This is quite a challenge for me. I cannot use smell to describe an emotion, because I have no sense of smell. And my wife claims I have no taste because smell and taste are linked. Or maybe she meant that I simply have no taste in clothes, style, or anything.
I concede that my “taste” is mostly texture. However, I will use my “taste” to attempt to describe a certain emotion.
It is partly watery and welcome as a rushing stream in a parched land. Or as a glass of cool water on a sore throat.
Yet this emotion also is chewy, like fresh-baked bread still warm from the oven. This is the kind of delicious chew that delights the body and yields a satisfied smile.
Amid the munches, a wee bit of a crunch is discernable, like sweet crumbles on the flaky crust of your favorite pie. The slight crunchiness tickles the roof of your mouth and makes you giggle.
One also can deduce a surprising creaminess that coats all the other textures.
The result is an indescribable taste that you wish would linger.
The Oak Street Witch
"Come on, chicken! Ya gotta run sometime!"
Three boys in sweaty undershirts and jeans stubbornly clung to what little daylight remained on North Oak Street. Two of them tossed a rubber ball while a younger boy stood defiantly amid one of the thrower’s taunts. They played a game of “pickle” on the sidewalk in front of the McDonald home.
"Aw, baby afraid we’re gonna tag you out,” 11-year-old Johnny Marstall yelled again. He held a rubber ball in his outstretched right hand and wore a worn baseball glove on his left. "You know they also call this game “running bases.”
Several sidewalk squares away, the younger boy, Huey McDonald, tugged the brim of his well-worn Detroit Tigers baseball cap and brushed the sandy hair away from his eyes. He scowled, as if a show of resoluteness would add two more years to his body to make him even with Johnny. Without looking up at his older brother standing two feet away, Huey muttered: "Tell your friend to shut up."
The other thrower paid no attention to his sibling's plea. Twelve-year-old Ken McDonald pounded his glove and hollered, "Give me a pop up, John."
Johnny flashed a knowing smile and tossed the ball to Ken in a high arc. Huey took off to where Johnny was standing. Ken caught the ball and whipped it to Johnny, but Huey was already safely on the "base." Smirking.
Johnny frowned. He fired the ball back to Ken, but the angry throw went awry. As Huey ran to the next base, Ken chased the ball that sailed past him, bounced over two lawns, and rolled to a stop near decayed wooden porch steps of the old house on the corner.
Ken McDonald stopped. All the kids in the neighborhood knew this was the home of the Oak Street Witch. That was the nickname that children hung on the elderly Miss Stromwich. Ken stepped onto the tall, weedy grass of the Stromwich front yard, but he jumped back when something stirred on the covered porch. A large, blackish brown German shepherd poked its surly head over the top rail. The dirty animal growled. The deep guttural rumble shook nearby windows. The big dog bounded down the steps, stood over the ball, and bared its teeth at Ken. Saliva dripped from a feral, ferocious snarl. A rope collar hung loosely on the beast's matted fur, and a rope leash dragged behind as Rex took a threatening step toward Ken.
The boy tried to step further back on an adjoining driveway, but his legs were frozen with fear. His entire body seemed paralyzed, and his baseball glove dropped to the cement. A little hand reached down to pick up his glove.
Huey shook as he held the glove out. He had run to his brother's side when he saw Ken's plight.
"Don't move," Johnny Marstall whispered, from just behind the McDonald boys.
The German shepherd took another step forward and coiled its massive body. Tears ran down Huey's cheeks, but the boy did not make a sound. The dog punctuated its growl with a deafening bark. Huey screamed.
"OK, Rex, you made our point,” a woman’s voice croaked from the covered porch shrouded in early evening shadows. “Come back up here, boy."
The fierce dog obediently turned back to the porch.
"Bring that ball," the woman's voice came again. She cackled as her dog sunk its teeth into the ball, slunk up the wooden steps, and laid down next to the silhouetted figure in a rocking chair.
