entangled time

“You’re back early.”

“How about a Welcome home, Darling?”

“Sorry. Welcome home, Darling.”‘

“You’re in the kitchen. That’s rare. Miss my cooking?”

“I can cook.”

“Really? How long have we been married? I don’t remember you ever cooking. Or coming into the kitchen. So you’ve been eating what while I was gone?”

“This and that. How did your lecture go? What was it about, again?”

“It went fine. Time entanglement.”

“Time entanglement. Something about physics, right?”

“I’ll give you an example. Suppose you got entangled with another person.”

“What? Why would you say that?”

“Take it easy. Let’s imagine that your wife goes away for a couple of days to give a lecture and you’re left here alone to starve.”

“Don’t be silly. Sure, you teach all day and then come home and make dinner, but I can cook.”

“So I peek under the sink in the wastebasket and… there aren’t any cans or TV dinner boxes. See?”

“I didn’t eat from cans, or any frozen stuff.”

“You cooked from scratch.”

“What does that mean?”

“You used the flour and sugar in the cabinet… Which cabinet is that, by the way?”

“Look… I… I found everything I needed, ok?”

“Uh huh. So I open the dishwasher… and look. It’s got dishes in it.”

“Sure. Because I was cooking and eating.”

“Uh huh. So being a mathematician, I count up the dishes and there seem to be twice as many as necessary.”

“I ate more often than usual.”

“So the entanglement thing, once somebody cooks for you and the food goes into your stomach and into her stomach and then some time goes by, the sheets come into play.”

“The sheets?”

“Yeah. You get entangled in them.”

One of my stories, posted on Huffington’s Fifty Featured Fiction

Seeing the World

Three 50-Word Stories

Popular Destination

They walk among us. Amos couldn’t hold his liquor and spilled the beans. I didn’t believe him until he levitated the bottle of hot sauce on our barroom table.

Here to invade, these aliens? Nope. Earth is a galactic Tijauna. Alcohol. Drugs. Violence. Littering.

It’s boring out there, in civilization.


Hugs and Hoes

Janie wanted hugs. She demanded them. She pestered me for them.

I hugged her but my arms began to hug her tighter. Tighter. And finally, too tight.

Mary doesn’t need hugs. She just wants a beautiful yard. She buys me shears and spades. Sharp and heavy tools.

She pesters me.



Why are there more crows? Global warming? More neighborhood carrion? The crow is not a solitary bird. Crows flock.

They communicate, these birds, now more than before. Loudly. The crow is a grumpy bird, a querulous bird. Increasingly loud.

Increasingly angry.

Reports have been coming in. The crows are attacking.

(Published in FiftyWordStories)

Cindy Ella Jones

“Cindy Ella,” my stepmother said, “when I come home tonight, I want this house spotless. I’m having friends over.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

My stepmother likes a clean house  but she doesn’t like to clean it herself. She doesn’t like to waste money on maids. Instead, she asks me to clean it. I don’t mind. I like a clean and neat house, probably more than she does.

She can sound bossy. Actually, she is bossy. It’s in her nature. I don’t blame her for it. It’s probably the way she was raised. Or maybe she was just born bossy.

“Do our rooms too,” her daughters said.

They’re as bossy as their mother. You learn from your parents I guess.

My mother and father have both passed away.

“You’re lucky I let you live here,” my stepmother says, usually after asking me to do something.

I don’t mind working hard to earn my keep. My girlfriends Tiffany and Candace say that I’m a workaholic. Why even think of hiring a maid? I’m here and I’m ready.

I also work for my godfather in his shoe-repair shop after school. I’m in my senior year.

One of my stepsisters is a senior, the other is a junior. They’ll be going on to community college when they graduate. My stepmother won’t help with my tuition, so I have to save as much as I can. I work and then I go home and clean, and then I do my homework. Sometimes I don’t get to bed until really late. That’s ok. I like keeping busy.

My stepmother says she won’t ‘turn me out’ when I go off to college, as long as I keep cleaning and pay her some room-and-board. I’ll have to keep working when I’m in college to do that.

My godfather is not bossy. I work hard in his shop, but not because he pushes me. Because I like him.

I was refurbishing a worn pair of Allen-Edmonds oxford lace-ups on Monday when he spoke up.

“Are you going?” he said, out of the blue. His name is Mike. Mike Fairy.


“Are you going to that dance I’ve been hearing about? At your school.”

I laughed.

“No way,” I said. “I have nothing to wear.”

“Mary can fix you up.”

Mary is my godmother.

“I couldn’t afford anything from her shop, Mike. You know that.”

“Come on, girl,” Mike said. “You know what I mean.”

I shook my head. I don’t like handouts, even from my godparents.

The next day, Mrs. Fairy stopped by the shop.

“How’s my favorite godchild?” she said.

“I’m fine,” I said, stepping back from the shop’s old Landis McKay.

“Cindy Ella, I want you to come by my shop when you’re done here,” Mrs. Fairy said. “I won’t take no for an answer.”

“Mrs. Fairy… Mary… I don’t…”

“I’ve heard about that dance,” she said with a smile. “I won’t take no.”

When she had gone, Mr. Fairy put his arm around my shoulders and gave me a quick hug.

“My friend Mr. Washington is going to send a limo for you on the night of the dance,” he said.

“Oh, no!” I said. “Really, Mike, this is too much.”

“All he asks is that you leave the dance at the time you both agree upon in advance. Can you promise me that?”

“I do promise! I’m so grateful. I’ll be standing there waiting for him.”

When I went to my godmother’s dress shop later, she let me choose from a collection of the finest dresses I had ever seen. The one I picked was a dream come true, in silk.

“On the night of the dance, come over here early,” she said. “I’ll have someone ready to do your makeup. We’ll keep the dress here. We don’t want your stepmother spotting it. She’d take it from you and give it to one of those trolls she calls her daughters. The witch.”

“She’s not so bad,” I said. I had to laugh, though.

My friends Tiffany and Candace were surprised  but delighted that I was coming to the dance. It’s all we talked about that week. I was a little mysterious about my arrangements with my godparents. I try to keep my situation at home with my stepmother as quiet as possible.

Mike presented me with a pair of Badgley Mixchke Randalls five days before the dance, fitted out with the special orthotics I use. I have unusually high arches. The shoes were a deep blue with a flower on the toe.

“Practice with these all week,” he said. “They aren’t for amateurs.”

“My lord,” I said. “Look at those heels.”

“They’re high, but you’ll get the trick of it. The shoes are broken in, so they won’t be stiff.”

I tried them on. I have narrow feet, which was good, because the Randalls were a narrow shoe.

On the night of the dance, I worked in the shop and then walked over to my godmother’s shop. She had a woman waiting to do my hair. Then I dressed and another woman did my face. The limo was waiting.

At school, I stepped out of the limo and took a moment to get my balance in the heels. I walked alone into the gym. The lights were turned down and a slow dance was playing. Couples danced with the teacher chaperones watching to ensure that hands did not wander. I looked around for my friends. The girls who had come alone were clustered here and there in groups along the sides of the dance floor.

I spotted Tiffany and Candace and joined them. There were flattering remarks about how beautiful I looked, how different, how grown-up. I was blushing in the dark and begged them to stop.

“I’ll shut up,” Candace said, “but I can’t get over it. You look like a princess. You’re the most beautiful girl here.”

I shushed her again and kept my eyes down. Kids were looking at me and I was embarrassed to death.

