LIfe, Love and Loss in a Tattoo by Calvin Davis

receptionistI sat at the desk fronting the doctor’s receptionist. She passed me several papers she requested I sign. After signing them I gave the stack of forms to her. Glancing down, I noticed a tattoo on the arch of her right foot. It read “Papa.” The letters, in a fancy scroll, were about two inches tall.

Pointing to her body art, I said, “I hope Papa is not a boyfriend.”

She smiled. “Why do you hope that?”

“Because boyfriends come, and boyfriends go. Some enter and exist with the season. Many don’t even last a season.”

“You don’t have to remind me of that,” she sighed, a hint of sadness in her voice. “I’ve experienced the kind you speak of. In fact a couple, truth be told.”

Sensing her many regrets, I shared too. “If it makes you feel any better, most people have had such experiences, including me.”

papa“Thanks for the boost, but no, my tattoo refers to my father. He,” she said and hesitated, “…he died last spring.” Her eyes turned glassy and she blinked several times, as if to force away the tears. She slipped off her shoe to gaze at the entire tattoo.

“I see. And judging from the distress in your voice, I’d say you don’t need that tattoo to remind you of him. My guess is that he’s tattooed in your mind and heart.”

She beamed a smile. “Yes, he is. But there are days when the sky is overcast and it rains, I need to glance at my tattoo, and when I do, I see Papa’s face, and in spite of the clouds overhead, the sun comes out again, bright and clear.”

“Miss Tobias,” said the voice over the intercom, “send in the next patient.”

“That’s you,” she said.

“Thanks.” I rose. “Miss Tobias, do me a favor.”

“What?”

“Never remove your tattoo.”

“There aren’t enough barrels of ink remover on this planet to erase the art I have on my foot.”

“Nor, I hope, the one in your heart.”

Following my visit with the doctor, I entered the waiting room. I smiled at the receptionist. She smiled at me. Neither said anything more. We didn’t have to. We had said all that needed shared…about life, death…and love.

– Calvin Davis is also the author of THE PHANTOM LADY OF PARIS.

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Words that Invade My Mind

And fold their tent like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.

algerian nomads

Now where the hell does that come from? I know it’s from some famous poem and I could probably Google that line and find out all about it: the poem, the author, and all that kind of stuff, but in my life it came from my father. He is responsible for all the silly lines that come in to my somewhat aged mind.

When I was a kid my Dad read to us three boys every night before he “tucked us in.” It usually started with a poem. Then he would read us a story. He loved Rudyard Kipling and he read us Captains Courageous, Kim, The Jungle Book and all kinds of adventure stories, a few pages an evening. Continue reading

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Old Friends, by Carole Howard

It happened over and over: Two people introduced themselves to each other. There was a brief moment in which each reconciled the other’s older face with his or her memory of that same face 50 years ago. And then there was an intake of breath and an outburst of unfettered affection. The joy was palpable.

My husband and I hosted a 50-year reunion of his group of Peace Corps Volunteers. They were known as “Senegal 2,” since they were the second group to have been sent to the young country. Twenty-one were able to make it to the event, some with spouses. I’d met only a few of them before – one of them introduced my husband and me to each other.

They came from all over the country. Mostly retired, they’d spent the last half-century being meat producers, film-makers, educators, health care professionals, social workers, entrepreneurs, businessmen, techies.   But a half century ago, they were well-diggers, construction specialists, health workers, sports coaches, and teachers.

Notice the shirts/ties, dresses/pumps, and the Pan Am propeller plane, which took off from Idlewild (now JFK) Airport

Notice the shirts/ties, dresses/pumps, and the Pan Am propeller plane, which took off from Idlewild (now JFK) Airport

 

They recalled and celebrated the last time they were all together, when they were in their 20’s. One of the themes that emerged was the enduring power of the Peace Corps experience.

“Yes, I helped the people in my village,” said a trim man with neatly-combed gray hair.  “After we dug a well in their village, they no longer had to walk miles to the nearest water source and then carry a heavy bucket back, balanced on their heads. But, truly, I think it helped me even more than them. I met myself during those years.”

Don't they look great?

There were funny stories, too: One man cracked up as he told of his fury when a new room-mate ate the can of mom-sent apple pie filling he’d been saving for Thanksgiving. A woman with exuberant gray hair and an expressive 70-year old face acted out the scene when she’d tried to explain to an African counterpart that she boiled her water before drinking it because of “little animals that live in the water that you can’t see but that go away if the water gets hot.”  And then there was my husband, who’d started a garden in a village where they ate rice and fish, hoping to provide the vitamins found only in vegetables; too bad the first and most prolific crop was detested radishes.

