Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Journey Home


She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. This was the reoccurring dream he had as a young boy living in Pittsburgh that caused him to abruptly wake up from those deep sleeps. It appeared to have been a premonition because several months later, his mother walked out of the house and his life-- forever.

He would stare out his bedroom window across the street at the small row house with its postage sized front yard all enclosed with a green chain link fence encasing two tiny yard beds filled with bowling balls of different colors forming concentric circles, then framed in with more bowling balls with a cement walkway leading from the gate right onto the public walkway. To the right of the front stoop leading to the darkly stained front door was a clamshell with the Virgin Mary standing within it. Could she hear the sound of the ocean? This was a bowling ball grotto. Inside lived an old woman who never walked out through the front door. She would open it all dressed in black, with beads in one hand and a book in the other. She would slowly lift her head as he watched her watch him from his upstairs window. A slant smile would lift toward him before she would gently turn and walk back into the darkness of her home.

Did she have answers? Did she, too, know loneliness? Might she take his hurt away?

As he peered at her house waiting for a sign or omnipresent answer to his questions that surrounded his feeling of abandonment, he wished for the emptiness to go away. Was the book an atlas of the United States? Did she twirl her finger in the air and allow it to fall onto the national map giving her a landing location? Did she have a suitcase in hand with a picture of him framed inside? Did she take a drawing he had made in school that wished her a Happy Mother’s Day signing his name with love? Was there someone waiting for her as she flew away? Was her heart free or weighted with pain, as his was when he discovered she had gone?

Fifty years later, what had been swirling in the hidden spaces of his mind, surfaced into his daily consciousness. For many years, he would wonder what had happened to his mother. What was the book she closed? Where had she gone; and, if she was still living, or, happy, for that matter? These were deep, disturbing, and traumatic wounds that had not healed, but festered and interrupted the flow of his life.

Now, he had traveled a very long distance just to sit on the curb, in front of the bowling ball grotto house across the street from his childhood home where his life took that dramatic turn. On the curb, dressed in jeans and a hooded winter parka, under a bright sunny sky in mid-winter with his former bedroom window shade drawn closed, the last one on the right just above the large pane of glass framing the living room, he stared trying to make sense of a once terrifying and haunting escape as he held a freshly sealed envelope with all his pain stuffed inside it.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Running From Rural Illinois

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. This image ran through his mind as he stepped through the open door of the sharecropper’s one room shack situated in the overgrown farm field alongside the rail fence lining the very secondary rural two-lane. This was a side road with no center line. Farm fields lined both sides of the blacktop.

The two young men parked the old flat black 1958 Plymouth four-door along the drainage ditch, climbed over the fence and walked into the dilapidated wood structure back in 1968, while living in west-central rural Illinois.

The two would cruise the back roads checking our their newly settled haunt after moving in from Chicago to attend a small college set in a town of 150 people. One day they found an abandoned vintage Morgan automobile buried within a stand of tall weeds. It had rear directional arrows that were signaled a turn, as well as an all wood chassis. The car would have sought more attention in the hands of a collector, than in the destructive throws of nature; but there it sat hidden from most eyes.

On this particular day, the two walked through the door of what would have been the home of a person, or two, who suddenly left quickly without hesitation. Old print dresses, and worn shirts hung in an open shallow closet. Cans of food left unopened on shelves.

This home for a transient worker had a twin bed in the corner. A soiled crazy quilt with torn squares of cotton, wool, and corduroy patched together lay on the bed. An outhouse attached to the side of the old plywood wall provided those inside from running out into the bitter Illinois winter’s cold.

A water well pump adjoined the iron-stained porcelain kitchen sink alongside the knife scored grey speckled-on white linoleum countertop. At the end of what constituted a kitchen was a very used two-burner bottled gas stove.
Pots of what might have been dinner were abandoned on the gas stove, were dried and rotten. A closed Bible and newspaper lay open amongst forks, knives, and plates set on the table.

The two stood before the scene in haunting amazement drawing from deep impressions of what might have forced one to flee for their lives in the heat of this frightening nightmare.

Could this snapshot of lost time have happened in 1964, as was printed at the top of the newspaper? Was there darkness pending in that month of July as men in white hoods and burning torches walked the lonely blacktopped back road rousing sounds of anger and violence arousing mountains of fear as a mob approached the insolated shack?

Did the farm worker look out the kitchen sink window in horror as a stirring glow of flaming evil lit the night? Did she, and maybe another, grab their valuables, jackets and hats, before they ran, while never looking back as they escaped into the crop rows fleeing into the moonlight?

