All posts by markwaters01

All about sin, and a piece of fruit

A conversation between the main character, and God.

Chapter VII: Third Sun

“You know I have about a zillion questions.”

“OK, shoot.”

With some hesitation, I ask, “Why do you allow all the suffering in the world?”

He’s quick to respond, and I get an earful.

“You blame me for that? That has got to be the number one complaint I hear about, and this is my answer—you people do it to yourselves. You can’t lay that on me. I gave you free will.”

Pointing to the garden, He says, “Go ask those two about free will. I gave them a perfect world, and what was my thanks? Disobedience, that’s what. They acted like two little brats and got punished.”

He silences the rhetoric. “You have kids, what would you have done?”

“I wouldn’t have kicked them out of the house.”

“OK, Mister Know-It-All, again I ask, what would you have done? Ground them? Or maybe put them in time out? Their single act of disobedience set the tone for the rest of you. I created only good; they are the originators of suffering, not me. You want someone to blame? Start with them.”

Reorganizing my thoughts and reminding myself who I’m talking to, I humbly reply, “I didn’t mean to make you mad.”

“You didn’t make me mad, Tony. You’re not the first, nor the last who wants me to fix everything. Like I said, you people do it to yourselves. If I had wanted robots, I would have made robots. It would have been a lot simpler and a lot less disappointing, now that I think about it.”

He gets up and walks away.

Under my breath, I mumble, “Wish I’d never brought it up.”

“You say something, Tony?”

I also get up and race after Him.

“But you kicked them out over an apple?”

He rolls His eyes, as in here we go again, and He is not amused.

“Can we forget about the fruit for a minute? That’s not the point—it could’ve been a Twinkie.

Again, He tones it down a little, and I think, Thank God.

About ten steps ahead of me, He says, “You’re welcome. Now, let’s start over, and I’ll try to keep it as simple as ABC. You have three precious little ones, and you gather them around the dinner table for a family meeting. You tell them they can have anything in the pantry to snack on. Everything in the house their little tummies can handle, but don’t under any circumstances touch the chocolate chip cookies—period.”

Then He begins to mimic in a child’s voice: “But why Daddy? Why can’t we have any of the chocolate chip cookies? Because I said so! Capiche? You are free to eat from any other bag of candy or goodies in the house, but not those—get it? It’s called obedience.”

Again, mocking in a child’s voice: “But why, Daddy?

Then answers Himself in a loud thunderous voice that echoes throughout this place, “Because those are the forbidden chocolate chip cookies of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat of them, you will surely die, all because you disobeyed one tiny little rule!”

“Don’t you think that’s a bit harsh?”

“You’re right Tony, after all, they are little kids. I’d tone it back a notch or two. Let’s return to the story. You go outside and do some yard work, create a new galaxy or whatever, and when you turn your back, one tempts the other. A debate ensues over should we, or shouldn’t we? Then one takes a bite and the other caves in. All at once, when they eat of the cookie, they find themselves naked and ashamed. As a result of disobedience, you toss them out of the garden because they couldn’t keep their hands off the chocolate chip cookies. If you’d like to know about all the stuff in the middle, read the book.”

 

Suicide by Death- The birth of Clair

Chapter I

At midnight, the grandfather clock announced the time. It was old, worn and grossly out-of-tune, but never missed a beat.

Ding, dong — clang. It repeated itself twelve times, representing each hour.

Trying to compete with the noise, the young mother’s wailing cries echoed throughout the house.

“Curtis! Wake up! My water broke!”

Startled, her husband woke from a deep, restful sleep. The sound of the clock with its irritating melody, combined with yells from his wife, confused him in his state of absolute tranquility. In the near dark, he tried to untangle himself from the covers to rescue whatever was in distress. Instead, he fell to the floor with a heavy thunk.

She’d been awake for a while and spent the time cleaning herself, then gathered a few toiletries from the bathroom.

With the continued dinging, donging and clanging, she yelled again.

“Curtis! Did you hear me?”

Unscathed, other than his pride, he mumbled, “Dammit to hell. Again? What? What is it? Another false alarm?”

He conjured a deep, surprised response while lying on the floor.

“What do you mean your water broke?”

Panicked, she flipped on the glaring bedroom light and packed a small leather suitcase.

“The baby’s coming. We have to get to the hospital… now!”

Cinderella thought she had it tough, this was no match.

The clock went silent, and Curtis lifted himself from the floor, jumping on one foot attempting to put on his pants… hiding and stifling a yawn so she wouldn’t see. Curtis scratched his head in confusion, though he shouldn’t be —it had been this way the entire length of the pregnancy; one problem after another. Groggy, he staggered around to find a shirt, socks, and shoes.

Digging through the dresser, he said, “I thought you weren’t due until July.”

“I was.”

Worried and concerned, she reached for her husband’s hand. Swollen with a baby and in pain, took a moment and dropped to her knees. Curtis stood by his wife. She let go of his hand, clasped hers together and prayed.

“Please, Lord, don’t let the baby come too early.”

Ignoring her prayers, he blurted out, “Have you seen my tie?”

Forgoing her sincere prayer, she went from the holiness of a saint to a woman from the underworld in two seconds flat.

“Forget the damn tie!”

She reached for the dresser and pulled herself up from the floor and returned to her small suitcase, snapped it shut and waddled toward the door.

“We have to go.”

This whole ordeal seemed like a sign of things to come for the yet unborn child.

They arrived at the hospital within minutes and rushed her to delivery. Her husband was at her side but whisked away and ordered to the waiting room.

In those days, women’s rights were not a topic, and the hospital delivery room was a metaphor for that sentiment. It was cruel at best, barbaric at worst. Fathers were never allowed in or near the delivery room. Any communication about the progress was only back and forth communication with an orderly or nurse. The doctors were gods and never questioned, and the patient intuitively remained subservient.

All the humiliation and embarrassment young women went through to have a baby, almost made motherhood not worth the trade. At most hospitals, there is a psych ward somewhere around, and I’m convinced many of these new mothers got to spend a few days there.

After several hours of labor, it was time. The baby was as eager to come out as much as the mother was to keep it in.

The doctor was in position and gave the final order.

“Push!”

She strained and screamed so loud that her husband heard the cries all the way down in the waiting room. He paced back and forth and was biting his fingernails down to the nub. The screaming stopped, and all he heard was an unnerving silence —followed with more nail-biting.

The baby saw its first ray of light, but lifeless.

“We have a blue baby!” cried a nurse.

The doctor cut the cord and took the infant over to a nearby warmer and did a quick assessment, swept the mouth, and suctioned the nostrils. He removed his surgical gloves, and like rubber bands, shot them into a wastebasket.

“That’s all I can do. Nurse, call me if anything changes.”

“Yes, doctor. We will get the mother ready to move.”

“Good. And you,” — pointing to an orderly — “clean up this mess.”

“Yes, sir.”

The doctor glared at him.

“Sorry. Yes, doctor.”

“That’s better.”

As soon as the doctor left, a nurse muttered, “What an asshole.”

After some tense moments, the baby’s skin tone returned to normal, then the nurse offered comforting news.

“Don’t worry, everything is fine. The cord may have gotten tangled around the neck.”

An aide leaned in close to the new mother and added, “He may be a jerk, but he wouldn’t have left if there was a problem.”

Another nurse finished cleaning the newborn, and the mother asked, “May I hold my baby?”

“In a few minutes. I need to dress and wrap her.”

“Her?”

“Yes, Mrs. Reynolds, you had a little girl.”

