Wisdom of MY Words

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14 August
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Abuse

I was pregnant, my belly prodigious, full of a ginger haired baby. A mercurial Pisces birth. A contrarian at heart, he was raised fiercely. It was the same old single mother story, my husband hit me when I was pregnant with his first-born son. Right prior to the wedding he threw me in to a full-length door mirror. I was 7 months pregnant. Dave drank to excess and he hit me. But I was me, and I took what little love he gave me and I stomped all over it. Matter of fact I was so angry and so cold that when he did finally apologize, with overflowing green eyes, I refused to accept his apology. At that point we were both in the wrong. Dave wanted another chance at that point. He wanted to start over and woo me, as if I’d date him after discovering that he was an abuser.

It was the same old story you hear from plenty of working women who also juggle their house and kids—I’d had an affair and fallen head over heels. I didn’t mean to fall in love. I’d had sex with other men because my husband was more in love with an amber liquid in a glass bottle than me. I stuck exclusively with my exes. Boyfriends that knew me, knew how to get me off, in relationships or newly divorced. I stayed away from anyone new. Yet new is what I got. I’d married David Michael Meyer for a couple of reasons. I was pregnant. Never wanting children I’d had Robbinsdale Clinic’s abortion punch card. Scared of commitment. Scared that my mother’s vitriolic words were true: no man would love me.

My mother’s wholesale rejection of men started at birth. Major William Gilbert Davis III showed up at St. Joe’s just as Margaret Davis the junior crowned between Margaret Davis senior’s legs. Marge Davis the elder turned her head to see her curly haired husband whispering behind his hand to her mother as the wee baby was whisked away. Her maternity floor at St. Joe’s was staffed by Marquette University Nursing School students. Most had been educated with her before the war. The elder knew some of them. She knew them by sight, either from university classes or mass. A group of women displaced by the war now working at the overflowing hospitals all over the country as the boys came marching home.

Helen Wolski’s jaw was set as she listened to the mumblings and grumblings and petty grievances by this man. Major William Gilbert no longer wanted to grow old with Nana Davis. He’d fallen wildly for a French woman. Much later, when my mother had firmly decided she liked women and not men, Nana told me that he’d cheated on the second wife too. Like mother, like daughter; my mother called me Tom’s bastard and her mother called her Will’s. The sins of the mother repeated, as my mother picked an equally emotionally unavailable man for my father.

Since I didn’t meet Tom until I was well into my 30s, I wasn’t able to learn in advance that my ex-husband was exactly like him. An emotionally unavailable man. Not understanding men because I had no siblings and no father, no grandfather, just a bunch of male cousins who teased me, and were beaten senseless by their father, my Great Uncle Gerry, just like my mother beat me, caused me any number of problems in life. The message in my house was that men wanted one thing and if you gave them that one thing they’d be happy. I assumed I’d eventually be happy by making men happy. Instead I felt empty. Most of the time I felt no better than a whore in relationships. Men (and women) wanted me either as a friend or a fuck. Yet I could never confide in any of them for fear that if they knew my thoughts and feelings they wouldn’t like me.

Sundays Grandpa Wolski would drive us down Santa Monica in his big, wide, baby blue Chrysler to Temple Sinai where he’d scrub the floors, dust the doodads and beebawbs, and plant me in a classroom to learn about living as a Jew. I learned Hebrew, and talked with other children about G-d. Then on Wednesday nights I’d run through the St. Eugene’s School doors and into a classroom where Steven Dragos would be waiting to make me smile, giggle, and laugh as someone taught us about Jesus. The son of god made the divine human.

I learned that the prophet Isiah’s suffering somehow made him a better man. A better person. Five-year-old children were told that Isiah suffered because we Jews suffer in order to redeem the wicked of humanity. They’d bring in Holocaust survivors twice a year, like a circus act. They’d talk about their horrors and their truths. G-d abandoned us during the war, they’d tell us, as they unconsciously patted their paper-thin skin with it’s faded black numbers. The North Avenue dam kept the riffraff in Milwaukee proper where they belonged. In the North Shore, elitism and money, a sort of suburban classism, divided us. Nana Davis always spoke in terms of new money, as opposed to us, somehow, was the implication, We were not the Steinhafel’s, we weren’t old money. We fancied ourselves old money though. I didn’t understand it until I read Blanche McCrary Boyd. She said, as poor white trash in the South they defined themselves with their smarts, their education, and elevated themselves.

Helen married and in 1916, at the wee age of 18 gave birth to her first daughter.

Aunt Regina moved from the farm to the Wolski duplex on Humboldt Avenue after Margaret Mary was born, baptized at Holy Redeemer. She was the second girl born, baby number sixteen. Females weren’t as desirable as males in the agrarian lifestyle of the Great Lakes region.

My family was exactly like that. A century ago my maternal great grandmother was working in a sweatshop making clothes.

I’d done the worst thing possible. I’d fallen in love.

 

 

01 August
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Chronic Pain by Arthur Rosenfeld

Chronic Pain: Patients and Professionals on How to Face It, Understand It, Overcome It

by

Arthur Rosenfeld

Despite the fact that we live in the affluent and technologically advanced nation in the history of the world, millions of people continue to suffer for no good reason at all.

 

01 August
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Insane Clown President by Matt Tiabbi

Most veteran political observers figured that the impact of the Trump presidency would be limited in the worst case to destroying the Republican Party as a mainstream political force.

That made Trump’s run funny, campy even, like a naughty piece of performance art. After all, what’s more obscene than pissing on the president? It seemed even more like camp because the whole schtick was fronted by a veteran reality tv star, who might even be in on the joke, although the concept was funnier if he wasn’t.

Pg 39

Trump is striking a chord with people who are feeling the squeeze in a less secure world

and want to blame someone, the government, immigrants, political correctness, incompetents, dummies, Megyn Kelly, whoever, for their problems. The key to his (Trump) success is a titillating message that those dusty old rules about being polite and saying the right thing are for losers that lack the heart, courage, and Trumpitude to just be who they are.

Pg 41

Then there’s Iowa’s Steve King, who is unusually stupid, even for a congressman.

All of this (bad behaviour and stupidity, as well as outright bleeds out into the population, hostility to women and people of colour) When a politician says dumb thing X it normally takes Merica two days to start publicly flirting with X + way worse.

01 August
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Losing the Beginning

“It’s drugs or me,” she screamed, tires skidding, the dust behind her car oozing in the breeze, the sun burning on Barry’s skin, his tears hot, his throat aching from growled screams, the birds the only witnesses to his anguish.

Barry ran after his wife’s car, missed it, skidded, ended up on the dusty road.

Eventually, he ended up on his wide porch, overlooking Mount Mitchell, bloody, crying and screaming. Life beyond success, his nose half into the mirror littered with Columbian magic powder, Barry sat up in his expensive Chippendale chair and stared into the wilderness. He probably sat there for over an hour before calling rehab, the number Rowena had found for him a year earlier. It was late summer before he was back, the house sold, the furniture moved to Florida to a new house, his mother still not notified.

Catharsis lead Barry Winslow to truth. Still, so much unmitigated pain lingered in his soul. Why it happened, he didn’t know. Maybe just because the drug simply had become obsolete to him. Whatever it was, one day Barry Winslow woke up, his nose half buried in cocaine and the left hand plucking on the personal computer, writing one of the violent crime novels that had made him famous.

Violence raging on the white screen, violence raging in his life, violence raging in his soul, Rowena’s slamming doors echoing in his mind, Barry’s nose oozing milky sweat, a proverbial lightbulb appeared inside his head.

Barry Winslow had one clear thought that couldn’t even be described.

All this pain, a ghost in his brain? Maybe.

Rowena slamming the doors behind her, packing her bags into the car and heading for the highway. A ghost inside his brain?

As he sat by the lake on that summer’s day, it all seemed like one of his earlier paintings or one of his crime novels with a clearer ending, the whole crisis presenting itself as a picture in its dark and rich colors and airy textures. It seemed evident.

The question, of course, remained: how would he explain this to his mother … and his father? Giving up the house by Mount Mitchell had never been a choice that he conciously made or wanted to make. It just remained something that had to be done, especially since Rowena left. Nothing left for him to do, he sat there by the lake on that exact spot where Rowena and he kissed for the first time, sort of saying good bye to the place.

Saying goodbye to cocaine.

Goodbye to a future ex-wife that had started as his interior decorator.

“Good bye,” Barry whispered. “Goodbye, house.”

His own voice seemed strange, foreign, weird, somehow funny. Almost as if he didn’t recognize it at all. The rays of the oncoming sunset glittered on the lake, making little twists and turns on the waves of the water. The gleaming of the evening sun disappearing behind the mountain mirrored his own life at the moment: a farewell … to what? Farewell to welcoming strangers of solitude, a hello to old friends? Which friends? Which lovers? Which relatives?

Barry looked down at the book. This oldest book in his possession rested calmly in his hand. He felt the soft texture of that cover, the one that he had caressed as a child, written secrets about how his school friends had locked him into the bathroom and forced him to take that … stuff.

Barry looked up, seeing how that sun had set one more inch, disappearing a little more behind the Appalachian Mountains. Strange, how you at 44 years of age have to start anew. He had never thought it possible, although he knew he had to trust this. He knew that that one event had been the beginning of a series of events that had domino-stoned into pain. Now, Barry sat here by his own house, knowing he had to go home.

The smell of lilacs in the springtime, of mom’s baked apple pie, of a freshly mowed lawn and the sight of dad’s coin collection. Certainly, there was work for an author there. It didn’t matter to his agents and publishers where he lived. By golly, the readers wouldn’t care if Barry Winslow lived by Mount Mitchell or back in Florida.

Florida. Had he really talked his agent into letting him move back, knowing that he would have to tell his mom that he moved back because of his career?

Barry sighed, looking at the clouds slowly drifting past the setting sun into what seemed to be an eternal moonrise. The moon’s round shape now appeared on the one side of the mountain, the sun on the other. The queen of the day saying good bye, the other queen offering the world a darker coup-de-tat of dreamy bliss. Barry knew his own sun was rising, rising toward truth and love and family. That famous author, infamous for his outbursts and drug scandals, now had found truth in the fact that he had followed a ghost.

The ghost of fame.

The ghost of cocaine.

His entire career had taken off before he realized that the ghosts of the past, those ghosts he had followed, actually were simple neurons bouncing in his brain.

If he had only known …

He could have said no, broken out, saved his life.

Would he be famous today?

Did it matter?

A 16-year-old kid is locked into a bathroom, Barry told himself, and is forced to take cocaine, expelled from school, leaves home and works himself through countless oddjobs, living in countless cities, always on the road, finally reaching success, never aquiring peace. That one page with some information about three guys who had bought some dope from a strange fellow in a crimson red suit, asking Barry to try sniffing that bag.

It had been Rowena, hadn’t it?

She had been the catalyst.

Good old Rowena, who had forced him to send in his manuscripts, to try new creative paths, to stay true to his creativity no matter what the agent said. Good old Rowena, to whom he had promised to stay clean. Good old Rowena, who now was gone.

And now nothing left but a runny nose and a few dozen bestsellers, a diary and an empty soul.

The sun now almost gone, Barry tried to find the truth in that sun setting beyond Mount Mitchell. The truth in those green trees. The truth in that water. The truth in those leaves. The truth in his own house, sold for over a million dollars to some big executive and his family.

No, Barry didn’t burn bridges. He built new ones.

My, oh, my. Who was he kidding? Thinking of the fact that he had actually flown over there to inspect that new house and not telling his mom about it, driving past her home and not walking in. It’s been twenty years. Too long a time to pay her and dad a visit.

Mom.

Mom, who lived there in his old childhood home.

Mom, seventy-five. God help her, would she forgive him, ever?

Dad? Dad.

Barry stood up, walking that path up the familiar house, a house that he and Rowena had bought fifteen years ago. He had spent years as an author, chasing his luck, refusing to have anything to do with his family. Why? Because they were … what? Twee? Bourgeois? Provincial? Small Town, America? Now that he needed them, would they want him back?

He needed to go back.

Now, “Small Town, America” was all he needed, all he craved for, all he loved.

Truth.

As Barry Winslow walked up on the porch of his old house, the view of Mount Mitchell seemed new, as if he had never ever seen it before, as if he never needed to leave. The endless pain screamed in his heart that staying here without Rowena had no future.

The real beauty could now be found elsewhere.

Calm?

Not really. Not without Rowena.

Now, his heart needed someone to love.

His duty and his conscience awoke, the lightbulb again.

Family.

Truth.

Sincerity.

So, Barry Winslow took one last look at his porch, the path down to the lake, the swing, the garden, the old road toward the mountain-side, the sounds of the birds chirping feeling like love, but lacking substance.

Maybe love could be found back in Florida.

No love like hers.

Running away from responsibility again, Barry pretended he did not have to call her.

So, Barry picked up his cellular phone, desperate, pushing Rowena’s number, hanging up, stopping, waiting, crying, but knowing suddenly, beyond all the pain of lost love, that he had to call … her. Her. The woman he had avoided for decades.

Mom.

Silently,Barry leafed through all those contacts, leafed through all the pain, the screaming pain of the rising or falling of fame and found one moment of peace inside what really seemed to be the only solid truth in all that loud noise: mom.