Once Tiffany and Candace calmed down and pretended to get over my makeover, we all had the second shock of the night. Into the gym came the dreamiest hunk any of us had ever seen. You could tell at a glance he was athletic, smart, rich, and Nobel Peace Prize material. School-dance royalty. I thought of him as a prince.

He was obviously a student at the university. High school was behind him. He looked around, as if searching for someone. Kept looking.

I saw him shrug. He turned in our direction and started toward the refreshments in the corner behind us.

As this prince strolled along, he ran his eyes over the crowd. When he got to the three of us, his eyes met mine and time stopped long enough for me to go wobbly on my heels. Then he was past.

“Did you see that?” Tiffany said.

“Get a room,” Candace said to me.

When he passed on his way back with a cup of punch in his hand, I studied the DJ.

“He did it again, Miss Modesty,” Tiffany said.

We watched him move through the crowd. Great shoulders. He moved in a casual way that somehow opened a path in front of him. Students smiled at him when he passed.

“He’ll be back,” Candace said. “Pray that somebody doesn’t beat him to you.”

“Stop it,” I said. “I’m just glad to be here.”

He did come back and before I knew it, we were on the dance floor. For a moment, I worried about the kids around us watching me dance in those heels. I felt kind of rusty and the music was fast. The prince was so casual and such a good dancer, so friendly, and held my eyes so well with his, that I quickly forgot about everything but the two of us and how we were moving together. It all made sense.

When the music slowed, he took me in his arms.

“I’m Ethan,” he said.

“Cindy Ella,” I said.

He had a quizzical look on his face.

“There is something about you, Cindy Ella. You stand out like a beacon in this crowd.”

“Not me,” I said. “You.”

He shook his head, wondering. Then he shrugged and we danced quietly. We fit together so well, I was wondering too. Could he possibly be as special as he seemed?

The evening passed in a blink. He had been supposed to meet a girl there but she hadn’t showed up. He didn’t know anyone there. Except me, now.

He told me about the university and I talked about making shoes. The way he listened, it seemed like making shoes was the most interesting subject in the world for him. The most interesting thing in the world for me at that moment was him.

When I finally checked the time, I had two minutes to get outside.

“Can you excuse me, Ethan?” I said.

I walked away from him, into the crowd. When I got to the door of the gym, I tried to run in the heels. At the steps down to the street, I pulled one off and as I did so, the other fell off. I ran down the steps with one shoe in my hand. The limo was waiting at the curb with its motor running, driver holding open the passenger door in back. I jumped in and we sped away.

It was so wonderful and then over in a heartbeat. I was too excited to think straight. I don’t know if I was happy or heartbroken, alone in the car.

At the store on Monday after school, Mike was waiting for me to come in.

“I had a visitor today,” he said.

I nodded, inviting him to go on.

“A fellow named Ethan. He’s a university student. He had your shoe in his hand.”

“My shoe?”

“How do I know it was yours?” Mike said. “Not too many Badgley Mixchke Randalls at a high-school dance, not with your orthotic in it.”

“What did he want?”

“He wanted to know who belonged to the shoe. He’s going around to every place in town that fits and sells orthotics.”

“What did you tell him?” I said.

“I didn’t know what to tell him, so I told him I’d check around and that he could come back tomorrow. What’s up?”

“I lost the shoe at the dance. I was running to the limo.”


“I spent the night dancing with him. I never told him my last name, I guess. I left too fast to give him my number.”

“Sounds like you want to see him again.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” I said.

“He may call me back,” Mike said.

Ethan is all I had been thinking about. Kicking myself for the way the evening ended.

An hour later, the doorbell rang. My stepmother and her daughters were out. I answered the door. Ethan stood there, flowers in hand.

“You ran off and left me,” he said, “but I had to come.”

I nodded.

“I made a mess of it,” I said. “Until I left, the evening seemed like a fairy tale. Too perfect to be true.”

He smiled.

“And they lived happily ever after,” he said.


At seventy-eight, Elvis is content. To a degree. He enjoys the equanimity of those aged but comfortable. Nature has reinforced in him that reflexive inhibition against brooding over the final curtain that approaches.

Living in his small bungalow on Coconut Bayou, Siesta Key, outside Sarasota, he entertains close friends and enjoys his cats. The cats sleep with him at night when they aren’t out hunting in the jungle-like grounds that surround his home

A stone wall, dense Southern trees, and thickets of bamboo protect the bungalow from prying eyes, not that the neighborhood harbors many.

Elvis sings, of course. In the shower, and at an after-hours club in Sarasota. He can still enthrall an audience without effort. It’s magic.

I’ve known Elvis for years and despite his evident contentment, I’ve come to recognize a deep, still sadness and remorse within him, at the foundation of his soul. On his birthday this year, January 8th, he told me why. We were sitting alone on his patio in the dark. Night birds called. We were sharing a pitcher of caipirinhas and smoking a little grass.

In April of 1934, Elvis said, his mother, Gladys Love Presley, then twenty-two, took a trip up the Natchez Trace from Tupelo to Tockshish, Mississippi, to visit her grandparents, while Elvis’ father, the eighteen-year-old Vernon Elvis, built the little house in which Elvis would be born.

While Gladys Love was in country, a band of Irish Travelers stopped for a night or so while passing through. They camped in a meadow next to the Tombigbee River.

When she heard about it, Gladys rode a bike down the county road from Tockshish to the encampment. During an evening of music, dance, drink, and roast pig in the meadow, Gladys met Apollo.

Apollo was treated like a musical god by the other Travelers. None could compare to him when he took up fiddle or guitar. When he sang, the Travelers said, he could control the strength and direction of the wind and the flight of birds in the air.

The Mississippi countryside in April was swollen with spring. The verdure of the woods, ready to burst into a thousand shades of green, elicited in Gladys a restless energy that she had not experienced before. As Apollo stepped up on a temporary stage and began to sing, she felt drunk with the passion of youth. Although she was an upright, God-fearing newlywed, after a night with Apollo she found herself somehow pregnant with a child not her husband’s. She returned to Tupelo the following week.

Gladys named her child Orpheus when he was born, after her grandfather. When Vernon Elvis began hearing rumors about her behavior that night in the meadow, he insisted that she change their son’s name to his own, out of spite. This she did.

The boy Elvis obviously inherited Apollo’s gift. When he was eighteen, just before he made his historic first visit to Sun Records in Memphis, where the family had moved from Tupelo, he roved down to Tockshish like his mother before him, with a couple of friends. Growing up, he had heard the same rumors his father had heard.

His grandparents had passed on by then, but Elvis wanted to see the meadow where he had been conceived. His mother rarely spoke of it, but when she did, it was with such awe and longing that it had come to seem a magical place in his mind.

He found the meadow on the river and like his mother, he encountered the Travelers there. He and his friends were invited to spend an evening in the meadow, eating, drinking, and listening to music, as his mother had been.

Apollo wasn’t there. He was in Nashville, Elvis was told, singing under a famous name. Nevertheless, Elvis felt his presence.

A Traveler woman named Seirenes sang that night. Her voice compelled all present to come to the stage. While she sang, she fixed Elvis with her eyes. When she had finished a set, she motioned him up.

She thrust a vintage Martin guitar into his hands and left him there. The Travelers peered up at this teenager. Elvis struck up “Donal Kenny” and everyone in the crowd immediately noticed his resemblance, in visage and voice, to Apollo. A murmur spread among them. While Elvis was singing “Clasped to a Pig,” he caught the eye of a young woman in the crowd. When he finally left the stage, to loud groans and protests and demands for more, he made his way to her.