That was the first time she got the news the baby was a female.

The smell of ether lingered, and Mrs. Reynolds was still woozy from its effect and laid flat on blood-stained bedding. The nurse fluffed her pillow, then placed the baby on her chest.

“Be careful, she’s delicate and weak. You can have a few minutes, then we have to take her away.”

She cradled and gently stroked her hair, then whispered, “Hello, Clair. Happy birthday.”

Two of the nurses were mothers themselves and shared a moment of joy with Mrs. Reynolds, but that joy was soon interrupted. While the nurses were celebrating, a tech entered the delivery room with some test results, and it revealed the baby was Rh incompatible, meaning the newborn’s blood type was positive; the mother’s, negative. It can be a lethal cocktail.

Everyone was quick into action, including the doctor who returned to handle this emergency. Treatment options were limited in those days, and many newborns died because of it. Clair showed symptoms of anemia and was becoming jaundice. To avoid further damage, the doctor ordered a blood transfusion and took Clair away from her mother. Two hours later, they sent Clair to another room for the procedure. Not a pleasant way to start day one.

With the transfusion complete, all that remained was an empty bottle of blood still hanging above the young patient. The IV needle was removed, leaving a few drops of blood behind on her tiny arm.

Clair got introduced to the world with little fanfare, but came a few weeks early, and by all standards in Nineteen-fifty-seven was premature.

She remained in critical condition for several days, and her chances of making it out of the hospital remained thin. The troubles she endured, literally began at birth, but fought and won her first of many battles to come. She learned as an infant the skills to survive, and it would be those skills Clair employed for the years that lie ahead.

The best picture, “Around the World in Eighty Days” got the Hollywood nod, and Elvis Presley was “all shook up” the year Clair was born. The best picture and top song seemed symbolic for what was to become her life. She was shaken emotionally, and instead of an eighty-day trip; her resolve took many years.

 

 

Port Summerville- A little warning if you move here

A little warning if you decide to move to Port Summerville, make sure you are healthy and have plenty of homeowner’s insurance.
 
Most small communities like Port Summerville only have a volunteer fire department, so if your house ever catches on fire—good luck! By the time they drag the volunteers out of the bars or wherever, the only thing left to do is call the insurance adjuster and build a new house.
 
If you’ve ever been diagnosed with a chronic illness and think you are having a problem, you might as well shoot yourself in the head and get it over with. The result will be the same, except for some blood and a hint of brain matter. If you think the EMS will save your ass, and to no surprise, you will be sadly mistaken, post-mortemly speaking. If you experience a heart attack, by the time they get to you, you’re already stiff as a board. Flies are swarming all around and snacking on you for brunch, then you become an incubator for their offspring.
 
Before rigor mortis has reached its final peak of stiffness, your stuff starts getting parted out by the relatives, and whatever’s left that hasn’t been pillaged, is off to Goodwill. So all that remains, (pardon the pun), is a loving memory and a will. As far as Port Summerville having three leading economies, I failed to mention another one; funeral homes. We have three, and business is good. The moral of the story is, at the first sign of anything twitching or aching, no matter how inconspicuous, I don’t care if you’ve got a hangnail, head to the emergency room, and while you’re at it, get a longer water hose.

Port Summerville- Road and Bridge Tax

Chapter 12

The United States had just celebrated the two-hundredth anniversary of our nation’s’ birth. Port Summerville had a big firework show, boat parade, and barbecue. It was getting toward the end of the festivities when I ran into the county clerk; Miss Odem. As I was about to leave, she said, “Hello, John, I haven’t seen you in a while. Did you pay your road and bridge taxes this year?”

The biggest government pet peeves I had was the annual ritual to renew automobile license tags. I went through the same routine every year and gave my speech to the newest girl working there. The others stepped aside because they’d been through this before, — a rite of passage for the new girl. Every year, and without exception, it went like this.

“Hello, Sir, how may I help you?”

“I’m here to pay my road and bridge tax.” The others who knew me snickered; they’d been through this before.

“I don’t understand, I’ve never heard of a road and bridge tax.”

“Yes, I know you haven’t, but you will.” I was about to get on a roll, and this poor young girl was the next victim. “Let me ask you a question, —” as I glanced at her name tag — “Rita, do you have a birth certificate?”

“Yes, I do.”

“OK, having established that, does the state know when I buy a vehicle?”

“Yes, they do, the vehicle is registered when purchased, then titled.”

“Exactly, so conversely does the state have evidence when I sell a vehicle?”

“Yes, it is a title transfer. I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch your name.”

“Last name, St. John, first name, John, it’s right here —,” then pointed, — “on this registration form. Now, Rita, you said you had a birth certificate, and when you die, you get, — not you per se, — but someone gets a death certificate. Correct?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“You see Rita, while you are alive, from birth until death, the state issues two pieces of paper to prove you exist, or in the end, used to exist, and that’s that. Born, you get a piece of paper, and when you die— another one.

“Mr. St. John, there are others in line, can we please move along?”

“Rita, they can wait, this valuable information might help you further along with your new career.” I knew most the people in line, and several have witnessed this annual rant and waited patiently, then I continued educating Rita. “Where was I?”

Irritated, she said, “You’re born then you’re dead.”

“Oh yeah, now let me continue to explain. Your birth certificate is like a new vehicle registration, and the death certificate, well, more like a vehicle transfer in a weird way, and another fee to the state. The death certificate, or in this case, the vehicle transfer analogy should help explain my rationale.” Miss Odem and the staff rolled their eyes as I continued. “You see Rita, the state issues all kinds of paper while you are alive, like a driver’s license, permits, marriage certificate, and if it doesn’t work out— divorce papers, but only two share a commonality; One says ‘welcome, ‘ and the other says ‘goodbye.’“

“Yes, Mr. St. John, but what does all this have to do with your vehicle registration?”

“My point exactly. Do you need to remind and pay a fee to the state every year to prove you exist by registering for a new birth certificate? Or for that matter, does someone who survives you, not necessarily you, but someone else after their demise needs to pay another reminder fee they are, — well you know, — passed on?”

“No, I don’t think they do.”

“Then why should I re-register a vehicle year after year for an automobile the state knows I already own? They should call it like it is; a road and bridge tax.”

“I see your point. Do you want a receipt for your road and bridge tax fee?”

“No thank you, Rita, a receipt is a complete waste of paper and taxpayer money.”

“Is there anything else Mr. St John?”

“I don’t believe so. Thank you, Rita. See you next year.”

“I’ll be counting the days. Goodbye, Mr. St. John.”

I always felt a little bad when I put someone through that, but this message needed to be passed along to others. Can’t wait until next year.

 

 

Right Heart; Wrong Love- Mark Anthony Waters

Pennsylvania University, 1974

The lecture hall was packed with freshman history students readying themselves for the first day of class. The fifteen or so ceiling fans were churning a slight breeze; enough to gently toss a few papers around the hall. High above and between each fan, hung dust covered, dim light fixtures, half of which were burnt out. If not for the five, large pane glass window, there would be little to no light at all. The smells of the old, teak-paneled walls and vintage student desks, filled the nostrils of everyone in the room. In a nutshell; the room was old, dark and dank.

There is quiet chatter among the crowd of anxious students. The professor emerged from a small office that adjoins the lecture hall then takes to the stage. He placed his notes neatly on the lectern, then walked in front of it leaving his notes behind and began his class. “OK, everyone, settle down and take a seat. My name is Professor Harrison Woodrow Lofthouse. Since this is day one, and you are already starting to miss mommy, daddy and your little, fat-ass cat, Fluffy, we’ll keep it short while I still have your undivided attention.”

