Of What Do You Dream? Chapter Four

My next interview was with my neighbor…a man named Kevin.  He was a slight man, who couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds soaking wet. He lived with his brother and his brothers’ son.  They had rented the house for six years, but were going to have to move when the owner decided to sell.

He was stand-offish, but friendly and gradually began to open up a little. He told me that his brother was an army deserter, who had been pardoned by Jimmy Carter in 1977, and was having difficulty receiving benefits.

He lived off Social Security and Marcus, his nephew, lived off of a settlement he received when he was hit by a driver and left brain damaged. I only met Marcus once, and he offered an apologetic, “don’t be offended if I don’t remember anything you said five minutes ago.”  His older brother, Terry, stayed inside most of the time, and like Kevin, was thin and frail.

Kevin did all the yard work, and although the property wasn’t his, he took great pride in the landscaping.

He never disclosed his marital status and I didn’t ask.  He was clearly bright, but I don’t know if he was formally educated.

He said he “landed here.”  When I asked from where, he said, “Kansas.” He said he wanted to go back, but he felt he needed to help his elderly brother and nephew, and didn’t believe he would ever return.  He didn’t seem to share my humor when I said, “click your heels three times and say ‘there’s no place like home, and you’ll be there’.”

I was saddened when he said that I was the only person in the neighborhood who ever spoke to him.  Maybe because he was old, no one thought he had any importance.  Maybe everyone thought he was just an ordinary “old” man.

He rarely smiled, and I never heard him laugh.  He always looked despondent, or melancholy, or defeated somehow, and it was clear that I wasn’t going to be privy to any part of his life, other than where he wished to return, but that didn’t deter me from asking the question, “of what do you dream?”

He didn’t even look at me.  He just stared off into space as he said:

“I don’t dream of anything.”

He was my last “interview.”  I knew that I could never do justice to these remarkably “ordinary” people with my lame attempts at telling their stories, and truthfully…who would care?  None of them invented the microwave, or found a cure for cancer, or garnered 10 million followers on Twitter.  They lived…they will die…and most likely, they will be forgotten…these extraordinary, ordinary people.

 

Te Mutunga.

 

Of What Do You Dream? Chapter Three

I wanted my next story to be about a woman who had lived down the street for as long as I could remember.  She was a quiet, unassuming woman, who aside from a polite nod if someone rode by, kept to herself.

My mother said she thought her name was Mary, but she wasn’t sure and couldn’t recall her last name, or if she had ever even known it.  She had heard rumors that when her parents died, they left her some money and she bought that house.  “She must be in her eighties,” mother said.

I considered my options about trying to get her story.  She could be the kind of person who welcomed company, or she could very well meet me at the door with a shotgun.  I’m not sure how accurate a woman in her eighties could aim, but I imagine she could still make a mess of you if she came close.

I threw caution to the wind and walked down to her house.  I rang the doorbell, and this frail, white-haired woman answered, sans the shotgun, thank goodness.  I introduced myself and asked if she had a few minutes to spare.

Clearly taken aback, she quietly said, “I guess so, but if you’re selling something, I’m not really interested.”  I told her that I wasn’t a salesperson.

“I’m writing about ordinary people,” I said.

She smiled and asked, “do you think I’m ordinary?”  I said, “maybe I should rephrase that.  I’m writing about people who aren’t famous.” Again, she smiled and asked, “do you think I’m not famous?”

It was then that I decided to stop prefacing my poor attempts at writing with words like “ordinary and famous.”

She clearly had a sharp wit and I got the impression that she was toying with me.  I liked it.

She invited me in and motioned for me to sit down.  I said, “could you tell me your name?”  Almost reluctantly, she said, “my name is Martha Jane McDaniel.  What exactly do you want to know?  Are you writing a book?”

I chuckled as I said, “I have no illusions of writing a book. I just like to hear peoples’ stories.  Will you tell me yours?”

A look of sadness came over her as she said, “I’m not sure I want to do that.”  When I asked why, she said, “I grew up in a different time.  Much different than now.  Much different than your time, and I’m not sure you would understand.”