This was Eurydice Nyssa. She took the singer’s arm and they walked about the meadow together. Standing by the river with a full moon in it, they put their arms around each other. They were soul mates, if such a thing exists.

By morning, they were in love in a way so intense that one must presume magic was involved. Elvis proposed and Eurydice, who had lost her parents as a child, led him to her grandfather, to seek his permission. She counted on her grandparents for guidance in all the important matters of her life.

The Travelers were not given to marriage with outsiders and rarely condoned it, but Eurydice’s grandfather could not say no to a son of Apollo. He only wished that Apollo were there. Eurydice’s grandmother, told the news, asked Elvis to give her some time to counsel her granddaughter about marriage. With Eurydice so young, just eighteen, she hadn’t thought to do so yet.

Elvis, who was the same age as his father had been at Elvis’ birth, married Eurydice late the next day in a civil ceremony in Tockshish, in front of a justice of the peace. This was fourteen years before he married Priscilla Beaulieu.

After the ceremony, the couple returned to the Travelers’ camp. The week that followed was filled with music and food and drink. Elvis sent his two friends home early, to take the news of his marriage to his folks. He and Eurydice would follow at the end of the week.

On the morning of the seventh day, Elvis awoke with a feeling of joy he could not express, could barely withstand. He felt his soul had merged with that of Eurydice. Everything was possible now. This was the pinnacle of love.

On the afternoon of the seventh day, deeply content, he sat down in the shade of a tupelo at the fringe of the woods. Eurydice was walking with friends down a forest path. The air was full of birdsong, the buzz of insects, the murmur of the crowd, distant music. Elvis fell asleep. When he woke up two hours later, he stood up and stretched. He strolled back into the meadow, looking for his bride. He found confusion, Travelers running about. A cousin of Eurydice hurried up to him.

“Eurydice has been bitten by a snake!” she said. “The girls were just passing the pond over there. Eurydice screamed and then the other girls screamed, and Hades and Persephone came running from their bar and gathered her up and took her back to it to look after her. She’s still there.”

The Underworld Bar was owned and operated by a man named Hades and his wife Persephone. These two were Travelers who had settled in Tockshish. The Underworld was fabled along the Trace. As far as anyone could remember, it had always been there, on the edge of the woods, next to the pond. Hades and Persephone themselves had run it for years.

They were a cold, uncaring couple, reputed to put impressionable customers on a road straight to Hell when given the chance. Neither had ever been known to do a kindness for anyone. Hades was a giant of a man, with a face frozen in an expression of snide disgust. His wife surveyed the world with hate.

Elvis ran down the path from the meadow. When it twisted over behind the Underworld, he left it and crossed to the bar’s front door. He opened the door and stepped inside. Three afternoon drinkers sat at the bar at the far end of the room. The light was dim, with ruddy undertones. Cigarette smoke layered the air.

To the left stood a small bandstand. The tiny dance floor in front of it was surrounded by empty tables. Elvis crossed the room to the far end of the bar, where a short hallway led to the bathrooms and an office. The bartender and the drinkers took no interest.

The office door was ajar. The Underworld’s bouncer stood in it, a mountain of a man, a man with no more soul than a mountain. Next to him, leashed to his hand, stood a black hound with eyes red in the dim office light.

At eighteen, Elvis stood one-quarter of an inch under six feet. He was well put together.

“Where is my wife?” he said.

The bouncer and his dog backed up a step at the intensity in his voice. Apollo’s blood ran in the boy’s veins.

Elvis entered the room.

Eurydice sat on a couch. Her clothing was in disarray. Dirt smudged her cheeks. Elvis couldn’t read her expression, which had something in it of confusion, despair, and resignation.

Elvis went to her. He knelt in front of the couch and took her hands in his. They were cold.

Hades and Persephone stood by a desk in the corner.

“A cottonmouth got her,” Hades said. “Bit her on the foot. Down by the pond. She went into shock. By the time we got her here, she was gone. Her heart had stopped.”

“She’s not gone now,” Elvis said. “She’s sitting here in front of me.”

“I brought her back,” Hades said. “Me and Persephone. We used a remedy.”

“Thank you,” Elvis said.

“We brought her back,” Persephone said. “She owes us her life.”

“Thank you,” Elvis said again, looking up at the tone in her voice.

“She’s not your wife no more,” Hades said. “She’s with us now.”

Elvis stared at them, then looked at Eurydice. She nodded, just a little.

“This is Traveler business,” Hades said. “Her grandpa and grandma will know.”

“You saved her life. I’ve thanked you for that,” Elvis said. “Now we’re leaving.”

Hades stood, studying the young man. Beside him, Persephone did the same.

“I have never granted a wish,” Hades said.

“You never have,” Persephone said to him. “We never have.”

“What wish?” Elvis said. “I haven’t asked you for anything.”

“I brought her back when she was gone,” Hades said. “Now she belongs to me. This is the Traveler way. From time to time, folks will ask me for this or that favor. I never say yes.”

Elvis looked at Eurydice. She looked down.

“You can’t own her,” Elvis said. A flush rose past his neck and into his cheeks.

“I can and I do,” Hades said.

“Let me take her out of here,” Elvis said. “Grant me that favor. She is my wife.”

“I have never done it,” Hades said, “but… Apollo and I are close. Very close.”

Elvis turned toward him, expectant.

“We listened to you sing last night,” Hades said. Persephone nodded.

Hades walked out of the office, into the dimly lit bar. Elvis and Persephone followed him.

He gestured toward the stage.

Elvis stood for a moment, stood still, thinking. Then he walked to the stage and stepped up onto it. He picked up an old Gibson Sunburst he found leaning against a stool. He strummed it a time or two and then sang a rendition of “I See Her Still In My Dreams” that was clear as a mountain stream running over the rocks in winter.

When the song came to an end, Hades, who had sat down and settled back in his chair, motioned for another one. Elvis performed “Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming,” even better than the previous, if possible. Tears glittered in Persephone’s eyes.

Again Hades gestured. Again Elvis sang.

“You’ve got Apollo in you, that’s for sure,” Hades said.

Elvis put down the Gibson.

“I can’t say no to you, boy,” Hades said, “but I’m not so soft I can’t attach a condition. Eurydice will follow you out, but if you doubt me, if you show me a lack of respect, if you look back to make sure she’s behind you, I’ll snatch her back for good. That’s a promise.”

Elvis turned toward the bar’s front door and stood waiting. Persephone led Eurydice out of the office and positioned her behind him.

“All right,” Hades said.

Elvis walked to the door with firm, quick steps. When he reached it, he pushed it open and kicked a wooden wedge under it with his foot, to keep it that way. Ten more strides took him to the edge of the graveled parking lot.

The sunlight was brilliant on his face. He turned and faced the bar, squinting.

Eurydice had lagged behind. She was just reaching the door’s sill. She had one foot in sunlight, over the threshold. The other foot remained inside, in shadow.

“Too soon, boy, too soon,” Hades called out. He pulled Eurydice back inside.

Elvis started for the door, shouting. It closed in his face. He was left alone in front of the bar.

A bird called. A horsefly buzzed past his nose. Somewhere far off, beyond the woods, a truck rumbled.

