A Short Treatise On Hair, And Such

One thing I have never understood is why cosmetologists have to be licensed. It should not be necessary to hold a license to cut hair. It’s that plain and simple for me.

I am of the school of thought that says if you don’t like how your hair looks after a haircut, just wait a few weeks and it will grow back out. Why is a license needed? Why must the state regulate everything? I mean, house painters needn’t be licensed. If I want to open up a business for housepainting, I hang out my shingle and away I go. Sure, I must incorporate probably, or whatever, but I don’t have some state board regulating a specific house painting license.

Let’s take a worst case scenario. Let’s take an incredibly vain person who thinks the universe revolves around her, and let’s say she schedules a trip to a cosmetologist, or hair stylist, or beautician, or barber, or whatever the title is nowadays. Let’s say she takes incredible care each morning, Saturdays included, to ensure that her hair looks just perfect. Brushes and combs and clips and hairspray and mousse and gel, etc. – ad nauseum –  are all major items on her shopping list each week.

So she goes to the hairstylist and her hair gets butchered. She asks for this and gets that. It’s nothing like what she wanted. It’s ruined. Okay, so she wears a hat and waits a few weeks and never goes back to that stylist. Problem solved. If enough people get the same treatment from that stylist , then that stylist will have to find a different line of work. Case solved. Open and free market. Go America.

So why the need for a license? I know somewhere underneath all the talkspeak is money. Someone somewhere knows enough lawmakers to get regulatory procedures in place so that licensing fees must be paid. It’s usually about the fees, isn’t it? That’s my only plausible theory. Someone tell me something better.

By the way, what is a cosmetologist? The suffix –ology means the study of, and the prefix cosmo, I’m sure has something to do with the universe, as in cosmos. So why isn’t cosmetology the study of the stars instead of a profession for young ladies and misguided young men?

When I was a kid, I used to get dragged along on a regular basis by my mom to the beauty parlor. She would go and get her hair done, and I had to wait for her because I was too young to stay home by myself. Now, “beauty parlor” is a great name. Beauty parlor. Something about the word parlor maybe. Old ladies (probably middle aged at that time, but hey, I was a little chap) would sit around reading magazines about hairstyles while sitting under massive Lost in Space-looking hair dryers. Because of the noise, their conversations would be very loud. I learned more about carpet fabrics and curtain fabrics than a young boy should.

All that unhealthy exposure to le monde aux femmes had to be counteracted by my trips to the barber shop with my dad to get my own hair cut. Ah yes, sitting up in the big old chair and hearing all the man talk. Sports. Cars. Real life stuff. The stuff of men. Getting a free sucker and piece of bubble gum when it was all done and smelling great the rest of the day to boot.

The smells at the beauty parlor were not so great. The men at the barber shop used talcum powder and shaving cream. The women at the beauty parlor used dyes and chemicals. I bet it wouldn’t even be legal today what they used. Women would emerge from there like queen bees with their big old queen bee hairstyles piled up on their heads like cotton candy. They’d have to duck to get into their cars to drive home.

Like many things in this country, things have changed. The beauty parlor concept has seemingly melded with the barber shop concept into one unisex type thing. You go in and sit in the waiting area with sports news on the big screen while really hip music is blared out at you.

Then some Gen X or Y or Z, I forget them all, comes out and gets you and asks you how you want it cut and then charges you way too much. You don’t get a free sucker or bubble gum and you don’t hear any talk at all, not even about carpets or curtain fabrics. They stylist, if she talks at all, talks about herself.

You go your way after emptying out your wallet and you feel like another notch in the corporate hair company’s belt for that day. Another customer.  Another cog in the financial wheel of the highly regulated and fully licensed world of cosmetology. And you don’t even smell that great when it’s all done.

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How They Drag The River

The rocking chair sat heavy on the front porch of the little worn-down shack, which itself sat heavy in the midst of a large expanse of cotton fields. The afternoon was quickly leaving, only to give way to another hot, muggy, windless night in the Delta.

Many people would be out tonight, lanterns and flashlights and headlights of old beat-up pickups searching the road ditches and rows of half-grown cotton, and also down by the Yazoo River, probably for a mile or two both directions, at least on this night. Sheriff Posley had said to keep the search within a mile or two in any direction from the shack, that a young boy of five wouldn’t get any further than that in a few hours, even if he walked straight in one direction the whole time, which is unlike any five year old around.

In the rocking chair sat the missing little boy’s grandmother and mother de facto, Elsie. She was no use in searching for him, as she couldn’t walk much further than the end of the gravel drive anyway. She would if she could. She certainly would. She would walk to the ends of the county and the state line, indeed as far as the river flowed, on to the ocean and to the ends of the earth if she had to in order to find the little lost boy, her only grandson. Her best bet was to sit in the chair and wait, she thought, and pray for the little boy and all the folks looking for him. Sitting was harder to do, and her prayers came fast and strong as the day grew darker.

“Please, Jesus, let him be found. Oh Lord, let him be found,” was her refrain.

Had he left, or had he been taken? A long list of thoughts and scenarios had run through her mind since that afternoon when he vanished. Perhaps he had ambled out to the fields and gotten into one of the endless rows of leafy plants and fallen asleep. They would surely find him, even if it took him waking up and crying and hollering. Or maybe he had followed the old dog, Tillie, down the road and gotten caught up in the ditch somewhere.

Other thoughts assaulted her. She tried to think through each good option and ignore the bad ones, but the bad ones preyed stronger upon her mind. What if he had been out on the road and someone picked him up? Or what if some wild dog had dragged him off? She didn’t think there were any wild dogs around.

Beside her in another chair sat Julia, faithful cousin and close friend. Julia was roughly the same age as Elsie, though she had never married and had no children. Elsie had married, and had stayed married, for 37 years, to Salem. He would know what to do, but he had been gone for six years. He had never even met little Thomas. Elsie pictured Salem’s grave out in the quiet churchyard three miles away. She closed her eyes and studied in her mind its stone marker near the giant magnolia tree along the back row of graves. The space next to it was empty, where she would be someday. How could she bury a grandson? Too painful. Another picture jumped in of a smaller grave, but she quickly pushed that aside.

“Where are you, Thomas?” she half-sighed and half-whispered, as if the little boy, wherever he was, could hear her. She dared not go inside and perhaps miss the little boy peek around the corner, as if he had never left. Julia could go inside, but not her. She heard herself groan, quietly, but there was not much competing noise this time of day. The bugs were silent yet, and there was no traffic on the road nearby.

“There, there, Elsie,” Julia had a gentle voice. She reached over and rubbed Elsie’s shoulder. “He be all right. I know it. I believe it in my heart.

Julia rubbed a little longer, and patted softly, then pulled her arm back and looked up and out into the fields ahead of her. “I’m gon’ go look around in the yard again, sweetie.”

Elsie managed a muted, “Okay.”

“Just holler. I’m right here.”


So Julia got up from her post and went down the steps to explore the little yard. There were only so many places to look, only so many hiding places for a little boy to find and play in, or to crawl up into and fall asleep, and she had already looked into all of them once, and some of them twice or more. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to look yet again, before it grew too dark to see.

Back up on the porch, Elsie sat still in her chair.

“How can a bright, sunny day go so horribly wrong?” she wondered. “Please, Jesus, let him be found. Oh Lord, let him be found.”

The worst thought she could imagine was that he had ended up in the hands of Bob Kilmerson, clear on the other side of the fields. Bob Kilmerson had done time down at the Parchman Penitentiary near Jackson for hurting a kid, though no one seemed to know exactly what he had done. The truth had been twisted and had grown into all kinds of fabrications, told over and over between the locals, each version perhaps a bit different from another. He had done time for it, whatever it was, but not enough time in the opinions of most folks. Elsie had not been happy when Kilmerson had been released. She had wondered how a man could be so evil.

Kilmerson was sometimes seen walking along the river road, getting as close as a quarter mile to Elsie’s place, but Tillie would go off barking at him when he did. Tillie had a nose for Bob Kilmerson, it seemed, and Elsie had taken comfort in that. The law hadn’t kept him in jail forever, but at least Tillie would keep him away from Elsie’s property, and from Thomas.

There would be people searching all over Kilmerson’s place and if Thomas were there… she quickly pushed the thought aside.

Tillie hadn’t barked that afternoon, though, leastways not that Elsie had heard, and that’s what she had reported to the sheriff, sitting right on that porch. He had arrived quickly, just a few minutes after she had called 911 after Thomas had disappeared.

Elsie had hung the phone up and waited on the front edge of the porch, looking out down the driveway to the road, willing the sheriff to get there even quicker than he had, and then out of his car and up onto the porch. Then she had sat down in her chair, the sheriff standing near her, his notepad in hand. He had listened, mostly, written down a few notes, and nodded his head a few times. He had asked what any good lawman would have asked.

He had then asked general questions about Elsie’s boy, Davis, Thomas’s daddy. Davis had been locked up in Parchman, too, since right after Thomas had been born, for some drug related charge. Sheriff Posley had been in on the arrest. Elsie had taken Thomas to see Davis once, over four years before, but he hadn’t seemed to care about the baby.

The little boy’s mama had run off two weeks after Thomas had come into the world, and hadn’t been seen around there since. Rumors had spread that someone had seen her in Mobile one weekend a year or so later, drunk and yelling at some young man. Another rumor had come about that she was pregnant again.

“The boy’s mother… you seen her ever?” the sheriff had then asked.

“Sheriff Posely,” she had said, gently, but starting to cry. “You can ask all these questions ‘bout Thomas’ mama and daddy, but they ain’t had a thing to do with him yet, and they ain’t got nothing to do with him now.”

She had related how she and Thomas had gone into their shared bedroom for a nap, just like they did most days about that time, right after lunch. She and Thomas would both be getting sleepy, so she would lay him down in his little bed and she would slip off her shoes and rest on her bed. She sometimes dozed and sometimes just rested her eyes. Oh, why hadn’t she just rested her eyes on this day? She would’ve seen Thomas climbing up off his bed, which he was not supposed to do, and she could’ve said, “Now, Thomas, back to bed, honey. Just a few more minutes and we’ll get up and read us a book.” And he would have complied, ‘cause he was a good boy, unlike his daddy, whom Elsie had put out of her mind right then.

But on this day she had fallen asleep, like night time sleep, out of this world sleep. When she had awakened, the first thing she had done was turn her head over and look to Thomas’s bed and seen he wasn’t in it. Blankets all rumpled up, pillow dented in, but no Thomas. And she had moved up off her bed, calling his name. Figured he had gotten up to go to the bathroom or into the kitchen. She didn’t hear the television on the counter, though. She had slipped her shoes on and called his name a little louder, “Thomas?” Looking round the house, only four rooms, calling again, “Thomas?” Her voice growing louder.

She had gone outside and had been surprised how the day had gotten on. The sun had moved over quite a ways, the shadows slanting at different, late afternoon angles. She had walked out onto the porch and yelled, “Thomas!” and listened. Nothing. She had seen a little bird swelling up its wing feathers in a tree in the yard. She had walked down off the porch and around the house, yelling in every direction, “Thomas!”

“Thomas!!” Quiet. Then back into the house, hollering some more. The house so still and silent. He was gone.

The sheriff had asked, “Elsie, did you hear Tillie barking at anything, or anybody?” No, she hadn’t. She hadn’t heard anything. Not a peep.

“Well, where is Tillie?” he had asked next, leaning against the porch post, his hat in his hand, looking hard out into the surrounding fields. She didn’t know.

He had looked around a few minutes for himself, in the shack, around the yard. He had yelled, “Thomas…!!” a few times out into the expanse of fields and sky. He could see quite far into the fields in every direction since the plants were still low. No Thomas.

He had whistled for Tillie. Maybe Tillie would come bounding out of the rows with Thomas

right on her heels, laughing at the trick he had played on his grandma.


He had walked back up to the porch, talking into his radio as he walked. He had then asked to go into the house and look. He had come back out, his mouth drawn into a thin line and his forehead squeezed down into a frown of thought.

He had walked the length of the porch then, thinking to himself, and then asked again for a description of what the boy had been wearing, his height, his weight. Did he have shoes on? Did he have a hiding place or a fort or had he said anything that might give a hint? Had he ever run off before, maybe with Tillie? He had surmised out loud again that that might be it. Maybe Tillie had run off and Thomas had just chased after her. He might be out in the cotton exploring. He looked again out into the surrounding fields.