“Try me,” I said.  “You might find that I understand a lot more than you think.  I just talked to a coroner who spent his entire life with the dead, and it marked him.  To most of us, he was just an ordinary man, but he had a story to tell, which made him anything but ordinary…at least in my eyes.  We all have stories,” I said, “and we’ve all been marked.”

“Very well,” she said.

I listened as she began.

“When I was sixteen, I met a boy.  His name was Harley Jones.  It was love at first sight for both of us.”  She smiled as she said, “I used to practice writing ‘Mrs. Harley Jones’, over and over and over.  I know that probably sounds silly to you, but back then…that’s what girls did.”

“Oh, how I loved that boy,” she said.  “I would sneak out of my bedroom window at night and meet him in the park.  He had to walk over five miles to meet me, but he said he would walk ten times that far for just one kiss. When I’d see him coming around the corner, I’d run up to him and he would pick me up and twirl me around like a baton.”

I was thinking, “young love.  Is there anything better?”  I asked why she had to sneak out to meet him.  “Was it because your parents thought you were too young to have a boyfriend?”

Martha stood up and walked to the window.  “No.  It was because he had dark skin,” she said.

I was confused for a minute.  “Dark skin?” I asked.  “Yes,” she said.  “He was dark skinned, or ‘colored’ as they said in those days.  You see, I grew up in a time where the first thing you saw when you got on a city bus was a sign that said, ‘colored to the rear’.  Sears, Roebuck and Company had water fountains labeled ‘white’ and ‘colored’.  When you went to the movies, the sign said, ‘colored to the balcony’.  Races didn’t mix then. Such fraternization was considered reprehensible, and it was also illegal.”

“But,” she said.  “I didn’t see color.  I wasn’t thinking about what was legal or illegal, and I didn’t give a cats’ patootie about what people thought.  All I saw was a handsome, smart, gentle, kind and wonderful young man who I absolutely adored.”

She sighed and said, “one night, the police were patrolling the park and saw us together.  You can imagine what happened next.  They put us in the back of the patrol car, with Harley handcuffed and took us to the station. They called my father and told him where I was, where they had picked me up, and told him I was with a ‘colored boy’.”

“My father came to the station with rage in his eyes and hatred in his heart. He took off his belt, yanked me up by the arm and hit me all the way out of the room.  I remember watching the police officers as they smiled with an almost approving look on their faces.”

“I was scared to death for Harley,” she said.  “I was afraid of what the officers might do to him.  I silently prayed for his safety and defiantly planned our next meeting.”

Martha almost smirked when she said, “my father put a lock on my window.  He really thought that was going to keep me from sneaking out.”

“Did you continue to sneak out?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.  “My father was an every night drinker and he would regularly pass out in his chair in front of the television.  I just waited for the familiar drunken snore, and as soon as I heard it, I’d walk straight out the front door.”

“After a few weeks,” she said, “Harley and I decided that we were going to run away and get married.  The problem was that neither of us had a car, nor did we have any money.”

That familiar sadness returned as she took a deep breath and said, “desperate situations call for desperate measures.  We agreed that we would steal money from our fathers’ wallets.  It would be easy for me because my father always left his wallet on the table beside the chair.  I’m not sure he ever knew exactly how much money he had.  All he cared about was having enough to buy his beer.”

“I took ten dollars from my fathers’ wallet, and Harley managed to take five dollars from his fathers’ back pocket.  We were going to meet at the park at midnight and then walk to the bus station, which was several miles up the street.  I had packed a nightgown and a change of clothes.  I was beyond elated at the thought of my life with Harley.  I was also absolutely terrified that we would get caught.”

Martha looked down and said, “my fears were well founded.  The bus station was within sight, and we were giddy with excitement.  We had already agreed to get on the bus separately, so as to not draw attention. Suddenly, a car came screeching to a halt behind us.  It was my father. Apparently, he had awakened and checked to see if I was in my room. When he discovered that I was gone, I guess he went a little insane.”

“He got out of his car with a piece of 2 x 4 in his hand. He struck Harley in the side of the head and the blow killed him instantly.  All I remember is seeing the blood and hearing someone screaming.  Then I realized that I was the one who was screaming.  It was mostly a blur, but I remember the police arriving just a few minutes later.  One of the officers stood over Harley, and casually lit a cigarette…like he was looking at a deer who had just been hit by a car.”