Elvis rattled the door, banged on it, kicked it, in vain. In his heart he knew that the best part of his life, his one true love, was lost to him now, behind him, a memory. He supposed that he would sing, would perform, perhaps would become the greatest of his generation with a guitar in his hand, but he knew that the wound in his heart would never heal.

It never did.

“You can look back over your life,” Elvis said to me that night, as we sat together on his patio. “You can spot the best day and the worst. For me, they were the same day, morning and afternoon. That day caused me my deepest joy and my deepest sorrow, and I knew then that it was so.”

Minor Lust

Junior year was my best year in high school. By then, I knew what was up but didn’t have to worry about graduation or applying to college like the seniors did.

It was the year the orchestra got to go to Prague for a competition. I had never been anywhere. The other oboe player, Guinevere Sobolanski, had travel stickers all over her oboe case.

“Prague?” she said. “I like Prague.”

Guinevere knew a lot of things I didn’t. She read a lot. She’d pull out a book in orchestra when we were sitting out a movement. She had skied, downhill and cross-country. She saw an avalanche once. I’d never been to the snow.

Of course she made her own reeds. She bought her own cane online and split it herself. She had all the equipment: a guillotine, a pre-gouger and gouger, a gauge, and a shaper. It took her four hours to make a reed that lasted seven hours on her oboe.

She wanted to teach me to make my reeds and I used to go over and keep her company while she was working, but the school bought mine for me. At least I didn’t use the plastic variety.

Junior year was also when Maria Callan joined the orchestra as principal cello. She sat at the head of the orchestra’s left wing, facing Mr. Frost. The oboes were front-row middle, so Maria was in profile to us.

Maria was beautiful. Or whatever comes after beautiful on the good-looks scale. She had a face and figure that didn’t belong in high school. She’d pull up her skirt and spread her legs and draw her instrument in between her thighs and my eyes would drift over to her from Mr. Frost and his baton, and stay there.

“Close your mouth,” Gwen would say. “You look like a panting spaniel.”

Gwen and I, unlike Maria, were normal. We both had a few zits. We both had a lot of eyebrow. Out in the hallway between classes, we were both more or less invisible.

“You’ve got to quit staring at her,” Gwen would say.


“You’re embarrassing yourself.”

“I don’t feel embarrassed. I can’t help it.”

“What’s the point?” Gwen would say. “You’re never going to talk to her, are you?”

“I saw you talking to her. What’s she like?”

“She’s nice but she doesn’t seem too bright.”

Compared to Gwen, she probably wasn’t bright at all, but somehow that seemed like a good thing to me. I wasn’t daydreaming about talking to her.

At this time, the elders in my church were taking each teenage boy aside to discuss the facts of life. Brother Germers and I sat down on folding chairs facing each other on the gym basketball court. The gym was deserted.

“I’ve never kissed a girl,” I said. “I haven’t even held a girl’s hand except when we’re dancing at the socials.”

“I’m not tasked with discussing carnal relations with you,” Brother Germers said. “I do understand that your body is pure. That is a very good thing. I believe that all our boys are pure in body.”

I relaxed.

“I want to talk to you about your thoughts,” Brother Germers said. “Your thoughts are just as important — they’re more important — than your corporeal body. Your body is going to die and return to the dust. Your mind and soul are going to live forever. You have the choice now of spending eternity with your Heavenly Father or being thrown into Hell, to be tormented by Satan and all his minions for eternity.”

I could see where this was going. I began to sweat. Brother Germers was not going to accept any waffling.

“Boys your age are confronted every day with young women who are blossoming. Satan and your hormones want to turn your thoughts in impure directions. I’m talking about lust.”


“Lust is a sin. It’s a worse sin than the actual lustful act, because it pollutes your mind, not just your fleshly shell.”

“Yes,” I said. “Sure.”

“Do you lust?”

“Absolutely not!”

“Are your eyes, and your thoughts, drawn to certain girls? Do their bodies cloud your mind? Are their firm young bodies like blazing beacons that cause impure thoughts to burn within you?”


“You’re lying.”

“Alright. There is one girl.”

“Thank you. What are you going to do about this problem? You can’t participate in services here with a corrupted mind.”

“I won’t look at her.”

“I think that’s wise. Let’s meet again in two days to check on your progress.”

I was glad to get out of there. Fortunately, Brother Germers did not make me go into detail about those corrupted thoughts or what they led to, exactly. The thoughts mostly centered on Maria’s bosom.

“That guy is a knucklehead,” Gwen said. “Utter nonsense. Wait. You’re not going to look at her? Really?”

“My folks love that church. They’re old-school.”

“Learn to lie, buddy.”

I couldn’t help looking at Maria so I did lie. Brother Germers seemed to believe me and he left me alone after that. He’d smile and nod whenever our eyes met at church.

A month later, we left for the competition. When we landed at Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport, a big bus was waiting for us and all of our instruments. We stopped at our hotel and then had a quick look at Dvorak Hall in the Rudolfinium. After that, the bus took us on a tour of the city. We stopped at St. Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle and that evening had dinner on a cruise boat on the Vlatava River.

The whole thing was like my first visit to Disneyland as a kid. Magical. On the boat, Gwen and I sat at a little table for two by the railing. The sparkling lights along the shore and the violet evening sky were quite beautiful. I was dividing my attention between the sights, and Josh and Maria, sitting together at another little table holding hands. Josh was a big, handsome first violin.

“Really?” Gwen said.

“I can’t help myself.”

“What are you thinking?”

“Haven’t you ever been in love? Or whatever this is?”

“It ain’t love, brother. It’s not even puppy love. You don’t know her. You wouldn’t like her if you did know her.”


When we got back to the hotel, I watched the happy couple enter the elevator, heading for her room or his, no doubt, with the roommate staying out of the way. The chaperones were clueless.

“Do you want a book to read?” Gwen said. “I know you didn’t bring any.”

“Not really. I’ll just sit here in the lobby and watch the world go by. What are you going to do?”

“I was going to finish a reed, but I brought some games. Scrabble? Boggle?”

“I guess so,” I said.

We went up.

“How come you have a room to yourself?” I said.

“Odd number of girls.”

There was one light on, a lamp on the end table by the bed.

Gwen got out the Boggle box. We sat on the bed. She handed me a pad and pencil. Set up the hourglass. Shook the box.

“It seems sort of mysterious, them down there doing what they’re doing while we sit here and play Boggle,” I said.

“I’m not sure ‘mysterious’ is the word,” Gwen said, “but it’s definitely something.”

She put down the tray and flipped the hourglass.

My brain seemed to be working faster than usual. The Boggle words jumped out at me. I beat Gwen easily in the first round.

“Hey,” Gwen said. “How did that happen?”

I shrugged.

Josh and Maria didn’t seem so mysterious to me now. I looked at Gwen. Her eyes in the dim light were very large and dark. Her skin glowed gold. The mystery wasn’t somewhere else. It was in the room with us.

There was something I should know, should do, that was essential, but I had no idea what it was. I couldn’t speak. The moment lasted. I didn’t want it to end because when it did, I was afraid I would have lost something forever.


She raised an eyebrow.

“Ready for the next game?” she said, when I didn’t go on.

I nodded.

This time I couldn’t find anything. Gwen clobbered me.

“Have you ever been fascinated with somebody but you don’t even know them?” I said.

“I haven’t had much luck with boys,” Gwen said. “I expect I’ll meet somebody in college or grad school or even later than that.”


“We aren’t ready yet, you and I.”

“Yeah,” I said.