I admired the courage and initiative of their twenty-something selves. They heeded JFK’s call to “ask what you can do for your country” and went to Senegal, a country most had never heard of, in Africa, a continent much less known to Americans then than now. Many traveled out to the bush and, with the Peace Corps’ help, established a life for two years. No email, no cell phone, no Skype, no blog, no Facebook. Inspiring, really.

For the ancestors

For the ancestors

They told their stories and reminisced, remembering their youth with pride, and they reflected on aging. They reconnected with each other. As the group toasted their experiences and their friendship, they first poured some wine into the ground, “for the ancestors,” as they did with their Senegalese counterparts, with palm wine, many years ago.

I don’t think I’ve ever met such a remarkable group of people: smart, funny, reflective, friendly, warm.

As I mentioned in my last piece, “Ask Not….,” there are now about 215,000 returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Do you know any of them? Did you ever ask them about their experiences? What did they say?

 

 

*     *     *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, published by Second Wind Publishing, in which the setting is Senegal and the Peace Corps plays a role.

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The Secret in Whitetail Lake, 3rd installment

The Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department has recovered an old Dodge Charger that had been at the bottom of Whitetail Lake for decades. This entry picks up where the last one left off.

I bent over close to Smoke so I could talk quietly. “Mother is going to freak out if it turns out to be your friends. And she’ll have a very good reason, for a change.”
Smoke lifted his eyebrows, wrinkling his forehead. “No doubt. Think of their families who have wondered all these years.” He straightened up and so did I.
“Oh my, yes.” Having a loved one disappear, never to be heard from again, was one of the most difficult things for a person to cope with. I glanced around at the sheriff’s department personnel who were on the scene and thought of the obvious one who wasn’t there. “I’m surprised the sheriff shown up.”
“Cindy hasn’t been able to locate him just yet.”
“What do you mean?”
“She called me during the towing process to let me know. Truth be told, it’s got me a little concerned.”
A shiver ran up my spine. “I’m sure he has a good reason for being wherever he is.”
Smoke’s shoulder lifted a couple of inches then he went back to his perusal. The other deputies made quiet comments about the car, the bodies. All were wondering how in the hell the car had ended up in the lake in the first place without anyone seeing it go in, or at least noticing damage from the tire tracks on the hill, or on the bank of the lake.
I walked over to where Zubinski and Ortiz were stationed and called them aside. “Go over and have a look, you two. It’s something we’ll never see again in our careers, I’m sure. At least I hope.”
They murmured their thanks and joined the others who were looking in and at the car from all angles. Mason had gotten his camera and was capturing the scene in still shots. The man who had asked Smoke for information earlier jogged over to me. “How long has that car been in Whitetail, and how did it get there in the first place?”
“What’s your name, sir?”
“Harry Gimler.”
“Mister Gimler, we don’t have any information to give out just yet.”
“People are wondering if there are bodies in that car, or why the deputies keep looking inside like there is.”
“There are doing a good visual sweep, and then we’ll take the car to our crime lab and see if we can get some good answers for when and why it went down.”
“I’ve fished in this lake for years, and you’re telling me all this time there was an old car sitting on the bottom.”
“We’ll do our best to figure all that out. In the meantime, if you’d be so kind to watch from over there.” I pointed to the guardrail. “It sounds like they’re ready to load the car on the flatbed.”
Gimler’s eyes darted from me to the Charger like he was considering whether he could make it to the car for a sneak peek before he was apprehended. Instead, he followed my directive and joined the group who was watching from afar.
When Zubinski and Ortiz returned from their look-see, I walked back to check the loading process.
Kyle pushed wheel ramps from the truck bed to the ground, and Ted adjusted them. “Let’s move the side winches back to get them out of the way,” he said and Ted jumped up on the truck to help him. They loosened the straps enough so they could accomplish the task. After the equipment had been repositioned, Ted jumped off the truck and the Charger was pulled up the ramp and onto the truck’s bed in no time, leaving behind more mucky water on the way.
Smoke addressed Warner. “Are you going out for another look around the lake?”
Warner blinked and his lips turned down at the corners. “Hmm. I hadn’t planned on it, but as long as I’m here, it may not be a bad idea.” It looked to me like he’d rather get off the lake. And the sooner the better.
“I was thinking you and the divers should go back where the car was sitting. You could check if there happened to be any other evidence. Most likely not after all this time, but who knows?” Smoke said.
Warner nodded and waved his hand back and forth at the divers. “We’ll need two of you to stay, in case we need your diving skills again.”
Mason and Weber volunteered to be the two. We all watched as the tow truck prepared for the journey back to the county shop where the Dodge Charger would be coaxed to give up every secret it had been keeping.
Smoke walked over to Kyle’s driver’s side window. “I’ll meet you at the shop.”
No one from the crowd of spectators moved until the tow truck was heading east on County Road 35. Harry Gimler puffed his way over to me. “Will you let me know what you find? I mean, it technically was on my property from the looks of it.”
“I will do that. I’m sure we’ll be talking to all the neighbors.”
His eyebrows squeezed together. “So you’re saying there was something in that car. Or someone.”
I smiled at his persistence, despite my intention not to. “Mister Gimler, I’m not at liberty to say anything about this investigation yet.”
He gave me a once over, taking in my street clothes, the Glock in its holster on the right side of my belt, and my badge clipped on next to it. “You look too young to be a detective.”
“I’m not that young and I’m not a detective. I’m Sergeant Corinne Aleckson.”
“I thought you looked familiar. I’ve seen your picture in the paper.”
I didn’t enlighten him on the fact that I lived not far from there. It wasn’t that he was creepy. Exactly. He struck me as cagey more than anything, and I planned to look him up in our department arrest and calls for service files when I had a minute. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to shove off.”
I caught up with Smoke who was giving instructions to Zubinski and Ortiz. “You can get back on the road as soon as all the snoopers leave.”
“Will do,” Mandy said.
I nodded at the two deputies. “Thanks, Mandy and Joel for doing crowd control.”
“You bet,” Joel said. Mandy smiled then they headed to their squad cars.
I turned to Smoke. “I’ll meet you at the shop.”
“It’s your day off, little lady.”
“Not anymore.”