“Nothing ever happened to my father, of course.  No one was going to file charges against an outraged father for killing a boy who was guilty of statutory rape…especially when it was a colored boy.”

“Two things happened after that night.  I never forgave my father, and I never spoke to him again.”  She smiled as she said, “but justice has a way of finding monsters and evening the score.”

I wanted to ask what she meant, but if judgement had been rendered by her hand, I was not the one to question any device of hers.

“You know,” she said.  “This is a bit serendipitous…you asking me to tell you my story.  I often thought of writing my story but I didn’t think anyone would be interested in an ‘ordinary’ person who lived in a time filled with blatant prejudice, and deep-seeded hatred.  People want to forget those times.  They want to close their eyes to those of us who witnessed such atrocities…those of us who suffered such great loss.  It doesn’t make for a feel-good story.”

“No one will remember me,” she said, “but once…I had a young girls’ heart and a young girls’ hopes.  I knew how it felt to love and I knew how it felt to be loved.  I wanted to see the world through rose-colored glasses.  I didn’t know that it was a cruel and violent place, where only certain lives mattered.”

Martha had been marked, both by profound love and unfathomable loss. She never married.

“Martha,” I said.  “Of what do you dream?”

She closed her eyes and smiled as she said:

“That’s easy.  I dream of Harley Jones.”

 

To be continued________

 

 

 

 

Of What Do You Dream? Chapter Two

With pen and spiral notebook in hand, I set off to try to scribble my first meaningful story.

I spotted a victim sitting on a park bench, took a deep breath and boldly walked toward him.  With no embarrassment or apologies, I sat down right beside him, introduced myself, and asked his name.  He extended a weathered, age-spot covered hand and said, “my name is Henry Nathaniel Bealer, but you can call me Hank.”  I think he was a little startled by my impertinent intrusion at first, but slowly warmed to my presence.

It didn’t occur to me that he could be a serial killer waiting for his next innocent victim, nor did it occur to me that he might just want to be left alone.

Looking at my paper, he asked, “what have you got there?”  I lied when I told him that I was a writer.  He asked, “do you write for the newspaper, or a magazine, or are you hoping to write the great American novel?”

I shrugged and said, “I just write about ordinary people.  You know, it’s so normal for people to pass each other on the street and just walk by, without a hello, or a nod, or even a glance.  If people would just try to get to know people, they might find that they’re interesting.”  I sighed and said, “of course, they might also find out that they’re skunks.”

Hank appreciated my humor, I think and asked what I would like to know.

Most likely showing that I was clueless as far as writing, but hoping to fake my way through, I said “just tell me about yourself.”

Hank leaned back and began talking, almost as if he had forgotten that I was there.

“Well,” he said.  “When I was a youngster, I was nothing but trouble.  I’d steal candy from the local neighborhood store, shoot BBs at birds and squirrels, set the toilet paper on fire in the school bathroom…and my favorite thing to do was break off the antennas on cars.  My poor Mother almost lost her mind, and my Father wore out many a hickory stick on my caboose.”

Smiling, he said, “when I finally got out of school, my Father took me down to the local Army Recruiting Office, and gave me a choice.  ‘Sign up or get out’.  I didn’t want to sign up, because there was a war going on.  I knew that I wouldn’t be drafted because I was the sole surviving son but I also knew that my Father wasn’t going to put up with my foolishness any longer.  I did a bit of whining, telling my Father that I didn’t want to go to some foreign land to get my head blown off, but the look on his face told me that if I didn’t do what he said, he would probably end up blowing my head off himself…so I signed up.”

“Thirty-eight weeks after boot camp, I got to ‘Nam’ and it was the doggonest thing.  They made me a medic.” He lit a cigarette and apologized.  “Something I picked up in ‘Nam,” he said.  “Never could quite kick the habit.”

He stared ahead and said, “anyway, I imagine I saved a few lives over there, but there were so many that I couldn’t save.  Sometimes I wondered if I could have saved more, if I had gotten to them sooner, or if I had done something different, but I’m not sure it would have mattered.  I just watched the life drain out of them.”