“I’m gon’ send a deputy over here. He’ll be here directly. And I’ll go out on the road and look around.

“Please go to the river, Sheriff.”

Elsie, I’ll get everyone available out on this,” he had continued, not hearing her request. Don’t go nowhere. Stay off the phone. I’ll call. He can’t be too far away.”

“What about the river?” she had asked, a little louder.

“Yes, ma’am,” he had answered. “We’ll get someone there right away.”

Putting his hat back on, he had jogged over to his car, yelling back to her, “We’ll find him! ‘He

can’t have gone too far. Don’t you worry.

The sheriff was good on his word. He called in for help to find a lost or missing child out at Elsie Wells’ house on Poynter Road, five miles north of town. He specifically directed that someone needed to head immediately to the river and start there. He drove straight to the river and then, not seeing Thomas, headed to the Kilmerson place.

Bob Kilmerson lived about two and a half miles away, straight to the south toward town. However, with the patchwork of cotton fields between the two places, it required a bit of going around the long way to get there. Within a few minutes, the sheriff pulled into the Kilmerson driveway and stopped his car.

The Kilmerson house had, at one time, been a fine house. Bob’s father and mother, both long dead, had been the beneficiaries of two wealthy cotton farming families. Their marriage joined up not only two loving and hardworking souls, but thousands of acres of profitable cropland. From that, they had constructed a fine house with large windows looking out on wide, expansive porches. A front porch welcomed one and all, with each end of it turning the front corners of the house and running back along the sides… one to a side door into the kitchen, the other to a small stair leading toward the back yard. There was a back porch as well, more utilitarian than the front, and long filled with so many trinkets, newspapers and old things in general, that passage through it had become impractical.

The house presented a lovely façade to all who viewed it. However, the planned filling of it with noisy, healthy children had gone awry. A daughter had been born but had contracted polio and died as a youngster. She had been followed by a strapping boy, named after his father, Frank. The boy had died in his crib one morning as an infant. Details had grown sketchy over the years. Had this tragedy occurred more recently, it would have been diagnosed as a SIDS death.

Frank, Sr. and his wife, Bonnie, had become so disheartened at the loss of their two children, they had given up on further attempts. The two losses had devastated all of the hopes of that particular Kilmerson line. Years later, to the surprise of both, Robert Kilmerson was conceived, and delivered nine months later at the county hospital, a healthy boy. By that time, the two parents were in their late forties. The joy and energy of their lives had so subsided, that young Bob was delivered into a melancholy estate.

By the time Sheriff Posley pulled into the driveway all these years later, the house had devolved into a mean shadow of its former self. What had been straight and true was now crooked. What had been planted and maintained had been choked out long before by weeds. The cropland had been leased out rather than worked, and the income from the leases mismanaged to the point that all of it had eventually been sold, piece by piece. Indeed, by this time, Bob’s life was but a remnant of past possibility. The only thing to which he proudly clung was the fact that he was related to another Kilmerson, a brother of Frank, Sr., by the name of Cale Kilmerson. Cale had built up a successful regional chain of hardware stores in a three state area.

The industry of this uncle, Bob’s one source of familial pride, exhibited itself in a few articles of clothing he had acquired over the years, each piece displaying the company moniker, Kilmerson Hardware. The crown jewel of his pride rested in the blue denim ball cap he wore whenever he left the house. It had started to fade, though he hadn’t realized it, the proud Kilmerson Hardware stitching across the front of it remaining yet intact.

Sheriff Posely pulled his car into the driveway, noting that Bob’s pickup truck was parked in the driveway. He parked behind it, got out, and walked up to it. He looked in the back of the truck, and then walked to the front and held his hands to each side of his face while peering into the cab. Nothing unusual. He felt the hood, which wasn’t hot to the touch. There was no sign the truck had been moved recently.

He walked across the yard, his eyes alert to anything suspicious. He hadn’t been on the property in the past few years, so he hadn’t seen things up close for a while and was surprised by the general disrepair of the place. A Bible verse out of Proverbs he had memorized as a child came to him suddenly, “I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.” He said it to himself, halfway audibly, as he looked around and approached the front door.

He called out, “Bob Kilmerson?” No answer.

He climbed the wide steps of the once fine porch. He noticed the paint on the house, long peeled away in so many places, exposing the weathering wood beneath. The windows all looked intact, but seemed smoked over heavily with a general film from neglect.

“Bob Kilmerson!” he yelled, louder. “Sheriff Posley here! Need to talk to you!” The only response was the gentle tinkling of a half missing wind chime hanging from the corner of the porch ceiling.

The sheriff rested his right hand lightly out of habit on the handle of his service revolver holstered at his side. The doorbell was missing, only a loose wire wrapped in black tape giving away its former place. He walked up to the door and knocked, loudly. BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM. He waited a few moments, trying to see through the window in the door.

He knocked again. BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM, in quick succession, this time leaning in with his good ear toward the door, listening for a response.

“Mr. Kilmerson!! Sheriff Posley!” BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM.

He walked along the length of the porch and looked into every window. He couldn’t see much, and he saw no sign of activity within. He knocked on a few windows, gently, careful not to break the old floating glass. After making his way around the left corner of the house, he noticed the side door was cracked open. A rickety screen door hung crooked in the opening, its bottom board having carved a gentle arc into the porch floor.

He peered into the kitchen, cupping his hands and yelling for a response, receiving none. Becoming exasperated, and frustrated by the passage of time, he walked quickly back up to the front, giving two more loud knocks on the front door.

He walked along the porch, staring out into the yard as he went, turning the corner and down the other side porch and down the steps into the back yard. He walked around back, now on ground level and having to reach up to knock on the back porch windows as he went. He didn’t bother yelling out anymore. He had made his presence known. There was no noise of any kind, no drone of an air conditioner which should have been running at this time of day with the windows all closed up.

Not wanting to waste any more time, he walked around the house, calling out Bob Kilmerson’s name a few times. He then walked quickly back to his car, calling in for the Kilmerson phone number as he walked. A moment later the response came back and he punched the number into his cell phone. He reached into his car and grabbed his gloves and walked back through the yard and up the steps and up to the front door.

He knocked, BAM-BAM-BAM and yelled, “Bob Kilmerson, open the door! It’s Sheriff Posley! Come to the door!!” BAM-BAM-BAM. He stood perfectly still and listened, hearing nothing from inside. He pushed the SEND button on his phone and waited a moment. The phone inside the house rang in response, and rang again, and again. He disconnected the call.

Looking around into the yard and out onto the road, the sheriff pulled on his gloves. He grabbed the doorknob gently and tried to turn it. It was locked and wouldn’t give. He leaned over, concentrating, and tried with a little more force to turn it, pushing gently as he did so. The door was secured shut.

Straightening up, he let out a loud breath. He stared at the doorknob, biting gently on the inside of his lip and turning things over in his mind. He called in on his radio to make sure a deputy had been sent out to Elsie’s. He then requested for more help to be sent to form a wide perimeter and scour the area for the boy. The response came back that volunteers were already on their way, having heard through various channels that Elsie’s little boy was missing.

He nodded his head, thinking. He turned his glance toward the yard again and back to the

house, reaching up to rub his chin. He turned and walked again to the side of the house with the open door. As he approached it for the second time, he yelled out again, “It’s Sheriff Posley, Bob! Just here to check in with you! Are you home?”

He walked up to the screen door and listened again. No sound. He grabbed the handle and slowly pulled the door open, leaning in to look around.

He yelled yet again, “Bob!! Sheriff Posley! I’m coming in!Looking back once more toward the road, he disappeared into the house.

A few minutes later, the sheriff exited from inside the house back out onto the porch through the same door, closing it back the way it had been. He had worked as quickly as possible, looking into every room, every closet, under every bed. The house was large but sparsely furnished and unkempt.

He had peeked into the attic by standing on a chair. He had gone quickly down into the basement. It was clear that Bob Kilmerson was not at home. It was also clear that Bob’s only way to get anywhere of reasonable distance was still parked in the driveway. Unless someone had come by and picked him up. Or unless he was out in the detached garage.

Sheriff Posley moved quickly to the garage. It was hardly of much use anymore, with its one overhead door having fallen off its track years before. One cursory look through the opening told the sheriff that Bob wasn’t in there.

The sheriff took one last walk around the house, circling around the outside edge of the yard and looking as far as he could out into the cotton fields. He wondered if Bob had seen the sheriff’s car coming up the road and had run out into the fields. He quickly dismissed that idea and returned to his car, got in, closed the door and sat there, thinking.

He figured that if Bob wasn’t off with someone, and he couldn’t think of who that would be with the man being such a recluse, then he must have gone on one of his walks. It was getting late in the day, though. He had seen Bob on his walks before, and it always seemed to be earlier than this. He called in to see if anyone had found Thomas. Any sign at all? With the expected negative response, he decided to drive down the road along the river himself. Maybe Bob was walking, or maybe Sheriff Posley would see for himself some sign of the boy.

Elsie didn’t realize how many searchers had been out. Within an hour of Sheriff Posely first calling it in, even more had gone out, leaving their jobs and their errands undone. People had heard that a deputy had been called out to Elsie’s place, and that her little Thomas was missing, and that her cousin Julia was on her way out there. The day was getting on. Some folks had dropped their activities and had driven out and parked along the road nearby and gone out into the fields. Some had just stayed to the roads and ditches. Salem Wells had been a well-liked man, a much respected man, and Elsie was in trouble. They would surely try and help her.

Searchers would also be out to the river. Elsie hated that the river was able to take her little boy under and kill him. Thomas couldn’t swim, and the water was muddy. Couldn’t see more than a couple of inches down into it. Thomas could have been playing along the bank and slid right in and…

“Oh Lord, have mercy,” she cried quietly. “Have mercy on little Thomas. Let him be found, Jesus. Have mercy on me, oh Lord.” A few giant sobs escaped out from her suddenly-heaving chest and spilled more tears down her face and neck and onto her collar.

By early evening, the light was dimming and the bugs had come out in full force. Not just the ones making themselves seen, flying around and landing on things and gathering near outdoor light bulbs, but also the ones out in the fields and tree lines, singing or scratching their leg songs, or whatever they do. Elsie had lived here all of her life, right here in this shack, and she loved the sounds of the bugs in summer. Except tonight she wanted to hear Thomas, and the bugs were so loud. If he were out there crying, they would outdo him.

Elsie wanted to fight off the approaching shadows. She wanted the fields to be suddenly stripped of their crops, and the river dried up, and the buildings lifted up from their foundations, exposing all of their contents. She wanted a full view in every direction for as far as needed to find her little Thomas.

Down by the river, one of the searchers saw something in the mud. He waved the beam of light back over it. It was a shoe. A small tennis shoe, it looked like. He walked over and picked it up. Yes, it was. He wiped some of the dried up mud off of it. He saw white with blue stripes all over, just like the sheriff said Thomas was wearing that morning when he disappeared.

“Clyde, come ‘ere!” he yelled to his buddy. “It’s a shoe! Hurry!”

Clyde, the other searcher, ran down the bank. He waved his light around frantically, first on the shoe and then all around the surrounding ground.

“Oh good Lord, Russ, it is. It’s got to be his.”

Clyde scanned out over the slow moving water with his flashlight. He then moved it back over

the surface, more slowly and methodically. It was a smooth, lazily roiling solid surface of brown. He looked straight down at the very edge of the river closest to him. The bank was rather steep, not much grass, mostly muck. There was nothing below him in the water that he could see. He knelt down as carefully as he could, for his footing was unsure. Russ did the same. They reached down into the water, almost up to their shoulders, waving around blindly in the dark muddy water, hoping to feel something. The river was slow but strong. It sought to pull them in the more they reached into it.

“Feel anything, Clyde?” Russ asked.

“No, nothing. Nothing but mud and water. God, help us.”

Russ sighed deeply, the sound almost complementing the slow sigh of the river. “I’d go in, Clyde, but I ain’t that good a swimmer.”

“We’ll get the sheriff on the radio right quick,” Clyde responded, still waving one arm in the water. “They’ll get divers in here, maybe drag it. You go on up to the car and call in, and I’ll keep looking.”

“All right.”