From the sidewalk, Ken and Johnny and Huey took deep breaths. All three boys were close enough to make out Miss Stromwich's fierce features and unkempt, grayish white hair in the shadows. She often sat on her porch rocker in the evening in a faded house dress with her big dog lying next to her clunky brown shoes. But this was the first time the kids heard her speak.
"Keep that thing chained up!"
The McDonald boys turned back to see their father standing boldly on the front porch of their home. Mike McDonald, 38, was wearing on oven mitt on his left hand while holding the door open with his right. He tossed the mitt into his living room and marched to the sidewalk in front of the corner house.
“I swear, Miss Stromwich,” Mike McDonald spat out the words, “next time I’m calling the cops. That thing on your porch is a menace to the entire block.”
There was no retort from the porch. However, the neighbors were watching.
Mike put his arms around Ken and Huey. “C’mon. Dinnertime, boys. Your mom’s working late, so she said to start without her.” As the McDonalds’ storm door closed behind them, Miss Stromwich reached down with her gnarled hand and touched her dog. “Aw, I don’t think the house husband’s gonna invite us for dinner. After all, his kids think I’m a … witch.”
The streetlights were on by the time an attractive woman in a business suit strode swiftly up North Oak Street. She carried a tan briefcase in her left hand. As she crossed a side street, a sedan stopped, putting the woman squarely in the car’s headlight beams.
The driver poked her head out an open car window and shouted, “Hi, Mrs. McDonald! How was work today?”
Sandy McDonald did not look up. She kept walking. A growl emanated from a porch on the corner, but the 35-year-old businesswoman kept her head down and her legs moving to her house, the one with the porch light on and a lighted living room visible through a front window. Sandy quickly ascended the porch steps.
“Put in a late one tonight, eh?”
Sandy nodded quickly at a figure sitting on the Marstall porch next door. She paused when Mrs. Marstall added, “We’ve got your boy Kenny. He’s sleeping over and…”
Sandy McDonald went into her house and shut the door on the rest of her neighbor’s words. She set her briefcase on the floor and yelled, “Anybody home?”
A toilet flushed and Mike McDonald emerged. “It’s about time, Sandra.”
While Sandy explained that her staff meeting ran late and morphed into another meeting and she had to sketch a revamped building design and the taxi broke down less than a mile from home, Huey burst into the living room in his pajamas and baseball cap. He hugged his mother.
“What did my boy do today?” Sandy said, removing his hat and tousling his hair.
Huey grabbed the cap, put it back on his head, and launched into a play-by-play:
“Oh, man, school sucked. Mrs. Livingston gave us enough homework to choke a horse. Jimmy told her so, right in class! She gave us all these fractions that nobody can do. Not even that new kid who keeps telling us how smart he is. Dad tried to help me tonight, but ...” Huey leaned in and whispered, “He’s no good at fractions.”
Oh, come on, Huey,” Sandy said, “your dad is very good at a lot of things.”
“Oh yeah? You shoulda tried to eat his dinner. I told him it looked like mac and snot.”
Mom whispered to Huey, “Apologize to your dad when you say goodnight.”
When Mike entered the room, the 9-year-old obediently shook hands with his father and said, “Sorry, I shouldn’ta dissed your meal and homework help.” Mike smiled.
Huey added as he ascended the stairs, “Because your fractions are way better than the stuff you put on my plate.” His father pretended to run toward the stairs, and they both laughed.
Mike sat on an old couch next to Sandy when they heard Huey yell from his bedroom, “Dad, be sure to tell Mom about the Oak Street Witch.”
“Get in that bed,” Mike yelled. He put an arm around his wife and asked quietly, “What happened at the meeting? Are they going to make you resubmit a commercial zoning proposal or are they going ahead with that redevelopment you hate? Or …”
“Screw work,” Sandy said. “I’d rather hear about the witch.”
Mike nodded his head in the direction of the old house on the corner. Sandy laughed.
At 7:30 in the morning, Sandy opened a bedroom door and smiled at her sleeping boys. She was in her business attire. Ken laid atop the covers and was still in his jeans, just as Sandy saw him when he came home from the aborted sleepover next door. He said Johnny’s dad snored loud. Huey still wore his Detroit Tigers baseball cap. Sandy shook her head; trying to get him to remove that cap was a never-ending battle. She kissed each boy’s forehead and left for work.