Dad.

He lift the receiver to his ear and waited for the long tone, the long tone of solid pain.

Standing on the porch of his old house, a house purchased with his millions, the sun set not only behind Mount Mitchell, but on his life and what it had been. How did that sound? What it had been? Had he actually left himself?

At what point had he actually abandoned his real self? His innocent self? The kid that played in the yard, dressed up as a cowboy, eating strawberry flavored ice cream sundaes in the park with his friends. Was that boy back in his heart?

That dial tone sounded like an ominous echo of the past, the smell of the Appalachian summer sending its heat into his own broken life. As good old Barry found his real self waking up again, his body standing on an expensive porch, he waited four beeps for mom to answer the phone, always taking a long time to answer the phone, the sunrays spreading its light across local water. Spreading like sunshine.

Holy Christ, Barry wondered again, how am I gonna be able to talk to her …

“Winslow,” a familiar voice, older and more fragile, spoke. A long silence followed the introduction, a silence just clicking away across the distance. “Hello? Is anyone there?”

Barry closed his eyes, trying to feel how he had felt before walking into that damn bathroom and taking that cocaine. 16 years old and so damn stupid.

Mom almost hung up on him, when he suddenly spoke up. His voice sounded hoarse, a left over growl a month after the quarrel with Rowena, a voice almost unused to speaking after years and years of fear and running away from reality, pain taking its toll, drug-beaten nostrils withered away. Fame can do that to you, he told himself, and Barry meandered through his own life of pain. Catharsis. What a joke.

“Mom? It’s me.”

Not a word was spoken this time, the speaker simply waiting for a reply. A breath issued as a response. One small intake of air. Mom wondered what to say, but didn’t say anything. The haunting voice from his past, one voice that had been a theory for all these years. It spoke to him, the voice, called him by his name. All those bestsellers on mom’s shelf, all those friends and relatives asking questions, her son just a picture on a wall. Home.

“B-Barry?”

One tear rolled down Barry’s cheek, made its way down toward his chin and hung there like a blister of dirty air.Barry slumped down on a semi-broken chair on his old white porch, one that he had decided to leave here after leaving Mount Mitchell tomorrow.

“It’s me, mom,” he said, his voice cracking and fluttering. “How … how are you?”

One guffaw of sobbing hit the receiver, the old clock in her Florida hallway announcing the full hour in the background from the other end.

“I never thought you would call. Barry, is that really you?”

The question hung there, like a strange bird floating on an airpocket.

“It’s me, mom. I’m still in North Carolina.”

“Barry? Why are you calling me? Why are you friendly to me?”

The pain seemed endless, all those years of mistakes drilling their holes into his heart as the sun set on Mount Mitchell and on his heart.

“Because … I … love … you,” he mumbled.

Barry wondered what to say. In fact, the words all stood in the way.

“You do?”

“I miss you,” he said.

“Oh, son. Come home.”

“Rowena left me, mom,” Barry said. “She …”

Mom gasped a couple of times, by the sound of it fidgeting with her hands.

Memories of a younger woman making tea and inviting lady-friends for brunch returned. Memories of a better life came back, guilt knocking on his inner door.

Mom waited, listened, wondered, hoped, sighed.

“Uhm, mom,” Barry started. “I’m off the … white stuff.”

The one thing that he had been longing to say ever since he left his hometown simply slipped out. Barry laughed, standing up out of that broken chair, opening up the door to his old and now empty house. He walked in, the screen door banging shut behind him.

“My agent wants me to write a novel with Florida as the place of action,” he lied. “My last novel had this one scene in Miami and people have been asking him if there will be more scenes like that. So, he’s …”

Barry cleared his throat, trying to articulate himself in a fearless way, trying to play the role of the macho star, the role he played when he visited Hollywood, the role of the fake Barry. That guy had nothing to do with him. Why did he say those things to mom?

“Well, mom, to put it this way: my agent has assured me that if a create a story set in Florida, we can interest a whole lot of producers into making it into a movie,” Barry continued, waving it off. “They have this idea of me including Orlando and the beaches and I don’t know what. The publisher is a big Florida fan. It’s a long story. I don’t want to bore you with all that. Main thing is that I am clean, free and … I am coming home.”

Mom started laughing, desperately. It was hard for Barry to say from where that laugh came. Just that it came. When it did, the river of that happy laugh suddenly grew melancholy, sad and turned into a cry very quickly.

“Who am I kidding? I am coming home, because I miss you guys,” he corrected. “I have stayed away for too long.”

That sad laugh fit really well with the empty house that Barry walked around in. Reality had been conceived for him at this moment, Barry in his house overlooking Mount Mitchell and his mother miles away, making up for lost time.

Time is of the essence. Wasn’t that the phrase of choice right now?

“Barry,” she said, the otherwise complete silence speaking volumes. “My dear Barry, why did you stay away from us?”

“I don’t know,” Barry answered, truthfully. “I resented the provincial attitude, thought I was better than you, irritated … I don’t know. Mostly, it was my own problem. I will back come to Florida and I won’t leave again. How’s dad?”

“Oh, Barry.”

“What? How’s dad, mom? Tell me.”

The sadness of the silence in her tone felt like a withered rose, an oppurtunity missed, a train that already left the station too early with the passenger coming in way too late to catch it. As if he had known, Barry wandered around his empty house, one foldable bunkbed in the entire house reserved for his nightly rest, Barry stopping in the corner overlooking his station wagon. As he stood there looking through the living room window at his car and the road that eventually would take him back to Florida, one thought arose. The setting sun shone its last ray on the front wheel of the Dodge, leaving only a the sign of the Uniroyal tire logo on the tire. United and royal. Barry laughed at the wordplay. Even commercial merchandise has a worthy cause. We will be unified, Barry thought to himself.

“Barry,” she said. “Dad lost the battle against cancer this morning. He is dead.”

The sun had now set completely and Barry stood in complete darkness now, watching the moon rise, all those lost years never to come back. Fame, what could fame bring him now? The Pulitzer Prize on the shelf dusty, the Oscar silent and neutral, something reached into his chest and pulled out his heart, a carpet yanked away from under his feet. The smell of the Appalachian summer now felt sordid, wrong, out of place, making him feel defeated.

“No,” Barry wept, his eyes flowing over, killing his peace, wounding his spirit. “Mom, no, no, no, no, no …”

“You snapped at us, so badly, in fact, that we just figured you didn’t want to have anything to do with us. So, we left you alone. I have wanted to call you all day.”

In this darkness that Barry knew to be his soon-to-be ex-house, he fell down onto his knees. He felt the parquet floor hurt his already wounded, rehabilitated bones, laying his head on the floor, falling over, crouching together like a baby, rocking back and forth, closing his eyes.

As he lay there, the moon shone a ray onto the floor, on his face, leaving the day behind, and Barry wanted to disappear. No matter if his fame brought him bestsellers. In his heart, he felt like a little boy who just missed his daddy, the bicycle rides, the meetings behind the Christmas-Tree, the trips to the west coast, the traditional family dinners, the Saturday Monopoly-games.

The moon came searching for him, letting its beam slowly crawl up onto his eyes.

“His last words this morning were that he will be keeping close watch over you from heaven. He never forgot you.”

Barry opened his eyes, looking at how the moon shone on the parquet floor. The one ray that shone on the floor looked like a pillar.

The long pause filled up with an atmosphere, strangely new and unsusual.

Interesting, because he had never felt this way, at least not since … back before the incident in the school bathroom.

It felt like waking up.

“Where is he now?”

“The undertakers took him to enbalm this afternoon.”

His lower lip started trembling, ever so slightly. Like a leaf in the wind.

“Barry?”

“Yes?”

 

“Why didn’t you come here to visit us when you bought the house?”

The quiet question made him feel like an assaulted gangster, like a fish out of water. Something in him jumping out, only to be pushed back into his belly, lashed out. Not at his mother – at himself.

“You know about the house?”

Mom laughed, sadly.

“Everybody is talking about it.” Her voice became pleading, sad, forgiving. “There are no hard feelings, only …”

His mother’s sad and very feeble cry reached the other end of the line, danced around Barry’s ear for a minute and came dancing back with a horrible, hungry and very sad sob.

Old emotions returned, old anger at parental demands danced in his heart only to disintergrate, wrath disappearing with the rising of the moon.

“Just come home, okay?”

“I am leaving Mount Mitchell tomorrow.”

The click on the other end of the line left a black hole in Barry’s soul.

That night, Barry didn’t didn’t go up to the bunkbed, bought for kids that never were born. Barry Winslow, that famous author and ex-cocaine-addict with destroyed nostrils, didn’t even look at the moon as it shone through the window upon his face. In fact, Barry left the phone lying on his ear just like he had when he had spoken to mom.

He fell asleep on the floor.

Barry didn’t notice that he had left his old diary laying by the empty living room window. It lay there, hoping he would notice it.

Barry didn’t even notice how that light searched Barry’s pain, trying to make amends. A spiritually awake person might even say that a spirit was in that light. The spirit that danced inside that light had just left its body that morning. Now, when Barry slept, that spirit visited him in his dreams, caressed his hair and whispered:

“Good night, son, and sweet dreams!”

Barry dreamt about home.

The sunlight pushed Barry’s eyelids that next morning, letting in little rays of light onto his iris. Barry blinked a few times, his eyes first seeing a parquet floor for the first time for what it was. Just a floor. Expensive, okay. Worth a million dollars, okay. But just a floor.

Barry tried to sit up, but quickly noticed how stiff his neck felt. He rubbed it a few times before he actually could manage to hold his neck still, hearing all his bones crack from sleeping on the floor. When he did sit up, however, he sat there for a bit, he felt numb, taking in the pain, feeling the emptiness, getting used to having missed the greatest chance of a lifetime: getting to know his own dad. Trying to smell his soon-to-be old house, one he had loved smelling and feeling and living in, Barry shocked himself with the fact that he hated it.

It stood for the denial of his origins.

Now, the next pain that arrived had nothing to do with the body.

It spoke to him of lost chances, of actually having missed an entire life with his father. The pain spoke to him about having wasted all those bloody years on fame and cocaine. And Barry let his heart out and cried. The tears that fell down his cheeks felt so hot, they literally burned his cheeks. A pain that wanted his father back.

He had only thought of mom.

Barry looked down.

Soon, he stood up, picking up his phone, but leaving the diary behind, walked around the house for one last time. He decided to leave the bunkbed where it was, a kind of reminder that someone else once had lived here.

When Barry Winslow handed over the keys, seeing the new owners wave good bye against the elegant backdrop of that marvellous mountain, Barry Winslow hit the gas. His tears hot as burning charcoal, he sobbed in silence, trying his best to ask his parents of forgiveness for the ill that he had committed. It all seemed so sordid, the interior decorators of his new house chasing about the grounds trying their best to recreate how the layout had been in the old house. And after he chased them all away, asking them to stay away, he drove to his mom, falling down on his hands and knees and asking of her forgiveness.

He felt her old hands stroking his hair to the sound of the old clock on the mantlepiece striking five times, the reverberations making him feel thirty years younger.

Barry listened to his mother speak of old girlfriends gone and relatives moved away to distant place. All the time, though, dad was there in spirit, his ghost lingering in their hearts. Phone calls were made, the undertakers were called, invitations sent out, tears were shed.

Barry still cried three hours later, holding his mom, eating with her, drinking coffee with her, taking walks with her, singing songs with her, crying with her.

It had seemed right to leave Mount Mitchell, had it not?

Father was going to die and it was Barry’s job to go home to comfort his mom.

Fate.

The week passed in an unspectacular manner, the scent of the old house reminding him of old wounds. He remembered being younger, actually never ever recalling until now that he had been happy back then.

Barry didn’t even remember forgetting the diary.

Spending the funeral in silence amongst a few chosen friends, Barry and his mom chose to go home afterwards and looking at old scrapbooks. They cried in each other’s arms, getting drunk on cheap Burgundy wine and eating tons of Hershey bars.

 

Barry and his mother sat in the dining room, a Sunday morning it was, when the familiarly unfamiliar doorbell rang. Mother Bertha Winslow stood up, leaving her pasta steaming on the rose colored plate. Barry put his hand on her lap, asking her to remain seated.

As Barry opened the front door, the woman that stood there had the sun shining on her sweet sandré hair from way across the bay. She held a book in her hand. The diary with the soft cover seemed familiar. Barry stood there in the doorway of his mother’s house, smelling the roses from his mother’s garden, hearing the chirping of the birds, realizing that he had forgotten about Rowena and how she slammed all the doors of the house and told him she would never return unless he stopped “taking that shit”.

Rowena stood there for an endless time, before Barry’s mom carefully asked him if he didn’t want to let that poor woman in.

“How did you know I was here?” Barry whispered.

Rowena walked into the house, giving Barry the diary ever so slowly, ever so carefully, her Nina Ricci perfume spreading across the room like a cloud of misty memories.

“I called the rehab centre, Barry,” she said, apologetically. “Just out of morbid curiosity, I guess, I called them to see if my outburst had caused you to react.”