Russ rose up off his haunches and started back up the bank toward the car. Both men felt quiet pangs of guilt for not going in, though it was the sensible decision. It was dark, and neither man could swim very well. Had the lost boy been one of their own, however, they would have gone in, and they knew it.

Clyde waved around in the water some more, as deeply as he dared. Thomas could have easily

slipped down the steep bank into the water and disappeared. Clyde sat back up and scanned the river some more, then down at his feet. He could make out where he and Russ had positioned themselves in the muck when reaching into the water, but he wasn’t trained in any kind of tracking or investigating, being just a volunteer searcher. He decided to back away and let the experts come and do any further exploring. He and Russ had stepped around enough, making holes here and there in haphazard patterns, their boots caked with the heavy wet mud.

He could hear Russ back up at the car talking somberly into the phone, giving location, describing the shoe. He looked downriver with his light, sending the beam out into the middle and over to the other shore, not that far away. Back to the near side. Up and down the bank. Back out into the river. A few branches reached out from the bank downriver, but nothing appeared caught on them. He turned and looked upriver. He stuck the flashlight straight out from him and peered into the light, straight across and into the field beyond, the beam growing wide and dissipating into a useless opaque glow not much distance past the far bank.

He backed up the hill toward the car, making more prints in the mud as he went. The holes he made grew shallower as the soil beneath grew firmer away from the river. About halfway back up he stepped on something. He stopped and reached down to pick it up. Something made of cloth. He thought it might be another shoe, though it seemed too pliable. Holding it in the light, he saw that it was a hat. A baseball cap. He turned it around in the light. It read, “Kilmerson Hardware.”

The night seemed especially dark to Elsie, the blackness out beyond the reach of her porch light like a wall. She sat in her chair, on her porch, her largeness a mere dot on the wide earth, her house a dimly lighted island in a great expanse of nothing.

As the night moved along, Elsie felt her life leave her. What remained was just a shell, a covering, and would remain so. Her eyes, staring ahead, were those of a stranger. She had worked her way through so many Kleenexes, and then napkins, that Julia had finally gotten her a sturdy dish towel. Her thick arms and hands, grasping the now mangled dish towel on her lap, were not her own.

As for Julia, she had pulled a chair up beside her dear cousin, and sat leaning against her, her arms alternately around her and at her own side. She loved Thomas, too. Not as a mama or grandmama, but all the same she loved him. Her voice sometimes prayed in the early morning darkness, and sometimes she sobbed gently, trying to restrain herself. Her thin shoulders would bob up and down when she did so.

The sheriff called on the telephone. Julia went inside to answer.

Tell Elsie we don’t have anything yet, but please know everyone is out looking. We’ve got some dogs we’re gonna take out. They’re world class.”

A soft “Thank you,” was all Julia could muster. She set the phone down and sought for her chair back on the porch and sat down beside Elsie again. Both of them were tired. The night had brought little relief from the heat the day had brought. Elsie’s neck glistened. Julia had found a fan at some point and would wave it intermittently at herself and at her cousin. A glass of water she had poured earlier for Elsie remained full, resting on the porch railing.

Within 15 minutes, the sheriff had driven back out and was standing on the porch beside them. “Thought maybe I could do better than a phone call.”

Elsie sat, silent. Julia managed a soft, “Thank you, Sheriff.”

Sheriff Posley took off his hat and fidgeted with it. He looked out at the yard, and then at the woman before him, and was utterly unable to tell her about the shoe or hat. He had planned to, but he couldn’t.

“Miss Elsie, I believe we will find him. I do.”

Elsie didn’t respond.

“It’s likely he just wandered off this morning when you were inside and somehow got turned around…”

“They’d a found him by now, Sheriff…”

“Well now, not necessarily. I’ve known of cases where…”

“You check Bob Kilmerson’s place? What’d he say?” Elsie looked up at the sheriff, her voice strong for once.

“Yes. We’ve got men over there right now looking around. Have been all day.”

“Looking around? You ought a turn that place upside down! That man grab my Thomas, I swear, I’m gonna…”

“Elsie, we are looking everywhere, including Bob Kilmerson’s. First place I went after I checked along the river.”

“What he say?! You ought a put that gun there to his head’s what you ought a do! Then he’d

tell you ever’thing.

“Elsie, I can’t do that.” He didn’t want to tell Elsie that Bob hadn’t been at home, that no one knew where he was.

“We’re looking everywhere. You know, just so you know, Mr. Kilmerson didn’t do time for child molesting… I know people say he did, but that’s just a rumor.”

“What he do then? That’s what I heard.”

“It was an assault charge, and it was against a minor, but it was an older teenager, and it wasn’t a sexual assault. By the law, technically, he did it. That’s why he went to Parchman.”

“Why you go over there so fast then, if you don’t think he did nothin’?”

“’Because everyone else automatically thinks he did. Most people’d want me to just go over there and take him to jail and throw away the key. Maybe I should, just for his own good.”

“Sheriff, don’t come around here havin’ no pity for Bob Kilmerson.”

“I’m not, Elsie.”

“What’d he say when you went over there? He go walking today? He seen my little Thomas?” Elsie looked up at the sheriff.

The sheriff looked back. “He didn’t say nothing, Elsie. He don’t know nothing.” The second sentence seemed necessary in order to explain the first sentence.

“Well, I don’t know then. He don’t seem to care what people think about what he did.”

A picture of Thomas face down in the river suddenly took over Elsie’s thinking. She dropped her head into her hands, “Oh, Jesus. Oh Lord.”

Finding the shoe and the hat so near each other changed the strategy of those who searched. Sheriff Posley left again, leaving only Julia and a deputy behind with Elsie. Elsie wrestled to keep away the picture of her little boy in the water.

At times, it seemed as if she had no thoughts at all. To rest, her harried mind detached itself completely. No reason escaped from it, no details, only an all-consuming, hated grief.

Those working out in the dark branched into camps working two possible scenarios, drowning or kidnapping. One group kept on the hunt for the little boy, at the same time searching for the local ex-felon who had suddenly disappeared as well. The other group consisted of those who had the needed expertise and equipment to begin the task of dragging the river.

Elsie sat still in her chair and looked out into the yard. Just then something moved in her peripheral vision. She turned her head to look, as a man appeared out of the cotton and stole across her yard. She had seen him somewhere before. Out on the road. He wasn’t a searcher.

She watched in growing horror and silence as he came to the porch and walked up the steps. It was Bob Kilmerson. Elsie couldn’t move. She noticed that she was alone with him, the deputy and Julia having left the porch.

The bugs grew suddenly quiet. Kilmerson stopped before her, looking out into the fields before them, and then down at her in her chair. He looked hard at her, taking off his hat and tilting his head a little.

Elsie surprised herself by saying, “Why, Bob? Why you so bad?”

Kilmerson didn’t answer, but just looked at her and held his hat in his hands, running a finger or two over the stitching. He finally sighed and looked straight down at his hat. He shifted his weight and looked back up at her.

“Miss Elsie, I didn’t hurt your boy. I didn’t do it.” He moved his head back and forth gently as he spoke.

Elsie closed her eyes and thought to call out for Julia.

His voice continued, “That time way back yonder with that teenage boy – he was an animal. I was just plain defending myself, but no one believes it. Could a been anyone he went after, ‘cept it was me. No one believes it!”

“I don’t neither! Get on off this porch!” Elsie wanted to move but couldn’t.

Kilmerson didn’t move. “You gotta know,” he spoke again, “just for your own good. I ain’t done nothing.”

Elsie reached up to hit him, but instead of hitting him she asked for his hat.

“Gimme your hat so I can prove you done come around here bothering me. Them dogs’ll find you! Gimme that hat, I say!”

“This hat won’t help nothin’.” He looked down at the porch floor.

Just then a light appeared way out on the gravel drive and silhouetted Bob Kilmerson against it.

Seeing it, he put his hat back on and backed away slowly, whispering back at her, “I ain’t done it. He then turned and descended the steps and walked quickly into the yard, growing smaller in the coming light.

The light grew stronger and Kilmerson disappeared into it. Elsie opened her eyes to see a car coming toward her into the yard. She had drifted off. Julia sat beside her still, her head sagged to one side, her own attempt to stay alert having flagged as well. Elsie felt lost, beyond anxiety, just lost. She looked to see who was getting out of the car in front of her.

It was only the deputy who had been on watch. He had decided to drive out into the adjacent roads, searching with his headlights and flashlight, but to no avail. He walked slowly up to the porch and climbed the steps, seating himself in a chair. He had only the will to murmur, “Elsie,” as he took his seat.

Elsie straightened herself a bit and looked around. The thought occurred that at least it wasn’t cold. She heard the deputy’s phone go off, and heard him answer it dutifully with a resigned, “Yeah.” A loud sounding voice came over the other end, so loud that Elsie could hear the voice, though not make out the words. It was a brief, staccato burst of language, the termination of which caused the deputy to shoot his legs out and sit bolt upright, instantly and in one snap, quite alert.

“They what?!!” His voice was sharp, and he didn’t wait for the answer to finish before turning to Elsie and loudly and clearly proclaiming, “They found him! They found him! He’s okay! Elsie, he’s okay!!”

The words seemed to bounce right off of Elsie at first. She looked down, breathing quickly to ensure she hadn’t dozed again. She turned her head back to the deputy and burst out instinctively, her voice a barky croak from lack of recent use, “Thomas?” Perhaps it was Kilmerson, and not Thomas, whom they had found.

The deputy stared at her and frowned, that possibility hitting him too. He stood up and said into the phone, “Repeat that, Sheriff. They found Thomas?”

He was still for a moment as the chatter resumed on the other end of the phone, followed by a quick fist pump and a swiveled turn to Elsie with a thumbs up and a smile that engulfed him from the neck up. His head nodded rapidly. He loudly whispered “Yes!” as he received the confirmation.

Elsie sagged. She wanted to jump off the porch and run through the yard, to wherever they had found him, but she sagged. She wondered where and how they found him. Who found him.

She felt herself standing up and raising her arms, her palms up at angles, her mouth dropping open as it smiled. She looked at Julia and then she looked up through the porch ceiling, as if staring right into the heart of heaven. She wished that she could. She wished that she could reach up and throw her arms around the Lord Jesus Himself.

A slowly building siren of emotion came out, “Aaaaaaaaahhhhh….” building into a crescendo, and falling again as more breath was needed. Again, “Aaaaaaaaahhhhh….” as the full brunt of the news hit her. She sobbed, her large, full frame in motion. Her hands retreated to her face and she yelled, “Thank you, oh Lord!”

She heard Julia, also now standing, “Thank you, Jesus!! Thank you, Jesus!! Oh, thank you, Lord!!” as her own hands had gone automatically to her mouth in prayerful salute. The deputy was still getting details over the phone, a finger over his ear as he strained to listen over the two women. They turned and hugged each other and wept loudly.

At the conclusion of the call, he hung up and filled them in on the details that he knew. A search dog had lit on a scent where the shoe had been found. There had been some running up and down the road for a bit, and then some failed forays into the opposite cotton field at several locations. Then, along a tree line, edging a field, they had found him. Huddled up next to a fallen tree. Elsie started crying again, muffled at first and then loudly, not caring how loudly, her heart exultant and her mind at ease.

She knew she would want to hear these details again, at another time, but all she could grasp at this moment was that her baby was alive and that she wanted to hold him. She grabbed onto Julia again with one arm and waved the other in the air. She nodded her head up and down. She loved Julia. She loved the deputy, and the sheriff, and she loved the searchers.

By early light of the new day, a gathering of adults sat happily together on the front porch, surrounding a chatty Elsie and equally verbose Julia. There were giggles and cackles and even a few guffaws. Thomas stood before them, his clothes messy, trying to stifle a yawn, but unsuccessfully. Tillie rested on her belly at Thomas’s feet, her front paws out straight before her, her head up, looking nowhere in particular, but seeming to pay attention. As much as he could, the boy felt deep within that this must be an important moment. He tried not to fidget.

“Now Thomas, you just tell me and your Aunt Julia and Sheriff Posley and these nice deputies exactly what happened, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am, I will.” He looked up and down the line and then settled his eyes on Elsie.

“Well, to start with, where did you go… before you ended up in that field for the night?”

“I went to the river to try and catch me a fish. Am I in trouble, Mama?”