One-forty-six in the afternoon. That’s the time police recorded in their report and Oak Street residents etched in their memories.
The confrontation began 25 minutes earlier when a rubber ball bounced into Miss Stromwich’s front yard from another game of “pickle.” Ken gingerly trod on the sidewalk in front of her house, but stopped when the big dog on the porch growled.
“What d’ya want?” Miss Stromwich yelled from her rocking chair.
Ken looked at the ball, then bravely faced the old woman and her dog. The boy’s lips trembled, but he got out the words, “Ma’am, would you mind if I got…”
Rex bolted from the porch. Ken closed his eyes and he felt drops of slobber sprinkle his arms. A neighbor screamed. Miss Stromwich laughed. The 12-year-old felt an arm on his shoulder. As Johnny Marstall led his friend away, Ken opened his eyes and saw the large dog bounding back up the porch steps. The creature dripped saliva. The rubber ball was in its mouth.
Huey had fetched his dad and, just like last night, Mike McDonald marched down the sidewalk to Miss Stromwich’s house. The dog barked, dropping the ball from its mouth.
“I warned you, old woman,” Mike shouted as several neighbors watched the clash from their lawns and porches. “That dog is a menace. And where the hell do you get off torturing kids?”
Miss Stromwich stood and pointed a bony finger at her accuser. “Torture? I’m the one being tortured by your damn kids. They got no respect for my prop’ty.”
Gimme that ball!” Mr. McDonald yelled. He stepped toward the old woman’s unkempt yard, but Huey screamed. He tried to push his father back. Rex ran at Huey and Mike. The dog barked furiously, but did not attack. Mike scooped up Huey and whisked him away.
When Officer Dornbos arrived in his cruiser, he found Mike McDonald consoling his son, Miss Stromwich sitting quietly in her porch rocker, and several neighbors watching on their lawns. Officer Dornbos first questioned Mike McDonald, with Ken and Huey at his side. Mike pointed to the old woman on the porch.
Dornbos turned to the neighbors and shouted, “Did anyone see what happened?”
Nobody said a word. The officer turned directly to Grace Miller, Linda Langford, and Peter Johnson who were clustered on a lawn across the street from the McDonald house. “What about past behavior? You must’ve seen something.”
“Leave us out of this,” Grace replied.
“Yeah,” Peter added, neglecting to mention that he was the one who called the police. “We don’t want to get involved.”
Officer Dornbos walked across Miss Stromwich’s grass, followed closely by Mike and his two sons. Rex bolted upright, trotted to the front of the porch, and stood like a snarling sentinel. Dornbos stopped. He motioned the McDonalds to step back. He drew his gun, pointed it at the dog, and shouted, “Ma’am, secure that animal. NOW!”
Miss Stromwich reeled in her dog and tied its leash to her rocker.
“Relax, boy,” the old woman told Rex. “The officer is here to protect us and our prop’ty.” She turned to Dornbos and said, “So what lies has that crazy man been telling you?”
After Dornbos secured the woman’s age – 85 – he asked for her side of the story. She stood inches away from the officer and shouted, “I won't give you a frikkin' story. I'll give you the truth. But not while that lyin' devil and his hoodlum kids are standin' on my prop’ty.”
Dornbos told the McDonalds to step back onto the sidewalk. The officer asked the woman, “Did your dog attack or threaten anyone here?”
Rex growled from his prone position, but Miss Stromwich reached down and stroked his fur. The dog quieted. “My Rexy? He's great with good kids. He only protects me and my prop'ty. Gawd knows I need it with the troublemakers on this street.”
While Officer Dornbos continued to talk to Miss Stromwich, the McDonalds huddled up. In hushed tones, Huey asked, “What’s Mom gonna say?” Ken added, “Yeah, she’s always telling us to leave the neighbors alone, especially that witch.” “Are they gonna arrest the witch?” Huey asked. Mike shook his head. “Hopefully, the police visit will put the fear of God in her.” Ken replied, “But witches don’t believe in God.”