Mother Bertha Winslow sat down on the brown couch, folding her hands and putting them in her lap, looking at a coffee table book about North Carolina, pretending not to listen, knowing that her movements revealed otherwise.

“When they told me your rehabilitation had been a success,” Rowena mused, “I called the house in North Carolina. You must’ve been in Florida the first time round. I understood quickly that you were selling your house.”

Rowena walked over and sat down next to Bertha Winslow, who looked up at the beautiful woman that still could be seen as her daughter-in-law. Friendly, thankful gazes were exchanged before Rowena looked up at Barry again, pleading for him to understand.

“I must’ve just missed you,” Rowena said, ever so quietly. “The new owners had lots of trucks there, people, furniture, cartons.”

Rowena pointed at the diary, dreamily.

“When they heard who I was, they gave me this,” she said and reached for Bertha’s hand, holding it, caressing it, shrugging, unable to explain why she was here. “I drove all the way, not knowing why.”

Rowena saw her mother-in-law’s eyes fixed on hers.

“Now, I know why we hadn’t gone through with the divorce yet.”

Barry’s feet involuntarily shuffled across the carpet, his tush slowly descending down upon the cushions of the old couch.

She up nodded Barry, slowly, coldly, painfully.

“You still want to be married to me?”

Rowena looked at Barry, blinking a few times, trying to find the truth in his gaze.

“If you promise to stay clean,” she answered.

Barry nodded, his hand automatically reached across his mother’s lap and finding his wife’s arm. Bertha Winslow lay her hand on both of theirs, smiling.

“Main thing is that you are both here,” she said.

 

That night, in the new house, Rowena came to bed a little later than her husband and found him crying, his pillow flooded over in tears.

He turned over toward her, her hair hanging down across her face down into his eyes, his eyes red and bloodshot.

“I miss my father.”

Biting her lip, Rowena Winslow leaned over Barry and kissed him, gently.

Her lips tasted like the strawberry-flavored ice cream sundaes of his childhood.

That thousand dollar waterbed positioned under the original Rubens shone in all its wealth. Still, the only thing Barry really cared for in the bedroom was the picture of his family on the nighttime table.

“Barry?”

Barry looked up, his eyes a little less red now.

“Huh?” he said, his voice trembling.

“What has all this fame really brought you?”

He looked at his wife, so sweet and so present in all her surprise, obviously wondering what to answer. “A legacy. My life’s work.”

That same moon shone into the bedroom that night. A moon that had shone on Barry’s ex-parquet floor near Mount Mitchell. Now, Barry noticed the spirit in that moonlight. It was dad. Dad, who wanted to tell him that he loved him.

“That’s your creativity, Barry,” Rowena said, looking into the moonlight. She looked back at Barry, caressing his cheek. “I’m talking about your vanity, how many likes you get in facebook. Not your creativity.”

Barry looked into the moonlight.

“I’ve been chasing a ghost, haven’t I? How many tweets I get or what the press says when I network a Beverly Hills party.”

Barry lift his left hand and caressed his wife’s right cheek as it shone in the moonlight, looking smooth in the light of the Florida night.

“And to think that my fans think I lead a golden life.”

“Now, you will.”

As Rowena sunk onto the pillow of her side of the bed that night, Barry embraced his wife and fell asleep in her arms. And Barry dreamt about father standing in the moonlight.

 

That next morning, one ray of light drifted across Barry’s eyes. It fought itself through the window and forced his left eyelid open. His eye slowly met the sun, shining through a crack in the blinds and letting the sensitive blinking of his eyelid open. Orange colored see-through-draperies graced a cream painted window. A heart hung on a string from the curtain. It bobbed slowly back and forth from a breeze that came from somewhere.

His eyes drifted over to the pillow next to where he was laying.  Crumpled orange sheets with pictures of Tut-Anch-Amun on them met his gaze.

The satin sheets felt soft. The strange house smelled of newly washed bodies reeking of coconut cream. He paused and looked up toward the ceiling. Cream colored. Cream and orange. Barry breathed in slowly. The salty, welcoming smell of frying bacon met his nose. The girl he had made love to, was that her making breakfast, was she his wife?

That comforted Barry.

A new beginning.

The girl in whose arms he chose to fall asleep in, she was his wife, the mutual choice to feel each other out really didn’t concern anyone but them.

God, I believe in you.

Those were the words ringing in his ear that morning.

Soft music played in that kitchen, the noises of plates being taken out of cupboards.

When he stood up, he stumbled over his own jeans. The lay in a crumpled bunch on the floor next to his T-shirt. Faked old-style floor, made to look like log-cabin-boards, graced the floor. Picking up the pants and putting them on, Barry smiled to himself. Walking out, he saw a reproduction of an old Monet painting on the outer wall. He knew it was Monet. He had seen the original at the Museum of Modern Art. Its estimated worth of £ 41 million exceeded her financial gain. He had made a good choice.

Walking out of the bedroom, the smell of bacon with an extra whiff of eggs gave Barry a feeling of truth. Now coffee and toast also came floating over. The sandré-haired woman had thrown on a dress with flowers on it. The balcony table overlooked what from his position seemed to be the inner yard. Was this woman desperate? No. Barry’s heart told him that this woman was a goldmine. This woman was an angel. He must stay. This woman was fate. After all, this woman arrived just when he needed her.

Was all this for him? If it wasn’t, Barry would leave and never come back. Realizing that he was still barefoot, Barry strode up anyway, feeling the chill of the grey marble floor in the kitchen. At first, she didn’t see him, carrying out the bacon and eggs onto the balcony.

He stood there, wondering why this woman had made this fabulous meal for him. Happy about it, sure. Another man with the same night him behind would probably have left by now. Still not turning around to look if Barry was there, the woman reached with her hand behind her and picked up her coffee. She drank it in slow sips.

Barry felt the soft fabric of the Persian carpet under his feet. The fluffy sound of his bare feet walking across it sound like home. More home than what he had over in Mount Mitchell in his loneliness. Standing at the edge of the balcony, he looked at her features, her hair swaying in the wind.

The woman slowly turned around.

The two of them hesitated, like children before a first kiss. The breeze refreshing, their souls still shy even after a complete take-over of nightly lust, they realized that they looked at each other for the very first time and liked what they saw.

The woman took some elegant, striding steps up to her man. Standing there close to him, she lift her arms and put them around his waist. She bit her lip, trembled a bit, exuded some gorgeous perfume, sweated, sighed.

He felt her breath on his, this fingernails tickling his back, her scent seducing his nose, her voice soothing his lonely heart. She looked down on his mouth, lifting one hand and running it along his lips.

She looked up at him, into his eyes. And if the eyes are the windows to the soul, then a signal came from that deep soul right into his. She laughed, threw her eyes open, raised her eyebrows and crouched with a giggle that could’ve belonged to one of his female ex-high-school-students.

She opened them again.

Barry gave the woman a long intense kiss, tongues probing hungrily inside her mouth.

“You’ve run out of milk, so the eggs are just sunny side up.”

“I’ll have your milk instead. That probably tastes better than Walmart’s.”

Barry kissed her again. And by the time they did sit down to eat, the food was cold. But that didn’t matter. The juice was fresh, the bacon was crisp and the jam was home made. As they ate, they spoke about who they were and what they wanted out of life.

Rowena gave her love-interest a half-grin, shaking her head. She spread some butter and jam on her toast and took a bite.

Rowena smiled, bitterly.

Barry laughed nervously, fidgeting with his hands.

He looked down.

“You seem to me like an angel, Rowena.”

And so, she sat there, in her garden chair, holding her juice. Barry feared she would burst out laughing. Instead, she cried.

Barry stood up and walked over to her. He kneeled down beside her, caressing her lap.

“Don’t cry. That’s my job.”

Rowena let her hand drop to her pretty lap. “No kidding.”

Barry ran his hands up and down her lap. The fabric was thin and soft.

She waited.Barry knew that, but he didn’t seem to have the strength to continue.

Rowena rubbed her fingers gently together. The fingers made a small sound. He waited for her to say something. She gave him an open gaze.

Rowena seemed distant, out of reach, rubbing a wound that didn’t want to heal.

“I need you in my life.”

“Ditto.”

“Ditto. That’s nice. Ditto.”

The two of them laughed again and kissed.

“Just promise me to stay clean.”

The pleading gaze in Rowena’s face made him feel like a little boy again. A boy that had been innocent, one boy that passed that bathroom and never walked in to take that first shot of cocaine. That boy would never have run away from home, he would never have become the party boy of New York. Then again, he would never have become a famous author.

Now, however, Barry Winslow sat with his wife in a new house, a new beginning, not afraid to start anew, not afraid to let go of the past. Trusting God was right, wasn’t it?

So, after breakfast he made love to his wife, went to see his mother, went to pray by his father’s grave.

After that, Barry Winslow went home to write a new story.

He took the diary and positioned it beside the computer.

The plot about a boy, challenged by three friends to take drugs and refusing, felt real. What felt amazing soared like a beautiful eagle inside his heart: the boy turned into happy father, an adored husband, a consummate professional and a good friends.

Famous? Yes. That, too.

And Barry decided once and for all to let go of the pain of his own lost beginnings.

 

 

 

01 August
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Prince Wenzel

The exotic smell of freshly brewed coffee warmed up her senses. Spicy and cosy, it meandered across from the open square from the tables over to her nose. Although Salzburg felt more cuddly than exotic, the city’s historical melange offered a lovely blend of brilliant culture and colorful worldliness. Funny how certain smells evoke certain emotions. This coffee smell felt like music, Austrian music.

The mezzosoprano’s mind commanded her feet with the high heels to stop walking and stop to take a moment to rest, for whatever reason. The last echo of her clicking, high heeled shoe hitting the big wall of the dome bounced back toward her. One white pigeon took off into the late morning sky as a result of the sound. It headed for the horizon, the sight reminding Gun Kronzell of countless afternoons in places that aroused her musical interest. Stockholm, Paris, Rome, Vienna and this place: Salzburg. Somehow, the sweet and cremy taste of Austrian sugar under a continental sun, hot drinks as seductive as a musical melange of tastebuds, reminded her of Mozart. His creamy, steamy ingenius musical notes seemed to her dancing gifts of joy for her willing tastebuds. Mozart and coffee had that much in common. Certainly his piece Rondo alla Turca gave a coffee a good name, knowing that Turkey, in actual fact, had introduced the drink to Austria after its defeat during the seige of 1683. The mezzosoprano smiled at the thought of Turkish coffee being the birthmark of the Viennese café, just like the croissant had been the left-over of a Turkish war.

But the mezzosoprano was Swedish and she knew how many Swedes studied and lived here, singers, musicians and diplomats. That remained the Scandinavian legacy.

She gazed over at Demel’s Café and knew that history lived here in this town. East met west, coffee met music, religion met spirituality, architecture met history, nature met gluttony, love met friendship. Friendship. What a nice word. This place felt like a good friend. Maybe she would meet new friends here. What had her mother Anna Kronzell said before she left for Salzburg?

“A stranger is a friend I’ve never met before.”

Gun stopped, recognized the smell. That smell felt like a friend. For one moment, she let the scent seduce her. The whiff felt familiar, worldly, experienced, like a promise to be kept, but still a different coffee smell than the smell back home in Sweden. There, in Kalmar, pure coffee mixed with a shot of milk and maybe some sugar felt like a summer breeze. The young singer thought of seaside cafés and simple pancakes with strawberry jam, like the ones her mama Anna Kronzell made every Sunday. Eggcake, Äggakaka, the Swedish recipe her father Knut had brought with him from Helsingborg. Both mouthwatering flavors met right here in Salzburg. Here, it smelled like Mozart. Like Rondo alla Turca.

Gun Kronzell shook her head, away from the smell of coffee and the lure of Austrian cake. Her high heels started clicking again, that white pigeon returning to the wall of the cathedral. As she slowly left the coffee-house behind her, she was still close enough to hear  a waiter serve a guest with familiar words: “One Sacher-Torte for you, Miss!”

The voice sounded familiar.

Gun turned around and watched the scene. The waiter, a young twenty-something with slick blonde hair, held his left hand behind his back and bowed to a girl her own age. From this distance she didn’t realize who she was. She would, though, wouldn’t she? She knew that girl, didn’t she?

Gun took a look at her the golden watch. Twenty to two. There was still time for one coffee. One little Rondo alla Turca to remind her of the summer wind from across the sea. She smiled and strode back, the white pigeon taking off again toward the summer sky and strode past the buzz of the conversation onto a free table.

As she passed the table with the familiar woman, happy to be here as a young singer in such a great city, she dreamed of what future might entail and missed the possible aquaintances that could be sitting at Demel’s Café. An equally young voice echoed across the square, making the pigeon take off again, trying to tell her something.

Gun turned around, wide eyed and innocent and open minded as was her custom, looking around for the possible owner of the voice. Her eyes rested on a dozen faces, heard the voice call again and again as she smelled the scent of freshly brewed coffee, until she finally saw the female colleague sitting there. Now, she recognized the woman. Her smiling face beamed over towards her, giggling over from across that Sacher Torte, holding a gilded fork and getting ready to dig into Salzburg’s most prominent and delicious chocolate cake.