His opening remarks caused a few laughs from the students. He paused, then turns toward his eager pupils and asked, “So, what year did the civil war begin?”

A voice in the background shouted, “1861!”

“And what year did it end?”

The same cry enthusiastically replied, “1865, professor.”

“Very good.” Then he asks, “How many died during the civil war?” There was a deafening silence in the room. “You in the back?” Silence. “I’ll tell you how many.” The professor returned to the side of the lectern and pounded it hard with his fist strewing his notes all over the floor, then exclaims, “Nearly seven hundred thousand men, some women, and children as well!” Then calmly and quietly said, “That’s how many.”

A young freshman in the front row asked, “Why did the war start, professor?”

The professor paced the floor back and forth for a few seconds, then stopped in his tracks. He turned to the audience of students and said in a frustrated tone, “I have no fucking earthly idea.”

The comment brought a reluctant snicker from a few in the hall.

“History is mixed on how the war began. Some argue that there were many differences between the north and south about the idea of slavery, as well as trade, tariffs, and states’ rights. Adding to the complication was the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. His election led many southern states to consider seceding from the union to protect what they thought was their God-given right to own humans.”

A hand was raised in the back of the room. “So, who won?

The professor lowered his head and solemnly said, “Officially the north, but as you recall, nearly seven-hundred thousand died in the war. Now I ask you, who won?”

There is another silence in the lecture auditorium, and the professor said to the students, “Ladies and gentlemen, I said today was going to be short, so in keeping up with my honesty and integrity, time is up. Its snack time or whatever it is you do between now and your next class. Next assignment, come prepared to discuss the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. You are dismissed.” That was my last class at P.U.

1997

It has been nearly three years since my last teaching class at PU. My wife had been fighting cancer for years and lost that battle a few months before I quit my teaching job. The sadness of her death kept me away from my work for a few weeks.  I decided an attempt a return and went at it for a month or so but gave up. Both of us worked at the University and is where we first met nearly thirty years ago. The two of us were recent college grads; both of us had a master’s degree in our chosen field of study, and climbed the ranks, then got our Ph.D.’s and eventually became tenured professors. She was the department head of the school of business, and I was a history teacher and lecturer. The memories were still so fresh in my mind, and I had to get away from that place. After taking some more time off from work, I resigned my position, moved away and applied for and got another teaching job at the local junior college in Vermont with the same curriculum; freshman history.

It is a fall morning, crisp and cool, and the once green leaves are beginning to show the coming of the season; red, orange and brown. The narrow streets are starting to fill with the dead offspring of the once full blossoming trees of summer.

I had been in town for nearly two months, and today was no different than the others, and it always started the same. Time for my usual 6:45 am jog before my first class at nine.

I’m not sure why I jog, I hated jogging and have been doing it for years. My wife loved to jog, and eventually, I gave in and became her jogging partner; I didn’t like it then either. So I suppose in the back of my mind it reminds me of her— and still do it— begrudgingly. For whatever reason, on this day, my wife was deep on my mind. I got dressed in my running outfit complete with my I ‘Heart’ (Love) NY t-shirt, put on my running shoes and took off. The door slammed behind me with a loud bang, and I began my slow, steady pace of my run. Early on into my jaunt and only a few hundred feet into it and for whatever reason, but on this particular day, I felt a sudden burst of sadness and anger all at once. What began as a slow, stridden junket, had turned into a full-on sprint for the next quarter of a mile. I was running like a crazed lunatic! It was though I was running away from, or toward someone or something. Sweat was pouring from my body and beads of it were streaming down my face, and I’m certain, mixed with a few tears.

I reached my usual resting point; a huge oak tree. Along with the others, it too was losing its leaves, but this tree seemed stronger and steadier than the rest. It was as if it were making every effort to hold on to each and every leaf, like a parent clinging to their offspring. I leaned up against the old oak tree and stared up at the rustling branches all the way to the tree’s mighty peak. The breeze continued its carnage of the deceased foliage, and more sad thoughts of my wife wandered through my mind. I reran the tape in my head of all the suffering she endured during those last few months. My leaning became weakened, and I slid down the side of the tree. The hard, sharpened bark scratched me all the way down until I slumped to the ground. I placed my head in my hands and silently wept.

My sad moment and quiet solitude was quickly interrupted. I felt a soft touch on my shoulder and looked up. The sun blinded me for a moment, and I shielded my eyes by doing a makeshift sun visor with my hand; using the other, wiped away a couple of tears. And there she stood in silhouette because of the blinding sunlight; just a dark and shaded figure. My eyes were adjusted, and I could tell that she was quite young, probably mid-twenties. Natural blond and stunning green eyes and she was cute, more appropriately, she was gorgeous.

She removed her hand from my shoulder and asked with an unmistakable Southern drawl, “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. Just ran a little too hard and fast.”

“Yeah, I know, I saw you.” Then she laughed and said, “You looked like you were running away from a jealous husband!”

“My doctor told me that I needed to get more assertive with my cardio workout.”

Laughing again she says, “Well your doctor must be in cahoots with the funeral parlor!” That one even made me chuckle a bit. “I made you laugh!”

“Yes, you did indeed.”

And with a concerned and tender tone, she says, “You said you were fine, you don’t look fine. Let me help you up.” She reached for my hand and got me to my feet.

Not letting go of my hand, she aggressively shakes it like a corrupt politician. “We have not been formally introduced.”

She stands up straight and proudly says, “My name is Becky, all the way from Louisiana.” She lets go of my hand and does a bit of a ballerina twirl, and says playfully, “I was born in Lafayette but raised in “N’awlins.” I quickly interpreted it as New Orleans.

“You have a cute accent.”

“It comes out most when I meet someone new, I really can talk normal, so you know.”

She is still twirling about and continues. “Anyway, back to my story. My given name is Rebecca, but everyone calls me Becky. My folks call me Bec for short. I guess they’re too lazy to add the ‘key’ to the last part of Bec.”

Again, I chuckled.

She continues with, “I don’t know how you go from a sophisticated name like Rebecca all the way down to Bec. I guess it sort of rhymes with speck; just a dot, but I love them just the same; lazy or not.”

She stopped with the twirling and with a hint of a concerned tone, she said, “But you can call me Bec if you like and I promise I won’t think you’re lazy.”

“OK, then, Bec it is.”

“So, what is your name, kind sir?”

“I’m professor…”

Interrupting me, Becky says, “I know who you are. Aren’t you that new professor from Pennsylvania? Professor Lighthouse?”

“It’s Lofthouse. My full name is Harrison Woodrow Lofthouse.”

Somewhat aghast, Becky says, “That’s a mouthful of names. Very proper sounding if I do say so myself.

There is a history behind it. My mother was a Democrat and my father, a Republican. Coming up with my name was about the only thing they ever agreed on; Harrison a Republican and Woodrow a Democrat.” WORK ON THIS, NEEDS TO BE IN BETTER ORDER

“How’d they decide which name came first?”

“Never really thought about it. I suppose they flipped a coin.”

Again, she grabs my hand shaking it in much the same manner as before. “Nice to meet you. A professor? How impressive.” Giggling a bit, she moves in toward me then asks, “And what is it that you profess?”

She released my hand and said, “I teach history at the junior college.”

“Well, I do declare! Now isn’t this just the smallest world? I’m a student there. Why haven’t I seen you before?”