“To the river? Young man, that is the last place you better ever be going without your…,” she caught herself as Thomas’s bottom lip swelled out and water filled his eyes. His hand moved to wipe away tears before they fell.

Elsie redirected, “Honey, you’re not in trouble but you could a been! That river is dangerous! Come here, sweetie!” She pulled Thomas to her and held him as he sobbed a bit. Julia reached over and patted his back gently with one hand, pinching the tears from her own eyes with the other. “Oh, my baby boy,” Elsie cooed. “You be a big boy, honey.” His head nodded up and down against her belly, and then he stood back in position.

“Okay, so you wanted to catch a fish?”

“Yes, ma’am, I did.”

“Well first, honey, back up and start in the bedroom while Mama was resting her eyes and you were napping. What got you to the river to even think about catching a fish?”

“I saw a commercial, Mama, where this boy was fishing with his daddy, so I decided since I didn’t have no daddy I could go by myself.” Thomas glanced at the sheriff and deputies, wondering suddenly what a man might think of him.

The words “Didn’t have no daddy” pierced Elsie. It was a deep cistern that needed cleaning, but not today.

“Honey, you still need an adult to go to the river, baby… so you were layin’ in the bed and you started thinking about that commercial?”

“Yes, ma’am, I did. And I wasn’t sleepy so I got up and clicked on the TV to see if I could watch it again, but it didn’t come on.”

“Okay, so…”

“So I sat on the couch a little and tried to look at books. I got my pictures out and tried to color, but I just kept thinking about that boy fishing.”

“Didn’t none of us see any colorin’ pictures, Thomas, when we were lookin’ for you.”

“I put ‘em back up in the drawer, Mama, like you always told me to.”


“You were snoring, Mama, so I knew you was tired. I didn’t want to wake you up.”

“You could a woke me up, honey.”

“I didn’t want to, but I wanted to go fishing real bad.”

Elsie sat back in her chair, somewhat impressed at this newfound determination on the part of her grandson. She smiled a little and said, “Go on, baby.”

He then recounted how he had gone out on the porch and had started petting Tillie. Hearing her

name, the dog looked up at him from her watch at his feet. She closed her eyes in approval and readjusted her paws as he reached down and rubbed her head.

Thomas continued. He had known that he was not to leave the porch, ever, if Elsie was

sleeping, but when Tillie had run off after something in the yard, and he had run after her. He had caught a glimpse of the road, the road that he knew led to the river, the river that he knew had fish in it. He had come back up onto the porch and come inside to check again that Elsie was still asleep, and then he had gone to the river, Tillie with him.

The boy’s resolve turned suddenly against Elsie as she realized just what that determination could lead to. She wished suddenly for Salem to be present, or that the boy’s daddy had been a good man like Salem and that he was here. Here with her and Thomas instead of absent, a 45 minute drive away, sitting behind bars until long after Thomas would be a man himself. She closed her eyes and sighed, remembering Thomas’s daddy, himself as a boy, playing on this very porch and in this very yard surrounding her.

Then the sheriff said, “So, did you see any fish in the river? I’m glad you didn’t fall in!”

“Well, I didn’t see no fish. The man grabbed me.”

The adults sat up in unison.

“What man, Thomas?” Elsie asked urgently.

“That man you don’t like. The one who walks down the road sometimes. He grabbed me and started yelling at me.”

“Slow down now, honey…”

“Yes,” the sheriff interrupted, “we got to hear this part slow, Thomas.”

The boy was silent. He bit his lip but didn’t talk. No one spoke.

“Okay,” Thomas eventually answered, looking out over the yard with a little shrug.

The sheriff looked at his deputies and continued, “So you were standing there by the river, trying to see some fish…”

“Yes, sir, but I didn’t see none ‘cause the water was all dirty.

“And Bob… I mean… the man, he grabbed you?”

“Yes, sir. Well no, he started yelling at me first.”

“Yelling what at you, honey?” Elsie asked.

I was standing there wondering where all the fish was and how do they see in all that dirty water to know where they should be going. Do they look like they do on TV, Mama?”

“I don’t rightly know, Thomas. What did the man do?”

I heard him yelling at me to get away from the water.”

“Where was he?” the sheriff asked.

“He was up on the road behind me when he was yelling, but when I turned around he was

running down the hill at me.”

Thomas looked down at his feet and started playing with his hands.

“Runnin’ at you?” Julia asked.

“Yes, ma’am, right at me. I got scared. Tillie saw him, too, and started running up at him from

down the river a little. She was growling and yapping at him. I didn’t have nowhere to run to. I knew my mama didn’t like him.”

“What was he yelling?” the sheriff asked. “What were his words? Can you remember?”

“Yes, sir, I remember.” He kept yelling, ‘Get away from there! Get away from there!’ Over and over. Then he got to me, so I sat down cause he started grabbing me, and I didn’t want him to be grabbing me so I balled up and kept pulling away, but he bear hugged me, and I started yelling to let me go.”

All of the adults were silent.

“He didn’t say nothing to me after that, but he carried me up the hill to the road. Tillie was biting his leg, and he was yelling at her to stop. I did hear that. I started kicking and trying to scratch him. I knocked his hat off!”

Thomas’s eyes grew wide with the retelling, his head turning just a little as he looked down at the porch floor.

“And you lost your shoe,” the sheriff said.

“No, sir. I didn’t lose it. It fell off when I was kicking.”

“Well, what happened after that?”

He set me down up by the road and said to stay there. Then he kicked Tillie till she let go of him. He said that he was gonna go back down and get my shoe and take me home. Asked me where my mama was or did she know I was down there by the river. Said I could a fallen in.”

“What did you say?” Elsie asked.

“I didn’t say nothing… I waited for him to go back down there, and then I took off running across the road into the cotton to hide.”

“Did he come looking for you?” Sheriff Posely asked.

“I never did see him after that. I ran though, and got real low down on the ground so he couldn’t see me.”

Thomas reached down and petted Tillie’s head again.

“Tillie followed him and was barking some and growling back down there, but I just hid myself. She come up and found me a little later. Maybe she run him off.”

It was silent. Elsie rocked back slightly in her chair. She looked out through the yard and saw in her mind the road that led down by the river. She knew the bank of the river from years before. She pictured the late afternoon just gone by, with her and Julia still on the porch and Thomas crouched down in the early summer cotton. A slight breeze blew in from the yard, whispering a little.

“He might have my shoe,” Thomas offered.

Elsie started in, “So that’s all he did, then, was bear hug you and carry you up to the road? Just grabbed you around like this?” Elsie made a bear hugging motion.

“Yes, ma’am, kinda like that, ‘cept I was scared. I couldn’t slip out a him grabbing me. I thought he was gonna hurt me.”

Thomas’s eyes grew a little red and swollen and started to pool with tears.

“Come here, baby, let me hug you,” Elsie reached out to him. Thomas ran to her and climbed up into her arms and onto her lap, burying his face into her shoulder. He sobbed a little.

Muffled, his voice came out, “Mama, that man gonna come ‘round here looking for me?”

“No, baby.” Elsie rocked him a little and cradled the back of his head in her hand, leaning her head against his. “No. He ain’t gonna come around here. Don’t you worry.”

Somewhere off past the fields a dog barked. Tillie’s head rose up. She sniffed the air.

Thomas perked up and looked out into the yard. “Mama, can I play now?”

Elsie looked at the sheriff, who nodded his head silently with a little shrug of his shoulders. He reached over and patted Thomas on the head.

“Thanks, Thomas. You did real good today. I’m glad you’re safe, and I don’t want you near that river no more, you hear?”

“Yes, sir,” Thomas responded.

“And another thing,” the sheriff continued, “you want to go fishing, you have Miss Elsie call me up and I’ll take you. And it’ll be better fishing than that old river.”

“Yes, sir.”

By late afternoon of that day, Bob Kilmerson’s body was found by a search team, a few hundred yards downriver from where it was presumed he had fallen in. Had the locals known that he had died trying to save a boy, they might have accepted him as their own. Of course, Tillie had seen it, but she couldn’t understand it for herself, much less add a word recounting it to the adults gathered there on her porch.

The man had redeemed his own broken life. He had been the one to happen by, and he had been the one to take notice of a little boy on the edge of the river. He had been the one to pull the boy back. No one else had done it. Then he had gone to retrieve his hat and the boy’s shoe, and just for curiosity, had gone back to that same edge and had peered into the dark water. And he had gotten too close and had fallen in.

Tillie had seen the man, unable to swim, thrashing and sinking in the muddy depths of the slow river. She had barked at him, and then she had followed her master’s scent into the cotton to hide with him.

A few days later, amidst the still joyful reunion of a grandmother and her little boy, after some meals of the boy’s favorite foods, and after some other visitors had come and gone, Sheriff Posley drove into the driveway. He pulled a chair from the trunk of his car and came up on the porch and sat by Elsie. Thomas played on the end of the porch, pushing some toy cars back and forth, making vroom noises, crashing the cars against each other and against the corner post.

“Salem sure would be proud of you, Elsie,” the sheriff crooned as he sat down. “He sure would be.

He leaned back and patted the arms of his chair with his hands. “And he’d be proud of you too, Thomas, he said to the little boy.

“I think he is, Sheriff,” Elsie smiled.

“You’re right, he is.” The sheriff smiled at her, a twinkle in his eyes. His lips pursed.

Elsie looked toward Thomas, “And there ain’t gon’ be no more running off by Mr. Thomas, is there?”

A return volley of more vroom noises and a muted, “No, ma’am,” came back. A loud crash of a toy car hitting the corner post followed.

The same toy car soon careened out into the yard, where it rolled over and over and ended up on its top in the tall grass. Thomas watched it until it lay still. 

“I ain’t never gon’ leave my mama again.”

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A Time To Say Goodbye

From Final Days With Fran and Millie…

It had been many years, probably fourteen at least, maybe fifteen, since Victor had been back to the place of his birth, the place of his childhood. His sister, Millie, had never left. His other sister, Fran, had left as a young woman, married, had children, lost her children, lost her husband, moved back in with Millie, and now lay dying in the back bedroom. Victor was coming back now, of his own will, and at Millie’s specific request. He had received the letter two weeks before:

My dear brother, Victor,

Frances is dying. Will you please come see her and say your goodbyes? Stay as long as you can. I remain,

Your faithful sister,



Victor’s hometown was set in the middle of Tyler County, not that it mattered the name of the county, nor the name of the town. It could have been any town, as long as it was small, and it could have been any county, as long as it was rural, and in the South. Somewhere in the South. The town happened to go by the name of Cophelia.

He had been born in the very house he sought out, 78 years before, between his older sister, Frances Camilla Stevelin, and his younger sister, Elizabeth Mildred Stevelin. He lived his life right between the two of them, one a year older and one a year younger, the two sisters as different as night is from day, as some say. He was kind of twilight in nature himself, or perhaps mid morning, depending on the day.

Sometimes he wondered why there was no acceptable word in English for mid morning. Twilight worked fantastically well for its time of day. Not still daylight, yet not nighttime either. What term could be acceptable for not still morning, but not yet done with the morning ideal – the sunlight still filtered – if it shined at all? He wondered this, only due to his profession giving him the luxury and time to wonder such things. He was a professor of English Literature at a small Southern university, or he had been at one time. Now retired, he was just Victor.

How he arrived back at the house he grew up in on Larsen Lane, in Cophelia, does not really have much pertinence. Some 78 year old males are still able to negotiate time and space well enough to get from one point to another. Millie hadn’t given that much thought – did she ever give much thought? – when she wrote her urgent plea for him to come home. Victor hadn’t thought about his boyhood home road being named Larsen Road in a long time. When he had first realized as a lad that he had an interest in words, and the etymology of words, he wondered how a Swedish name like Larsen had snuck into Cophelia. He knew no Swedes there. Nothing else of Swedish influenced moniker lay within the town boundaries that he knew of.

There the house sat, on Larsen Lane, a dead end road that ended in a bean field currently. When Victor was a child it had ended in a cotton field, and he remembered hearing as a child that his own great grandfather had at one time owned that very cotton field at the end of the road. He wondered if his great grandfather, either as a boy or as a man, perhaps as an old man, had ever walked the same steps he walked, ever trod soil now covered over with pavement that was now itself even grown old.