“Gunnel, my friend,” Gun exclaimed, threw her arms about and ran over, as was her custom, embracing her friend from across the continent. “My Lord, how nice it is to see you.”

“Come over,” the other woman said in brilliant Swedish. “Let’s form a Swedish club.”

Gun’s beautiful personality shining, her absolute glow projected her inner soul.

“Gunnel,” Gun exclaimed, addressing the woman with such a similar name and play-acting a cordial princess-scene, bowing her head and scraping her foot. “May I?”

Gunnel threw her head back and chuckled with mirth.

“Always happy to oblige.”

As Gun sat down, she chattered, eager to learn all the details of her travels from her home. “Did your train just arrive?”

Gunnel pointed toward her bag, nodding, inserting a forkful of chocolate sin into her mouth. “Yes, I chose to stop a few times along the way, first staying over night at a friend’s house in Hannover and then taking the train down to Stuttgart. Now, here I am,” she said, letting that gorgeous chocolate ooze down her tongue. “You have got to try one of these. They are to sing for. I choose to say that they are to sing for, because, after all, we are singers. We don’t die, we sing.”

“Indeed,” Gun said, waving her hand and gathering the blonde waiter’s attention. “Sir, could I have what she is having?”

A young, blonde man came striding up, nodded and smiled happily, still holding his arm behind his back and then walking away with a happy smile. Gun turned back to Gunnel, laughing. “These waiters are so polite. We should take them home with us and have them serve us coffee on the terrace back in Sweden.”

Out of nowhere, it seemed hard to understand from where the feeling came, Gun and Gunnel began laughing. Maybe it was the smell of the Sacher Torte, the scent of that newly brewed coffee, the sight of the pigeons, the beauty of the cathedral in that open market place, the fact that both of them were young singers, that both of them were Swedish mezzosopranos that happened to be studying in Salzburg at the time. Or maybe it was just the friendly waiter. Whatever it was, the laughter caught on and the girls kept on laughing until they saw, in the corner of their eyes, a bird approaching them.

The flapping wings of those pigeons would’ve seemed disturbing at any other moment, given the fact that they really didn’t have the finest of reputation. Now, however, Gun and Gunnel looked up in the midst of their laughter and saw one of them  approaching and then taking off toward the summer sun. The white pigeon flapped its wings. As it did, it seemed much more like an angel than a bird. For one moment, one sacred moment, they saw the bird taking off to the heavens very much like a pigeon of peace. They didn’t even notice the waiter arriving with freshly brewed Mozartian coffee and a sinful chocolate cake. In fact, the blonde and young and quite good looking waiter looked up toward the heavens, as well, joining them in witnessing how the bird fly into the sun. Of course, it didn’t really fly into the sun, but it certainly looked like it, though. In fact, it looked like an angel.

“Schön,” the waiter said in his very special dialect, leaving them to their sweet and feminine Swedish ways. “Sehr, sehr schön.”

Of course, fate always gives its favorite friends small hints. Hints that come in pairs, actually. Poignant pairs. Obviously, it seemed to Gun at the time that the bird really was a sweet natural phenomenon. In actual fact, the fact that a little boy walked by, followed closely by his mother and the fact that this boy was addressed as Charlie, obviously by an American mother … well, there had to be a reason for that.

Gun forgot about it, only to remember it years later, when the pigeon came back in her mind.

Gun and Gunnel really spoke about everything but music that day. They spoke about their homes in Sweden and what they would do when they got back to their flats. They spoke about places, faces, traces of their past, they spoke about trusting God. Interesting, but that seemed to be the main topic that day. God, they said, would never let anyone down who trusted him. There was too much fear in the world, but no wonder that there was fear. The year was 1952 and that horrible war was only seven years back. A lot of people had suffered. A lot of people had cried. Looking around, no physical trace of that fear could be seen. In the midst of that memory, actually, hope soared. A golden era had commenced.

Well, that chocolate cake rolled down into Swedish stomachs, the pigeon returned with what seemed to be leaf. The smell of coffee still lingered inside her nostrils. Gunnel still exchanged tidbits of information as to where she stayed here in town. Gun realized, as she spoke, that she lived in the same house as Gunnel and knew that they would be sneaking up to visit each other at night. She knew that she would spend most of her time here practicing, but also knowing her sweet tooth and her love of those lovely, candescent Mozart-Kugeln would also occupy her free time. Maybe Gunnel would find her actually eating them in the dorm room and join her.

That pigeon of peace actually never left her mind. Gunnel told her she had to go and enjoy a lesson with Ernst Reichert. Gun told her with a smile that her lesson had been a success and that she knew there was a mass in the cathedral in fifteen minutes. That would be her reward.

“The ensemble rehearsal for Beethoven’s Ninth?”

“At eight tonight,” Gun answered.

“So most certainly, we will see each other then.”

All through those lovely little pieces of information, Gun followed the pigeon in her mind. Gun hugged Gunnel, enjoying her friend’s company here where she could share this seminar in this beautiful city. As they parted ways, Gun followed the only white pigeon in the square to the side entrance of the cathedral. Gazing at it for a while, she followed it and ended up looking up at the church. She found herself looking at all the figurines and the statues and the stones, trying to understand what they all meant.

This wonderful place seemed have been created only for her.

This wonderful moment seemed to have been conceived just for her to experience.

The Franciscan monk couldn’t have been standing there long. He seemed to be deeply involved in the reading of his bible, his soul at peace with reality. Gun realized that the smell of coffee had disappeared inside her mind, replaced by the attraction of this place.

The pigeon? Hmm, gone. Not even a trace of it. Instead, a Franciscan monk stood there reading a bible. What a silly thought. A pigeon turning into a monk. Well, in a way a priest was like a bird of peace. A match made in heaven.

In that moment of realization, the friar looked up at Gun and smiled. The friendly gesture, warm and giving, immediately spoke to her with a wonderful emotion. It told her, without any words, that she actually had found a friend. His thick-rimmed glasses couldn’t hide the fact that a soul glimmered and glittered behind those eyes, a soul interested in people.

“What a beautiful church,” Gun said, smiling, making the first move to start a conversation.

The Franciscan monk nodded, lowering his bible, sighing and gazing at the wonder of this fantastic building.

“Yes, this is quite a wonderful place,” the man answered, revealing his nice and sonorous bass-baritone, one that certainly could’ve been used on an opera stage, had he made the choice to sing. Given the fact that Gun felt that she had found a friend, it seemed a lucky draw that he was a cleric. “I often stand here in the summer, simply enjoying the weather and reading my bible.”

The short pause came as a surprise to Gun, just because a mischievous smile followed his words. She hadn’t expected that from a monk. At once, Gun began laughing.

He took a step closer toward Gun and giggled. “But I chose the shade. I am not much of a sunbather.”

“Neither am I,” Gun said.

Gun nodded, realizing that this day might be a day of merry laughter.

“Are you here as a tourist?”

The friendly man’s honest interest came across as quite genuine and the enthusiastic Swedish girl smiled, shaking her head, happy to reveal the nature of her visit.

“I am studying at the Mozarteum this summer with Mr. Ernst Reichert,” Gun said. “I am a student in Stockholm in Sweden and here because I won a scholarship from the Rudd-Foundation in Norway. My aim is to eventually get a job as a singer at an opera company, maybe in Germany or here or somewhere.”

“Why not in Sweden? In your home?”

Gun shrugged. “Maybe, yes.”

“Well,” the nice monk said with a content grin, “I live and work at the Franciscan Friary over at Franziskanergasse. You need someone to show you around?”

“Yes, I would love that,” Gun said.

After a moment’s peaceful and waking meditation, the man added:

“Are you going to mass?”

Gun nodded happily.

The monk stretched forward his hand: “Friar Bonifaz Madersbacher, Miss.”

Gun took his hand. “I am Gun Kronzell, a mezzosoprano from Kalmar in Sweden.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Friar Bonifaz said.

One could have said that this was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. Friar Bonifaz and the young mezzosoprano walked into the Salzburg dome that day, the monk explaining to the young singer how every little nook and cranny of the cathedral had a meaning. Yes, certainly, this was match made in heaven. In secret, Gun really believed that the coffee had taken her to the white pigeon, who in turn had led her to the Franciscan friar.

The two new friends went to mass together, they even sat and drank a cup of coffee at Demel’s. Gunnel even arrived there after her lesson and so there were three new friends sitting there looking at the white pigeon sail towards the sun. Gun even ate her second Sacher Torte that day after confessing it to Friar Bonifaz. The monk said that she should be careful of not ruining her dainty figure.

Of course they all exchanged numbers and address and made a date for the next day where and when to meet again. Gun even promised to bring her friend, the witty Swedish singer named Gunnel. Gunnel said that she wouldn’t miss that date for the world.

Bonifaz remained Gun’s closest confidant through the years. The friar gave her good advice when a love crisis made her cry or a personal crisis threatened to challenge her mind. As he was appointed Bishop of Bolivia, having to remain there 25 years, Gun and Bonifaz managed to keep contact and remained her closest spiritual mentor.

Gun married a charming Irish-American baritone in Hannover, 1966. In 1969, she bore a son. Difficult to say, but fate had it that a little boy named Charlie had passed her as she sat in the café back in Salzburg. She also called her own little boy Charlie.

Well, Bonifaz and Gun kept contact even until their mutual old age. Gun had a marvelous career as a singer, as did the entire Kronzell-Moulton family. They all met all kinds of famous people, sang on prominent stages, teaching students who became colleagues of famous singers.

Bonifaz moved back to his old home town of Hall near Innsbruck in the 1990’s.

That gave Gun a good reason to take her whole family to see him.

Bonifaz spoke of Charlie as a man who inspired trust.

Charlie had won a new friend.

As time went by, Gun and Bonifaz grew even closer, visited each other where ever they lived and exchanged information about each other’s lives.

As Bonifaz died, he soared toward the heavens just like a white pigeon of peace.

Gun remembered Bonifaz long after he died, thanked him for his friendship every day of her remaining life and loved him for his eternal help. He remained her angel and once Gun died, Gun and Bonifaz joined Gun’s husband in heaven and all their relatives became Charlie’s and his family’s angels.

Bonifaz was and always would be the bird of peace, a heavenly mediator and a man whose presence had been revealed to Gun through a small pigeon soaring towards the Salzburg sun as she sat enjoying a cup of freshly brewed Salzburg coffee and eating some delicious chocolate cake. Charlie often called Gunnel to talk of old times and how that afternoon in Salzburg had been the beginning of a lovely lifelong companionship.

In actual fact, wasn’t it the Sacher Torte that ultimately led Gun to that match made in heaven?

29 July
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Muslim Notes

Gov’t Food Stamp Program Discriminates Against US Citizens, Favors Illegals

It’s been nearly six months since Donald Trump took office, and some families with illegal aliens get food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) while identical all-citizen families of the same size and with the same income do not receive them.

This is not a question of treating illegal aliens like other residents of this country, it is clear-cut discrimination against citizens and in favor of illegals.

This long-standing (and peculiar) arrangement is the sort of thing that one would expect to be corrected by the third, if not the first, month of a new get-tough-on-illegal-immigration administration, such as that of the campaigning Donald Trump.

I checked with the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service this week, the $110 billion-a-year <https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/USDA-Budget-Summary-2018.pdf> agency that runs food stamps and some other nutrition programs.

Two questions were on my mind: 1) does the food stamp program still, under a particular set of circumstances, operate with this anti-citizen bias, and 2) has the Trump administration made an appointment of one or more outsiders to help run the agency?

The answer to the second question came quickly: No, but there is a civil servant running the program on an acting basis who was placed in that job by the White House. Does an agency have to have a budget of, say, $200 billion a year before the administration notices its existence?

It took a little longer to get the answer to the first question, because the nature of the discrimination is subtle and a lot of professionals in the welfare business do not want to make the distinction between legal and illegal residents of this country.

Here’s how the system works: Illegal aliens are not allocated food stamps, but if the family is mixed, with some citizens and some illegals, the mixed family still gets some benefits. States are allowed, to some extent, to pick and choose among benefit-determination methods. Most states have chosen a technique that does not record some of the earnings of illegal aliens, while always recording all the income of citizens.

Let’s look at the system as applied to two similar families who live in adjacent houses; both have incomes of $2,400 a month, both have the same assets, both families consist of a working male, his stay-at-home spouse, and their stay-at-home toddler. The only difference is that one of the men is a native-born citizen and the other is an illegal alien. Everyone else in the two households is a citizen.

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OK, so far. Now let’s walk through Alice’s special mirror, and see how the government handles the situation. It sees the three-citizen family as three people and says that $2,400 a month is too high an income for food stamps. It looks at the other family and sees it as a two-member family, because the man is an illegal, and then — here’s the key — the government decides that only two-thirds of the family income should be counted, and that $1,600 is not too high for a family of two, hence the family with the illegal alien in it gets food stamps and the other family does not.

There are bands of income in which this situation plays out with different sized families, giving benefits to some mixed families, and denying them to all-citizen families of the same size and with the same income. For more on these strange arrangements, see the CIS report “An Aid Program that Routinely Discriminates in Favor of Ineligible Aliens” <https://cis.org/Aid-Program-Routinely-Discriminates-Favor-Ineligible-Aliens>.