Officer Dornbos walked toward Mike, Ken and Huey, and the huddle broke up. Dornbos carried an object in his gloved hand.
“Here's your ball back, son,” Dornbos said.
Ken held out his hand, but withdrew it when he saw the chewed up object was half its size and dripping saliva. Dornbos tossed the ball onto the McDonalds’ lawn.
Dornbos opened the door of his police cruiser and announced to the neighborhood, “I’m done here, everyone. Now it’s up to you. I’m not advising, I’m ordering you: Get along.”
Mike tried to reply, “But what if…”
The officer interrupted, “Don't waste my time or another officer's time with this penny-ante bickering.” He climbed into his cruiser and left.
Early in the morning, Sandy went through her pre-work ritual. She quietly opened the door to the boys’ darkened bedroom. She kissed Ken’s forehead, but when she bent down to kiss Huey, he was not there. Sandy frantically ruffled the covers but only found Huey’s cap. Breathing heavily, she picked up the cap and whirled her gaze around the room. She noticed the bedroom window was wide open.
“Where’s Huey?” Sandy screamed as she desperately shook Ken awake.
“Huh,” Ken said groggily. “Ma, what’re you doin’ here on a Saturday mor…”
“Your brother,” Sandy yelled. “Where is he? Where?”
Ken bolted up and looked at the empty bed. “Huey,” he shouted. “Huuu-eeeeee!”
Mike burst into the bedroom in his pajama shorts and T-shirt, and he, Sandy, and Ken madly searched the house. Within minutes, they assembled in the kitchen, Ken in jeans and a T-shirt, Mike in jeans and a collared shirt, and Sandy still in her business clothes and still clutching Huey’s Detroit Tigers cap, the one that never seemed to leave his head.
“I want you both to stay calm,” Mike told his wife and Ken. “We're no good to Huey if we run around half-cocked. I'm taking our car to scour all the streets from here to the elementary school, Obie's market, plus some of the busier streets. Ken, you're ...”
“I'm walking up to the park and checking,” Ken said. “Johnny and I were gonna get up a game this morning, and Huey never misses.”
Mike told Sandy, “And you’re going door-to-door.”
Sandy tearfully looked out the window and did not reply.
“Go ahead, Ken,” Mike said. His older son scampered out the door.
Mike held his wife’s shoulders and looked into her eyes, but she did not return his gaze. “Look,” he said angrily, “whatever issues you got, Sandra, lose 'em! If you're sad about Huey, put it aside. Or, god forbid, you better not be giving me more of that "I don't talk to the neighbors" crap. Not now, dammit!”
Sandy finally looked at her husband. “But my privacy...”
“Can it, Sandra!”
Mike removed his hands from Sandy's shoulder with disgust. “I've heard your ‘I'm independent’ shtick. Your ‘I don't give or take charity’ mantra. Well, I believe in community! And we sure as hell need it now.”
Mike took out his cellphone, punched some numbers, and opened the front door. On his way out, Mike said to his phone, “Yes, officer, I'd like to report a missing...” The door closed, and Sandy was alone.
Sandy picked up a framed, glass-encased photo of her with Huey. She wore a sweatshirt and jeans and cap, and he was in jeans and a T-shirt – and, of course, his baseball cap.
She heard a car back out of her driveway and leave.
Changing into a comfortable sneaker, Sandy still wore her business clothes when she left the house. She carried the picture of her and Huey, and still clutched Huey's baseball cap. Walking down the front steps, she glanced at Miss Stromwich's house and walked in the other direction.
Mrs. Marstall rushed onto her porch as her neighbor passed. “Don't worry, Mrs. McDonald. I will keep an eye out for Huey. So is everybody.”
Sandy looked at Huey’s picture, nodded, and kept walking.
