opinion on what to do. She thinks they should advertise more.
We then go off to met Joe Chip, Runciter’s top man, who is dirt poor and in debt. A Runciter scout has brought a young woman named Pat by to meet Joe. Pat has an unusual ability to nullify events before they even happen. Her psi tests are off the charts, and Joe marks on her report that she should be watched, that she could be dangerous.
Runciter has a visitor from a businessman with a business on Luna (the moon?), in need of immediate anti-psi help. Runciter agrees to overlook some typical preliminaries, since it’s an emergency, and soon he’s leading Joe, Pat, and nine others to Luna to save this company. Where they’re sabotaged. A bomb goes off in the room in which they’re gathered and Runciter takes it the worst. He’s pretty much dead, and the team rushes to get him into cold-pac in the spaceship so he can be saved and consulted with his wife. Joe starts planning on how to get back at their enemies from that moment forward. And from that moment forward, things start unraveling. It gets really Dick-like as alternate realities are discovered and time moves backward. Joe starts receiving odd messages from Runciter while members of the team start dying off, decomposing quickly. Soon the surviving members find themselves back in 1939 in Des Moines IA — Joe has to get there by bi-plane. They’re there for Runciter’s funeral, but by now, Pat is under deep suspicion for being behind this, plotting with their enemies, and Joe’s really ticked. Soon the reader doesn’t know who is dead and who is alive!
I won’t give away the ending, but I’ll just let you know that it’s a typical Dick mind-f*** which is immensely satisfying while still being a bit confusing. It’s a lot to swallow at once. Ubik rears its head at the beginning of each chapter in the form of an unusual ad for an unusual product, and Ubik plays a real role at the end of the book, but it’s a bit mysterious at that. Suffice it to say that it’s a miraculous spray can that is Joe’s only way to stay alive.
Dick’s eye for minutia is especially good in this novel as he highlights magazines from 1939 (real ones), early cars, etc. And this book is a fast paced thriller too. I read it in less than a day. I couldn’t put it down. No wonder Time magazine chose it for inclusion as one of their “100 best English-language novels!” No argument there. I don’t know if this is my favorite Philip K. Dick book, but if not, it’s close. It’s got the usual PKD themes like unreliable and alternate reality, time running backward, precognition (Minority Report, anyone?), telepathy, paranoia, hallucinations, and even spirituality. It’s got a fantastic ending. It’s a great introduction to Dick, if you’re unfamiliar with him, and if you’re a fan, it’s a must read. You won’t be able to put it down. Highly recommended.
If you’re a fan of formal, traditional poetry, don’t read Mark Jackley’s new book, Hello Hello Hello. However, if you enjoy unpretentious poetry grounded in reality with a hint of humor thrown in for good measure (as well as some sentimentality), it’s a very good book to read.
The book starts out a little carefully with a poem entitled “In Warm Waters.” It seems somewhat average compared to what you find on the next page: “Dog Days.” In this poem, there’s been a summer storm called “Jeb Wayne Lee” or “Jeb Lee Wayne,” or even “Jeb Lee Storm” that has knocked out the power. Jackley invites the reader to “Let us be dogs, lie around like dogs, pant, drool and hump like mutts,/ for the dog days are here and honey, there is nothing else to do.” The storm has melted the coffee ice cream and “the beer is getting warm” (egads!). The “TV is out and the stereo too.” Jackley ends this immensely readable poem by writing “I can almost remember the darkness,/ what roamed its edge and howled.”
The very next poem reveals the author’s take on “The Last Days of My Life,” writing that “Maybe they will resemble the last days of high school,” when you suddenly click with and become friends with someone you’ve known for a long time, but have never bothered to get to know. Or perhaps it’s the girl who sits next to you in Spanish class who becomes beautiful seemingly overnight. The poem ends by saying,
Powerful imagery, that. This book continues thusly, mixing longer confessional-style poems with shorter image conscious poems to create a nice combination of poems that are sad, funny, sweet, laugh inducing, etc. All good stuff indeed. That is not to say every poem in the book is a winner. “At The Hospice” seems a little contrived and “Erratum” somewhat unnecessary to the collection, but on the whole, this is a strong collection of poetic works Jackley has produced. He focuses a great deal on his relationships and doesn’t hold back, inviting us into his world of good and bad memories and instances in time. “Vow” is such a poem, where “Kim” is invited to “take me to be/ your lawfully wedded guy,” including the baggage of failed marriages, a pre-teen daughter, his punk rock and more, mixing this with her “Alabama Christian/ faith and tidy spice rack,” but before anyone can become overly emotional about this poem, he ends it with “oh honey, if you will,/ I will do the dishes.” Laughter abounds. His poetry is self-effacing at times but can submit to some borderline sentimental realism, as in “Wives”:
However, the object of the poem is unclear. Is it a cat or a wife? We don’t know and an otherwise strong little poem is undercut by this moment of non-clarity.