That’s the way it was under Obama, and after I explained the (admittedly bizarre) matter to the Food and Nutrition Service publicist, she told me that it remains that way under Trump.

This story is symptomatic of two larger realities. Both the Obama and Trump administrations managed to conduct big immigration operations to their own liking; think of DACA with Obama, and, under Trump, the way that enforcement people were given the freedom to do their jobs.

But Obama was much more successful in the minutia of immigration policy than Trump; for years I wrote about this little move to admit a small class of migrants, or that little move that prevented another subclass from being deported. We are not seeing that, or maybe not yet, with the Trump administration. You can’t change policy, at least at the retail level, without people to write and push the new policies.

So an unknown but substantial number of mixed (illegals plus citizens) families are getting food stamps when equally poor neighbors, who happen to be in all-citizen families, go hungry.

David North, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, has over 40 years of immigration policy experience.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published by the Center for Immigration Studies <https://cis.org/North/SNAP-Still-Gives-Preference-Illegals-over-Citizens>.

29 July
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Vulnerbilities

I tried to find something, anything, that revealed a good intent. Still, even though he sat there quiet, I missed the point. I saw the entire world as spiteful. All I felt, everything my soul ached to persevere, told me his spiteful comments actually aimed to penetrate my pride. Of course, my penetrated pride arose only half-way from him and half-way from me.

In my mind, he shoved his hand into my chest and ripped my heart out with his words. Symbolically speaking, his words flew at me across the table. When these words struck me like a thunderstorm, my knees shook from way beneath my skirt.

I felt like fleeing, running away, not facing him, discarding him, forgetting the reasons for his words, the background noise that entailed the key to the riddle.

Instead, my mind wandered and cried.

The truth I looked for vanished. He’d invited me here out of love, or so he said. Love? Love.

Now this.

Women, the look seemed to say, they are all mean.

They all mean harm.

I looked away onto the street, looked at the cars whizzing by, the couples sweetly cooing and cuddling next to us, the summer breeze stroking their hair, the soft music kissing their souls. I tried to maintain a little of my pride, just in spite of the fact that I felt like screaming. Other couples wining, dining, eating, laughing, drinking.

When I looked back at Peter, his face subtly lit by oncoming dusk, his eyelids wavered up and down just like they always did when I knew his fear overwhelmed him. First the hatred, then the fear, then the remorse.

Peter pleaded with me to say something. He pleaded, cocking his head and giving me his cocker spaniel-look. I lifted my hand and asked for the waiter’s attention, ignoring his words. A part of me wanted to answer that. I couldn’t stand it. I had to leave.

One hand, one finger, actually, raised in the waiter’s direction made him gaze over from the table he headed for at that moment. The young, twenty-something blonde guy walked up to me with a tray. There were nice men after all, even waiters who put me ahead of other guests. He stopped by our table, inspecting my gaze.

Hold on. This guy, had I not met him somewhere? Maybe he just resembled my gay brother.

I looked down, trying to collect my thoughts.

Who was I kidding? Peter’s reactions proved to me his entire focus devoted itself to his own feelings.

The scenery, this place, our romantic encounters here through the years rushed back into my heart, my fear rushed through my stomach and hit my head, the wine hit my lips and I found myself searching for words.

“Yes, miss?”

“Could I pay, please?”

I tried to hold back my tears, in spite of all that damn French wine.

The waiter looked at my agonized face, a trifle dumbfounded for a moment, gazed over at Peter and then back at me. He nodded, hesitantly, and tried to give me a smile.

“Only your bill, miss?”

I nodded, trying to remain calm. The hard part still waited for me, trying to keep cool in spite of the fact that I knew Peter sometimes went crazy when I threatened to leave him. Too many times now, I thought to myself. Was it me or him?

“The man will pay for himself,” I spat sarcastically, looking down and not daring to look into his eyes.

The waiter gave me a slow nod and left.

“The man?” Peter said, his voice trembling. “Is that all I am to you now? The man?”

“Peter,” I cried. “All I am to you is just a statistic.”

“I didn’t mean it that way.”

“I’ve had enough of your constant egotistical nonsense.”

I looked down, my face turning red.

I could at least let him finish.

No, that other voice retaliated. That bastard has to pay for his own medicine.

I could positively hear Peter’s heart thumping inside his chest. His hands began fidgeting with the napkin when he realized that I kept my mouth shut. He made little boats with them, little ships that sailed away on their own sad sea. Our shipwreck. He then finally put the napkin away, shook his head and swallowed a few times, quite loudly, a real froggy-like gulp, before he spoke.

“I don’t have to explain this, do I? Not after that scene with that washcloth yesterday? What was the problem, dear? That I took the blue one instead of the green one?”

I looked him straight in the eye, winced. No, I narrowed my eyes in order to prepare to penetrate his innermost spirit with hate. I couldn’t stand his sappy face anymore.

“They have different functions,” I said calmly. “But that doesn’t make me a cliché.”

“Love,” Peter said. “I am just saying that so many women today spend their entire days screaming at their men how stupid they are. We have to stop playing that game. It is a sociological sickness. Men playing the stupid brutes and women playing the hurt victims. We can relate to ourselves as people. We don’t need to be stereotypes.”

“I relate to you as a person, someone I love,” I said. “Not as a cliché.”

“Then let us stop this,” he said. “I will stop taking everything seriously and you will stop constantly complaining.”

“Look, Peter,” I groaned. “You asked me out, you reserved this damn table. I am pregnant. Who am I kidding, God in heaven, who the hell am I kidding?” I screamed. “I am a just some damn statistic. How many girls did you hump to get to where you are.”

“It’s useless,” he said, shaking his head and leaning back, looking the other way.

Even that gay waiter in the corner turned around. I wanted to sink into the floor and forget that I existed. My face throbbed.

“What is that supposed to prove, Peter?” I whispered, quietly, trying not to speak louder than the audible width of this table. Peter leaned forward and, honestly, I thought he really turned sincere for a moment. He hoped for my love. I wanted it and yet I didn’t.

“You think I am saying that it all seems to prove that women use their men and that emancipation is a bunch of crap. But that is not what I mean. I am talking about something very different.”

“What? What? For Pete’s sake, what?”

“Respect! We agree on the importance of equality, emancipation, mutual fulfillment, the works. The only thing lacking, on your part, is respect.”

I blurted out, “You cheated on me, damn it! You talk about respect!”

“Where else am I supposed to get tenderness, girl? If I ask you on my hands and knees for tenderness and all you do is tell me that I didn’t clean up my mess. Is cleaning up more important than me?”

I hollered, my entire inside turning inside out. I felt like throwing up, my heart looking at this man I thought I knew. I thought I knew. Why had I married this strange man? Why? My heart started accelerating in speed. I wanted to cry, turn the tables over, spit and curse.

Peter leaned forward, gritting his teeth, speaking through his closed ivories, “You’re making a scene. Be quiet!”

I wanted to say the D word, but I dared not. After all, I had known this guy since grade school.

Very softly at first, he spoke like a little boy afraid to tell his angry teacher the truth. He had been caught with the hand in the cookie jar and, according to him, his wife was the Commander General whipping up a storm because of it.

He whispered, his voice trembling again, fearing his own words. “Are women the weaker sex? No. Of course they are not. Women are much stronger than men. They always have been.”

“What are you driving at, Peter?”

“That because, in the past and in other cultures, women have been pushed down. We need to fight that. But we fight it the wrong way. So, in the western world, we go to the other extreme and turn many relationships into a complete female dominated scenery, where the male never tells his wife the truth. Why? He knows he can’t. She will undoubtedly just explode. If she would cool down, he would. Calm honesty helps.”

“So, I am a bitch?”

“No, you are the love of my life. Just cool down. I am on your side with emancipation here. But half of all domestic abuse is committed by women. That is a truth that no one speaks of, because, heck, males are stronger. So they say. We men need female strength. It is vital for our survival. But we don’t need female abuse.”

“Does that mean that women abuse their men mentally?”

“It means that, in spite of the fact that I love you, you should try to control yourself!”

“Then why did you invite me here in the first place?” I spat, my heart beating like crazy now, I felt like punching him in the face.

“Because I thought we could have a civilized conversation in this place. I guess I was wrong.”

I leaned across the table, giving him a glimpse of my cleavage. I knew that he loved my cleavage and now I used it in order to give him a ride he would never forget.

“Take a good look at them, Petie,” I spat. “Because it is the last darned time you a getting any of this.”

He shook his head. “Come on, Barbie …”

“Don’t you Barbie-me,” I screamed. This time, several heads turned in our direction and this time I didn’t care at all. In fact, I wanted everyone to hear this. “I’ll tell you what can’t go on like this,” I bellowed, feeling the eyes of all of the other guests upon me.

Now, he shivered. He shook. I felt afraid, too, but I also felt strong, strangely strong, as if I to cross a mountain in order to do this. A mountain I could cross, but one I feared crossing. I knew nothing what was on the other side.

“What?”

The corners of his feeble smile shivered.

“You,” I kicked him with my voice. “You jumped into bed with that crumpet and I still stayed with you. That is over, Bubba.”

He started shaking his head frantically, almost to the point of looking like one of three stooges.

“You painted me into a corner, Barbara,” he spat. “I fled.”

I laughed in his face. That really dropped the bomb on me thoroughly. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I sing-songed. “Poor little male squirrel, dominated by his horrible dragon-lady.”

“Susan was the only one who gave me any sort of sweet understanding. That’s what I meant. You are so angry at men for what happened generations ago, that, by Jove, you take it out on me.”

“What is this? Huh, Peter? What is really going on here? Testosterone? Estrogen? Adrenaline? Male self-respect? What? Tell me, Bozo, ‘cause I am dying to know.”

“Okay, I‘ll tell you,” he spat. His hands shook more than ever now and the courage that it took for him to say this would electrify the entire city. That obvious fact almost made me laugh. “Damn it, every woman seems to be acting this way these days. You never used to be this way. You spend too much time with all these divorced women. 2 million men were assaulted by their wives last year.”

“I am not every woman, damn it, Peter. I am your wife.”

“And I love you. But you get so angry sometimes, I just want to split my whistle. One woman even killed her husband accidentally, because of rage. She was waving a knife about and shoved it into his belly.”

“You can’t possibly compare that to our relationship!”

“You told me that if you had a gun …”

“Are you any better?”

“I try to keep cool.”

I catapulted out of my seat, picked up my glass of 2011 Chateau St. Michelle and threw it in his face.

“I’ll give you a statistic, creep,” I mused. “According to new numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 full-time employed women earned just 80.9% of the salaries their male counterparts did, down more than a full percentage point from 2011 when the number hovered over 82%. Google that.”

I dug nervously in my leopard skin purse, my hands shaking like crazy, feeling like a lunatic. I found my wallet, took out two twenty-dollar bills, crumpled them and threw them into his half-eaten steak.

“See you in court.”

My right hand now shaking to the point of insanity, my tears streaming down my face, I pointed at him, feeling like some damn hot potato stuck itself in my right cheek and refused to let me speak.

I deliberately swung my ass really seductively as I walked out, giving him the chance to sit there with my white wine dripping all over his suit and tie. He still sat there like an unhappy dog, motionless, as I quickly told the maitre-d’ that my former husband was paying for his useless steak.

As I walked out from the gates of the outdoor seating in front of this chic restaurant, tables and tables aligned with lovers, I saw, no felt, in my deepest soul, how everyone looked at me. Men, many of these brutes, anyway, felt for Peter, I’m sure. The women, at least some of them, felt that I was in the right. At least, I thought so.

Every action froze to a halt. My knees shook to the point of lunacy. I felt like turning back and trying to talk this out. Help me, but in some weird way I loved him. His eyes were on my neck, wanting to go after me. I really knew he didn’t want to make a scene. Choleric outbursts, of course, being the reason.

That line from Star Wars came to mind:

Fear will keep the systems in line.

But, holy crap, I wasn’t Governor Tarkin, was I?

I had my reasons.

Infidelity.

Go after me, Peter, I felt myself thinking. Fight for our marriage. Please. I haven’t fought so long for you to have it end like this.

That other part of me hated him and his stupid words of disrespect. Had I disrespected him? Bossed him around?

High heels clicking away from that horrid creep, I stepped onto the pavement, wondering if I should turn back. Obviously, I didn’t. My feet feeling like overcooked spaghetti and my thighs like chicken dancing on the bone, I strode onwards away from the L’auberge Francaise, feeling like a very scared cat, pretending to be strong. Strong? I had no idea what I was or who I was now with Peter throwing his statistics at me. Every woman? Me? I had always prided myself in being special. Never every woman. Now, my husband was calling me a cliché.

As I walked away from what used to be our favorite restaurant, my head made leaps and turns, my brain aching, my head spinning, I think, in reality, everything turned topsy-turvy inside me. I heard my brown high-heeled shoes clicking on the pavement, I felt my hair swinging to and fro on my back, I knew that the men were turning around to take a closer inspection at my buttocks and maybe get a glimpse of my swinging breasts and that in spite of their girlfriends.

Gosh, why couldn’t they just look away?