“I’m only there Tuesday and Thursday mornings for a couple of classes.”

She slapped both of her hands to her thighs and said, “Well then, that mystery has been solved. I’m there Monday and Wednesday. I’m only taking six hours at a time.”

“What are you studying?”

“Pre-med or pre-law, it just depends on what day it is,” she said with a big grin. “Hell, every other student in my class says they’re either pre-med or pre-law. None of us has a damn clue what we’re gonna be, but it sounds better than ‘I’m a poli-sci major.’ Just the sound of it hurts my brain. Heck-fire, I’m the only one in my family that ever went to college. My mama just ‘shined’ when she told folks that she has a daughter in pre-med.”

A few years back after I got my GED, she threw a big party at the house! You’d have thought I just won a Nobel Prize or crowned Hog Queen at the State Fair! She was so proud.”

Then in sort of a whisper, leaned into me and says, “She don’t ever mention pre-law to her friends or the kinfolk. She despises lawyers.” She sat up and continued. “I hope you’re not a lawyer, even if you are, she’d still like you. I know that a lot of history types run off to law school.”

“After I graduated from college, I thought about it, but no, I’m not a lawyer.”

“That’s a load off my mind.”

What brings you all the way up from ‘N’awlins’?”

“Well it all started…,” then she paused and placed both hands on her hips, “Are you mocking me?”

“Not really— perhaps a little. Please continue.”

“Anyways, my daddy, when he was still alive got transferred with the railroad.” Becky with her hands still on her hip looked at me and said, “That’s when we moved from,” and in a prissy tone, and with added emphasis said, “New Oorleeens.”

Becky points toward a nearby park bench and asks me to sit with her, and we walk over, and I’m the first to take a seat. She plops down beside me; uncomfortably close, then I began to make some idle chat and asked where she lived. (“Where do you live?”)

“At my mama’s house.”

“Is your mother retired or does she still work.”

Quite subtly she replied, “She has a job raisin’ up daisies.”

“What kind of job is that? Is she a gardener?”

“Don’t you get it?” And with the palms of her hands flattened and pointing up, she makes an up and down motion with them as if raising and lowering something.

“I still don’t understand.”

“To be so smart, you sure are dumb. She’s D-E-D, dead!”

“I’m sorry to hear that. How long has it been?”

“Nearly four years to the day to be exact. You already know Daddy’s dead.”

“Again, I’m sorry.”

“That’s OK. I think about them from time to time, especially Mama. We were very close.”

I noticed her eyes begin to water up and asked, “You Ok?”

She wiped them and quickly changed the subject without an answer.

“I see a naked ring on that finger. I would have thought a nice, good-looking professor like you would be married.”

“I used to be.”

“Divorced?

“No, she died a couple of years ago.”

“Now, I’m sorry. How long were you married?”

“Nearly thirty years.”

“That’s a long time.”

I lowered my head and quietly said, “Not long enough.”

She taps me on the leg and gets up from the park bench. “Isn’t this interesting. We just met and already have something in common.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re a widower, and I’m an orphan! Well, sorta kinda something in common. It don’t seem natural that a wife goes before the husband. It should be the other way around, then all the kids in the right peckin’order; oldest too youngest. Thank God I’m an only child, removes the pressure.”

The Bec asked, “Wanna go and get a cup of coffee or some sweet tea?”

“I have class in an hour, but I’ll take a rain-check.”

“Then it’s a date. When?”

I think to myself, date? “I don’t know, I suppose anytime.”

“Well, now is anytime.”

“I wish I could, but today is not that day; I’m surprising my students with a pop quiz.”

Bec put on a pouty expression on her face and said, “I hate those things. They always scare me.”

In a bit of a laugh, I said, “All in a day’s work.”

Then she laughed a little and said, “You’re just mean!”

“Bec, I really do need to get going. Maybe we’ll run into each other at school.”

“Fat chance, unless I change my schedule.”

She reaches in her “fanny pack” and gets out a pen and scrap of paper and writes down something and handed it to me; it was her phone number.

“I’ll let you get to your class so you can torture your students with that silly test. I’m gonna finish my run and go home and study.” She gets up from the bench and takes off. Along the way, she turned waves and said to call her using her thumb and pinkie finger to mimic a phone call. I sat for a few more moments thinking of her and also of my wife. For whatever reason, I felt better than before we met, then thought to myself, “sweet girl.” I got up from the bench, made an “about face” and headed home.

“You remind me of my daughter minus the accent.”

 

Notes:

End line of the book,

“I know your father very well; I hope to know you equally as well.” They never left each other’s side from that moment on.

They are alone and asked, “Why haven’t you ever tried to hit on me?”

He shrugged his shoulders, and replied, “Not sure. Why?”

Bec made an advance at him and said, “Then I will.”

She put her arms around him and kissed him, then he gently pushed her away.

Frustrated, she asked, “Why won’t you let me in? Is it because of her?”

“I don’t know… maybe.”

“Well she’s dead, and I’m not!”

 

Three Days in Heaven – The dream

“You boys go to sleep now.”

After checking on them, she tucked Pat into bed and kissed him goodnight. When the boys finally fell asleep, she decided to take one of those long, hot bubble baths with candles and the whole nine yards. Bev poured herself a glass of wine, settled into the tub, and took a long, slow sip of wine. Kent and Pat’s dreams laid heavy on her mind. She concluded the dreams had been more like visions rather than dreams. With the combination of the bath, wine, and exhaustion she drifted into shallow sleep.

“Hi, Bev.”

Startled, she sank into the water and woke up.

Still in the tub, she covered herself with a washcloth, looked around and whispered, “Tony?”

There was no answer. Shaken and rattled, Bev climbed out of the tub and dried off. She put on her nightie, poured another glass of wine, and lit a cigarette. We had a party at the house several months ago, and one of our guests left a pack of Marlboros behind. Bev hadn’t smoked since college, but this seemed like an opportune time to start again. She peeked in on the boys one last time before crawling into bed. She laid there for a couple of hours and stared at the empty space beside her. She grabbed my pillow and held it close to her face and took in a big whiff. The faint scent of Aqua Velva was all that remained, but enough to remind her of me.

Bev was exhausted but afraid to let herself sleep. As many times before, she cried. Bev wondered how so many tears could be produced by a single human being before there were none left to cry. After hours of reminding herself what Pat and Kent experienced were illusions and nothing more, but concluded what she’d heard in the tub was a delusion. At peace with her rationale, she fell into a deep sleep. Now it was Bev’s turn to dream.

Her eyes open, and she is standing in the middle of a vast green meadow surrounded by gently rolling hills. There would have been silence if it weren’t for the sound of lapping water in the pond a few feet away and the song of a welcoming bird circling above. The cool, still evening air caresses her skin…and just like Kent said, a faint fragrance of vanilla fills her nostrils.

“Attention, K-Mart shoppers!”

Bev looks around at the empty meadow.

“Tony, is that you? Where are you?”

“Hi, Bev. Yeah, it’s me. You’re dreaming, and a nice one at that. It’s beautiful, but can you do away with the bird? God loves birds but doesn’t like them flying over His ‘Vette’, if you know what I mean.”

Bev, aware that she’s dreaming, takes the experience in stride. She notices the peacefulness surrounding her. Treading lightly had not been her usual behavior of late.

“I figure it was time to give you a break and explain what’s been going on.”

“I’m all ears, Tony.”

She drifts around in circles like a ballerina, playfully tugging on her nightie like a child.

“Pat gave me your message.”