There the house sat, but it was now encased with bars. Bars everywhere. Over each window rested black iron bars, vertical bars, such as one sees at an old fashioned jail. He noticed the houses surrounding the one he sought out were now decrepit. A general sense of neglect and disrepair lay heavily over the somber stillness, as a fog covering a field  on a cool morning.

Rooftops sunk in, cars parked in yards, grass no longer grass, but patches of collected weeds, shocks of green milkweek and crabgrass here and there. Dirt for ground cover. His father, Felix, hunched over an old contraption of a fertilizer spreader, dressed in thin cotton coveralls and a broad brimmed hat, meticulously doling out nutrients to an accepting and luxurious carpet of thatch… his father carefully doing that all of a sudden appeared in his mind, so many years before. What would his father think of this? Where had the grass his fathered nourished gone to? Were these patches the bastard descendants of that lovely sod of his father’s virile years?

Victor stopped on the cracked and buckled sidewalk for a few moments, taking it all in. This was all part of coming home to Fran, and to Millie.

The roar of a large car came to him from down at the corner where Larsen Lane intersected with Hobbs Street. Victor had always enjoyed that name, Hobbs. He had wondered if a Mr. Larsen had known a Mr. Hobbs, and had Mr. Hobbs been English, and had they ever compared notes of their respective old countries.

The car came nearer. Ancillary to the sound of the car came the sound of the music within the car. Victor had heard such music before, once. In a not very nice neighborhood in a large city. He had escaped that music before – he did not agree with it being termed music at any rate – and here it had come and found him again. He watched the car, a long white Cadillac proceeding toward him, angling this way and that, as if the pavement under the tires was full of small breakers.

The car slowed, almost imperceptibly, as it approached him there on the sidewalk and turned in front of him, right into the driveway next to his boyhood home. He remembered his uncle driving into that very driveway years before, probably soon after World War II, and in fact that uncle – it was Uncle Red – had driven a Cadillac, too. Though he looked nothing like this man driving this Cadillac.

The car engine turned off, but the music continued for a moment longer. Seemingly louder now that the engine no longer accompanied.

“Rifella!” The music continued still, a quite conspicuous rhythm going nowhere and repeating itself.

“RIFELLA!!!” Victor saw the driver lean up inside the car and turn a knob to stop the music. The front window came down halfway; a puff of smoke, gray smoke on gray air, came out of the window.

“RIFELLA!! Get yo’ ass out here! Now, bitch!!!”

Victor didn’t know what to do. The Cadillac, and the man in the Cadillac yelling for whomever Rifella was, in a most inappropriate way, sat between him and his projected path to his own boyhood home. His boyhood home where Millie sat, undoubtedly in some overstuffed living room chair, if not in a wheelchair, and where his other sister Fran lay dying, probably in the back bedroom.

He wondered if Millie had heard this man yelling, and if Fran had. What if Fran had perished just at that moment, or a moment before, and her last vision as she floated up to glory was of her little brother standing flummoxed. Solitary and still as a statue of an old man – which he felt himself to be, particularly at that moment – and the last sounds she heard with what was left of mortal ear had been that dreadful, incessant beat of the music along with the verbal outburst of this man, who obviously had no manners to care about an old lady dying in the back bedroom of her childhood home.

Not knowing what to do, Victor did nothing but stare. The curiosity that incessantly germinated within him found good soil and sprang up suddenly. He leaned over a bit, not 12 feet from the open window of the car, and peered into it, looking over his glasses. He smelled the cigarette smoke, though the gray fog had since dissipated.

The man honked the horn now. BBBBRRRRRRRRRUUUUUUPPPPPPPPP. Immediately after the honk ended, the man turned in his seat and rose to get out of the car, seeing Victor standing there looking at him.

“What you looking at, old man?” he sneered, head immediately cocked.

Victor knew himself to be an old man, indeed, and if that wasn’t enough, he was a small man physically as well. How many times in his 78 years had he wished he could take care of a young punk like this?

“Excuse me, young man, I don’t mean to stare, certainly. I just wondered what year your car was, for I once had a Cadillac about that year…”

“Yeah, man, maybe you had a horse and buggy Cadillac, huh?” The young man sneered and bobbed his head up and down, evidently pleased with his self-perceived quick wit. Victor saw that he had tattoos up and down his skinny white neck, metal plastered over his front teeth. He did not look well, and he had wispy, old man type hair.

The man turned toward the house and yelled, “Rifella!! I ain’t waitin’!”

Then he turned back to Victor and grunted, “You ain’t got no ride now, huh, old man?”

Victor shot back, “You know… pardon me, but I didn’t catch your name.”

“My name’s Chase… like I chase the ladies, ya know?” The man squinted a little and searched restlessly through his pockets, looking for cigarettes, and finding none. He leaned back and reached into the open window of the car, grabbing the pack off of the dash.. He looked back at Victor.

“Oh?” Victor extended his hand. “Do you catch them, or do they run away?”

“Yeah, that’s good! You some kinda comedian or something?”

“Yes, I am, in fact! Vaudeville! Heh heh…”

Chase stared at him, ignorant.

“Mr. Chase,” Henry went on, undaunted, extending his hand to Chase. “I’m Victor Stevelin, and it’s very nice to meet you!” He smiled broadly.

Chase didn’t know what to do. How many years had it been – indeed, had it ever happened at all – that another man had extended an open hand to him and expressed pleasure in meeting him? He wasn’t sure how to shake someone’s hand in a regular and professional way.

“It’s okay, Chase. I won’t bite, I’m not after your girl, and I’m not gay. Now shake my hand.” It’s all Victor could think to say at that awkward moment with his hand having been offered and now hanging in limbo. He had heard that line sometime in a movie. He had hated the movie, but the line seemed apropos.

Chase slowly extended his hand to reach Victor’s, staring blankly at it as he stretched it out, watching it as a spectator, bemused, as if some strange force was raising it up on an invisible pillow.

Two people were watching the odd exchange between this small old man, dressed in a pressed cotton shirt with a light jacket and creased pants, and this virile, misdirected young man, he with the injected green ink in his neck, the sweaty, stretchy cotton tank top with a hole in the side, his pants hanging amply down below the halfway point of his buttocks, purposefully showing off his colorful underwear.

One person watching was Rifella, looking out of the upstairs bedroom window of the house where the Cadillac sat quiet in the driveway, the two men shaking hands, putting the finishing touches on her overadorned face. Fifteen gold and silver colored earrings, hoops and straight pins stuck into her flesh in various places. Hair as dark as black painted charcoal, cut and teased to all manner of misshapen sizes and angles. Eyelids pasted with some weird pinkish shade and eyes outlined with dark lines, grossly overdone with sharp edges. She glanced down, wondering who the old man was, her highest aspirations that evening being the desire to get very drunk and have Chase pay for it. She hoped he had gotten paid that afternoon, as he was supposed to. New job for him. Third one since they’d met five months before.

She yelled as she hurried down the steps and dodged an old chest freezer sitting unused – for a decade – in the front foyer… the word “foyer” being far too eloquent a term for what that room had devolved to…she yelled to no one in particular, for no one who stayed there cared, “Going out!” She didn’t know why she bothered yelling anything.

The other person watching was Millie, from the front window of the boyhood home of Victor, the house she had never left. She had seen that boy before, the one in the Cadillac, and she didn’t like him. She didn’t like his clothes or his car, and she certainly didn’t like Rifella, and she didn’t like the things she just knew they were doing when they went out. Things she felt ashamed of even thinking.

She spoke back through the room at Fran in the back room, not turning her eyes off of Chase. “Fran, Victor has arrived! Victor is here! Oh, Fran!”

Fran didn’t hear her. Fran didn’t hear anything anymore, at least not that Millie could tell. The nurse who came, Dr. McGill, the cleaning lady, all of them said Fran was past the days of hearing anything. Millie wondered why the doctor wasn’t anymore sure about that than the cleaning lady. Millie thought that as long as there was breath in her dear sister, there might be the chance that Fran could hear her.

“Did you hear me, sweetie? Victor is here! He’s over talking to that dangerous boy in the big car. And here comes that awful woman… oh my, that scrap of cloth she’s wearing for a dress!…”

Chase backed away a step and sat back down in the car, closing the door. He stared at Victor.

Victor half waved and wiggled his fingers at Chase and Rifella, who was letting herself into the other side of the car, fidgeting with the back of her hair.

“You get paid, Big C?” she asked. “You get paid today, baby?” She pulled down the inside visor and looked closely at her face, turning this way and that, inspecting. She slapped the visor back up and settled back.

“Let’s go, man!” she said, backhanding Chase on the arm with a firm, quick tap. The car started, the music and rhythm of percussion started, the rattling of speakers turned up too loud started.

The car backed up. Victor continued to wave.

Rifella flipped the visor down again and looked at her face. “Who’s the old man?”

Chase didn’t answer. He thought of the handshake moments before.

Rifella asked again, louder, “Who’s the old man, C?”

Chase put the car into drive, looking for all purposes as if he had met a ghost.

“Well, hell, baby, I don’t care anyway. You get paid today?”

The Cadillac moved away up Larsen Lane toward Hobbs, and Victor continued to wave.

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Gladys Stimpleton the Stalwart

Gladys stared out of the kitchen into the adjoining family room, the same view she had taken each night after supper dishes were done for the past 53 years. She stared over the 53-year-old counter and through the opening above it – an opening that had seemed quite modern 53 years before when her husband Oliver had thought of it. The same Oliver she had been married to for 55 years, the man who now sat in his chair before her, watching the evening news in the family room. The same family room which now seemed a misnomer, now that the family had dwindled down to just the two of them, Oliver and Gladys Stimpleton. Five children had come through that place, each a vital part of the Stimpleton family, and each now out of the house.

She sighed a little, but just a little. Her eyes scanned the counter, the sink and over to the table, leafless and small since Christmas dinner when the kids had last visited months before. Everything was in place, the dishes stacked back in the cupboard, the surfaces wiped down. The day’s laundry was done, maybe a few undershirts to fold, but she would do that at the couch. The kitchen was closed.

Walking through the doorway, she reached into the utility drawer and grabbed the scissors. She stood in the doorway and said, a bit loudly, “Oliver?” No reply. The TV was loud enough so he couldn’t hear her. Not that he wanted to, she allowed herself to think. She walked as silently as she could across the room to the back of Oliver’s chair, now in the partially reclined position, not so far back that he would see her approach, but far enough back for her to reach him with the scissors.

She slowed her pace and was soon within reach. She raised the scissors, her mouth a flat line of disapproval. Oliver’s wispy white hair stuck out barely beyond the headrest. What he had been thinking when he decided to grow his hair out at the age of 78 was beyond her. He had proudly announced one morning that he was growing a ponytail, and he had even talked a couple of times recently of getting a tattoo. It was as if midlife dreams had waited to hit Oliver in his mid-70’s. Perhaps, deep inside, he lamented the fact that the freewheeling hippie days had passed him by untouched.

He had also talked of getting a motorcycle, though this idea didn’t faze Gladys at all, since he was now too old and unsteady to ride one. To his great disappointment, he couldn’t even drive the car anymore, his fading vision degrading noticeably from year to year. But he could grow his hair out, he reasoned, and as he reclined in his chair at night, she could sneak in occasionally and cut it… after finishing the dishes and wiping down the counters, and before sitting on the couch and folding the remains of the day’s laundry. She could cut the wisps away, collecting them silently in her left hand as she cut with her right, and then throw them into the trash under the sink, the same trash that Oliver hardly ever saw, for he rarely bothered to throw things into it.

The next morning after he shaved, or perhaps the morning after that, he would emerge from the back bedroom and into the paneled family room, running his hands through his white hair and wonder, sometimes aloud, “Why isn’t my hair getting any longer? Gladys would respond that she thought it looked fine just the way it was.

On this particular night, after trimming Oliver the Wannabe Beatnik’s hair, she remembered the mail from the day before. Most of it would be ads, professionally marketed to their demographic, everything advertised as a must buy, produced so as to move both of them through the aches and pains, and losses, of advancing age as smoothly as possible. Gladys didn’t like these reminders of advancing age. Perhaps she didn’t want the rails into the unknown greased. Perhaps she wanted sticking points, places she could reach out and grab onto to slow the advancing years.

Most of the mail would go into the trash. All but the few bills, or from time to time a letter appearing from her remaining sister or from an old friend, though these appeared less often. The bills were always a simple affair, for whatever Oliver lacked as a man, he had never lacked the ability to provide money for the family, and he had put enough away, evidently, though she wasn’t sure where, for the two of them now. She would take a quick glance, place any bills beside Oliver, and throw the rest away.