Christine Husom is the Second Wind Author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series

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A Most Unforgetable Camping Trip — by Norm Brown

During the latter part of the 1980’s my sons lived at their Mom’s and spent every other weekend with me. We had some great times. If it was Spring or Summer, most of that time involved fishing and camping. I had a pickup truck and a basic little fourteen foot aluminum fishing boat that saw a lot of action back then—not always a lot of fish, but a lot of action. There were so many of those fun trips, with or without fishing success, that it would be hard to pick out the one that I would consider the best, but I think my offspring and I would definitely agree on which weekend excursion was the most memorable. It was also unquestionably the worst.

Sam Rayburn Lake

Sam Rayburn Lake

It was a late Saturday afternoon, probably in the Spring of either 1989 or 1990. We had hurried out of Houston the previous evening and managed to snag our favorite camping spot in Brushy Creek Park on Sam Rayburn Lake. With me were my sons, 15/16 year old Wayne (aka Paul) and 12/13 year old Clifton. Wayne had also invited his best friend, Darren. It had been cloudy all day and the forecast called for scattered showers and possibly thunderstorms. I was in camp watching Clifton play in the campfire (which he much preferred over fishing) when Wayne and Darren pulled the boat up to shore. We had stayed off the main lake that day, but the teens had spent the afternoon trolling around the small protected cove. Because of the forecast chance of a thunderstorm, I had them pull the boat up in the shallow water and tie up to one of the bare old pine trees along the shore. Everyone was hungry and we thought we were in camp for the night, but while I was rummaging around in the rear of the truck for something to offer for supper, things changed. After being a little breezy all day, the air suddenly became incredibly still. The light level had already been low in the dense pine forest as dusk was approaching, but then we all noticed that everything took on a dark green tint, almost as if the air we were looking through had a greenish hue. The change was amazingly sudden and more than a little ominous. I was still at the rear of the truck looking around when a Park Ranger truck pulled up on the park road. The uniformed ranger didn’t get out, but just rolled down his driver side window and hollered at us that a tornado had been spotted somewhere in the area. As I started toward his vehicle he added, “I don’t think there’s time to try to drive out. If it gets bad, your best bet might be to get inside the restroom up there.”
The warning was barely out of his mouth when the heavy rain hit. Without another word, he hit the gas and disappeared around the curve in the park road. We all headed for my truck. Clifton and I got in the cab while the older boys climbed in the back, which was protected by a light aluminum camper shell. Still thinking we could wait it out, we hunkered down and listened to the downpour for a few minutes. The atmospheric conditions were changing at an unnerving rate. Looking up through the windshield I watched the towering pine trees, many over fifty feet tall and two feet thick at the base, begin to sway in the wind like tall thin weeds. Over the din of the rain striking the metal camper, I thought I heard the tailgate of the truck open. Were the boys making a run for it up the hill to the little restroom? To this day, I clearly remember looking down at my hand on the door handle just as the blowing rain changed to pebble sized hailstones. Not a good sign. On my command Clifton and I bailed out of the truck and ran. We still joke occasionally after all these years about the shared memory of Clifton looking up at me and briefly laughing at the sight of the little ice balls bouncing off my balding head. When we entered the restroom door, I discovered that Wayne and Darren weren’t inside. Within seconds, though, I heard Wayne’s frustrated voice from outside yell, “Where are they?” Shortly after, the two soaked teens came flying through the door. I had everyone sit with back against the brick wall. Whatever happened next, at least we would all be together.