“I know. You’ve got a grip like a corrupt politician!”

Bev recalled something Kent told her, and begins chuckling.

“What’s so funny?”

“Kent said something about you being God’s messenger.”

“Yeah, ain’t that a hoot?”

“Yes, it is. But Tony, you’re practically a heathen, for Christ’s sake.”

I know she can’t see me, but in a panic, I anxiously look around.

“Shush! Have you lost your mind? God gets a little edgy when people talk like that, especially about His kid.”

She covers her mouth, “Sorry.”

We wait for a second to make sure we weren’t going to be struck by lightning.

“Well, I guess the coast is clear.”

“I’ll be more careful next time.”

Bev finds a nearby log and decides to sit and admire the scenery. After a minute of contemplation, she walks over to a nearby pond.

“Can I walk on it?”

“It’s your dream, go for it.”

Then with a snicker, I say, “You may want to check with Peter first. It didn’t work out so good for him.”

“What?”

Before Bev takes another step, I mention a towel hanging in a tree nearby just in case. She takes a few steps backward.

“I believe I’ll pass.”

Bev turns and asks, “Why can’t I see you? I can hear you like you’re right beside me.”

“Bev, I don’t make the rules. It’s the way they do things around here.”

She’s seen enough and has an idea, but queries as to exactly where “here” is.

“Right now, you’re standing in a meadow. Kent was right about the dreams; it’s the best way to communicate, a lot less interference.”

She picks up a small stick and tosses it into the water, then notices the pure beauty of the setting sun. For the first time since this all began, she’s at peace.

“I miss you, Tony.”

Staring into space, she lets out a long sigh.

“I wish I could hold you.”

“Me too.”

“Bev, turn around.”

I suddenly realize that I’m allowed to show myself for the visit. Predictably, she runs in my direction and nearly tackles me.

“Tony, I’ve been worried about you! I love you so much!”

She’s all over me like a wild woman.

“Bev, calm down!”

She kisses and hugs me. Losing our balance, we fall to the ground, rolling around like slithering snakes in heat. She’s trying to be romantic, and I’m attempting to escape.

“Bev, stop it! They don’t allow that kind of stuff up here.”

I gently push her away, and she finally quits with the assault. We stand and brush away the grass and sand that’s clinging to our bodies. Bev regains some form of dignity and we decide to sit together on the log. Again, I nervously search all around, looking much like a bobble-head doll. Looking up and down, side to side, and everywhere in between to see if anyone is watching.

“Are you trying to get me in trouble?” I whisper.

She wraps her arms around me again, and I try to wiggle free.

“Stop it! If you’ll contain yourself for a minute, I’ll explain what I know.”

I tell her as much as I can since I’ve not seen Heaven in person. Want to visit a distant planet? Done. Enjoy swimming with the dolphins? No problem. Personally, I like golf and played eighteen with Him today and shot a thirty under.

“Bev, you’ll never believe this. Today I got five back-to-back holes in one. So many birdies and eagles I lost count. I got one bogey on purpose to break the monotony.”

Ignoring my success on the course, she exclaims, “He what? He plays golf?”

“All the time. And He’s pretty good.”

“Golly Gee Wilikers, He should be.”

“He also likes poker but doesn’t consider it, as they say around here, ‘part of those worldly things.’ God calls it a game of skill and cunning. He’s a big fan of Texas Hold’em. I was told He and Mother Teresa are regulars every Friday night at the lodge.”

“The lodge?” She gives me an incredulous look.

“Yeah, the lodge. What’s wrong with that?”

“I didn’t expect to hear about a lodge in Heaven.”

“Why not? They’re not barbarians. Heaven has all sorts of neat stuff. Heaven is what you want it to be, within reason you understand.”

“I realize this is meant to be Heaven or at least somewhere around here, but how did you manage to send me those messages?”

“Pretty neat, don’t you think? They must have one hell of a phone bill!”

Upon catching myself using the word “H-E-double-hockey-sticks,” I quickly apologize.

“Sorry, Lord.”

A voice thunders from above, “Don’t let it happen again,” then He laughs.

A little spooked, she asks, “Was that—Him?”

“Yes-sirree Bob! That’s Him, The Big Boss. The Man Upstairs. The Head Cheese. The Big Kahuna. The—”

She covers my mouth, and says, “All right, Tony, I get the picture.”

I move her hand away, and say, “But around here we just call him Frank.”

She shakes her head in disbelief. “You’ve got to be kidding! Isn’t that a little beneath Him? After all, He is—well, you know.”

“Bev, get a grip. God is what He is and who He is, but, like I said, around here, He’s just Frank. It’s His way of getting people closer to Him and have a more personal relationship without all the formality.”

“I see,” she says with folded arms.

Not entirely satisfied with my answer, she’s OK with the explanation and begins to feel more comfortable.

“Seems lackadaisical around here.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, I don’t know Tony—let’s kick it off with golf, poker, lodges, and then move all the way up the ladder to—Frank!”

“Don’t take me wrong, He demands and expects respect. He’d still rather we do it the usual way during prayer. You know, Dear God or Dear Lord, instead of Dear Frank.”

“Where is He? I mean, is He here?”

“Bev, God is omnipresent. That’s why we need to be a little more careful—He’s everywhere. I took His suggestion and looked it up. It’s about the only word in the dictionary almost exclusively dedicated to Him.”

“One thing for sure, you’ve stretched your vocabulary since you got here.”

I ignored her jab and continue to explain everything I know up to this point, including that God has a real knack for making you feel special. He hangs out with everyone, and I mean everyone, at the same time! I suppose that’s the benefit of being omnipresent.

“The things that go on in Heaven—I take a moment to glare at her—like His omnipresence, is never in question or doubt. Things just are. He is always present, whenever, wherever. While mortal, the way to communicate with Him is through prayer. Frank told me He wished every once in awhile, we should be less formal and just talk to Him like you would a friend. In Heaven, He’s only a chat away. You never need an appointment to visit with the Almighty. All you do is show up, and He is always there.”

Bev asks, “Don’t they have Bible studies or something like that?”

“Nope. Frank figures you must’ve covered all the bases, which is part of how you got to Heaven in the first place.”

A few moments pass and an unexpected visitor arrives.

“What’s going on? I was in the neighborhood and stopped by to say ‘hi’ to Bev.”

Jesus squeezes in between the two of us still seated on the log.

“Excuse me, but do I know you?” she asks.

“You should, you’ve got a picture of me in Pat’s room. Not my real likeness, but it’ll do.”

“Are we talking about the one over his bed?” she asks with a shaky voice.

“Yep, that’s me,” then there was a bolt of lightning, followed by a clap of thunder.

“Cut it out, Moses!”

All of us could hear Moses laughing in the distance.

Still squeezed between us, He asks, “Guess what, Bev? You’re on the VIP list. Just thought you should know.”

“What list?”

“You know; theeee list. It’s the one for folks who have done extraordinary things with their lives, like your work at the hospital, etcetera, and etcetera. Why, Bev, you’re practically a saint!”

Overhearing the conversation, I let out a big “Ha!”

Jesus moves in close to Bev and whispers, “Between you, me and the fencepost,” — then pointing in my direction — “you should be on it just for marrying that rascal.”

“You’re probably right. Can I see it?”

Jesus is momentarily distracted and asks, “See what?”

“The list!”

“Not really. You’ll get the chance when—well, you know—how can I say this—?”

Jesus scratches his head.

“What is that word? Oh, yeah—when you expire.”