Tonight, however, there was an official looking envelope included with the rest. She put her glasses on and held it up, sitting on the couch beside the few rumpled shirts as she read the return address. In bold letters, it read, “DAVIS COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE,” located in the county seat of Newburg, 17 miles away, a town Gladys hadn’t been to in years. She turned the envelope over in her hands, this strange missive among the Stimpleton mail. She examined the name. Sure enough, it was addressed to her: Gladys Stimpleton, in clear and exact letters. Not to Oliver, but to her.

“Department of Justice,she whispered to herself. An image of their grandson, Jason, flashed through her mind. He had been in a few scrapes over in Tylerville, but that had been a while back, and not too serious. A few community service hours had paid Jason’s debt in full.

Then she thought of a TV commercial she had seen a few times about unclaimed property of Davis County residents. She had been intrigued by the idea that somewhere in the Davis County jurisdiction there was some bit of property that might belong to her. Perhaps an old bit of money left over from her Grandpa Harris, the only one of her relatives she could imagine ever accumulating anything.

Checking her imaginations of instant wealth, she reread her name on the envelope and then examined the special instructions on how to open the envelope. She tore the perforated sides and along the length of the envelope, finally able to unfurl an official looking letter addressed to her with the words “Jury Summons, County of Davis County, South Carolina” running across the top.

It could just as well have been a letter from an unknown colony of aliens on a distant planet. Gladys simply did not know what to do with the information that she had been summoned – by an official government agency, nonetheless – to perform the civic duty of sitting on a jury. Her knees and legs felt suddenly weak. She had heard of jury duty. She had seen shows on television with juries being seated and making crucial life or death decisions, the defendants’ very lives supple clay in their hands. She couldn’t sit on a jury. She didn’t know how. She couldn’t do that. Did she have to?

She thought of her son, Gerald, who lived in Atlanta and had had some legal training. She would call him. He would know what her duties were. She walked back into the family room and sat on the edge of the couch in her normal clothes-folding area. She looked at Oscar, presently engrossed in a television detective drama. Every week, the same heroes solved various murders and abductions, always getting their man within the hour allotted, and always engaging in snappy dialogue while working in dark rooms. None of them ever got sick, or even had to go to the bathroom, or had to fold clothes or serve on jury duty. She started to fold the clothes, waiting for a commercial.

Finally, a commercial for wheelchairs came on. “Oscar?” No response. Having dealt with his advancing deafness for so long, she knew that the first time she called him never counted. Again, this time louder, she called, “Oscar?”


“Oscar, I have a letter telling me that I have jury duty!”

“What? Cherry pie? No thanks, I don’t think…”

“Not cherry pie… jury duty. I’m going to call Gerald.”

Is Gerald in trouble?” Oscar finally looked at her.

“No, he’s not in trouble.” Gladys reached over and grabbed the remote to mute the TV. Oscar’s hands rose up in objection, his brow furrowing a little.

“I’m calling Gerald about the jury duty letter I got in the mail.”

What do you mean? Let me see it.”

Gladys set the shirt down she was folding and walked back to the kitchen. She returned with the letter. Oscar was leaning way out of his chair, grunting, reaching for the remote now resting on the couch. Gladys placed the letter into his outstretched hand.

“Here, this letter. It came today. I thought Gerald might know what I should do.”

Oscar leaned back, examining the document, turning it over a couple of times and fumbling with his glasses.

“You can’t call him today… it’s Sunday and he’s still camping with the kids. You won’t get him.”

Gladys let her shoulders slump. “Well, I’ll call him Monday afternoon then, or late tomorrow after they get back.”

Oscar looked back at the letter. He pursed his lips, letting out staccato bursts of little half-whistles. He raised his eyebrows, looking over his glasses, now through them, now crinkling his nose, studying the letter.

“When did this come?” he asked.

“Just yesterday, I guess. It was in the mail, but I just saw it.” Oscar’s show was back on, but he ignored it. Once Gladys could get him onto something, he didn’t let go easily.

“Well, that is strange, dear, because it says here that you have to call this number on the evening of the 18th, between 7:00 and 9:00. Today is the 18th, isn’t it? This must have gotten hung up somewhere in the mail if it just came yesterday.”

Gladys took the letter back from Oscar and examined it more closely for herself.

“You mean, I have jury duty tomorrow? Tomorrow?! Over in Newburg?!!”

The gravity of the matter rushed over her. “How will I get there? What will I wear? What if I … can I get out of it? Do I have it or not? Why do I call the number? I’m calling Catherine.”

“Well, you call Catherine, and I’ll study this a bit more. Maybe you just call in to tell them you can’t make it and that’s the end of it, I don’t know.”

Oscar readjusted his glasses and adjusted his legs and studied the letter from the start of it, determined to figure it out. Gladys started toward the kitchen for the phone. She paused. “Aren’t I too old for jury duty, Oscar?”

Oscar, after 53 years, still didn’t like anything that could be interpreted as a loaded question. “You’re not old, Gladys, but there might be an age limit. Maybe they’ll tell you on the phone. Wouldn’t hurt to ask.”

In the kitchen, Gladys picked up the phone to call their oldest daughter, Catherine. She fought back nervous and sudden visions of sitting in a dimly lit courtroom, a hardened criminal with multiple scars on his face and fresh wounds on his body before her. How would she vote? Guilty or innocent? Her daughter’s prerecorded voice came over the phone. Gladys waited patiently and settled herself, “Catherine, it’s Mom. Call me when you get this. No emergency, but I have a question for you. It’s Sunday afternoon at 3:30. Love you.”

She set the phone down and stared into the empty sink, drumming her fingers on the counter. She picked the phone back up to call Jennifer, their second oldest daughter. She dialed the number and waited as it rang. What if the hardened criminal was found guilty, and her own vote was the one that sealed his fate, and he was sent to prison for life? What if one of his relatives or friends or fellow gang members decided to take out revenge on Gladys, or on one of her children or grandchildren? Or what if her address became known and the hardened criminal’s relative came right to her house? She pictured Oscar innocently opening the front door, television remote in hand, realizing too late the danger, and bravely placing his frail body in front of the attacker bursting through the door. Jenny’s friendly greeting interrupted her thoughts. Another message.

She then tried calling her remaining two children, Allan and Tommy. Neither one answered. Two more messages. She thought she might call up Jason, the one grandson of brief legal trouble. He was off at college now, but he might know what she could do.

“Gladys?” Oscar called from the family room.

“Yes?” Gladys hoped he had something good to say.

“I think this says you call this number, and you might not have to go at all. You have to call the number, though. Call it and see what they say.

He set the letter down, grabbed the remote, and returned to his program. “I bet they won’t make you come in if you don’t want to,” he added.

All the remaining afternoon, Gladys tried to concentrate on her usual activities, fighting off the distraction. She wondered what kind of trial she would have to adjudicate. She wondered if she could take notes during the trial. She wondered if she would know anyone else on the jury, but doubted that she would. She hoped one of her children would call.

At 7:00, Gladys was at the kitchen table, Oscar beside her. She waited until the clock on the microwave read 7:01, and then she dialed the number given on the letter. She had a pen and notepad ready to scribble down whatever the person on the other end told her. She had an extra pen beside the notepad in case the first one went dry. Her hand was shaking a little. Oscar reached over and rubbed her arm to calm her. She looked at him and he smiled at her, lifting his eyebrows and nodding slightly. She let out a deep breath.

“Welcome to the David County Courthouse. You have reached the Jury Selection Division of the Davis County Department of Justice.” Gladys hurriedly wrote, “Jry Sel Dvsion – Davis Cty Dep Jus” on the top of her notepad as she listened. “Please have your letter of jury service notification with you as you listen to the following instructions.” She placed her hand over the mouthpiece and said, “It’s a recording. I don’t think I’ll get to talk to any…” She stopped midsentence to write again. “If your jury panel number is not within the following range, you do not have to report to the Department of Justice building tomorrow morning, Monday, April 19th, and your jury service will not be needed. If your number is within the following range, you must report to the Department of Justice building tomorrow morning, Monday, April 19th, at 8:30 am. Reporting for jury duty does not necessarily mean that actual selection to a jury will occur. Failure to report…”

Gladys was writing furiously, “Dep Jus bldg. 8:30am Apr 19 # w’in range,” all the while trying to whisper to Oscar what she was hearing. It was becoming too much for her.

“Ohhh! What number!!? What number are they talking about, Oscar? Grab the letter! Is there a number

on there? I didn’t see any other number on there! I don’t know where the Justice Department is! How will I get there? Is there a number on there?!!! Here! Quiet!!” Oscar wasn’t making any noise, but he scanned the letter again for a number. He found it and pointed it out, holding it up in the air. Gladys was listening to the “failure to report” and waved him away.

“Not now, Oscar!” she whispered harshly.

Finally, the voice on the other end thanked Gladys for her time and attention to this important civic duty and invited her to push “9” if she wanted the instructions repeated. She did. She listened again, a bit calmer this time, reading over her notes as she did, glad that she could have the information repeated. She waved her fingers for Oscar to give her the letter. He did so, keeping his finger on the number he had found.

She carefully wrote down the range of numbers given, tracing over each number a couple of times for clarity of reading. She pushed “9” twice more and listened to everything over again each time. Finally, she hung up. Staring at the letter with her number on it, she slowly compared it to see if it fell within the range given. The range was 1200 – 1600. Her number was 1392. She heard herself gasp.

“Oscar.” She stared at her number, 1392. “Oscar, I have to go. I have to. Tomorrow. The recording said I have to go, even though I might not get selected, I have to go.”

Gladys called everyone she knew within 20 miles that night. Not one person could tell her exactly where the Department of Justice building was, and no one seemed to know if she would be allowed to take notes during jury duty. Some thought she could, but others said that it was not allowed. Marge, a former fellow choir member, thought it was illegal to take notes during jury duty. One friend, Selma, suggested to Gladys that she place a small notepad in her purse in case it was allowed, but if it wasn’t she wouldn’t have a large notepad to dispose of. Selma sounded so sure of herself, Gladys entertained the thought of asking Selma to go in her place, and when she mentioned the idea in a feigned joking manner, Selma laughed and said, “Honey, I’d do it, I would! I’d like to get some of those rapists and criminals put behind bars! But you know, when I went to show them my identification, I’d have to take yours… oh, my gosh! That’s it, Gladys!…”

“What, Selma?”

“That’s it! That’s why you got that letter. When you went to renew your license last month, that’s what put your name in the pool! You know, I think I’m going to go down and get my license renewed even before I have to, so I can get myself put on jury duty.”

Gladys remembered getting her license renewed the month before. She didn’t enjoy driving, as she once had, but had now become the family’s sole driver.

She hung up with Selma. She had wanted to ask Selma to drive her there in the morning, but couldn’t bring herself to ask. She had wanted to ask everyone she called if they could drive, but none offered, so she hadn’t asked.

That night, Gladys set her alarm for 5:00 the next morning. She had to be at the Department of Justice building by 8:30, so she worked backwards at Oscar’s suggestion. In the building by 8:30, so at the building by 8:00. So… parked by 7:30, in case she had to park far away. So… in Newburg by 7:00, in case she had to drive around to find parking. She didn’t know if she’d have to pay for parking, or how a parking meter worked, so she counted out $5.00 in change, gathering an assortment of nickels, dimes, and quarters. She counted out the total three times, and then threw in a 50 cent piece just in case.

She added an additional 15 minutes to figure out the meter. That meant arriving in Newburg by 6:45. She backed that up to 6:30 to allow time to stop and ask for directions if she needed to. She figured Monday morning traffic between home and Newburg could be heavy so she allowed 45 minutes to drive the 17 miles. That meant leaving the house at 6:00. One hour to get up and get ready would suffice.

She was in bed by 10:30, her jury duty clothes carefully selected and resting on the dresser. Her shoes were also at the ready. At 10:42, sleepless, she suddenly wondered if the car had enough gas to get to Newburg. Oscar was snoring peacefully, so she turned and adjusted her wake up time to 4:45 in case she had to get gas. She knew there was a 24 hour station somewhere out on the highway. She had heard about it from Selma.