Where did they go? Who sheltered them? It was clear that whatever happened that night left that moment in time fully intact like a time capsule allowing someone to stumble upon this place to see it untouched and preserved as it once had been.

Monday, January 30, 2012



She was short in stature but tall in the trees. What was carried in her pocket were a whole lot of daydreams.  Resting high in a 100 year old grand majestic oak, she suspended upon the ropes and boot clamps holding on with her back against a strong limb. Dressed in Carhart, her pole saw extended dislodging dead limbs from perches, while the 18 inch Stihl hung from a cord tied to her belt.

Below stood her assistant ready to untie freshly cut branches she lowers down. The view atop the canopy glowed with bright sun from her post upon the tallest tree majestically towering above the hill overlooking the vast rolling valley below blanketed with thick woodland growth surrounding a handful of ten acre and larger estates encasing these properties with split rail fencing. Gazing out over the land, she dreams of a small hand built home nestled among the oaks and maples which is the world she finds most comforting.

In this place where few people go, she escapes tethered to trees perched among the hawks and crows and other winged creatures. Insects crawl. Beetles burrow. Worms inch. Bees gather. Squirrels roost.

She loves this upper world where life thrives endlessly, but one must watch with keenness, otherwise its life will go unnoticed. The green strands of tiny blossoms upon the oak dangle around her as bees, like small delivery vehicles, collect pollen grains for their ride home all the while she stares at their plump yellow and black fuzzy bodies gracefully moving from blossom to blossom occasionally bumping into one another revving their body’s motor as a warning to stay clear. They are indifferent to their silent admirer.

Riding the warm air currents 20 feet above basking in the joy of the moment a hawk draws spirals above her head. Its clean white underbelly with its fanned red tail glistens in the glaring sun. Its keen visual sense kept on high alert for any scampering small sized mammal rustling through the layers of debris blanketing the loamy ground below.

There’s peace high above the hustling and rushing maze that lives below. Time slows to where one listens to the wind vibrating the newly emerged buds, blossoms and foliage. Branches brush up against each other. Limbs creek and sway. Her own breath is the chorus to nature’s rhythmical sounds.

Her assistant below waits patiently for her mind to return to her work. A cloud pattern acting out the appearance of a person’s head with a smiling mouth tumbling over began to drift past, while morphing into a hand with the image of an index finger points north.

She looks out in the direction to see what might be there on that distant hilltop. Could it be a small herd of deer nursing newly birthed fawns covered in a coat of circular pale spots?

She sees circular patterns as the nature of her ever-changing cycle along with the passing seasons, which, too, alters life. Deer herds roam; yet, return to their familiar places day after day.

Lofting high in the trees presents her with a fully dynamic panoramic view of the world that stretches far beyond the small one when one stands upon the earth’s surface.

Her heart begins to race and her breath shallower as she gazes out at the splendor that expands the landscape, which was created out of its own doing as a result of the never ending cycles that nature places upon itself.

She glances below watching her assistant holding the rope upon which is a newly cut limb as he guides it to the ground. She waves down to him. He smiles up in return knowing how content she feels up there. (618 word count.)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Heading North


He walked up to his mother and said, “I think it is time that we leave.” She turned and looked at her son in a reassuring way. She had wanted to leave for many years but was waiting for the right time to do it. The right time was now. Her husband of 30 years was extremely abusive, angry and mean.

Her older son, Matt, was graduating from university in a few days, and was already accepted into graduate school of his first choice. Her other son, and last child, had just graduated high school the day before he approached her.

Their lives in Panama City, Florida was coming to a close. Her young son, Chris, had loved living in the Gulf of Mexico’s panhandle. For years, he worked down the road at the marina learning to repair marine engines and welding from Mr. Fred Johnston who Chris always called him Mr. Fred. The two were very close and Chris was excellent with the various types of welding equipment. He learned from the father-figure expert. This would be his escape route to a new life, and freedom from the clutches of his deranged parent.

Over the last couple of months, Chris had boxed up what he would take and drove it over to the marina where he had taken an old and rotting box trailer, and made it brand new. His mother was a master seamstress, and had given him her materials to stow in the trailer, too. The last item would be her sewing machine and immediate materials, which would go in when the two would walk out the door of their home for the last time.

Her husband had a small accounting and tax office in downtown Panama City and was busy doing tax reports and filings for his business clients. He would return to a vacated home and a note left on the kitchen table saying, “Chris and I left for good. We have had enough, and today wasn’t soon enough! Good luck to you. We both hope you will be happier by yourself. Please don’t try to contact me. All correspondences will be through an attorney. By the way, I have copies of all our bank accounts, and holdings, and have discussed the situation with the banker and financial consultant.”