I was alone in a room with a woman who knew a lot more about life than I did. I could see her chest rise and fall as she breathed.

“Take that energy and learn how to make your own reeds,” she said. “I’ll help you.”

“Yeah. Listen, Gwen…”

“Focus,” she said.

She rattled the box.

“Give me a good game this time,” she said.

Help with My Resolution

Time for my New Year’s resolution.

I’m twenty-five and I’ve been making resolutions since I was eight. So that’s… what… sixteen years? No, seventeen. Seventeen years and I’ve kept every one of them. Except for the one about not lying anymore.

This year I’m going for the big one. The one about stealing. No more stealing.

What makes this a big deal? Well, I got kicked out of kindergarten at the age of five for stealing. I would not stop taking other kids’ stuff. Toys, hats, coats, lunches. It didn’t matter. At the end of the day my cubby would be stuffed with purloined possessions.

It was all about the excitement.

When I tried this in first grade, I got pounded a time or two. That’s when I learned to be sneaky. It was OK to steal. It just wasn’t OK to leave the loot where somebody else could find it.

Despite my tricky new stratagems, I also got kicked out of first grade. I was home schooled after that, until the sixth grade. I went back to school for the sixth grade and got kicked out of it. There were additional poundings first. After that it was home schooling until high school.

During the home schooling, I was institutionalized twice. My parents had me committed because I kept stealing from them, too. They got tired of moving stuff out of my closet and back into their bedroom or the kitchen or the bathroom. Or the tool shed. Or the recycle bins.

High school was a bumpy road, but I scored some righteous sh.. stuff there. I also put in major hours at juvy.

Then it was time for college.

How did I get into college, you ask? UVM’s Second Chance program. This was probably my hundredth chance, or my thousandth, but who’s counting? In the dorm I stole mostly drugs and money, and made sure to use both as quickly as possible, so as not to get caught with the evidence. I matriculated in my freshman year directly into state prison.

Mine is a repetitious history.

In prison I experimented with controlling my desires to steal, because if caught, I would be stabbed to death. I took a few foolish chances because I didn’t think I could live without the excitement, but I graduated back to the free world while still alive. I did learn as I was leaving the Big House that if I ever came back, I would get dead before I could pilfer my first cigarette out of another inmate’s pack.

I was no longer eligible for the UVM program, so I got a job flipping burgers. I lived at home, once I convinced my parents that, since I would inherit everything from them anyway, I would no longer be stealing anything in the house. They were elderly, so time was stealing their lives, in a way. There was no excitement for me in stealing anything from them as well.

Another reason they welcomed me back was that they liked the burger meat, buns, and frozen french fries I brought home after work.

Then I met a girl, a mental-health intern assigned to my parole officer’s department. Her name was Shaunika. As part of her degree work, she acted as a sort of junior shrink in counseling sessions. For me, these consisted of conversations such as the following.

“Why do you steal?” Shaunika would say.

“Basic rule of counseling: never ask why,” I would say. “You’ll never get the truth. Your patient or client doesn’t know why himself.”

“Of course he doesn’t. The question serves other purposes.”

“To get me talking? To get me thinking? To assess the depth of my illusions? To evaluate my proximity to reality?”

“Hold your water, Sailor,” Shaunika would say. “Let me do the asking. You just answer. Please keep the bull twangas to a minimum.”

“I steal because it’s exciting. A tension builds, I resist it, it builds some more, I give in and steal, I feel a rush, and the tension dissipates for a while.”

“Have you tried medication?”

“Off and on. I haven’t found anything that helps yet. Sometimes I just pretended to be taking whatever was prescribed at the time, if I wasn’t in the mood to stop stealing.”

We dated. Against her better judgment, I’m sure. She knew better than anybody that my mind was resisting change.

She didn’t invite me home to meet her folks, although at parties I did get acquainted with some of her friends. She knew I was damaged goods, but we just fit together well in a lot of ways. It was an easy relationship. No drama, except when she’d find something missing. I always gave it back.

The excitement I felt around her was a lot stronger than the excitement I felt stealing burgers and fries for my mom and dad.

She got me connected with a psychiatrist who helped me join a test group of kleptomaniacs being treated with Naltrexone. It reduced the compulsive force of my obsessive behavior. Alcoholics and drug addicts use it.

With the help of the shrink I got back into school. Community college. Shaunika and I moved in together. From time to time I catch her searching the place for anything that doesn’t belong to either of us, but my love and desire for her, together with my shrink and my support group of klepto friends, and the pills, have kept me clean so far.

Resolving to stop stealing, by itself, would be useless. The resolution is more my salute to the coming year and my support and all that I believe the new year can hold for me.


I’m an angry dude. Anger is my friend. I use anger.

I’m a redhead and when I get angry, my skin turns crimson and my neck veins swell up and a vein in my forehead pulses and throbs. It makes the anger scarier.

I drive a school bus and coach high-school football, basketball, and track. I’ve got a naturally loud voice and when I start bellowing, kids listen up. The first- and second-graders practically go into shock.

I used to be a drill instructor in the Corps, but when I got too old to keep up with the maggots on their cross-country runs with eighty-pound packs, I mustered out.

When you want somebody to do what you want, you’ve got to get their attention. Fear is a good way to do that.

Some folks don’t have easy access to their anger. They’re anger-constipated. They’re bound up. They rarely get what they want. Wimps.

Sometimes, though, the wimps get on the verge of exploding. When you run into one like that, maybe you get a little scared and give them what they want. That can confuse them. What a way to live.

I was married at one point but it didn’t work out. She could dish it out but she couldn’t take it. Actually, she didn’t dish it out that much either.

I had this trick, driving the school bus. When the kids got too noisy, I would put my left foot on the gas pedal and hold on to the steering wheel with my left hand and stand up in the aisle while we were busting down the highway at full speed. I’d twist my upper body around to face the rear and start shouting for everybody to shut up.

I’d try not to get too salty when I did this, but when I start ranting, the language just comes out. It’s force of habit. The kids probably hear worse from their parents and the other kids out in the school yard. Kids today.

Last Friday, it was the final day of school before two weeks of vacation. I had a full bus and we were just starting out on the county road after classes let out. I was in a little bit of a hurry because I had to get back to coach practice. The kids were wild, like animals who knew the cage door was about to open. They threw paper wads at each other and shouted and left their seats, which was forbidden. Fast as we were going, I did the left-foot, left-hand trick and stood up to instill the fear of God in them.

This was just before we came to the Carter bridge, which crosses the gorge out in the woods west of town. I glanced up the road and before I had a chance to begin my tirade, I saw a piece of metal brace lying in the road. Probably dropped off a semi. We rolled over it and it slashed open our left-front tire.

The bus lugged left off the road and by the time I had dropped back into my seat and reached the brakes, we were headed for the cliff that dropped into the gorge. The ground was muddy, which slowed us a little. I stood on the brake pedal. The brakes locked and we slid. We took down three pines the size of Christmas trees and finally stopped with the front of bus hanging over the cliff. Just like in the movies.

What we didn’t want to do was teeter. One good teeter forward and the town could arrange a mass funeral. I didn’t want to move at first. Just wanted to use my voice to keep everybody still until I could work out the best escape plan for us. Nobody was going out the door. It opened on to thin air. The kids were screaming.

I began shouting orders. The screaming didn’t let up.

“Don’t try to scare them,” Sarah said, next to my ear. Sarah is an eighth-grader.

She was right. The kids were already more scared than I could make them.

