Food Chain

She finally slept. Her skin was pale white, no longer the porcelain white of a China doll but rather the dull pitted white of the enamel on a pot which had been handled too much. Passed around after a lifetime of boiling over.

Scent of vanilla from the thick stubby candles permeated the air. Once a favorite flavor, from a vector point in the near future the smell would evoke horror rather than peace. Floral prints upon a beige backing, winged back chairs rose from maple upturned legs. Couch and end tables with wood grained clawed feet clenching at the forest green napped carpet. The slightest half moon brushed past the threshold with each soft swish of the thick glass doors.

The ability to go stealth, to see without being seen was not in his mind. As if concerned she might wake before he could be standing at her side. Long raven hair hung almost to his shoulders, breaking across the dark woolen overcoat draped high across his right shoulder. The walk slow and deliberate, the pattern of which was all the long aisle was accustomed though he had not made this trek since sometime after his days as an alter boy before his innocence was lost in the war. Which war did not matter.

The small sea of heads was as diverse as the shells along the Pang River shore and like the shells, the people were worn down from time spent tumbling. Times flowing with the current of life, times crashing along the rocky shore. And in some cases the faces of the youth appeared older than their elders. Older of flesh, not of wisdom. Age is just pages torn off the calendar.

We are accustomed to viewing people as they approach, creating little scenarios in our minds as to the life behind the face. Harder to do when the first glimpse is of one’s back. We care more when someone enters our space, less when they pass by or leave it.

Swirls of grey in the leather of the shark skin across the pointed toes polished to a high luster. Recognizable as boots when the herringbone cuffs broke across the ebony heels and soles with each deliberate step as if the weight of the world were being carried.

Double split below the fitted waist of the dress coat, giving ample room to the barrel chest and wide shoulders, the right of which the bulky faded black canvas hung almost to his knees. He walked with purpose as it swayed.

His back now held the added weight of the inquiring eyes upon him, the curiosity building as to who the tall man was; now standing at the edge of the light blue coffin. The occupant’s head rested at his left. He realized their heads were always at the left. Broad immaculate fingers hung from crisp red cuffs, long fingers from his left hand which gingerly traversed the silver coffin pulls. The satiny edged lining. Her hair which still seemed to be clinging life. Never happy how we are. The dark and auburn haired dying their hair blonde. Her platinum white hair now dyed to a sullen black. Gothic black with strands of dull maroon and purple.

The air over the sad flock mixed with the unseen notes from the organ hymns, the angels, and re-circulated air. Perfect submission, all is at rest; I in my Savior am happy
and blest, Watching and waiting, looking above, Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
Submission was her undoing.

Back of his left hand gently brushed her cold hollow cheek. The dark hairs of his knuckles grazing the blond facial hairs coated with number 12 flesh pancake make-up. Her face even paler than associated with death. He spied the trinkets left by well-wishers. Such a silly breed, people. Tokens offered up to lay along side a carcass which has been cleaned, perfumed, and dressed before having a ton of dirt dropped upon it. As stupid as the act of not talking to the ones we care about for years, then feeling the need to rush to their side as they lay in death. The cart before the horse perhaps, with the dung to be cleaned up either way. Tokens. A tube of eye mascara. A broken toy from childhood. A grandmother’s brooch. A small joint. A tiny curved silver spoon.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home. Yes, it was Grace that brought him, brought them both. He reached for his load, perhaps a Gothic rug which landed with a dull thud, the appearance shaking the God fearing people more than the vibration as the roll opened up. The second corpse had not received the gift of preparation before viewing.

The face frozen in a cross of terror and pain. Lower lip bitten through and hanging from his still mouth betwixt yellowed teeth. Knees bent, legs splayed, one arm out-stretched, the other tied to his waist with a belt. Shafts of two needles plunged into his crushed veins, the hypodermic cases severely duct taped to his forearms contorting a purpled tattoo.

The gasps and horror remained in their throats, stifled further when the tall man turned to face them once he had dropped his package. His, a face they would never forget, a face they would never recognize again. Two steps and he realized he was not done as he began to search the eyes of those upon him. From time to time his eyes would burn into the dark pupils of another, traversing their infected veins, to the cold marrow of their bones. Many knew without knowing that they would soon breathe their last and later question if they should snuff their life out before the stranger could do so.