He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “you’d probably think that after seeing all those horrible injuries, and all that death, I would want to put that behind me.  Instead, I became fascinated with death.”

“Anyway, I came back in one piece, and decided to go to medical school.  I think it was the only time my Father was proud of me.”  With a twinkle in his aged eye, he said, ” I guess after what I put them through when I was young, they thought I’d most likely end up in prison, ‘doing life without parole’, as the song says.”

He said, “I didn’t go to medical school to cure people, or help people, or save people, nor was I interested in giving closure to families.  I went to medical school to study death.  I became a specialized Forensic Pathologist.  Any fool can see a bullet hole in a brain or a decapitation and determine the cause of death.  It was the sudden, unexplainable deaths that intrigued me.  So that became my forte…finding the unfindable…answering the unanswerable…defeating the unknown.”

“It became an obsession for me.  I never had time for a wife or a family.  It was all about work.  Most nights, I wouldn’t even go home.  I stayed with the bodies.  I guess you could say they were my only acquaintances…not that I cared about them.  I didn’t care about them at all.  They were just bodies.  And someday, that’s all I’ll be.  Just a body laying on a cold steel slab.”

I found those words chilling.

Almost gleefully, he said, “I remember the first time I made the usual ‘Y’ cut into the chest, removed the organs one by one, weighed them, measured them and under a scrutinous eye, looked for any sign that might have caused their death.  It was exhilarating.  Determining their last meal ranged from the mundane to the ridiculous.  One man’s last meal was about two pounds of common dirt.”

“Dirt?” I asked.  “Yes, dirt,” he said.  “There’s a disorder called Pica.  It’s when people eat bizarre things.  Most of the time, it won’t kill you, and eating dirt didn’t kill this particular person.”

“Were you always successful in finding the cause of death?” I asked.

“Most of the time, yes,” he said.  “We’ve all got an expiration date stamped on us the day we’re born.  Sometimes cruel fate steps in and hurries up the process, but sometimes death just happens and there’s no reason, except the old adage, ‘it was just their time’.  Not everyone has the gift of length of years.”

Hank might have been a little strange and maybe even a little scary, but he was by no means “ordinary.”

Although I had only asked a few questions, it was time for the most important one to be asked.

“Hank,” I said.  “Of what do you dream?”

He sat there with his head down, and I could hear the regret in his voice as he said:

“I dream of touching the living.”

 

To be continued____________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of What Do You Dream? Chapter One

I am no one special.  People don’t recognize my name or my face.  I’m just one of many travelers, wandering the Earth in search of some kind of meaning…some way to leave a mark or make a difference…or perhaps, just be remembered.

I’m not extraordinary, but I have known someone who was.  Her name was Lovely Summer Snow.  She was my maternal grandmother, but I called her Granny.

Granny was born in the late 1800’s.  Her parents were Benjamin Walker Snow, a lover of the sun and warm climates, and Edna Morris Summer, a lover of cold weather that nipped at your nose and chilled you to the bone. They were an unlikely pair, but were completely devoted to each other.

When Granny came along, the first words out of the doctor’s mouth were, “isn’t she just lovely?”  At that instant, Edna decided that would be her name.  Lovely.  And she would combine her maiden name with her married name, creating a sort of oxymoron.  “Lovely Summer Snow.”

Occasional, playful teasing about her name didn’t bother Granny and she grew into a fine, confident woman who was fiercely independent, and wise beyond her years.

I remember as a young child, and as a young adult, Granny had a presence about her that put me completely at ease, yet could at times, rendered me almost fearful…the kind of fear you feel when you know you have disappointed someone.

I never knew my grandfather.  He died before I was born, and Granny never re-married.  I don’t think another man could have ever filled his shoes.

In her younger life, Granny had been a teacher, and in her later life, there were lessons still to be taught.  Proper grammar was an absolute for her. She would rather be put to death than hear a sentence end with a preposition, and I believe a dangling participle would have sent her on a murderous rampage.

I learned to never ask, “where are you from?” and if I had ever dared to ask where something was “at,” I fear I would have been torn apart by wild dogs.