“You need to calm them down,” Sarah said. “You need to be nice for a change.”

I turned in my seat, ever so gently. I looked back into the bus. Forty pairs of big round eyes stared back at me. The bus rang with cries and shrieks. I took a breath.

“Listen to me,” I said in a normal voice.

Nobody could hear me. I held up a hand.

“Listen to me,” I said again.

Quiet fell.

“First of all, hold still,” I said. “As long as the bus doesn’t rock, we’ll be OK.”

Everyone took that in.

“Very good,” Sarah said.

I looked at her. She was tense but I could see the wheels turning in her head. She was solid.

“We all need to be in the back,” I said to her. “One at a time.”

She stood up slowly. She held up her hands, palms down, to keep everyone seated. Then she pointed at a girl in the seat behind hers.

“Go back very slow,” she said to the girl.

The girl got up and walked up the slanted aisle. Tears were flowing throughout the bus.

Sarah repeated this, calm as could be, with kid after kid, until everyone but her and me were crammed together in the rear.

“Go ahead,” I said to her and she moved back.

I got up and tip-toed to join them.

“Should we open the emergency door in the back?” she said.

“I’m afraid of the… the shock of it,” I said. “Pulling that lever and then trying to push the door up and open. We could all bail out the back with the door open, true, but not if the vibration makes the bus move.”

We thought about it.

“There are two windows open,” I said. “We can fit the smaller kids through them. With the little ones off, we’ll try the door.”

We lifted a first-grader and slid him feet first through one of the open windows, and let him drop to the mud. He landed, got to his feet, and scrambled up along the ruts the bus had left, to safety.

It took a while to get everyone out who could fit through the window. The bus made sounds. Several times I thought I felt it sliding but my imagination was working overtime.

With all the little kids out, I thanked the big kids who had hung in there, helping and keeping their fear under control. High fives. Each child out the window had lightened the rear and increased the chance that the bus would tip forward and slide.

“I’m going to open the back door now,” I said. “All of you crowd close. When you can, jump out. I’ll hold the door up enough for you to fit through. When you’re on the ground, move away fast. You all did great.”

“What about you?” Sarah said.

“I’ll be right behind you,” I said.

I unlatched the door. Now I was sure the bus had become unstable. I pushed the door up and the big kids slipped out one by one.

By the time I was alone, with a world of relief washing over me, the bus was moving. As it did, its rear lifted higher. I got my foot on a back seat and pushed the door all the way open with both hands. I pushed off with my foot and was out the door. The bus pulled away from me more than the other way around.

It plunged into the gorge, leaving me behind face down in the mud, hands clawing, with my feet hanging over the cliff. Just like in the movies.

What got us into that mess? Me, fixing to rant.

What got us out? A girl with a calm soul.

I’ll never be like her, but she’s my new role model.

It was all my fault, of course, but no one was injured, physically at least. The town swept my guilt under the rug for insurance purposes.

My teams don’t know why their Coach changed, but they’re doing a lot better with the new, calmer edition.

My Star in Africa

I was living in Hollywood, doing freelance rewrites. My divorce was final and my ex-husband was receding in the rearview mirror of my life. My friend Jorah, a dialog coach, called me and told me she could get me onto a project that would put me in Tanzania with her for a month or two.

“Who’s going to pay me to spend a month or two in Africa?” I said. “That’s why Skype was invented.”

“A guy is doing me a favor,” Jorah said. “I’ve got to be on set every day and I want some company when I get off it. I’ve never been to Africa before.”

“I haven’t either,” I said. “I’d love to go.”

“They’ll pay you scale. The film is set in Dar Es Salaam.”

“Where’s that?”


“Where’s that?”

“Just below Kenya. On the Indian Ocean.”

Which is how I found myself landing at Julius Nyerere International Airport on a sunny Saturday afternoon in September, with a Learning Swahili app on my iPhone. A driver was waiting for us, and for a couple of sound men and a locations scout. He loaded our luggage and some sound equipment into the back of a BMW SUV.

The temperature was in the 80s and the sky seemed a lot deeper than in L.A. It was pale blue and full of large fluffy African-looking clouds. We drove for an hour. The locations man, who was returning from a quick trip to Addis Ababa for another movie, told us that the hotel was half an hour from the airport, but the driver took a number of detours around traffic jams. It was my first time in a car driving “on the wrong side of the road.”

The streets were full of buses, trucks, cars, and motor scooters. Lots of folks on foot and bicycle. My initial impression was of a huge variety of short-sleeved shirts. We passed an unending mixture of modern buildings and ramshackle shops, on new roads and old, past empty dirt lots and skyscrapers.

We crossed a bridge and drove up along the ocean, past walled villas and embassies and a white-sand beach, and pulled up in front of the Sea Cliff hotel, on the tip of a peninsula sticking out into the Indian Ocean.

The movie to be made starred a current hot property – call him Justin. Jorah didn’t know much about him personally, other than that he was engaged to another star – call her Deborah. I liked Justin onscreen but had never met him or even seen him from a distance on the L.A. lots. Deborah was a high-visibility young actress favored by the paparazzi.

Jorah and I passed a quiet, jet-lagged first evening in the hotel bar. The next morning our crew was driven down in convoy to a temporary studio in the city, that would be used as a base for the location work. I wouldn’t be involved in the excursions to Kilimanjaro or the Serengeti. In fact, it appeared that I wouldn’t be involved in anything at all. I was there as Jorah’s gofer. She told me to take the day off for myself.

As I was leaving the studio, the power cut out. Howls from the gaffers. Electricity was rationed in Dar Es Salaam, or “Dar,” as the crew called it, but it came back on again as the door closed behind me.

I spent the day walking. Our travel secretary had told me that Dar was safe, even in the low-income areas, except for some pocket-picking and purse-snatching. According to local crew members, the citizens didn’t trust the police and took the law into their own hands when necessary. Either fear of the vigilantes or the local ethical code kept street crime to a minimum. I didn’t have any problems walking alone. The day passed with African sights and sounds, local food, and plenty of exercise. Crowds and traffic filled the roads and city sidewalks. The city was incredibly alive. Locals, Indians, Arabs, ex-pats, and back-packing tourists abounded.

It was warm, but not oppressively so. I had no problem with weather in the eighties.

I’ve always been quick with languages and I began building on my Swahili app.

When I returned to the set, evening was upon us. Cast and crew were making plans to sample the local nightlife in districts away from the center of the city. I told Jorah that I was ready to go back to the hotel.

“But keeping me company is what I brought you for,” she said.

“I overdid it today,” I said. “Give me a pass, just this once.”

“I don’t think anybody is going back to the hotel,” she said.

“I can give her a ride,” Justin said. He was walking past us.

Joran glanced across the room at the AD.

“I might have a date anyway,” she said.

Which put me in the back seat of a Mercedes, riding back to our hotel with the star of the movie. According to Jorah, Justin didn’t have a reputation as a lady’s man, but he was so popular and so handsome that I assumed he was used to having his way with women.

We chatted about this and that. I held back a little because I didn’t want to encourage a situation later. Not that I thought he’d be interested, but he seemed to be paying attention to whatever I said. Maybe he was just a good listener.

“Shall we stop for dinner?” he said.


“A good place for dinner?” Justin said to our driver, a local man with limited English.

Just for fun, I repeated the question in my broken Swahili. The driver laughed.

“OK,” he said. “I know.”