We didn’t have long to wait. What happened next was the most violent natural phenomenon I have ever personally witnessed. A few years earlier in my Houston apartment I had sat through the passing of Hurricane Alicia. Cars down in the parking lot rocked from side to side and I had watched the sliding glass door to my balcony ominously bend in and out, almost like breathing. The straight line winds of seventy something miles per hour had been impressive, but for sheer terror what was outside that campground restroom easily topped that. The little structure had brick walls, but the roof was composed of translucent sheets of corrugated green plastic. How that stayed on, I don’t know. Outside, the sound of the wind seemed to alternate between a low roar and a high-pitched whistle. Then, I presume as the suspected tornado came closer, the thunder and lightning increased dramatically. I’ve never seen or heard anything like that. It was a blinding, constant flashing. Everything was bright as daylight inside the normally unlit restroom. The shadows of trees could be seen through the plastic roof, whipping in every direction. We heard several distinct heavy crashes as some of them fell to the ground somewhere outside. I remember feeling like I was just waiting for one of them to come through the roof. But none did. As suddenly as it all approached, the worst of the noise and light moved into the distance like that freight train I’ve so often heard compared to a tornado. All that had probably only lasted five minutes or so, but it seemed like forever, huddled with the kids against that brick wall.
With the break in the storm, we cautiously came outside into the diminishing wind and rain. A pine tree lay stretched across the ground less than ten feet from the entrance of the restroom. Another pine leaned ominously against its still upright neighbors. Fortunately we found the truck unharmed where we had left it. I think we all were feeling a bit giddy with relief as we hopped in and pulled away from camp, planning on driving into the nearest little town to find a place to get indoors and have something to eat. Even a McDonalds would have been a welcome find, but that turned out to be overly optimistic. Before reaching the exit to the park, we were stopped in our tracks by a good size hardwood tree across the park road. As we discussed the likelihood of managing to cut it up or push it aside, the big raindrops started again. In the distance the rumble of thunder began to approach. Not knowing what to expect next, I drove back into the park and pulled into the parking space for another small campground restroom, thinking that we could run inside if necessary. Happily, it wasn’t. Exhausted, our little group of survivors slept wherever we could in the truck until daylight.
The next morning we awoke to find ourselves still alone in a sunny and very quiet park. Back at our original camp we discovered our domed tent, complete with sleeping bags and gear, soaked and upside down two campsites away. I also discovered some new words had been added to my teenage son’s vocabulary when they came running back up from the shoreline. They had found the boat pressed down against the bottom by a foot-thick tree across the top of it. Amazingly, the dead tree had missed the outboard motor by only a foot or so and ended up balanced horizontally across the boat. Taking turns sawing, we were able to cut through the trunk and shove it off. The damage looked worse than it actually was. The shallow permanent dent along one side of the aluminum edge was really only noticeable of you looked straight along the side.
Across the small cove we could see the actual path the tornado had brutally carved through the woods. It must have come up through the cove and then turned away from our campsite. When I walked around the curve to the boat landing, I found another park ranger truck parked next to my empty boat trailer. It had somehow stayed put, all alone in the center of the asphalt parking lot. I felt a little foolish admitting it was mine, but the ranger just seemed relieved to hear that someone hadn’t been out in a boat during the storm. I had to agree, that probably would have been worse. As it was, we had come close enough to disaster for me.

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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Get Me to the Church On Time—J. Conrad Guest

J. Conrad and new wife, Colleen

J. Conrad and new wife, Colleen

“I got to get there in the morning;
ding, ding, dong, they’re gonna chime.
Kick up a rumpus, don’t lose your compass.
Get me to the church, get me to the church …
Pete’s sake, get me to the church on time.”

Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner

 

Like marriage, no wedding is perfect. In fact, like imperfections that often draw us to someone—a lopsided smile for example, dimples, a tiny mole perhaps—a wedding in which all does not go according to plan results in lasting impressions that will in time create memories of grand warmth. Our wedding—mine and Colleen’s—left us with several such lasting impressions.

The photographer stopped by the house at eleven o’clock to take pictures of my shoes, cufflinks, my jacket on a hanger and, eventually, me in my tux; Colleen had left for her makeup and hair appointment. I wouldn’t see her again until she came down the aisle. After he left, I took the box bearing our unity cross, a two-piece cross that Colleen and I would assemble during our wedding ceremony to represent the two of us becoming one, along with the marriage license and Colleen’s ring (in a black box) out to the car. I placed them all in the backseat—the license (an original and two copies in a manila folder) on top of the box that bore our unity cross, and the ring box on top of that. Then I went back into the house for a final bio stop and to check myself out in a mirror.

A few minutes later, Rory, at age thirty-one Colleen’s youngest son, and I got into the car and proceeded to start for Mark’s place. Mark is my best man. He and I go back to the days when our ages were single digits. Rory had flown in from L.A. to, in the absence of Colleen’s father, give away the bride.

Halfway down the street, I looked on the dashboard for the ring: it wasn’t there. I patted myself down; no ring. After a moment of panic, I recalled where I’d put it. I called to Rory, who was in the backseat with our jackets, the unity cross, and the marriage license, to confirm the ring’s presence.

“Nope,” he told me after a moment. “Not here.”

Hard braking, I wheeled the car around and went back to the house to get the ring. After spending twenty minutes looking everywhere I could think to look—several times—with no luck finding it, I called the photographer thinking that maybe he’d grabbed the box inadvertently when he picked up his gear. He hadn’t. I checked everywhere a third time, under my bed, under the dresser, in the closet, the bathroom, the trashcan, even the bushes outside the front door. Then I asked Rory to check the car again while I called Mark.

“Houston, we have a problem,” I told him.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“I can’t find the ring.”

We spent the next few minutes retracing my steps of the morning—that is after I’d, as my dad used to say, shit, showered, shaved and shined my shoes—to see if we could jog my memory. We failed.

“What size ring does Colleen wear?” he asked.

“Four and a half.”

“Not a problem,” Mark said. “Kim wears a four.” Kim is Mark’s wife of thirty-six years. She was arriving later for the ceremony, driving separately from Mark. “That should work for the ceremony. Worry about your ring later. It’s someplace in the house, right?”

“Right,” I said. But I wasn’t certain. The only thing of which I was certain was that Colleen would not be pleased with me for losing her ring. Rings, with an “s.” She’d placed her engagement ring in the box. When the time came for me to place the ring on her finger, I’d place the wedding band on first and then the engagement ring.

So Rory and I piled back into the car and started for the second time to pick up Mark. A minute later, Rory handed me the black ring box from the backseat.

“Black box,” he said, “on black upholstery. It must’ve slipped onto the seat when we hung up our jackets.”

We got to Mark’s place and I told him we were good on the ring. “It was in the backseat all along. Black box, black upholstery. We missed seeing it three times.”

“Good news indeed.”

“My colon agrees, and I’m sure Kim will be so pleased to keep her ring.”

Mark chuckled.

“Do you have Nick’s phone number on your cell?” I asked.

I don’t own a cell phone. But Colleen thinks I should have one even though I don’t like them, so that will change after we’re married. The things we do for love. Nick is the pastor we selected for our ceremony. Mark and I were supposed to meet him at the church at noon. We’re already late and, with I-96 closed until October for road repair, easily thirty minutes away by surface streets.

“Yeah,” Mark told me.

“Dial him up and tell him we’re running behind.”

A minute later I hear Mark leave Nick a voicemail: “I’m with Joe and Rory. We’re a little late and will be there …” he glanced at his watch, “about twelve-thirty-ish.” After he broke the connection, he told me, “Twelve-thirty-ish I figure buys us up to twelve-forty.”

“Good thinking.” It seems I chose my best man wisely.

I picked up our speed, hoping to make the next light, thinking (in a poor Scottish accent), I’m giving her all she’s got, Captain. We made the light but missed the next two before we made the next one. I tried to time the lights, a practice Mark loathed whenever he rode with me when we were kids. It was a story he shared with Colleen upon meeting her for the first time. “He’d drive twenty-eight miles an hour in a thirty-five mile an hour zone so he wouldn’t have to stop at the red lights. I used to hate that.” Timing the lights here didn’t work, so I threw all caution to the wind and just picked up my speed whenever I could, risking five to ten miles an hour over the speed limit, which seemed to work better.