I guess you could say that Granny was a bit of a snob when it came to grammar etiquette, but actually, she was a lover of words.  She was a lover of books.  She was a lover of writing, and could string words together like a fine tapestry.

I used to marvel at the sound of her voice as she read the poetry and stories that she wrote.  Her words flowed like a fine wine gently trickling from a crystal carafe.  It was almost majestic.  The characters in her stories were described in such vivid detail, you would almost expect them to jump from the page and say hello.

I always envied her talent.  It almost seemed to come too easily to her. Maybe envied is the wrong word, and if I were being honest, I think the proper word might be resented.  I resented that she didn’t pass her writing talent to me.

I can compose a sentence, but lacking any semblance of imagination, I could never author the magnificent prose that she so easily created…but I will write.

I have no illusions of my writing ever being published or featured in a magazine.  My stories won’t be about scandalous liaisons between an actor’s husband and the nanny, or a high profile public figure who gets caught with a prostitute.  My stories will be about real people.  Ordinary people…like me.

I will talk to them, write about them, and ask the one question I will forever regret having never asked Granny.

“Of what do you dream?”

 

To be continued____________

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday To My Voodoo Child

38 years ago today, I brought you into this world.  You were a seventh anniversary present, and reflecting back, I should have asked for a Porsche. What the hell was I thinking?

I remember being in labor for days.  The pain!  The agony!  The crying and screaming and moaning got so bad, the doctor finally had to slap your daddy and tell him to shut the fuck up, or get out of the room.

After having what had to have been a harpoon rammed inside me to break my water…this little creature popped out!

Six webbed toes on all three feet, a full head of bright purple hair, four slimy brown teeth shaped like daggers, and two piercing yellowish-orange eyes, complete with third eyelid, topped with a thick, black, hairy unibrow. “Oh my God!  She looks like my mother-in-law,” I screamed.  “Put her back in!”

No, wait.  That was your twin sister!

Now…I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking you didn’t have a twin sister.

UGH!  What you don’t know is that I never cared for that whole crying baby thing.  “Wah!  I want a bottle.  Wah!  I need my diaper changed.  Wah!  I want to be held.  Wah!  I need a beer.”  Especially TIMES TWO!  PUH-LEASE!

So, no.  You don’t have a twin sister.  Well…put it this way.  You don’t have a twin sister anymore.

I decided to keep the tiny little blonde haired, green eyed, left handed one. The one who looked so much like me.  The one who didn’t look so much like her daddy’s side of the family.  The one who squeaked instead of crying.  The one who always danced to a different drummer.  The one who, as soon as she learned the alphabet, started writing dark, disturbing, haunting poetry…a talent obviously inherited from her dark and twisty mama…um…dead twin sister.

Anyway…HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the one I call my “voodoo child!”  (And sorry about that whole twin thing.)

P. S.  This doesn’t mean I like you.

That Good Man

His name was Cletus Mallory, but around the neighborhood, he was simply known as “that good man.”

That good man was every neighbor’s dream.

He was kind, friendly and never failed to lend a helping hand if one was needed.

If a neighbor was going out of town, they knew they could count on him to keep a sharp eye on their house.  They knew he would collect their mail, their newspapers, and if they were going to be gone for more than a week, they knew that good man would, out of the kindness of his heart, mow their lawn.

Many times, a neighbor would ring his doorbell early in the morning, sometimes before sunrise.  When he answered, he would be asked to watch a sick child while the parents went to work.  Every time, he graciously agreed.  Never having had children of his own, he relished the idea of playing the role of father, albeit only for the day.  He made homemade chicken soup and read fairy tales to them while holding them on his lap.

That good man had a knack for doing things.  He could fix children’s bicycles, repair a ripped screen on someone’s front door, and seemed to have a magical recipe for growing flowers.  “Banana peels mixed in with the soil, are the trick,” he said.  If the neighbors didn’t have any bananas, he would buy some for them.

Once, when a violent storm came through the neighborhood, a tree fell through a neighbor’s roof.  That good man opened his home, and offered shelter until the neighbor’s roof could be repaired.