She got up and checked her purse one more time for parking money, and to make sure she had enough money for gas. Then she thought about lunch. Was it provided?! Should she take something?! Was there a restaurant of some sort in the Department of Justice building? This led to a new flurry of activity to make a sandwich. She selected peanut butter and jelly, which usually only the grand kids ate. It would be okay to leave a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in her purse instead of a meat sandwich, which would spoil. She wrapped it in foil, and then realized that there might be some sort of metal detector at the front door of the Department of Justice, so she unwrapped it and placed it in a plastic bag. She stood in the darkened kitchen and wondered how many days she might have to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. She grabbed an apple from the refrigerator, washed it, and placed it in her purse as well. A fleeting thought that perhaps her leftover parking change would set off the metal detector gave her pause, but seeing the microwave reading 11:17 prompted her to give up that worry.

She returned to bed and tried to relax next to Oscar. She looked at the back of his head and his white hair, the hair that was so dark and full when they were young. She loved Oscar. She loved the way he had patted her arm and smiled when she was making the phone call. She loved the way he had left his television program to study the jury selection letter. She wished she could compartmentalize this whole thing the way he could. She knew that if he was the one going in the morning, he’d still be fast asleep now, and he wouldn’t have bothered to figure out parking change or lunch selection. He would have set his clock for 7:00, been out the door by 7:45, and been sitting in the courthouse, reading a newspaper, by 8:30. She wished he was the one going to jury duty over in Newburg in the morning.

Finally dozing off, Gladys dreamed of being in the jury box. The case was a murder trial. The defendant had killed the gas station attendant at the 24 hour gas station out on the new highway, and the judge was yelling at Gladys because she had gotten gas there that morning.

“You can’t solicit the same business where such a horrendous crime like this might have occurred!! I say ‘might’ because, as we all know, or should know…” he leaned toward Gladys, pointing at her,” that the man before us is innocent! Innocent, I say, until proven guilty!!” She looked around the courthouse in horror that she, Gladys Stimpleton, could have fouled up the case by getting gas that morning. She placed her hands instinctively up to her chest and asked, “But how could I have known? If I had run out of gas and not come here my spot would be empty and…”

“Silence!!” the judge yelled. “I’ll do the explaining around here!”

Gladys looked into the audience and there sat Oscar, shaking his head and holding his forefinger to his mouth to hush her. Beside him sat the man who had been murdered, alive! Gladys waved her arms frantically at the judge and pointed at the man next to Oscar. Surely the judge would see that he hadn’t been murdered after all! The judge looked at the man but then sneered at Gladys, saying, “Gladys Stimpleton, is that peanut butter and jelly on your fingers?” and to the dismay of everyone around, Gladys had made a mess of her sandwich and was suddenly trying to stuff it, half eaten, back into her purse. A ringing started up from the juror seated beside her, ringing that wouldn’t stop. Was it a cell phone? Gladys looked up at the judge, but he didn’t seem to mind the noise and was suddenly playing chess by himself. His robe had turned into a choir robe, the same type of robe that Gladys had worn when she sang in the choir. The ringing got louder and louder and… the man next to her was Oscar, lying in their bed, shaking her arm gently, “Gladys… your alarm!”

By the time Gladys came into the kitchen that morning at 6:17am, running seventeen minutes behind her appointed time, Oscar was dressed and sitting at the table, two plates of scrambled eggs and bacon with toast set before him. He was pouring a cup of hot coffee for Gladys, and a second one for himself.

“Good morning, jury member number 1392. How did you sleep?” he smiled at her.

Oscar laughed gently as Gladys recounted her dream. She ate quickly, glancing repeatedly at the time. As she finished eating, Oscar said, “I’ll go start the car for you.”

“Thank you, sweetheart,” Gladys felt a little foolish at all of her worries the night before.

She went to the bathroom and checked herself in the mirror one last time. She quickly brushed her teeth. Leaving the bathroom, she grabbed her purse and checked that her money was there. She came back to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and placed her sandwich and apple into her purse, stopping for a brief second before the sink. Oscar had already washed the dishes and set them in the drainer. The man could work fast when he wanted to. She looked at the microwave. 6:41. Time to go. Oscar must still be outside, she thought.

She stepped out into the garage. Oscar had backed the car out into the driveway and was now sitting in the passenger side of the car, reading the paper. She opened the driver’s door and got in.

“Oscar, what in the world are you doing?” she said as she placed her purse in the middle and sat down.

Oscar folded up his paper and looked at her. “Thought I’d ride along and see the big city.”

“Oscar… what? You don’t have to….”

“Gladys, what else am I going to do today? I got my paper and I brought a book I started last year. Been meaning to get back into it.”

Gladys looked at him and smiled a little slyly, “By yourself? You’re just gonna sit in this car the whole day by yourself?”

“What else would I do? Sit in the house by myself watching that blasted television?”

“Oscar, I could be in there all day! If they select me, that is.” She looked closer at Oscar. His eyes looked a little full.

“Honey, are you…? She stopped herself and reached out and stroked the clean shaven face of her husband of 55 years. She looked at his thinning white hair and suddenly felt shame for cutting it without him knowing it. She ran her fingers through it.

“Oscar, are you sure you want to…”

He interrupted, “I made us some sandwiches and chips. Got ‘em in a cooler in the back. If they give you a lunch break, maybe we could get a Coke and walk over to that big park. You remember that park? Douglas Park, I think it’s called. Been awhile.”

Oscar reached over to help Gladys with her seat belt.

He continued, “The one with the creek running through it with the little waterfall? You remember we took the kids there that one time and they kept wanting to throw pennies into the water and make wishes?”

Gladys remembered. Oscar smiled, put on the sunglasses their daughter Catherine had given him for Father’s Day, and sat back in his seat. He looked at her.

“Better get moving,” he smiled. “It’s gonna be a beautiful day!”

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So My Sister Doesn’t Have To Look At The Red Eye Anymore

The Problem With Being a Boy…

It had been sometime the year before, about halfway through the football season. Every spring, Eddie would start dreaming about playing for the football team the following year. He was too small for many of the positions, but after much figuring, he imagined he might make it as a field goal kicker. He had seen the kickers on TV with their skinny little arms and their clean uniforms. That mattered not to him; they were on the team. They were football players.

It was hard for him to imagine that the kickers, being football players, ever got bullied by anybody. So, he had decided that the upcoming summer would be one of practice for him. Then he would screw up his courage and sign up during the spring meeting for the team.

When the day arrived in late April for the sign up, Eddie was too frightened to sign up. He had walked down to Mr. Evans room, where the signup sheet hung outside the door in plain sight, but too many kids were hanging around every time he walked by. Finally, during last period, he asked

to go to the restroom. Instead, he scurried down the stairs and through the basement hallway to Mr. Evans’s door. His heart swelled up. He would do it. The sheet was gone.

After school, Eddie resolved to go back down and ask Mr. Evans where the sheet was. When he arrived, the door was closed and Mr. Evans was inside speaking with Tank Jones, one of the starting offensive linemen. Eddie thought about waiting for Tank to leave and then going in and asking for the sheet, but what would he say?

His mind ran through it. “Mr. Evans, I was wondering where the sign-up sheet was. I’d like to sign up for football next season. I know I can’t play quarterback or running back – (though Eddie often had visions of breaking around end on a pitch play and outrunning the fastest defenders to the end zone, running right past his dad who was on the sidelines talking up one of his political connections. He imagined the political connection dropping his popcorn and interrupting Eddie’s dad, and stammering, “Uh Hank… Hank! You do know your boy just ran around end and is about to score the winning touchdown? I’ve never seen anyone that fast. He’s the best Spring Creek has ever had. Hank! Shut up about your stupid political plans and watch your boy!” – no, even with his vivid imagination Eddie knew he couldn’t run the

ball, or tackle, or even block….) – Mr. Evans, I know this may seem funny but I want to sign up. Right now. I think I can kick field goals. I think I can win games for Spring Creek. I’m tired of people thinking I’m a nobody. I want to be somebody.”

Eddie looked down at his own spindly little arms. He looked back through the glass at Mr. Evans and at Tank Jones. Tank was as big as Mr. Evans. Tank was a man, and Eddie was a boy. He turned around and walked back through the hall and up the stairs.

That night, Eddie lay in bed, thinking. A plan erupted. He hadn’t signed up, but he could practice field goals anyway! If he started the next day and practiced everyday till school was out and then all summer, then by fall he could just show up at practice, pull out a tee, set a ball on it and say, “Coach, watch this.” Boom. Good, from the 40 yard line.

“Coach, that’s just a warm up. I’m good from much further out.”

Coach wouldn’t be able to resist someone automatic from that far out. He’d be on the team.

That had been the spring before when all this figuring had taken place in Eddie’s mind. He had indeed gone down to the park that next day with a football he borrowed from his friend, Von. He had located a large tree with a

wide spread of limbs. He had then walked off what he figured to be 30 yards, nudged the ball down into a little pile of leaves and moss, and then backed up a few feet and sidestepped a few feet to his left like he had seen kickers do on TV. He had looked around to see if anyone was looking, had raised his arm, like some kind of signal, though what kind and to whom he didn’t know, taken a couple of quick stutter steps to the ball and kicked, trying to extend his leg out on the release. The ball had spun quickly away, angling to the left. It had glanced off the top of a neighboring bush and skidded across the ground, stopping a full 20 feet from the base of the big tree.

“Dammit. Dammit all to hell!” Eddie had yelled out. It was the same phrase he heard from his dad so many times. “Eddie! Dammit…” Eddie had walked up to the ball and kicked it as hard as he could. It was over. He couldn’t do it.

So, as it was, spring had turned slowly into summer. Summer had eventually led to fall and the beginning of school and the Spring Creek Varsity Football Team was without one Eddie Denker, field goal kicker.

As I said, it happened halfway through that football season. Spring Creek was 2 – 2, having lost one game by two points. Eddie hadn’t been to a

game yet, but read the scores in the paper. He wondered if they should be 3 – 1 if he could’ve kicked a game winning field goal in one of their losses.

It happened midway through the first quarter of the fifth game, the first one Eddie attended. He hadn’t wanted to go, but his little brother Bruce had been called to substitute for a classmate selling concessions. Eddie’s dad made him walk Bruce to the game, and to wait until it was over and make sure Bruce got back home okay. Eddie was just hanging around near the top of the bleachers when he saw Bruce working his way through the crowd with a flat container half full of popcorn bags. All of a sudden a boy came up to Bruce and started taking the bags from the container one by one. He did it as casually as if he was moving checkers on a board. Every bag he took he handed back to one of his friends. Eddie saw that at first Bruce was smiling, probably thinking he was making an easy big sale. But when the boy had removed the final bag of popcorn and had sat back down, it quickly became clear that he had no intention of paying Bruce. Bruce just stood there, looking from one boy to the other. He said nothing.

After all, what would he say, a ten year old boy against at least four high school boys? Eddie could see the bewilderment on Bruce’s face. Just

then, Eddie saw one of the boys throw a handful of popcorn at Bruce’s face, and yell out, “Get outta the way, you little punk! I can’t see the game!” There were no adults around, and Eddie knew it was his job as the big brother to go down there and take care of little brother. He knew it. So what if the boys were older and bigger? He could at least get Bruce away from them and then yell some cusswords at them, and then he and Bruce could run away. At least appear to help his brother.

But Eddie stood there and watched. He saw a second handful of popcorn go up at his brother’s face and he saw one of the boys stand up and shove Bruce out of the way. Bruce caught his balance and worked his way back out of the crowd and back down the bleachers toward the concession stand.

Eddie didn’t see Bruce again until the end of the game, out by the front gate.

“How’d it go? Make any big money?” Eddie asked.

Bruce was silent. The air was chilled with the heaviness of fall. It was a dark night. The lights in the stadium started to go out as the two boys crossed the road toward home. Eddie wished for the next day when he could go up into the woods alone and find the remains of a giant chestnut stump, a

flickering death remaining from the grand era gone by. He wished for things before he was born. He made himself try again.

“Make any money at all?”

Bruce sobbed a little. “No. “

The boys turned and made their way down a familiar alley.

“I ain’t doing that again, Eddie.”

“Why not?”

“You know why. You ask me, yet you know why.”

Eddie walked on quietly for a moment.

“I’m sorry, Bruce.”