We arrived about 12:35; guests had been arriving for a few minutes. I greeted Colleen’s family—those I’ve met—most of whom have come from Chicago, and my own family, and a few minutes later, the ceremony started.

A couple weeks earlier, Nick had asked Colleen and me to each send him a few words describing our first meeting, our courtship, and how I proposed. He planned to use each of our perspectives in the ceremony. So we, along with our guests, listened as he described how I was taken, the first time I met Colleen, by her auburn hair, emerald eyes, and beautiful smile.

A few minutes later, Colleen and I exchanged the vows we’d written for each other. These went off without a hitch and we later learned that there wasn’t a dry eye in the chapel. Afterward, I heard Nick say something about Colleen’s “emerald hair.” Sheesh, I thought. If I heard it, then surely our guests heard it, and it’s captured on video now, too. So I turned to Nick and in a stage whisper said, “Auburn.” Nick laughed, as did family and friends (it’s a small chapel), and he corrected himself and went on.

After Nick pronounced us husband and wife, he told me that I was free to kiss my wife. Afterward, he presented us to the congregation as, “Mr. and Mrs. Guest,” and I asked him, “Does that mean we can change our Facebook statuses?”

Another woman might’ve been angry with my levity; but Colleen isn’t another woman. I’d dated women who turned out to be Miss Wrong, and others who maybe weren’t Miss Wrong but certainly weren’t Miss Right. I learned a few weeks after meeting her that Colleen was a keeper. Colleen laughed, as did everyone who witnessed our marriage, and today, as I sit typing these words a week later, I’m happy to call Colleen, “My wife.”

J. Conrad Guest, author of: 500 Miles To GoA Retrospect In Death, A World Without Music (forthcoming), Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine InningsJanuary’s ParadigmJanuary’s Thaw, and One Hot January

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Sea of Destiny – Part 25 by Dellani Oakes

sea of destiny coverAdam comes to Kyle to report on Emily’s condition. He reveals that there is a faith healer in Cozumel, a priest who’s said to be able to cure terminally ill patients. Emily isn’t in remission as she said. She plans to visit this priest and see if he can heal her.

  They shook hands and walked opposite directions. Kyle found himself at the dining room without realizing he’d arrived. Emily’s place was empty, but his family greeted him as if he’d been gone for years instead of five minutes.

After lunch, Cindy took Mindy to the singing and Randy went back to the pool. Carmelita and Kyle sat in one of the lounges having a few drinks, watching the ocean float by.

“What did he tell you?”

“She’s not in remission,” he mumbled. “She wants to see a faith healer in Cozumel.”

“Any port in a storm, I guess.”

“But a faith healer, Lita?”

“If you’d heard about it when Margo was sick, you’d have leaped at that chance too. Don’t you destroy that girl’s belief because you feel cheated!”

“What?”

“You figure your faith wasn’t enough to keep Margo alive. You prayed and prayed for her to get better, not leave you, not leave your kids…. It was her time, but you wouldn’t accept that. I saw that girl’s face every time you left her room. She didn’t want to leave you, but she knew she couldn’t fight it anymore. Why do you think she lingered so long? She did that for you. Wasn’t nothing you could do about it, so you let it eat you up. Now you’ve took up with another sick woman. What is it inside you that makes you want to make things better?”

“My father left us when I was seven and my brother was three. Mom fell apart and I had to make it better. She was a dancer before she married, so I gave her the idea of opening a dance studio. She borrowed the money from friends and built one in our backyard. It grew from there.”

“And you got in the habit of always fixing everything after that, huh?”

Kyle shrugged, nodding. “There was always something broken, so I learned how to be a handyman. We never had quite enough money, so I took up mowing yards. We needed customers, so I made up fliers and took them around town on my bike.”

“And she let you do all that? I always thought your mama had a selfish streak. That just proves it.”

“She’s not as bad as Margo’s. That woman wrote the book on selfish, taking it to a whole new level.”

“Well, she ain’t in this conversation. But you’re right.”

They sat in silence several minutes while Kyle tried to put his thoughts together. Finding it impossible, he put his glass against his forehead, closing his eyes.

“What am I doing, Lita?”

Her fingers wrapped around his. “Falling in love, baby.”