There was never more than a quick, obligatory thank you when retrieving a sick child or accumulated mail, but that good man didn’t mind.  He wasn’t doing it for gratitude.  He was doing it because he was a good man.

One day while out shopping for groceries, he tripped in the parking lot at the supermarket.  An ambulance came and took him to the hospital.  The doctor told him that he had a badly broken leg and would need help getting around.

He called one of his neighbors and asked if they would come get him and take him home.  The neighbor had too much work to do.  The hospital made arrangements for an ambulance to take him and when he arrived, he called another neighbor and asked if they would go recover his car and the groceries he had bought.  The neighbor was too busy.

Several more calls went unanswered.  No one was willing to help that good man.

Thirty-eight days later, that good man disappeared.  One of the neighbors said they saw a bright light over the top of his house, but thought nothing of it.  Not until the next day did they realize that he was gone.

Nothing was said about that good man.  Instead, neighbors were frantically questioning each other as to who was going to collect their mail when they went out of town, and who would keep their children when they were too sick to go to school.  “How could he do that to us?” they asked.  “How could he be so selfish?”

A week later, all of the neighbors received a card in the mail.  There was no return address, nor was there a stamp.  Inside was a lone feather and a card which read;

“Goodness is given freely and received just as freely, but seldom is it truly appreciated.”

 

El Fin.

 

 

The Question – Chapter Four

April returned to her cell.  Roberta was waiting.  She looked at her, but said nothing.  April had never spoken about her crime, and although Roberta had told her all the gory details of her own, she knew that April would tell her in her own good time…or maybe she wouldn’t.

April had stopped going to the visitation room years ago.  Roberta never went.  She knew, like April, that no one would ever come to see her.  She was a disgrace.  All of her fair-weather friends as well as the ones she considered to be loyal, had abandoned her.

She mused that it was always about what she had done to her husband.  It was never about what he had done to her.  He had lied to her for years.  He had cheated on her.  He had a child with another woman.

She had devoted her life to him, had been a dutiful wife, and had taken care of him when he was seriously ill.  “That’s the way it is,” she once said.  “The ones who destroy everything, suddenly become the victims in everyone’s eyes.”

True, Roberto was indeed a victim, but no one tried to understand what it must have been like for her.  What was it like, finding out that her entire life had been a lie?  Why did no one see her as the victim of a lowlife, deceptive Lothario?  She didn’t know and she had long since stopped caring.

Two more years went by and once again, April was being considered for parole.  The board consisted of the same tired quorum of special commissioners, with the exception of a new, young man named Roger Carson, who all but announced, “I’m going to flex my muscles.”

He looked at April and took the lead.  “I see that you have been somewhat uncooperative through the years.  Let me ask you something.  You do understand that there’s still time for you to have a life, or do you want to die in prison?”

April reacted with the same blank expression the others had been seeing for years as she asked, “you say there’s still time for me to have a life?  What kind of life?  A solitary life?  That’s what I have here, and I don’t know if your records reflect anything other than my refusal to answer the question, but I have never had one visitor since I entered this steel and concrete purgatory.  Tell me, Mr. Carson.  What would be different?”

Mr. Taylor said, “very well Ms. Drummond.  As I have stated numerous times, we have a certain amount of sympathy, but the fact is, you committed murder.  You took revenge and…”  Before he could finish, Roger inserted with a smirk, “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.  I think Niche said that.”

April looked at him and said, “that was said by Confusious, you moron.  Dig two graves?  He’s the one in the ground, isn’t he?”

Mr. Taylor smiled slightly and said, “Okay, Ms. Drummond.”  April waited for the question.

“If you had it to do over, would you do anything differently?”

April calmly said, “that monster raped and murdered my child.  I hunted him down and broke into his house.  I went into his bedroom and blew his brains out.”

“Again,” said Mr. Taylor.  “If you had it to do over, would you do anything differently?”

Through gritted teeth, April said, “YES.  I WOULD HAVE MADE HIM SUFFER.  I would have made him beg for mercy.  I would have made him beg for his life.  Then, I would have made him beg for death.”

Mr. Taylor once again stamped “DENIED” on her form.

 

Het Einde.