Even the Men of the Cloth seemed unable to move past their horror into the unknown, especially transfixed as he passed the holy water stoup set up for the service near the front door. He peered into the small basin, respectfully touching the skin of the water’s surface as memories flooded him, caressing him and crashing into him. The tiny ripples rolled out to touch the ceramic edge. He peered across the crowd and then turned back, brushing his hair from his face – and spit into the holy water basin.

Blasphemous? Sacrilege? Or perhaps as in olden days liken to how a commitment was sealed with spit upon a handshake, perhaps he was sealing a covenant with God. Entering a contract, forging a conspiracy. He realized evening the score was no longer an option, that it had turned to leveling the playing field.

He pushed his consciousness to be aware of the floral smells. The vanilla candles. And the dead person Muzak which followed him into the lobby where Grace Kelly Parker sat announced atop the podium holding the guest book. He gazed at the names scrawled, and found a blank line as he reached for the ivory quill to sign his name. The feather hairs fluttered at his touch. He lifted it from the golden pen holder and placed the ink tip to the next blank line and inscribed, Food Chain.

Let It Snow

My daughter called me from Alaska, lamenting about the beginning of snow season and having to learn the intricacies of using a snow shovel. As I sat at my writing desk next to an open window in Scottsdale, Arizona – she indulged me as I took her on a memory trip back to my childhood in Hinsdale, Illinois.

7 years of age was the general time for what parents came to call the Snowfall Rite of Passage. Wimpy kids of today would sue or divorce their parents for this.

Entrances to the houses all had storm doors which opened outwards – so with the first foot-deep snowfall, the dining room storm window was removed so the kid, boy or girl as there was no sexist views with parents when it came to that cold white flaky stuff, would be handed out the window so they could go around and pick up that weird tool to shovel the front door open.

Then, the child would head to the family car. I was one of the lucky ones as we actually had a garage but the routine remained. Using a broom and mittened hand, we would pound all about the hood of the car to awaken any stray cats who had found warmth from the engine the night prior. Hinsdale had a lotta strange looking cats due to this step being often overlooked.

Then it was time for the child to actually start the family car and remain inside until it was warm enough to put the heater on FULL because Heaven forbid a parent have to get into a cold vehicle. Those without garages spent the warm-up time scrapping the ice off the windows. I think it was Jerry Johnston who had the recognition of knocking their car into gear and making their garage a drive-thru.

As in “A Christmas Story,” kids did get their tongues stuck to slides, fire hydrants and lamp posts. This was in a time when we’d wait as long as an hour in snow drifts taller than us for the school bus. I still recall the time Pam Friedinger’s hair was not totally dry from her shower. I pulled on her pig-tail….and it snapped off. But – that’s another story.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Grandpa’s Blocks

So, when my Mom was little,
There used to be this huge tree.
Fallen branches her dad would whittle -
This is way before there was a ‘me.’

Grandpa Lonn, he was a carpenter -
And taught like that kid from Galilee;
With the Word of God and lumber -
Passed on from he, to she, to me.

Media followed a witch hunting senator’s Red Menace dialogue -
As I popped into this world; an unsuspecting baby boy born with a tooth.
Grandpa bragged it took an O’Rourke to knock McCarthy the demagogue
Off the front-page news as my birth announcement took front page roost!

That tree that same blustery November,
Illinois lightning stabbed it in the heart.
But Grandpa was a carpenter remember,
Saving the fallen tree for a new start.

He taught in parables, “There’s no such thing as scrap wood,”
And in his workshop he kept a big box, what he called his “To Be” bin -
“What do you see in the wood’s grains?” stretched my mind good,
As my eyes watched his hands breathe life into the discarded again.

He’d write my imagined answers upon the scraps needing releases,
And I’d go back to Hinsdale eager for our next long drive to visit.
Where I’d receive a train, a dog, a horse, or a gun with moving pieces -
Grandpa’s carved homemade toys were the perfect travel ticket.

I pulled a branch from the bin as he told me of the tree,
Which the little me could tell he loved lots.
And just it was a few trips later when he gave to me,
This little boy’s box of beloved blocks.