I felt hurt. I cried, moaned, producing loud sobs. Yes, yes, yes, I knew I was choleric. My outbursts were legendary. Peter was a poor sod. But he always came with these bloody accusations about domestic abuse carried out by women, that emancipation had good awry, that females pushed down males in western society more than males did females. Hogwash.

I left the restaurant behind me and headed for … where ever, whatever the case may be. Not our penthouse, anyway.

I stopped at a traffic light, in my heart hoping that Peter would come rushing behind me, drying his stupid face off, still munching on his last ounce of beef and the waiters screaming at him from behind.

While the DON’T WALK sign still blinked, I took a glance behind me, hoping to see him rush up and say that he was wrong. Of course, he didn’t. Guys were glancing at my butt, sure. Peter? He probably sat by his table, crying, glancing at his half-eaten steak.

I turned back toward the stop-lights.

“Damn it,” I whispered to myself. “Horseshit.”

My feeble, shallow breath caused me to tremble worse than ever.

My feet felt like they wanted to go back and discuss this with him. Maybe I had overreacted. What if he had been right? What if we women really overdid it?

Go back?

I turned around, facing the other way. What kind of impression would that make? Going back? But I had to solve this? Talk to him? I couldn’t …

No. No. No. And no.

The WALK sign now blinked and I hesitantly walked onto the street, along with some dog-walkers and teenagers and old farts. My hands, I don’t know why, automatically grabbed into purse again and took out the cellular phone. I flipped the pages and looked for Peter’s number. Without thinking about it, I dialed.

God, what was I doing? Little woman, feeling scared, calling her hubbie. Soon, that gorgeous looker would be beaten and calling the abused women’s association. Darn it, before I could react I heard the tone beeping on the other end. His phone was ringing. Oh, no. Then, I would have to say something. I arrived at the other side of the street, a few teenagers giving me the double whammy. I felt scared and very abused. I didn’t want to be a sex-object right now.

I felt like screaming at them to get the hell away.

But I didn’t.

Oh, shit. I … Now, the tables were turned. I was calling him. He was ignoring me. This was bad. I was turning into the bad girl.

He wasn’t answering the phone.

Oh, heck, he played that game with me again.

I sighed, hanging up the phone, pressing it to my Revlon lips, closing my eyes. I trembled. Trembled. Tears by now streaming down my face, I felt like a leaf being thrown back and forth in the wind, my insides shoved up toward my throat.

I opened my eyes again and saw that damn lipstick on my phone, as if that meant anything at all. Traces of all that beauty I displayed stuck on an Asian scrap of technology. I looked at the red mark I had left, as if all of the answers lay imbedded in that little leftover of all my female cosmetic bliss. Wondering what had just happened, I stood there for a bit on the sidewalk, thinking. The world seemed to pass in record speed past my vision. Cars, loud cars, passing by and yet: all that noise didn’t seem to matter.

Elegant houses that remained empty. Crowded streets remained abandoned. Noisy streets lonely. Sure, I hated him. But divorce him? It all seemed so remote, so strange, so foreign.

My hand with the phone sunk down toward my skirt. I could feel it trembling. Numb. Really numb inside, it felt as if I really had no choice but simply stand there and wait for my spirit to make a decision. No single thought appeared in my brain. Not even a clear sense of hatred. Why was he saying this? Me, bossy, choleric, disrespectful? I ached, too. I ached and hurt inside. Infidelity kills.

People didn’t seem to notice me anymore. I simply stood there, about five minutes away from my home, watching the world go by and crying, calmly, silently, to myself, watching that damn lipstick on my phone, wondering what to do, where to go, what decision to make.

So, I took a walk down the street. Aimlessly, I passed by cafés on the street corners, fast food-joints, shoeshiners, theatres, supermarkets, all the time wondering if my husband still sat there with that stupid look on his face. I circled the block five times and wondered if he really meant what he had said.

Half of domestic violence due to female abuse? Where had he got that from? Some porn site? My anger, no, that extreme rage had now been replaced by a very deep sadness. A sadness I rarely had felt in my life. Peter? Sure, his male egotism kept challenging me all the time. But was he right? Had I expected too much of him? Had I really given him too hard a time back when he chose to go to bed with Susan instead of with me? Had I been a bitch back then? Had he actually slept with Susan because I wouldn’t listen to him? Because I kept making fun of him at parties and screamed at him to clean up his mess? Did he feel disrespected? Was I the reason?

As I circled the block in this posh part of town, aimlessly as ever, I wondered. I tried to remember. What had happened back then? He had been promoted, right? There was that really difficult situation at his workplace with the … What had it been? God, I couldn’t even remember. The company from Japan that cancelled all their orders and left them with a terrible debt.

I hadn’t listened. Was that it?

I think I stood there for quite a while until I realized what was going on. I had to go back.

I stopped in my tracks, blocking all of the pedestrian traffic and having people walking around me. It didn’t matter. I was on a side street, somewhere in an area I rarely strolled around in.

In fact, the more I thought of it the more I realized that during that entire time I had never ever listened to him. Okay, his words were way out of line, but he was hurt and I had to talk this out. If he was still an asshole after that, then so be it. The brick walls of that strange side street spoke to me of solitude. The dead-end I faced gave me no comfort. What would the future be like without Peter?

Right now, the prospect of actually divorcing him would leave a hole in my soul. I began crying, sobbing, leaning against the wall. I couldn’t. Peter, the love of my life. My shaking hands reaching for the kleenex. I searched for it beyond my mascara and unfolded it. When I dried my tears, I realized what I mess I was in.

God, I sobbed. I had to talk this out with him. I really had to.

This fault, I shoved it all on him. Sure, his infidelity shocked me to my bone and I really needed a divorce at that time. I had even called an attorney. Now, although his mistake evidently shone on my face like the Statue of Liberty shone in the face in my mind’s eye, my mistake also became increasingly more clear.

We never really talked. Not anymore, anyway.

We fought.

What kind of future would that be to my unborn child?

Living with a mother who never took responsibility for her own action, who said that father always was wrong and discarded any opinion he had out of a male cliché.

I did not want to be a cliché and neither did Peter.

Had I ever had the patience to listen to what gave him grey hairs back then? Not really. I had been so preoccupied with my forty hour week at the nail studio and my quarrel with that awful … what had her name been? Linda? Luisa? Laila? Whatever. I realized, then and there, that I, partly was to blame. Partly.

I shook my head. Holy crap, my girlfriends would throw garbage on me for thinking this. But, obviously, my husband had been very hurt. Still was. Choleric. Had my reaction been normal just now?

I turned around and faced the other way, slowly walking from where I had come. My mascara now runny, my tears streaming down my face, I picked up the kleenex again and tried my best to wipe off whatever marks still were on my face.

As I faced the main street again, I heard my high heels clicking on the ground. Emancipation. A good thing. But wasn’t a relationship supposed to work both ways. If I didn’t listen to my husband, give him a right to speak his mind, what good was I? He respected my opinion. He listened. He rarely raised his voice. I should respect his opinion. Had he listened to my problems with that girl, whatever her name was? Yes, he had. Had he really ridiculed me in front of my friends? No, only when I ridiculed him.

My steps now increased in speed like a train leaving the station. I saw myself running away yet again, a victim of the lack of tolerance of my time. A nervousness, it felt like butterflies in my stomach, started aching in my belly. Those butterflies circled even faster in my belly when I found myself back by the pedestrian crossing. The light wouldn’t change. More and more cars passed by on the street and the more cars passed, the more nervous I got. Night now covered the streets, a laugh echoed from across the dead-end street where I had just spent one minute contemplating my fate.

I smelled the sting of the night. I smelled it like a bee would smell the nectar of a flower, just like I smelled the food being served over at the restaurants. Suddenly, I felt Peter leave my soul. Strange, how that feels when somebody loses hope.

I knew him too well, I could not leave him.

The traffic light changed to WALK and I began running down the street toward the restaurant, having realized that I really needed to solve this. Now I didn’t only smell the night. I smelled my own panic, my own fear of having overreacted. My high heels clicked in presto-speed over the sidewalk, I cried to myself, hollered in hope that my husband would not have left me.

“Peter,” I mumbled to myself. “Please let us talk about this. Explain to me what you meant. Explain.”

The word Explain came out so many times while I ran down the street that, finally, it mumbled out as Splay. I must’ve seemed like a crazy person in my high heels running down the street toward the place that I had left around an hour ago.

I arrived back at the restaurant. Arrived? I stopped and felt like a statue. Suddenly, my heart trembled. The pain in my heart of again seeing this place hurt my pride. I wanted to save face and leave. That other part forced me to stay.

I saw waiters cleaning away dishes, a few scattered guests here and there, but my entire scene had obviously cleaned up business pretty well. The waiter I thought was gay gathered himself around a table by the door to the terrace. A couple just leaving the outside area saw me and the woman looked over, obviously wanting to say something. I saw compassion. Something had happened while I had been gone, but … what? I opened my mouth in order to ask and I saw her getting ready to tell me. Maybe she had been sitting at the table next to us and witnessed what Peter had done. The man, whoever he was, pulled her with him and made her come. She shrugged and left.

As they left, she hollered at her boyfriend to let her go, or else.

I saw myself here, completely alone, without Peter.

I watched the couple leave, feeling like someone whose heart had been ripped out of her chest. Alone, I stood here alone. Peter long gone, I rummaged my handbag again for a new kleenex.

Peter. Maybe he sat on a bench somewhere. Where? As I dried off new tears, I looked around, feebly hoping to find some reality in the situation. Hoping to find him. One small ray of light entered my heart and again I hoped to be able to talk with him, seeing that he had not meant harm. Something very wrong had happened right now and, God in heaven, my outburst had triggered it.

I smelled the pain in my heart. I smelled it in the whiff of the steaks that were delivered at the tables with the last remaining guests seated at the tables of the restaurant. I smelled my own pain like I smelled the roses that bloomed outside by the sidewalk.

I turned around, trying to find him. Onwards past the L’auberge Francaise there were only small shops and a few trees, a school and a park, a few dog walkers. Girls, whose laughter sounded ominous in their mirth. A weird looking moon. A topsy-turvy side street.

Hopeless.

“Excuse me, miss?”

Startled by the strange voice, I smelled the perfume of the waiter that I had perceived as gay. Brushing away my hair from my face, my eyes saw the young man holding a note. The expression on his face conveyed sympathy. I watched his lips slowly form a smile, a sadly sympathetic one. Hesitantly, he looked down upon the note.

For a moment I felt sympathy for the man standing opposite me. At least until I realized that this man actually felt sorry for me.

I passed him a questioning gaze.

He waited for a moment, his lower lip quivering in mid-air for one moment, his voice producing little grunts. I tried to give him a kind smile, for one second forgetting my own pain. Trying to, at least. My Lord, I felt like screaming and shaking. I felt like someone holding on to play-doh, while she felt it slipping through her fingers. Slowly and surely, I felt like Peter really disappeared out of sight down a very long tunnel. I could still see him, but once he vanished I felt that he would be out of my life forever. I felt like shaking the man and asking him if his senses and his mind had left for coffee.

“Your partner told me, in case you would come back here, to give you this note.”

He handed it to me.

My face seemed to project great insecurity. I still sensed the pain of being so close to where I had thrown my wine onto my spouse’s face just an hour ago.

A few scribbled words on a left over receipt. The words seemed to be dampened. Maybe a tear, maybe white wine, resided there.

A cry from my belly hit my vocal chords. Biting my lip, I slapped my hand against my left cheek, my left eyelid shaking. The waiter put his hand gently on my shoulder.

I shook my head. Violently, I think. The waiter hesitated, just like before and stood there for a bit. The smell of the food I had enjoyed an hour back felt as if it rumbled in my stomach, getting ready to reappear from my insides. Too many harsh words and hatred indigestible for a female belly.

“Mister,” I said, my voice trembling and shaking, tears streaming down my face. “Please tell me where he went.”

The waiter looked like he actually tried to find the answer to his own insecurity right down toward where the DON’T WALK sign now blinked. He shrugged.

He looked at me, pursed his lips in a sort of helpless fashion.

He pointed toward the sign.

“My boss is going to wonder why I am not waiting tables,” he whispered. “I know you.”

I pulled my head back in a gesture of shock. I saw myself now an infamous loon. I know you? Was I now a famous freak?

“What do you mean?”

“Your brother was my colleague back when I was still on Broadway,” he said. “Waiting tables is now my main occupation.”

He made a long pause, smiled.

“Kevin Arnold?”

He shrugged. “Me and your brother were never meant to be. You and Peter …”

Now, there was fear in his eyes.

“My God, this is way past my turf. But I just wanna say that he really loves you. That note proves it. Do something.”

Kevin pointed toward the DON’T WALK sign.

“Peter went that way.”

I nodded, holding back my tears.

After putting his hand on my shoulder one last time, he left. That insecure gaze back across his shoulder told me that everyone had witnessed our fight. I expected everything and gave nothing in return. I gave him dirty looks at the end of the day, screamed at him when he didn’t mop up the kitchen and called him stupid in front of his friends.

Walking back toward the main road again, I looked at the note that Peter left me with that waiter.

Now those tears that never seemed to stop burned my cheeks. The sadness went full circle. I felt so sad that I almost enjoyed it and I really didn’t care, where I walked in that darkness, if the people still out and about wondered who the crying woman was.