The boys walked on, emboldened to be together, yet afraid of what they didn’t know.

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A Tenuous Thread, Plucked

Here’s what I know or have heard about the Ebola virus. It causes terrible sickness, does not produce symptoms for up to three weeks after infection, and if one dies, it can be an exceedingly brutal way to exit this life. Eyeballs bleed; internal organs liquefy. The disease most recently flared up in west Africa, and due to poor containment protocol in that impoverished area, has since spread to various parts around the globe. This outbreak has already exceeded all past Ebola outbreaks combined in numbers of infection.

Fear is growing that a pandemic is in the works.

(It is possible that the man sitting next to me on my commuter train has an uncle whose next door neighbor’s aunt’s best friend’s co-worker got off a plane from New York just last week. While in New York, he rode in a taxi driven by a Liberian national, here on a fake visa, whose dear brother – infected brother – had just visited the Big Apple from their home country. Now all of these individuals are unknowingly infected, unknowingly mind you, and as I read my paper on the train, the man sitting next to me happens to sneeze. A tiny smudge of particulate loaded with Ebola virus lands in a minuscule glob on the back of my hand, unnoticed. He says, “Excuse me,” as I simultaneously say, “Bless you.” We exchange a friendly nod. I am happily ensconced in the everyday social interchange trumpeted as healthy by most psychologists.

Seconds later, my nose itches, so I scratch it. Voila, said viral matter enters into John Wilson Bach. 21 days of symptom-free living follow, during which time I unknowingly infect hundreds of others. By Labor Day, I am admitted to the hospital in Helena, Montana, where I just played pretty darn well in the 18th Annual Pride and Progress Golf Tournament. My eyes are bleeding, my fever is spiked, and I am about to exit this life for my meeting with the Creator of the Universe.

Now this scenario is unlikely, granted. Especially since I don’t ride a commuter train and I don’t play golf in Labor Day tournaments, nor do I ever visit Helena, Montana, which surely should be on my bucket list. Point is, whatever bucket list I might have could be violently truncated by this microscopic organism known as Ebola).

Back to what I know or have heard. Over 50% of those individuals infected with this virus die. There are no immunizations or effective treatments for the disease. Modern global travel by hip people of all diverse races, religions, creeds, sexual orientations, and genders could indeed lead to a pandemic.

Now, regardless of the veracity of my knowledge, three possibilities present themselves…

1. Should a pandemic ensue, millions upon millions could die painfully horrible deaths. All that they have, all that they know to be pleasurable and all that they selfishly love, all of it could be negotiable in their screams or silent prayers for rescue. Anything to relieve the misery. Healthcare workers, intent upon helping or at least relieving the suffering, would fall ill and die as well. I’m thankful for Obamacare which is surely driving more youngsters into the medical field, probably in droves. Anyway, it is reported that upon death the peak of contagionability (made that word up) is reached. Therefore, those yucky people who embalm and cremate dead bodies are in danger as well.

Speaking of this- as an aside – what makes a young man or woman look around at all the available career pursuits and choose the funeral field? Hmmmm, I could be an accountant, a race car driver, a postman – sorry, progressives, post person – or… hmmmm…. I got it! I’m gonna be a mortician. I’m gonna work with dead people all day. As an aside to my aside, Is it oxymoronic to make a “living” in the funeral field? This is all akin, in my mind, to a young med student looking through the courses of future study and possible specialties and… Yes! Proctologist! That’s what I want! No heart surgery or setting broken bones for me… no, I’m gonna spend my days looking up rears! I think the correct term might actually be ani – think “octopi” – but since I am unsure, I defaulted to the familiar “rears.”

Man, my Adderall must be wearing off. I am WAY off track.

So, to conclude #1…. millions die. Millions, at least.

2. Part A. I am misinformed and Ebola isn’t that bad. More like a harsh case of the flu. It spreads, but not that many die, and by the World Series, most have forgotten about it. Then the midterm elections come around, thousands upon thousands of dead Democrats miraculously vote – we can’t have voter id laws, of course – and talk of 2016 begins in earnest. The whole bleeding from the eyes was just an ugly rumor started by a disenchanted nurse interviewed by a rookie news guy in an ill-fitting suit. The story was initially cut by his wise editor, but then the reporter’s unemployed brother-in-law blogged about it, it was picked up by a local rag, and before long trumpeted as truth over the cyber sphere.

2. Part B. I am not misinformed, Ebola is turrrrrible, but zillions of really smart people figure out a way to contain it so only people in third world countries bleed from the eyes and die. That way, those of us in the States and in cool Western European countries can pretend that all is well with the world and drink our expensive coffees and continue to care about meaningless things. As long as we can get the good deals on Black Friday, all is well with the world. Turn that TV off, Junior, I don’t want to see dead bodies piled up in the streets of Monrovia. I’m eating. Honey, this is really good lasagna. What time are the Harveys coming over Saturday?

3. This whole “event,” pre-packaged as a societal black swan event, is really just one big old false flag, dreamed up by the liberal media to take attention away from our shredded borders and Obama’s pitiful approval numbers. It’s so easy to rile up Teabagger party members, to borrow a term they use. It’s also easy for the simple-minded to fall for a woman candidate with zero credibility (the Lizard Queen, Hillary), or with zero experience (the punchy, fake squaw grandmother, Elizabeth). One of them can surely lead America to liberal greatness. Now, there’s an oxymoron if there ever was one…. liberal greatness.

Whatever happens, 1, 2, or 3, we should be reminded that life is fragile. Durable individually, yet fragile collectively.

I have no idea what that means. Let me try again.

We, as a people group… no…. let’s see…. okay…. People tend to think that the now is king. The past is queen. The future is… royalty yet unnamed.

Man, I’m struggling. Come on, Adderall… work!

Here. Life is short. Some may live to be over a hundred; some may be ripped out of mama’s tummy before it even really gets going. Most are in between. However long you live, however long I live, we each will die. I might just catch that virus and bleed from my eyes and pass away in agony. You might live long and healthy and finally slip away in your sleep on a downy bed. We might both die, looking at each other in a head on crash. (Unless you’re in a Smart car, and I don’t even notice the collision).

You might have just died of boredom reading this. Goodness knows I’m sick of the subject. Regardless, know this. The silver cord will sever. You will go into eternity. What will you say then?

There is the story of a rich man who was about to die.  Brokenhearted at having to leave his riches behind, he formulated a plan. He died one night, but somehow managed to sneak a briefcase full of gold into the hereafter. Upon meeting Peter at the pearly gates, he was asked about the briefcase.

Peter: You can’t bring that in here.

Rich Man: Come on, it’s just a briefcase. Please?

Peter: No.

Rich Man: Please?

Peter: Let me see what’s in it first.

(Peter opens the case. The man looks around in arrogance, the line of the recently departed stretching behind him, each individual carrying nothing. The man is proud of his cunning).

Peter: You brought pavement?

How proud we are. How tenuous is the thread that binds you to this mortal coil.

Call upon the name of the Lord Jesus and be saved.


Luke 12:20 “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’”

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Corporate Headquarters

I read the other day about some expert who worked for a think tank. The gentleman was well versed in some opinion – I forget which subject – and at the end of his quote, the article stated that the gentleman worked for a think tank.

That got me to thinking that maybe I would like to work for a think tank also. Not knowing exactly what one was, I put my expositional skills to work and soon realized that doing such work involved thinking, and possibly some type of tank.

Now, if it’s one thing I like to do, it’s think. When I’m not on my medication, I can sit in a chair for hours at a time… the chair doesn’t even have to be comfortable. I can sit in it for hours and while away the time pondering all types of subjects. It’s easy to do. There is no labor involved, nor do I grow tired from thinking. Thinking just happens. You don’t have to think about it.

Try this experiment: Set a timer for two minutes. Try not to think of anything for that two minutes. You can’t. The mind is always in gear. Granted, some have higher gears than others. My mind prefers a slow country stroll through natural vistas. Some people prefer faster cogitating. Whatever the pace, a person cannot refuse to have thoughts.

So, as I thought about thinking, I decided to open up my own think tank. I decided to start the very next morning. I called my think tank, JWB Enterprises International. Of course, there was nothing enterprisal about it, nor was it international, but I liked the title. I tweaked it a bit later and added the words, “Western Region,” just to make the organization as a whole seem bigger. JWB Enterprises International, Western Region. No one needed to know that the corporate office was a room in my basement normally used for storage.

Even though I was founding an international think tank, I decided to start local. By midmorning I hoped to be regional and by early afternoon I planned to go national. I figured right before closing time I could think some thought about China, or somewhere overseas, and thus be international as I claimed to be.

That first morning in business, it became clear to me in no time that this was hard work. My mind raced (for me). I couldn’t stop thinking about anything and everything. I needed focus. So I decided to quit for the day and redouble my efforts for the following morning. One day down, zero dollars generated.

That evening, as I pored over my lack of receipts and revenue, I realized the beauty, the sheer, unadulterated, altruistic beauty of being a Democrat. I didn’t have to produce anything! I could get paid minimum wage just by showing up!! Plus, I had rights to paid paternity leave, vacation, 401k, ESOP, outplacement counseling, disability, workman’s comp… the list was endless. I had no idea if all of these ideas fell within the aegis of Democratic thought; I just wanted to maximize my benefits. Also, I didn’t really know what “aegis” meant, but I sure liked the sound of it. I thought I might someday start a second company with Aegis somewhere in the title. At any rate, that same evening, my thoughts turned to how I could game my own think tank.

The very next morning I marched into the storeroom and demanded minimum wage. Done.

401k. Done. I asked for 6% matching contribution, but just for the hell of it I doubled it to 12.% Then I scolded myself for inappropriate language in the workplace and wrote a reminder in my corporate calendar to call the ACLU if it happened again.

ESOP. Done.

Expanded workman’s comp in the event I was disabled or hurt in any way at work. Done.

Paternity leave. Done. Even though all of our chilluns had been born years before – heck, some of them were almost as old as me – I still demanded and received this critical benefit.

I was loving private enterprise! I felt a twinge of guilt thinking that way, so I decided to switch JWB Enterprise International, Western Region to non-profit status. I felt better instantly. I’m telling you, you have to give these Democratic ideas a try!

I went a little far, however, when I filed a complaint of sexual harassment. In my pre-trial motion, I even stressed the first syllable of the word “harassment” rather than the second syllable (try it – you’ll sound smarter), but it didn’t work. I realized I had overreached, that one cannot sexually harass oneself (at least not publicly in the workplace), so I thought about it, and then I doubled down and sued myself for not adhering to accepted, government-approved, sexual harassment policy. To strengthen my case, I claimed to be a double transgendered male seeking reparations for inappropriate and agitative behavior in the workplace. I threw in bullying, too, and a smidgeon of misogyny and xenophobia, though I hadn’t a clue what they were. Anyway, being double transgendered meant I wouldn’t have to put on a dress… according to legal precedent, it actually meant that I knew myself to be a man, in a man’s body, who was self-actualized enough to dress like one and laugh occasionally at a well-timed dirty joke. Far too outrageous for the liberal courts. My case was dismissed.

After all of the human resource issues and snafus got ironed out, I finally got down to the business at hand. Thinking. What to think about? I created an action plan. Hmmmmm…

Policy. That’s it.

Here’s what I thought. How about we have a society where men and women are free to use their God-given abilities to realize their own potential and profits in an open and free society within a moral but least-restrictive environment. Hmmmmm… what does that look like? I thought about it…

Low taxes… we need that, so our incentive to produce isn’t smothered.

Freedom to express opinions without fear of censure, fine, or imprisonment… we need that. After all, they are just opinions.

Secure borders… we need that, so the whole world doesn’t invade. There are only so many EBT’s to go around. (I realize Social Security needs propping up, but there must be a better way than rampant amnesty).

Freedom to fail… we need that. After all, if I decide to open up a useless business providing products or services that nobody wants or needs, the marketplace should be allowed to naturally shut me down. We don’t need centralized power to determine artificial pricing, wages, or production. Out the window goes minimum wage, agricultural subsidies, wealth redistribution, Obamacare, and equal pay legislation (a manufactured problem anyway).

As the second day of my think tank wore on, and my medication wore off, I realized that my nonprofit company was itself not needed. I was providing nothing of value. I decided to blog about it and provide even more nothing of value.

And you took the time to read about it. Thank you.

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