Three streets over and two blocks up, Mike McDonald slowly drove his sedan, looking out the open window and occasionally shouting, “Huey! Huey McDonald!... Anybody seen my boy?” A man in an undershirt and jeans approached. The man shook his head and Mike resumed cruising the neighborhoods. “Mrs. Olsen, have you seen my Huey?” he yelled to a woman getting into her car. “Not at all?” He kept driving slowly.
At the local park, two boys on bicycles zipped past a woman jogger. Johnny Marstall carried a baseball bat and glove on his bike; Ken McDonald just a glove. The boys stopped at the biggest tree in the park and tossed their bikes and gear on the grass. Johnny knelt by the trunk and cupped his hands. Ken put a foot into the cup, hugged the tree, and climbed to the first big limb. A wooden platform there was empty. Ken sighed, and climbed higher. He looked out over a coal yard, a school playground, and at the remainder of the park. Ken saw a few walkers and bicyclists, but no sign of his brother.
Afternoon set in, and Sandy McDonald’s gait was noticeably slower. Beads of perspiration gathered in the furrows of her glistening brow. She still carried the photo and Huey’s cap in her right hand, but her left hand now hung onto the dress jacket draped over the shoulder of her long-sleeved white blouse.
A car pulled up alongside her. “Hon, any leads?”
Sandy hesitated, then rushed to Mike’s car, her lip trembling. “Nothing! Not one damn thing.”
Mike told his wife that the police were looking, too. He said he would find Ken and take him home for a lunch break. Mike added, “C’mon, hop in and take a break, too.”
Sandy shook her head. “I can’t, not right now. I just need to walk, OK?”
After an awkward silence, Mike said, “Sandy, if it’s about this morning, I am so…”
Sandy placed her forefinger over Mike’s lips. She withdrew it and held up a well-worn Detroit Tigers baseball cap. “This is why.”
Mike nodded. “Take care of yourself. Love you,” he said as he drove off.
Sandy resumed walking. Two teen girls, talking and laughing, passed her. Nobody made eye contact. Sandy kept walking. She passed a woman on her knees gardening near the sidewalk. Sandy kept walking.
Amid late afternoon shadows, Sandy found herself in the middle of an unpaved road, with trees and bushes on one side and a few houses on the other. The sleeves on her white blouse were rolled up high on her arm. Sandy grimaced. She stopped, set down the cap and photo and tucked the jacket under her arm. She took off a shoe. She turned it over, and shook out a stone. She put her shoe back on, picked up her belongings and resumed her trek.
Later, on a paved side street about two miles from home, a man carrying a heaping bag of groceries approached. He smiled at Sandy, a stalk of celery fell from the bag, and the man kept walking. Sandy noticed the green stalk at her feet. She continued walking.
Further up the street, an 8-year-old boy in a ripped T-shirt and jeans stood in the sidewalk next to his scooter. He eyed Sandy as she approached. Finally, he asked, “Are you Mrs. Mac?” Sandy walked past him. But he rode his scooter into the street and back onto the sidewalk in front of her. Sandy stopped and asked sharply, “Who are you and what do you want?”
“My name is Billy Langford. Are you Huey McDonald's mom?”
Sandy bent down near his face and demanded, “Where is he? Have you seen him? How do you know him? How did you know about me? How ..."
“Cool it, Missus Mac. No, I haven't seen him since school yesterday. He's in my class. Is something wrong?”
“We are trying to find Huey,” she said. “Do you guys have some place you like to go?”
Billy shook his head. Sandy tried again: “Think! Do you have ANY idea where he might be?”
Billy leaned forward. Quietly, he said, “Did he tell you about the witch on his street? Did you look there? Be careful. Huey says he's heard things about...”
Billy, I must go,” Sandy said abruptly. “Let me know if you hear something, OK?”
Sandy gave the boy her business card and resumed her trek, leaving Billy in the background.
The shadows began to get longer. Sandy strode briskly on another sidewalk, but stopped and put the cap and photo down and put one arm into a jacket sleeve. She punched a number on her cellphone. She got an answer on the third ring.
“Mike,” Sandy said into the phone, “Have you heard any...?”