“I think I’ll wait for now.”

Jesus quietly says, “That’s probably best”, — then He moves in close again — “for now.”

He sits back up and continues.

“While we’re on the subject, wanna hear the best part when you arrive?”

Bev is still a bit intimidated by her surroundings, and with the addition of the “expire” comment, she nervously asks, “What?”

“Come on, Bev, guess. Oh, never mind. The neat part is you get to spend all of eternity with the one you were married to as a mortal. Is that peachy or what?”

Throwing her intimidation out the window, she glares at Him with her famous “look” and smugly replies, “Is there a choice, are there other options?”

He nudges me whispering, “I like her. What a sense of humor.”

Then He slaps me on the back. “You’re a lucky man, Tony.”

Jesus hops up from the log, dusts a few specks of bark from his Bermudas, and adjusts His ball cap.

“I have to scram. I’m playing a quick round with Dad. Do you want to join us?”

Then sarcastically adds, “That’s if you have the time.”

I glance at a watchless wrist, and say, “Count me in.”

In an instant, He snaps his fingers. “Rats! I almost forgot; it’s bingo night. The, you-know-who bunch will never let me hear the end of it if I’m not the caller tonight. We could get in a quick round though. See you later, Tony.”

Jesus turns to Bev, and with a cheeky grin says, “And I’ll see you in about fifty-seven years.”

After the “fifty-seven years” comment, she starts counting on her fingers and doing math in her head, then she stands up and bows her head.

“Have a blessed evening, my Lord.”

“Lighten up, Bev, we’re not as formal as you think. My friends call me Chad.”

The look I gave God earlier at hearing his chosen name was weak compared to the one Bev gives to Jesus. She is rarely speechless about anything; this is the exception which includes a dumbstruck expression on her face.

Jesus notices her lack of words. “Bev, are you OK?”

She utters a reluctant, “I’m alright.”

“Marvelous! But Bev, if you aren’t comfortable calling me Chad, my personal favorite is King of Kings, but it would be silly if every time you ran into me, you said, ‘Hello, King of Kings,’ so Chad is swell by me. Or if you prefer, you could call me—”

I interrupt Him, lean over and ask, “Don’t you need to be somewhere, Mr. King of Kings?”

I’ve been around long enough to know there’s an amount of informality around here, even when talking to Jesus.

Shocked at my lack of reverence, Bev punches me in the arm.

“Tony!”

“Chill out, Bev. You’re right, Tony, I have a busy day. See you on the golf course.”

Jesus waves as He leaves and Bev waves back. But as if in a trance, her wave lasts long after His departure.

“Snap out of it, Bev, He’s gone.”

Bev and I pick up the conversation where we left off.

She regains her composure, saying, “You know Tony, between you and your new pals, you’re making everyone at the hospital crazy. Paul is about ready to shoot you in the head and end all of this. And the boys on the top floor are giving Kent a ton of grief. How long is this going to last? Pat said you were coming back. Are you?”

“That’s the word. After three days, and when the third sun rises from the east, then sets in the west, that is when I shall return.”

Humored, she asks, “When did you start talking like that?”

“Like what?”

“When the third sun rises—blah, blah, blah.”

“Be careful, Bev, I’m pretty sure I have supernatural powers. I could smite you or something.”

“Do you have any clue what smite means?”

“Now you’ve gone and done it, woman!”

I jump up from the log, and like a traveling evangelist, raise both arms in the air, shaking them and profess, “You have been smited!”

“What’s supposed to happen now that I’ve been smited?”

Deflated, I sit next to her. “I’m not too sure how it works.”

“Well, I don’t feel any different.”

Pointing at her head, I say, “Better look in a mirror and check out the huge mole on your forehead.”

Bev frantically feels around for it.

“I’m kidding, Bev.”

Relieved at the confirmation of my inability to cast a spell on her, she jabs, “I didn’t realize they let jerks in here.”

Once again ignoring her, “Hey Bev, I have to catch up with the gang. You heard Chad; we’re getting in one more round before I go to a Barry Manilow tribute concert.”

Since I’m only sort of a guest, I don’t have to go, but the squeakers do. I explain to Bev squeakers are folks who almost didn’t make it in. Jesus, who oversees admissions, is a prankster. It’s either the concert or an Amway seminar. Most choose Barry.

“You need to go now.”

“Why? The time seemed so short.”

“You just need to. Our boys will be waking up soon.”

Being the romantic I sometimes can be, I pick up a small twig and place it over her ear like a flower.

“I promised Pat, and now I’m promising you, I will be back.”

I kiss her on top of the head and begin to walk away, then turn back and say, “Oh, I ran into your dad at the lodge. I’m not sure what he was talking about, but the next time he sees you, he’d like his ten cents back.”

When Bev was a little girl, she’d always bum spare change from her dad. Earlier in the day, and just a few hours before her father died, she asked him for a dime. She has kept it in her jewelry box ever since.

“I’ll be sure to remember. Tell Dad I said hello.”

She lowers her head, and I notice a grin and a small tear. As I am leaving, I turn back once again, and blow her a kiss.

“Bev, I love you and always will. See ya.”

Bev’s eyes close, and when she opened them, she was back in bed.

***

She collected her thoughts and mumbled, “I really am losing my mind.”

Trying to rationalize her dream, said to herself, “OK, Bev, you’re a smart gal—figure it out.”

Bev contemplated her words for a few moments, but this time was convinced her dream was more than just an illusion. It seemed so real. The sights and sounds were much more than any dream she’d ever had. Those things we talked about, especially my “coming back before the third sun sets”, was confusing at best. Whatever it was, Bev felt calm and rested.

Becoming more awake, she felt something poking her in the head and discovered a small twig. Her confusion became comfort as she removed it, then she gently rolled the little twig with her fingers. She smiled and placed it on her nightstand next to her jewelry box.

God, and John Daly

We’re standing around enjoying our sodas when God casually asks, “You know who I can’t wait to play a round of golf with?”

I peek around looking for someone while thinking, “I’m not too sure, but I bet they can —wait that is.”

He takes a sip from his Shasta, then answers his own question.

“John Daly. I like his style.”

“That would be fun. The way he’s been living, you might not have to wait long.”

Curiously, He asks, “What do you mean?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. Forget about it.”

“Every day I check with the pro shop to see if he made it. The best I can do is hope and wait. I have a pair of plaid slacks just like his.”

Pointing to a golf cart beside the clubhouse, He says, “We reserved a spot just for him and left it parked and ready just in case he arrives. Look over there. See the name plaque? John D. I had it hand-lettered in gold, and not that cheap stuff either.”

“Good planning, and a very nice sign.”

I had noticed the cart earlier. It included cigarettes and a six-pack.

“I thought those things weren’t allowed.”

“Usually they’re not but playing with John wouldn’t seem right without them. I guess it’s for the ambiance. They’re more like decorations.”

“You’re right. It wouldn’t be the same without a smoke and a cold brew when he plays.”

He walks over to the golf cart.

“You mentioned something about ‘how he’d been living.’ I haven’t kept up. Is John doing alright these days?”

“He’s been playing some impressive golf lately.”

He solemnly utters, “That’s nice.”

I pick up a collapsing training club that stays rigid when used correctly and falls apart at its joints when not. I’d never seen one before. It clangs and clatters with every move I make trying to figure out what it does.

In a huff, He says, “Excuse me,” then reaches over and tries to snatch it from me. I jerk it back out of His reach.

“Please put that away and listen to me.”