The closer I came to the street lights, the more afraid I got. Just closed up homes and a few hardware stores. One homeless bum picking his nose and a cat chasing a mouse. That homeless bum stopped short and called out some sentence from behind a tree. I couldn’t understand him. Only that I didn’t care. I had made a mistake. One that really might prove to be completely irreparable.

Back at the streetlights, I wondered to myself what gay people felt when they had love trouble. The same thing that I did right now, probably. Love never changes. Love never changes, ever. Pain never changes, ever. Pain is eternal. At least, that is what I thought.

My brother was happy with his boyfriend and Kevin was probably happy living with whomever he lived with, if anyone. Me? As I waited for the stupid light to click into the WALK sign, dammit, I realized that I had probably just missed my husband as he walked after me. He had probably had his phone sounds off when I called him. I then disappeared and he had followed me.

The poor sod had followed me and I had just missed him. Now, I walked across the same pedestrian crossing looking for someone I hated ninety minutes ago and couldn’t stop thinking about now.

I laughed and cried at the same time.

Okay, this guy defied gravity with those stupid comments of me being stereotypical and all that.

But this was a sensitive guy, right?

We were sensitive people.

I strolled and strolled away from the corner where I had called him. I passed the spot where he had asked me to marry him many years before that, I passed the spot where I had danced with him the first time by the lake one night at two o’clock at night to the music of his old transistor radio. He had made a waterlily in the form of a napkin and given it to me as we danced. God, how I complained at his habit of folding napkins. Now, I missed those napkins. Then, back then, in the beginning, we walked back to his little flat and made love to the sounds of Hall & Oates singing “Your kiss is on my lips”.

Now, so many fights later, I walked all the way through the darkness of the night, crazy me, close to Central Park and stood there close to that darn place I knew so well and waited and waited. I waited, I hoped. Maybe he had lost all hope.

God, I waited so long that I cried.

I looked at the note again.

If you still want me now,” it said, “then come to the place where we kissed for the first time. Otherwise, I will kill myself.

I don’t know what happened, but, in spite of all that bottled up anger, all my sorrow came pouring out. Convulsions attacked my body, tears streaming down my cheeks, so hot they left red marks on my cheeks. Again.

“Please, God,” I whispered under my breath, afraid that anyone would hear me. “Please send me an angel. Please send me my husband.”

I took two staggering steps back toward the wall of that little street corner where we had kissed for the first time so many years ago. I could still smell his after shave, his cheap, two-dollar after-shave. I smelled my own fear now. My own fear of choleric outbursts. I smelled his anger, I smelled my own hatred of male chauvinism. But I also felt my own love.

“You bring me closer to my own heart,” he had told me back then. “If a partner shows you how to feel your own soul, this is heaven.”

His age-old words rang in my ears like the bells of the Sacre-Coeur on a calm Sunday in Paris.

Crumpling the note to my chest, I declined picking up a kleenex to dry my face. I just leaned my face against the wall of the side street of that hotel, torn between my own screams of divorce and my deep love for losing a best friend. Cars whizzed by, dammit, and people walked by without even noticing me. I saw Peter actually at the bottom of the Hudson River and me, stupid me, powerless to stop it.

Just when I really lost all hope, that little voice within me reminded me that there was a little soul resting in my belly. Me, a mother? God, a mother? Pregnant, who would believe it? But Peter? He had to know. I wailed into a giant panic. My husband would never see his child. Where was he? What if he would kill himself and I could never tell him that I wanted him to be there when his child was born. I couldn’t leave this place. After all, this was the place where he had summoned me. But … no. Wait.

I looked at the note. His handwriting.

At home? I picked up my handbag again, fumbling for my phone. Lipstick, nail polish, money, kleenex, mirror, keys, no. Where? No phone.

That was when I saw it.

I small, yellow flower. Not a real flower, mind you. Just one made out of a napkin. A yellow lily. The only yellow lily in the world made out of napkin.

A man held on to it, his hand shaking, his lip trembling. I could still smell my own fear. The fear of being abandoned. That old two-dollar after-shave had been replaced by a more expensive brand. But, gosh, it was the same old crazy guy that claimed women were stereotypes, saying it, knowing it wasn’t true, could never be true.

Apprehensively, I took the napkin away from his right hand and looked at that silly flower.

Now, I saw that his eyes were bloodshot.

Now, my lower lip trembled. I laughed, my eyes shifting from his bloodshot eyes to his stupid little flower. My shoulder bounced a few times up and down from the relief cry I experienced.

Gosh, I was emancipated beyond belief. I, if anyone, would fight a man to the grave for equal rights. But I also realized that I had given my husband a horrible time and I never wanted to do that again.

As I admired the paper flower my husband had made me, I noticed a homeless bum, another one this time, clutching his bottle, burping, uttering his lovely hiccup, looking at us. It was his private show. No, wrong. That bum, an angel? A messenger? He waited for a kiss. God, yes. I needed a kiss. Not from the bum, from my husband.

I looked back toward my husband and noticed he also gazed at that old codger.

The bum gestured for him to make a move.

Peter smiled and, as he did, he looked down in that silly way I loved so. I lift my hand and caressed his cheek.

“Please, Peter,” I cried. “Don’t ever compare me to other women again. Just let me be your wife. Respect me for what I am, even when I go crazy.”

He nodded, trembling. Looking me in the eye, his eyes closing half way, he shook his head, pleading with me in a quiet fashion. Not with so much noise, but like a squirrel would plead with a bear not to eat his last nut, his special nut. Me.

“Could I then ask you not to start screaming at me if I use the wrong wash-cloth to clean the balcony door?”

I chuckled, sadly.

After one moment’s thought, I nodded.

When our lips met, somewhere near Central Park in New York City, that toothless bum started cheering. We didn’t care, because we could stand here kissing for hours.

And we did. Hot kisses, as enjoyable as the tears that had streamed down my face ten minutes before.

And we knew exactly what music to put on once we were home.

Our kid is going to know their father and see our love.

28 July
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Pacific Nights

The deep blue tone of the Sunday morning sky drove her out of the house, away from her lonely breakfast table, onto her private beach. The green grass on the peninsula gave Amanda a reason to take the easel, the canvas, the paint and the brushes out and discover a familiar view anew. She chose her favorite spot and settled down a few paces away from her house by the bay, close to the water.

At first, she watched the almost cloudless early summer sky. The occasional cloud slowly drifted across the blue eternity. The slight wind blew little bubbles into the white fog of the cumulus gave her a kind promise to remain steadfast until she had captured it in oil. The deep blue color shifted into turqoise and onto a kind of greenish blue color. Higher up in the stratosphere, though, the lighter blue tones transcended almost into white. Deeper down, the darker and richer shifts and tinges appeared.

Four or five different colors and one mornings work waited right here.

Amanda began, hearing those Pacific echoes splash against the shore. She lifted her brush and dipped it into the color, mixing the blue with the white and adding some water. Her brushstrokes light, she created a shifting range of differences. Subtle and sensitive, the clouds slowly moved in with the sky.

The shadow in a dark corner at one point blended in with the cloud itself.

Amanda’s hair blew from side to side in the gust of a warm wind. It fluttered past her countenance, slipped in past her neck and down her back. The ocean breeze caressed her, giving her a closeness to nature that she needed in order to portray this bay in the right manner. As she moved the brush up and down, her eyes caught sight of the golden ring on her finger.. Memories of Alan and Johnny flooded her braincells. Pancake breakfasts on the terrace. Piano lessons in the music room, board games on the kitchen table. Amanda’s happiness over professional family luck proved greater than her own longing for their company. Naturally, she felt happy for them working together in such a great city.

Still, with them not around – life seemed emptier.

Shaking it off, she turned to the painting again.

Amanda’s artwork of this scenery had a three dozen faces: a nighttime view, a morning view, an autumn sky, a winter landscape, at sunset, at sunrise. During the three years she had owned this house, the sky had never been so clear as today.

The bay all to herself, she could afford to feel free and easy. She didn’t. A light summer oufit thrown over a drying body. The painting beckoned, but so did the water. And for a while there, Amanda conversed with those two emotions. Yes, she came here to paint. Didn’t she actually want to arrange an exhibition near Sunset Boulevard with a selection of these paintings? Restlessness overcame her again and Amanda’s head snapped toward the left, as if the answer lay over there.

“Restless,” she whispered to herself. “I feel restless.”

That emotion smiled at her, giving in, telling her that the call of the water could claim its own right to abduct her for a moment.

And so, Amanda took off her sandals and stood up, letting the fingers of her right hand make love to the white canvas. She took a long, healthy, romantic look at the whiteness of it and wondered what the painting would look when it was finished.

The water called her to discover what was inside. Something.

She expected no one today and the private beach was deserted. Amanda threw her sandals off and walked barefoot into the cool water. The chill felt unusual on her warm body at first. It reacted with surprise. Her own gentle and large swim strokes resembled the technique she used when painting. Long and sweepingly emotional gestures. The unique sound of splashing water giving her a sense of security.

That “something” beckoned, called for her to come closer.

That “something” waited for her to discover it.

Soon, she found herself way out beyond the territory of her private beach.

Amanda Hines looked back onto where her canvas stood, splashing with her arms. The clouds appeared in a different light from here. They were not friendly. Cold. Maybe the chill of the water inspired it.

Amanda swam back, remembering a time when she had been a hardworking artist trying to make it in the competitive business. Back then there had been no million dollar beach house. No busy director husband travelling with his acting son. No thousand dollar paintings, no ten thousand dollar scenery for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Just Amanda, a chick with a Masters Degree. A girl desperate to get a job. Today, in her successful life, her husband and son took an increasingly more important role in her life. With them gone for longer than a month, Amanda felt restless.

“I need them,” she sobbed. “God, I need them. Why am I so dependant on them?”

As she swam back, she cried. The salty ocean water mixed with the saltwater in her eyes. Having them around at important exhibitions exhilarated her life. Those Sunday morning breakfasts with pancakes and maple syrup on the terrace gave her the joy now no success could give her. Here at home, she wasn’t the successful painter, the famous stage designer or the celebrity sculptor. Here, she was Johnny’s mom and Alan’s wife. With them in Paris, she felt incomplete. Lonely. She missed helping Johnny with his homework, making kissing Alan good night or complaining about how much washing there was to be done.

The water cooled down the rest of the jitters she had felt up until the opening of the gallery. As her beach approached nearer with every stroke and every splash, she remembered the buzz, the music, the stars, the food, the press, the interviews, the press conferences and the fans.

Back on the beach, she sat down again on her garden chair.

Sighing, she closed her eyes, swearing to cool down.

After all, just a month and they would be back.

Not long.

Not long at all.

The colors mixed almost on their own without effort. A sunrise appeared, a bay, green grass, waves crashing against the shore. All the while, the warm weather eased the pain.

Soon, she could inspect a painting of her favorite beach.

Something called her onto the shoreline. Again.

That “something” called for her to wander and uncover it.

“Give me a sign, God,” she whispered to herself. “Anything.”

A sign that tells you what? God mused.

“A sign that relieves how much I miss my family,” Amanda cried. Her feet shuffled along the beach. As she gazed at the large house, she felt like screaming out at the entire paparazzi that fame really gave no security to avoid pain. First after having spent the last four years constantly with your family, she knew what it meant not to be with them.

Okay, she mumbled to herself, either Johnny was here or Alan.

Both of them gone?

Hard.

Very hard.

We already have given you a sign, dear, God answered. You just have to find it.

The sand tickled her naked toes and made her feel at one with this beauty. Where was Alan right now? Preparing a scene with Johnny, taking a walk in Paris? What time was it there? Six o’clock in the evening. Maybe, he dined with a friend. Arranged a Sunday shoot? Helped Johnny’s tutor coach him? Maybe Alan, Johnny and the other co-stars sat at Foquet’s half-way down Champs Elysée, chatting with Barbra Streisand or Mireille Mathieu.

Amanda remembered Alan proposing.

And cried.

Three months without them?

Too long.

Much too long.

These two months felt long enough.

But another month might force her to fly to Paris.

As she contemplated what her husband and son were doing in France at the moment, one bobbing bottle approached her. She saw it lightly dancing on the waves. It looked like an old friend, coming back to say hello. Transparant and most certainly one that they would sell at IKEA, it held a small note inside. It seemed no bigger than an A5 sized paper.

Amanda froze still, hearing God’s voice echo in her mind.

You wanted a sign, girl. There it is.

            A revelation, she told herself.

Or maybe just a surprise.

Somehow, Amanda knew the premonition by the painting soared within her still. The manifestation floated on the waves. A message in a bottle.

A certain spookiness overcame her.

She quickly discarded it.

“From Alan?” she whispered to herself and then laughed.

How silly.

Of course not.

A famous woman on her private beach finds a message in a bottle, she rambled in her mind, imitating the press. Extraordinarily enough, Amanda looked inside herself and discovered that the pain in her subsided.

Why? Alan and Johnny were still just as gone.

Like a rainbow after a storm, the winds of change offered Amanda a resting spot.

“God always keeps his promise,” Amanda whispered to herself.

Now, Amanda felt like a little girl opening a present.