We crossed the Selander bridge, passed the Russian embassy, and stopped in Oyster Bay at a restaurant obviously designed for tourists, ex-pats, and diplomatic staff. The cuisine was Western. We had a view of the ocean and in the light of dusk we could see a line of ships waiting their turn at the city’s port, which was too small to handle them all at once.

“Dar has been growing fast,” I told Justin. “It’s straining the infrastructure. Rural Tanzanians are flocking to work here. The neighborhoods on the periphery are expanding. It’s why the electricity is rationed.”

“You’ve been busy,” he said. “Jorah told me you haven’t been to Africa before.”

“That’s right. Have you?”

“I’ve made a couple of movies here. Never in Tanzania, though. What do you think of the city after your first day in it?”

“I’m not in Hollywood anymore.”

We sat gazing out at the Indian Ocean, drinking dawa cocktails. Dinner arrived.

We talked about ecology and the planet’s woes, but eventually the conversation turned to our relationships. I mentioned that I was recently divorced.

“Are you still friends?” Justin asked.

“We were never friends,” I said. “It just took me a while to realize it.”

“I can understand that,” he said.

I raised my eyebrows.

“I’ve had a couple of drinks and I don’t know you,” he said.

“Meaning, you’re about to tell me something you shouldn’t?”

“Deborah and I met on a shoot. A romantic comedy. By the time it wrapped, I thought I was in love. The next thing I knew, we’d set the date and announced it.”


“She isn’t the character she played in the movie.”

I had no way of knowing whether this was true, or whether Justin was just manufacturing a little wiggle room for later in the evening. Not that I was going to fall for it if he was. He was convincing, but then, he was an actor.

Whether drink had loosened his tongue or not, his words reminded me that I was worried about The Moment. I sensed it coming – during dessert, or in the car, or back at the hotel. The Moment when the handsome star would expect me to help him finish off his day in bed.

Poor Justin. Engaged to one of Hollywood’s sweethearts against his will.

“What’s the matter?” he said.

“Nothing. Why?”

“Your expression changed.”

“I shouldn’t talk about my divorce when I’m drinking. Have you been married before?”




“But Deborah has?”


“Why don’t you tell her the truth? That you aren’t sure, or that you’re sure you aren’t sure?”

“As a matter of fact, I’m going to.”

“Just haven’t gotten around to it?”

“I’ve been avoiding it. Dreading it, actually.”

“Call her tonight.”

“I need to be sober.”

“You’ll be sober before you go to bed.”

He thought for a minute. Or was that calculation?

“You’re right,” he said. “I will.”

Had I prevented The Moment or ensured it?

The meal was excellent. I made the driver laugh again on the way back to the hotel. Justin and I walked into the lobby together. Rode up the elevator together. Walked down the hall together. At my door, he thanked me for the evening. He thanked me for my advice about Deborah. He told me that he’d see me in the morning. Said good night. Walked away.

So much for The Moment.

I wasn’t the evening’s conquest. I was a bedraggled freelance rewriter on a boondoggle.

The second day passed like the first. I explored. When the day’s shoot ended, Justin and I again left together and stopped for a drink and dinner, in a different place along the way. Justin reported that he had called his fiancee, but when she sensed where the call was going, she refused to talk about it until he returned to California. He was totally believable as he told me this. I was torn between my attraction to him and my aversion to being the catch of the day. Or the catch of the second day.

Although, if I were to be that, Justin didn’t seem to be fishing very hard. I tried to accept our time together as just that. Time together. Ships passing in the night. He was so darn attractive, though. Intelligent. Engaged in the world. Such a nice guy. Maybe.

In the days that followed, I learned to use the dala dalas, which will take you anywhere in the city for a dollar, hence their name. I made my way around the outer districts – explored the elegant ones and those overflowing with immigrants from the countryside and those with concentrations from India, and Asia, and the Near East. The city was alive. New buildings were going up everywhere next to old. Office workers, street vendors, tourists, a multinational bustle. Signs in English and Swahili. Warm air. Food.

Justin and I ate dinner together four nights of the seven that week. For me, it became the essential part of the day. Jorah had her own thing going with the AD.

Monday evening, a week and two days in, Justin emerged from makeup with a gauze patch taped to his forehead. He had been doing one of his own stunts and got conked by a two-by-four. The studio brought in a local plastic surgeon to stitch him up.

“Deborah called me today,” he said at dinner with me that night. Instead of heading toward the hotel, we had asked the driver to take us to a popular Khoja Indian restaurant. We ordered yoghurt curry and were drinking a good South African Pinotage with it.

“Yes?” I said.

“The media has discovered us,” he said.


“You and me. ‘Justin Plays While Deborah Steams.’ We’re an item.”

“Oh, my,” I said. “You explained to Deborah of course.”

“I tried to.”

I looked down. One glance at my eyes and he’d see the excitement in them. I couldn’t help it. But Justin was doing more than glancing.

“Hey,” he said. “Look at me.”

I dragged my eyes up to his. This wasn’t The Moment I had anticipated that first night. This was that other moment. The one where your heart is stuck in your throat and you step outside yourself for a moment and feel like jumping up and down and shouting or falling down and weeping in a heap.

“This kind of snuck up on us,” Justin said.


I nodded, but who was I kidding? I lit the torch I was carrying for this guy the first night we went out.

He took my hand across the table.

“How do we want to do this?” he said

I was concentrating on the feel of my hand in his, the warmth and pressure of his palm and fingers. I was storing up the memory.

“Let’s think about it,” I said.

We finished the meal, making small talk. How had this happened? How was it possible? We held hands on the way out of the restaurant, but not in the car.

When we got out at the hotel, I stopped him. It took me a minute to speak.

“I should fly home, tonight if possible,” I said.

“Not my first choice,” he said.

“You get to make the next choice,” I said, “when you get back to L.A.”

That night on the plane, alone in the dark at three in the morning, I checked my heart. It hurt. I checked for hope in it, and found some.

Bur Oak 2200 800

I live in Plano, Texas, with a French bulldog named Winkie. Winkie weighs about twenty pounds and requires a lot of attention. He’s patient and kind, but he suffers when left alone. That’s all right. I’m retired and home all day. When I go to the store or anywhere else, I take Winkie with me.

When Janet was alive, she’d spend time with Winkie too, especially before I retired. While I was off at work, Janie and Winkie would keep each other company. I lost Janet eight months ago. Pancreatic cancer. We were married for fifty-one years.

I go for a walk twice a day with Winkie. He’s something of a couch potato, but he’ll put in the effort, at least for fifteen minutes or so. I carry him part of the way. Because he’s a little bulldog, he doesn’t handle temperature extremes very well, so I always take that into consideration. We don’t go out if it’s too hot.

I also swallow one or two of my wife’s left-over pain pills before we go out. I need two new hips. Without the pills, I’d never make it. After the pills kick in, though, I’m good to go. Our house backs up on Bob Woodruff Park. I’ve cut a hole in the fence and Winkie and I have worn a path through the woods to the the South Pavilion. When we get to the Pavilion, the first thing we do is check out the Quincentennial bur oak. This is the largest, oldest tree in Plano – the oldest tree in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as far as I know – and a perfect spot for Winkie to do his business.

We arrived at the tree one day to find a young fellow standing there, staring up at it.

“Do you know how old this tree is?” the boy said to me, as Winkie approached its trunk with his nose to the ground. The boy looked to be sixteen or seventeen, slender and neatly dressed. His bike lay on the ground beside him.