She listened intently. “No luck here either. You called all his friends again?... How about the police?” She hung her head and fought back tears. Sandy added, “I just don’t know what else to do. I’m coming home.”
Mike asked where he could pick her up in the car.
“No, no need,” Sandy replied. “I’m only four or five blocks away. I’ll walk back.”
Only a few minutes after Sandy picked up her things and resumed her trek, she heard a woman’s voice call to her: “Mrs. McDonald?”
Sandy glanced to her left and saw a trim woman in her late 50s or early 60s wearing black slacks and a tan blouse. She was sitting on the front porch steps of a small ranch home. Sandy looked away and kept walking.
“Hold it, Mrs. McDonald,” the woman said. “Don’t be a fool like me.”
Sandy stopped and turned back to the woman on the steps.
“I heard your child is missing,” the woman said. “And I know what you're going through.”
Sandy shot back, “I don't even know you. And no, ma'am, you have no idea.
The woman rose from the porch steps. “Mrs. McDonald, my name is Eva Dorn. My boy went missing ten years ago. Ten years and twenty-two days ago.”
Sandy’s eyes widened. “I’m so sorry,” she said with sincerity. “When did you get him back?”
The two women stared at each other.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my red-headed Tommy,” Eva said. “It’s like a hole in your heart that can’t be filled.”
Sandy looked at the sidewalk. She shook her head, gazed into Eva’s eyes, and said, “Ten years? No word? How old was your boy?”
“Thirteen-and-a-half when he vanished,” Mrs. Dorn said.
Against her inclination, Sandy asked, “What did you mean about being a fool?”
“Don't be like me,” Eva said directly. “Don't leave any stone unturned. When I looked for Tommy, there were clues I dismissed. And all these years later, I'm still replaying them in my head. Somebody told me Tommy talked about Florida. Another said he tried to go to a NASCAR race. He loved watching and reading about race cars. He even carried a mini-Indy checkered flag in his back pocket. All the time.”
Come on,” Sandy said, “you can't blame yourself for not following up on those outlandish things.”
“After ten years, they are not far-fetched, Mrs. McDonald. I beat myself up for not following up on every tip. Especially when night comes and I think if only or what if. One of Tommy's friends even feared that a witch got him.”
Sandy reflexively placed her hand across her mouth, the hand that was dangling her jacket. Mrs. Dorn touched Mrs. McDonald’s arm.
“I'm sorry,” Sandy said, backing away. “I've got to get home.”
“Don't let pride in,” Eva said, taking a step toward the McDonald woman. “Accept help. I didn't, and now I'm all alone.”
Sandy turned and ran away.
The streetlights were on as Sandy ran onto the 900 block of North Oak Street. A big dog barked loudly as Sandy approached Miss Stromwich’s corner house. Rex leaped off the porch and flew at Sandy like a heat-seeking missile.
Sandy screamed. She froze, shut her eyes, and dropped her picture, Huey's cap, and her jacket. The rope, apparently tied to something, stopped the snarling creature inches from the terrified McDonald woman. She opened her eyes and tried to shuffle away, but her legs would not move.
“Call him off!” Sandy yelled amid more horrific screams and thunderous barking that caused nearly two dozen neighbors to spill out of their houses and into the street in front of the Stromwich house.
Mike McDonald barreled out the front door and jumped in front of his wife on the sidewalk. Rex strained mightily to get at him, spilling slobber on his pants and shirt. Mike tried to ease backward with Sandy behind him. Sandy stooped to pick up the photo she dropped. She also tried to get Huey's Detroit Tigers cap when a jet black puppy rushed past Mike and grabbed the lid in its paws and mouth. The puppy tried to rub against Sandy's leg. She screamed, and Mike shooed the puppy away. The little dog retreated to the porch with the cap in its mouth.
“Control those beasts of yours,” Mike McDonald called out to Miss Stromwich, who watched the bedlam unfold from her perch on the porch. She was visible only as a dark form in a rocker, her features shielded by night shadows that – at least on the porch – overpowered the streetlights.