I cradle the little device like a newborn out of His grasp, and say, “OK, I’m listening.”

God leans in close and asks, “How’s he doing?”

It finally occurs to me God is wondering about his health.

I turn away for a second, so He snatches the little device away from me and starts messing with it the same way I did.

“I’m checking with security to find out how this little annoying thing got in here.”

He rattles and shakes it in a bit of a fit.

I could hear Him say to Himself, “You would think that I could figure this thing out.”

God stops messing with the contraption, looks me square in the eyes and asks, “Well?”

“I read that he’s cut way back on his smoking and drinking.”

God turns away, tossing the apparatus into a nearby trashcan.

“You could have gone all day long without telling me that depressing news.”

“You asked.”

I chug the rest of my Shasta, toss the empty into the same trash can and retrieve the little gadget. At once it turns into a snake and strikes at me. In a panic, both my arms start flailing about, and the snake is flying all over the place in unison with the flailing, all the while wrapping itself in a tight grip around my arm. During this melee, I kept the beast at arms’ length and hold a tight grip with both hands while it continues its hissing and attempted strikes. I look like a crazed snake handler! I free myself from the reptile and throw it back into the trashcan. God is laughing hysterically as I carefully inspect myself for snake bites. Still shaking, my sarcasm comes through loud and clear.

“Ha, ha, ha, very amusing, Frank.”

He regains His composure, but still laughing, God says, “I can’t figure out what it does, but now I know what it is!”

The monster crawls out of the trashcan and slithers away. God bursts out laughing again.

We make our way over to JD’s cart and take our seats. He sits in the driver’s seat, and I plop on the passenger’s side. For a few seconds, God lightly taps the top of one of the beers with a pencil, pinging it with each tap. Getting into the flow, He speeds up the tapping, turning the subtle pinging into a snare drum solo. He stops then stares out into the distance.

He turns to me and says, “You know, I could move things along a little quicker if I wanted.”

He turns away and continues to stare. In an instant, His voice turns into an irritated, elevated pitch, and again, looks right at me.

“You mean to tell me he doesn’t even have a cold?”

“Nope, not even a sniffle. According to the papers, he’s as fit as a fiddle and stronger than an ox.”

Quietly God says, “We’ll see about that.”

He continues to gaze at an open field.

“Someday… someday. Perhaps I should practice what I preach and be patient.”

I place my hand on His shoulder and offer some support.

“There, there, it’ll be alright. If we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

“I was wondering when those words were going to come back to haunt me.”

Then He perks up. “By the way, very impressive. Romans 8:25, I do believe. Am I right?”

“Not a clue. I read it on the back of the scorecard. You’re not going to turn me into a toad or something, are you?”

“Don’t push it, Mister.”

 

Suicide by Death- The Foreword

Foreword

Mark Anthony Waters has written a book that will stare you in the face. As you read, it will take you into the mind of someone whose life no longer has meaning or purpose. Suicide by Death hopes to give the reader a better understanding of suicide, attempts at it, and maybe a few answers for the survivors of a loved one who succeeded. Mark has done his research and has brought that knowledge to combine it with his personal experiences into the story.

The book is frank and honest, and some of it with a hint of dark humor. As the reader starts into this story, the lingering question early on, is, “Does she, or doesn’t she?”

While reading Suicide by Death to prepare the foreword for his book, I cheered the main character on, then in the same breath, yelled at her to get help. I believe you will feel the same way. In my book series, “The For Keeps Series,” the main character’s sister is an alcoholic and drug addict. I also cheered her on with every keystroke, hoping she wouldn’t take another drink or take more drugs. She drank and partied to drown the pain after being raped as a young teen: I was nine. She did this again… again… and again, and then some more. Mark’s character tries to deal with the demons that taunted her; unfortunately, my sister didn’t.

I hope Mark’s book might give strength to those who have lost a friend or loved one to suicide. I pray for those thinking about hurting or killing themselves or those who have tried. Suicide by Death might provide a promise that there can be better tomorrows with the right help and support.

Be prepared for an emotional journey like his first novel, Three Days in Heaven. Once again, Mark’s book brings a serious topic into the light to be examined with down-to-earth writing that puts a physical human and surroundings into your mind from the words you read.

Blessings to everyone who goes down this journey and all who need help… be brave… ask.

M. Skovlund-Author ‘The For Keeps Series’

Right Heart; Wrong Love

“Right Heart, Wrong Love”

Mark Anthony Waters

Pennsylvania University, 1974

There is quiet chatter among the crowd of anxious students. The professor emerged from a small office that adjoins the lecture hall then takes to the stage. He placed his notes neatly on the lectern, then walked in front of it leaving his notes behind and began his class. “OK, everyone, settle down and take a seat. My name is Professor Harrison Woodrow Lofthouse. Since this is day one, and you are already starting to miss mommy, daddy and your little, fat-ass cat, Fluffy, we’ll keep it short while I still have your undivided attention.”

His opening remarks caused a few laughs from the students. He paused, then turns toward his eager pupils and asked, “So, what year did the civil war begin?”

A voice in the background shouted, “1861!”

“And what year did it end?”

The same cry enthusiastically replied, “1865, professor.”

“Very good.” Then he asks, “How many died during the civil war?” There was a deafening silence in the room. “You in the back?” Silence. “I’ll tell you how many.” The professor returned to the side of the lectern and pounded it hard with his fist strewing his notes all over the floor, then exclaims, “Nearly seven hundred thousand men, some women, and children as well!” Then calmly and quietly said, “That’s how many.”

A young freshman in the front row asked, “Why did the war start, professor?”

The professor paced the floor back and forth for a few seconds, then stopped in his tracks. He turned to the audience of students and said in a frustrated tone, “I have no fucking earthly idea.”

The comment brought a reluctant snicker from a few in the hall.

“History is mixed on how the war began. Some argue that there were many differences between the north and south about the idea of slavery, as well as trade, tariffs, and states’ rights. Adding to the complication was the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. His election led many southern states to consider seceding from the union to protect what they thought was their God given right to own humans.”

A hand raised in the back of the room. “So, who won?

The professor lowered his head and solemnly said, “Officially the north, but as you recall, nearly seven-hundred thousand died in the war. Now I ask you, who won?”

There is another silence in the lecture auditorium, and the professor said to the students, “Ladies and gentlemen, I said today was going to be short, so in keeping up with my honesty and integrity, time is up. It’s snack time or whatever it is you do between now and your next class. Next assignment come prepared to discuss the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. You are dismissed.” That was my last class at P.U.

1997

It has been nearly three years since my last teaching class at PU. My wife had been fighting cancer for years and lost that battle a few months before I quit my teaching job. The sadness of her death kept me away from my work for a few weeks.  I decided an attempt a return and went at it for a month or so but gave up. Both of us worked at the University and is where we first met nearly thirty years ago. The two of us were recent college grads; both of us had a master’s degree in our chosen field of study, and climbed the ranks, then got our Ph.D.’s and eventually became tenured professors. She was the department head of the school of business, and I was a history teacher and lecturer. The memories were still so fresh in my mind and I had to get away from that place. After taking some more time off from work, I resigned my position, moved away and applied for and got another teaching job at the local junior college in Vermont with the same curriculum; freshman history.

I had been in town for nearly two months, and that day was no different than the others, and it always started the same. Time for my usual 6:45 am jog before my first class at nine.