The two were gone by noon with the Suburban loaded up and left for the boat yard to hitch up the trailer. They were headed north by the next hour.

She had withdrawn a substantial amount of money from their joint account in order to live for a while as the two got established. Her sister, who lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had an unmarried sister-in-law living in Buffalo, New York who would be waiting for them to arrive.

Buffalo offered work for Chris as a welder, and mom as a seamstress. They told only two people where they were going. Her husband called repeatedly and neither would answer. They were gone. Free to live in peace and from fear and stress. Buffalo would become a new world for them, since all they have known was Florida. The winters would be challenging to their thin blood, but being close to marinas and water gave them the feeling of serenity.

The drive up and out of the south, on into the north, through Pennsylvania with all the trees blooming pink and blues and reds transitioning from spring toward summer calmed their souls and quieted the anxieties pulsating through their escaping bodies distancing themselves from the harm they had known for too many years and toward safety.

Buffalo, with its grand old center city, showing all its wear and tear was soothing to the two who related to what history can do to the present. They found their way to open arms, and warm embraces giving them an immediate anchor to their new home. The Buffalo sky was familiarly cloudy, but the water flowing in the distance was a connection to place that sealed the frayed edges of their jittery souls. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wait and See


There was this man who walked to work the same way everyday. He walked upon the same particular cracks with the same part of his shoes. He did not stray from his familiar path when either going to the office or returning home. He wore gray or blue suits with a white shirt and solid black ties. The shoes were black full oxford brogues with “W” tooled toe box designs. A black jazz styled pork pie hat sat upon his head. He spoke to no one and sat quietly on the subway car seat preferring the aisle, if at all possible.

His mind thought of running from the ordinary world in which he lived. He was a man stuck in the mundane, yet wishing to escape it. He cycled back from the present moment to the future. He always answered questions about the time and place that lied ahead with, “wait and see”. He had a wait and see life.  The job that filled his day was one that kept him isolated and in his head.

Drifting thoughts of walks on woodland trails stopping to sit on a log listening to a stream flow below. Crows speaking together in packs deciding if the man sitting below is a friend of the wild world. Shedding the suit for jeans and flannel with a ball cap to shade his eyes, with soft shoes for his feet, all made him close his eyes in his office chair. Wait and see.

He was a man, yet acted like a mother who wouldn’t let go. He was an emotional caregiver carrying the weight of an empty wife, and damaged children. He thought he was the protector, but instead, wounded himself. Instead of being a pillar, he was a pile of rubble. The dream of a time that would be all his own was faraway in that place of wait and see.

On this day, he entered the elevator to travel to the 16th floor, where he would enter it on the ground floor, alone; but, standing before him, under the brightly lit domed fixture was a woman in a red skirt wearing a red jacket over her gray blouse, standing there in the shiny metal box looking back at him. He entered and stood next to this stranger, then pushed the button that would lift him up to his destination.

She touched his hand and said her name was Eleanor and she had been waiting for him. He turned only his head in her direction with the look of curious fear across his face. “You were waiting for me? I don’t know you. Who are you? Should I know you?”

She smiled and answered back, “Yes, and no to the final three.” The elevator stopped. The door opened on the 15th floor. He looked up at the round, lighted number selections noticing that he was not at his destination. His index finger touched the number 16 but the doors did not shut. Nothing moved. There he was with Eleanor, and no one else was around. The floor was empty. The space was cleared of all things. She got off. Then turned, smiled and said, “ Bye for now, James”, which was his name. The doors closed and up to the next floor he went.

The doors opened as they usually did to what was his familiar office space. As he walked off, a co-worker walked past, then, looked strangely at him, as if it was not him, Mr. Pork Pie Hat.

Compelled, James walked to the stairwell, opened the heavy metal door, then down the steel steps surrounded by concrete walls to the 15th floor. He had never been there before, and opened up that door. He found a large space filled with office cubicles, and people rushing about. There he stood frozen watching activity that for most, would be commonplace. But, of course, for James, it gave him a spinal rush of coldness.

He turned, walked back up the single flight of stairs, opened the door to where he worked, and then down the hall to his office, where he sat down in his familiar padded high back chair, then, with deliberate calmness, took hold of a tack pin and pricked himself to see if he was really awake. He was, without a doubt, very much in the present. Sitting straight up, starring at the calming Monet poster framed 10 feet from him on an off-white wall, he gazed at the water lilies floating in shades of blue and green reflections wondering what just happened to him. He drew a blank. His imagination stood still. Nowhere to go.  At that moment, without hesitation, he picked up the yellow file folder lying before him and opened it. (793 words.)