Mike pointed at the elderly woman. “If one of those dogs touches my…”
“You're gonna do what?” Miss Stromwich shouted as Rex barked ferociously and strained on his rope leash.
Mike McDonald moved to his wife’s side. He took Sandy’s hand in his and told the Stromwich woman, “I'm gonna do whatever it takes to stop you and those wild animals from intimidating this neighborhood.”
Miss Stromwich cackled. “You and who else?”
Mike looked at his wife and raised his hand that held Sandy's over their heads. A 37-year-old neighbor from across the street stepped forward from the crowd. Ray Fregosi grasped Mike's free hand and thrust it into the clear night air.
“You put my kids at risk every day, lady,” Fregosi said. “Enough!”
Another neighbor, Mary Freeland, 25, took Ray’s hand and raised it aloft. Others joined in and soon a crowd of neighbors with clasped hands held high stood in front of the corner house on North Oak Street.
A sudden flash of lightning struck a nearby tree limb and a loud thunder clap sent Rex scurrying to his porch along with the little dog. The neighbors continued to hold their hands aloft.
In less than 10 seconds, a blinding bolt of lightning struck Miss Stromwich’s house and a monstrous thunderclap shook the neighborhood. People dove or fell to the ground, letting go of neighbors’ hands and shielding their eyes from the brilliance.
Streetlights went out. When the lights came back on seconds later, people were getting up off the pavement and grass.
“She’s gone!” someone yelled.
“Her dogs, too!”
People gazed at Miss Stromwich’s empty rocking chair on the wooden porch. Smoke arose from the porch and the gigantic hole in the front roof.
“Something moved on the porch!” Mary Freeland cried out.
Others noticed, too. A human figure staggered through the smoke amid gasps from the neighbors. The red-haired boy wore blue jeans, an undershirt, and gym shoes. He appeared lost, glancing at the night sky. When he turned to the crowd before him, he took a step back.
“Are you OK, son?” Mike McDonald said, walking toward the disoriented boy. “We’re here to help you. My name is Mike. What’s yours?”
“I’m Tommy,” the boy said.
“Where do you live? How old are you?” Mike said as he extended a hand.
“I’m thirteen, and I gotta get home and see my mom.”
The boy ran off down a side street, a little black-and-white checkered flag protruding from a back pocket of his jeans. Most of the neighbors watched him run away. They speculated about who he might be. Meanwhile, a smaller figure walked through the smoke of the porch.
The boy who wore an undershirt and jeans called out again, “Mom? Dad?” He was holding a well-worn Detroit Tigers baseball cap.
“Huey!” Sandy McDonald shouted with unbounded joy. She rushed to embrace her son. She kissed him and put his favorite cap on his head. Mike was right behind his wife. He threw his arms around his son and squeezed him. Brother Ken joined the reunion, too.
Neighbors cheered and laughed even as it began to rain.
Through blissful tears, Sandy told her family, “Now everything can go back to the way it was.”
Forty years later, a 23-year-old woman who just bought a home in the 900 block of North Oak Street was getting the lowdown on her neighbors. Her guide, 44-year-old Roger Hawkins, spoke highly of the people there.
“I think you’ll find most folks very friendly,” he said, adding house by house highlights.
“What about her,” Marie Lincoln said, “the old woman sitting in the chair on the porch across the street? What’s her story?”
Roger thought for a moment. “That’s Mrs. McDonald. I think she’s seventy-five. She has lived here longer than anybody. She has two successful sons who live out of state. They visit every so often. But no one knows much about her. She had a husband, but I don’t know what happened to him. She is very private. If you pass her, say ‘hi,’ but don’t expect a greeting in return.”
Marie thanked Roger Hawkins for the wine and cheese and information. On the way out, Marie noticed the old woman again. She was fingering a baseball cap in her lap.
Marie looked back at her host and said, “I have one more question. Was there a witch on this street?”
Author: Mike McCarty
“Cracked Turnpikes and Square Roundabouts”
(a parody sung to CCR’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”)
Headin’ back to Michigan, can’t say I’m a chicken,
But the stuff I seen is strange as all get-out.