Jackley moves around the book with topics ranging from his wedding night to laughing with old friends about their “outlaw past” and on to a very interesting take on the Vietnam War. Perhaps the best poem is “Eat A Peach,” where the writer is sitting in his work cubicle and sees a peach “Rebecca” has left on his desk, eliciting memories of listening to (and seeing in concert) the Allman Brothers while he currently listens to piano music. He describes a dream of Captain Lou Albano, the former wrestler who is driving a big rig in the dream. All of this, and the tune he is listening to entitled “RC Cola and a Moon Pie,” leaves him thinking it is “more akin to the paradise of/ a juicy, runny peach exploding blissfully until/ I reach the pointed pit, a little bit like shrapnel.” I love those last lines. They remind me of one of my favorite poets, the now sadly discredited Bill Shields whose explosive lines would burst from his verse with vengeance as he described his alleged experiences in the Vietnam War. That’s meant to be a compliment, Mark.
This is not a big book, although it’s a bit larger than your average poetry collection at 80 pages. It may not be the best book of poetry you’ve ever read, but it’s a damn good collection of real and interesting poems and while slightly uneven at times (and whose work isn’t uneven?), it is well worth the $15 investment. Buy this book, read it, and treasure it – it’s that good. You can find it on Amazon and elsewhere.
It’s easy to forget that you loved me, that you couldn’t wait to see me in the morning.
Your silence now makes it easy to forget that there are people in the world.
My bed is too big for me.
I sleep in the corner of the mattress and pull the woolen blanket up over my shoulder.
I’m cold now without you.
I remember a night I woke in pain and you rushed me to the emergency room.
You slept in the car and the doctors sent me home with Percocet.
I slept for three days and you brought me soup and juice.
All of that’s gone now.
All of that is empty memory.
Divorce is an ugly beast, even when it’s a mutual thing.
I wish there were some other way, but it’s too late for that.
I don’t want to be wooed, you say.
I wouldn’t do that.
I don’t know how to make you remember me in a better light.
I prefer my empty apartment now.
I prefer my loneliness.
Life is easier without companionship.
My therapist argues with me.
You’re too isolated, she says.
You need to get out.
But there is nowhere to go, nothing to do.
I am too shy to make friends easily.
People do not understand the me, the voices I hear when there is no one around.
It’s easy to forget that the world is not out to get me.
Sometimes I’m scared and you scare me more.
I dread my phone.
I dread the voices of strangers telling me that I cannot go on.
It’s easy to forget that you’re not there for me anymore.
I wait for you at the end of the day, but you never arrive.
It’s easy to forget that you’ve stopped loving me, that we shared too much to be friends even.
The hill rises at the edge of town, wet grass, mud, starlings and sparrows.
I rush into the rain, the wind, the small slice of sunlight falling like a blade through the trees.
I am a preacher telling the story of the Sermon Jesus gave on a rise somewhere in Israel.
I do not believe in God, but I have faith I’ll die someday and someday I’ll rise like steam from a pot of water waiting for the tea bag to transform it.
My son brings me lupine from his mother’s garden.
We sit in the living room of my apartment and talk.
There’s not much to say.
His life is going so fast while mine is slowing down.
I miss the mornings when I would wake and there would be a purpose for the day.
Now I wake and wait for the sun to rise into the watery sky.
I wait for the rain to head east, away from this valley.
I cannot wait for summer’s heat.
Trees cast long shadows on the hill at the edge of town and they catch the wind so it isn’t so miserable here.
I stand in the mud and shout my name at the sky until someone calls the police and they come to question my motives.
I have nothing to say to them and they take me to the station in cuffs.
They take me to the hospital where I’m wild with fear.
The days pass here with a slick motion.
The clocks all are wrong, giving different times on every wall.