* * *

Emily wasn’t at dinner, so Kyle went to see her in the infirmary afterward. The nurse didn’t want to let him in, but he heard Emily’s imperious voice telling her to let him through. She looked incredibly pale, like a porcelain doll. Her eyes were hot and feverish, her skin drawn tightly over her bones. Her dark hair stood out in bold contrast against her pallor.

She held out her hand to him, smiling. “I told them earlier to let you in. I guess she forgot.”

“How are you feeling?”

“How do I look?”

“Rather like hell.”

“Funny, I feel like that too. I’m sorry. I should have been honest with you. Adam told me what you talked about. The kid can’t keep anything from me. I see into his soul.”

“Handy talent.”

“Yeah, I’d have made a great inquisitor, don’t you think?” Emily closed her eyes, sighing.

“Do you really think this priest can help you, Emily?”

“I have to try, Kyle. I’ve tried conventional means. I’ve done the homeopathic route. I’m grasping at straws, unwilling to let go. This life isn’t all that great, but it’s the only one I’ve got.”

“And you keep hoping there can be something better.”

She nodded slowly. “I know there can. But I’m waiting and it doesn’t get any better. I don’t know what to do anymore. I can’t wait forever.”

He kissed her fingers. They felt cold to his lips. “You don’t have to, Emily. I’m here now.”

Her green eyes fluttered open. Tears rolled down her cheeks. “I’ve waited for you my entire life. Now that I’ve found you, I’m dying.” She started giggling rather hysterically, tears flowing down her cheeks. “God, the irony!”

© Dellani Oakes To Buy Dellani’s Books

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What Makes Us So Special? by Mike Simpson

“Horse sense,” Mark Twain wrote, “is the remarkable quality that prevents horses from betting on people.” Twain was well known for asserting in his speeches and literature that, despite our assumptions to the contrary, it is not the intelligence of human beings that sets us above all other creatures on our planet.

In actuality, humans do have the greatest raw intelligence of any species. When it comes to evaluating the true worth of our intellect, however, our natural smarts may not be our best calling card. The wise psychiatrist Murray Bowen was able to demonstrate that virtually every decision made by human beings is emotionally driven—that is, we decide what we believe, what we want, what we’re going to do and then we use our significant brain power to justify the decisions we’ve made. One of Bowen’s students famously referred to this process of rationalizing our decisions as “cerebating”; and, in its way, it really does make you blind.

So assuming it’s not really our brain power that sets us apart from all other creatures, what does separate human beings (in a positive way) from the rest of the animal kingdom?

In my youth, I can remember it being said that people were a higher species because, unlike animals, we weep. It was said that, “human beings are the only risible animal” (the only one that smiles and laughs).

I guess the underlying assumption of these assertions is that animals don’t experience emotions, but human beings do. If Facebook and YouTube have taught us anything, it is that animals—lots of species—experience and express emotions just as people do. Spend an hour scrolling the posts on Facebook and you’ll see dogs, elephants, deer, primates, lions-and-tigers-and-bears, even (bless their hearts) cats express a great range of emotions: joy, fear, indignation, rage, courage, guilt and grief. We all remember watching clips of the house cat taking on and scaring off the dog that had attacked a little boy. To recognize the full depth and power of the emotional states animals experience, I recommend watching the short video of Jane Goodall and her co-workers releasing a captive ape back into the wild. The appreciation, relief and joy expressed by that primate in the video are beyond denial.

And while I’m on this, I get so tired of pundits telling us not to “anthropomorphize” animals by attributing human emotions and characteristics to them. What hooey. When you get down to it, animals can be a lot more “human” than a lot of people I know. In our best moments of compassion, courage and goodness, we human beings should say how proud and humble we are to act out the goodness we have seen in animals.

Well if it’s not our intelligence and it’s not our emotions that make us a superior species, then what is it?

I believe what sets humanity apart from the other species on the planet is our ability to create. Take, for instance, the places where creatures dwell. When you walk around a barn and you see a nest hanging from the eves, you know it was make by swallows. Those who study spiders are able to determine from the shape of a nest what variety of arachnoid created it. Ever moron who has ever gone noodling knows exactly where in the muddy water to stick an arm to snag a catfish.

Like every other creature, human beings also need safe places to dwell, but—from thatch huts to high rise apartments to brick farmhouses—the dwellings we call “home” reveal a dizzying array of creativity, responses to the environment around us and our own innate need to be a least a little bit different from the folks next door.