Amanda waded into the water, letting her body slowly dwelve deeper into the salty bay. Her hand stretching out and reaching for it, she slipped and fell. Seaweed trickled into her nose and, subsequently, a stone cut her foot. She yelped with pain, clutching her foot, the pain sending signals to her brain to sit down and take care of herself.

The sting that bugged every part of her foot made it diffucult to walk. The waves were up toward her hips now. Suddenly, her fear crawled up from that foot to her hands and made them create fists. Amanda struggled to escape the waves, holding the bottle up above her head like runner holding a trophy.

Hobbling up on the beach, she sat down and examined it. A small cut graced the her left big toe. The blood trickled out quite badly, but she knew that saltwater had a healing function. And so, she stretched her feet out in the oncoming waves of the tide. Every wave at the moment felt like a really mean wasp penetrating her skin. However, she knew that the cut would be gone in ten minutes. Accordingly, she remained sitting at the edge of shore.

The bottle beckoned, like the painting had before.

She gazed at the canvas and the easel quite a way over toward the other side of the beach. A connection? God called her out to paint, but here she was holding a message in a bottle. How quaint.

“Who threw you in the water?” she remarked, talking to the bottle, feeling a bit silly again doing so. Would the bottle answer her? Probably not. Even big celebrities feel insecure at times, she thought to herself. At those moments, they talk to bottles. Or drink what is in them, she added with a laugh.

But this bottle was special, was it not?

It held a message inside it.

When she opened the bottle, it made a small pop, like the sound of a small champagne cork. The bottle indeed looked like the ones she had in the kitchen. Indeed, she bought these kinds of bottles at IKEA and God knows that the fans had been there, too. But she was almost positive this bottle had a few more years on its back that that. The clear marks of years of salty ocean waves could be noticed and the message itself yellowed with age.

Turning the bottle on its head, the message fluttered out on her lap and made a little dance in the gusts of wind. These gusts felt almost divine. Amanda felt something she hadn’t felt in years. The texture and feel of the paper seemed familiar. Childish excitement spread like wildfire in her spirit. She recognized this thing. That couldn’t be, could it? That small paper, pink on the inside and white on the outside, resembled her own child stationary.

An excited little bird fluttered around inside her soul.

God sent you a message. God sent you a message, it sang in a famous teasing melody. Amanda laughed at that little bird.

“Stop it,” she reprimanded the bird.

But it’s twue, the bird answered.

And now, Amanda knew the name of that teasing bird: her own favorite cartoon character: Tweety.

Tweety graced the top of the child stationary.

She looked up, letting the wind kiss to her again, and wondered.

The writing of a girl seeking a loved one decorated the pages. Curved, elegant, childish, it entailed an attempt at adult attitudes. Memories came flooding back, memories of early love, schoolgirls on yards writing boyfriend’s love notes. Lost youth, gained wisdom, inner pain? Whatever that meant, here in her hand lay a proof of youth. Some people would say that Amanda still retained her youth with 36. But these words echoed of an earlier time.

One tear trickled down her cheeks, her heart throbbing.

She slapped her hand on top of her own mouth, giving out a shriek of excitement.

Amanda started laughing uncontrollably.

She looked out toward the sea, trying to imagine where this bottle had been all this time. Had it travelled the entire coast from Washington State to the lower Californian coast. And why did it come to her, exactly at this time, when God promised to give her a sign.

Words of confusion and surprise buzzed about inside her head.

This message had been thrown in the water by herself many, many eons ago.

Quickly as a speed train and light as a feather, she picked up the bottle and left for the house. Arriving on the terrace, she realized the canvas and the easel and the rest of the art waited somewhere down the shoreline. So, Amanda set down the bottle, pointed at it and reprimanded:

“Don’t you dare move!”

Feeling like a little kid, she ran to her painting, thinking about how good God was and how much he helped her through all of the difficulties in her own life. She felt not at all like the graceful woman that had jet-setted through Hollywood yesterday. She probably looked like a silly, female version of Mr. Bean running off to save her own painting from the approaching tide.

Giddy and giggly, she mumbled non-distinguishable words to herself about returning to paradise. What a joy to have a private beach house, she thought to herself. You can run around looking silly and nobody cares. Nobody tells you to stride around and try to impress the press or give them all perfect dental gloss when CNN orders a press conference.

Scrambling and shoving adding her summer frock to her bathing suit, she hummed the family song. It was actually Alan’s and her song. With Johnny’s arrival out of her tummy, the song elevated to the status to family song.

John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” took form within the confines of a female painter’s voice.

“You fill up my senses, like a night in a forest,” Amanda chanted.

Running like crazy once again to the house, she tore the terrace door open and rushed inside. The painting artillery landed straight in her art studio to the left of the living room.

Not much time was wasted on this action.

One thought was in her mind and one thought only.

She headed for the phone, trying to remember the telephone number of Alan’s hotel suite in Paris. She called the number every day. It didn’t matter. Her mobile phone knew the number. But where was the phone? The spacious house deserted and twice as large today, it took a while to comb through the white emptiness of it. The beige couch. Had she dropped it over by the big windows overlooking the grassy patch? Had she left it on the brown cupboard? In the kitchen, maybe? Gosh, sleeping on the couch last night probably served her ill. In the art studio? On the stairs? Why would it be in the bedroom?

Finally, she sat down on a chair in the kitchen for a while, desperate, realizing in all the hubbub that she had left the bottle outside on the terrace.

Tired from all the searching, Amanda finally loafed in slow motion out to get it.

Once out there, with the bottle in her hand, the phone rang.

“Oh, come on,” she yelled.

Running in to get the call, she again stubbed the same big toe that had been wounded in the water before. Yelling in pain, again, she hobbled, spitting swearwords to herself over her own clumsiness.

“Don’t hang up, don’t hang up, don’t hang up,” she whispered to herself, frenetically.

Plopping herself down on the big couch in front of the widescreen TV, she answered the phone, panting. “Hines Residence.”

The other voice on the other end possessed male depth. Sweet like a warm blanket, it tasted of rich wine and melted on her tastebuds like dark, rich chocolate.

“Hi, pookums,” Alan mused.

Amanda sang inside. She felt like flying. She wanted to embrace him.

“You been running?”

Amanda laughed, rubbing her toe.

“I stubbed my toe running to the phone just now. It is the second time today.”

“Oh, dear. That’s not like you,” he whined. “You’re always so in control. Is it bad?”

“Nah,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ll rub it for five minutes and then it’ll be fine.”

“My clumsy princess.”

“Hey, big guy,” she spat. “Don’t get arrogant or I won’t let you back in.”

“Oh, dear,” he mused. “Johnny is already going crazy here. We miss you.”

“Oh, I miss you, too,” Amanda cried. “I’m going nuts, man.”

Alan laughed.

The silence seemed to wait for one of them to make a move.

Neither one of them did, so Amanda picked up the conversation again.

“How’s the film coming along?”

“My bones feel like Jell-O. Johnny is super. He’s a real pro.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“How was the exhibition?”

“Vogue was there. A girl from this art magazine … Uhm, what’s it called?”

“What? The one that did the interview with you in April?”

“Yeah.”

“Art’s Fair.”

“That’s the one. They were there, too.”

What a joy to hear his voice.

Electricity danced across the Atlantic Ocean.

“Good to hear your voice.”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“When you guys back?”

“4th of July.”

Her heart sank. His response opened a canyon a mile wide.

“Alan, I think I’ll take the plane to Paris and see you guys. I just have to.”

“Please do.”

A moments pause served as a good oppurtunity to mention the bottle.

“I have something amazing to tell you, Alan,” she said, shaking the note back out of the bottle again. Amanda laughed. “I still can’t believe it myself.”

“Funny,” Alan responded. “I have something to tell you. Who reveals the first secret?”

Although Amanda felt a great quantity of eagerness, that certain “something” told her to let her husband tell his story first. Another cute surprise awaited her on the other end of that patience. Maybe that little Tweety bird, fluttering in her stomach, had something special in store. The bird chanted, again and again:

God sent you a message. God sent you a message.

            “I had a dream about you last night,” Alan began.

“Oh, really?” Amanda chirped, just like Tweety.

“Yeah, it was really cool. You were on the beach alone, painting. Then you walked along the beach and guess what you found floating toward you in the water?”

“Please, don’t tell me, Alan. Please, don’t.”

“A message in a bottle,” he laughed. “From yourself.”

Amanda dropped the phone, feeling a mixture of confusion, divine intervention and joy. On the other end of the line in Paris, where Alan soon would be taking his son to eat supper at Fouqet’s, a voice called out a worried: “Hello?!”

Amanda picked up the phone again.

This time she stuttered.

Never before had she stuttered and laughed at the same time.

“Amanda?”

“Y-yes-s?” she laughed.

“What are you on?” he cackled. “I thought you gave up coffee.”

Amanda started laughing again, this time so hard that she almost fell over.

“Alan, you are not going to believe this …”

The stunned silence at the other end made the line crack and tingle.

“Please,” he said, “don’t tell me.”

“I h-have a message in-n a bo- … bottle here,” she giggled. “It’s from myself.”

“What?”

“Do you remember that I threw a bottle into the ocean back when I was a kid in Washington State?”

“Yeah,” Alan said, suspiciously. “So?”

“I found it.”

“Huh?”

“The bottle. It just appeared here on our beach.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Alan said, laughing.

Amanda waved the bottle around, laughing so uncontrollably that she felt like a girl on the way to her junior prom.

“No, sweetie,” she giggled. “That message is in my hand. The wish to find my heart’s true love is in my hand.”

“How did that message end up in your hands after all these years?”

“I wrote it myself,” she exclaimed, sounding like a proud seventh grader with her first essay in her hand. “I was 12 at the time.”

“I know the story, Amanda,” Alan interrupted. “You’ve told me a thousand times.”

“I wanna tell it again. Everybody had a boyfriend. Everybody but me. So, I wrote this ‘love contract’.”

She took out the paper, rustled it a bit and cleared her throat.

“Should I read it for you?”

“Okay,” Alan answered.

“All right, here goes nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing.”

And Amanda began reading the note.

It read:

 

To whom it may concern:

            I am seeking somebody to love.

            So, please, God from above.

            Or the finder of this flask,

            It is not too much to ask,

            My heart, it seeks a home,

            For I feel so awfully alone,

            So, if you read these lonely lines,

            Think of Amanda Hines.”

           

            Extraordinarily enough, after that, Amanda and Alan did not stop laughing for twelve and half minutes. After that, she called her secretary to book the first fight over to Paris, France. All the way to the airport, Amanda whispered her I love you’s to the message in the bottle that lay on the passenger seat. She had glued a picture of Alan and Johnny on the flask.

 

Riding in business class, Amanda smiled all the way to Europe.

Needless to say, God was with her.

At the airport, her husband and son greeted her with such warmth that it seemed they would never be able to let go. Spiritually, they didn’t.

She spent a week in France with her boys, playing with her son, eating créme brulée and baguettes and getting drunk on tasty French wine. She watched Alan and Johnny work. They ate at fancy restaurants. At night, she kissed her husband good night.

Alan read the note from the bottle to Johnny, Johnny read the note to Amanda, Amanda read it to everyone else. And the painting she had painted that day by the beach received a very special place at the exhibition on Sunset Boulevard.

One twelve-year-old’s wish, written on pink stationary and thrown into the sea, had reached divine ears.

Amanda Hines

26 July
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American Health Insurance

In October 1983 I turned 18. My mother was a teacher, no longer at Custer, but we’d run her out of the North Shore. She’d moved to the City of Milwaukee. They had a rule or a law that said that teachers who lived in the city could not move out of it if they wanted to continue working for the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). My mother had stayed in Fox Point. In 1981 I moved to my grandparent’s home on 7505 Links Way. My mother and her GF moved to the city. I’d been born on Monday and it was a Monday I turned legal majority. My mother showed up at school and met with Dr. Irwin. I didn’t know anything until I was walking dow the B wing and I heard several teachers whispering about Margaret Davis and her “poor daughter.”

I was on the smart kid plan, or at least the organized teen plan. I had 4 classes and they ended at 12. Then I walked over to Mister Winch’s to balance his accounts in a small leather bound ledger, like Scrouge, or Bartleby the Scrivener. A piano tuner’s house in Glendale. 2 blocks from Nana Davis’ house. On Christmas Eve Mr. Winch, much older than I with gray hair and a grey beard, rang the doorbell. He was looking perplexed, shocked, kind stunned as he stood there holding roses the color of blood and a plane ticket to some far off warm destination. While I was 18, I wasn’t very mature and my boyfriend was only 16. Neither of us knew how to deal with a clearly older man that wanted me to be in love with him.

I see his face in my head. He was close to tears when Nana Davis said to him, her shrill soprano wafting across Lake Drive down to the lake, “She’s only 18. She’s still in high school. What are you thinking? You want to take my grand daughter to South America? Are you insane?”

Stephan was cruel. He was a nice boy, smart, and as that song goes, “Boys with small talk and small minds really don’t impress me in bed,” but he was kid. At least more of a kid than I was, even though at the time I saw him as worldly and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. He was my 6th grade crush all over again. Bill Frack. Dreamy. He looked like John Kennedy.

22 July
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