Ain’t my 'magination, 'cause I’m rememberin’
Cracked turnpikes and square roundabouts.
There's a turbine goin' swimmin’, a train tycoon convention,
Look at all the wasteful creatures tryin’ to catch souls.
Robinson Crusoe a-discoverin' America,
Cracked turnpikes and square roundabouts
Folks on the jury are wearin’ fake moustaches.
Won't you drive your car on the mac ‘n’ cheese route?
Windows three-point-one, with ticker-tape fun,
Cracked turnpikes and square roundabouts.
Finally back in Michigan, can I shoot a mulligan
Instead of rememberin’ the crazy trip I took?
But if it’s random day at Prose, bring on those
Cracked turnpikes and square roundabouts.
Humpty Dumpty and the Tower Wall
Humpty Dumpty sat on a tower wall
Instead of going to the mall.
Below were women and men
Who ignored Humpty again and again.
Finally, a prince yelled up, “Are you stuck?”
Humpty Dumpty looked down and said, “Yup.”
“Humpty,” said the prince, “let down your hair
“That I may climb thy golden stair.”
“But I could not if I tried,” Humpty cried.
“Eggs have no hair,” Humpty sighed.
A big bad Wolf pushed the prince away
And bellowed, “I will save the day.”
Humpty Dumpty dared not rebuff
The Wolf who cried, “I’ll huff and puff,
”And I’ll blow your tower down.
“Bricks no longer make me frown.”
Humpty Dumpty sat on the tower wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a towering fall.
“Alas,” said the prince, “Humpty is through,
“But Wolf, the yolk is on you!”
To Submit or Not to Submit: A Writer’s Quandary
If the famous soliloquy in Hamlet was not written by Shakespeare, but by a writer wondering what to do with his or her manuscript:
To submit or not to submit, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
Patiently the criticisms of your writing
Or to keep writing and show no one
Or post to Prose or seek a publisher
And let inhibitions die. To die—to sleep;
Perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub:
For in another submission, to a literary agent,
Dreams of being published may come
But only to those who bear the scorns of time,
Waiting for the agent to decide on your query,
Waiting and expecting another rejection,
But hoping for a “like,” a kind comment,
A reply, “Send me your complete manuscript.”
So we grunt and sweat at the computer,
Turning out more undiscovered prose
With the hope that makes us bear all ills,
Pondering whether “to submit or not to submit.”
The Best Way to Avoid Growing Taller
You may not be able to avoid getting taller
in feet and inches,
but there are ways to get yourself smaller
through deceit and flinches.
Like if a honey wants you to call her
Run away in defeat and excuses.
Only in your soul can you grow smaller,
just not in feet and inches.
A hamburger introduces his sister to his condiment friends.
Patty and the friends exchange pleasantries, and the green container is smitten. He gazes at Patty and says, “I would relish the opportunity to get to know you better.”
More Moonlight, Please
The shimmering light from the moon in any season elicits a fleeting memory that my heart wishes would linger: A moonlit beach with a silhouette of my love approaching in the cool night air. My darling’s feet leaving a trail of footprints in the sand still warm from the day. My heart beating with joy, because my dearest one’s trail leads to me.
But when reality sets in or a cloud covers the silver orb in the dark sky, my memory of our wonderful early times ends. My thoughts turn instead to the love of my life closing the front door behind her after a terrible argument.
Now all I have is my loyal companion high in the night sky and the hope that more moonlit memories will return. And that maybe, just maybe, one day the approaching silhouette on the beach will be real.
Maybe a second moon would increase my odds.
More moonlight, please.
Anatomy of a Broken Heart
A broken heart begins with a devasting shock to your brain that quickly spreads to the heart and soul, and when you scream no one hears you, no one is there to dry your tears, and your heart and brain ask, “How long will this last?”
Peter Patter’s Pickle
Popular pizzeria patron Peter Patter pouted; Pete’s pending pentathlon pedagogue purports palatable pepperoni pies poison.