I ‘Heart’ (Love) NY t-shirt, put on my running shoes and took off. The door slammed behind me with a loud bang, and I began my slow, steady pace of my run. Early on into my jaunt and only a few hundred feet into it and for whatever reason, but on this particular day, I felt a sudden burst of sadness and anger all at once. What began as a slow, stridden junket, had turned into a full-on sprint for the next quarter of a mile. I was running like a crazed lunatic! It was though I was running away from, or toward someone or something. Sweat was pouring from my body and beads of it were streaming down my face, and I’m certain, mixed with a few tears.

My sad moment and quiet solitude was quickly interrupted. I felt a soft touch on my shoulder and looked up. The sun blinded me, and I shielded my eyes by doing a makeshift sun visor with my hand; using the other, wiped away a couple of tears. And there she stood in silhouette because of the blinding sunlight; just a dark and shaded figure. My eyes were adjusted, and I could tell that she was quite young, probably mid-twenties. Natural blond and stunning green eyes and she was cute, more appropriately, she was gorgeous.

She removed her hand from my shoulder and asked with an unmistakable Southern drawl, “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. Just ran a little too hard and fast.”

“Yeah, I know, I saw you.” Then she laughed and said, “You looked like you were running away from a jealous husband!”

“My doctor told me that I needed to get more assertive with my cardio workout.”

Laughing again she says, “Well your doctor must be in cahoots with the funeral parlor!” That one even made me chuckle a bit. “I made you laugh!”

“Yes, you did indeed.”

And with a concerned and tender tone, she says, “You said you were fine, you don’t look fine. Let me help you up.” She reached for my hand and got me to my feet.

Not letting go of my hand, she aggressively shakes it like a corrupt politician. “We have not been formally introduced.”

She stands up straight and proudly says, “My name is Becky, all the way from Louisiana.” She lets go of my hand and does a bit of a ballerina twirl, and says playfully, “I was born in Lafayette but raised in “N’awlins.” I quickly interpreted that it meant New Orleans.

“It comes out most when I meet someone new, I really can talk normal, so you know.”

She is still twirling about and continues. “Anyway, back to my story. My given name is Rebecca, but everyone calls me Becky. My folks call me Bec for short. I guess they’re too lazy to add the ‘key’ to the last part of Bec.”

Again, I chuckled.

She continues with, “I don’t know how you go from a sophisticated name like Rebecca all the way down to Bec. I guess it sort of rhymes with speck; just a dot, but I love them just the same; lazy or not.”

She stopped with the twirling and with a hint of a concerned tone, she said, “But you can call me Bec if you like and I promise I won’t think you’re lazy.”

“OK, then, Bec it is.”

“So, what is your name, kind sir?”

“I’m professor…”

“It’s Lofthouse. My full name is Harrison Woodrow Lofthouse.”

Somewhat aghast, Becky says, “That’s a mouthful of names. Very proper sounding if I do say so myself.

“How’d they decide which name came first?”

“Never really thought about it. I suppose they flipped a coin.”

Again, she grabs my hand shaking it in much the same manner as before. “Nice to meet you. A professor? How impressive.” Giggling a bit, she moves in toward me then asks, “And what is it that you profess?”

She released my hand and said, “I teach history at the junior college.”

“Well, I do declare! Now isn’t this just the smallest world? I’m a student there. Why haven’t I seen you before?”

“I’m only there Tuesday and Thursday mornings for a couple of classes.”

She slapped both of her hands to her thighs and said, “Well then, that mystery has been solved. I’m there Monday and Wednesday. I’m only taking six hours at a time.”

“What are you studying?”

“Pre-med or pre-law, it just depends on what day it is,” she said with a big grin. “Hell, every other student in my class says they’re either pre-med or pre-law. None of us has a damn clue what we’re gonna be, but it sounds better than ‘I’m a poli-sci major.’ Just the sound of it hurts my brain. Heck-fire, I’m the only one in my family that ever went to college. My mama just ‘shined’ when she told folks that she has a daughter in pre-med.”

A few years back after I got my GED, she threw a big party at the house! You’d have thought I just won a Nobel Prize or crowned Hog Queen at the State Fair! She was so proud.”

Then in sort of a whisper, leaned into me and said, “She don’t ever mention pre-law to her friends or the kinfolk. She despises lawyers.” She sat up and continued. “I hope you’re not a lawyer, even if you are, she’d still like you. I know that a lot of history types run off to law school.”

“After I graduated from college, I thought about it, but no, I’m not a lawyer.”

“That’s a load off my mind.”

What brings you all the way up from ‘N’awlins’?”

“Well it all started…,” then she paused and placed both hands on her hips, “Are you mocking me?”

“Not really— perhaps a little. Please continue.”

“Anyways, my daddy, when he was still alive got transferred with the railroad.” Becky with her hands still on her hip, looks at me and said, “That’s when we moved from,” and in a prissy tone, and with added emphasis said, “New Oorleeens.”

“At my mama’s house.”

“Is your mother retired or does she still work.”

Quite subtly she replied, “She has a job raisin’ up daisies.”

“What kind of job is that? Is she a gardener?”

“I still don’t understand.”

“To be so smart, you sure are dumb. She’s D-E-D, dead!”

“I’m sorry to hear that. How long has it been?”

“Nearly four years to the day to be exact. You already know Daddy’s dead.”

“Again, I’m sorry.”

“That’s OK. I think about Mama and Daddy from time to time, especially Mama. We were very close.”

I noticed her eyes begin to water up and asked, “You OK?”

She wiped them and quickly changed the subject without an answer.

“I see a naked ring on that finger. I would have thought a nice, good looking professor like you would be married.”

“I used to be.”

“Divorced?

“No, she died a couple of years ago.”

“Now, I’m sorry. How long were you married?”

“Nearly thirty years.”

“That’s a long time.”

I lowered my head and quietly said, “Not long enough.”

She taps me on the leg and gets up from the park bench. “Isn’t this interesting. We just met and already have something in common.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re a widower, and I’m an orphan! Well, sorta kinda something in common. It don’t seem natural that a wife goes before the husband. It should be the other way around, then all the kids in the right peckin’ order; oldest to youngest. Thank God I’m an only child, removes the pressure.”

The Bec asked, “Wanna go and get a cup of coffee or some sweet tea?”

“I have class in an hour, but I’ll take a rain-check.”

“Then it’s a date. When?”

I think to myself, date? “I don’t know, I suppose anytime.”

“Well, now is anytime.”

“I wish I could, but today is not that day. I’m surprising my students with a pop quiz.”

Bec put on a pouty expression and said, “I hate those things. They always scare me.”

In a bit of a laugh, I said, “All in a day’s work.”

Then she laughed a little and said, “You’re just mean!”

“Bec, I really do need to get going. Maybe we’ll run into each other at school.”

“Fat chance, unless I change my schedule.”

She reaches in her “fanny pack” and gets out a pen and scrap of paper and writes down something and handed it to me; it was her phone number.

For whatever reason, I felt better than before we met, then thought to myself, “sweet girl.” I got up from the bench, made an “about face” and headed home.

“You remind me of my daughter minus the accent.”

Notes:

End line of the book,

“I know your father very well; I hope to know you equally as well.” They never left each other’s side from that moment on.

They are alone and asked, “Why haven’t you ever tried to hit on me?”

He shrugged his shoulders, and replied, “Not sure. Why?”

Bec made an advance at him and said, “Then I will.”

She put her arms around him and kissed him, and then he gently pushed her away.

Frustrated, she asked, “Why won’t you let me in? Is it because of her?”

“I don’t know… maybe.”

“Well she’s dead, and I’m not!”