“They used to call it the Bicentenial bur oak,” I said. “Two hundred years old. But they changed that to Quincentennial.”

“There was a storm a while back and a big limb broke off.”

“That’s right,” I said. “Winkie and I were over here the next morning. Good thing nobody was standing under it, because that limb was a monster. It fell from forty or fifty feet up.”

“They thought the tree was two hundred years old,” the boy said, “but when they measured that limb, it was two hundred years old all by itself. That’s when they knew the tree was more than five hundred years old.”

“Nobody around here when it sprouted but the Indians,” I said.

“Indians on foot,” the boy said. “They didn’t have horses yet. The Spanish hadn’t got here yet with the horses.”

I thought his historical chronology was a little off there, but I kept my own counsel about it.

“My name is Morris,” I said. “That’s Winkie.”

“I’m Jesus,” the boy said.

“Isn’t today a school day?” I said.

“I was feeling kind of down. I decided to come over to the park and think about things. I like to hang out by this tree. It probably sounds crazy, but I think it knows things.”

“You go to Plano East?”

“Yes. I’m living in a foster home in Ranch Estates, so East is close by.”

“Those are nice homes over there,” I said.

“Raul and Rosa Martinez. They’re old. They have no children of their own. They keep four of us there at all times. I think it’s like their own personal charity that they do. We don’t see them much. They travel a lot. They’re rich, of course.”

Winkie had come over and sniffed the boy. Jesus squatted down to pet the animal. He grinned.

“Great dog,” he said.

“You’re on your own? Your parents… If you don’t mind me asking.”

“My parents died in an automobile accident. Yes, I’m on my own most of the time.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. About your parents,” I said.

“That tree may be five hundred years old, “Jesus said, “but it never had to put up with anything like my folks getting killed.”

“I’ve got a bur oak in my back yard,” I said. “We had a gardener years ago who planted it for us. It’s a youngster compared to this one, of course.”

Winkie and I moved off down the park path and left Jesus standing there, staring at the tree.

Plano is a town that started small a long time ago, got bigger, but is now surrounded on all sides by other communities. It’s part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. I’ve heard it called the wealthiest city in America, with the highest per-capita income, and the safest city in America, with the lowest crime rate. It’s on lists as the best place to live.

If you happen to be a fan of the Houston Astros, Texans, and Rockets, maybe Plano is not quite so perfect at that.

The town is also flat. It helps to like flat if you live in Plano.

When Winkie and I returned the next day, Jesus was there again.

“Are you all right?” I asked him.

“What’s that metal up in the tree?”

“It’s a lightning deflector or controller or regulator or something. They don’t want a stray bolt knocking the tree down in a storm… You’ve got to respect this tree. It was old when Shakespeare was born.”

“That’s what I was saying yesterday. I was wondering if I could connect with the spirit of this tree somehow.”

“Somehow how?”

“Like if I were buried at its roots.”

“By the time you’re old and buried, you won’t be worrying about a tree. You’ll have children and grandchildren and you’ll be worrying about them.”

“I mean, if I were buried there now.”

I took a good look at this kid.

“How are you getting along in that foster home?” I said.

“I get pretty low. They’ve got me seeing a shrink. I take a pill.”

“Are you a danger to yourself?”

“I don’t think so, but sometimes I get these ideas. Like with the tree.”

“You want to go get a taco?” I said. “Talk a little?”

“Sure,” he said. “Why not?”

“You know Crazy Tacos?”

Not the best name for a taco place, at that moment, but it’s nearby in a little strip mall just south of the park.


“Ride your bike over there. Winkie and I will go get our car and meet you. We’ll have a little lunch.”

Which we did. Jesus talked about school at Plano East and about his foster home. I talked about Frito-Lay, where I spent most of my adult working life. The Frito-Lay world headquarters is located on the other side of Plano. Winkie waited outside with his leash tied to a post. I could see him through the window. He was patient but I could tell that he did not approve of being left alone. I could understand that.

I just wanted to be sure the boy wasn’t thinking about doing something stupid.

After that, we’d meet at the tree in the park sometimes and talk for a while. He didn’t show up every day, but he’d come several times a week. We had pizza at Napoli’s, which is in the same place as Crazy Taco. We talked about the death of his parents and my wife.

“My counselor says I’ll get over it,” Jesus said. “Time heals all wounds.”

“You won’t forget it, but as time goes on, it won’t hurt so much,” I said.

“Did time heal your wounds?”

“I wasn’t wounded,” I said, “so there was nothing to heal.”

“I don’t get it.”

“When Janet died, part of me died. No wounds involved.”

Jesus looked skeptical.

“You saying your hurt was worse than mine?”

“Look, Jesus. My wife and I had more than fifty years together,” I said. “I’ve got no complaints. I wish it had been me instead of her that died, but it didn’t happen that way. It was the natural flow of life. For our kids, their mother’s death saddened them, but like you say, their wounds healed. In your case it was worse. Much, much worse. A terrible tragedy. Your parents aren’t supposed to go when you’re still a kid. You’ll need lots of help to get on with your life – to deal with your sorrow and your pain. The difference between you and me is, you have a future to go on to. You still have your life waiting for you to live. You aren’t supposed to leave early.”

We ate in silence after that.

When we went out, Jesus knelt to pet Winkie.

“You’re a great dog,” he said.

As he climbed on his bike to go home, I asked him if he had any use for a car.

“I can hardly drive anymore with my bad hips,” I said. “I usually call a cab. Do you have a license?”

“Sure. I’m sixteen.”

“Drive the Taurus when you need to get somewhere that the bike can’t take you.”

“Thank you, Morris,” he said.

The following week I asked him if he’d like to work part-time at Frito-Lay. I’ve still got a lot of friends there. He told me that he would.

I arranged it. He could hop in the car after school and drive about fifteen miles due west on Spring Creek Parkway to get to Frito-Lay. A half-hour trip when the traffic’s not bad. After he’d been there a week, I called Ernie, the friend who got Jesus the job in his department. Ernie told me that Jesus was fitting in well.

A month later on a Saturday, Jesus was visiting my place for lunch. After lunch we were going to take Winkie to the vet for a checkup. We finished eating and Jesus played with Winkie on the living-room floor while I cleaned up.

“I think you saved my life,” he said when I came out of the kitchen. “I want to repay you but I guess I can’t right now.”

“I didn’t save your life. You’re a strong young man. When we met, I could see that you were just pausing for a minute in your life to take stock – that you were deciding what next step to take. It was easy to help you… but there is one thing you could promise me.”

“Name it.”

“If anything ever happens to me, that you’ll take care of Winkie.”

“I love Winkie,” he said. “Nothing is going to happen to you, but I promise anyway. Right now, rest your hips. I’ll take Winkie for his checkup today and then we’ll swing by that dog park at Jack Carter Park. I drive by it every day on the way to work. When we get back, I’ll make you some dinner.”

“Thanks, Jesus. At Jack Carter, please stick to the fenced small-dog area, OK?”


Before finding Jesus, my one big concern had always been Winkie, but I wasn’t worried now. Winkie had a new friend and protector.

As soon as they left, I went into the bedroom and assembled Janet’s remaining pill bottles. I picked out the sedatives, the tranquilizers, and the pain-killers, and I took as many of them as I could without throwing up. I didn’t want two new hips. I wanted Janet. I didn’t like the idea of Jesus and Winkie finding me dead when they got back, but now that my affairs were in order, I was off to join my wife.