Simplistically he forged from that tree pieces an inch by an inch by four inches -
Then spent long hours by his woodstove hand-sanding so as not to splinter.
Domino style toppling lines, pre-Jenga tumbling towers, and long bridges -
This only child’s mind created so much in the many, many years since that winter.

Then the lifecycle circle with typical moves and countless changes in my life -
I didn’t care what my age or how small my home for I’d never part with those old blocks.
Visions of Grandpa in coveralls by the woodstove pulling out his whittling knife -
You just can’t buy such love or memories in fancy malls with all their shops.

My seventeen-month-old Grandson came over to play -
Nervously so did my fifty-year-old blocks Grandpa had made.
Noah and I formed lines to topple and built towers tall that day -
Atop the coffee table that I’d built, love and blocks did cascade.

God and the Universe placed a tiny seed upon the wind -
From who knows where to birth a tree in Decatur, Illinois.
My Grandfolks and Mom’s siblings saw this tree sway in the wind -
Before it came in a new life as beloved blocks to this wee boy.

Packing for our cross country move from the Land of Lincoln,
Sadly, my Aunt Jean said I had to leave my Grandpa’s blocks behind.
It seemed what fit in our old Comet was all we were bringing;
So, hid below the back seat under MY behind the blocks arrived.

Windy Illinois, dry Arizona and now the last frontier Alaska -
To share memories and stretch a mind is quite a bill.
From Grandpa Lonn via PoPo rather than Santa -
To pass Grandpa’s blocks on to Noah was quite a thrill.

It was Joyce Kilmer who in prose did evoke
Wisely sharing with us that, “only God can make a tree.”
Now I thank God for that specific fallen Oak -
Cuz only God could make a Grandpa PoPo out of me.

Dollar Hugs

The young man explained he was 8 years old and working on a school project as I watched his mother grinning from the other side of the coffee shop.

“S’cuz me,” as he introduced himself. “My class is working on a project and I hafta hug ten people I never met. The we gotta write about it. It’s kinda weird but kinda cool too. I got six so far,” offered Brad.

“That’s pretty interesting,” I winked.

“We seen you before and sometimes you have that neat dog, and you’re real nice to him and them barsters know you.”

“Barristers?”

“Them too,” as his hands went to his face and we both laughed.

“Well Brad, I’m a writer and I’m doing an experiment. I am looking to give a dollar to ten different kids I never met, then write about the experience,” I smiled. “And you’d be helping me as I haven’t seen any other kids today.”

Brad and I completed our individual assignments and transactions, but before he walked away he looked at his new dollar and back up at me. “My mom and me will be here a couple hours,” he beamed.

“I need ten ‘different’ kids.”

“Oh, right. You said that,” he chuckled.

Getting in my car, I realized I’d set myself up. I told Brad I needed nine more kids. So, to walk my talk. I pulled into the strip mall.

As I strolled, if I made eye contact with a parent then I’d explain being a writer doing an experiment.

No strange reactions, just a lot of cooperation and happy, polite kids.

And by the time I’d gone thru 9 additional dollars I’d come to realize I’d averaged a dollar a hug.

The Skies Fell Silent

Sixteen years ago on what was to become a world known date, I lived in Scottsdale, Arizona. Out for my morning run with my dog Nubble. At that time we’d run 10 miles on the foot path of the banks along the canal.

Halfway thru, another runner, a female quite upset, hollared across the water that a plane had crashed into a skyscraper in NYC. I even recall where I was on that canal and was headed south.

Another mile and a man echoed such an announcement but added the words “attacked” when he mentioned the other building.

I was in shock yet continued my run until it sank in. Then I turned to race home.

I thought of my daughter and her mother’s family. They had a cabin up north which I often did building and repairs. Pondered gathering them and heading to those mountains.

Once home, I was like most – attached to the TV in appalling disbelief. I remember I called a couple of my high school alumni and Omega Vector buddies that flew for the airlines to check on them.

The days unfolded like many others. I just recall how eerily empty the skies swiftly became silent.

Having celebrity and production connections, I began work on a PSA which would be celebs and authors encouraging returning to the sky. I feared for us giving in to fear to fly, fear to live.

I had commitments of brave celebs and authors – yet could not get any airline to fully commit.

But I remember the day I gave thanks with tears when I saw the first airline return to the blue sky.