Human beings create. Musicians, engineers, writers, neurosurgeons, seamstresses, artists and entrepreneurs—regardless of their ideals, faith, politics, personalities or vision—all have this one thing in common: they create. They build upon the foundation of the creatives who came before them and expand the vision they received with their own new, keen insights. And the purist, finest, most revolutionary creativity in every field of human endeavor in each generation advances our species as a whole.

Accordingly, if I’m correct that it is our ability to create that sets up apart and above all other species, then logically the highest form of human activity is creation—that is, being immersed in the creative process. Thus those human beings who have to greatest value to our species are those who create, followed by those who empower creators. And therefore, those human beings who are the most deadly to the potential and survival of our species are those who ignore, demean or impede the creative process.

I believe human beings were created to create. Learning, developing, exploring, meditating and sharing your creative endeavors is not just what sets us apart as beings, it is the purpose for our being. When you create—in whatever of the billion forms of creativity there are—you affirm the existence of us all. Thank you, creative soul.

—Mike Simpson

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Rest and Relaxation by John E. Stack

There are times when you just need to get away. Away from everyday life. Away from the house. Basically, out of town. Plans are made, paid and off you go. Time to relax, and time to plan. Time to get your thoughts together and time to actually write, you hope. Life can be so hectic that often time for writing gets lost in the craziness. This was where I was at. Since I teach middle school, summer is the main time I have available to write. I couldn’t wait to get away.

Off to the beach we went. My wife and I, my daughter who is almost 5, and our foster daughter (9 months). Along with us was our 35 year old daughter, her husband and my two grandsons, ages 3 1/2 and 4 months. Yeah, what was I thinking? Anyway, it was a large condo.

We did get away and, mostly, the weather was beautiful. We drove down with all of the other beach travelers and the last 45 miles we were in bumper-to-bumper traffic so our travel time was extended by at least an hour. The weather ranged from upper 80′s to mid 90′s. I guess the hurricane that went through last week took most of the bad weather with it. Either that or God decided to give the South Carolina coast a break. The beach was active but not too crowded. My girls and I spent a lot of time in the water. Thanks to a good sunblock no one got a burn.

Around mid-week I did find a few hours to work on a new children’s book which involves one of my favorite characters, Cody. Some how things quieted down. I think it was nap time. I got to write a couple of pages but decided that I didn’t like most of what I had written. Oh well, I figured out where I didn’t want to go. Cody gets to travel a new path, I just don’t know where it is going yet.

Toward the end of the week we got a storm like I’ve never seen before. We had high winds and horizontal rain. Several hotels had windows shattered and pool furniture blown away. All we had was a leaky sliding glass door. No big deal. After the rain it cleared up to some more beautiful beach weather.

As we packed to leave on Saturday morning, it was raining again. Luckily, it was a gentle rain that cleared as we finished breakfast. The trip home was uneventful, lots of traffic, but no real problems. We were all glad to get back home and to our normal routine.

Though things did not go as planned for inspiration and writing I made some serious memories with my little girl. And, my son-in-law and I got to see the latest “Transformers” movie. What can I say, it was a total win.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo and the soon to be released Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.

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Where did that waiter come from? By Sheila Deeth

You know when you’re reading a passage of dialog, and the characters just got in the car so of course that’s where they are, except a waiter walks up to offer dessert… Or the author’s detailed every item in a woman’s purse, only to have her pull out a gun that missed the inventory… Or the school on the West side of the street suddenly appears on the East… or… etc… You know… those odd inconsistencies that an editor tries to eradicate before the book goes to print, and an author knows made perfect sense at the time…

Well, those same inconsistencies can drive a poor builder of flat pack furniture crazy. I’ve learned this to my cost, ’cause I’ve just been building cupboards, chests of drawers, and chairs for my son. Connect A to B using C, D, and E said the instructions. But a leftover item, labeled F, turned out to be essential. It was in the diagram, just not in the text. Then the writing demanded I attach drawer sliders with arrows pointing outwards. But one slider worked backwards and slid the wrong way. Tighten A, B and C, said the rules, and repeat. But why didn’t they tell me to leave the screws loose until I’d added D?

Ah, flat pack furniture is such fun. And so is editing. So next time you wonder where the waiter (and dessert) came from, pity the poor editor and author who forgot they’d removed the main course paragraph.

And yes please, I’ll have the chocolate mousse–I need it! But the furniture looks great.

 

Sheila Deeth is the author of Divide by Zero, Infinite Sum, and Imaginary Numbers, coming soon from Second Wind Publishing.

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