I sit in the Common Room and wait for the chance to slip away, to go home and sleep in my own bed, to shower in my own shower.
I will not give myself away.
I will not spread my madness to the masses.
I hear voices now between these walls and they tell me that I will die here.
I keep my back to the wall, watching, waiting, paranoid.
I cannot do everything at once, but I can do this.
Iguana man, I saw you at the Jewel on North Ashland.
You were buying a dark leafy thing for your pet.
I told you to “get the bunch” but forgot to ask your iguana’s name.
Tell me over coffee.
Samantha, you work occasionally at Four Eyes on Clark.
Last month you showed me frames and we joked
about the tablecloths people wear as shirts.
I’d really like to talk some more.
It’s so hard meeting cool people.
We met at the Shelter around 11 p.m. Your name was David.
You kissed me around 1 a.m.
I will never forget the kiss.
I drove you to your car.
You said “all types of music have good and bad examples.”
I’ll play my sax. You judge if you like it.
South elevator bank, 53 W. Jackson. Pensive fool dumbfounded
by your unexpected entrance, amazing blond curly hair and shy smile.
Regrets not being courteous enough
to say good-bye on 12th floor.
Would like to extend a gracious thank-you
for a nicer, brighter and happier afternoon.
What are you doing New Year’s Eve?
Banana Leaf, you were watching and sucking finger.
Would have loved to talk
but obvious circumstances prevented it.
You had a small scratch on your left cheek.
Did our eye contact mean something?
Cannonball messenger with cool funky helmet.
You rode behind me, commented on my fake Harvard T-shirt
and said, “hey, girl, wanna race?”
Before I saw your beautiful smile and sexy legs,
I said, “Naw, you’d beat me.”
You took something from me.
How else to explain the emptiness inside.
Let’s talk? I have excellent componentry.
SWF, 23, in advertising from Wrigleyville.
I circled your ad both weeks, called and didn’t leave message
for some reason because any approach is awkward.
I meet all of your criteria and you meet mine. Call.
Mona Lisa, picture perfect napper.
Watched you fall asleep on the 156 LaSalle.
You asked if you looked OK asleep.
Whoops, my big feet got in the way
when you exited at Goethe
and I laughed when the doors attacked you.
Care to exchange more pleasantries?
Matchbox 691888. I’m the 29-year-old SBM
that thinks all the messages he left for you from Dec. 19 to Dec. 24
was too many and may have turned you off
because you weren’t expecting that many messages from me.
I was not trying to turn you off.
I was really hoping I could meet you because I’m very interested
and think we could make a good match.
I want you bad. Call me.
I’ll make your wildest dreams come true.
We both got off at Madison, parted ways at State Street.
We were cruising each other, weren’t we?
You were afraid that I thought you might be following me.
Wish you were.
Anna, we stood next to each other during the Bowie concert.
You told me to shake my butt.
You put your hand on my face
and I kept thinking you were going to say something.
I couldn’t hear a thing. I hesitated
because I had to catch an early flight the next morning.
If I could go back, I’d cancel that damn flight.
Jenny, American Airlines flight #394, 7 a.m.
I was in seat 4B. You handed me my coat and warned me
to stay out of trouble.
Neal, I miss you on Sundays. Me, at the beach with dog, Harrison.
You were Mr. No-one-in-particular who turned into Mr. Wonderful.
I was wrong for being so impatient.
My mind was racing with bad thoughts,
then you weren’t around to talk.
Once you find your direction, look around to see
if I’d be too far out of your way.
Punkman, 1989, at The Edge of the Looking Glass.
I danced for you, my dress slipped off my shoulders.
I wanted to go into the alley with you.
I’ve looked for you on the train for years.
You were my dream man (big, tattooed, with shaved head).
I’m available now. Not like in 1989.
We met briefly on Halloween, 1996, at Elixir.
You won the costume contest as the Grim Reaper.
I was big foot and was R.I.P. (a real interested person).
You’ve haunted me wherever I go for months.
Now this is the last time you will ever hear from me.
I hope you really have a great life.
After covering journalism assignments for many years as a reporter, editor, and freelancer, Robert Joe Stout currently resides in Oaxaca, Mexico. His essays, poetry, and fiction have appeared in Conscience, The American Scholar, South Dakota Review and many other magazine and journals. His most recent books include the novel Running Out the Hurt and the volume of poetry A Perfect Pitch.